RESTAURANT: This is one restaurant that makes an impression from the moment you cross the threshold. Those who appreciate the impact of design will revel in the unexpected delights that seduce the eye in this dramatic dining room. Unlike anything you will see in the desert, except the art and jewelry gallery to the left, we found the combination of cuisine, art and jewelry a sensory sensation. Look up as you are dipping your spoon into a chocolate almond palmier and you will see on the open beam ceiling, purses and shoes painted on square tiles. Look to your left and other unexpected images play with the eye.
If you have visiting friends take them to this one-of-a-kind mélange of earthly delights. There's simply nothing comparable to it in our desert domain.
THE MENU: We decided to try lunch first, to see how it went before investing our casino winnings in dinner. Without a reservation it took 10 minutes to be seated, but we liked the bar area quite well, as it felt as if we were the only guests in a millionaire's private art gallery. For a few hours, it felt fine to revel in art as well as artichokes.
The two-page menu is definitely not for those seeking lunch under $50, especially if you order appetizer, entrée and dessert.
Dining here can be a serendipitous experience and truly a joy for those who appreciate blending food and art.
The sliced bread was so hot it nearly burned my fingers, so while we waited for a replacement basket, we started with a California steamed artichoke ($8) -- sensational, with drawn butter and lemon aioli -- and a fricassee of wild mushrooms ($7), a successful marriage of phyllo pastry heightened with vermouth, which was the high note in the shallot sauce.
Why not try the mixed baby greens ($8), we thought, but compared to the tomato tarragon with delicious parmesan croutons ($5), it seemed mundane. Another good choice as our luck, like that at the casino, was on a roll.
We narrowed our entrées down to salmon and potato croquettes ($12). This was served on a plate that complemented the decor, a bold design that enhanced the croquettes, which were separated from one another by dollops of mashed potatoes crowned with black, gold and red caviar. The presentation was as stunning as the eclectic art surrounding the tables.
As we gazed out into the garden beyond, our server brought pan-seared shrimp and scallops ($14) with large caramelized shallots accented by tomato and spinach. Though the shrimp could have been more tender, the scallops were seared to their righteous moment, and plump they were. We decided to add a side of fresh-cut home fries ($3), which embarrassed some of the greasy imitations I've had lately. By the time the dessert menu arrived, so did another basket of bread. This time it was warm and more palatable.
We settled on the Granny Smith apple dumpling ($9), which was truly for those who can tolerate something super sweet. Nesting in a mushy pastry, the apple could have done well on its own. Vanilla bean ice cream , melting and meandering in the soup bowl, did its job well blending into the butter pecan sauce.
The almond-laced truille cup ($8) was simpler, with fresh berries and Häagen Dazs vanilla ice cream. We ultimately had closure on this theatrical lunch and concluded the drama with a third dessert, the chocolate layer cake, trimmed with cappuccino icing and vanilla ice cream ($8). We lingered over cups of Brazilian coffee ($6) sharing our thoughts on three consecutively divine desserts.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Between the casino and a capricious lunch, our choices were winning decisions. While experiencing innovative cuisine amid cutting-edge art, Augusta adds charisma to desert dining. And yes, we'll be back for dinner!