Wine Angels

My husband and I knew ahead of time that a visit to Vegas would not be complete without a visit to the Wine Angels at Aureole. We were looking forward to seeing them harnass up and fly to retrieve our bottle of wine from the skyscraper-style wine rack enclosed in a glass cage. I’m not sure what it takes to be one of these angels, but I would be all in!

Aureole is located in the Mandalay Bay resort. Mandalay Bay is opulent and boasts some great attractions and restaurants. We had some time to kill so we ventured over to the Shark Reef. Live sharks, huge aquarium how could we miss it? As we made our way to the Shark Reef, we passed Hubert Keller’s Fleur and Susan Feniger’s Border Grill. I used to watch Two Hot Tamales when the Food Network was still about great cooking shows and respected the women’s approach to mexican food. Hubert Keller, what can you say? The man is a consummate master. Needless to say, we were entranced into stopping for a drink and never made it to the Shark Tank.

Our dinner reservation loomed, so we tabbed out and proceeded to Aureole. As we approached, a Wine Angel was in flight; it was an awesome spectacle! Excited, we made our way to the dining room. We had a wonderful table right by the window and in full view of the wine cage. Our server showed up and introduced me to the coolest way to order wine I have seen yet. We were handed a device that resembled an Ipad and a stylus. The wine list was completely categorized on the tablet computer;we scrolled through varietals and regions to find what we wanted. We chose the Laetitia Pinot Noir, a personal favorite. Our order was sent to the bar and the wine angel harnassed up for her flight. It was all very techno-cool and pretty efficient. This was not the end of cool factors in respect to wine though. Aureole has a sommelier, a real one. She had a station set up and our bottle, along with others, were brought to her. She uncorked our wine, sniffed it, and poured a small taste to test it. At first I was thinking, “Hey that’s my wine to taste,” but that quickly changed to “I want your job!” She explained when she brought our bottle over that it is always good policy to get a couple of testers on a bottle to be sure of the quality. While she was at our table a man magically appeared with the largest bread selection basket I have ever seen. My husband stepped out of his comfort zone and ordered the pretzel roll; I stuck with honey wheat.

Just as the bread man (for lack of a better name) and the sommelier departed, a server appeared to explain the menu. There was a prix fixe option, a wine tasting menu, and an ala carte option. We went for ala carte so we would not be restricted by the menu offerings and he left us with the ala carte menu to peruse. Just a few moments later, another server arrived to fill water and ask us if we had any questions about the menu offerings. We went ahead and placed an appetizer order for the Peruvian Ceviche. I’m a sucker for a good ceviche- tangy, fresh, slighlty spicy, yum!

At this point, I began to notice the fluidity of the servers. All seemed to be waiting on all the tables. If there was a plate, they snagged it, if there was an empty glass, it was swiftly refilled, and food was coming from all different directions. They were working like a machine. In fact, our ceviche arrived via a server we had not seen yet. It was almost all that I imagined it to be, almost. The ceviche itself was delicious. It had a nice acid to it, the scallops and fish were firm, and it was all served atop a delicate meyer lemon sauce. The only missing element for me was popcorn. I love the textural element of adding fresh, unseasoned popcorn to the side of ceviche, and I believe it is a traditional pairing with Peruvian Ceviche, but I could be wrong. I missed it, but not much because the ceviche was so expertly prepared.

The server that took our appetizer order then returned and took our dinner order. We decided on the Ahi Tuna Loin and the New York Strip. I know kind of trite, but we were craving some tuna and without the duck or lamb available, we settled on NY Strip. This is my favorite cut of steak; it has great flavor and generally does not disappoint. As our wine glasses were being refilled, my husband was seeking the bread man, trying to make eye contact. When he finds something he likes, he sticks with it and the pretzel roll was on his radar. They locked eyes across the crowded dining room and a fresh, warm pretzel roll was delivered to his waiting plate.

Not long after, our entrees arrived. The tuna was modest and slightly underwhelming. It was cooked perfectly, just flashed as we had asked for. The individual items paired with the tuna were quite good, but together they seemed disconnected. It was served over a warm potato gratin which by itself was rich and sumptuous, but with the near raw tuna, did not quite jibe. Their was also a grape verjus on the plate. Tjis had a delicate flavor that went well with the tuna, but was lost amongst the cheesy potato concoction. It was also a fairly dimimutive portion for a hefty $38 price tag. The New York Strip was a more hefty portion, in line with a dinner entree. It was served with ratatouille, foccacia and rosemary pesto. Let me say, the ratatouille was some of the best I have ever tasted. i was transported to that moment in the Disney movie named after this dish when the food critic took his first bite and immediately became a child; it was that good! Unfortunately, the rest of the plate did not live up to the stellar ratatouille. The steak was well-cooked but completely devoid of flavor. I know a discussion of salt and pepper is gauche, but this steak was screaming for it. In fact we were glad we had the pretzel roll because it added some much needed seasoning to most of the food. The foccaccia was also a miss. It ended up being just a dry piece of bread under the steak, completely unnecessary and unwieldy. At $40 per entree, I was not overly impressed with the food.

We persevered though and went for dessert since they have an in-house pastry chef who makes her own chocolates. We went with Megan’s Dessert Sampler. It consisted of a lemon/lime poundcake, vanilla bean creme brulee, chocolate molten cake, and mocha brownie. What we did not know at the time was that an array of sorbets and chocolates come complimentary with dinner. Needless to say, it was a table full of dessert when everything arrived. I had high hopes for the sampler, but the only truly delicious item on the platter was the poundcake. It had a refreshing flavor and that dense moistness that poundcake is famous for. We also ordered a glass of Sauternes and a glass of 20 year twany port. Normally port comes in a small glass, but at Aureole it comes in a full-on wine glass filled 3/4 full. It was the best part of dessert!

On the whole, Aureole was fun. We enjoyed the spectacle of the wine angels and the service was deft. The food was a disappointment and pretty pricey. I probably would not repeat the whole dinner experience, but they do have a nice lounge area directly across from the wine cage and in full view of the angels as they ascend that would be a fabulous place to get a glass of wine and gain access to the best parts of Aureole, the service and the angels.

Aureole (Mandalay Bay) on Urbanspoon

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