Las Vegas is a city that revels in tearing down the old to usher in the new. And I’m OK with that, even when it happens to beloved restaurants. I’m cool with the fact that the Venetian has replaced the exemplary Valentino and Pinot Brasserie with the equally wonderful DB Brasserie and Yardbird. And despite the respect, admiration and personal friendship I feel for Kerry Simon, I begrudgingly accepted that Simon Restaurant & Lounge in Palms Place may have run its course, and was excited to experience its replacement, Café 6. Unfortunately, the new concept comes off as little more than a placeholder, a restaurant designed to feed the boutique hotel’s guests until management comes up with a more serious plan for such prime real estate.
Walking into Café 6 is like walking into a ghost town, with the memories of past inhabitants all too present. The decor hasn’t changed a bit. It still has the very L.A. beach house look that I watched Simon build from scratch more than seven years ago. The new tenants haven’t even bothered removing the sushi bar, despite the lack of sushi on the menu. And while that menu has devolved into an upscale burger concept (because Las Vegas was so sadly lacking in those), it still retains numerous nods to the restaurant’s former self, most notably in the meatloaf burger, rock shrimp, “crab dynamite” on the Land & Sea burger and the whimsical desserts. While I know it’s not fair to directly compare Café 6 with Simon, it’s difficult to avoid doing just that when the restaurant is so tied to its past. And, sadly, the more comparisons that are made, the worse Café 6 looks.
Take, for example, the aforementioned Land & Sea burger. It’s described on the menu as “Angus beef, CRAB DYNAMITE, red onions, fennel, arugula, breakfast radishes, Havarti cheese, tomato, tartar sauce, Hawaiian sweet bun.” Given the intentional capitalization of “CRAB DYNAMITE,” I asked if it was the same crab Simon used as a base for his Tuna Dynamite sushi appetizer, and was assured it was. What I got on my burger was a dry shredded crab cake bearing no resemblance to the moist lump crab in the old dish. Fortunately, the moisture of the well-prepared patty and the sweetness of the crab (no dynamite here) salvaged the dish.
More disastrous items included three dry beef sliders served on semi-stale buns, and a barely seasoned meatloaf burger that couldn’t hold a candle to Simon’s world-renowned loaf. And while I loved the idea of a dessert hamburger made with a chocolate ice cream patty, putting it on a tough roll ruined it completely. The menu calls it a wafer “bun,” but there was nothing wafer about it. Finally, when I headed in for my third visit, I was horrified by the vegetarian lettuce wraps that made me feel like I was picking up a sloppy salad by hand.
Lest I should be too harsh on Café 6, I did enjoy a few dishes. A giant soft pretzel with a pair of dipping sauces was quite good. The steak frites was well prepared, even if the sauce was a bit sweet. And the beer-battered rock shrimp were just as good as those offered at Simon. But mediocre service detracted from even those. While the veteran servers are extremely fun to hang out with and chat up, and dining at the bar is a delight, the kitchen is slow and the food runners are occasionally inept in their delivery.
In the place of what was once a destination restaurant frequented by celebrities and tourists from around the world, Café 6 offers little more than an OK spot for guests who don’t want to leave the building, and nothing of interest to people who aren’t already staying on the premises. Despite conventional Las Vegas wisdom, this restaurant proves that change is not always good.
In Palms Place, 702-944-3292. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. daily and for dinner 5-10 p.m. nightly. Dinner for two, $30-$70.