Café at Area 15 opens this week as part of Illuminarium

Elizabeth Blau, CEO of Blau & Associates, poses for a portrait at Lumin Cafe, inside of the ...

At Illuminarium, a venue for virtual reality experiences debuting April 15 at Area 15, you can range across the galaxy, stride among wildlife on the veld, slip inside the floral images of Georgia O’Keeffe — or explore the splendors of KFC: Korean fried chicken.

The tender chunks of chicken, slicked with sweet-spicy gochujang sauce that nestles in the crags of the breading, will be served at Lumin Café & Kitchen, which lies behind a soaring sash window off the Illuminarium lobby.

The restaurant is the latest project from Vegas’ Elizabeth Blau and her chef-husband Kim Canteenwalla, principals of Blau & Associates, owners of Honey Salt in Summerlin, partners in Buddy V’s Ristorante in The Venetian and James Beard Award nominees for outstanding restaurateurs.

Lumin Café isn’t just new; it also marks a change from the couple’s other restaurants, Blau said.

“When you come to Honey Salt, we’re the destination. It’s definitely a different thought that people are first coming to Illuminarium and Area 15, and then thinking, ‘What do we eat?’ We definitely realize we’re the supporting role here.”

At the same time, she said, “supporting” didn’t mean an afterthought, a simple concession menu. “It’s not enough to have a great attraction. You still have to have great food.”

Shareables, burgers, s’mores

At Lumin Café, Canteenwalla and executive chef Billy Reid are overseeing a menu that’s “eclectic and fun and represents being at Area 15 and the dynamic crowd that comes here,” Blau said.

There are shareables like chickpea hummus with grilled naan (at Honey Salt, pappadams accompany the hummus), or tater poutine with smoked bacon gravy. Fried chicken is a Blau team specialty; besides the KFC, it takes a bow in a trio of sliders dressed with kimchi slaw.

For burgers (a requirement at any attraction, Blau said), there are cheeseburger sliders, a meatless Impossible burger, a classic option (lettuce, tomato, onion, aged cheddar, tomato bacon jam), and a Lumin burger abetted by more of that kimchi slaw.

The children’s menu gives kids what they want (cheeseburger, grilled cheese, chicken tenders, tot nachos), but done the Blau way. Among the sides: three-cheese mac with a Ritz cracker coverlet. Sweets include melty s’mores nachos, and ice cream sandwiches and pints from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, a Blau favorite in Nashville (where her company has three new projects).

Cocktails soar after dark

Paul Montgomery, nightlife manager of Illuminarium, created cocktails to complement the immersions.

A lemon drop is rimmed in sugar with large crystals. This rocky rim, he said, nods to the Kuiper Belt, a disc of stellar remnants that appears in the “Space” experience. A Red Canna cocktail, which Montgomery scattered with edible blossoms, is named for a painting of a red canna lily in the O’Keeffe experience.

Montgomery’s cocktails will also star at Illuminarium After Dark, a room in the venue that morphs at 8 p.m. into a 21-and-older lounge with visual immersions ranging from a crystal cavern to floral gardens in France to a night market in Tokyo.

Eschewing visual drama

It might have been expected for Lumin Café to harness some of the visual extravagance of Illuminarium. Instead, the restaurant in downtown Las Vegas was always going to have a distinct design identity, one contrasting with the enfolding opulence of Illuminarium, said Niels Guldager, a director of the Rockwell Group, which designed the restaurant.

To that end, the 106-seat Lumin Café summons a sort of high-end garden room layering natural tones, textures and materials.

Two large potted ficus rise in the dining room. Tables are white oak; seating is upholstered in slate or covered in burnt sienna leather. Communal tables are topped in cast terrazzo, a composite of marble, quartz and granite.

Tiled chevrons flow from the back bar to the face of the front bar; the dining room floor repeats the pattern. Edison bulbs in stitched leather domes form a rank of fixtures.

A white oak trellis hangs above the dining room, creating a dropped ceiling (which mounts elsewhere to more than 30 feet). Theatrical spots transformed into pendants punctuate the lattice, providing dramatic flourishes.

Lumin Café will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. A late-night menu will be served on the terrace (heavy with wicker) beginning at 8 p.m. Illuminarium tickets are not required to eat at the restaurant.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.