Mandalay Bay (last visit: November 2008).

Aureole has been on my to-visit list since shortly after it opened, but somehow I never got there. At least part of the reason was my ambiguous feelings about the place. Aureole has received decidedly mixed reviews, with some praising the food, and others saying that the only reason to visit is to see the wine angels (more about that below). Eight years later, I finally made it.

The Menu
The full menu is available both in the dining rooms and the lounge. It is sometimes described as progressive American cuisine. Typical American menu items may be jazzed up, and slightly exotic items also appear. Thus, one of the fish dishes might be super rich escolar; veal loin is supplemented with sweetbreads; foie gras is available.

The Atmosphere
There are two main dining rooms and a lounge with bar; I ate at the bar. The lounge has four seat tables and booths; the L-shaped bar has about ten seats. On a Monday in November at around 7 pm, the bar was mostly full; the lounge and main dining rooms looked to be about one fourth full.

The bar and lounge had lots of hard surface, leading to a fairly noisy environment. Generic peppy music played at a moderate level. The bartenders were quiet - almost taciturn - for most of the evening. The bar seemed to be the type of place where people went to meet business associates before dinner. Amusingly, the bartenders warmed up considerably when two female physical fitness conference attendees showed up.

Now about those wine angels: behind and above the bar is Aureole's famous wine tower. Stretching upward 30 or 40 feet, it stores some of the more expensive bottles of wine (not the most expensive, however; the best wine is stored out of sight, where there's less vibration). When someone orders a bottle, a women dressed in black, and with appropriate rope and other paraphernalia, raises herself to the bottle in question, grabs it, then lowers herself back down. It's an interesting idea, but more so in concept than in execution.

The Meal
My appetizer was Housemade Potato Gnocchi and Seared Scallop. Six gnocchi were arranged in a star pattern, with a scallop slice in the center. Peas were sprinkled on top, along with leeks, porcini mushrooms and Champagne foam. The scallop was cooked through, but just avoided being overcooked. The gnocchi were soft, with only a little flavor, but were nonetheless good. The combination of flavors was what made the dish succeed; very good.

Next was Veal Loin with Crispy Sweetbreads, with Citron Potato and Fricassee of Golden Chanterelles. The veal loin was good but pretty standard. The sweetbreads were excellent: very firm but not dry, with good flavor. The entire dish had a pleasing aroma. Overall, very good to excellent.

For dessert, I had Salted Caramel Bombe with Summer Cherries. This was served chilled. I don't remember much about this dish, except that I enjoyed it! My notes said it was very good.

I liked my meal a lot. The atmosphere of the bar - not so much.

The Bill
The meal was $80, plus drinks, tax and tip.

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