In “old” Las Vegas, to eat upscale you have to go downstairs! You enter Hugo’s by going down to the basement. That’s why it’s called “Hugo’s Cellar.” This is truly one of the not-so-often seen traditional restaurants, and we are delighted it is still around after 30 years.
Instead of glitzy chandeliers, exotic lighting effects and soaring sculptures that sometimes distract you from the business at hand (or mouth!) at the many trendy restaurants on the Strip, Hugo’s is cavern-like with dark wood, red brick, white napkins, blue tablecloths and a mature, elegant-looking staff. You immediately LOVE it! Why? Because Hugo’s oozes old-fashioned friendliness, charm and confident food professionals, so often lacking in today’s youth-oriented culture.
You are greeted at the entrance, heartily welcomed and escorted to a comfy booth or table. The maitre ‘d tells you his name and when he hands you the menu after making sure you are comfortable, he hands the lady a fresh red rose. At this point you begin to realize something different, and definitely better, is going on here.
After “meeting” the sommelier and ordering wine, we perused the menu until our waiter came over and introduced himself. All the staff members tell you their names and how long they’ve been working at Hugo’s. No one we met that night had been there less than fifteen years, and several had been there over twenty! What this conveys is that the management is obviously doing something right. In an industry with notoriously high turn-over rates, if you keep your employees for such a long time, the rest of the operation must be first-rate as well. The staff wouldn’t still be there after all these years if the kitchen side of the business didn’t excel, too.
After meeting all the gracious wait staff, and being made to feel practically like family, we ordered our dinner. Tonight, we decided to feast on some of Hugo’s traditional dishes.
For starters, we ordered the Scampi “Hugo” and Escargot en Croute. Everything at Hugo’s is done on a grand scale, so you can be sure the presentation is always perfect. They both looked scrumptious and tasted delectable.
After our appetizers, the Salad Cart was wheeled to our table. Tonight, our salad was being hand-tossed by Robert, who has been doing this at Hugo’s for 23 years. He prepares each person’s salad individually, so you can choose the specific ingredients you want. Anchovies? Of course – well, at least for one of us. He skillfully chops the anchovies up so that they add a delicate flavor to Dennis’s dressing. “It’s not at all what you think,” he says to Marilyn. “Try it, you’ll like it!”
For Marilyn’s salad, sans anchovies, Robert added a little cheese and other veggies of her choice., He then stays at the table to make sure she is happy with his latest creation. Both of our salads were dee-lish. Dennis was one happy camper enjoying his custom-made salad masterpiece with the essence of the anchovies in the background and pine nuts, adding another level of subtlety, sitting on top.
Just to make sure those anchovies don’t dominate your taste buds for the rest of the meal, Enrique comes by with little sherbet cones to cleanse your palate. They were so big, we thought it was dessert already! What with the bread, appetizers and salad, we had already eaten enough and thought we could skip the entrées and move on to their classic desserts. But that was not to be, because after a couple of tasty licks, here comes the main course!
We had ordered the Chilean Sea Bass Au Natural, plainly grilled with a Shrimp Sauce accompanied by wild rice and grilled baby vegetables; and Beef Wellington topped with foie gras and mushrooms, then baked in a pastry. It isn’t just the experienced staff and the presentation of each course that makes it special, but the way the kitchen hones each entrée for the best possible customer experience. Our food was absolutely luscious.
As we were pushing our dinner plates to the side for a bit of rest before coffee, our waiter “surprised” us with Hugo’s complimentary specialty plate of chocolate dipped strawberries, figs and apricots. Mmmmm, wonderful, but we also had our hearts set on their famous Bananas Foster, made table-side, of course.
Marilyn simply had to have this special dessert, so Robert prepared a single portion especially for her. She loved it. Their Bananas Foster is served hot, over cold whipped cream. We recommend leaving room for it, or their equally well known Cherries Jubilee.
“Quiet, elegant and comfortable” characterizes Hugo’s Cellar. Its heritage is apparent in the experience of the four staff members assigned to each table whose sole goal seems to be your pleasure. That’s probably why they have been here so long. Besides first class service and cuisine, Hugo’s little touches clearly separate it from other restaurants, especially in Las Vegas, where high prices don’t always equate to value or personal service.
Some of the special touches: the beautiful complimentary rose presented upon seating and placed in a vase, then carefully wrapped in tissue and aluminum foil for you to take home; your bread accompanied by another rose – a flower-shaped dollop of butter on the plate; the table-side preparations of salads and desserts; the palate-cleansing sherbet and complimentary freshly-made chocolate-dipped fruits; and lastly, the hot towel provided after your meal.
These amenities take time and add expense to house operations, but are artfully provided at Hugo’s. The feeling we had was that management said, “Let’s make our customers feel truly special when they come to Hugo’s.” We did, and you will, too.
After thirty years, Hugo’s Cellar remains a landmark in downtown Las Vegas. As you walk back up the stairs into the hectic party atmosphere of Fremont Street, thinking back to the quiet, elegant refuge of Hugo’s is something you can’t forget.
Four Queens Hotel
202 Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV 89101