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CULINARY DROPOUT

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Hard Rock Hotel

4455 Paradise Rd.

Las Vegas, NV 89169

702-522-8100

website

$20-$50

Mon-Thu 5pm-12am

Fri 5pm-2am

Sat 9am-2am

Sun 9am-12am

American/Gastropub

A

AT A GLANCE

What is it?

A casual gastropub serving up terrific, affordable food in a fun environment.

Where is it?

At The Hard Rock Hotel, just east of The Strip.

What kind of food is served?

Sandwiches, burgers, and a few entrée items that hew closely to American classics like meatloaf.

What is the atmosphere like?

Laid back and funky with an industrial décor and staff that dresses in street clothing instead of formal uniforms.

How is the service?

Not having to wear stuffy uniforms obviously makes them happy - service was terrific.

What are the prices like?

Very affordable - most items are under $20.

What else do I need to know?

There's a big outdoor patio for nice weather nights.

What's the bottom line?

I love this place. I think you will too.

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FULL REVIEW

The gastropub trend has been hitting Vegas hard lately, perhaps a little bit behind the curve but gaining ground rapidly with places like Public House at The Venetian and this place at the Hard Rock. I'm usually not a student of trendy restaurants but if they were all as fun, casual, and good as Culinary Dropout I'd be staying late after class every day.

The concept comes from James Beard Award finalist Sam Fox and is a sister to the Scottsdale, Arizona restaurant of the same name. The guy behind the grill, Executive Chef Eric Suniga, is a veteran of such big name foodie havens as Thomas Keller's Bouchon in California and Seablue in Las Vegas.

Casual is the watchword here, from the unfinished industrial decor to the staff uniforms, which are non-existent. No, they aren't naked, but rather dress in their own street clothes, something that probably makes them more comfortable, which in turn probably improves their general level of service. Most of the wait staff is young and edgy, with tattoos and piercings, a nice change of pace from the cookie cutter blandness at most Vegas restaurants.

The menu starts with a do-it-yourself antipasti bar, allowing guests to select from dozens of meats, veggies, and cheeses. We sampled a couple of different prosciuttos, some sweet roasted tomatoes and crunchy grilled asparagus, and several creamy cheeses and loved almost every bit. Warning... the costs add up fast here so watch how much you are ordering.

There's a raw bar with mussels, king crab legs, shrimp, and oysters and some starters that include burrata with chimichurri, soft pretzels with a provolone fondue, and house made potato chips with onion dip.

The sandwich section has a couple of burgers plus a warm Italian grinder with salami and ham, a prime rib dip, a pork belly cubano with pickles and Swiss, and more while a half dozen salads include chopped vegetable, seared tuna, gorgonzola chicken, and a "cheap house."

Main courses offer a little something for almost every taste. Consider rainbow trout, beef stroganoff, shrimp and chicken jambalaya, steak and fries, chicken curry, fried chicken, pork ribs, and more.

What we ate... the beer battered fish and chips, which were more fish than batter for a delicious change and came with a cole slaw that was declared "the best I've tasted in a long, long time." The grilled cheese sliders were three mini-sandwiches on sourdough with bacon and sweet tomato and were perfect when they first hit the table hot but got a little less interesting as they cooled off. The meatloaf with potatoes and gravy was the clear winner on a table full of them, zesty but not too much so and topped with a subtle tomato sauce that paid it a perfect compliment.

Desserts are limited so let's just skip to the best thing they offer: monkey bread. The sticky pastry is served with a delicious cinnamon sauce and topped with vanilla bean ice cream and was, without question, the highlight of our night

Prices are almost shockingly affordable with starters in the $7-$13 range, sandwiches and salads mostly under $15, and most entrees in the $16-$24 range. If it hadn't been for us overindulging in the antipasti selections, we probably would've done dinner for three for under $75.

I hate to go here but why not? Culinary Dropout gets a stone cold A in my grade book.

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