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RED SQUARE

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Mandalay Bay

3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702-693-8300

website

$40-$90

Sun-Thu 4:30-10pm

Fri-Sat 4:30pm-12am

American

B+

AT A GLANCE

What is it?

A cheeky Russian themed bistro serving food that is only a little bit Russian.

Where is it?

At Mandalay Bay on the South Strip.

What kind of food is served?

Some Russian classics but a very varied menu with American, Italian, and more.

What is the atmosphere like?

A fun post-revolution theme with lots of wink-and-nod communist decor.

How is the service?

Friendly and efficient but not exactly fast.

What are the prices like?

Moderate to expensive.

What else do I need to know?

They have more than 200 vodkas.

What's the bottom line?

Back in the USSR...

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FULL REVIEW

A fixture at Mandalay Bay since it opened, Red Square has gone through a rebirth of sorts recently with new corporate oversight, a spiffing up of the decor, and an overhaul of the menu. It's about time.

The original incarnation of the restaurant was a longtime favorite, with an epic list of vodkas, Americanized twists on classic Russian food, and a wink-and-a-nod communist era design. The problem was that the novelty had worn off and what had once seemed unique started to feel a bit stale.

The new version has the same basic bones but is simplified in a lot of ways, with a streamlined menu that is less of a slave to the Russian cooking limitations that it used to be. There is still a long list of caviars and classics like Chicken Kiev and Beef Stroganoff, but the vast majority of the menu is filled with fairly straight-forward steak and seafood offerings. You may be wondering if Maine Lobster Pomodoro served with spaghetti or Kobe beef sliders are USSR staples and the answer is a rousing "nyet."

Some may view this as the dumbing down of a regional cuisine for a less-than-adventurous American audience but I chose to view it as an expansion of food horizons, providing a little bit of something for all tastes. It fits better with the new vibe of the place as casual, a bit cheeky, and more relaxed. Besides, this is Vegas after all... if you want authenticity, you're looking in the wrong place.

Starters include items like tuna tartare with Asian pears, lollipop Buffalo wings, shrimp cocktail, and a couple of salads. Nods to the Russian roots are cute caviar parfait cones with smoked salmon mousse and a salmon pizza that comes with caviar and pickled red onions. We went for the (not at all Russian) meatballs, served in a sweetly tangy marinara sauce and topped with ricotta cheese. They were fantastic, especially when combined with the grilled garlic bread on the side. The Kobe beef sliders were charming little constructions of meat, bun, and garnishing.

If those caviar appetizers aren't enough roe for you, there are plenty of other choices including your basic smoked trout all the way up to your fancy Keluga. You can also do a sampler of multiple caviars if you are feeling like diving all the way in both gastronomically and financially (the "Connoisseur Trio" is a heart-stopping $270).

For main courses we tried both sides of the cultural food divide here with Beef Stroganoff fighting for mother Russia and a flat iron steak representing the good old US of A. Although the steak was good - well-prepared and flavorful - the Stroganoff handily won the night. Done with an insanely tender red wine braised short rib on a bed of mushroom noodles, the dish was a modern interpretation of a classic that deserves to become a classic on its own. Beef Stroganoff should always be prepared this way.

Of course you could just forget the food and go for the vodka. There are more than 200 varieties from all over the world and they even have their own refrigerated vault in which you can make your choice and an ice-topped bar at which you can consume it. Have a few shots and it'll be dos vedanya!

Service was friendly but it took a bit longer than we usually like to get our various courses. It may have just been an off night.

Portions are huge and prices, while not cheap, are more moderate than they used to be. All but the most expensive steak and lobster are in the $27 to $38 range so you could do a full, satisfying meal for less than $50 per head. Start throwing in the imported caviar and the two pound rib eye and you're going to be doubling that figure easily.

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