RN74 has that air of manufactured energy, a sort of corporate stylishness, that makes you think it's surrounded by chiming slot machines and air-conditioning as far as the eye can see. Michael Mina, the celebrity chef who has imposed RN74 upon downtown, has five restaurants in Vegas: AMERICAN FISH, NOBHILL TAVERN, SEABLUE, STRIPSTEAK, and one that goes by his own name in all-caps (why so shouty, Michael Mina?). You actually walk out of RN74 onto Fourth and Pike, which is about as far from a controlled climate as Seattle gets—the valet looks a little unnerved, and the restaurant windows have giant louvered blinds to block out the fray.
RN74 is loud and the tables are close together, the music a distantly bumping bass line. The servers wear sneakers and button-downs—so if the shirt happens to be plaid, they could work a shift at Skillet Diner and then just come on down the hill. The French, or sometimes "French," entrées cost, on average, $30 each. The guys in the button-downs at the table next to us (no sneakers) last Thursday night loved every minute of it. The one with the Polo emblem explained to the others that Michael Mina "made his bones" at an "awesome" place in San Francisco—he couldn't remember the name (Aqua)—and now has this whole empire (19 restaurants, including BOURBON STEAKS in four states). Their table basked in the light of Mina's success—and their own, by proxy—for a moment: "Yeah, so cool." Then Polo summarized RN74 thusly: "It's like Balthazar... no... it's like Pastis. Except it's missing the starving actresses working as waitresses." (Workers of RN74: I think he's calling you fat! You're totally not.)
The original RN74 is not in Las Vegas, it's in San Francisco, and it looks uncannily similar to the Seattle version—the same old-fashioned-passenger-train smashed into nouveau-bistro-on-uppers decor, both with a profusion of different light fixtures and a rail-station-style special wine list with flip-over letters. You will learn on Mina's website that he started the Michael Mina Group in partnership with Andre Agassi, and that his very first goal, when he sits down to design a restaurant, is to "make women look beautiful here." His key to cooking "lies in balancing... spice, sweetness, acidity, and fat," which is described as "deliciously counterintuitive" but is pretty much an ancient and universal truth. (There is also a video of his kid making a sandwich.)
With so many of them out there, each of Mina's places has to be a well-oiled machine. To that end, he concentrates on replicability, with intranet videos of food prep and plating and tableside service for all employees, "so that the quality of the experience does not vary." Tableside flourishes are a Mina trademark, and for these prices, they should be very flourishy. The ahi tuna tartare ($19), our server explained one night, is a dish Mina is "extremely famous" for, so who were we not to order it? A different server came and mixed it, tentatively, at the table, naming its parts—quail egg, pine nuts, mint, sesame oil, Asian pear, habanero (though the menu said its cousin, Scotch bonnet)—then uncertainly pushed it into an amorphous heap. Maybe she hadn't watched the video enough? The tartare was good—not as much of a departure as it sounds, wanting a little more hot pepper of whichever variety, served with traditional white toast points. But it was good. Same with the maitake mushroom tempura ($10), with its very thin tempura batter, yuzu salt, and green onion aioli, though it comes in an inhuman portion. It should be ordered with at least three other people or a great deal of restraint (and then it's horrible to see those beautiful mushrooms go to waste).
At RN74, coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon come with quotation marks and are carefully composed plates with lots of white space, made with braised Mad Hatcher bird and Painted Hills short rib. These are odd recipes to deconstruct—the original homey stews richly make the most of inferior beast. But taken on their own merits, as French-inspired fine dining, these dishes are good. The small mound of herby, delicate house-made egg noodles that came with the "coq au vin" ($28) was outstanding, though the lardons were so big as to have chewy connective tissue intact, and some of the chicken was slightly oversalty; the "bourguignon" ($32) meat was as tender as could be, served with maitake mushrooms and fancy fried potatoes, with its sauce poured tableside to emphasize its rarefication. A "cassoulet" ($29) hardly merited its quotes—it was hearty and filling, full of creamy beans and Anderson Ranch lamb shank and mild sausage and carrot, served in a ramekin. The update here: lovely slices of lamb tenderloin on the side (with some very bitter, unbalanced radicchio). Alaskan halibut ($29) was plush-fleshed and not at all overdone, and every plate you saw going by had the same three geometric stacks of vegetable, with three notably marvelous, crunchy sugar snap peas—and exactly three gnocchi.
RN74 is named after a highway in the Burgundy region of France, and the wine list concentrates likewise, with good selections in what passes for midrange at a place like this (say $40 to $70 a bottle). At the table next to us that one night—eavesdropping at most of the tables at RN74 is not optional—Polo was the taster, the cork sitting on a little silver tray; it seemed to be eyeing him balefully. He swirled ostentatiously while his bros looked on. "Great wine," he said, then gave a double thumbs-up. "GREAT wine." He declined a decanter. The sommelier showed no signs of suffering.
But the service at RN74 can vary in ways that might make Michael Mina unhappy. One night, the bartender and the server both gave the same canned explanation about the Last Bottle wine list (it's the last bottle, and it's being offered at an exceptional value, and "When they're gone, they're gone," in case the concept remained unclear); the SHAREABLES section of the menu was pushed; recommendations from the rest of the menu were made unbidden (including the extremely famous tartare). It all felt smoothly, opportunistically on message, like a series of video scripts. Different servers also took three glasses of wine that still contained a last sip; maybe it's the reddish lighting making all the ladies look so beautiful, but I'm guessing that doesn't happen with a $420 bottle from the Last Bottle list. Another night, our server was friendly but rushed, spiels were absent, lag times between courses were marked, and the Last Bottle list never turned over at all—all of which might make Michael Mina mad.
RN74 can't help but feel airlifted. Mina Group veteran Michelle Retallack is the chef; she was imported from San Francisco, and she's pictured on the website buying some green onions at a farmers market, and the green onions are in a plastic bag—probably a capital offense in Seattle's food culture. The sous chef, Larkin Young, is from Tilth, Maria Hines's all-organic bungalow in Wallingford; he must have rather serious culture shock. The maître d', who also moved from some other part of the Mina empire, didn't quite know what used to be in the space—a Rite Aid, he thought. Correct, sir! And if inspiration is lacking here, it's an improvement on Rite Aid.