by al mancini
The late Kerry Simon, aka The Rock ’n’ Roll Chef, was always at least as popular among the ladies as he was with the guys. And he loved them back. Nonetheless, his restaurants often possessed a bit of the testosterone-infused swagger that permeates the music he loved. So it’s fitting that his first posthumous eatery, which is also the last business he was involved with planning, serves as both his culinary swan song and an attempt to remedy that gender gap.
Standard & Pour in Henderson is a collaboration between the Simon Hospitality Group, which is now a partnership between his friend and frequent collaborator Cory Harwell, Simon’s family and Titan Brands, which runs Hussong’s Cantina and Slice of Vegas Pizza in Mandalay Place. Titan head Scott Frost befriended Simon around 2001, while the chef was still at Bellagio and long before he’d partnered with Harwell. After Simon had moved to the Hard Rock, the two unsuccessfully attempted to bring three restaurants to an Indian casino in New Mexico. Frost and Harwell, in the meantime, had once discussed bringing Hussong’s to MGM Grand when Harwell worked there. The idea of a three-way collaboration had hung in the air for quite some time. But it wasn’t until they found a location, about two years ago, that it all started to come together, and they decided to target a female audience.
“I liken this business to writing a book,” Harwell explained, “where sometimes you have characters and a story, and other times you have a title and the overall (idea), and you’re kind of putting everything in.
We didn’t have Standard & Pour yet. We didn’t have the characters of this play yet. We came and fell in love with a space, and tried to think what makes the most sense to go up there? What concept? And that’s when we started talking about, what does Henderson need? What’s the void that we can ll?”
Frost, who lives in the area, was the first to wonder if that void might exist for the female market more than for men. So he began asking women he knew where they liked to go out with their friends.
“The answer was all over the map,” Frost said of the replies. “There wasn’t a go-to (place).” And even when they did mention a spot, he said their reason most frequently was, “Because it’s there.”
“There wasn’t anything with personality. There wasn’t anything that catered to that demographic,” Frost added.
So what does catering to that demographic mean? And could a group of guys do it, without coming off as pandering? Harwell said they were very aware of that challenge.
“We set out intentionally to create a concept that I think women could feel comfortable in and attracted to, while not being condescending in our approach to it,” Frost said of their efforts, which they consulted on closely with the women in their lives, as well as some of Simon’s female friends. “So you’re not gonna see a lot of pinks. We’re really trying to play to a different sensibility.”
The result is a restaurant without TVs showing games, video poker at the bar or anything else to distract from conversation with friends. The outdoor balcony, with its gorgeous views of the Strip’s neon, has the feel of a backyard patio where friends gather around the re pit to chat over cocktails. While a full wall of the rear dining room is covered with oral print wallpaper — a recurring pattern found throughout the restaurant and lounge — the white and red flowers, and their deep green stems and leaves are set against a sexy, black background that remains consistent to Simon’s rock ’n’ roll roots. The main dining room and lounge feature a tin ceiling, and a combination of simple, light hardwood and ornate tile flooring, with deep forest green seating against black wood walls. But those blacks are also softened and sexy, thanks to an ancient Japanese process called shou sugi ban that torch- chars the wood until it cracks.
Whether or not this hits the right feminine notes is a question that only can be answered by Standard & Pour’s female customers. But there’s no denying the design team has created a casual space that’s both inviting and chic. And this aesthetic carries through to the menu. All of the dishes are served in small, shareable portions, and presented in gorgeous platings. Crispy fried oysters are served in their shells, topped with bright Sriracha egg salad, and carefully arranged with delicate and bright salmon eggs. Blossoming yellow and green romanesco buds tipped with smoky char peek out from under a bed of red onions dotted with capers and golden raisins. Even dishes one would expect to be daunting and heavy, like escargot and venison tartare, are given an elegant touch. In the former, the snails come wrapped in a rich, golden brown Wellington crust. And the latter comes sprinkled with, among other seasonings, sweet crumbled white chocolate.
In keeping with Simon tradition, the final course is designed to leave a lasting impression. The small dessert section runs the gamut from playful to sophisticated. A light-as-air panna cotta is whimsically dotted with Fruit Loop cereal and gummy candy — a flashback to Simon’s frequent reinvention of childhood favorites — and topped with orange sorbet. The do-it-yourself saffron rice pudding, with hints of rosewater, is a savory and sweet Persian delicacy into which guests mix helpings of pistachios, dates and pomegranate seeds. And the pastry chef pays homage to a grown-up wine and cheese course with a sundae of merlot ice cream and brandied cherries over cheesecake blondies that bring out your inner child.
The team also puts great care into the libations and the setting in which they’re served.
“Scott and I were insistent upon making sure the lounge area, the ‘pour’ side of Standard & Pour, rang as true as the food,” Harwell said. So while the dining rooms take up much of the restaurant, the lounge and patio are designed for extended stays. In fact, in a restaurant landscape cluttered with gastropubs, Standard & Pour describes itself as a gastrolounge, anxious to draw attention to this cultured-but-lazy experience. There are four physical levels of seating scattered throughout, each designed to foster comfort and camaraderie.
Drinks, which bear names like First Date, Man Candy, Handsome Dan and the Pool Boy, come in three formats. You can get a standard hand-crafted cocktail. A drink called the Raspberry Beret, made with citrus vodka, raspberry puree and house lemonade, comes bottled and is available in four-packs for the table. Or opt for the large format offerings delivered in whiskey-style crystal decanters that serve six or more — fewer if you’re particularly thirsty, of course.
Whether all of this hits the right notes with the women of Henderson remains to be seen. But the team seems con dent Simon would approve. His spiritual presence can be felt throughout, and it’s manifested physically by the inclusion of two tables made from the former doors of his Hard Rock restaurant, which later made up the kitchen table in the chef’s home.
“My last conversation with Kerry … literally the last question that he asked was about Standard & Pour,” Harwell shared, obviously touched by the memory. “So to be able to bring this (table) in here, I think really kind of closes that circle.”