Blackhawk Plaza’s third of three new restaurants offers elegance and sophistication.
Photography by Maren Caruso
Named for the bay laurel native to Europe’s warmer climes, the new restaurant Laurus is a powerful marriage of masculine and feminine energies. Earth tones, concrete, and a steely exhibition kitchen provide gravity, while colorful botanical paintings, flowing fountains, and a curvaceous bar—of a polished African wood called sapele—lend grace.
The food is grounded yet full of possibility; clearly 31-year-old chef Matthew Silverman isn’t resting on his laurels. Like a bay leaf in a stockpot, Silverman’s full potential needs long, steady pressure to be unlocked. We spotted the executive of nine restaurants—three in Blackhawk Plaza, six in Las Vegas—cooking in his whites on both our recent visits to Laurus.
On one visit, he was playing with flatbread pizzas for Stomp, his wine bar–restaurant next door. On another, he was expediting orders in the busy kitchen. Laurus’ balance of yin and yang is echoed in the restaurant’s dining options. A serene patio overlooks cascading water, while counter seating offers close-ups of the fire and action in the kitchen.
We chose the main dining room and were just sinking into its embrace when our waiter jolted us to attention by handing us clipboards—a menu style that strives to strip the meal of pretense by evoking a brasserie.
Silverman’s best dishes capture that soulful spirit. Thick-sliced skirt steak has a mustardy tang and comes with crisp, blocky sweet potato fries dusted with toasted curry. The bouillabaisse brings simply poached shellfish in a rich, satisfying saffron broth spiked with garlic and fennel. A fully boned half chicken is pan-fried to produce a crackly crisp skin and moist, clean-tasting flesh—a fresh counterpoint to a sinful accompaniment of “macaroni” in a ripe, aged white cheese sauce.
Calling this food Southern European is a stretch, but the label allows Silverman to experiment without falling under the tired umbrella of California cuisine. He’s clearly pleased to be free of the Chez Panisse ethic, smoothing your journey with cream and butter and unafraid to reach for out-of-season produce (garnishes of corn and tomatoes in January, for instance). Silverman respects his key ingredients, however. You won’t find him masking the expensive fish, poultry, or meat you’ve ordered.
Still, the food can come across as more clever than comforting. The house-baked focaccia, for instance, arrives with a dish of molded butter, surrounded by pools of flavored olive oil. It’s complicated.
A butter lettuce bouquet is accented with microgreens, carrot slivers, and a luscious wedge of almond-crusted brie. With such
delicate lettuce, however, the oily dressing muted the dish; a shot of citrus is all it needed.
Fried calamari finds personality and relief with lemon rounds and haricots verts, but it too is heavy, soaked in buttermilk and breaded, and gleaming with oil. Among the creative selection of wood-fired flatbreads, one with portobello cream, mushrooms spiked with garlic and thyme, and a shot of truffle oil has sensational flavor, but was weighed down with a thick layer of goat cheese and Fontina.
Striking just the right balance between fat and flavor was Silverman’s local halibut, pan-seared and served on a buttery bed of couscous, toasted orzo, and spinach. It was much brighter than another seafood dish we tried, the seared scallops with an acorn squash risotto; our scallops were overdone and the risotto tired.
Overall, Laurus is a smart, sophisticated addition to Danville’s dining scene. The wine list is a treasure, with plenty of intriguing, food-friendly selections from France, Italy, and Spain around $40. For all its modesty, there’s a definite element of pampering at Laurus. The crystal and silverware have weight, the servers flatter and oblige, and the ambience is as crisp as it is comfortable. It would make a great place for a celebration, especially the suitable-for-royalty table in the center of the dining room.
While the pizzas, sandwiches, and half orders signal casual, for a truly fun or relaxed meal, you’d be better off ordering wine and small plates at Stomp, or having a stylish margarita and a modern Mexican meal at Coa, Silverman’s other Blackhawk venture. Whether this trio of restaurants will recast Blackhawk Plaza as a dining destination remains to be seen, but the feat of unveiling three separate concepts in just four months says much about the mall’s ambition and Silverman’s talents.
At a Glance
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL: Food that is both rich and vibrant.
THE SPACE: A sublime mix of feminine and masculine energy makes the dining room comfortable and romantic.
WHEN TO GO: Lunch offers exceptional half orders, but go for dinner to fully appreciate the ambience.
WHAT TO ORDER: Crispy chicken, skirt steak.
BONUS: Wood-fired pizzas offer affordable dining.
HOURS: Lunch and dinner daily.
PRICE: Entrées $16–$28.
ALCOHOL: Full bar; exceptional wine list