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Desert Companion

At first bite: Echo and Rig

ChopsAt Echo & Rig, the stylish new steakhouse and butcher shop at Tivoli Village, steel-cut oatmeal is available near the host stand for $17 a tin. It’s hard to believe that anyone who would come here with a taste for prime rib would leave with an offensively priced breakfast staple. Maybe the owners think a hungry patron will bide time with an impulse buy (and you may be waiting: Reservations are not accepted). But is there any rhyme or reason to the merchandise on display? A quick scan of the sparsely stocked shelves reveals small jars of mustard, a couple of sacks of wood chips, and a few pieces of cast iron cookware. I can’t help but wonder if this is what Thoreau’s pantry in Walden looked like … when he was starving.

It’s a shame that the retail portion of this ambitious new eatery feels like an afterthought. Like it or not, first impressions count, and the museum-like atmosphere suggests an all-flair, no-flavor meal to come. (These experiences often end with a hungry consort and a disheartening trip to Taco Bell.) But after three visits during its first month, I confess that chef/owner Sam Marvin successfully upended my expectations. I’d go so far as to anoint Echo & Rig my favorite new restaurant off the Strip.

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Start with the fact that few steakhouses put this much care and creativity into their treatment of vegetables. The fried spinach salad — a mishmash of sweet/salty, fresh/fried, and tender/crunchy — is simply the best composition of plants I’ve ever tasted. Spinach leaves, plunged in hot oil until they take on a sheer, stained-glass quality, are tossed with sharp red onion and a flavorful chile-lime vinaigrette. Sure, a deep-fried salad is everything that’s wrong with America, but it’s not all bad for you — bits of raw cauliflower and broccoli help maintain the illusion of being virtuous.

Steak with onions

Of the 30 options in the “Vegetables & Small Plates” section, gooey macaroni and cheese, tender grilled octopus and luscious, I-don’t-care-if-it-jumped-the-shark pork belly are beyond proper. But there are also a few misses. Yucca fritters have an off-putting sour flavor, and an order of bone marrow topped with carne asada may prompt the cliché, “Where’s the beef?” (At least it didn’t send us on a post-meal mission for Crunch Wrap Supremes.)

ChopsBut now is really not the time to do the small plates thing, is it? A steakhouse dinner is not complete without primal chunks of flesh and glasses of gutsy red wine. Gorge on the restaurant’s 48-ounce tomahawk chop or experiment with a more moderately priced option from the unorthodox “Butcher’s Cuts” section. Depending on the type of steak you choose, the beef is labeled USDA prime, grass-fed or Wagyu. That’s as much detail as the restaurant provides — and perhaps that’s why I enjoy eating here. Despite being indoctrinated to inquire about Bessie’s origins, there are days when I want a solid meal without a side of politics. Echo & Rig meets that need.

The restaurant’s signature Spencer steak, requested medium, arrived in perfect form.  On a separate visit, the flavorful bavette (known less flatteringly as flap meat) demonstrated none of the chewy resistance that comes with its kissing cousin, flank. My only complaint is that the steaks are served with potato chips as opposed to frites.

Steak

From the pasta options, an innovative plate of trenné is unlike anything found in a typical red-sauce restaurant. Three-sided penne is sautéed in oil until toasted, and then bathed in a sauce of braised short-rib meat. Salty shards of toasted kale add a boost of flavor and crunch. Saving room for dessert is optional. On one visit, our turtle sundae was dressed with an aggressively salty caramel sauce. A safer bet is the simple berry shortcake.

Echo & Rig offers wine by the glass and half glass — the latter a budget-friendly option if you want to pair small plates with beverages. The beer list is less impressive: Only someone desperate for hipster cred would pay $5.90 for that can of swill otherwise known as Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Apologies for the alarmist tone, but I urge you to visit Echo & Rig while it’s still around. Summerlin has an embarrassing track record of supporting good restaurants, and Tivoli Village has not been immune to unceremonious closings (RIP Hops & Harvest). If Echo & Rig keeps turning out superb dishes and rethinks its ill-conceived butcher-shop, this solid newcomer may survive the Tivoli Curse for a long-term engagement.

 

Echo & Rig Inside Tivoli Village, 11a-11p daily, 440 S. Rampart Blvd., 702-485-3525, echoandrig.com

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