Review: Pre-Theater dining at American Fish
My husband and I went to American Fish at Aria last night for the pre-theater menu, which was $55 pp and an additional $25 with wine pairings. We had plans to go to see Penn & Teller, and given our uncertainty about getting there and our tickets on time, we made a 5 p.m. reservation.
Loved the decor. It seemed like they were going for a natural, rustic vibe -- lots of wood in leather in the decor. However, it mostly worked, except for the leather straight-back chairs that seemed almost S&M-ish.
Our server was fantastic -- enthusiastic, attentive and funny. Only ding -- and this may be restaurant policy and not on our server specifically -- is that they were very sneaky about the pre-theater menu. It's prominently displayed outside, but when we were seated, we were presented with the regular menu and the tasting menu. We had to ask specifically for the pre-theater menu.
Ambience -- Generally great. As said before, the decor was beautiful, and I loved that we had a clear view of the goings on in the kitchen. (It was cool to see them throwing wood in the fire.) The restaurant wasn't loud at all, and they were definitely pouring on the mood lighting without it being too dark to see your plate in front of you. The music was only odd touch -- given the wood and leather theme, I would have expected more mood/instrumental music than the oldies and top 40 hits playing.
After ordering, we were presented with a basket of grilled ciabatta and cornbread muffins, along with two small dishes of olive oil and butter. We both tried each -- neither of us could pick a favorite! The cornbread was light and fluffy with a bit of crunch from the cornmeal; the ciabatta was buttery and crisp, with the flavor of the grill. Delicious. They also got points from my husband for the bread being warm: His pet peeve is to be served cold bread. Can I also say I loved their bread plates? The pitting on the rim of the bread plate made for an interesting optical illusion in the mood lighting of the place -- it made it appear as if there were delicate droplets of water along the entire plate. Very cool.
I picked the tuna tartare with wild arugula, quail egg and pine nuts; my husband got the shrimp and grits with jalapeno and Serrano ham. I tried a bit of his grits -- they were almost a little too, er, gritty for my taste, but they still passed the southern girl test, flavor wise. The jalapeno cream (Foam? I didn't take good enough notes!) gave a great bit of spice without overwhelming the dish. My husband said he wished they had crumbled the "bacon" -- the Serrano ham -- instead of serving it as big chips, but he loved it anyway. I was wild about my tuna tartare! The pine nuts gave a nice crunch, and i squeezed a little bit of the lemon garnish on it ... gave it great zing. The tartare was seasoned perfectly, and the quail egg was a nice touch. I wish i had saved more of the tiny egg to last the whole dish, but it was so good! It also came with slices of the grilled ciabatta.
The Main Course
I selected the sea-salt baked Hawaiian walu with artichoke, peas, mint and crispy polenta, after the waiter raved about it, saying it was his favorite fish on the menu; my hubby picked the cornmeal-crusted rainbow trout with smoked eggplant, panzanella salad and caper vinaigrette. I feel I should mention this -- there was a definite lag in time between our appetizers and main course. The restaurant was far from packed, though it seemed the kitchen still had a little trouble keeping up.
When our plates arrived, I thought my husband's plate looked a little messy; the fish looked wonderful, but everything else looked like too much going on. in contrast, i had two perfect pieces of fish, bathed in a lemon buerre blanc, and a mix of vegetables that were displayed beautifully. My husband's trout was crunchy on the outside, flaky on the inside. He LOVED it. Devoured it. The salad on the other hand ... remained mostly untouched. (He is picky about veggies, but it didn't look too appetizing to me either.)
My fish, too, was delicious in whole other way; moist, tender fish, seasoned beautifully. The beurre blanc was a great touch, although by the end of the dish, it was almost over the top. I'm not a huge fan of pea puree, but i appreciated that they left some peas not completely obliterated; it made it seem less like baby food. All of the elements went well together, though I was honestly wishing there was more artichoke. Artichoke + walu + beurre blanc = heaven. The polenta was tasty, but it also made me hit my corn limit -- between the cornbread, the grits, the cornmeal-crusted fish, and the polenta, it seems that the chef is almost obsessed with corn. I think he may need to read Omnivore's Dilemma.
In the not really a problem department, I was served too much fish. I didn't even get to my second piece, I was so full.
My husband got the farmer's market strawberries with almond milk ice cream, rhubarb and strudel. I got the Valhrona chocolate custard with red velvet cake, pecans and cocoa nib ice cream. I adored my dessert, particularly the custard, ice cream and the pecans, which seemed as if they were candied, but still were not too sweet. Both the custard and ice cream were velvety smooth, so the pecans were a nice counterpoint. I feel like I was commenting on the crunch in dishes all night, but I guess it just shows that the cooks were aware of variety in texture and taste. I liked that. I could have done without the cake, but it didn't take away either. My husband's dish, on the other hand -- not a huge fan. Seemed like it was more ice cream than strawberry and rhubarb, but he said it got better as you ate it. He loved it.
4.5 stars out of 5. There were a few missteps, but overall, it lifted our spirits after a long first day in Vegas. I'd return.
Total damage: $140 (including 1 glass of rose -- it was ok, nothing to write home about, tax and 20% tip.)
I've attached photos, but sadly they're not the best quality, since I took them with my iPhone.
3730 N Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89115