BY JIM BEGLEY
APRIL 21, 2017
In late 2016, Charlie Palmer’s Aureole at Mandalay Bay underwent a facelift, making the room brighter and more accessible while dressing the famed Wine Angels in more angelic outfits in which to scale the restaurant’s equally famous wine tower. And the menu underwent surgery, too, under executive chef Johnny Church in his return to the Charlie Palmer empire and the Strip. And the patient is looking marvelous.
Church, a minor television celebrity after a stint on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, is no stranger to the Strip, with former executive chef positions at RM Seafood and PJ Clarke’s under his belt after spending an early portion of his career in the same Aureole kitchen he now oversees. This experience serves him well in having the confidence to unveil creative dishes such as the raclette fondue. Instead of being served from a boiling cauldron, his rendition arrives at your table topping a plate of seasonal crudités, delivering all the flavor from the cheese with none of the gratuitous skewer dipping.
Equally as inventive is the “California” crab roll. Anytime quotation marks appear on a menu, be prepared for a recipe riff; this holds true as the sushi roll envelops buttery lump crab in milky avocado adorned with puffed rice added for texture. Likewise, the irreverent turkey, ham and Swiss meatballs are a playful serving of Gruyère-stuffed delights topped with jamón Ibérico and basking in a creamy peppercorn sauce. The meatballs ooze with nutty cheese, while the peppercorn sauce accents the robust meat garnish.
The creativity doesn’t end there. Fried “chicken oysters” highlight the lesser-utilized nuggets of dark meat found on the fowl’s posterior in a spinach espuma and lemon butter while topped with lardo. The beef and octopus carpaccio is a marvel of presentation, texture and flavor. Hearty beef cheek potato ravioli are complemented by a smoke-forward tomato cream sauce. The robust 4x seared bone-in ribeye—so-named for the quartet of sear preparations it receives with sea salt, soy sauce, mirin and uni—intrigues with its complexity as flavors layer upon one another. And the Veta la Palma sea bass, deboned at your table, is heavy with smokiness balanced by a well-seasoned chimichurri.
Elsewhere, an umami-forward cavatelli pasta with duck confit explodes with earthiness from the intermingling of wild mushrooms in a truffle cream sauce. And lionfish ceviche targets the invasive seafood off the Florida coast, delivering the predator with spicy aji amarillo. Saving Mother Nature never tasted so good!
Finish your evening with cold-pressed coffee panna cotta. The light, espresso-laden sweetened cream mold rests atop huckleberry compote, adorned with brown butter powder. Coupled with a floral lavender ice cream, the combination delivers a myriad of flavors with each spoonful. It perfectly sums up the new Aureole because, like most of Church’s other creations, the dish unfolds in an unexpected manner. What should never be unexpected from Aureole is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Mandalay Bay, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., lounge 5-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat. 702.632.7401