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Chef Rick Moonen On Vintage Las Vegas Restaurants

battistas.jpg

Thomas Hawk/Flickr

You may know Rick Moonen as the chef and restaurant owner behind RM Seafood and Rx — pronounced "Rick's" — Boiler Room at Mandalay Bay.

But he's also an author, an advocate of sustainable seafood — and he's a magazine writer.

Rick writes a column in Las Vegas Weekly called "Moonen-lighting" where he seeks out 'Old Las Vegas' dining experiences. He's visited Battista's Hole in the Wall, Hugo's Cellar, Pamplemousse Le Restaurant, Bob Taylor's Ranch House, Michael's Gourmet Room and others. 

He talked to KNPR's State of Nevada about his favorites and how to do "Old Vegas" dining right. (Rick Moonen on KNPR.org)

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

What do you love about the vintage Las Vegas eating?

I created this bucket list with my wife of the places I wanted to go. The Old School. The places that reminded you of the wise guys, when Las Vegas was really, really wild. And so I started going out. I started to find out there is a lot more history in Las Vegas than I realized.

What is the definition of vintage?

This is in my own mind. It has to be at least 25 years around. Like Michael’s, for instance, moved from Barbary Coast to South Point. They’re categorically old school because that’s the tradition they carried along with them. I had to follow that tradition and see if they’re still bringing you that old charm that just sits in my mind: what was it like 30 years ago in Las Vegas. You can still experience it and still have fun with it.

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What’s on the bucket list?

Haven’t been to yet:

Chicago Joe’s

Golden Steer

Casa di Amore

Steakhouse at Circus Circus

Been to:

Hugo’s Cellar

Peppermill

Pamplemousse

Battista's Hole in the Wall

Michael’s

Bob Taylor’s Ranch House

Piero's

Bootlegger Bistro

Top of Binion’s Steakhouse

I don’t think it’s going to have an end. I enjoy getting in front of my computer and writing a little bit of a review. It is a lot of tongue and cheek. At the end of the day, I’m out to celebrate the history of Las Vegas. So, I’m not going to trash anybody.

This is about perpetuating what defines us as a growing community.

Rick's reviews:


Battista's:

Battista's was super cool. It reminded me of going out for I-talian food with my parents in Flushing, Queens. You don’t feel like you’re in a large establishment, although it is pretty big. There are a lot of small cool rooms. Tons of paraphernalia and nostalgic reminiscences of the old school all around you. The food is solid. I had a pretty good lasagna there. Would I go back? Yeah. I would do it if I had friends come into town.

Hugo’s Cellar:

The ladies get handed a rose at the front desk. Still! They don’t expect you to put the rose on the table. They bring you a vase to keep the rose fresh. The woman feels so special. You’re off to a huge start to have a great night. And the food is solid.

Pamplemousse:

I passed by Pamplemousse and it’s got this old purple weird looking sign … and I made the mistake of judging it because of its sign. I went into this old school building and it reminded me of a country inn on Sahara. It’s been around for a while. It’s a little musty. But as soon as they deliver the crudité, which is this gigantic platter of fresh vegetables, and you’re with people you enjoy, a smirk came on my face. I trained in French restaurants. I recognized all the dishes. The nostalgia was deep for me and the food was really, really good.

Bob Taylor Ranch House:

That was a blast! The oldest standing restaurant in Las Vegas. Before Summerlin was even on Las Vegas’ mind, Bob Taylor, over mesquite wood, was cooking steaks and having skeet-shooting contests and giving out belt buckles as prizes. Long before Vegas developed around him.

Michael’s:

It looks almost identical to what it looked like at the Barbary Coast. When I first came to Las Vegas almost 13 years ago, one of my customers told me to go to Michael’s. Finally I did because he wanted me to see the Dover sole.  I went there and it was so old school. The ladies would sit down get a menu – no prices. The men would get the prices because they were trying to be respectful of the experience.

When I went into the Michael’s at South Pointe, the maitre d’ remembered me from going to Michael’s at Barbary Coast several years ago. That was the only old school restaurant where I feel that I was recognized. These are real experiences. It’s not like they recognized me because I’m a well-known chef. I got into this restaurants no pomp and circumstance. I want to see what they are delivering.

Guests

Rick Moonen, chef, RM Seafood and Rx Boiler Room

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