In an age of decision fatigue and too many choices, prix fixe menus are making a comeback
There’s been an uptick in the number of prix fixe and pre-priced menus in the valley of late — and I’m grateful for it. Not just because it’s a nice way to get a bit more bang for your buck — and know up front how many of those bucks you’re spending. I’m grateful because it offers an antidote to our exhausting contemporary mania for choices, choices, choices, and because it returns the notion of the leisurely meal to this era of the quick bite.
The prix fixe menu comes to us from the French — and Vegas’ old-schooliest of old-school French is Pamplemousse Le Restaurant (400 E. Sahara Ave., pamplemousselerestaurant.com), where they’ve been pouring Pinot and serving soufflés for more than four decades. A sepia-lit bungalow with disco en francais Barbra Streisand on the soundtrack, its atmosphere is so classic Vegas that you half-expect to see Wayne Newton on his way to a gig or Tony Spilotro on his way to a hit. The restaurant offers several prix fixe menus ranging from $40 to $80 and, with a selection or two from their wine list, it’s a fine way to linger the evening away.
After opening with a big basket of crudités, you can tuck into appetizers such as escargots de Bourguignonne wallowing in Pernod-touched garlic and butter, or creamy yet light lobster bisque. One highlight is the restaurant’s signature palate-cleanser, grapefruit granita with Champagne poured over it — some kind of pinnacle of refreshing coolness, even in 102-degree heat. The entrées include solid renditions of French standards such as seared salmon in a light Champagne sauce, and tournedos of beef with a Cognac sauce and frites, as well as less typical dishes such as a filet of wild baby boar with cassis sauce. (Yes, cooking with liquor is a motif here, and we are here for it.) End with crème brûlée or rich chocolate mousse for the full retro experience.
There’s also a gracious, throwback appeal to Sadelle’s in Bellagio, even if it’s less than a year old. The high-ceilinged room has an Upper East Side Hollywood Regency vibe, with an aqua-and-salmon color scheme and acres of well-polished mirrors that invite you to preen like a trophy wife. The restaurant’s pre-theater card provides the full appetizer-main-dessert (for under $40) experience while not making you so full you nod off during a crucial moment in O. First-course options include a shrimp cocktail dusted with lemon and chives, and a tuna tartare that’s light but still decadent. Sadelle’s is known for its smoked salmon, but the roasted salmon entrée is also nicely done, with the fish’s caramelization nicely played up by a vinaigrette sauce; garlic chicken is a flavorful comfort food, complete with mashed potatoes. For dessert, the babka a la mode is sinfully sweet, but the sticky bun ice cream sandwich is truly magical, with vanilla ice cream seeping out between laminated layers of cinnamon-sugar pastry. If all that doesn’t sound quite filling enough, come early for happy hour’s outstanding coffee or grapefruit martinis and pigs in a blanket that are little puffy clouds of pork-filled joy.
Feeling like a Chihuahua-toting lady who lunches is one thing, but what if you actually want to have lunch? The Express Lunch at Buddy V’s in the Venetian sounds like a grab-a-sandwich-and-chips casino endeavor, but it’s actually a three-course meal that’s equally accommodating to both the busy-on-a-break and those with time to kill. The spacious room is finished with walls of canned tomatoes and witty touches such as rows of vintage rolling pins as room dividers. You can open with meatballs, soup or salad; the panzanella salad is a bit light on the bread, but crisp polenta croutons add flair to the Caesar. Main courses are Italian standards such as the buttery, cheesy My Dad’s Bucatini Carbonara or a meatball sub with mozzarella and ricotta as well as a heap of parmesan garlic fries. Dessert choices are gelato, a chocolate-and-pistachio-dotted cannoli, or a pot of fluffy tiramisu.
If you’re seeking something a bit more adventurous, the tasting menu at China Poblano in The Cosmopolitan is conceived not just to let you sample the restaurant’s offerings, but embrace its Yangtze-to-Yucatan concept (and there’s even a vegetarian rendition). The Twenty Vegetable Fried Rice is a star on both menus, a rainbow of finely chopped vegetables dotted with cilantro and carrot butterflies. Tuna ceviche spikes jewel-like chunks of fish with finely chopped pecans and a soy-citrus sauce, while coconut ceviche with chunks of coconut, teardrop tomatoes, and red onion is as refreshingly tropical as the seafood version. Siu mai dumplings offer nontraditional flavor combinations such as pork and jicama or chicken and goji berry. The restaurant’s bustling yet relaxed vibe, as well as the array of red lanterns, silver bicycle wheels, and color-saturated photos on the walls match the kaleidoscopic flavors.
You can find prix fixe Strip dining in a more serene atmosphere at Estiatorio Milos in The Cosmopolitan, where you can look out on Las Vegas Boulevard’s glitzy razzmatazz from an aerie of polished wood and whitewashed walls. The restaurant offers both lunch and dinner prix fixe options, but you can take it to the next level at its monthly wine-pairing dinner, which matches a glass of wine to each of five courses. The Madagascar shrimp has a fragrant, orange finish, and comes with a lemony endive salad that harmonizes well with a Biblia Chora Plagios Chardonnay, which eschews the usual vanilla-extract whiff for a lighter, citrus flavor; the fat in grilled lamb chops gives a complicated spin to the tannins in the Tselepos Kokkinomylos Merlot. I don’t recall what was paired with the herb-stuffed fried zucchini blossoms, but they were outstanding, with a feta crème fraîche I wanted to smear on everything. It’s not an item I would normally have chosen, but that’s part of the fun of prix fixe: Having the choices made for you means you might discover a new favorite dish — one you might never have chosen otherwise.