Agave Restaurant - Las Vegas
FOOD: Mexican, nuevo, modern, slightly hoity toity twists on the classics
WHERE: 10820 W. Charleston (near 215 and Red Rock Station)
COST: Not too bad, but you'll feel like you've cheated them when you leave
CHAIN/FRANCHISE: Don't think so. Owned by the people behind Sedona and Roadrunners, but I think this is the only one.
MUST YOU GO? You must, you must!
KICKING OURSELVES FOR NOT GOING SOONER: Absolutely.
OVERALL: Counting the seconds until we return.
First, I am definitely a gringo. I might have been the Spanish III honor student in high school and remember enough to be able to pronounce the chicken dish at the Michoacan restaurants to get a free tequila, but I'm pretty damned white. The closest I've come to Mexico is a few trips to Tijuana and that doesn't really count (except for a few meals at Hotele Lucerne).
I love Mexican food in all shapes and forms: real Mexican, fast food Amer-exican, Tex-Mex, New Mexican (stuffed sopapillas, anyone?), authentic Mexican. Along with real Q (my own and a select few restaurants) and Thai, I could eat Mexican for the rest of my life and just die happy.
Possibly sooner than anticipated, but happy, still.
That said, I have always viewed places like Agave with some trepidation. Do I reward their investment in a good architectural firm by throwing away $50 on mediocre food? Just what in the hell are they trying to pull anyway?
So, I've been wanting to go there ever since we had lunch at the also wonderful Island Burgers next door. Honestly, though, any time I see a building like Agave's, I wonder if they get it. Are they trying to lure me in with a cool building (that I get to help pay off through inflated prices)? The place is gorgeous, inside and out. The sundry pieces and parts (even our waiter) are all imported from Guadalajara, but that doesn't mean jack if the food doesn't work. It's even more dangerous when a chef decides to get all fancy, schmancy with a classic cuisine. Sure, Agave offers lump crab meat on top of their fresh guacamole, but they don't get it if the guacamole underneath "the twist" isn't good. I judge a restaurant by the simple things. For Mexican, their tortillas, guacamole, and pork green chile are my indices. Those three things are really simple, uncomplicated foods. If they get those right, they probably know what they're doing.
Oh boy, does Agave get it...and how.
The trio of salsas for the obligatory bowl o' chips were all great: one standard, one sweet chipotle, and one tomatillo. Not much heat in any of them, but the chipotle was my favorite. The blue and yellow corn chips were great. It seemed like there was a sprinkling of fine, crumbled cheese (cotija?) on them with the salt...not really enough to demand attention, but enough to notice.
We just had to try their freshly made guacamole...with lump crab meat. (Cue Robot Chicken M. Night Shyamalan "What a tweest!"). I perused the menu and decided to do the three Taco Sampler: carnitas with nopales salsa and tomatillo puree (muy standardioso, but props for the nopales), fried rock shrimp with chipotle crema & Mexican slaw (muy commercializado), and birria de chivo w/ avocado puree, cilatro, and onions. (Hell, yeah! Any restaurant that offers goat meat stewed in chiles and beer must have someone who knows their stuff. Muy autentico!)
My wife decided on the Shrimp and Crab Stacked Enchiladas with sweet corn-chile enchilada sauce and micro-greens.
The fresh guacamole appetizer is $8. For an extra George, you can have it made with chipotle peppers. For tres Jorges addicional, you can have a pile of lump crabmeat on top of it. Words can't really describe it, but that won't stop me. It might just be the best three clams you ever spend. I doubt the server would even flinch if I just ordered a big bowl of this for my entree next time. Seriously. Just put a trough of it in front of me and keep your hands out of the way.
If quicksand were made of this guacamole and crab, no one would ever escape. Why would you want to leave? No one would ever try.
The entrees arrived muy rapido, pretty much perfectly timed. The stacked enchilada plate was cookbook picture perfect, three inches tall, topped with beautiful red microgreens and sauced perfectly. My tacos were presented diagonally on the plate with a slice of lime for each. Beans and rice were on their own plate with what looked like a handmade, rather largish spoon for them.
First, my tacos in order of consumption: Rock shrimp.....um, rock shrimp, breaded and fried rock shrimp in one of those crunchy, but soft shells mixing with the juice from the slaw and the chipotle crema. Amazing. Incredible. The tortilla was also perfect. Obviously homemade due to the double layered feel and grilled to just the perfect point of warm, soft, and crispy.
Carnitas - eh, something tasted odd about them to me. OK, but not great. Very drippy, too.
Birrio de chiva - Yum, yum, yum, yum. Extremely drippy, but it what part of "stewed in beer and chiles" is hard to understand? For me, this is an occasional dish, but it's so good. Do not order if you're wearing a white shirt.
Now, for the Stacked Enchiladas.
Wonderful. Muy fantastico! A giant cylinder of sweet corn tortillas, crab, shrimp, sauce for nineteen smackers. Freaking awesome and totally responsible for KEEPING ME FROM HAVING ANY SOPAIPILLAS FOR DESSERT. As a responsible diner, I could not let my wife's leftovers go to waste...that and it was so damned good.
Speaking of sopaipillas, there is a horrible dearth of them in Las Vegas, stuffed or not. Garduños has them, but they're not as good as the ones in New Mexico, so we don't go that often. That made it all the more disappointing that there just wasn't any room for them.
Of course, Adobe is open 24 hours. Hmmmmm...
Go. Eat. Be happy.