Wolfgang Puck Café
At a Glance
What is it?
Wolfgang Puck’s casual cafe goes a little more upscale into a bar & grill.
Where is it?
At the MGM Grand on the South Strip.
What kind of food is served?
Quite a lot to choose from – simple to extravagant.
What is the atmosphere like?
Sleek, modern, and nice but could’ve used a couple of additional walls.
How is the service?
What are the prices like?
On the high side.
What else do I need to know?
It’s Wolfgang Puck – what else is there to know?
What’s the bottom line?
A decent diversion.
Wolfgang Puck was one of the first “celebrity” chefs to take a chance on Las Vegas long before it became the epicurean epicenter it is now. One of his first restaurants, the Wolfgang Puck Café got a makeover in 2005 changing it from a casual eatery mostly known for Puck’s signature pizzas to a slightly less casual “Bar & Grill” with a more eclectic menu. The transformation is successful on a variety of very satisfactory levels but it is disappointing that yet another “affordable” restaurant option has been removed from the every more expensive Strip. More on that in a moment.
First, let’s talk about the visual revisions. When it was a simple Café, the space was open to the MGM Grand casino and featured a vibrantly colorful design scheme that worked well with noise and drama of the gaming action happening a few feet away. The new design is dramatically elegant with sleek lines, plenty of bleached wood details, and a muted earth tone jazzed up by bold splashes of color by way of faux-stained glass panels placed strategically around the room. It is instantly more appealing than the old design but since it is still completely open to the casino it doesn’t work quite as well as an integrated whole. I would’ve thrown up a wall to do the nicer décor justice but that’s just me.
The menu has moved up a notch as well. While you can still get soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and pizza that were the mainstay of the old place, those options have been reduced in number and now sit side by side with things like steak, shrimp scampi, veal ravioli, and lamb osso bucco plus a variety of fresh seafood options. It’s all done in Puck’s well-known California cuisine style and while the saffron, polenta, and leeks (for instance) that get added on to otherwise simple dishes may be intimidating to some, there is still plenty on the menu to discover and enjoy for folks of all levels of culinary discernment.
We started with an appetizer of duck sausage with spicy mustard and sweet relish accompaniments. Grilled to a delicious golden brown the sausage was robust with flavor, not too fiery as some can be but still with enough of a bang that my taste buds were able to recognize that something cool was going on.
Since we were still holding on to the past, we went for the dinner items that most evoked the former Café era of this restaurant including a ham and cheese calzone, an Italian sausage pizza, and good old hamburger complete with Vermont cheddar cheese.
The portions were typically huge, with both the calzone and the burger big enough to feed a small village and the pizza verging on what would be called a medium when delivered in a box to your home. I’m not going to get into a discussion of waste and our national obsession with over-consumption but it struck me, right around the time when I noticed that the burger actually cast a shadow, that perhaps we could all just agree that we really don’t need this much food at any one meal? Yeah, losing battle. I get it.
I felt guilty leaving so much food on the plate, not just because of PC guilt but because everything was so darned good. The hamburger, with its gooey mountain of smoky cheese and an onion marmalade that set the standard for mutually exclusive yet totally complementary tastes, was divine – and this is coming from a guy that is very happy with a Sourdough Jack so you know that fancy burgers don’t automatically impress me.
The calzone, epic in scope and presentation, was a terrific combination of the four food groups (grains in the flaky crust, meats, dairy via the cheese, and vegetables via the tomato sauce) and the pizza reminded me that Wolfgang Puck got famous for a reason that isn’t properly expressed in the frozen versions you can get at your supermarket.
So then you get to the prices. For a burger, a pizza, a calzone, an appetizer, non-alcoholic beverages, tax, and tip our bill approached $100 for three people. Not bad in the grand scheme of things for a Vegas restaurant but significantly higher than you’d expect in a casual dining environment. And keep in mind that we actually went for the least expensive things on the menu. Go for the more upscale entrees and a couple of glasses of wine and that $100 will barely cover two people.
Is it worth it? Based on the quality of the food and the exemplary service I’d have to say yes. There are few restaurants in this town that fall into this upper middle price range that I’d say that about. But while the old Café was never exactly what you’d call “cheap,” there’s still a part of me that believes if the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill would offer slightly smaller portions and a slightly smaller bill, it would get unqualified raves instead of hesitant ones.