Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay opened eleven years ago, and has adapted their food and their accessibility to meet today’s challenging economic climate. The restaurant is helmed by Executive Chef Jason Damato, and owned by Live Nation, as is House of Blues. Chef Damato has quietly fused a menu, delivering unique items with Asian and Indian flair, and Mediterranean favorites.
My husband and I dine at Foundation Room on a Friday evening, with an early reservation. Guiding the way to join the privileged diners inside the restaurant, there’s a velvet rope and podium in the bank of elevators, where a staff member guides diners into a private elevator with only one destination – dining Heaven in the form of Foundation Room. The swift and silent elevator deposits us in the dimly lit, perfumed and cozy entrance. To the right lies the dining room. Turn left, and the bar and lounge reside. Between are private entertaining and dining rooms. External doors from both the dining room and the bar lead to the outdoor patio. The view from the roomy patio overlooks the entire Strip from Mandalay Bay northward. The patio has more than adequate seating, appointed with tapestry-clad sofas, heaters, oriental rugs, and an accommodating staff member to open the door for those entering and exiting the patio area. The view is impressive at any time but, once the sun goes down, it is breathtaking.
Our table is window-side. The windows are framed with long, teal, tapered, heavy velvet curtains. Foundation Room is conservative, and plush, with many stories to tell, if one has a moment to hear its fascinating history. The colors are deep and vivid, and the carpeting is a complex creation of Oriental rugs – hundreds of them, cut and pieced together, to help illustrate diversity. The rugs mirror the rich tapestry of our culture, and our history. The tablecloths are sparkling white linen, and the plates are all stark white. There is a simple votive candle in an amber hued cube in the center of the table. The table settings are formal – down to the gleaming silverware (replaced between each course) and crystal clear stemware. The setting was quiet and intimate. Foundation Room heats up and gets quite busy later in the night, and remains that way into the wee hours. The atmosphere is relaxed but the room feels and looks luxurious, like every glass of wine, every menu item, every glance and every conversation is special.
Restaurants and dining experiences depend heavily upon the service staff, and Foundation Room doesn’t have simply competent staff – they are stellar. Our server, Ryan, is well versed in all dishes. The servers at Foundation Room also taste all specials, thus they can speak confidently about the food, as well as ingredients that go into it. The service staff is more than professional – each staff member is friendly and has knowledge to share. They also take clear pride in performing well, and to Foundation Room’s credit, many of their staff members have been with the restaurant for several years.
The management staff is equally impressive. Ben Luna, Foundation Room Operations Manager, tours us and offers a running commentary on the restaurant, including fixtures (the chandelier in the Shangri La Room was salvaged after a fire ravaged the MGM in 1978), and notable features. The Gothic Room, a private dining room, boasts 18th century paintings on glass – the glass is the actual painted media that. The Shangri La Room has a hand-painted ceiling and the walls have affixed to them, well, confessionals. These are confessionals from a church in Ireland and they are prominently displayed elsewhere in the Foundation Room décor as well. These details are not just trivia; they are points of pride, and help define Foundation Room. There is so much to see; history saved, lovingly restored and displayed. History, diversity, and trueness to both – it's not just lip service at Foundation Room.
After our beverages arrive, service begins with bread. The bread basket contains sliced ciabatta bread and French baguette. This is not merely bread and butter. Each pat of butter is a large, thick triangle. Two accompanying ramekins begin our journey into contrasts. One contains Kalamata olive tapenade – salty and assertive. The other holds roasted garlic spread – sweet and mild. The two complement one another beautifully.
While noshing, we order our appetizers. I also order a glass of Irony’s Pinot Noir to accompany dinner. Foundation Room offers a number of wines by the glass, and many more by the bottle. They also spare no expense on top shelf liquors. Should the discriminating drinker want to choose from a dozen different types of scotch, Foundation Room has them.
We begin our meal with the Sherry Braised Mushrooms. The mushrooms are served whole and presented in a small casserole dish on a plate, accompanied by pita triangles. The portion is generous, and the crimini mushrooms are sautéed, then braised in dry sherry with herbs. The whole mushrooms maintain their meaty texture and absorb the rich sherry. The pita helps to absorb some of the delectable liquid. Our other starter is the Chicken Satay. We are brought a long, narrow plate. There are four skewers of grilled chicken, atop lettuce leaves, accompanied by two sauces; one thick and spicy, the other silky and light. This dish is quite simple, yet so memorable. Our chicken skewers are tender, succulent, and conservatively seasoned. The sauces elevate the chicken into something different. One sauce is a thick, creamy peanut sauce, and it delivers a powerful punch of flavor. The other, a light sweet chili sauce brings contrast to the table. The grilled chicken, paired with the two sauces, has two distinct flavors – one is savory, like an entrée, and the other is light as if it could be topping a salad.
Our salads arrive next. My husband orders the Heirloom Salad; a cherry tomato salad, combined with tender baby beets, watercress and thick pieces of goat cheese. The visual appeal of this salad is as strong as the flavors. It’s beautiful, colorful, with fresh ingredients. A great salad simply cannot be faked. My only personal food dislike is raw tomatoes, and I share this, thus our server recommends and brings the salad of my dreams. It is comprised of red oak lettuce with a simple, light honey Dijon dressing. The elements that make it sing are the halved dates, the thick cubes of applewood-smoked bacon, and the chunks of gorgonzola cheese. The dates are big, sweet and chewy, the bacon salty and the cheese soft and tangy. It is a symphony of contrast and complement.
Already quite satisfied, our entrées arrive. First, Grilled Lamb Chops are placed in front of me. Eight dainty, rare lamb chops are crossed, served with whipped potatoes and fresh asparagus spears. They’re served with a balsamic reduction sauce. There’s no garnish to speak of –This perfectly simple dish speaks for itself. The lamb chops are rubbed with a savory seasoning, grilled exactly to order, succulent and juicy. Served with seasonal vegetables, my asparagus is both crisp and buttery. The potatoes are creamy, and have texture and flavor, well seasoned. The lamb is the star but this dish has such balance, all components complement one another. It is so flawless it can stand strong alone, even without the rich balsamic reduction.
Our final entrée is the T-bone steak, one of today’s specials. We eat first with our eyes and our nose before our mouth. The perfectly white plate is delivered with a large, trimmed T-Bone grilled as ordered. Garnished with fried onion strings and micro greens, and sided with garlic whipped potatoes, this is a very fragrant plate. It is served with a homemade ‘house recipe’ Worcestershire sauce. The steak is grilled as perfectly as if I’d grilled it myself. The house Worcestershire sauce is addicting, but sadly, Foundation Room is disinclined to share the recipe. It is the only complement that could add to this great ‘meat and potatoes’ meal.
Foundation Room does emphasize their desserts in their menu offerings, though they are quite enjoyable. That said, our desserts were simple; one very light and the other quite sinful. Our first dessert is a port wine poached pear. The firm pear sits upright, sliced into wedges, on a pool of vanilla whipped cream in a large bowl on a bright white plate. It is garnished with mint leaves and candied walnuts. A menu staple is their molten chocolate cake, topped with vanilla bean gelato. It is served in the center of a large white plate, garnished with mint leaves. The dessert and the whole plate are dusted with powdered sugar. It is warm and the inside gooey, thus the ‘molten’ moniker. This is a decadent, sweet dessert is sized to be lovingly shared, and the cake is generous even for the ‘loving cup’ method of dining.
My guest and I entered Foundation Room without preconceived notions, but knowing what we like. The food was prepared with care and an obvious respect for the ingredients. The restaurant was created with the same attention to detail and concern for surroundings. These two forces meet to create a stunning atmosphere for something truly memorable. Foundation Room welcomes locals right now – don’t miss out.