It’s hard to get excited about a theme restaurant. The food is usually generic and poorly prepared, and the “theme” is very often contrived, corny, exploitative or poorly executed. So it’s natural to be skeptical of Rattlecan, a new burger joint with a “street art” theme in The Venetian.
Rattlecan is a collaboration between First Food and Bar’s Chef Sam Demarco and designer/TV personality Antonio Ballatore. It bills itself as “an urban burger concept” featuring “street chic graffiti art installations by the country’s top street artists.” I’m a longtime fan of DeMarco’s brand of gourmet junk food, so I felt well-qualified to judge his burgers. But my art knowledge is pretty limited. So to review Rattlecan, I enlisted the help of respected local artist Ras One, who has curated some of Las Vegas’ largest street art exhibitions.
While Ras assured me he was entering Rattlecan with an open mind, I got the feeling he was a little skeptical of the setting, the name and even the concept. The moment we entered the restaurant, however, his demeanor changed.
The dining room and bar are decorated with murals, artwork and artifacts by artists such as AIKO, KRINK, HOW and NOSM, Curtis Kulig, KING RUCK, Kenneth Cappello, Richard Duardo and Jersey Joe. While I found the décor pretty amazing, those names meant nothing to me. Ras, however, clearly held them in high regard. The walls and tables of the restaurant feature scan-able codes that give visitors info on each artist. I never got to use one, however, because as we examined each work, my guest quickly rattled off their histories and why they’re important to the street art world.
“The names that they have up in here, a gallery would cream in their pants [to have] if they were really serious about the upper-echelon players in this game,” Ras told me.
As we reviewed the menu, packed with street-art terms like “bomber,” “burner,” “roller,” “tags” and “jungle green,” he again seemed impressed. Not only were they legitimate terms, he told me, most were actually relatable to the menu items they described.
Speaking of those menu items, burgers and pickles are the star of the show at Rattlecan, and everything has a tendency to be fairly over-the-top. On the appetizer page you’ll find a pork donut (crispy BBQ pork roll with honey and pickled jalapeno, $11), dill pickle popcorn ($4) and something called the “hot mess”: a nasty-sounding pile of mashed potatoes, chili, cheese, chicken sticks, cheeseburger, melted onions, bacon, corn, pickled jalapenos, ranch dressing, cheddar, a Polish dog, fried egg, roast chili peppers, onion rings, hot sauce, tomato, onion and pickles ($25).
Some of the burgers are nearly as insane. Sure, you can create something simple on your own, starting with $9 for a basic burger and adding “tags” (toppings) for $2-$3 apiece. But the centerpiece of the menu is the collection of the chef’s personal combinations, which range from $12-$19. In that department, you’ll find things like the Rattlecan (cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, pickles, special sauce, lettuce and tomato, $16 — with the option of avocado, fried egg or jalapeno for $2-$3 more) and the All-City (bacon, cheese, two huge onion rings, ketchup, pickles, lettuce and tomatoes, $16). I’ve had the latter, and it was nearly too big fit into my sizeable mouth.
Side dishes include five types of fries, onion rings or green beans ($5-$8) accompanied by your choice of 15 house sauces ($1.50-$3). And the house specialty drink is a pickleback: a shot of Jameson chased with a shot of pickle juice. (It comes with a token for a ride on a custom-built mechanical pickle for $9.)
Clearly, the chef isn’t a minimalist. But his ingredients are of the highest quality (Nueske’s bacon, Maytag blue cheese) and the kitchen staff knows what it’s doing. Ras and I sampled two burgers, an order of meatball/pepperoni “nachos” ($15) and bacon-wrapped shrimp and jalapeno poppers ($16). Other than one item arriving lukewarm, we loved everything. And the hip, young staff are as friendly and helpful as they are attractive.
As for the restaurant’s artistic merit, Ras told me as we dug into our meal, “The execution and the way they did it, and the diversity in the style of artists, as well as the names that they put together, is pretty impressive.”
But even more than that, Ras shrugs in wonder after our meal about “the fact that this is even happening here. This is the place,” he reminds me, “that a few years back a former mayor made national news saying he’d cut the thumbs off of people like us.”
RATTLECAN, The Venetian, 414-2200. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.