Happy Hour Nirvana: American Fish

I’ve had a hard time warming up to Aria at City Center. Being a fan of the themed hotels in Las Vegas, I didn’t care for Aria’s lack of one. And although no one can say that it is not a beautiful hotel, it has felt a bit sterile to me. . .up until now. I had to pass through here several times on my recent Vegas trip while staying at the Monte Carlo, and with greater familiarity, I started to warm up to it a bit.

Truth be told, though, it won my heart the good old-fashioned way: Through my stomach. You see, Aria is home to my new favorite Las Vegas restaurant, American Fish. American Fish is Michael Mina’s fifth Las Vegas restaurant, and believe me, his team has the restaurant experience down to a science now. They use what is described as “rustic cooking methods”: salt baking, wood grilling, cast-iron griddling, and ocean water poaching. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but for once, I can see why. The quality of the food is very, very good.

Aria exterior

Aria, courtesy of City Center

I had dinner here one night with my friend Abby (The Jungle Princess)–but I was thinking the entire time about what the experience would be like as a solo (I can’t help myself, it’s in my DNA now). Let’s just say it met my “SoloFriendly” seal of approval. I arrived early, sat at the bar, and had time to soak in the atmosphere while sipping a vodka collins. The bartenders were friendly and professional, and I felt as comfortable when I was alone as I did once Abby arrived.

If you choose to sit at a table rather than the bar, try sitting facing the open kitchen in the back of the restaurant. I always find it interesting to watch the chefs prepare dinners. But honestly, I recommend the bar to solos for its incredible beauty. They created an amazing backdrop using trees and mirrors to make it look like a window looking out onto an entire forest behind the bar. It was gorgeous! I could have been perfectly content just sitting and staring at it for hours.

I unfortunately got no personal photos of American Fish’s beautiful bar area, because the downside of this restaurant is that it’s very dimly-lit. And my photography skills are limited to good lighting. (So sad.) But I was able to borrow some photos from MGM Resorts International, thanks to their PR person extraordinaire (thanks Heather!). The dim lighting also meant I had trouble reading the menu and the bill, but luckily, Abby was there to help me out. (Next time, I’ll bring a better reading light.)

ARIA - AMERICAN FISH Interior

American Fish at Aria, photo courtesy of MGM Resorts International

If you’re on a budget, I have good news for you: Between 5pm and 7pm daily, American Fish offers a Happy Hour with appetizers from the bar and lounge menu for just $5. The plates and portion sizes are small, but this is great for the light appetite and for those wanting to sample several things. Drinks are cheap, too, ranging from $4 beer to $7 wine and cocktails. What a deal!

Normally, the prospect of crafting a dinner from a restaurant’s happy hour menu is unappealing. Nachos, chicken wings and potato skins aren’t my idea of a healthy meal and the portion sizes are usually so huge I can’t order more than one thing anyway. American Fish, though, has the most creative happy hour menu I’ve ever seen.

Appetizers at American Fish

Smoked Salmon BLT, Maine Lobster Roll and Laughing Bird Shrimp Po Boy appetizers at American Fish, photo courtesy of City Center

Abby and I split several items, but even if I had been solo, I could have had 2-3 different items without wasting food. Everything was so good I wanted to lick the plate (but I restrained myself). It was, hands down, the best meal I had during my entire trip (and not just because of the company). Here’s a breakdown of what we had:

  • Shrimp and grits (with jalapeno, serrano ham, and aged white cheddar) – The shrimp were spiced just right and the grits creamy and wonderfully cheesy. (Grits are such a difficult dish to get right, but they’ve nailed it here.)
  • The lobster roll (with celery, capers and lemon aioli) was creamy and delicious. It wasn’t served on the kind of roll we New Englanders are used to; it was more of a thin toasted bread.
  • The prime rib sandwich also came on a thin, toasted bread of some kind; the meat was tender and flavorful and the horseradish sauce (a necessary accompaniment to prime rib in my book) was divine.
  • I’m not usually a big “fish and chips” fan, but I loved theirs. The “chips” were skinny fries with a faint (malt) vinegar flavor that reminded me of the beach. Sigh. The fish was puffy and practically dissolved in my mouth (in a good way).
  • The big hit, though, was the truffled mac and cheese. This isn’t your grandmother’s mac and cheese (no offense to Grandma). Again, it was very creamy and delicious. It was the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had. (Note: The fries and mac and cheese are both available as sides on the dinner menu.)

In short, I fell in love with this restaurant and will definitely make it a point to return over and over again. The only suggestion I’d make to American Fish to improve upon it’s already superior Happy Hour menu is to develop a couple of appetizers that are vegetable-based. (Yeah, there were small amounts of vegetables added to various appetizers, but not enough to really count as a “portion” of vegetables if you’re trying to eat off the food pyramid.) Otherwise, it’s pretty perfect.

For more details about hours, location and prices and to see the menus. visit American Fish’s website.

Leave a Reply

  1. When are you coming back to Vegas? I’ve been talking up that amazing happy hour but have yet to make it back! It really is a great deal. There are a lot of amazing happy hours on the Strip, and reverse ones, too. (Not that I’m ever up past ten pm.) But American Fish really was extra-delicious — fine dining but in a really comfortable setting. So glad you introduced me!

    • Believe me, Abby, it was my pleasure. :-) Don’t know when I’m coming back to Vegas yet. I haven’t solidified my 2013 travel plans yet. Stay tuned….

  2. By a happy coincidence, I just booked a 3-night stay for December, shortly before the winter holiday season begins, and I’m staying at Aria. Aria has been my home on the Strip for some time now, but I’ve never gotten around to trying American Fish. You’ve convinced me to give it a go.

  3. I’ve been thinking of going to American Fish for their Happy Hour during my next trip but I don’t know if it’s going to make the cut or not. I’m always on the go and the way I plan (yep, I make out a rough schedule of events and show times / headliners etc. ) it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to do it.

    On the topic of theme for Aria , I think you have to look at City Center as one place. The whole complex is the theme ‘ city within a city’ since it has both hotel and residential , shopping and restaurants… it even has it’s own fire station (though that also does service the other Strip properties.)

    I still haven’t toured around all of it , just to check it all out.

    • Well, even if you don’t make it this time, hopefully it’ll still be there waiting for you on future trips, Craig. That’s the trouble with Vegas (though it’s a “good” trouble): So many awesome restaurants, so few meals per day. :-) If CityCenter is a theme, it’s a theme that doesn’t feel very themey, if you know what I mean. I do like the idea that they have their own fire station, though.