Ever since I saw his presentation at the 3rd Starchefs International Chefs Congress in NYC this past September, I knew I wanted to visit RM Seafood the next time I would be in Las Vegas. Chef Moonen's approach to seafood as well as his reputation convinced me that this would be a restaurant with character in the Nevada desert. Once I knew that I would be visiting the city, I made my reservation.
I actually ran into Chef Moonen the night before my reservation at RM Seafood while dining at Raku, a Japanese aburiya restaurant located well off the strip. He had just returned from a visit to NYC where he had a photo shoot with Art Culinaire magazine. I was happy to see that he recognized me from the Starchef's congress.
As I was getting ready to head over to Mandalay Bay, where RM Seafood is located, I was pleased to receive a call from John Curtas, saying that he would join me for a drink at RM Seafood before he had to head out to another event. I very much enjoyed John's company at Bartolotta a few nights earlier, so this welcome indeed.
Although I knew its general location at Mandalay Bay, I still had trouble finding the restaurant as it was set back and not easily visible from where I was standing between the ticket booth for Mamma Mia and the House of Blues as directed from the restaurant's website. Fortunately, John saw me as he was coming to the restaurant and saved me the ignominy of having to ask someone else where the restaurant was, especially as it turned out to be hiding in plain sight in front of me.
We sat at the bar for a cocktail. I asked the bartender for recommendations on any house cocktails and he made me a "Gardener," made with Hendrick's gin, fresh lemon juice, a little simple syrup and basil. I had asked for something not too sweet. This delivered perfectly. It was delicious and dangerously inviting. At this point, Chef Moonen appeared. Although we would be dining in the more formal and sophisticated upstairs fine dining restaurant (there is a second, informal restaurant located on the level directly below), he wanted us to try an item from his new bar menu and brought out a couple of seafood "sliders." One was a burger of diced big-eye tuna with dijonaise and house-cured pickles. The other was a Pacific codcake with tartar sauce and butter lettuce. Both were quite tasty.
After chatting for a bit at the bar, we moved into the sleek, modern dining room and sat down for dinner. John was able to stay for a bit and Chef Moonen sat down with us. We drank champagne throughout the dinner, which worked well through the variety of presentations I would be receiving.
The meal started with a definite Asian bent with the restaurant displaying a flair for sushi with an amuse consisting of big-eye tuna nigiri with Tsar Nicouli osetra caviar and kaku-rei plum sake reduction. When the tuna came out, I jokingly took out my I-phone to text in 306-44 to check on the sustainability of the tuna, knowing full well that Chef Moonen was not about to serve something endangered. Unlike some of its tuna cousins, most notably the much-prized blue-fin tuna, the big-eye, or ahi tuna is still rated in the green zone. The caviar, as the link above indicates is taken sustainably from sturgeon raised in California. With my conscience clear, I enjoyed the sushi all the more.
The next course called "tako-taco", consisted of diced octopus and aromatic vegetables served on a tempura fried shiso leaf with a fresh leaf underneath. The name is a clever pun on the word "tako", which means "octopus" in Japanese. The taco was the fried shiso shell. The flavor combination was wonderful, aided by the fine textural crunch of the fried leaf.
The Asian theme continued with pan-seared arctic char toro served with shiitake, eggplant, scallion and a wonderfully acidic and aromatic lemon-dashi broth. Charred lemons were used to provide the lemon juice, adding an unusual, enjoyable smoky note to the citrus flavor. I could have drunk the dashi all evening. The acidity provide wonderful balance to the fattiness of the char. Given the fish and the lemon, the dish could well have been named "char-char," however, that would perhaps have been a bit too cute, especially after the "taco-taco." The dish also contained sea beans, which added an additional textural contrast.
The last of the Asian inspired dishes was a teriyaki style big-eye tuna with maitake mushroom and a blood-orange emulsion. The fish was beautiful, reminding me of the yellow-fin tuna my sons caught last year in Cabo. The emulsion, using fresh blood orange juice was the perfect foil, with the citrus adding acidic balance and great flavor.
European influences were apparent in the contemporary day boat scallop with sweet corn foam and foie gras flan. The scallop was perfectly seared and plenty sweet in its own right. The flan added richness and depth. Chef Moonen mentioned that he prefers scallops as an appetizer rather than a main course as they can be too unidimensional in larger portions. As much as I love scallops, I tend to agree, although I could certainly have enjoyed more of this.
The European tone continued with sautéed baby turbot (farm-raised) with butternut squash, pecans , capers and brown butter. The capers added just the right note to elevate the dish without taking it over as capers can sometimes do.
The butter poached Maine lobster with gremolata sunchokes and lobster bordelaise (using white Bordeaux) was sensational. The lobster was perfectly cooked, moist and flavorful. I have never had a better example of lobster cooked with this technique. The sunchokes added a savory counterpoint to the lobster that worked well with the main.
Dessert was interesting and delicious, more than enough to entice me through a very full stomach. After a palate cleansing intermezzo of lemon sorbet with brunoise of meyer lemon, the butterscotch ice cream sandwich with pecan shortbre
ad and spiced hot scotch milk served two purposes. It was dessert and after dinner drink in one. The Scotch whiskey laced throughout both elements of the dessert not only made for a good pun, it cut the sugar and gave great smoky depth and complexity to the plate making for a very satisfying end to the meal.
John Curtas left after the arctic char, but Chef Moonen stayed throughout the meal, dining along with me. He proved a great dining companion as well, explaining his dishes and his philosophy as well as engaging in discussions on topics from the economy, local and global, dangers and opportunities presented by the state of the economy, mutual friends and acquaintances, the history of dining in NYC from the 1970's on, the restaurant business in general and much more. He is a well-informed, gracious and thoughtful man in addition to being a superb chef. While he was dining with me, his kitchen did a fine job throughout the meal of preparing dishes that were perfectly cooked, flavorful and beautiful. His staff is clearly well trained and quite competent. Chef Moonen not only proved to me that dining on sustainable seafood can be delicious and rewarding ina restaurant devoted to haute cuisine, but that it is feasible to do so at a reasonable tariff in the desert location of Las Vegas.
For more photos, please see the associated album.
Located in the entrance to Mandalay Place –
BetweenThe House of Blues and the Mama Mia
3930 Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89119