Strip Steak by Michael Mina, Las Vegas

The last 10 years changed the Vegas dining experience dramatically. The luxury hotel boom (thanks, Mr. Wynn) brought a myriad of worldclass chefs –or at least their names– to the middle of the desert. In a city moved in large by business travelers riding on handy expense accounts, the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet gave way to the $599 dinner tab.

We didn’t have reservations when we walked in, the modern steakhouse at the Mandalay Bay was fairly full but a few tables were still up for grabs. The dimmed ambient light and partitions gave the oversized dining room a somewhat intimate feeling. A wall to ceiling glass fridge proudly displayed the about-to-be-sliced meat, dry aging for all to see. The crowd was the classic Vegas mix. Business casual execs, still with their badges hanging around their necks; well dressed and not so well dressed tourists splurging for one night.

Service was very attentive and kind. Hostess and wait staff seemed to have been hired from a Ford Models casting audition. Our waiter, graduated architect, told us no other city paid as well.

The menu

The one-sheet menu features the classic steakhouse fare but Mina’s inventiveness is nowhere to be found. Instead, the choices are divided into clearly marked categories. No complex combinations or appetizing descriptions. Perusing the main courses feels like reading a grocery-shopping list. A kind of ala-carte, make-your-own buffet. To be fair though, the proposition seemed to be all about the ingredients.

Let’s start with the meats. The same cuts are offered in 3 different variations: All Natural Certified Angus, Masami Farms American Kobe and, the ultimate splurge, Japanese “A5” Kobe. If you don’t know exactly which one to order, looking at the price may give you a hint. Take the Filet Mignon for instance: $54 for 10oz Angus, $72 for 8oz American Kobe and, take out the AmEx Black, $195 for 6oz of A5. Curiously, as the price goes up the size goes down. It’s as much about taste as it is about exclusivity.

And because this is Vegas, you can add surf to any of the above turfs. Accompaniments include $26 Butter Poached Lobster Tail, $24 Steamed King Crab and $18 for 2 Grilled Scallops (a bargain).

If you feel like adding something else to the mix, the Classic American Side Dishes include 16 options to choose from. About $13 each.

The meal

Dinner started with a Trio of Duck Fat Fries, compliments of the Chef. Peppered fries with hot sauce, herbed fries with ketchup and truffled fries with truffled aioli. It seemed Michael Mina’s trademark was finally hitting the table. It was well received. But you can’t really go wrong with duck fat fries.

For appetizer, I went with the waiter’s suggestion, Bacon-Wrapped Lobster Fritters. Unfortunately, it was more fritters than lobster. What somewhat saved the dish was the crème fraiche, lime and lettuce that brought in some crispness and freshness.

As a main course, I had the “Eye” of Ribeye American Kobe, medium rare. The meat was perfectly marbled, tender, buttery and very flavorful. Made me wonder how much better could the Japanese version be. As sides, we ordered Artichokes “Rockefeller” and Truffled Mac & Cheese. The artichokes with spinach were bland and somewhat boring. The mac and chesse with broccolis, on the other hand, was rich and tasty.

Dessert time. Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Mandarin & Coconut sorbets. Finally, a beautifully presented dish, far above anything else we had there. As a final touch, the waiter poured a Lemongrass Consommé around the panna cotta. It definitely looked good. Taste wise though, it wasn’t quite as appealing. The mandarin sorbet overpowered everything else on the plate making it hard to enjoy the other things.

In short

Michael Mina’s take on the American Steakhouse is, uh, more Michael than Mina. Apart from the carefully selected high quality ingredients, there’s not much of the innovative cuisine that you find in his San Francisco restaurant. To be fair, my steak was great. I’d go back for it. But overall, the food and experience do not justify the high cost of dinning at Strip Steak. Unless of course you are a business traveler riding on handy expense account.

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