There’s definitely been a de-theming trend among Las Vegas resorts lately. If you don’t believe me, consider the watering-down and eventual disappearance of the pirate battle at Treasure Island and the removal of most of the Egyptian-themed stuff (not to mention the really cool Nile River ride) at Luxor.
The Orleans still looks like a Disneyfied version of the Big Easy, but its venerable Canal Street restaurant has been replaced as the resort’s top dining ticket by Alder &Birch, a restaurant with a self-described “American tradition” that also feels like a watering-down. But apparently someone forgot to tell the kitchen.
For example: You would be hard-pressed to find crawfish in Las Vegas beyond the two locations of Lola’s A Louisiana Kitchen. But there they were in all their glory, the tiny mudbugs heaped upon a fillet of wild-caught Pacific salmon ($30), itself resting on a smallish mound of fresh spinach.
The menu promised that the fish had been baked on a plank of alder wood, reinforcing the current name and mission of the restaurant. Any hint of the wood was difficult to discern because of the rich nantua sauce (bechamel with crawfish broth or butter), but we weren’t complaining. The earthy sauce and attendant squiggles of creme fraiche furthered the richness of the fish instead of balancing it, but it was a worthy indulgence.
The NOLA theme was bolstered by our starter of a lump crab cake ($14), which was one of the best I’ve had in a while. The two largish cakes were indeed formed of lump crab and not much else aside from some complementary seasoning before being gently sauteed for a whisper-thin crispy exterior. With the accompanying remoulade sauce, they were excellent.
Grilled creamed corn ($7) was a refreshing departure from the steakhouse standard, not for the promised birch-syrup crust that was nearly undetectable but for the degree to which the corn had been charred before it was creamed, which added lots of smoky flavor and islands of not quite but almost crunchiness.
And a steak, since they’re so prominent on this menu: The grass-fed 16-ounce rib-eye ($41), perfectly medium rare as ordered and with a discernible boost in beefy flavor (not to mention a bit of salve to the conscience) from the way it was raised.
Service throughout was very good, our server particularly affable without being obsequious, the team approach ensuring that courses were well timed. The decor is every bit as classically modern as the website promises, with a sleek, contemporary look extending to the soaring stone two-sided fireplace. For that reason, the trendy dish-towel-style napkins were an odd touch that didn’t quite fit in.
Overall, though, Alder &Birch had far more character than we expected. Those subtle culinary touches further the charm that New Orleans lends to its namesake.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.
Alder & Birch, The Orleans, 4500 W. Tropicana Ave.; 702-365-7111
The essence: A retooling that retains New Orleans charm in spite of itself.