Celebrity chef Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill in New York City has been one of the most popular eating destinations in the Big Apple for nearly 20 years. Flay's combination of traditional American foods coupled with the robust taste sensations of Southwestern cuisine has wowed diners and critics alike for years. A couple of the guys in my company had to be in Las Vegas last year for a small trade show and they ended up eating at the Las Vegas Mesa Grill located in Caesar's Palace. They declared it "fantastic" and said that we had to eat there during our recent trip to Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. On a Friday night, we did just that.
Anybody who knows anything about cooking or dining out is probably familiar with Bobby Flay. He's been involved in a number of television programs over the years, he's the author of nine cookbooks, he has a line of gourmet sauces and rubs, and that's not counting the three Mesa Grill restaurants he owns (including the Mesa Grill at the fabulous Atlantis resort/casino in the Bahamas), Bobby Flay Steak in Atlantic City, the Bar Americain restaurants in New York City and Connecticut, and Bobby's Burger Palace - a gourmet burger restaurant with five locations in the Northeast.
Flay opened the Las Vegas Mesa Grill in 2004 bringing his style of American/Southwest cuisine to, well, the Southwest. Flay has always been particularly fond of grilling and the menu at the Mesa Grill in Las Vegas is certainly indicative of that with such entrees as a New Mexican spice-rubbed pork tenderloin, ancho chile-honey glazed salmon, a bone-in chipotle glazed rib-eye, and a mango and spice crusted tuna steak all done over a wood-fire grill. Mesa Grill also has a number of wood-fire oven roasted specialties as well. One of my colleagues got the New Mexican-spice rubbed pork loin on his visit last April. He said he immediately thought of me when he got it.
The only problem is that we had a large group again - a couple three guys in our company were off doing their own thing with other obligations that evening, but the rest of us invited a couple guys each from the French companies of Micromega and Devialet to dinner that night giving us a total party of 12. And because there were 12 of us, we had to go off a prix fixe menu once again. And this menu was very small (Mesa Grill's regular menu isn't large to begin with) and included a coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin filet, the mango - spice crusted ahi tuna steak, and 16 spice chicken with a mango and garlic sauce. That's it. No New Mexican-spiced pork tenderloin. My colleague, Ian, who had that before knew that I was crest-fallen. That's the only thing I wanted to try on the menu.
I sort of shook my head and swallowed hard. I knew that Flay's grilling style is pretty good and being a griller myself I decided to go with the coffee-rubbed filet. I didn't know how the coffee rub would go with the beef, but at that point in time it was the lesser of all evils of what was made available to us on the menu.
We were limited to two appetizers - the tiger shrimp with roasted garlic corn tamale, and the Yucatan chicken tacos. Actually, the tiger shrimp with roasted garlic corn tamale was pretty good. That's what I ended up getting (apologies for the poor picture - but you get the idea). The shrimp were good sized, the garlic corn tamale was a great taste sensation and I was pleasantly surprised. I was really hoping that the rest of the meal was just as good.
Once again, having a large group it was difficult for everyone to visit with everyone else. The language barrier came into play, as well, with the French talking in their native tongue amongst themselves and with our guys from Montreal. There's nothing wrong with that in my book, but it makes for a lot of awkward looks, pauses and head turning during the evening. We've been told that it's best for the Americans to fan out at a table and not congregate at one end as to not offend our guests. But when everyone around me is talking French, there's a lot of idle time at the table. I try not take out my Blackberry and do a little surfing for scores or news, but it's pretty tough not to in those instances.
Our main entrees came out and I really didn't know what to expect from my coffee-rubbed tenderloin. I like the taste of coffee, but I'm not a coffee drinker. And the idea of eating ground coffee is not all that appetizing. (But I will say that one of the secret ingredients in my mom's spaghetti sauce recipe was ground coffee.) The coffee on the beef tenderloin at Mesa Grill was part of a heavy sauce that enveloped the piece of meat. It was a little overpowering in taste, I have to say. The steak was a tad over-cooked, but it was still tender and flavorful. At least, what I could taste of the beef over the coffee rub/sauce.
My colleague, Michael, got the mango-spice crusted ahi tuna steak. It was seared and served rare. Three large clams came on the side with it. Michael said, "Oh, it's very good. The spices zing it up a bit."
He said he was thinking about getting the coffee-rubbed filet, but decided to go the seafood route. His definitely looked - and sounded - better than my steak did.
I'm not certain anyone at the table got the chicken entree that was offered on the prix fixe menu. My colleagues Ian and Simon said that it would have been much better to order off the menu as they both thought it wasn't as good as during their visit last April.
Dessert was also included in the meal and that evening we were given Mesa Grill's Poached Pear Buttermilk Upside Down Cake topped with a butterscotch sauce and a scoop of spiced ice cream. Actually, it was very good. A nice little night cap to the meal.
As you can probably figure out by now I was pretty disappointed in my meal at Mesa Grill. It's not that the coffee-rubbed filet was bad - it was actually pretty good. But I couldn't order what I really wanted and that was a major disappointment. We decided if we came back and we had a large group, we'd just make reservations for two or three tables of six people. That way we'd be able to order exactly what we want off the menu and quite probably have a better dining experience.