Rx Boiler Room is an odd place, and that’s by design. It’s upstairs from celebrity chef Rick Moonen’s popular sustainable seafood restaurant, and its main entrance—framed by a cartoonish, seemingly mechanized metallic arch—is located at the end of a casino retail mall. Its insides are decked out in red velvet, skulls within crystal balls, disco-sequined ram heads, propellers and gears and chandeliers, and a statue of an octopus wearing an old-school diving helmet. Decidedly odd.
This is the way Moonen wants it. Rx is pronounced “Rick’s,” in case you didn’t know. But somewhere along the way to creating a space on the Las Vegas Strip dedicated to the alchemy of food and drink, something got lost. The word “steampunk” got thrown around too much. And maybe eaters and drinkers became confused about what’s going on in here.
In a word, it’s fun.
Several new restaurants have confidently declared they are adding exciting new twists on traditional American comfort cuisine or bar food, but no one is doing it as joyfully or deliciously as Moonen is here, aided by journeyman executive chef Johnny Church. This food is crazy. Bacon-wrapped hunks of pork belly on mini brioche crisps topped with sunny side-up quail eggs—beautiful breakfast in one bite. Tiny “fish tacos” of delicate kampachi tartare in crunchy taro root shells. Chicken pot pie in panko-breaded nugget form. Instead of mozzarella sticks, oxtail croquettes. That’s improvement.
There must be some seafood, and there is. Calamari rings and lamb sausage meatballs float in squid ink-tomato sauce, a play on SpaghettiOs. There’s lobster bolognaise over herbed pasta ($38) and shrimp and grits ($32) with Cajun gravy, and other non-fishy entrees for those not interested in full food whimsy. A Niman Ranch skirt steak, perhaps, or Greek-style lamb osso buco ($28).
Reading through these dishes might lead you to believe Rx Boiler Room is a casual restaurant, and it can be if that’s what you want. Those brilliant small plates are mostly between $9 and $16, and sharing a bunch of ’em with a sampling of the bar’s cutting-edge cocktails could be a very relaxed experience. Or, in these theatrical surroundings, it could be a fancy night out without that cloud of formality so many casino dining rooms can’t shake.
There’s a bucket of crispy fried game hen ($22), nodding to Buffalo wings with its hot sauce and blue cheese dips and decorative ribbons of carrot and celery. There’s a build-your-own taco plate ($22) with a foundation of luscious pork steamed in banana leaves. And there’s the tangiest mac and cheese you’ve ever tasted, pinwheels of pasta drowning in parmesan, Brie, cheddar, blue cheese and fromage blanc.
Moonen clearly can’t stop enjoying himself with this place, a manifestation of nerdy childhood mad scientist dreams. I find it impossible not to join in the fun.
Rx Boiler Room Mandalay Bay, 632-7200. Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight; Friday & Saturday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.