How does Todd’s Unique Dining survive? With a few secrets. (Psst! They’re not secrets!)
Like any great and successful neighborhood restaurant, the crew at Todd’s Unique Dining in Henderson relies heavily on repeat customers. To keep them coming back, the emphasis is equal parts heavy on personalized service and pitch-perfect cuisine. Consistency is key, and Todd’s has achieved it: In its eighth year, the restaurant is still recognized as one of the great and successful neighborhood restaurants in the valley, and probably the best overall restaurant in Henderson.
But there’s something else about this place. It’s not just the addictive goat cheese wontons with raspberry-basil gastrique, a perfect kickoff to any meal. In fact, it’s not anything that’s on the menu. It’s something that makes Todd’s truly unique, something that keeps things moving in a time when fine neighborhood dining is all but extinct. Terry Clore, known around the restaurant as “Mrs. Chef,” explains it best.
“Our philosophy always has been to treat the customers how you expect to be treated when you dine out, and that doesn’t matter if you’re eating in a coffee shop or a fine dining restaurant. In our earlier days, my father — we call him Grumpy — would drag us, me and Todd, to the same restaurant in Huntington Beach. Always the same place, and the food, maybe it was mediocre. After one meal, we had to ask, ‘Grump, why do you always eat here?’ And we realized: every time we’d walk in, it’s ‘Hello, Grump,’ and ‘Hello, Terry and Todd,’ and they had his favorite cocktail ready before he ordered it. Every time.”
From this story, we now understand that yes, first impressions are everything, and yes, consistently calling someone by name and remembering what they like goes a long way. But we also know, now, why the tasty iceberg wedge salad at Todd’s is called Grumpy’s Salad. Todd’s is nothing if not a family restaurant, and the chef in the kitchen and “Mrs. Chef” in the dining room are only the beginning. The staff, many of whom have stayed on longer than five years, are family, too, and so are you, regular diner.
“It’s a big extended family, and we feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know everyone in our neighborhood,” Terry says.
The neighborhood has changed a lot in recent years, even while Todd’s Unique Dining holds fast. It opened in May 2004, after Todd Clore decided to leave his 10-year post on the Strip at Bally’s Sterling Brunch and create something new in the city his young family called home. The location, on Sunset Road near Green Valley Parkway, was thriving then. It’s different now.
“This was the heart of Green Valley,” Todd says. Then The District opened, pulling traffic towards Anthem. Things slowed down. The movie theater in the adjacent parking lot closed. Things slowed way down. “People we used to see three or four times a week, now they come once or twice. But a lot of people, they can’t go out to eat all the time, but they say, ‘We want to spend all our special occasions and holidays with you.’ New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve ... Thanksgiving is crazy.”
Tried and true
They keep coming back for the monthly wine dinners, when the house is packed and Chef Todd rolls out five brand new courses his customers have never seen before. And they love the new food and say This has to be on the menu! And sometimes it does make the menu. They keep coming back for the dishes they love: those wontons, the huge portion of seared ahi tuna with wasabi potatoes and soy garlic butter, and that pile of perfect braised short ribs.
“I have the best of both worlds,” Todd says. “I do have customers who swear they are going to order something different tonight, but they just had to have the so-and-so, and that’s great, but the reactions at the wine dinners when they love something new, that’s really cool, too.”
The menu at Todd’s Unique Dining will always change. It’s driven by the seasons, and by the chef, and by whatever he wants to cook. This is a guy who made 17 entrees every week on the Strip for a long time, so he’s always ready to bring something different. While he’s proud of the reputation his food has earned, he knows where the bread is buttered. Consistency doesn’t come from the kitchen alone.
“We get crazy ideas sometimes, and the beauty of this business is we can try something and change it the next day if it doesn’t work. You try your best and hope for the best, but you concentrate on taking care of people,” he says. “My servers are so important because they have the one-on-one contact, more than I do. I can come out and visit, but I haven’t been taking care of you for the last hour and a half. A lot of our success is based on that.”
May we recommend…
Skirt Steak on Fire. To create this wild fusion dish — a favorite of both staff and customers — Chef Todd marinates an American Kobe beef skirt steak for four days in a sauce decked out with seven different chilies, grills it to a perfect medium rare, and plates this spicy, juicy steak with a pile of hand-cut french fries topped with cheese. Both meat and potatoes get finished with an Asian black bean chili. It sounds like a crazy combination, but the results are unforgettable.
Short ribs. Tender, beefy, no-knife-necessary short ribs are a common sight at fine dining restaurants, but at Todd’s they are subjected to a three-day braising process for maximum flavor and melty texture, and teamed with jalapeño mashed potatoes and caramelized onion sauce. Chef tried to take this dish off the menu during a particularly hot summer, but it didn’t go over with the regulars. “I’ve never seen so much backlash,” he says. “Hey, if you want to heat braised beef when it’s 120 degrees outside, go for it.” — B.R.