During a recent vacation, while dining at a gorgeous high-end restaurant, the people at the table next to me ordered Caesar salad, which their waiter proceeded to prepare for them on a cart at their table. I realized at the time that it had been a while since I’d had a salad, or anything else, prepared tableside. There was a time, of course, when such preparations were the very definition of elegance. But their popularity has faded over the decades. Undeterred, however, I set out to find some remaining vestiges of this old-school dining tradition. And I was pleasantly surprised by how many I was able to locate. Here are just a few of the dishes you can watch a server prepare at cart next to your table around the Valley.
Since it was Caesar salad that got me started on my quest, I decided to return to the Downtown classic, Hugo’s Cellar in the Four Queens, which was the last place I’d encountered tableside Caesar in this town. Unfortunately, a few years ago, the Southern Nevada Health District barred restaurants from cracking a raw egg at the table in the traditional fashion. Instead, they now prepare the Caesar dressing in the kitchen with a coddled egg. But the salad cart remains, arriving at your table packed with romaine lettuce, 10 accompaniments and three dressings, which your waiter still mixes to order right in front of you. $19, Hugo’s Cellar in Four Queens, 702-385-4011, HugosCellar.com.
Guacamole may be the most popular tableside preparation available today. At Hecho en Vegas, your waiter scoops out the avocados and mixes in salt, fresh squeezed lime juice, cilantro, onion, tomatoes and both serrano and jalapeño peppers at the table. He then mashes it all into a beautiful, thick guac. Amazingly, the entire process takes less than 90 seconds. So don’t blink, or you’ll miss all the fun. $10 per person, Hecho en Vegas in MGM Grand, 702-891-3200, MGMGrand.com.
If you and your entourage just can’t get enough foie gras, check out the massive tableside presentation at Michael Mina: The chef starts in the kitchen with a grade “A” lobe of Hudson Valley foie that weighs approximately 1¾ pounds. He seasons it with salt and then sears, bastes and roasts it until medium rare, at which point it’s carted to your table where it’s presented, carved and served with seasonal accompaniments. For an idea on just what a beast this dish is without shelling out the $210 price tag, check out Mina Group’s video: vimeo.com/54508745. Michael Mina in Bellagio, 702-693-8199, Bellagio.com.
Each of the four tartars at Bazaar Meat (traditional, beef with oysters, salmon and beefsteak tomato) is hand-cut to order. But for the full tableside experience, you need to order the traditional. That mixture of beef, mustard, egg yolk, HP Sauce and anchovy gets the full cart treatment. And if you want to watch any of the others prepared, you’ll need to sit at the tartar/carpaccio bar. $24, Bazaar Meat in SLS, 855-761-7757, SLSLasVegas.com.
Sea Salt-Crusted Milokopi
One of the great joys of dining at Milos is that you can pick your own whole fish from their in-house market, most of which has been flown in that day, fresh from the Mediterranean, and enjoy it in any of a number of delicious preparations. But the crown jewel of this program is the milokopi encrusted in sea salt to keep it moist as it cooks. The fish arrives at your table entirely entombed in thick salt, which the server removes before de-boning the fish and serving it to you and your party. Functional and fancy. $57 per pound, Estiatorio Milos in the Cosmopolitan, 702-698-7930, CosmopolitanLasVegas.com.
A seasonal spin on the classic tableside dish, Cherries Jubilee, Sonoma’s chef substitutes seasonal fresh berries. On a recent visit, these included raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. They’re placed into a cart-top pan of butter and brown sugar. Chambord and Grand Marnier liqueurs are added one at a time, each producing a spectacular flame that lights up the dining room. As a final touch, sprinkled cinnamon sparks and crackles. Finally, the entire mixture is served atop vanilla ice cream. $12, Sonoma Cellar in Sunset Station, 702-547-7777, SunsetStaton.sclv.com.
While it isn’t on the menu, André’s offers this traditional French dessert on request, although you have a better chance if you ask for it when you make your reservation. The actual crepes are made in the kitchen. At your table, the server will melt butter and sugar almost to the point of caramelization before adding orange juice. As it reduces, the crepes are rolled through the sweet mixture and then folded into quarters. Finally, orange zest and Grand Marnier are added, producing a flame. The final sauce is poured on the crepes, which are then topped with vanilla ice cream. $20, André’s in Monte Carlo, 702-798-7151, AndreLV.com.