I am on a bar and lounge and fine dining adventure, but I am early for my dinner reservation at FIX Restaurant and Bar at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, so I saunter across the casino floor to the Caramel Nightclub that I have been hearing raves about and not from rave partiers. The sweet young hostess greets me and whisks me past the velvet rope as if I am a VIP not many people in the lounge so early on a midweek, but I feel like a celeb anyway with all the personal attention.
Caramel is attracting celebrity attention from Hollywood’s cocktail intelligentsia Paris and Nicky Hilton, Ashton Kutcher & new wife Demi Moore, David Arquette, Nicollette Sheridan, and Jamie Lynn Sigler. I hope to meet up with one of these celebs over a cocktail under the hand blown glass sculptures; we can sit and gossip on the community ottomans while the paparazzi are held at bay hah even if no celebs show up before I finish the Black Dahlia, one thing is certain, this is the place to be seen in the Vegas cocktail scene.
Caramel has a one-of-a-kind Bachelorette Party package, which is actually the midpoint of a three-venue party tour for brides-to-be and their girlfriends, or for ladies in-town celebrating, with access to their own table and to a phlanx of specialty cocktails, such as the Oreo Shake (Van Gogh Vanilla, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, and crushed Oreos), and the Sicilian Kiss Martini (Southern Comfort, Amaretto, cranberry, and a rock candy swizzle stick). For some reason the Joe Sample song, “Southern Comfort”, comes to mind; the famous jazz pianist would fit right into the groove here.
Caramel is open from Sunday through Monday, 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. For table reservations call 702/693-8300 or visit www.thelightgroup.com
The Light Group is making a fantastic fine dining impact for those visiting Vegas and for those who are non-vegans meaning non-vegetarians, because FIX and STACK are all about great cuts of beef, lamb, pork, Kobe, and seafood selections. Light Group is not lite fare by any means as I soon find out at the spectacular FIX restaurant, the first restaurant founded by Andrew Sasson and his partners, Andy Masi and Sean Christie. Other Light Group venues include: Light nightclub, FIX and Caramel at Bellagio, JET nightclub and STACK restaurant at The Mirage, and Mist nightclub at Treasure Island. I am determined to visit all the clubs and plush dining emporiums.
FIX is a small restaurant by Vegas behemoth standards (about 150 seats), but it is truly an architectural jewel. The curving and twisting and bending and hand shaped dark Padouk wood comes from Costa Rica, and it had to be steamed to get it to comform to the present proportions. It looks so natural, like water carved sandstone flumes found in the canyons of
FIX is so new (it opened in 2004) that I am amazed that it has reached the culinary AAA Five Diamond award winning status so quickly.
Column one is Soups and Small Plates that include Lobster Bacon Chowder ($11); Mixed Greens ($12) with shaved apple, spiced pecans and cider vinaigrette; the Caesar Salad ($14) comes with Sourdough croutons and Point Reyes Blue Cheese; Shrimp ($14) with “Louis” and Cocktail Sauce; Lobster Tacos ($16) with grilled mango and cilantro; Crab Cake ($15), which was my starter choice. A great choice because the two jumbo lump Thermidor-style cakes are a double stack, served in a small cast iron pot with wonderful grainy mustard. These are far and away the best crab cakes I have ever eaten anywhere.
Irvin informs me that the restaurant has its own wood burning grill and many of the selections in column two of the menu support this fact with the fine selection of aged meats, such as the 20 ounce Ribeye ($43), the 14 ounce “NYC” Sirloin ($52), the 10 ounce Filet Mignon ($42), and the 14 ounce Kurabota Pork Chop ($26). Irvin gives me a tasting sample of the Chef’s Kobe Selection that is a marvel of meat that goes for $65 for the full plate, served with Red Wine Shallot and Peppercorn sauces.
Also in the menu’s middle column is a section called “Shared For The Table” that includes Forks ($19), which is Smoked Salmon and Osetra Caviar Peppers (I don’t know how they got the Caspian Sea caviar, maybe before the Russian ban.) and Scallion Binis; then there are the three Crispy items: Rock Shrimp and Chili ($14), Ipswich Clams and Pickles (14); and Calamari with Lime ($12), or get all three for $29.
The last column on the menu of course is reserved for the Surf & Turf crowd, but there is also one outstanding pasta dish Ravioli with Spiced Pumpkin, Goat’s Milk Ricotta, and Sage ($21).
Entrées are all stunning gustatory salutes to the palate. The Scallops ($29) are Benedict-style with Apple Wood Bacon and Crab Hollandaise, that I am sure is hand made at FIX; The Lobster ($39) is probably seasonal and is “Drunken” with Prosciutto Gnocchi (knowing the class of FIX the gnocchi dumplings are probably made with Semolina, rather than flour), and with Truffle Cream; the Chicken is Roasted Crisp Skin served as a Smoked Mesh ($26).
The vegetable side dishes at FIX were perfect the Sautéed Spinach was so lively, crisp, and steamed properly; don’t you cringe with overcooked vegetables that lose not only their flavor but the vitamins, too? Next time I come back to FIX I am going for the Wood Grilled Forest Mushrooms ($8) or the Cauliflower and Parmesan Gratin ($8).
One item that was served to me as an appetizer was the fried Macaroni and Cheese it came egg roll style four to a plate, and I must tell you, this is truly heaven for such a lowly and looked down upon dish as mac con queso.
FIX has a great selection of wines and cocktails that can be served tableside or at the bar. I noticed couples at the bar chatting away as if it it was no bother waiting for a table, so I assumed you can come in just for the drinks, but watching Executive Chef Brian Massie’s (formerly of the N9NE Restaurant Group and the Aureole Restaurant Group) trained chefs in action is certain to click on the Pavlovian response. Can I order a dessert like the Bubble Gum Vanilla Float at the bar, or will the stiff drink crowd think me too pedestrian?
FIX is open Sunday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. A private enclosed dining room also is available. For reservations call 702/693-8400 or visit www.fixlasvegas.com
STACK has only been open since December, 2005, but it is apparent that it will be an award winner, or should I say, it will “Stack” up the awards in the years to come. STACK is more open and airy with higher ceilings than FIX, kind of like an open beamed barn with excellent, stylish couches so you can get a great view of the entire enterprise. One aspect I noticed in both restaurants was the superb sound systems, at the right tonal level, playing contemporary tunes interspersed with classic rock. A small bar is right behind where my dining partner, Chris, and I are seated in a corner couch. I guess the best way to describe STACK is scene and cuisine!
Michael hands us the menu boards and I figured that the menu was a replica of the FIX restaurant because the Executive Chef is the same for both properties. Michael reassures me that there are many differences, one of which is that STACK has no wood fired grill; indeed the three column menu offers many special discoveries, with only a few duplicated menu items shared with FIX, such as the Seabass, and a different twist on the Surf & Turf STACK ($46) that sees the STACK’s Grilled Petite Filet served with Half Butter Poached Lobster.
Chris and I decide to try a small shared serving of the Penne ($19 for the full size), served to us more like an appetizer than as an entrée and we are glad we only ordered the sampler because it was huge, with the Penne swimming in the most wonderful Prosciutto Truffles and Parmesan.
Chris went for the $26 Lamb Shank served with lentils and watercress; it could be cut with a fork right down to the bone. It was such a magnificent cut of lamb, that if I recommend a chop house for the woolies, STACK gets my vote. Chris ate too much pasta, too, so the glazed delight had to be boxed up for another night of fine dining at home.
I noticed, over cappuccino, the large curtain at one end of the restaurant, and I am told by Diana, our booze stewart that there is a 24 seat private dining area behind the curtain that can be either closed off, or used as a raised stage, with the curtain open for special events. The restaurant is equipped to seat 48 diners in the lounge, 18 at the slate-topped bar, and 175 in the main dining room.
Oh, hey, I gotta mention the S’more STACK Martini made from Stolichnaya Vanil, Chocolate Godiva, and Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, that I think can be slurped like a dessert! Chris and I settled for two helpings of the Apple Pot Pie a la mode with Maple Pecan Brittle Ice Cream, and it was the correct recommendation from Michael.
When I grew up we used to always ask my farm girl mother, “Whatcha FIXin’," and she always STACKed up a heaping helping portion of freshness, and now I can get the same in Vegas at FIX and STACK, and so can you.
STACK is open from Sunday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. For reservations call 702/792-7800, or visit www.stacklasvegas.com or www.lightgroup.com
By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.