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  • Silk Road by Max Jacobson

I find that City Center’s vast canyons of steel and glass are far more intimidating from inside than from the 15 Freeway, but driving in is only one option.

One could walk, for instance, as does chef Martin Heierling, who says it takes him two minutes to hustle between Sensi, his Bellagio restaurant, and Silk Road, a new three-meal restaurant at Vdara. Silk Road serves some of the most unusual food in town. Is it a gamble, given that this is the hotel’s only restaurant? You bet.

Obviously, the big brass at MGM/Mirage, President Bobby Baldwin and CEO Jim Murren, have an almost religious faith in Heierling’s talent. Why else would they have let him consult on Silk Road’s design, build it close enough to Sensi to allow him to run both, and made him Vdara’s Executive Chef?

Considering this is the only restaurant at Vdara, a hotel and condo complex with no gaming facilities, it’s understandable that the restaurant is open at seven a.m. That way, guests can take coffee with their quail eggs, boudin noir or Turkish eggs with free range turkey hash, three exotic choices on Heierling’s breakfast menu.

Still, this is an ambitious undertaking given the scope of the menu. If you’ve eaten at Sensi, the chef’s eclecticism won’t come as a surprise. He’s a native of Germany who made his bones in the kitchens of New Zealand, and later worked with the alchemic chef Gray Kunz, at Lespinasse in New York City.

The futuristic design was done by industrial designer Karim Rashid, green enough to have received a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. It’s also quite gold in here, like a gilded gift box. I was hypnotized by one wall, ochre and burnt orange waves, depicting the Silk Road’s ever changing landscapes.

Heierling, a native Germany who speaks English with an odd Kiwi/German lilt, has traveled the real Silk Road, so his cooking has Turkish and Central Asian influences running through many dishes. If the term silk road suggests China to you, forget it and take it like a man. Heierling has the Western Silk Road in mind here.

His food is also Mediterranean, mostly southern, spun though exotica like the Moroccan spice blend harissa, and lukhum, a gummy candy sold as Turkish Delight in this country. There are also touches of Iran, such as the cotton candy-like sweet called pashmak, which dessert chef Frederic Larre uses to top many of his desserts.

The ebullient chef, a longtime friend of mine, came to the table himself to inform me that he couldn’t serve me an order of his signature grilled sardines, garnished with feta, dill and mint. “I put them on the menu as an afterthought”, he said, “and everyone orders them.” So I had to return for lunch to eat them.

There was consolation. Heierling is relentlessly creative; no chef in Vegas has a more extensive understanding of food’s endless diversity. Katafi crusted shrimp, a Lebanese specialty, cloaks the shrimp in a shredded wheat batter, alongside a watermelon and spiced cucumber salad. Basturma, the Turkish version of what one might loosely call pastrami, comes wrapped around a crisp cheese “Twinkie” on a spoonful of sesame seeds laced with wild thyme.

Out of curiosity, I ordered my companion Bintje potato gnocchi, and got perfect pillows of potato flour pasta, scorched golden brown, laced with curry spice and Gruyere cheese. The faint scent of truffles lingered on the finish. My fork seemed to have a life of its own when I tried to leave room for entrees.

Asia surfaces briefly with crispy Thai red snapper, but the sautéed baby artichokes and green olive butter rocket you back to the Levant. Morocco is represented with a lamb tagine, served under the traditional cone shaped lid. But it’s more Heierling than Hassan, fork tender pieces of slow cooked lamb mingling with garam masala, an Indian spice mixture, charred tomato and Persian eggplant.

As extraordinary as this food is, desserts are even more so. Credit for that goes to Frenchman Frederic Larre, who obviously has taken some cues from his boss, Mad Martin.

That’s why pashmak, pink colored, subtly rosewater scented Persian cotton candy, shows up as a garnish on many of the dessert plates, and lukhum is flanked by the most deliciously original complimentary petit fours in the city. A parfait made with minced hazelnuts and thick whipped cream set me on my heels. And the raspberry anise cheesecake, served in a tiny rectangle, almost makes me like cheesecake.

Come for lunch, and there are mezze (small plates) such as organic lamb kofte with smoked paprika, shaved Serrano ham with chorizo stuffed piquillo peppers, and something called yufta, a sheet-like Turkish pastry filled with basturma and goat cheese. Or Silk Road burgers, two mini char-grilled Black Angus sliders served with French fries.

Heierling has included them for the true culinary thrill seeker, I suspect.

In Vdara at City Center. 590-7111.

Breakfast 7-10 a.m.; lunch 11:a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5:30-10:30 p.m.

Some notes from designer Karim Rashid:

What was your inspiration for the design?

Silk Road is an elaborate multi-cultural vision where Mediterranean Spice & Trade Market encounters the plush & intimate opulence of the Merchant Route. Silk Road’s seductive bar invites one to lounge in its sculptural fiberglass seating that flows into the street. The seating separates the relaxed yet elegant bistro style seating, intended to create the atmosphere of a Merchant Meeting House, from the private booths of the intimate dining room.  During the day, natural light will illuminate the vibrant & vivid colors of the room; while at night, subtle candle light and chandeliers encourage an intimate yet vivacious ambiance. Silk Road invites guests to find themselves immersed in a seductive experience that invites to socialize freely in its sensuous surroundings from breakfast to diner. There is a curvy wall in 3 different layers that creates a dynamic effect from day to night.

What is the experience you are trying to create? What is the feeling guests/residents will have in the space as a result of the interior design? Please describe each important area/element including colors, textures, fabrics, furnishings, etc.  What materials were used in the interiors? What’s unique about them?

Before anyone walks into the Vdara restaurant one can immediately sense the rich history of the Silk Road re-envisioned today.  Delicate metal patterns remind one of Asian tapestries viewed as never before.  Walking into the ocular entrance fiberglass swags turn into furniture like a spice traders tent set up for a four star meal.  The colors are white, pink and mirrored gold in glass, metal, light wood ceilings and fiberglass for an understated opulence.

Please discuss, in detail, the sustainable elements you’ve incorporated into the interior design, if any (materials, energy, water, etc.)

The ceiling is plyboo veneer, a non-VOC material and one of the most rapidly renewable resources available.  Low energy consuming LED lights are used whenever possible to give a consistent energy efficient and low maintenance glow for years.  Daylighting is used along the corridor while shades are brought in to cut down on the solar heat gain for a more efficient conditioning of the space.

What are the key elements of the interior design that you feel should be highlighted? The most unique features?

The smooth curved surfaces in the most contemporary materials still evoke the history of the Silk Road.  All the furniture either custom designed for the space or designed by Karim.  This ensures an aesthetic consistency that is true to the space, the idea, the food and the designer.

Describe the cutting-edge, innovative technologies and techniques that have been incorporated into the interior design?

Bead blasted curved metal walls, gold reflective glass floors, fiberglass seating designed by Karim Rashid for added flair, innovative lighting at the perimeter for surprising but subtle elements throughout create a space that is both contemporary and soft.

Please walk us through the space, describing each important area/element including colors, textures, fabrics, furnishings, etc. What materials are used in the interiors?  What’s unique about them?

The exterior has the metal pattern on gold mirror with pink windows and an amorphous opening to signal to the dinner that something incredible is ahead.  Upon passing through there is fiberglass blobject furniture designed by Karim over a reflective gold glass floor.  To the other side is an innovative bar set below a dimensional representation of the Silk Road itself.

The hostess will set you in one of several dinning experiences, from intimate and cradling custom fiberglass banquettes to soft tables that seem to glow with a warm orange light, reflecting the sand dune layered wall and the southern Nevada sunsets.

How did you create a space that is unique to its own character, but yet responds to the overall vernacular and identity of the building?

The materials, the shapes, the colors are all unique to idea, function and space as a whole.  Still, because of its position in the building, at the precipice of the entry it must act as a beacon for entry and as a window and a mirror to the surrounding exterior.  It is precisely this collection of materials shapes and colors that create this beacon to the outside and mirror for the interior.

Are any fine art pieces intended for your space? Please discuss your approach.  Are there any other art features of interest?

There are two pieces in particular.  One is the dimensional interpretation of the Silk Road that hangs above the bar near the entrance.  Lacquered in milky white and illuminated from within there are criss-crossing  paths leading to all destinations.  Further into the space is a light twirl sculpture standing at eight feet high.  This glowing piece is a fluid post reminiscent of whirling dervishes and acts as a center point of the dinning area.

What is your design team’s background?

Camila Tariki received her architecture degree from the Universidade Presbiteriana in Sao Palo, and a second degree in Interior Design from Parsons School of design in New York in 2002.  Camila has been with the Karim Rashid studio since 2002 and the Director of the space department since 2006.

Kamala Hutauruk received her Bachelors of Architecture from the University of Indonesia in 2003 and her Masters of Fine arts from the New York School of Interior design in 2003.  Kamala has worked as an interior architect and architectural visualization specialist in Indonesia and New York since 2003.

Cece Stelljes earned her Masters of Science degree in interior design from Pratt Institute in 2005.  She began working in design in 2002, focusing on hospitality projects including W Hotel Midtown Atlanta, STK Restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, and The Bank nightclub in Las Vegas.

Evan Padruig McCullough graduated with a Bachelors of Science in architectural studies in 2002 with a minor in Anthropology and a master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Utah in 2005.  He has worked in engineering, architecture and design offices for the past 6 years and has been at the Karim Rashid Studio since 2007.

What are the key projects in your portfolio that you would like for us to highlight?

To date Karim has had some 2500 objects put into production. Successes such as the Dirt Devil Kone, Umbra Garbo, and Method Home designs illustrate Karim’s ethos of affordable, democratic design for the masses. Karim’s award winning interior work includes the Morimoto restaurant in Philadelphia and Semiramis hotel in Athens as well as many retail stores and restaurants world wide.

What recognition/awards have you received?

A perennial winner of the Chicago Athenaeum Good Design award, I.D. Magazine Annual Design Review and Red Dot Award, Karim was also honored early in his career with the prestigious Daimler Chrysler Design Award, and the Brooklyn Museum Young Designer of the Year Award. Recently he received the International Furnishings and Design Association Circle of Excellence Award for Industrial Design and Pratt Legend Award. Karim’s interior work have garnered accolades from the Boutique Design Awards and Seep European Hotel Design Award for Best Interior Design Public Spaces for Semiramis Hotel and National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers: Grand Prize: Retail Store of the Year, Nambe Flagship store. His work is in the permanent collections of 15 Museums worldwide including MoMA, SFMoMA and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

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