Cosmopolitan’s recently shuttered Comme Ça was one of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas. Its departure wasn’t quite as tearjerking as the abrupt closure of my home-away-from-home, Rosemary’s, years ago, but my feelings were undoubtedly tempered by the knowledge that the primary pair of culinary talents behind Comme Ça’s success—chefs Brian Howard and Daniel Ontiveros—were staying in town to cook elsewhere. While Howard is set to resurface with his own restaurant projects this fall, Ontiveros was quickly back in the game at the helm of Therapy on Fremont East.
Formerly a kitschy tourist store, Therapy is a spacious, comfortable venue with décor that outdoes most anything Downtown, including, dare I say, casino venues. The openness is highlighted by the vaulted ceiling, providing an ample backdrop for the showcase kitchen where Ontiveros and his team toil.
Begin your meal with the inexplicably airy yet crusty pretzel bread ($6) served with addictive spicy beer mustard. The playfully named In the Gnudi ($12) is a baked ricotta pasta dessert masquerading as a starter; truffle honey and fig jam offer notes of sweetness without being too cloying. These are carbs worth loading up on.
Ontiveros shines when his dishes are most unexpectedly non-mainstream. His crispy fried pig ears ($9) with truffle honey mustard are probably the Valley’s best rendition of this cartilage-laden snack, a dish which, in the wrong hands, can be devastatingly difficult. These might even be better than the ones served at Comme Ça, with nary a hint of chewyness. Oxtail empanadas ($12) are another resounding success, where an uncommon protein is enveloped in a deep-fried, lard-laden crust. The empanadas hardly need their accompanying harissa lime crème fraiche, but you’ll be glad you have the sharp dipping sauce anyway.
While Ontiveros has an obvious fascination with meat, he’s adept with vegetables. The charred kale salad ($12) has a smoked bacon vinaigrette subdued enough to not overwhelm the greens or roasted beets, while his Bibb-lettuce Caesar ($12) is prolifically garlicky and gilded with garlic parmesan toast crisps. Even his riff on Mexican street corn ($8) is memorable. Slathered with lime aioli and liberally sprinkled with chili pepper and Parmesan, it’s a fitting homage to the classic street treat.
Still very new, Therapy is at its best when it challenges its diners. It’s already drawing hungry crowds, and I simply cannot wait until it’s running on all cylinders and Ontiveros is running the show unbridled. Rumor has it a specials chalkboard is in the works, a happy place where one might be able to find even more of the “nasty bits” the chef became known for in his former position. Until then, I’ll be content with another round of pig ears.
Therapy 518 Fremont St., 702-912-1622. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.