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November 24, 2014

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Columnist Muriel Stevens: Cafe Michele by any name delivers festive fine dining

Muriel Stevens' dining column appears Fridays. Her shopping and travel columns appear Wednesday. Reach her at (702) 259-4080 or [email protected]

The name's the same, minus one letter, but all else is new at Cafe Michele on East Flamingo. The former Cafe Michelle was the first Las Vegas eatery to offer outdoor dining, a bold move for a desert restaurant.

Food prices were in keeping with Old Las Vegas, and it quickly became a place to see and be seen by politicos, trend setters and just plain folks who liked being part of the action.

Lunch was a prime time to make the scene and no one minded waiting for a table. It was such a colorful place to people watch.

It remained an important part of Las Vegas until the last owner (there were at least three, including the founder), without any notice, shut the doors. Through the ensuing years vain attempts were made to keep it going, but in the end the magic was gone and so was Cafe Michelle.

Not too long ago I heard a rumor that Cafe Michelle was being reincarnated. Could it be true? Almost. Cafe Michele still has a patio, a bar and lounge, serves lunch and dinner and is well priced, but that's all that remains the same.

The new owners have turned the patio dining room into a lovely setting with handsome furniture, glass-top tables, live plants and cooling misters. It's screened for privacy and is much more appealing than before. Equally appealing are the food prices. The chef's signature crab cakes served with fennel slaw and sauce remoulade are an excellent value for $10 at lunch, $12 at dinner.

Without any structural changes the dining rooms are still the same, but the decor and amenities have been updated. A champagne "room" is now part of the comfortable lounge, and there's a variety of live entertainment and a dance floor. Bar manager Carrie Peak and her bartenders are efficient and lovely.

Although the lively bar and lounge can get noisy, none of the sound filters through to the dining rooms. A beautiful art glass door separates the two.

Tuesday, Cafe Michele celebrated its grand opening with a "by invitation" bash that attracted hundreds of well-wishers. And what a splendid, albeit crowded, event it was. I arrived late, after attending an earlier event and was overwhelmed by the number of guests and the food service.

A bar had been added to the patio. Generous amounts of food were everywhere -- small crab cakes, crisp bruschetta, spinach dip, lavish fruit and cheese displays and at a carving station, roast pork tenderloin and chateaubriand. Most extravagant of all was the chilled seafood display with lobster, shrimp and oysters on the half shell.

Among the desserts were Cajun strawberries and a huge, three-tiered grand opening cake iced with the house color, purple, but the flavor was chocolate. In between the chocolate cake layers was a Grand Marnier chocolate mousse.

I had dined at Cafe Michele during its soft opening the week before and was pleasantly surprised by the excellent service from a staff who barely knew each other. With maitre d' Adam Carmer's training and an eager wait staff there were no glitches out front.

My companion and I shared the signature crab cakes ($12), an oversized lobster spring roll filled with chunks of lobster ($11) and bruschetta (six pieces, $6). Even with sharing, the portions were more than generous. We each ate only one slice of the tomato and honey-Brie bruschetta. It was so much food.

Cafe Michele offers tableside cookery, so we shared the chef's version of Steak Diane ($27) -- two tournedos of beef with portobella mushroom, expertly finished by Leonard, our server. When cooked to the proper degree of doneness the meat was removed to a plate; the sauce was then finished with a cognac demi-glaze and the meat was returned to the pan to warm. Small boiled new potatoes and baby carrots were the accompaniment.

The menu is still a work in progress and so is the kitchen, but Cafe Michele works and needs only some fine tuning to make it perfect. After such a short time the list of repeat customers is sizeable. This is always a sign that a restaurant is headed in the right direction. Retro and kicky Cafe Michele features frivolity and good food.

Rosemary's at The Rio set to open: Never underestimate the power of an expert restaurant team. Rosemary's at The Rio is aiming for a Sept. 2 opening, though there's still work to be done at this new Rosemary's. Chef/owners Michael and Wendy Jordan never say they're ready unless they are, so I'm expecting them to make the opening date, although some super features will have to wait.

Shortly after the opening Rosemary's will have exclusive use of the nearby elevator. The stairway from the wine cellar to the restaurant will be closed. The corridor to Rosemary's will be exclusively for diners and later small tables and chairs will be added.

Chef Michael labored long over the new menu and has come up with a splendid variety of new dishes, along with such Rosemary's signatures as proscuitto-wrapped roasted figs, Hugo's Texas BBQ shrimp, wood-roasted veal chop, Norris Farms brick chicken and the delicious crispy-skin striped bass.

Prices at Rosemary's at The Rio are in line with the original.

Both lunch and dinner will be served. Price-fixed lunch ($19.95) is at 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. nightly. Take note wine lovers -- selected wines are half price on Sundays. A daily Happy Hour at 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. features half-price cocktails, beer and wine by the glass.

Short orders

McGraw joins Kerry Simon: Michael McGraw, formerly with Eiffel Tower Restaurant and Spago, has been named general manager for Kerry Simon's Simon at the Hard Rock restaurant. McGraw recently returned from Maui where he opened Wolfgang Puck's first Spago. Simon anticipates a late October opening.

MGM Grand: Jennifer Tipps has been named training manager at MGM Grand; Sandy Zanella is now the public relations coordinator for restaurants.

Olio! at MGM Grand Studio Walk has appointed Clay Conley as executive chef. Conley apprenticed with Todd English and worked at Olives at the Bellagio before moving over to olio! Conley has created a new menu and more.

J.C. Wooloughan celebrates: J.C. Wooloughan Irish Pub at the JW Marriott Las Vegas will celebrate its third anniversary on Aug. 31 with a party from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. There will be plenty of revelry with prizes and giveaways, drink and food specials, live music and surprise guests. Publican Declan McGettigan encourages everyone to stop by and "sow your wild Irish oats." J.C. Wooloughan is worth a visit, celebration or not. It's a bonny pub that serves fine Irish grub, including satisfying Irish breakfasts.

Commandrerie de Bordeaux: The upcoming schedule of wine and dining events for the Commanderie de Bordeaux a Las Vegas would please any seasoned or budding oenophile. Events are scheduled for Sept. 9, Oct. 16, Oct. 21 and Nov. 8. The annual black-tie induction dinner will be Dec. 6. For membership information, a list of events and wines to be featured call Le Maitre Gil Lempert-Schwarz at 898-7928.

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