VegasEats: Johnny Smalls at Hard Rock
» filed under Las Vegas tagged: vegaseats johnny smalls hard rock tapas comments: 5
When I first read the menu of Hard Rock's new(ish) tapas/small plates restaurant Johnny Smalls, I was fascinated by the seemingly avant-garde yet playful way they were approaching the tapas rage. Since then, they've renovated the menu a slight bit (in Comic Sans) and added an all-you-can-eat-in-a-90-minute-limit-metered-out-by-slow-forgetful-servers policy. The good news is that the new addition to the Hard Rock is reason enough to head over there. Johnny Smalls, not so much.
We headed over to the Hard Rock specifically to eat at Johnny Smalls. Upon arrival we saw signage that advertised all you can eat Johnny Smalls happy hour for all holders of a Rockstar Club card. We headed over to the players club, got a card and hit the casino to waste an hour or so before J.S. opened, pocketing $200 from a Triple Diamond slot machine and two bottles of free wine from the players club desk after racking up 100 points on the first day of play. Score!
Johnny Smalls eventually opened and we were seated in the front room of their dimly lit, modern dining area with a great view of the myriad bottles of liquor adorning shelves that surround the bar. The waiter arrived, explained the tapas concept to us and the ground rules for the 'all you can eat' special - 1) No coupons 2) 90 minute time limit 3) No carryout 4)No sharing 5) Everyone at the table must get all you can eat. $19.99 each? Bring it. Just a note, I've quoted the a la carte prices for each item should you not make it during all you can eat happy hours.
I started by ordering a cocktail... an 'Uno Mas' ($12) - patron silver, triple sec, orange juice, splash of grenadine - a margarita screwdriver with a maraschino cherry garnish. I didn't love it... mostly because I couldn't really taste the Patron. Mrs. Mo ordered a bottle of Voss water ($5). After perusing the menu for a bit we sent in our first two rounds of orders.
We started things off with an order of Johnny Smalls' signature item - Smalls Balls ($8) - a ball of deep fried creamy risotto and short ribs smothered in tomato sauce and parmesan fondue. Crispy, crunch, creamy, yummy. Wow.
And out come the skewers. Surf & Turf ($17) filet & lobster cubes, yakitori style with vanilla butter (?) and mint (?) neither of which were present in any identifiable quantity. Tasty.
Next came the Crab & Artichoke Dip ($12) which promised 'creamy cheese, lump crab, toasted baguette'. Like a rough day on Deadliest Catch, nary a lump of crab was found in this pot. Ms. Mo declared this awesome, still.
Lobster Taquitos ($13) arrived topped with brunoise mango, cilantro and a slathering of guava Sriracha sauce. The deep fried crunchiness of the taquito steamrolled the lobster into submission. Non-existent pointless UFC rear naked choke submission. This was a miss.
At this point the server vanished and our next round of orders went into the weeds, surprisingly. There were only three other tables occupied in the whole joint. Were they metering out how much all you can eat in 90 minutes is? We'll never know.
Eventually, the server returned and I ordered a Hoegaarden beer ($7). He asked us if we wanted anything else, we told him we were still waiting on x,y and z plates. "Oh? Let me go check on that for you." Hrm.
As if by magic, out came the Meaty Balls ($10) made from ground kobe, veal and pork. The mark of a truly great meatball is it melts in your mouth without any chewing. These were certainly tasty, but didn't excite.
Corn Dogs ($9).
Juicy hot dog on a stick.
Chicken & Waffles ($13), spicy chicken wings with waffle cut french fries drizzled in maple syrup. The small bowl on the left is biscuit gravy. The wings were dry, over spiced and over cooked. It just wasn't good.
Grilled PB & J ($9). A peanut butter sandwich with the crust cut off, grilled with a bowl of jelly and strawberry garnish. This was insulting. If I paid full price and not the all-you-can-eat rate, I would've sent this back. Total, absolute, ripoff.
Therein lies the problem with Johnny Smalls. The tapas concept hinges on the idea that each of these plates, while small in serving size, are loaded with precision preparation and creative conception. Johnny Smalls doesn't serve small plates of exquisitely prepared morsels, it serves stoner food for the indecisively gluttonous. Perhaps my expectations were tainted by my imagination... who wouldn't want to see an all star chef rethink and prepare a PB&J sandwich in a completely new way? Unfortunately, Johnny Smalls doesn't truly rethink much of anything. As a result, I don't think we'll be returning.
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