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Restaurant highlights: Where to find sustainable seafood, natural beef and vegan fare

<p>Border Grill at Mandalay Bay</p>

Border Grill at Mandalay Bay

<p>STK at The Cosmopolitan</p>

STK at The Cosmopolitan

<p>Bronze Cafe at The Center</p>

Bronze Cafe at The Center

Spotlight: Sustainable seafood

Border Grill at Mandalay Bay

3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South,

FILE IT UNDER a decade of doing the right thing.

With a nine-year commitment to fighting overfishing and endangerment, Border Grill is one of only two restaurants in Las Vegas with a 100-percent sustainable seafood program. (The other is Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood, also at Mandalay Bay.)

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based restaurant chain adheres to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, a conscientious consumer resource that outlines species to avoid, as well as “best choices” and “good alternatives.”

This is where the fun comes in for Executive Chef Mike Minor.

“When I’m in the dining room, I’m teaching my guests about the food they’re eating,” he says.

He tells people that farm-raised salmon is artificially colored because farm diets lack wild-diet staples that are responsible for the fishes’ orange, pink or red pigments.

He also shows customers that lesser-known catches, such as barracuda, can be just as tasty as popular favorites.

Many of the dishes Minor serves are “bycatch,” or fish that are unintentionally netted while pursuing other species. By forging close relationships with small fishing operations, he’s able to get exclusive offers.

To try something new and fresh at Border Grill, Minor recommends sampling the seasonal menu, which changes weekly.

“Alaskan halibut season has just started, and we got some of the first fish that landed,” he says. The halibut goes into ceviche, tacos and seafood stew.

Border Grill also carries all natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free chicken and beef, as well as organic rice, beans and seasonal vegetables. Buying seasonal cuts down on the distance produce must be transported, and thus reduces the restaurant’s carbon footprint.

The menu isn’t fully organic, but “we do what we can, when we can,” Minor says. KRISTY TOTTEN

Spotlight: Vegan dining

Bronze Cafe at The Center

401 S. Maryland Parkway,

I MAY LOOK like a vegan, but I don’t play one on TV — or ever. I’m an unabashed carnivore and reluctant herbivore. But somewhere along the way, I saw one too many documentaries on slaughterhouses, farm squalor and whole-food/plant-based diets. Now, my stomach has a conscience, and I find myself experimenting with vegan eating.

Chef Peter Bastien of The Bronze Cafe, inside the new Gay and Lesbian Community Center, has made such forays easier for fussy eaters and stubborn animal masticators like myself. Though his cafe serves sandwiches and salads with meats, his vegetarian and vegan selections are ample, inviting and often familiar.

On my first visit, I partook of an appetizer tasting (appetizers are called Grab and Go Sides here, all $3.95), indulging in popular Mediterranean dishes like hummus and babaganoosh, curiously trying quinoa for the first time (this one boasts a sweet curry) and overcoming my lifelong hatred of Brussels sprouts with a roasted preparation, flavored with agrodolce vinaigrette — which was the first time I didn’t hate Brussels sprouts. I also downed a slice of the raw vegan strawberry “cheese” cake ($3.75), perhaps the greatest raw and/or vegan anything ever, and savored the housemade vanilla almond mylk ($2.75).

On another visit, I bought my first restaurant-prepared, full-vegan meal, picking the southwestern Las Vegan salad ($10.95), notable for its housemade mojo-marinated seitan (a wheat-derived protein with a meat-like texture, which I found myself drawn toward). I also opted for a side consisting of farro (a wheat grain), butternut squash and dried cranberries. Not once during the meal did I crave, say, a piece of chicken.

I did, however, cave and try the homemade bacon jam. I don’t regret this — it’s seriously delicious. And if bacon jam can somehow serve as the gateway to vegan experimentation for open-minded eaters out there, then Bastien deserves to pat himself on the back. MIKE PREVATT

Spotlight: All-natural beef

STK at The Cosmopolitan

3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South,

“NOT YOUR DADDY’S steakhouse.”

That’s the tagline of STK, a femme-friendly, eco-conscious restaurant at The Cosmopolitan that prides itself on details an undiscerning carnivore would overlook.

Its owner, The One Group, which also has locations in New York City, Los Angeles and Miami, uses the “Never Never” policy, which certifies that its cuts have never been injected with hormones or antibiotics.

“The antibiotics you give cattle goes into the ground and affects the land, which affects the cows and eventually affects you,” says Executive Chef Stephen Hopcraft.

The natural beef menu seemed appropriate for his clientele, who are mostly women and health-minded diners.

STK serves a changing selection of natural cuts, including a 7-ounce filet. The demand is surprising, as are the steaks themselves.

“You would think that it wouldn’t be as marbled, but actually it shows to be very marbled, even more than those pumped with antibiotics,” Hopcraft says.

Cooked to medium, side by side with a non-natural filet of the same size, the natural cut will retain more water and come out looking fuller than its certified-beef counterpart. “It’s almost like looking at two different sizes,” Hopcraft says.

On the menu, STK offers imported Kobe Wagyu beef, as well as natural and grass-fed slabs, which change based on market price and availability.

Some of the veggies STK features are also organic, such as the melon used in its signature king crab salad, with avocado and grapefruit.

Why all-natural?

“It seemed like a natural fit,” Hopcraft says, laughing. “No pun intended.” KRISTY TOTTEN