At first bite: Radical bounty
With uncompromising quality and earnest innovation, Harvest by Roy Ellamar is the farm-fresh restaurant we’ve been waiting for
You never know where the next culinary celebrity is going to come from. Who would have thought that some hotel chef in Santa Barbara would become a Croc-wearing media darling and a restaurant mogul in a few short years? Who knew in the opening days of Babbo, or Emeril’s in New Orleans, or Boulud’s reign over Le Cirque, that those would each be a pilot episode for a culture-defining run in the spotlight? Then again, maybe there are early signs. From what I’ve tasted so far, I think Chef Roy is on the verge of much-deserved renown with Harvest by Roy Ellamar.
The pan-Asian restaurant Sensi, which Ellamar ran for years in the same location, had quietly been one of the most interesting spots in town, but had missed the wave that pushed a few other Bellagio restaurants into acclaim. At Sensi, the concept got old, and the place was due for a change. I don’t know who to thank for not turning the former Sensi space into some half-baked Food Network Star fast-casual spot or some place with ahi tuna tacos by that androgynous guy with the white glasses who stands next to Gordon Ramsay but, whoever it is, we owe them a debt of gratitude. They pulled back some of the walls that darkened the cavernous dining room, brightened up the kitchen into a beehive of efficiency, and most importantly, gave Roy Ellamar a blank checkbook and no strings.
We’ve all seen places calling themselves “farm-to-table.” The phrase has become so watered down that it hardly describes what Harvest is doing. At Harvest, they aren’t just squeezing a local-ish lemon over the same industrially fished salmon, or using the “craft” repackaged brand of herbs from the same old factory farm. Rather, in the run-up to Harvest’s launch, Chef Roy had secretly been traveling the country, building relationships with small-catch fishermen (not fisheries) on the East Coast, ordering directly. He’d been investing in local farmers so they could stay in business profitably enough for him to continue using their lovingly grown produce and tapping movers and shakers in the Vegas food business to get the absolute honest-to-goodness best ingredients for his dishes.
One look at the menu shows the depth of and passion for this sourcing. Nearly every ingredient has a location or, better yet, a farm name to it. Herbs by Diane and Prime Color Growers in Nevada, Life’s a Choke and Weiser Family Farms in California, Painted Hills Beef in Oregon, Beehive Cheese in Utah — the list goes on. This is the kind of farm-to-table stuff that makes Michael Pollan swoon.
The cuisine itself is a love letter to New American dining, using part international classics and part modern tropes. And yet, everything has a spark of genius to it. For example, the roasted baby beet salad (from County Line Harvest) uses the green beet tops to make a pesto; it also features a spiced yogurt and a finely diced, pickled Asian pear garnish. (When was the last time you’ve seen a beet salad that wasn’t dollops of goat cheese and arugula?) The Brussels sprouts dish is charred and tossed with Blis barrel-aged maple syrup, mustard seeds, and bourbon soy — and no bacon. (I’m over people constantly throwing bacon in Brussels sprouts. You could almost imagine Chef Roy brainstorming this recipe and quickly erasing the word “bacon,” thinking, No, I can do better.)
Duck confit sliders
The duck confit sliders are a rare show of decadence. Small brioche buns are hollowed out and filled with duck confit, red onion jam and a slice of foie. Absolute heaven. The rest of the menu generally comprises restrained, ingredient-focused recipes, with a few deft, fancy moves here and there. For instance, the New England diver scallops, sourced from the fishermen Chef Roy befriended, are prepared with brown butter, winter chanterelles and Delicata squash. I thought I was done being impressed by a scallop, writing them off as squishy pillows of blah, but this one had so much of the sweet flavor of the sea, and such a firm, consistent texture, I could have been tricked into thinking it was something like a langoustine. The menu also has a section on rotisserie, with spinning porchettas and the “bird of the day,” and a section of items from their stone oven, featuring roasted fish, stews and lamb.
New England diver scallops with brown butter and Delicata squash
There’s another interesting part of the menu you don’t notice right away: Two carts meandering through the dining room. One is a dessert cart, loaded with pastries, gelato, marshmallows and other sweets. The other is a “snack wagon,” featuring small plates you can order at a set price (around $7 each). It has items such as a steak tartare with oyster aioli, Binchotan hanger-steak skewers and smoked salmon belly. These are Chef Roy’s spur-of-the moment creations, a chance for him to play around and beta-test what people like.
Harvest by Roy Ellamar is the place we’ve been waiting for. I’m measured in my enthusiasm, but only because there’s always that X factor — even good restaurants can succumb to a rut, or a bad location or, for whatever reason, poor public reception. But talent is clearly on Chef Roy's side. If luck is, too, Harvest will be the kind of restaurant that influences restaurants to open in the next decade — and draw the nation’s eye to Vegas in a profound way.
In the Bellagio