Few things excite me as much as trying a new type of food. So I was thrilled to learn that Las Vegas now has a Kenyan restaurant: Wine 5 Café on Tenaya Way, just north of Cheyenne Road. After dining there, however, my excitement is more muted. While Wine 5 has Kenyan owners and a Kenyan chef, it actually describes itself as Kenyan fusion. That means a pair of Kenyan entrees and a handful of Kenyan-style Indian items (a nod to Kenya’s large Indian population) on a large menu of standard American dishes.
In fairness, the chef does claim to use Kenyan spices in many of the non-African items. But even on the most traditional offerings, I found the flavors generally unremarkable. It’s not that the dishes I sampled weren’t good. They simply weren’t the exotic treats I’d been so anxiously anticipating.
Wine 5 is a quaint little restaurant, although the décor is a bit schizophrenic. An open kitchen and faux townscape decorate one side of the medium-sized dining room, along with wine-themed art. On the other, a collection of modern Michael Goddard paintings seems slightly out of place. But the clash isn’t disconcerting.
My first indication that there aren’t many Kenyan options on the menu came in the appetizer section, which featured dishes like fried southwest eggrolls ($8), chili-cheese fries ($8) and the oddly named drunken frito misto platter (beef tacos, chicken tacos, fried shrimp, eggrolls and chicken wings, $18).
There’s a large selection of Nairobi City Park tacos ($9-$14), which my waitress informed me are seasoned with Kenyan spices. But the 16 sandwiches ($7-$10) are almost entirely American offerings with only minor twists. Finally, the entrees are primarily familiar things like salmon in lemon butter sauce ($15), tequila lime shrimp ($16), fried catfish ($15) and seafood pasta ($19).
While a lot of the menu items looked good, I wanted to go with the most Kenyan dishes available. So we began our meal with an order of samosas ($11 for two). For our entrees, the waitress pointed us to the only two traditional dishes on the menu. I had nayama and ugali: thin strips of braised beef, white polenta, spinach stew and fried sweet potato logs ($18.75). My wife had a chicken curry called “a taste of Nairobi” ($16).
The samosas were the most interesting dish of our meal, very different from their Indian counterparts. They’re large triangles of thin, fried dough, stuffed with a subtly spiced mixture of ground beef and greens.
The extremely tender beef in my entrée was also very lightly spiced. The spinach, cooked with beef, tomatoes and vegetables, was excellent. The fried sweet potatoes were simple but good. And a piece of fried dough provided a nice sweet contrast. The massive mountain of baked polenta that accompanied it was rather dry, and I ended up pouring my wife’s curry onto it.
While the brown curry provided moisture for that polenta, it didn’t contribute much in the way of flavor. It was the mildest curry I’ve ever had. I’d definitely recommend it to people who find Asian curries too aggressive, but not to anyone who likes a lot of kick. It was packed with large chicken parts, green beans, zucchini, sweet potatoes and carrots, and accompanied by another piece of sweet fried dough, a flat naan-style bread known as chapatti, and a small serving of the spinach stew.
As the name indicates, Wine 5 has a pretty decent wine selection. There are close to three dozen varieties for $22-$55 a bottle, with about 10 available by the glass for under $10. It also has a small but eclectic beer selection that includes Italy’s Birra Moretti and Mexico’s Victoria lager.
I really like Wine 5. It’s cute. The staff is friendly. And while the prices may seem a bit high, the portions are huge. I also appreciate the fact it’s bringing something new to our valley. Sure, it didn’t rock my world with exotic ingredients or bold new flavors. But not everyone is looking for excitement in their meals. Some people just want something good, which this place delivers.
Wine 5 Café 3250 N. Tenaya Ave., 462-9463. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.