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VegasEats: Johnny Smalls at Hard Rock

By Chuckmonster on Saturday, 26th March 2011 2:42pm
  » filed under Las Vegas  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 Menu

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.

Johnny Smalls Balls

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.

Johnny Smalls Surf Turf

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.

Johnny Smalls Crab Artichok

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.

Johnny Smalls Lobster Taqui

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.

Johnny Smalls Meaty Balls

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.

Johnny Smalls Corndogs

Corn Dogs ($9).

Johnny Smalls Corndogs Bite

Juicy hot dog on a stick.

Johnny Smalls Chickn Waffle

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.

Johnny Smalls P B J

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.

Johnny Smalls Bill

Tagged: vegaseats   johnny smalls   hard rock   tapas   


Comments & Discussion:

Very nice review, I can definitely understand your feelings of disgust for something like the peanut butter and jelly tapas if you weren't under the AYCE pricing. For ones like that, I'd have just not ordered them or the corndogs. I tend to forgive a restaurant for offering something basic like that, as I think of those that aren't like me and want something new and exciting. There are plenty that just want the bland and the basic, I don't understand them, but I do try and remember they are out there, after all look at chain restaurants as an example.

I think JSmalls is struggling and hasn't turned out as they expected. The original concept was a hip ultra-lounge that served tapas (similar to the original Society concept at Encore). Instead, they get drunk college guys looking to pigout. They are often packed for happy hour and empty at all other times. The service/quality issues are probably due to turnover, as the original staff became disillusioned with the tips and dealing with drunkards.

I still like JSmalls, but view it more as a bar with good cheap appetizers than a tapas restaurant for a full meal. I too order items several at a time, but fully expect that I'm not going to like everything.

The food looks good but I still dont have a reason to go to Hard Rock.

I'd only heard positive things about J. Smalls so I'm a little bummed to hear it's not that great. Drag.

I scooped up a gift certificate on Restaurant.com for this place and can't wait to try it. I know it didn't suit you guys but I really like stuff like this. A bunch of little munchies instead of one huge entree. Plus we're staying at Hard Rock and got a $50 dining giftcard to use at any onsite restaurant.

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