We're dining fine in Vegas tonight: veal sweetbreads with lentils and bacon in a luscious mustard-laced butter sauce; crisp-skinned striped bass with a masterly hash of fingerling potatoes, rock shrimp, and andouille. But we're not at Charlie Palmer's Aureole, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, or another celebrated restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip. We're in a strip mall on the west side of town eight and a half miles from the center of the action. We're eating at Rosemary's Restaurant.
Though the holy grail of Las Vegas restaurant locations is still a spot on the Strip, places like Rosemary's, which are often opened by chefs with limited finances, expansive vision, and resumes that include stints on or near the Strip, have turned far-flung neighborhoods into dining destinations. In the past five years, restaurants like Todd's Unique Dining in Henderson, in the southeastern corner of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, where Todd Clore, former chef de cuisine at Bally's Las Vegas, changes his global menu daily, and Sen of Japan on the west side, headed by Hiro Nakano, who ran the kitchen at Nobu in Las Vegas, have joined institutions like the east side's 29-year-old acclaimed Thai restaurant, Lotus of Siam, in luring diners away from the marquees.
Rosemary's is the work of the chefs Michael and Wendy Jordan, who met as students at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and are veterans of Strip kitchens. The couple opened Rosemary's (named for Michael's mother) in 1999 near where they lived, not just because they could afford the location but to fill a need close to home. "I was working at Emeril's New Orleans Fish House in the MGM Grand. We had about 40 percent local clientele, so I knew there were locals who would like a place in the 'hood," says Michael.
Nowadays, locals and visitors alike come to Rosemary's, a comfortably elegant place, for dishes like their Monte Cristo, a creative reworking of the classic, served on brioche flavored with orange and mint and slathered in house-made jam, and Hugo's Texas BBQ shrimp, named after Wendy's stepfather, a World Series of Poker champ and the originator of the dish's tangy barbecue sauce. Refined without froufrou, it's bragging-rights American food that reflects the Jordans' upbringings and years spent in the Midwest, the Deep South, and New Orleans.
Tonight the cab ride to and from our hotel costs us $50, but in a city of artifice, dining at Rosemary's is as real as it gets.