Chef Aaron Sanchez is not lacking for applause. With a resume touting the successful Centrico in New York, co-starring in Food Network's Chopped, and a rare tied Iron Chef America match against the iconic Masaharu Morimoto, it's no surprise why. Now the chef's food has a home here in Vegas, as well as one dozen other locations throughout the US, by way of the House of Blues restaurant. This change of cuisine comes with a change of name; now all House of Blues restaurants are renamed "Crossroads at House of Blues." Named so because the House of Blues is a crossroad for art, spirit, and of course music, the renowned chef has made his indelible mark on the iconic institution.
While the previous iteration of the menu did not have a set theme, it did lean a bit towards southern and Cajun influences. The menu is now described by the chef himself as, "American classics, through my eyes. Sort of re-imagined, redefined." The redefinition in question draws heavily from roots in rustic and flavorful authentic Mexican cuisine of his childhood. He does go on to say that he wants the menu to be "a representation of all the things that I like to eat." Of course a little joking, but I'm sure this is one great chef with whom I wouldn't mind sharing some favorites.
The best of the old class, such as the Voodoo Shrimp and Jambalaya, will remain on the menu. The new items however posed a challenge: how to appeal to the palate of such a diverse clientele all over the country? With the things Aaron Sanchez is bringing to the table, anyone can see a real accessible but exiting menu. A new item Chef Aaron has introduced is hand-stretched grilled flat breads topped with sun dried tomatoes and crispy prosciutto. He also brought in short rib meatball sliders, the "Juicy Lucy"-a burger stuffed with cheese, bacon, and pickled jalapeno, and a crispy, juicy, and very flavorful fried shrimp po' boy. However, just giving out names belay the big flavor and complex vibe the chef has given to each dish. Some, like the seared ahi tuna salad with its subtle tangy dressing and fried tortilla strips, are subtly colored by his influences. Others, like the spicy and bright red achiote marinated roast chicken, will transport you right to the Caribbean waters of the Yucatan peninsula.
Chef's new cookbook, Simple Food, Big Flavor, keeps this trend going. The spice blends, quick recipes and wholesome meals described are easily seen as relatives to the new menu items. In fact, some of the salsas and spice pastes used as a base in many of these recipes can be seen at Crossroads. Besides that achiote marinated roast chicken, the green chile dip for the quesadilla, and the salsa that comes alongside the street tacos are all likely accomplices in the cookbook recipes. Chef Aaron's style is unique not only in the way that he plays with expectations about Latin cuisine, but also how he can build such a big menu that anyone can love. As the man himself puts it, "Families, businessmen on lunch, young kids catching a show...you really want something that can appeal and be accessible to a large audience. I think our menu really does that."
Chef Aaron Sanchez has set up a great menu for Crossroads. It's fun, interesting, down to earth and downright tasty. But, ever the perfectionist, the chef has a few more tricks up his sleeve. Right now he'll be going out and looking for which dishes work in which locations, and what could be added to the repertoire to better embody each location's community. What could Las Vegas be seeing to represent our culinary scene? Only time, and Chef Aaron Sanchez, will tell.