We can tell Killer Shrimp’s signature dish originated in a home kitchen.
The dish came about, company lore has it, when founder Lee Michaels made it for his kids back in the ’80s. Apparently, it didn’t start out with the name, but the kids kept asking for that “killer” shrimp. One thing led to another — you know how these things go — and before long, Killer Shrimp was a company, headed by Michaels’ son Kevin, with restaurants in Southern California, San Francisco and, now, Las Vegas.
So how do we know the dish was developed in the Michaels home? Because the flavor isn’t the only thing that’s killer; order them original style and they’re in the shell, cooked and served in the spicy red sauce, which is a messy proposition best suited to a place where you can clean up easily. It’s so messy, our server gently attempted to talk us out of it. But we wanted to try the original version ($17) so we sailed on, dry-cleaning bills notwithstanding.
And how was it? Very good, as it turns out. The company says the sauce is simmered for 10 hours, and I don’t doubt it, because it had numerous layers of deep, complex flavors. The shrimp were cooked to advantage and were just firm, still on the tender side. (You might imagine that a company dedicated to something — in this case, shrimp — would know how to cook it, but that hasn’t always been our experience.)
You get a half-pound of fairly large, 26/30 shrimp, so that’s somewhere between 13 and 15, give or take. That’s a lot of shrimp, especially for $17, considering today’s food prices. (You also can get them shelled, or with rice or pasta or in a pot pie — in which case we presume they’re shelled — or in combos with other seafood.) Our original came in a big bowl of sauce, accompanied by crusty bread for soaking it all up.
Our server had told us they were about a 7 on a heat scale of 1 to 10, which gave us a little pause, especially when we dunked in a chunk of bread before trying the crustaceans. But this definitely isn’t, say, a Thai restaurant 7. And even though they’re cooked in the sauce, the shrimp don’t soak up much more of the heat than what was in the sauce clinging to them. Would shelled shrimp soak up more? Hmm, good question. Next time.
We wanted something more than shrimp, sauce and bread, so we landed on the blue cheese mashed potatoes ($6), which were creamy, with just enough of the assertively flavored cheese to not overdo it, and served in a rather generous portion.
Filet-wrapped sauteed scallops ($22) surprised us when they arrived because we didn’t see anything resembling filet. Closer examination found a very thin slice wrapped around each bivalve. Again, it was just enough to not overwhelm the delicate shellfish, and the Dijon mustard sauce added a well-tempered creamy note. The garlic mashed served with them were a solid rendition if not remarkable, but an effective, fairly neutral foil to the rest of the plate.
Guinness chocolate bread pudding ($7) for dessert truly sounded killer but turned out to be just sort of meh, the Guinness adding a mellow note but not much else, the pudding in need of more moisture, despite the presence of vanilla ice cream and some caramel sauce.
Service throughout was just fine. We liked the atmosphere, which is in the vaguely industrial style so popular in restaurants today, but the restaurant’s location did catch our attention. We have, you see, reviewed two other restaurants in the same spot (and maybe there were more in between that we missed); this is clearly one of those challenging locations that seem to plague Town Square, tucked in as they are among wildly popular restaurants.
The company’s website identified founder Lee Michaels as a “well-known rock musician”; when the name didn’t ring any bells, a little research revealed that he’d had a top-10 single, “Do You Know What I Mean?,” in 1971. If you remember the song, you’ll remember that Michaels accompanied himself, rather exuberantly, on a Hammond organ.
That was as unlikely in 1971 as it is today. If anybody has a chance to turn around a Town Square elephant burial mound, we figure Michaels and his Killer Shrimp are a good bet.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.comre and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.