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Review: Another high quality Tivoli restaurant as Ogden re-enters the Vegas fray

The restaurant collection at Tivoli Village gets more impressive every few months. The latest addition is Hops & Harvest, by Chef Bradley Ogden. While this modest place doesn’t come close to reproducing the gourmet cuisine of Ogden’s former Caesars Palace restaurant, its dedication to his “farm-to-table” tradition and respectable selection of craft beers make it a tremendous addition to the neighborhood.

When Ogden opened his eponymous Caesars Palace spot in 2003, he ushered in a new era for Las Vegas fine-dining kitchens. Before that, casino restaurants were expected to buy their produce, meats and other ingredients from whatever suppliers the casino chose — usually determined by price rather than quality. Ogden was among the first to insist on using only suppliers he knew personally, so he could vouch for the way his products were raised: free-range, without hormones and all the other methods of production that have now become synonymous with conscientious dining. He also assembled a superstar team of young chefs who quickly secured him the James Beard Foundation award for America’s Best New Restaurant. Unfortunately, Bradley Ogden closed its doors in Caesars Palace last year to make way for Gordon Ramsay’s pub. So Ogden’s return to Las Vegas has been greeted with justifiable fanfare.

Hops & Harvest has taken over the space once occupied by Bubbles and Burgers by Double Helix. Once you get past the peculiarly oversized entrance vestibule, you’ll find a large, spacious room with two bars and an outdoor patio. It’s modestly decorated with hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and simple furnishings. In fact, the flashiest part of the décor may be the blackboard behind one of the bars advertising specialty beers and beer cocktails in bright chalk designs.

The dinner menu begins with a section labeled “small plates/bites” that includes dishes such as grilled cheese bits with tomato herb sauce ($8), tuna sliders with crispy mushrooms and lime ($12) and barbecue pork belly with cheddar ale dipping sauce ($11). In contrast to those shareable plates, the “starters” section primarily features more traditional a la carte entrees such as sweet corn soup with grilled shrimp, pine nuts and basil ($10) and Ogden’s famed Maytag bleu cheese soufflé, offered with wild watercress, roasted fennel and cheery jam ($12). There are a handful of salads ($12-$18) and sandwiches ($12-$15), including one of Ogden’s simplest signature items: his hamburger. And the seven main courses are generally simple dishes such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes ($18) or fish and chips with tartar sauce ($17).

My wife and I started with two opposite extremes: short rib “nachos” ($9.5) and crispy polenta bites ($7.5). The first was a big sloppy mess of potato chips topped with short ribs, melted cheddar and horseradish sour cream — packed with flavor with no concern for restraint. (Unfortunately, a few days later it had been taken off the menu.) The second was a simple order of fried polenta, perfectly executed but rather bland without the green goddess dipping sauce.

For my entrée I had summer vegetable hash ($16). The simple potato hash was accented with a bright assortment of fresh vegetables, nicely flavored with just a hint of parmesan, and topped with a perfect slow-cooked egg. After being assured Ogden was still using Petaluma free-range chicken, my wife ordered the grilled chicken breast with arugula and mustard caper vinaigrette. While $19 might seem a little steep for a medium-sized piece of chicken without any vegetable or other side, quality products cost more, and it was well worth the splurge.

A few days after our dinner, I returned for lunch to sample the burger ($13.50 at lunch, $15 at dinner). Ogden’s burger at Caesars was repeatedly praised in the national and local press as one of the best burgers in the country. The offering here is a bit simpler, served without cheese, and with lettuce, red onions, green tomato and a house-made sauce on the side. Nonetheless, the patty and the house-made bun are as good as I remember.

I doubt any restaurant will ever replace the original Bradley Ogden in my heart. (Ramsay’s pub doesn’t even come close.) But simply having Ogden back in Las Vegas is worth celebrating.

HOPS & HARVEST, Tivoli Village, 450 S. Rampart Blvd., 476-3964. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, and follow him on Twitter @almancinivegas.