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Feb 23, 2010 12:17 PM

Drumroll . . . . . . . . . . . MUNDO

Mundo has a chance to be very, very special. We usually do not go that far out on a limb for a place that has only been open a short while, but with the pedigrees involved in both the kitchen and in ownership, there were already high expectations, and so far they have been met.

This is the new incarnation of La Madonna, which had been a hit in their short time in business, at the new digs downtown in the World Market Center. The location, sadly, may turn out to be a hindrance – there is an ample draw at lunch time, but the area does not produce much foot traffic on weekend evenings. But the food is worth seeking out.

Robert Solano is the mastermind in the kitchen, and we see a lot of Yucatecan influences (he is from Merida), a region that does not get nearly enough play on Mexican menus in North America. But his travels have brought a balance of knowledge throughout the various regions of Mexico, and his own takes on many traditional classics show a high degree of inspiration. While they are even billing Mundo as a “Culinary Haute Spot”, our own take is that he is making some of those classics more Mexican, taking them closer to their true roots, instead of necessarily modernizing them.

Today’s lunch was a good example. The starter was a “Rose Petal Salad” that brought back memories of a long and lazy afternoon in Mexico City several few years ago (Los Girasoles, if you must have the details, right across Plaza Manuel Tolsa and the Museo National de Arte). When a lot of fresh textures and aromas are combined this way (including pomegranate seeds and pumpkin seeds) it is easy to lose the balance, but there was a deft touch that made it all work. Then a “Prime Beef Tenderloin Chile Relleno” that brought the flavors together sublimely. Not a battered and fried bastardized relleno, but a freshly roasted pasilla, filled with the tenderloin, roasted mushrooms, and goat cheese, sitting on a pool of smoked chipotle sauce. The beef was the ideal protein to let the two different chile’s play off of each other, with the cheese helping to balance it all together. On the side was “Chile Lime Corn”, which brought many of the flavors of buying a roasted ear on a street corner in Mexico City or Guadalajara – the corn had just enough char to bring a smokiness into play, and a mixture that included chile arbol, cotija cheese, lime and cilantro made it a terrific accent. If you dropped a few kernels into the smoked chipotle sauce of the relleno, it was a good clumsiness.

We have not had a miss on a visit yet, but had to temper the early impressions because of the particular fondness for this kind of cuisine (keeping biases in check requires diligence). But Mundo is filled with fresh and vibrant flavors, and if the location has the staying power there is the potential to go far beyond anything that Las Vegas has seen in terms of Mexican cuisine.

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  1. wow. When I first read your report, I felt myself feeling truly jealous of my sister (JanetofReno) for living in Vegas....How many times have you been? Have you tried dinner yet?

    still , for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, the menu on the website turns me off a bit (at least compared to your excellent report). Perhaps it is just that so many of the seafood items are non-sustainable (Tiger shrimp; red snapper unless they are fussy about their sources; chilean sea bass, which isn't even found in Mexican waters; and again, unless they watch their sources very carefully, the ahi and swordfish....) or perhaps it is just that a few of the items do sound fusiony (chicken satay, tomato and burrata)...

    otoh, there is more that I'd really like to try, so yeah, it is on the list for my next trip. BTW, do they have a wine list? tequila list? what did you think of etiher if so? Can you tell us anything about the ambiance and service: is it upscale and in line with the prices?

    Thanks again for the great report!

    3 Replies
    1. re: susancinsf

      Lunch, Dinner and quick stop for a carryout visits, and a run through about half of the menu have formed some pretty good impressions about what they are trying to do at Mundo, and also some conversation with the staff. And not all that bad on the sustainability front except for the sea bass, but one of the issues that the restaurant is painfully aware of in these economic times is their own sustainability. Sea bass is a compromise for dorado, which could be a replacement in time, but the fear is that the latter would not sell in a market that would not recognize the name (we had asked why that fish did not appear on the menu). They also have confidence in their sourcing for snapper from the chef’s contacts in the Gulf region. The fact that we see swordfish both here, and on other menus again, could be a truly positive eco story. It had been a long time since any could be found at all on a Las Vegas menu, but shortly before the Holidays we shared a smoked swordfish carpaccio at Circo, and over the last couple of weeks we have see the fish hit several specials boards. Our fingers are crossed that proper planning and consumer discipline might be genuinely working, and could help to create models for other species going forward.

      But back to Mundo. We poked some fun at some of the menu descriptions because they drew some the same response that you had, but understand what they are trying to do – “burrata” turns out to be a version of their in-house queso fresco, but sounds more sophisticated, and apparently “satay” sounds better than just saying grilled chicken skewers. And on a Happy Hour menu we noticed sliders served on Hawaiian sweet bread. You want to cook your own way, but you also have to pay the rent.

      In truth, we have not even glanced at the wine list yet; this would be an awkward menu for pairings. We find a cold Negra Modelo to still be about as good of a match as there is, but most of these flavors also play very well to straight tequila, of which they have a well chosen list (a few drops of distilled water brings it in better balance with the food). The décor? That is another matter. It is a white tablecloth place lacking in charm or warmth, a real contrast to the kind of colorful and vibrant food that is being served. You get the feeling that it is a space that was never really meant to be a restaurant. But as long as we can focus on the plate that is in front of us, we will learn to deal with the surroundings.

      1. re: QAW

        hmm...can't say that the response on sustainability really does much to offset that off-putting sense I get from the menu..if what they want to use is dorado, why not just use it and call it by its Hawaiian name, mahi-mahi, which I suspect most reasonably sophisticated diners are very familar with these days...besides, a diner who is unwilling to consider ordering a fish just because they haven't heard of it is, IMO, not the sort of diner likely to enjoy a restaurant with high end Mexican food in the first place (can't you just hear a diner saying, 'sorry, but I don't pay $25 an entree for Mexican food'. come to think of it, I guess that is why they call queso fresco burrata, though I suppose technically at least that is what burrata is...). Ok, so I can forgive the queso fresco, but when it comes to the seafood, I don't buy it, and since you appear to be developing a relationship with them, I'd encourage you to encourage them to consider the possibility that their use of chilean sea bass is turning off more people than they would have to turn on to eating dorado/mahi-mahi.

        Clearly, I have to try this place. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will either love it or hate it. Possibly both. thanks again.

        1. re: susancinsf

          FWIW, I went to a catered event several months ago that was catered by Mundo...this was before the restaurant opened. They are also handling the catering in the World Market Center (btw, if you ever get a chance to go to a meeting there up in the rooms at the top..go..the view is great! You know those few windows you can see from the Southern side of the building on the top? There is a beautiful meeting room behind them...)....Anyway, I thought the food was excellent, especially for that large of a group (about 50 people). We had a choice of dishes, and although the seabass sounded great and had great sounding sides, I didn't order it because of the sustainability issue.

          I did enjoy that meal very much, and have been meaning to eat there now that it is open.....thanks for the reminder, QAW! I will make it a point to go and report back soon.....