TASTE: So Good It’s a Sin

Hidden Envy showcases Dallas chef’s talents

Max Jacobson

Envy, subtitled Envy, A Steakhouse, has a cute name (think "N" and "V"—get it?), a somewhat problematic off-Strip location inside the still largely unknown new Renaissance Las Vegas on Paradise Road, and the cooking of a superstar steakhouse chef Richard Chamberlain of Dallas fame. Too bad it is under the radar screens of most locals—it's a terrific new restaurant.

The restaurant wears a second hat as the hotel's breakfast room, but the cooking is generic at those hours. At lunch and dinner, though, Envy assumes the mantle of a classic steakhouse, and displays it with considerable pride.

For a hotel restaurant, it is quite a handsome room, with abundant stonework, high-backed cloth chairs and a soothing red color scheme offset by large, cylindrical off-white lanterns that descend from the ceiling like alien spacecraft. Sheer yellow curtains drape panoramic windows facing the monorail just outside.

You'll enter from the lobby, passing though a curved bar area and a wine room ministered to by able sommelier Vilma Mazaite, a one-time manager at SeaBlue. Let her guide you through the smart, fairly priced list and help you match the more exotic fare with the appropriate wines.

There's a lot to try. Chamberlain, once chef at Aspen's snobby Little Nell, is a smart practitioner and clever creator. Within the context of doing a classic steakhouse menu, he has managed to sneak in a variety of interesting twists and innovations.

Take a modest concept like pea soup, which in the chef's hands becomes memorable. Smack in the middle of this thick, Kermit-colored purée are two heaps, one of diced, fried prosciutto and the other of shredded Vermont cheddar, complementing the soup beautifully.

From the lunch menu, try Bolognese, a rich, pink-colored sauce made with minced prime beef served over pappardelle noodles. The prime-beef meat loaf, sauced in port and Crimini mushrooms, may be the best I've ever tasted; crusty on the outside, juicy and rich inside.

Salads are also good. I'd order the BLT wedge again and again: iceberg lettuce flanked by ripe tomato and red onion, doused with balsamic vinegar dressing, and loaded with bacon bits. Entrée salads include Romaine leaves tossed with salt-and-pepper fried calamari; chopped chicken salad with roasted peppers, walnuts and balsamic vinegar; and lobster and shrimp salad made with Bibb lettuce, hearts of palm and a tangy, sherry-based dressing. You just cannot miss.

Steaks are just fine but I don't get the excitement about Kobe filet mignon, priced at $60. I prefer the Black Angus filet, firmer beef at a more sensible $32. Good chops include apple-cured pork chops with cabbage braised in apple cider; a Tuscan veal chop with lemon, garlic, olives, roast tomatoes and capers; and my favorite dish here, lamb chops with a balsamic vinegar and rosemary glaze.

Seafood isn't neglected. I love Chamberlain's Arctic char, sautéed skin side down, then brushed with an orange-truffle glaze and paired with a delicious wild rice risotto. Butter-poached king crab legs are just about perfect. Seared diver scallops with wild mushroom mac and cheese is a grown-up version of a classic American dish.

Lots of restaurants serve great beef, but what distinguishes Envy is the host of good side dishes. Bourbon creamed corn ranks up there with the meat loaf as an example: sweet, complex, completely great. Truffle Reggiano fries are a mountain of crisp French fries, dusted with cheese and then drizzled with truffle oil.Green beans are tossed with apple-wood smoked bacon; it's a dish that will make you wonder why you've never thought of doing this at home. Even the lowly carrot is treated royally, sliced and sauced in butter shot though with a subtle hint of orange.

Desserts show equal creativity, but not all hit the mark. Crème fraiche crème brulee is one that does, as does a nicely tart citrus meringue pie. But my coconut and pineapple sundae with pine nut brittle needed more fruit and more brittle, and cheesecake with fresh berry compote seemed unreasonably gummy.

Envy is one of the most exciting off-Strip restaurants to surface in a long time, but for now it is largely unknown and underappreciated. It won't be for long.

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