e dCarson Kitchen is the undisputed trailblazer of the culinary resurgence in Downtown Las Vegas, a renaissance that has been bringing more and more visitors to the neighborhood for more than Fremont Street’s nightly festivities. This place has been on my list to visit for a couple years now, especially given the heaps of praise it has received, especially locally.
Their location is understated and need to trust your GPS to find it, because their signage consists of their name in white letters scrawled across the bottom of one of their windows. Going against the grain of Vegas’ stereotypical look-at-me neon invitations, Carson Kitchen seems to be saying, “If you really want to dine here, come find us.” That was the first of several signals to me that they were truly trying to set themselves apart from other restaurants in the city and set a more serious tone to offset widely expected Vegas kitsch. The restaurant is set in the space of the old John E. Carson Hotel, and the interior has an industrial feel with exposed beams, heavy wood and steel furniture, and a purposefully visible kitchen. They also offer an outdoor rooftop dining area, but it was blazing hot the day I visited.
Our server was really friendly and engaging and seemed really interested in our reactions to each of the dishes. She provided strong menu recommendations along with thorough rationale, which I always appreciate. A few minutes after receiving each dish, she asked for our thoughts. We also had the pleasure of speaking to one of the managers. Carson Kitchen staff members proudly recite the origin of their restaurant. Opened in 2014, the eatery was the brainchild of Vegas-beloved chef Kerry Simon, whose prior successes include Simon Kitchen and Bar, which was selected one of “America’s Best New Restaurants” by Esquire. A year prior to opening Carson Kitchen, Simon had been diagnosed in 2013 with MSA, a degenerative neurological disorder, passing away in Fall 2015. The staff there maintains the same level of excellence in his honor. On one of the walls, there is an homage to Simon that reads, “Keep Calm and Kerry On.”
If deviled eggs are on the menu, there is a good chance I am ordering them. They are nostalgic to me, taking me back to my childhood when my mom would make them on special occasions. I remember scarfing down half a dozen of them before they would hit the serving table. Carson Kitchen’s version of deviled eggs is a lot more elaborate (and dare I say tastier) than what my mom made. Each egg half is topped with crispy pancetta and caviar. As you can see in the picture I took, it is a visually vibrant, with the stark white of the egg contrasting against the onyx black fish eggs, further enhanced by the yellow whipped yolk and dark red pancetta pieces. The taste was just as nuanced as the look – creamy and crunchy. A good bite.
My co-worker excitedly ordered the Bacon Jam, admitting he was mesmerized by the thought of “bacon” pulverized into a jam. Moreover, our friendly server further urged us on by telling us this dish is a major crowd pleaser. The dish is served on a long wooden plank, with one end holding the toasted baguettes while balancing a piping hot pan of the bacon jam topped with a melted row of brie on the other end. With every dip of the jam, we would try to get at least a little bit of brie. My co-worker enjoyed this one more than I did, and since the bread and jam combo felt heavy, I limited my bites to save room for the oxtail dish.
I attack meat-only dishes savagely and love the occasional taste of animal fat, so the Crispy Chicken Skins were right up my alley. The skins tasted like a lighter version of pork rinds or chicharrones, and the honey was the perfect dip for them. This satisfies the craving for both sweet and salty. I recommend sharing this with someone, because I imagine eating all of these would give you same feeling of self-hate you get when downing a whole bag of pork rinds.
The Black Rice & Oxtail Risotto was my favorite dish by far. Countless pictures of this dish on foodie sights influenced my decision to order it. Like the Devil’s Eggs, the presentation was a study in contrasts; it is served in a hat-like white bowl with a large outer rim, while the purplish black meal sits in the proportionately small but deep middle circle. The consistency surprised me a bit, as it had the consistency of a creamed spinach. The parmesan cream, black rice, and risotto was so thoroughly mixed, every bite seemed to include the same ratio of ingredients. Nevertheless, the consistency was absolutely fine with me, especially since each bite was so flavorful. The taste of this dish will surely be saved in my long-term gustatory memory bank.
Conclusion and Rating
Carson Kitchen is worth a visit, if only to experience a local restaurant off-strip that seems to do everything right.
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