photos by Blake Myers

Many people envision angels when they contemplate the afterlife. But, thankfully, before we leave this earthly existence we can experience their helpful human counterparts, called “Wine Angels.”

It’s not uncommon for restaurants to have dramatic design elements as part of their décor, but it would be difficult to find a feature more singularly striking and functional than the one that instantly is the focal point of your gaze before you even enter Aureole.

Picture a 60-foot-tall glass tower that is said to contain one of the most extensive wine holdings of any restaurant in the world, with some 10,000 bottles on hand. Most people aren’t aware that the impressive tower houses only reds; an additional 6,000 bottles of white wine are kept in a separate temperature- and humidity-controlled area below the restaurant. The worldwide selections are so vast that the wine list is the size of a small city’s phone book. Bringing your own bottle incurs a $50 corkage fee.

However, you don’t have to be a wine lover, or even have plans to enhance your dinner with wine, to appreciate the spectacle of two young women (the “Wine Angels”) being lifted gracefully and acrobatically upwards by cable and harness to locate and retrieve specific diner-chosen bottles.

As evidence of the breadth and depth of the wine selections, Aureole has received the coveted Wine Spectator Grand Award annually since 2000. The sheer scope of available bottles is an attraction for wine lovers from around the world. But it would be a tremendous error to regard this destination as nothing more than a glorified wine bar on steroids. To do so would ignore the creations of a highly celebrated chef.

After Chef Charlie Palmer graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1979 he was hired by the prestigious La Cote Basque in New York City. In 1983 he joined Brooklyn’s famed River Café and led them to a three-star rating from the New York Times. While there he gained a great deal of media attention, and ultimately left to open his own New York restaurant, Aureole, in 1988. He subsequently received the prestigious James Beard “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America” award in 1998.

His rare combination of culinary mastery and business acumen has resulted in his involvement with a growing number of restaurants, wine shops and boutique hotels, with Aureole having been established here in 2009. His cooking style has been described as American Progressive, and makes use of fresh, seasonal ingredients. He also is known for the emphasis he places on the beautiful presentation of his plates.

Diners often expect to pay premium menu prices when visiting Strip properties, but Aureole offers a pleasant surprise. The compact menu is reasonably priced and offers examples of familiar appetizers and entrees, as well as some more specialized dishes.

Those who can’t decide what to choose may wish to select the tasting menu, a six-course treat featuring, at this writing, everything from seared foie gras to diver sea scallops, filet mignon and Maine lobster, bookended by a salad and dessert. And of course, a wine pairing and premium wine pairing are available.

The main menu will cause you to think carefully about your choices, as there are a number of tempting options, beginning with the appetizers.

If you don’t desire the seasonal oysters, your seafood selections include a delicious Dungeness crab salad and one of their specialties, grilled Spanish octopus. Among other offerings are spinach and ricotta ravioli, seared foie gras and beef carpaccio.

The listed entrees don’t require you to wade through a far-ranging menu that tries (as so many do) to be “all things to all people.” Highlighted in the center of the menu are a shareable shellfish platter containing a clearwater lobster tail, oysters, shrimp and crab claws. Meat lovers can opt for a 24-ounce bone-in ribeye for two, accompanied by caramelized shallots, blistered pepper and Bearnaise sauce.

The balanced menu continues with king salmon, smoked asparagus and smoked cream, an imaginative Alaskan wild-caught halibut with baby leeks, clams, mussels and saffron jus, diver sea scallops with English peas, pearl onions and bacon and an impressive Moroccan-spiced Colorado lamb rack accompanied by farro and lamb shoulder confit.

The menu also features an 8-ounce center-cut filet mignon with piquillo pepper puree and red wine sauce; a young rabbit saddle with rainbow carrots, dried plum and mustard sauce; jidori chicken breast with bourbon-raisin apple slaw and natural jus; an unusual asparagus risotto containing morel mushrooms and comte cheese; and eggplant and miso accompanied by daikon radish and shitake mushrooms.

There are multiple dessert selections, including a delicious chocolate soufflé and an unusually flavored coffee crème brulee.

Don’t miss the opportunity to make a trip to the Strip and dine among the angels.