In 1980 I was the head saucier at La Côte Basque in New York City. This was a big-deal position to hold down at age 24, working in a very big-deal restaurant during an era where everything fine dining was French, period.
As soon as I arrived at Michael’s Gourmet Room at the South Point, I was transported back 36 years, to that place in the Big Apple where I began my culinary journey. Every detail at Michael’s is perfectly attended to, and the staff takes full charge of your happiness from the moment the door closes behind you, helping you leave the casino world far behind. Dining here is a fantasy that everyone must experience at least once.
My wife and I arrived a few minutes early and decided to enjoy a pregame cocktail. The maître d’ walked over and asked how my old friend “Mr. M” was doing. I squinted my eyes in disbelief, as I hadn’t heard that name in over a decade. “Mr. M” was a very good customer of mine from 11 years ago, and he insisted I had to go to Michael’s—then at the Barbary Coast—with him. He and I dined there together, once, a decade ago, and this man at the front desk remembered. Wow!
My perfect negroni was a very generous pour, as was my wife’s martini. I love it when they give you the shaker to refill your glass ... it just screams class. Our friends arrived, and our drinks were whisked off the bar and brought to our table. We sat below a giant stained-glass dome transported from the Barbary Coast when Michael’s was resurrected here in 2007. Deep-red velvet dominates in this impeccably designed room, with high-backed chairs that make you feel like royalty. Our captain, Vin, a Vietnamese gentleman born in China, came right over, and the ladies were given menus that did not contain prices, to respect their comfort when ordering whatever grabbed their fancy—a pretty cool touch. Bread service was delivered with a huge tray of mixed goodies to nosh, sort of crudité-meets-pickle plate with some quail eggs thrown in for good measure. I ordered a bottle of white Burgundy and—no surprise—it was awesome.
The appetizers marched their way onto our table: French onion soup gratinée, huge and full of molten cheese; Coquille St. Jacques, a creamy sea scallop dish I have made thousands of times in my career, perfectly cooked and well-seasoned so you could taste the mushrooms harmonizing with the scallops in a large shell bordered with Duchess potatoes; tender, baked escargot under a blanket of crisp, lovely pastry; and scampi fra diavolo. I guess my tolerance for spice and heat has increased over the years, and this particular version of a devil sauce left me wanting more flavor. We passed around all the apps, getting louder and having a blast, our voices echoing under the dome.
Then, time for the show: A huge wooden bowl arrived on a cart and our captain asked for ingredient preferences for the grand Caesar. No trendy kale to be seen! I gave him the nod on heavy anchovy, garlic and Parmesan Reggiano, we picked up our chilled salad forks and the classic salad was gone in two minutes. I felt like I was cheating, this was so good.
After a palate-cleansing scoop of lemon sorbet topped with a splash of Dom Perignon, here came the entrées: a rack of lamb bouquetière (a ton of veggies and a poached pear housing mint jelly); one medium-rare, bone-in filet mignon; imported, fresh Dover Sole meunière; and wild salmon sauté doria (with cucumbers). I got the salmon, because when I asked if the sea bass was from Chile and the answer was yes, I just could not. Every entrée was presented on a very large silver tray, so you could take in the magic of a classically garnished dishes. Then, some choreography, a well-rehearsed ballet of every waiter in the restaurant surrounding our table, elbows flying, splitting the proteins onto warm plates for everyone to get a taste of everything. It was seamless and impressive. These dishes, all classic preparations, hit the mark on all counts.
“Give me your two best desserts for the middle of the table, Vin,” and he did, along with trays of chocolate-covered fruit and bon-bons. Thank you, Michael’s, for bringing me back in time and taking such great care of my friends. We’ll be back soon.
Michael's South Point, 702-796-7111. Daily, 5:30-10 p.m.
When he's not dining at classic Vegas restaurants, Rick Moonen is chef and owner at RM Seafood and Rx Boiler Room at the Shoppes at Mandalay Place.