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Las Vegas Report, Part I: Birthday Dinner at Rosemary's (long)

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Las Vegas Report, Part I: Birthday Dinner at Rosemary's (long)

susancinsf | Mar 2, 2008 11:50 AM

Since my twin, JanetofReno, recently moved to Vegas, hubby and I decided it was high time we headed down to check out their new house...and no better time than our joint birthday, since it gave us lots of excuses to go out and celebrate it in style...Chowwise, the unquestionable highlight for me was Lotus of Siam, but for our birthday dinner we decided we wanted something a bit more upscale.

There have been lots of reports on Rosemary's on the board, mostly very positive, and it is fairly close to Janet's new house, so she was eager to try it. For reasons I really can't quite explain, I had my doubts that it was as good as claimed...but then, it could be simply be that I was a star-struck tourist looking for excuses to stay on the Strip. Nonetheless, when we found out that Sunday night, the night we wanted to celebrate, was half-price night for wines by the bottle at Rosemary's, that sealed the deal, and Janet made our reservations for a party of four.

I was surprised when we arrived to discover that Rosemary's was in a nondescript strip mall (though why I should have been surprised I don't know: Vegas appears to be the home of the strip mall). Parking right in front was a breeze. The bar area in front and semi-open kitchn in back eliminates that 'strip mall' feel once one walks in, and the restaurant certainly feels cozy, though the decor is not in the least exciting.

We were warmly greated and seated promptly. Black napkins were brought for those of us wearing dark clothes: a bit of a pretention perhaps, but some people appreciate that sort of thing. Unfortunately, our table left more than a bit to be desired: it was right in the flow of service traffic. Janet wondered if we should ask to move, but the guys (especially my
hubby) didn't want to 'fuss'. Perhaps he should have: hubby was bumped by a server at least twice during the evening. For other's information, I also noticed that most of the two-tops (at least in the main dining room we were in, there is a back/side room I didn't get a good look at) are closely spaced and not in great locations, though I did see a few couples seated at four tops. I would definitely try and request one for a romantic dinner a deaux...

So, that is the bad side of the ambiance. On the plus side, the lack of fancy decor gives the place a non-pretentious and comfortable feel, and though we weren't sure how to dress, so gussied up just a bit, we'd have been fine in jeans.

Unfortunately, our server didn't get the 'non-pretentious' message. The napkins bit would have been ok by itself but her manner was quite annoyingly fake...She always used the 'we' language I hate and that ironically strikes me as a way to distance oneself from the diners: 'how are we doing?' 'Are we enjoying the wine?' 'Are we all enjoying our mains?'....argghhhh....that combined with long gaps in the pacing of courses and in getting the bill when we were done, the bumping, and a considerably less than satisfactory experience with the sommelier (more on that in a minute), and I have to say: service was not impressive, and probably took down the overall experience at least a few notches.

In regards to the wine list and service: Yes, Sunday is half priced night for all bottles, and a darn good thing too. The wine list was one of the more expensive relative to the cost of the food that I have seen in quite some time. It appears to me that much of this expense is due to the fact that the list is very heavy on expensive wines, though markups are high and they are still making money at half price, not to worry...

A small example, based on our experience. We weren't planning to drink much, and didn't want to indulge at the high end, even for our celebration, and decided a Pinot Noir would fit the bill. A favorite, the Navarro 2005 Méthode à l'Ancienne, was on the list at $60 (I think, see below), which is a bit more than twice what one would spend to order it from the winery, where it is $28. (As for retail pricing, Navarro is generally not available in stores; only at the winery and in some restaurants).That isn't too awful I guess, (and means that it is a good deal on half price night) but at $60 it was by far the cheapest Pinot on the list; IIRC the next cheapest Pinot was something like $84, and most were well over $100. Indeed, there were very few full bottles anywhere on the list for under $100 (reds and whites), and perhaps only a total of five or six wines, white or red, form any country or region, priced at less than $70 (on a very long list). In particular, looking at the Rieslings, I
was struck by the huge contrast of this list with the wonderful list at Lotus of Siam, where the night before we had enjoyed a truly lovely German Riesling for about $40: At Rosemary's the Rieslings start in the mid-seventies or low eighties and go up from there...

I wasn't sure I really wanted to drink what is in essence one of my house wines on my birthday, and the Sommelier must have seen me frowning, so he came over offering to help. I told him I liked the Navarro style, but was looking for something different this evening, and could he recommend either a Pinot or a similar red in the price range of one I pointed to that I didn't know but that was $80 (I couldn't very well ask for something in the range of the Navarro, since there really wasn't anything else in that range). He told me that if I liked the Navarro I should try X wine, and pointed to one that was $175 (!). Ok, that was it, just out of annoyance as much as anything I told him, no thanks, I really didn't want to spend that much and we'll have the Navarro, thank you. Big minus points for recommending a wine that cost nearly $100 more than I had indicated I wanted to spend ($50 more on half price night, but still....), not that he had many options to recommend in my price range, of
course...

By the way: I didn't check the bill when hubby signed it (It was my birthday after all!) but I just got it from him to help me write this report, and we were charged $33 for that bottle of Navarro! So either it was $66 to start with or we were wrongly charged: $33 isn't half of $60, obviously, and I am almost positive that $60 was the price on the list..come to think
of it, hubby got the three course pre-fixe but the bill reflects individual prices charged for each item...check your bill VERY carefully at Rosemary's and they just went down another few notches in my book.

Enough about the wine; I am only spending this much time on it because many prior posts rave about Sunday night half price night, but I haven't seen much discussion about how pricey the list is to start with. You have been warned. Definitely go on Sunday night if you want wine, but still be prepared to spend. You can check out the list at: http://www.rosemarysrestaurant.com/pd... but it may be outdated and in any case prices aren't listed.

Ok, onto the food: We were brought an amuse to start with, a type of savory bread pudding with asparagus. Tasty. Bread was brought: we were each given two rolls: one was a completely tasteless and none too fresh potato roll, the other was a flavorful, but quite sweet, roll with white chocolate. Huh?

The menu is fairly wide-ranging, with lots of options to mix and match apps and mains. Dishes we tried were:

Soup: Unfortunately, I didn't order this myself and didn't catch the exact description, but it was some type of shrimp bisque. I did have a taste of hubby's, and thought it was a miss: it tasted for all the world like it was made with Knorr's packaged soup mix, sort of an almost metallic taste. I would not order this again.

Parmesan Souffle: Jerry's choice for a starter: rich, flavorful, twice baked and thus not too light; more of a quiche texture than a true souffle I thought. Good, though not great.

Roasted golden beet and St.Andre Triple Cream, with watercress Salad: two of us had this. I have to say, the beets were some of the sweetest and most flavorful I've had in a long time, and the pomagranite dressing was very good and applied with a deft hand. The cheese was a surprise: I expected pieces on top of watercress and beets, but it was entire intact and generous slice (complete with rind) lying on the plate with the beets and greens. So basically one got a beet and watercress salad and a slice of cheese. That said, the cheese would have been absolutely lovely if it had been served at proper temperature: it
wasn't exactly cold, but it was still below room temperature. Mixed grade on the salad.

Arugula, endive and radicchio salad: this was hubby's choice and it was the winner dish of the night! I can't say that I consider a meal to be a top dining experience when a salad is the highlight, but this one truly was great: the greens were delicious and it was perfectly dressed with a tangy dressing that was full of flavor without being overpowering.

(at this point, there was a fairly significant wait before the next dishes came...but the waits got worse later...)

Caesar Salad: Jerry had this for a main after the rich souffle... I didn't taste it, but it looked good and he seemed to enjoy it.

BBQ shrimp: Janet's third course: (listed as an app on the menu, she had it as a main): I thought it was another miss (poor Janet, I think she ended up with some of the less good options that night). The shrimp were small (and there weren't many of them), coated with a rather heavy and perhaps a bit clunky bbq sauce, but the real problem was the accompanying blue cheese slaw which took up most of the plate: it was waayyy too heavy on the blue cheese and overpowered everything else about the dish in an unpleasant way. I can't remember if she even finished it: had it been my order I would have left more than half. I love bbq'd shrimp but definitely would not order this version again, and only recommend it to the biggest of blue cheese fans (even then, the slaw is available as a side, so no need to order shrimp you won't be able to taste with all that cheese and sauce).

Scallops: my entree. I got lucky, at least in part: the scallops were perfectly seared and absolutely delicious! They come with fried parsnip strips which were forgettable, and I ate only a bit of them (there was a HUGE mound) before tiring of them, and what is either a potato puree or a parsnip/potato puree (the online menu lists parsnip but I don't remember it in the house menu description, though it could just be that I don't remember.)...either way, the potatoes were absolutely the most tasteless I can remember having in a long time. You could easily have convinced me that they came from a box. Quite a disappointment given that the scallops themselves were so nicely done.

Ahi Tuna: this was hubby's choice, listed as a special, available on the pre-fixe. The tuna itself was very nicely barely cooked to rare as requested. It came with a crust that contained capers and other ingredients...I am not a capers fan, so probably am the wrong one to judge, but I thought the crust was overly salty (and tasted too much of capers :-)). Otherwise, a fine dish: not exciting or innovative, but very good. Portion was a nice size, but not overpowering. Hubby said he enjoyed it...

After our mains, we were fairly full, but it was our birthday, so dessert was in order! None of us can resist bread pudding, and we all love coconut, so we asked for two orders of the coconut bread pudding. Hubby asked for an espresso. After about fifteen minutes, the espresso came, hubby drank it slowly while we all chatted. Ok, desserts couldn't be far behind...or could they? After another longer wait we flagged down the server, asked her if she could check on the desserts...she said she would check...another wait, and then they come out, with candles in them, 'for the ladies'...Ok, we didn't tell her it was our birthday, (well I suppose Janet could have when she made the reservation, and I guess we do look like twins since we are. OTOH, I sure hope the table we got isn't one they give to a group they know are celebrating a special occaison like a double birthday!). I think they overheard the hubbys' birthday toast after wine was poured. Kudos for that, I guess, but I am hoping that putting a candle in the bread pudding is not what slowed it down so much: I'd rather NOT have my birthday recognized and get the dessert a bit sooner...(Our server did say when the desserts were brought that the bread pudding was one of the slower ones because it is 'made to order', which I will admit strikes me as a bit odd: bread pudding doesn't seem like a made to order type of dish to me, but who knows). As for the taste of the bread pudding: it was very good, but a bit sticky and heavier on coconut than on
bread (though perhaps that is a good thing).

In addition to the two bread puddings, a plate of delicious (and complimentary) various mignardese were brought, with 'Happy Birthday' written in chocolate around the edge of the plate. We were unfortunately too full to finish them, but the chocolate truffles were particularly wonderful and a nice end to the meal.

Total cost for our meal before tip was $228.70, though as I mentioned above, we may have been slightly overcharged for the wine and since hubby had a pre-fixe but was charged for individual dishes. With the half priced wine it wasn't a bad price for four, but then, several of us had small appetites and mostly stuck to appetizers.

More importantly, the food was only ok to good, and didn't shine in a way that would make me want to hurry back.

Bottom line: I admittedly was a skeptic going in, but nothing about my experience (or that of my three dining companions) changed my mind: the wine list is pricey, our table was somewhat uncomfortable, there is a disconnect between the ambiance and level of service, service was very slow at times, the Sommelier wasn't very helpful, and the food, with a few exceptions, was ok to good, but certainly wasn't great.

I can't figure out why other hounds love the place so much. My best guess is that either they are very eager to get away from the strip, or perhaps that they come to visit from places without a lot of mid to upper range options. Ok, I will admit to being spoiled living in San Francisco, but if any of you come to my town I could recommend at least five or six restaurants right off the top of my head that are in the same price range or cheaper than
Rosemary's, with far superior food of a similar ilk. Heck, could probably think of three right in my neighborhood....

And in Vegas, honestly I think one can do better. Much better. Even if one doesn't want to spend all of one's time on the strip. As I said to Janet when she asked me what I thought as we were leaving, 'it was ok, but I wish we had gone to Lotus of Siam two nights in a row instead'.

Sometimes it pays to listen to one's inner voices...

Up next, hopefully in the next day or two before I become a Grandmother for the first time and have no time to do reports for a while :-)), will also report on our lunch at Agave, a few meals hubby and I had up in Zion National Park (where chow pickings are slim especially in winter but the hikes make it worthwhile) and hopefully on a few new to me dishes at LOS....

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