April 9, 2008
AEJ and I went to Las Vegas on Sunday for a few days of relaxation — and lots and lots of great food. I’m a big fan of all sorts of food (in case you hadn’t noticed), but we decided to make this trip all about French food — and not just French fries, French bread, and French toast (er, Freedom Toast).
Stop number one: dinner at Daniel Boulud Brasserie at The Wynn. Boulud has a world-famous restaurant in NYC (Daniel), a very entertaining show on MOJO-HD (After Hours with Daniel Boulud), and a more casual restaurant in Vegas, the DB Brasserie. We’d never been there, but they were having a promotional deal with The Wynn (where we were staying), so we gave it a try.
As this was our first trip back to Vegas since our wedding in January, we decided to celebrate with some Rose Champagne like we’d had at our wedding dinner.
Our starter was this little thing: the DB Crispy Flatbread with caramelized onions, pancetta, and goat cheese. Crispy around the edges, light, and delicious.
My real appetizer was the tuna tartare, served with tobiko caviar, tobiko wasabe (that’s the teeny-tiny green dots — the texture of caviar, but somehow tasting like wasabe), grilled shiitake mushrooms, and sesame. This was the yummiest thing I had that night. The texture was perfect, and it tasted bright and zesty. Do you like spicy tuna? Then you can dip the tuna into that strip of sauce that you see on the right side of the dish. A. May. Zing.
AEJ went with the old tasty standard, a Caesar salad (with a Parmesan crisp on top). This one was one of the best Caesars I’ve tasted, with the romaine chilled to just above freezing.
Daniel Boulud is known largely for his braises, a slow-cooking method that allows meat to soak up maximum flavor from the juice in which it’s cooked. I’d never had any of Boulud’s food, so I figured I should see what his braise was all about. I ordered the braised short ribs “en daube” (marinated) with parsnip purée and herbs. It was tender and moist, and extremely rich. It tasted a whole lot better than it photographed.
For dessert, I had the molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.
We were done — and stuffed. We were just hanging out at the table, enjoying the view of the big waterfall outside (it is Vegas, after all), when the manager of the restaurant approached the table. He introduced himself and asked us if we would be interested in a personal tour of the restaurant and kitchen. Wow, clearly he was a fan of my music! Oh, wait. No, I quickly realized he had seen me taking pictures of every course, from every angle, with ridiculously fancy and oversized camera equipment, and we’d ordered just about everything that our excellent waiter had recommended. He thought we were food critics. For a moment, I felt a little guilty for not telling him that I was just some composer-slash-food blogger, but then I decided I’d keep my mouth shut. Who turns down a private tour of a Daniel Boulud kitchen?
He took us to two private dining rooms, both normally reserved for parties. He told us that the night before, the restaurant had hosted a “pre-prom dinner party” for “friends of Mr. Wynn’s.” Can you imagine? For one of my pre-prom dinners, I used a buy-one-get-one-free coupon, and the food made my date throw up at the dance. No joke. These kids get dinner at a great restaurant — as guests of the owner of the casino?! Nice. Anyway, back to the tour. In one of the dining rooms, we saw the cheese station.
And then… he took us to the kitchen. It was spotless — and strangely quiet, but still bustling with activity. I was kind of giddy with excitement. I reached for my camera, then hesitated, thinking this might be off limits. “Oh, please — take all the pictures you like,” the manager told me. “We have no secrets here.”
If you need some copper pans, or a huge rack of lamb, I know where you can go.
“Are you guys foodies?” he asked us as he walked us out, never explicitly asking who we were. “Yes, major foodies,” I told him. He wrote his name and direct phone number on a card for us so we could be guaranteed a reservation our next time in town, gave us printed copies of the menu, shook our hands, and said goodbye. It was… pretty amazing. I tell you, this camera is gold. The dinner was exceptional, too.
The next morning, we went to our favorite Vegas breakfast location, Bouchon, located at The Venetian.
The best thing at Bouchon is the pastries. I started with a pecan sticky bun.
AEJ had the real specialty, the cheese danish, with a hint of lemon zest in the cheese filling.
They were out of the potato croquettes that they usually serve with breakfast, so they brought us some perfectly-textured Freedom Fries.
I mentioned earlier that we had our wedding dinner in Vegas. We went to a Michelin 3-star restaurant, Joël Robuchon — and I photographed it extensively in that blog entry. Costing in the 4-figures for dinner for two, that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but there’s a (much) lower-cost alternative just next door: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Robuchon is the most-acclaimed French chef alive today, with a total of seventeen Michelin stars, so there was little doubt that even his “lowly” two-star-rated restaurant (three stars is the highest possible rating) would be just fine.
This was going to be fun.
L’Atelier has a few different dinner options. You can do a tasting menu, but we weren’t starving, so that seemed silly to order 9 courses and potentially be too stuffed to enjoy the last several. Or, you can order a bunch of small dishes — almost appetizer-sized — and make a meal out of that, which is what we did. First, though, we had some bread — and salted butter from Normandy. You know the restaurant isn’t messing around when they insist on flying in the butter from France.
There were a lot of choices on the menu. We weren’t the only ones studying it carefully before making a decision.
We sat at the counter, where you’re looking right into the kitchen.
We started with “Le Jambon” : Prosciutto ham with toasted tomato bread. Here’s the beautiful, razor-thin prosciutto…
… and here’s the toasted tomato bread.
Here, one of the chefs prepares a dozen orders of our next course…
… “Le Thon Rouge” : big-eye tuna with tomato-infused olive oil. (Yes, that color is accurate.)
Next was the happiest surprise of the night: “La Tomate” : tomato and mozzarella salad with basil essence.
In between courses, we would watch the cooks prepare the dishes with an obsessive attention to detail. This salad, for example, took roughly five minutes to prepare — with every leaf placed precisely to Mr. Robuchon’s specifications. Literally. There’s a tiny leaf — about the size of a clover — resting on the very top of the tallest leaf. The cook placed it there with tweezers. Here, the salad waits, alone, to be served.
For our “main courses,” we had two. This is “Le Bar” : seared sea bass filet with artichoke sauce.
This is “L’Onglet” : French-style hanger steak with fried shallots. I’d never had hanger steak before. I thought it was a bad cut, but it’s definitely not — at least not the way Robuchon prepares it. Moist, tender, and very beefy. And those fried shallots were incredible.
Dessert was pretty amazing. Mine was simple: “L’Arabica” : coffee ice cream, espresso mousse, and crunchy brownie. The glass reminded me just a little of a Jim Dandy sundae from Friendly’s. (The flavor, however, did not.)
AEJ’s was especially fun: “La Framboise” : fresh raspberry surprise inside white chocolate sphere, with yuzu ice cream. It arrives with the chocolate sphere intact. And a perfect sphere it was…
… until they poured on the warm raspberry sauce, which melted the sphere…
… to reveal the yuzu ice cream and fresh raspberries inside.
It was an incredible two days of eating. Every meal was special — and the private tour of the Daniel Boulud’s kitchen was a hell of a fun treat — but there’s nothing like a meal by Joël Robuchon. If I ever am sent to death row, I want my last meal to come from Robuchon.