Las Vegas Chow: Firefly Tapas, Burgers, Gelato + Wynn Buffet

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Firefly* Tapas Kitchen
3900 Paradise Rd., Las Vegas, NV 89169
Web: Firefly* Tapas Kitchen
Phone: 702.369.3971
Rating:    [learn more]
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"Where Firefly* became most interesting was in its selection of Spanish-style hams and sausages, offered as full dishes and as accents to others, such as Chorizo Clams."

During the week we spent in Las Vegas, we had so many memorable meals - good and bad - that we could easily have filled the entire Buffalo Chow page with articles, but out of respect for readers who mightn't be so interested in dining outside the area, we've compressed the experiences into three articles: the first dealt with Joël Robuchon at the Mansion, this one, the second, focuses on a few less well-known burger, tapas, and buffet options, and the third looks at two places that are famous inside and outside of Las Vegas: Thomas Keller's Bouchon, and Saipin Chutima's Lotus of Siam. Many additional photographs and details can be seen in our Las Vegas restaurant photo gallery on Facebook.

Le Burger Brasserie. As we've noted in prior articles on Southern California, the humble hamburger is in the midst of a renaissance on the West Coast, as chains such as In-N-Out, Carl's Jr., and Jack in the Box have been competing primarily with one another to improve the quality of burgers rather than just selling ever-cheaper value meals. Thus, it's only half surprising that a quick look at Urbanspoon's Las Vegas page currently shows a burger restaurant as the "best fine dining restaurant" in the city, while the list of "100 best restaurants in Las Vegas" has In-N-Out improbably ranked at number four. We haven't given much weight to Urbanspoon's seemingly computer-generated rankings, and these don't do anything to convince us of their validity, but there's a simple truth: burgers are a big business these days, and people love them.

Le Burger Brasserie at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas isn't the highest Urbanspoon-ranked burger place in the city, but we were interested in trying it anyway: reviews have been generally effusive, and after visiting The Counter in California, we wanted to see how another restaurant would tackle gourmet burgers. The answer was premium ingredients - multiple types of buns, including the caramelized onion one shown here, deluxe cheeses, and other toppings such as shrimp, roasted red peppers, and olives. Our meal took a long time to come out, but the burger was a thing of beauty and delicacy, the shrimp colorful and perfectly yielding, all but melting into the surprisingly soft and fresh onion-topped roll, with a reasonably sized, high-quality meat patty. At $15 after the shrimp were added on at a $3 premium, burgers here surely aren't cheap, but they're delicious, and point the way for the next generation of everyman "fine dining" favorites.

Le Burger Brasserie (Paris) on Urbanspoon

Firefly* Tapas Kitchen. Though the challenge is particularly pronounced in Western New York, where the word "tapas" has been co-opted to describe small dishes that have little or no relation to the Spanish foods that traditionally have merited that name, finding tapas in any city is somewhat of a crapshoot. As with dim sum, there's a core group of ingredients and items that tend to appear no matter where you go, and then there's everything else - essentially, the chef's and management's favorites - which can make a given tapas place really exciting or pretty plain.

The menu at Firefly* Tapas Kitchen is a page long, but it's packed with interesting choices - especially seafood - and our group of five dug deep into them: the Ceviche of Shrimp ($8.50), a small but wonderful little bowl of lemon-marinated tiger shrimp, chopped tomatoes, and celery with an avocado slice on top and crispy tortilla crackers on the side; similarly small but beautifully presented Lamb Chops ($8.50) atop a bed of julienned peppers, peas, onions, and tomatoes; then the Pulpo Asado ($7.50), a plate that tossed together marinated octopus, sliced potatoes, tomatoes, and herbs. The Pulpo Asado was particularly striking visually, an earthy mix of semi-distinct elements, but the octopus was overcooked and too sparing, fading into the background rather than taking its rightful starring role in such a dish. Thankfully, a plate of Camarones a la Diabla ($10) - "devil's shrimp" - was nicely spiced and properly cooked to preserve the moist texture of the shrimp, if again a little too expensive given the portion size; the plate was padded with bread to offset the small number of shrimp. Firefly's skillet of bacon-wrapped, crumbled bleu cheese-covered Stuffed Dates ($4) turned out to be a surprisingly potent and fun combination of flavors and textures, alternating between meaty/crispy, sour/soft, and sweet/chewy depending on the layer we were focusing on, drowning out what little flavor from the red wine reduction sauce it was supposed to include.

Where Firefly* became most interesting was in its selection of Spanish-style hams and sausages, offered as full dishes and as accents to others. A portion of Chorizo Clams ($9.50) was so stuffed with tasty sausage and clam meat that we couldn't finish it, while the Marguez ($8) arrived with four long, homemade lamb sausage links, roasted red peppers, and a garnish of crumbled goat cheese - all wonderful, and like the Clams, a great value for the dollar. Surprisingly, a Sausage Plate ($7.50) consisted of four different types of Spanish ham and sausage, thin-sliced and served cold, beneath a dollop of mustard, some capers, and cornichon pickles; it was a nice sampler of the cold meats that Spaniards so love, though we would have preferred the mustard arrive on the side rather than smack dab on the meat.

The shock of the meal was a dish that we'd normally pooh-pooh on name alone: the Filet Mignon Sliders ($7.50). Two different people in our group ordered them out of curiosity, and the results were so positive that a third placed a subsequent order: the soft buns were topped with small but succulent pieces of filet that were decorated with a little Serrano ham and crumbled cabrales cheese, then drenched with a cream sauce and served alongside ribbon-like fried onions. Tapas restaurants generally aren't great places to go for burgers, and these aren't particularly Spanish other than the toppings, but it's hard to mind a nice little option like this when the rest of the menu is so authentic. We'd rate Firefly* as a 2.75-star restaurant overall, and worthy of further visits in the future.

Firefly* Tapas Kitchen and Lounge on Urbanspoon

If there's any city in the world that's known for great buffets, Las Vegas would be it, and in our past experiences, the buffet at the Wynn Hotel was the best of the bunch: a staggering array of high-quality international foods served at a fairly steep $40 entry price, with certain specials - Pomegranate-Encrusted Elk, on one visit - standing out in our memories as well beyond the standards of any other buffet we've found. Unfortunately, our most recent visit to the Wynn Buffet was so profoundly disappointing that we've decided not to discuss it in detail or ever visit again; we note only a few details for those who might be considering a visit in the near future.

The same wide array of foods remains on display: literally five different types of ceviche, big and small salads taken from various countries and styles - Thai Beef, Greek, and various Italian versions - plus everything from king crab legs to big slices of roast beef, Spanish hams, mussels, Tandoori Mabi fish and a few other Indian dishes, and much, much more. Everything looks great, and the opportunity to grab as many fresh white anchovies or as much octopus, various types of cooked fish, and lamb as you desire might well appeal to your sense of gluttony. Unfortunately, the standards have slipped so much at the Wynn that virtually everything we tried tasted weak or poor, having sat out too long or never been prepared especially well in the first place. Moreover, its once-beloved gelato assortment has been replaced with ice creams, and its massive dessert bar was serving up mediocre crepes, bread pudding, and small slices of cake that could only be described as hugely disappointing. In short, what was once an incredible sign of just how great a premium buffet could be has fallen into the sort of mediocrity that would never justify the high price of entry. It's a shame, but we'll be looking and hoping for something better next time we're in town.

Buffet (Wynn) on Urbanspoon

Jean Philippe Patisserie. Last but not least on our tour of Las Vegas was the newest location of the Jean Philippe Patisserie, originally opened by Chef Jean-Philippe Maury in the Bellagio hotel and now also in the ARIA, part of the ultra-decadent, $11-billion CityCenter created in the middle of the Las Vegas strip by Dubai World and the MGM Mirage. Opened in mid-December 2009 after a number of delays, CityCenter feels in places like a ghost town, its high-end stores and planned restaurants only partially opened, but what's there is eye-grabbingly modern and sophisticated. Jean Philippe Patisserie is essentially its candy shop, a bakery and gelateria found right next to the ARIA's casino floor, and there's no doubt: it's really good.

As much as we love ice creams and frozen yogurts, we have a weakness for gelatos, particularly ones that are presented as beautifully as Jean Philippe's: the display case features large, raked trays of the soft cream flavors, each with a topping that somehow winds up mixed in with the gelato scoops you receive. A standard chocolate gelato was rich and deep in flavor, mixed with tiny, crunchy dark chocolate balls for texture, and a dulce de leche gelato contained thick swirls of gooey caramel, undisturbed by the process of scooping them up for serving. Fruit sorbets - lemon and strawberry - were less compelling, though as with the gelatos, they were served two nice big scoops to a bowl for $5.

We mentioned it previously in discussing San Francisco's Melt, but the point bears repeating: Western New York shops could learn a lot from the way dessert places outside the area present their sweets - even in something as seemingly simple as gelato, the colors, the delicacy, and the toppings can sell the desserts before you even try a sample, a major difference from the all but hidden freezers at local places such as Dolci. As delicious as Jean Philippe's gelatos were, it's the way they looked that has lingered the longest in our minds, and there's little doubt that unforgettable items have the best chance of bringing people back for more in the future.

Jean Philippe Patisserie (Aria) on Urbanspoon

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