Not all the hot new star-chef restaurants in Las Vegas are in casino resorts on the Strip. Late last year Louis Osteen, one of the pioneer lights in contemporary Southern cuisine, brought his South Carolina Low Country cooking to Town Square, a big new upscale shopping mall out by the airport.
He actually has two restaurants there. Louis's is modeled after Louis's at Pawleys, the restaurant he owns with his wife, Marlene, outside Charleston, S.C. The other, Louis's Fish Camp, is a casual seafood spot.
Although getting there is a schlep for anyone staying in a Strip hotel without a car, the new Las Vegas dining room offers something less glitzy, if just as refined as anything happening in the flashy hotels. It's different, and honest. And it has a wine sensibility that adds something more to the equation.
When I ordered a Lengs & Cooter Riesling 2006 from Australia to sip by the glass before dinner, the waiter cautioned me that it was a dry, steely style. "That takes some people by surprise," he said. I nodded and thanked him, and said that was exactly what I wanted.
Turns out it was a great choice to go with our first courses. A classic she-crab soup, colored ocher from the crab butter blended into it, had a touch of sherry and lumps of crabmeat, a bargain at $10 for the bowl. Adding the crab made the match with the wine, which also cut the richness of a grits timbale with a creamy chanterelle sauce and bits of wonderful country ham, another bargain at $11.
High marks, too for our main dishes, which reflect Osteen's creative approach to southern food. A whole speckled trout came out perfectly fried and curled sensuously around a mound of slaw, which was dressed delicately and had peanuts in it. A pool of creamy peanut sauce was so good I asked for more to go with the fish. I drank a glass of Ramey Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2005, which had the mineral notes and stone fruit character to mesh well with the trout.
A braised lamb shank sported all kinds of southern touches, including chestnut spoon bread and Scuppernong pepper jelly, a great winter dish. Fried okra, available as a side dish, was perfectly cooked. That's hard to find on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.
I was less pleased with desserts—a too-sweet caramel cake and heavy peach-filled beignets. The tartness of buttermilk ice cream was welcome with the cake, however, and the peach filling in the beignets was good enough that I would have been happy with some of it spooned over the ice cream.
The wood-paneled room has a cozy feel, and the long side counter filled with crystal wine glasses of various sizes and shapes underlines the wine mind-set here. (The list centers on California but includes goodies from points all over the globe, from Washington to Australia.) The ceiling along the hall leading from the entrance and extending into the dining room looks like thatches of reeds. Turns out it's dried kudzu. (Who knew someone would find a good use for this invasive plant?)
The only hitch came when no taxis arrived, despite several phone calls from the restaurant after dinner. Ultimately the hostess drove us back to our hotel, but that can't be a long-term solution. The restaurant needs to develop a relationship with at least one of the city's taxi companies, or perhaps a car service.
If you're feeling lucky (this is Las Vegas, after all), put Louis's on your must-go restaurant list. It's worth the effort.
Louis's Las Vegas
At Town Square
Open for lunch and dinner daily
Robert Kim — Las Vegas, Nevada — January 28, 2008 1:09pm ET
J J Gallagher — Near Napa, Ca — January 28, 2008 1:46pm ET
Robert Kim — Las Vegas, Nevada — January 28, 2008 5:37pm ET
Richard Robertson — Charleston, SC — January 28, 2008 9:51pm ET
Marlene Osteen — Las Vegas, NV and Pawleys Island, SC — January 29, 2008 1:08pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — January 29, 2008 4:22pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions