Dressed in an untucked pinstripe Ralph Lauren shirt, chef Charlie Palmer comfortably strolls around the newly designed Aureole in Mandalay Bay as though it were his living room. “Look up there,” he says, pointing to the dramatic and artistic addition to the once-bare walls. “Aren’t they beautiful?” The space, which is already famous for its magnificent and highly photographed four-story wine tower, is now surrounded by massive polished silver branches and leaves that heighten the room dramatically, creating a feeling of grand, modern sophistication. Yet, the “reimagined” Aureole that soft-opened in December is a decidedly more casual place than its more traditional predecessor, which opened in 1999. The menu, still ahead of its time, remains rooted in the American cuisine that Palmer had always wanted diners to experience. But to stay in the forefront of the ever-changing dining world, Palmer believes success is a combination of allowing room for creativity and passion and instilling a culture that gets his staff excited, thereby evoking delight in their guests.
A Top Team
The James Beard award winner first caught the attention of the dining public when he opened Aureole in New York City at age 28. Palmer then parlayed his success into an empire of taste and presentation that stretches from Manhattan to Las Vegas. “You want people to look at the menu and have difficulty making a decision because everything looks good,” Palmer says. At the same time, “The new menu takes a ‘less-is-more’ approach, in which quality ingredients are used in exciting preparation methods that don’t overcomplicate the dish’s presentation or flavor profile.” He attributes his success to the philosophy of always wanting to improve: “We’re not following any trends; we are only progressing.” Helming the kitchen at Aureole Las Vegas is executive chef Johnny Church, a lifelong culinarian and veteran chef for more than 15 years who has cooked alongside such master chefs as Gordon Ramsay and Bradley Ogden. Church returns to Palmer’s Las Vegas institution, where he spent 10 years of his early career as a sous chef.
A New Space
Designed to reflect a fusion of classic and modern sophistication, there are hardwoods and metals throughout the 9,000-square-foot space, with colors that are reminiscent of the fall season. The lounge along the bar is designed to afford quiet social centers with cozy wall treatments, and the addition of wooden beams creates a more intimate setting beneath the ceiling, which hovers four stories above. Warm tones of aubergine, toffee, cinnamon and honey surround the original “live” olive tree that is a focal point among the dining room’s rosewood tables. The fountain terrace, where natural light filters through the floor-to-ceiling doors to the outside, is a contrast to the dark coffee-tone hardwood floors. Aureole’s more upscale dining room offers a subtle color palette punctuated by a gold-leaf ceiling and tables dressed in formal white tablecloths.
A Fresh Menu
Beyond mere physical updates, Palmer also renews his commitment to preparing quality local ingredients in a bold American style. Displayed on a single-page menu mounted on a polished wooden slab are all new selections divided into three major areas, namely “Root,” “Ranch” and “Surf.” Furthermore, dishes are listed in groupings of small to large plates, from top to bottom. Menu offerings include raw, seasonal vegetables topped with warm Raclette fondue; petite turkey, ham and Swiss meatballs covered with creamy peppercorn sauce and sliced jamón Ibérico; a refreshing beef and octopus carpaccio served with zesty gremolata and brioche; and California crab roll sprinkled with puffed rice for a bit of crunch. Palmer also recommends the Veta La Palma sea bass. Large enough to share, the grilled, deboned, two-and-a-half-pound Veta La Palma sea bass arrives head-on with chimichurri sauce made with fresh parsley, cilantro, garlic, piquillo peppers and California extra virgin olive oil. From the dessert menu, the creamy cold-pressed coffee panna cotta is served with huckleberries, brown butter and lavender ice cream.
An Enduring Feature
Working with wine director Harley Carbery, Palmer has always driven Aureole’s wine program forward, earning Aureole the prestigious Wine Spectator Grand Award every year since 2000. The greatest changes affecting wine service at the new Aureole revolve around the expansive by-the-glass program. Guests can choose from a selection of 48 wines by the glass, the bottles of which are beautifully displayed on the wine table at the entrance to the dining room. The wine team pours and tags each glass, denoting the producer, variety and vintage as they are presented tableside. The wine list, which had been on a digital tablet, is now offered in a handsome binder that showcases the 3,500-plus offerings from throughout the world. Pairing wine with food has been made simpler now that two wine suggestions are clearly marked alongside each menu item. The infamous wine tower—which soars four stories above the dining room—has received modest modifications including enhanced lighting, and the Wine Angels now don a striking silver one-piece suit for their vertical glides up and down the tower to retrieve bottles for guests’ viewing as well as their sipping pleasure.