Few people have had as much influence on the Las Vegas restaurant scene as Elizabeth Blau. She helped shape the game-changing fine-dining programs at both Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas. She was also instrumental in pioneering the move toward gourmet comfort food, most notably by partnering with Prime Steakhouse chef Kerry Simon in his restaurants at Hard Rock Hotel and Palms Resort Casino. Together with her husband and partner, Chef Kim Canteenwalla, she opened the award-winning Society Café in Encore, which drew national attention by putting a whimsically elegant spin on the casino coffee shop. Now the couple has moved into the ’burbs, opening a new restaurant called Honey Salt in the Boca Park space that formerly housed Nora’s Wine Bar.
Blau and Canteenwalla say that Honey Salt is intended to provide guests a glimpse into their culinary life at home. To do that, they’ve totally renovated the space. One wall of the large, bright dining room is white-washed brick, while the other is a collection of antique mirrors. Distressed vintage chairs are paired with antique chandeliers, and the walls boast artwork by renowned photographers as well as family members.
The menu at Honey Salt leans towards the kind of elevated, familiar fare you would find in a nice neighborhood restaurant in a large city. It’s comfortable, but not quite “comfort food,” with none of Simon’s hipster irony or Society’s funky flash. (The trendiest thing about the menu is its dedication to using local suppliers and organic products whenever possible.) Appetizers include yellowtail crudo ($14), fried seafood with shishito peppers ($13) and steak tartare ($14). Among the entrees, you’ll find turkey Bolognese with faro ($18), salmon with quinoa pilaf ($25) and a pair of steaks ($28 and $32).
When my wife and I visited, the place had been serving customers for just a couple of weeks. Nonetheless, it was packed on a Monday night. Canteenwalla was in the kitchen, assisting Executive Chef Joe Zanelli.
We began with an order of turkey meatballs ($9) and something the menu refers to as “my wife’s favorite salad” ($13). The meatballs were amazing, wonderfully seasoned, bathed in a rich, spicy sauce and accompanied by a large mountain of caramelized onions and a dab of horseradish. They were the homiest dish we’d have all evening. My salad, on the other hand, was the most sophisticated part of our meal, in both taste and appearance. The colorful plate of arugula, frisee, pine nuts, pomegranate and cracked pepper was wonderful. My only complaint was that the soft-boiled egg I added for an additional $1 was slightly overcooked.
For my entrée, I had a dish inspired by Canteenwalla’s childhood: Nana’s tiffin chicken curry ($20). Arriving in a pair of stacked containers, the basmati rice and curry were considerably better than what you’ll find in most local Indian restaurants. My wife’s roast swordfish, served alongside slow-cooked sweet peppers and artichokes in basil oil ($27), was also extremely good.
Unable to finish our entrees, we still couldn’t resist looking at the dessert menu. Despite our full bellies, it was tough to resist temptations like pumpkin cheesecake with salted caramel and spiced pumpkin seeds; warm bread pudding with bourbon toffee sauce and honey and salt whipped cream; a cookie plate; and an assortment of McConnell’s ice creams that includes such flavors as salted caramel chunk and pumpkin pie ($9 each). In the end we passed — but only after promising ourselves we’d return soon for dessert.
The service on the night we visited was sporadic. Many of the staff were seasoned veterans that I recognized from quality Strip restaurants, offering perfect service. Others were obviously still training. The place is brand new, however, and given the quality of Blau’s organization, I’m confident everyone will be up to speed soon.
Summerlin has long been a neighborhood that, despite its wealthy residents, is sadly lacking in quality restaurants (with a few notable exceptions, of course). Honey Salt fills that void by offering an experience head-and-shoulders above what you’ll find in any of the chain restaurants that thrive there. The food is simple enough that anyone will feel comfortable, but taken to a level that will impress real foodies. The vibe is casual, but refined. And you can’t beat the location. It looks like Blau has another hit on her hands.
HONEY SALT 1031 S. Rampart Blvd., 445-6100. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene at www.almancini.net.