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More bland for your buck : Gordon Ramsay’s Caesars gastropub lacks flavor

Braised pork belly roll / PHOTO: TODD LUSSIER
Braised pork belly roll / PHOTO: TODD LUSSIER

The biggest local dining story of 2012 — Gordon Ramsay opening three restaurants on The Strip — has been something of a roller coaster ride for me. I was originally excited that the world-renowned chef, who learned his craft in the kitchens of Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy and has gone on to earn 13 Michelin stars, would be cooking in Las Vegas.

My enthusiasm was tempered, however, when he decided to explore the three most overplayed concepts in town: a steakhouse, a gastropub and a gourmet burger joint. I understand Ramsay is better known to most Americans for his TV appearances and foul mouth than for his skills in the kitchen. The fans who will undoubtedly flock to his restaurants while vacationing in Vegas won’t be looking for haute cuisine. But surely he could do something more interesting than this.

But after my first visit to the extraordinary Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris hotel-casino, I was a true believer. There, he offers familiar cuisine done at the highest level. If his pub and burger joints did the same, I’d be a fan. Sadly, my hopes plunged again after my first visit to Ramsay Pub and Grill.

Ramsay’s Caesars Palace restaurant bills itself as a gastropub. It’s a term that literally refers to any pub that serves food, which is why it’s lost all meaning. But it originated in England, and the British chef seems dedicated to returning it to those roots. That means a great cocktail and beer menu, and lots of traditional English cuisine.

The restaurant is located in the space that previously housed Bradley Ogden. But the room and bar have been expanded, and it’s been remodeled to give it a dark pub vibe with a modern twist. The space is divided into two areas. Pub grub and small plates are available in the front, while larger entrees from the grill are served in the back. There’s a bit of overlap between the two menus, and both offer discounts for Caesars’ Total Rewards members. (The prices listed here are for non-members.)

My wife and I spent our first visit in the front section, starting with a complimentary order of pretzel breads accompanied by a delicious cheese spread. It was the best part of our meal. Next up was a Scotch egg, wrapped in beer sausage and deep fried ($8). I’d recently had a similar version made with a quail egg at Gordon Ramsay Steak, and it was delicious. This one, made with a chicken egg, was overcooked, dry and bland. An order of duck confit poutine ($12) was also disappointing. This French-Canadian dish traditionally features French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. At Ramsay, it’s simply a pile of crispy fries with gravy on the side, topped with bland duck meat and lightly sprinkled with cheese. (If you want to try this version of poutine, you’re better off at Public House in The Venetian, which uses real cheese curds and some amazing confit.)

Our final dish of the night was shepherd’s pie ($16), another item I’d loved at Ramsay’s steakhouse. In fact, I named that version one of the 10 best dishes I tasted in 2012. So I was astounded at how tasteless this beef and lamb version was. (It was so bad, I actually asked my waitress to bring salt and pepper to provide at least some modicum of taste.)

Normally, after three sub-par dishes, I wouldn’t bother returning. But the staff at the pub is exceptional, and I still had faith in Ramsay, so I dropped by again two days later. That visit was a much better. I had an excellent order of devilled eggs ($8), a good bowl of onion soup ($12) and a sticky toffee pudding ($10) that was almost as fantastic as the one served in the steakhouse. Unfortunately, an open-faced ham sandwich topped with Welsh rarebit ($18) was just as mind-numbingly bland as the dishes I’d had during my first visit.

I’m glad my journey in Ramsay’s restaurants took a positive turn on my most recent visit. But I still have a hard time recommending the pub. The place is new, so hopefully it will improve. In the meantime, I think I’ll wait a while to see what his Planet Hollywood restaurant BurGR has to offer.

Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 731-7410. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog,