FIRST Food & Bar

Palazzo (last visit: November 2009).

FIRST Food & Bar is a bar. Sort of. It serves American food. Sort of. It portrays itself as a trendy neighborhood diner/bar/lounge. First was born in New York in the 1990s, the brainchild of Sam DeMarco; it made quite a splash. The first First is long gone, but Chef DeMarco is now holding court in Las Vegas. And yes, somewhere along the way it was decided that "First" didn't have nearly enough capital letters.

The Menu
The emphasis is on comfort food, but with many a twist. Philly cheesesteak is available - but in the form of dumplings. How about barbecue pork in egg rolls? There are also croque monsieur popsicles (no, not frozen), pastrami Reuben tacos, and for breakfast, a "FIRST Bag O' Donuts." For the traditionalists among us, there are plenty of meat and potatoes choices as well.

The Atmosphere
As you'd expect, it's pretty informal. There's a large bar, composed of dark wood and stone in sparkly cement grout. A large lounge area surrounds the bar. The predominant color is black: chairs are black, the walls are mostly black (with some white, and some caricatures scattered bout), and servers' clothing is almost uniformly black. The dining area is on the other side of the restaurant, and takes up a little more than half of the total space. Very large windows allow lots of light during lunch.

At 6 pm on a Sunday in July, the place was nearly deserted; it stayed that way for the hour or so that I was there. On a Friday evening in November, it was a little busier, but still pretty quiet. That's not surprising, given the day and time. However, it's worth noting that, while FIRST is part of the Palazzo complex, it's way out of the way, and not all that easy to find. People may never even know it's there.

Meal #1 - a light dinner
I came for a light dinner. I ordered croque monsieur pops, and added an egg; for a buck or two, you can add an egg to almost anything. This turned out to be three small cubes of fried bread, ham and cheese, with dipping sauce. Perhaps the cubes had been dipped in egg, but if so it was pretty subtle. It was OK, but not something I'd order again. Now about the portion size: it was small, but that's as should be expected. Items like this aren't an entree, but are best ordered as a small snack shared by two or three people.

I'd been on a spinach kick this trip, and tried their sauteed spinach. It was lightly sauteed, with a background flavor that might have been bacon. All in all, a good version of a maligned vegetable.

Meal #2 - a full dinner
Even before I order, my meal starts out better than last time. A plate of very good pretzel bread appears, accompanied by three mustard sauces. The horseradish mustard deserves special mention.

This time, I follow the advice of local food critic John Curtas. Philly cheesesteak dumplings with Siracha ketchup are typical of the food served here: comfort food with a twist. As odd as they sound, they really do have a taste reminiscent of the original, and are very good. Walnut shrimp with clove honey and mayonnaise are even better. Boasting a large portion of nicely cooked shrimp, the combination of flavors and textures works very well; highly recommended.

For dessert, how about a bag of donuts?, Actually, it's a stack of donuts, with caramel, chocolate and raspberry sauces. The cake donuts taste just like deep fried waffles - a good thing - and the sauces are good. However, too much grease has been absorbed. Curtas had spoken of such a problem during an early visit of his, but noted that the problem was corrected on his return visit. Well, the problem is back. Still, I give the donuts a (slight) thumbs up.

I find myself wanting to like First. It offers food that's out of the ordinary, is casual and not too expensive. My first experience wasn't too encouraging, but my second meal was much better. The jury's still out, but I plan to return.

The Bill
The first small meal was $17, plus drinks, tax and tip. The second, bigger meal was $33, plus drinks, tax and tip.

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