I doubt there’s anyone who’s a fan of both downtown redevelopment and good food who isn’t frustrated by the slow pace with which the downtown dining scene has expanded. While there are finally a handful of good spots to eat in the neighborhood, they aren’t a fraction of what’s needed for a truly vibrant scene. But we downtown cheerleaders are a glass-half-full bunch. So every few months we crow about a new restaurant that, while good, would be unexceptional in any other major city. The latest entry into the market takes this a step further, because it’s already commonplace here in the valley.
Just last week, the fourth location of the local Rachel’s Kitchen chain opened its doors in The Ogden. Excited to find another dining option in the area, I immediately dragged a chef friend to check it out. When I realized it had only been open two days, I thought it would be a little early to review the place. But as we sampled dish after dish, I couldn’t find any fault with the food. I was also impressed with the new staff.
For those unfamiliar with Rachel’s Kitchen, it operates two Summerlin locations as well as a spot in The District. While the hours vary by location (the new place is open until 8 p.m.), the casual menu is basically breakfast and lunch fare. But it’s considerably more interesting than what you’ll find in your typical sandwich shop. Among the more than a dozen salads, for example, you’ll find choices like the arugula pear salad, with shaved fennel, goat cheese, caramelized pecans and lemon-herb vinaigrette ($8.75), and grilled chicken breast with romaine, eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers, yellow squash, tomatoes and cucumbers in a balsamic basil dressing ($10.75). The six pastas range from mac and cheese ($10) to a signature penne with sautéed chicken, parmesan, eggplant, sundried tomatoes and mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce ($11.50). The 19 burgers, sandwiches and wraps ($8-$11) are equally dedicated to interesting combinations of quality ingredients. And there are plenty of healthy options, including a large selection of smoothies and fresh squeezed juice ($2-$5.50).
All of this is served up in a fairly large space on the Las Vegas Boulevard side of The Ogden. The indoor dining room, with peach walls and green tile tables, seats about 50 people, with room for more on the sidewalk. You order from a counter and your meal is brought to your table.
My friend and I began with a signature salad ($7.75): mixed baby greens topped with nut-crusted goat cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and balsamic basil vinaigrette. I’m not generally a salad guy, but this was so perfect that the additional grilled chicken we added to it ($2.75) proved completely superfluous, weighing down the otherwise light blend of flavors.
For our sandwiches, we had something called the 440 (grilled chicken breast, goat cheese, avocado, roasted red peppers, roasted tomatoes and romaine, $10.50) and curry chicken salad with Swiss, mixed greens, tomato and mayo ($10). All sandwiches are available with a choice of five breads, and we opted for ciabatta for the first, and French for the second. I believe that any good sandwich starts with good bread, and both of our choices were excellent. (My showoff guest correctly guessed they were the products of La Brea Bakery.) The fillings were also great. The curry was mild, but nicely spiced, and the roasted pepper added a nice touch to the 440.
My favorite dish of the day was a humble order of macaroni and cheese. The cheese blend itself doesn’t pack a lot of kick. But if you get it with mushrooms and onions, as the menu suggests, the former add a slight sweetness that provide a perfect accent.
The only other thing we sampled was a smoothie — something called an Incredible Hulk, made with bananas, peanut butter, soft silken tofu, milk and honey. I loved it. But there’s no way you’ll ever convince me something this thick and decadent is in any way healthier than a milkshake.
In most neighborhoods, Rachel’s Kitchen would be just another good lunch spot. Downtown, however, it’s worth getting excited about.
RACHEL’S KITCHEN, 150 Las Vegas Blvd. North, 778-8800. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net and follow him on Twitter at @almancinivegas.