With March Madness under way, I’m often asked for recommendations on good spots to watch the games. Since I’m not into sports, I rarely have a good suggestion. Recently, however, I paid a visit to The Palms’s newest restaurant, Heraea, which even I can see is a step above the typical sports bar.
Heraea’s owners describe it as a “vibe- and sports-driven restaurant” with a menu and atmosphere “that appeal to female sensibility.” OK, that sounds like typical PR bullshit. But Heraea is owned by The One Group, which made STK a Cosmopolitan hotspot by marketing the typically male-dominated steakhouse concept to a sexy young female crowd. (It also runs Bagatelle in The Tropicana.) Intrigued, I dropped in to watch a few tournament games, and brought my wife, who’s even less interested in sports than I am.
When remodeling the space that formerly housed the Mexican eatery Garduno’s, The One Group clearly spared no expense. The sexy main dining room consists primarily of plush, semi-circular dark booths facing the main bar, which boasts eight big-screen TVs. For the handful of guests facing the opposite direction, there are another seven huge screens on the back wall. Behind it, you’ll find a large, comfortable lounge area with another seven screens, and an outdoor patio.
Basketball and hockey games ran continuously during our meal, but every time the main attraction went to commercial, a house DJ cranked up some music — in most cases, playing hard rock. The ultralounge vibe seemed to have attracted more sports-oriented families on the evening of our visit than single women, although a few groups of the latter were also present. Either way, the restaurant is definitely a far cry from your typical testosterone-infused sports book – my wife, Sue, said she preferred the couches to the “rows of old men passed out on those big chairs” she normally encounters when accompanying me to make a rare bet. But serious gamblers will soon enjoy all the amenities of the Palms book courtesy of tablet-based wagering at the tables.
Plenty of sports fans would probably dine at Heraea simply for the ability to watch and bet in such a unique setting, as long as they were offered hot dogs and frozen Buffalo wings. Fortunately, Executive Chef Doug Bell isn’t so complacent. Starters on his lunch and dinner menus include bloody Mary oyster shooters (three for $9), tuna tartare tacos with mango salsa and avocado mousse ($15), and a version of potato skins made with roasted fingerling potatoes, bacon, scallions and crème fraiche ($11). Among his entrees, you’ll find miso-glazed sea bass with a shrimp-scallion dumpling ($29) and char-grilled prawns with pineapple-basil brown rice ($28). Fans of simpler fare shouldn’t be intimidated, however. The regular menus also feature plenty of sandwiches ($13-$15) and salads ($10-$23), and a special game-day menu offers twists on classics like pigs in blankets ($7), sliders ($10) and wings ($8).
All of the dishes I sampled were considerably better than what I’d expect in a sports bar, although they weren’t exactly five-star cuisine. A trio of king crab cones with avocado, radish and siracha aioli ($12) was probably my favorite, followed by some mushroom spring rolls nicely flavored with ginger and other spices ($7) and some sriracha and brown butter wings ($8) that had a nice combination of flavors, even if they could have been a little spicier. Sue really enjoyed her grilled chicken salad ($15), which the chef was kind enough to make during dinner hours despite the fact it’s only on the lunch menu. My pepper-crusted tuna steak ($31) was perfectly cooked, and nicely seasoned, although I found the accompanying au poivre sauce a little unnecessary on such a simple fish. The only thing I probably wouldn’t order again was piquillo pepper poppers ($14) stuffed with a blend of short rib and mascarpone that was a bit too heavy for me.
While the vibe in the main dining room can get a bit loud at times, Sue said the scattered screens made the place seem less hectic than many sports bars. Add the beautiful décor, above-average food and excellent service, and she concedes, “If I’m forced to watch a game, I’d definitely want to do it here.” So if I decide to put money on the Final Four, we’ll probably be dining there again.
HERAEA, The Plams, 4321 West Flamingo Road, 866-725-6773. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net and follow him on Twitter @almancinivegas.