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VegasEats: Michael Mina's American Fish at Aria

By JohnH on Thursday, 22nd July 2010 4:13am
  » filed under Las Vegas  comments: 9


Michael Mina's American Fish at Aria Resort Casino Las Vegas Review

Fish is one of those culinary commodities that can be done incredibly well or embarrassingly poorly. Have a meal at Wynn's Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare - with its fish flown in from the Mediterranean daily - and you'll experience the former, while Emeril's Fish House at MGM Grand is entirely an exercise in the latter. Michael Mina's American Fish at Aria is a fish house that represents a compromise between those two extremes. It is neither exceptional nor lamentable; it is quite simply mediocre.

A recent visit articulated that note of mediocrity almost perfectly. My party was seated efficiently, but after seeing waiters pass our table on multiple occasions, we were quite surprised to see the same host that had seated us come to explain the menu, discuss the restaurant's four methods of fish preparation - sea salt baking, smoking, grilling, and poaching - and eventually take our orders. The explanations were articulate, but in the end, we were left wanting to see an actual waiter.

A waiter arrived at our table, with appetizers. And with those appetizers came another exercise in mediocrity. The grits in my Shrimp and Grits were delectable and, one might say, lusciously divine. The shrimp that came with - ideally the centerpiece of the dish - were unforgivably over salted. Sadly, this distracted my taste buds from the rich creaminess of the grits and the subtle smoke of a jalapeño creme, a really a sad end for an otherwise promising starter.

With the dashed promise of the first dish, I looked forward with hope toward my entree. An underwhelming appetizer could be forgiven if energies has been focused on creating astounding entrees. I was wrong. My Hawaiian walu - a delicate white fish suspiciously similar to ahi tuna - was quite possibly even more underwhelming than the salty shrimp. I didn't think it was possible for fish to arrive to the table both tough and undercooked, but I was wrong. A lemon cream sauce ensured that the dish was tasty, but within five minutes, the fish was cold, tough, and unappetizing. Additionally, the plate arrived with a polenta and pea puree side dish that was cold, crusty, and just plain gross, the thing was a mess.

While my walu was an unmitigated disaster, the creamed corn that I ordered as a side dish was a revelation. Salty, sweet, creamy, buttery, and filled with more bacon-y goodness than Paula Deen's holy of holies, this creamed corn was inspired. Eating the dish, I felt like I was my five-year old self sitting in my grandmother's kitchen, and in that uncanny ability to transport me to the bliss of my childhood, utterly fantastic.

Dessert brought similar delight. The mascarpone cheesecake is a delicate-yet-satisfying interpretation of a traditionally rich and stomach bloating dessert. The choice of cheesecake was a gamble given the richness of the grits and corn, but surprisingly provided a perfectly sweet and subtle note on which I could end this otherwise underwhelming meal.

In the end, American Fish is emblematic of the problems that have plagued Aria as a whole: One might find an array of phenomenal highs in any given situation, but mediocre service and other unforgivable lows undermine and ruin what should be a fantastic, paradigm shifting experience. Our advice: crew Michael Mina and his gimmicky methods of fish preparation and head over to Bartolotta. You'll get the service, phenomenal cuisine, and stunning atmosphere that you expect and rightly deserve from Aria's inferior fishery without that unfortunate mediocrity. The only underside is that you won't be able to experience the creamed corn. Life is full of compromises, I guess.

[Have you dined at American Fish? Post a review to the beta version of our yet-to-be-officially-announced dining guide. - Ed]

Tagged: vegas eats   celebrity chefs   dining   aria   


Comments & Discussion:

An excellent, but sad, review! Michael Mina has 17 restaurants scattered across the country from California to Florida to Michigan. As talented as he is, it's got to be impossible to maintain consistent quality in all his stores. Thus, his most important job is to select quality chefs and managers who understand and can carry out his vision. Perhaps he needs to revisit how he does that.

When Steve Wynn selected Mina to operate Aqua at Bellagio, it was oustanding. As time went by, Mina's personal control of the restaurant seemed to lessen, and it lost much of its excellence. I don't recall whether it was Wynn or MGM who made it clear that Aqua had to improve. The name was changed to Michael Mina and the restaurant regained its stature.

I have to say that SaltWater in MGM Grand Detroit is my favorite Mina restaurant. I have never been disappointed there, while its next door neighbor, BourbonSteak doesn't excite me.

On CityCenter restaurants in general, John H's review of American Fish and John Curtas' recent review of Mastro's should be a call to action for MGM. On the other hand, reading Curtas' review of Circo at Bellagio brought a smile to my face. It's nice to see it on top again.

Looking forward to the restaurants at Cosmopolitan this December and also getting to see CityCenter for the first time.

Perhaps I got lucky, but I had the opposite experience when we ate there in December.

Our service was outstanding, after the manager found out we were in town for our anniversary she sent over two glasses of Champagne, our waiter was spot on from the moment we sat down until the moment we left, and the meal was properly paced without feeling rushed or left waiting.

Both my wife and I found the food to be outstanding, my mixed seafood grill had a nice assortment of seafood that was perfectly cooked and seasoned, I can't remember what my wife had, but she loved it.

Perhaps things have changed in the 7 months since we ate there, I had wanted to eat there when I as stay at Aria in June, but never felt in the mood for it.

That said, I plan on going back, maybe they had an off night when you visited or maybe they had their best night when I did.

I, too, had the opposite experience when I dined at American Fish.

I concur that the food is mediocre at best. I had grilled trout and it was all but inedible. I have also heard the service is very inconsistent. I highly recommend Sirio's if you are dining upstairs at Aria.

About 5 or 6 years ago, I would have disagreed regarding Emeril's, but not now. I had some very fine meals there years ago, but it's really gone downhill in recent times. Shame.

DonnyMac, a small Asian man, and myself were there in January and it was great!! Seated right away with no reso (I think), and the waiter was all over us. This place had one of the best bourbon selections I've ever seen, and the waiter even matched my appetizer, and entree with a great bourbon and a nice one for desert too!! The food was outstanding and cooked to perfection. It's a shame you didn't have a good experience there, I'd go back.

Emeril's empire has gotten stretched too thin and the quality has suffered as a result. Some of this could be attributed with getting his New Orleans area establishment back on their feet after Katrina. There was an Atlanta branch of Emeril's that never got its' act together (The food critics here ripped the place early on and every local chefs and restaurateurs seemed to be less than kind to the food there.) and closed after five years (So far the only outpost of Emeril to shutter.). He may be better off keeping to tourism or gaming-oriented locations. People actually trek to New Orleans to eat at one of his restaurants. I ate at Delmonico's at the Venetian back in 2006 and the food as well as the service was incredible (The fact that there was over twenty of us and as a group we were going to drop well over $2K on dinner probably helped.) and I've been reluctant to return because I've heard that the quality has slipped there.

I've eaten at American Fish twice now and disagree with the review. While the apps and sides were better than the entrees, it was more a situation of the entree being very good with the rest being excellent. They might have the best fries I've ever tasted. I also applaud their dedication to whiskey. It's entirely unfair to judge them against Bartolotta, which is a considerably different type of restaurant experience (and a different price point).

eco- I'm not going to dispute the fact that you might have had a fantastic experience at American Fish, but shouldn't the wide range of opinions toward the restaurant on this thread serve as an indication that while the restaurant may be capable of perfection, said perfection is inconsistent at best? Not a great thing for a restaurant to be great only some of the time.

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