Let’s get the bad and ugly out of the way first. Bouchon (at the Venetian), the storied restaurant of uber chef Thomas Keller.
1) the entrance to Bouchon; 2) me hanging out at the bar
Perhaps his venture The French Laundry fares better? I do enjoy Keller’s Bouchon cookbook. It has a special place in the cookbook bookshelf and there are some outstanding dishes here. Sadly, on the evening I tried his restaurant … not so much. Sure, I understand it’s holiday time and staff may be distracted or staff usually on are replaced by more novice folks. Sure, I understand it’s busy at holiday time. But, I expect when my concierge has made a reservation that my table will be ready. I said 7:00pm and here G and I are sitting at the bar as it nears 7:30 (albeit with a nice Chardonnay from California) when we’re finally sat.
Bouchon is laid out in classic French bistro style with its associated noise, very tight table seatings and barely concealed chaos. The redneck couple beside us are having a non-too-happy meal. It’s their anniversary, they inform our waiter, and the wait for mains has been disastrous. I would concur as our appetizers appear too quickly. They are good though. G orders Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard (served with toasted baguette) while I opt for Salade de Betteraves (roasted beets, sunchokes with garden mache & black truffle vinaigrette). Then we wait. And wait some more. Wait thankfully awash in fabulous bread and more Chardonnay for near on 40 minutes before mains arrive. G opts for Bouchon’s classic Poulet Roti (a roasted chicked with caramelized savoy cabbage, forest mushrooms & whole grain mustard jus); I for Steak Frites (a pan-seared prime flatiron, caramelized shallots & maitre d’hotel butter served with French fries).
Yes, G’s chicken is – as he has claimed for several years – “the best chicken ever” and I wholeheartedly concur. Alas, my steak arrives tough and essentially cold (with the butter still solidified on top) and the fries limp and lukewarm as though the entire plate has sat off to the side of the pass for umpteen minutes. I should send it all back, but frankly at this point want the whole experience to be over and can’t fathom another 40 minute wait for a fresh, and hopefully, hot main. Dinner for two with a bottle of chardonnay, tax & tip runs US$228.00.
A better experience awaited us at Bobby Flay’s eponymous Mesa Grill (at Ceasar’s Palace). The overly long await here for a reserved table aside, lunch here with beers, tax & tip will run you US$100.00.
3) the restaurant’s entrance; 4) TIGER SHRIMP + ROASTED GARLIC CORN TAMALE – Corn – Cilantro Sauce
5) MESA BURGER – Double Cheddar Cheese, Grilled Vidalia Onion + Horseradish Mustard served with Southwestern Fries; 6) GOAT CHEESE “QUESO FUNDIDO” – Rajas + Blue Corn Tortilla Strips
7) ANCHO CHILE-HONEY GLAZED SALMON – Spicy Black Bean Sauce + Roasted Jalapeno Crema
Better still was Julian Serrano’s Tapas (at Aria) which is both a beautifully designed restaurant with superb service and wonderful food (the pizza aside). If you go, you must order the white anchovy – fabulous! Lunch for two with beers, tax & tip is US$67.00.
8) the restaurant’s entrance; 9) coca mallorquina | spanish pizza | sobrasada | mahon cheese
10) creamy risotto | wild mushroom | manchego cheese | natural jus; 11) traditional spanish chicken croquetas | chicken | béchamel
12) white anchovy fillets | piquillo pepper | crouton | parsley oil
Best was our dinner at Twist by Pierre Gagnaire (at the Mandarin Oriental). Pierre Gagnaire is a 3-star Michelin chef and Twist is the only place in the Americas where you can try his fine fare. The restaurant is small – some 50 odd seats – and set atop the 23rd floor of the Mandarin and looking out onto the strip. We tried his 6-course tasting menu, but of course. Six courses is actually deceiving here as Pierre sends out many smaller courses with each course. So, for example, our amuse was actually 4 items. Twist is a fascinating foodie experience that you’ll either get, or not. Pierre’s modus operandi, I believe, is to challenge your perceptions of food and specifically what you think ought to go with what. It can be overwhelming – and the beef carpaccio and fois gras aside (which was just simply beyond me) – utterly worth a visit: romantic, unique, with perfect service provided by expert servers.
Dinner for two here, with a bottle of champagne, tax and tip will set you back a hell of a lot – US$621.00.
13) by the time our amuses arrived, all these seats were filled
14) AMUSES – hazelnuts and almond pralines; 15) blue cheese bouchon with pecans and apricot glaze; brioche with caviar marscapone
16) AMUSES continued – Blood orange & basil salad; 17) Jack Daniels and Guinness gelle wigth curry meringue & sable (OMG, must try to make these gelees)
18) Pierre’s trio of breads; 19) SCALLOP & LANGOUSTINE – Scallops Ceviche, Mimosa Langoustines with Jerusalem Artichokes Gelée, Celeriac & Horseradish Cream
20) SURF ‘N’ TURF – Nebraska Prime Beef Carpaccio; Florida Clam Salad and Shaved Foie Gras; 21) Fanny Bay Oyster, Scented with Coconut Milk and Seasoned Ginger, Sapporo Foam
22) ALASKA HALIBUT – Grilled Halibut, Smoked in the Cast-Iron Cocotte, Chicory Fondue, Fennel and Orange; 23) INTERMEZZO – Cucumber, Tomato, Cantaloupe, Kirsch, Champagne Granita with Pineapple and Rhubarb Mousse and Pepper Flakes
24) WISCONSIN VEAL CREPINETTE – Tenderloin Crepinette, Pumpkin & Shallot Gratin and Osso-Bucco Jus; 25) Frito-Misto of Zucchini & Eggplant, San Daniele Ham
26) GRAND DESSERT PIERRE GAGNAIRE – FIVE DESSERTS INSPIRED BY FRENCH TRADITIONAL PATISSIERIES – Amelie, Green Tea Opaline, Lemongrass Ganache, Glace Royale Citron; 27)
Plums, Caramelized Plums, Red Currant Gelée, Brandy Ice Cream
28) Biscuit Chocolate Rue Balzac, Chocolate Glaze, Banana-Lime Coulis, Mojito Sorbet; 29) Apple Royale, Cinnamon Gala Apples, Green Apple-Lime Granité, Cinnamon Syrup
30) Roma, Raspberry Gelee, Red and White Raspberries, Pistachios; 31) MIGNARDISES
32) the restaurant emptied earlier in the afternoon; the open kitchen.