Posts Tagged ‘Phantom of the Opera’
It’s a rare meal when, at the end, I’m excited to have only paid $100, tip included. It’s even more rare when I am anxious to return, and nearly do so the very next day.
Loria and I visited The Venetian resort in Las Vegas last year specifically to enjoy Bouchon Bakery, a small stand outside of the Phantom of the Opera Theatre. The first visit made such an impression that our final stop on the way out of the town consisted of my parking illegally in the hotel’s covered entrance, leaving her to watch after the car, sprinting to drop a silly amount of money, and then running back with two bags full of baked goods.
While the eponymous bouchon, a dense, rich chocolate brownie bite, the lemon and raspberry macaron, and the eclairs were each delicious, it was the ham and cheese sandwich that really surprised me. It takes something this simple and elegant to really make the point that Thomas Keller is a genius, and clearly knows how to coax maximum flavor out of each ingredient. On a not entirely unrelated note, we repeated the exercise this year, nearly doubling last year’s expenditure. The prices are, in some cases, double that of a regular bakery. Food with the precision and thought like that served in a Keller restaurant is worth every penny. Which is my way of saying, visit the bakery, go prepared to spend some cash, and don’t look back.
Having enjoyed the baked goods last year, we decided to make the actual restaurant the central dining experience of the trip. Good call.
If you’ve ever read a Thomas Keller recipe, you’ll know that “precision” isn’t finely detailed enough a word to describe the man’s work. When somebody suggests that I cut up a chocolate bar for use in a chocolate chip cookie, and then use a sieve on the pieces of chocolate to make sure that the smaller shards don’t end up melted into the dough and change the pale color, you know that you’re dealing with somebody who really cares about the smallest details of his food. It shows and I’m grateful.
Bouchon Bistro is a recreation of Keller’s casual eatery in Yountville, California. It serves French bistro food, dressed up for a night on the town. Or, in some cases, dressed down and simplified in very elegant and flavorful ways.
The staff was beyond friendly. Our waiter bantered wittily when appropriate, and gave us plenty of space when we needed it. I love a server who pays attention, and this guy was very much on his game. His description of the specials indicated clearly that he’d sampled each of them, which seems to be a dying tradition in restaurants. His first recommendation put us in a quandary: the night’s special appetizer sounded amazing, but I’ve read a bit about the pate and have my heart set on it. In an evening filled with great choices, we decide to do both.
It consisted of pork shoulder, cooked low and slow for the entire day, pressed into the shape of a long, thin candy bar. The pork presse was topped with an apricot preserve and a salad of marble-sized heirloom tomato halves. These parts of the dish alone would have been worth the money. The genius bit, though, was a sprinkling of dried garlic flowers, so pungent and flavorful, with a bit of creme fraiche to combat the acid of the tomatoes. I would love to know what, exactly, had been done to those small flowers to make them so filled with garlic flavor. Whether they were soaked or treated in some manner before drying, or they came from The French Laundry’s garden, they were the extra bit that put an already remarkable dish over the top.
As for the pate, I honestly don’t remember the details. It had some bacon around the outside. It made me feel very happy for the lucky pig that gave its life for the dish. I remember feeling like it would have been a serious mistake had we passed it up. I will not visit Bouchon again without getting the pate before my meal.
For our entrees, we choose the Kurobuta pork loin and the croque madame. The pork was served with a mustard water and creme fraiche on a small bed of wilted swiss chard and lightly heated peaches. I will admit that, though I do dearly love pork, I have only rarely had a pork loin that I was really excited about. Given how the appetizers went, I was fairly confident that Bouchon’s take on it stood a decent chance of turning that around for me and I wasn’t disappointed. It was weet, tender, and very delicate. The pairing of stone fruit with pork, a traditional favorite in late-summer, was a nice compliment. I certainly enjoyed it and might even order it again.
The croque madame was, however, all kinds of amazing.
This one was my wife’s choice, though we shared both entrees. Here is the menu description:
toasted ham & cheese sandwich on brioche,
fried egg & mornay sauce
served with French fries
Reading that, I was underwhelmed. I was wrong.
The visual impression the sandwich gives is monumental: a tall, sharply squared block of what appears to be very crisp bread with a bit of ham visible from the outside, topped with a round and very flat egg, and a mountain of frites on the side. Cutting into it revealed the reality to be a bit different: the bread was ethereal and nearly disappeared under my knife. The egg, it turned out, was fried just to the point where the white appeared to be solid. It was not. Both it and the yolk ran immediately and coated the exposed bits of the sandwich, and the fries. The combination was a perfect bite of light, airy bread, a bit of protein, and runny sauce from the egg and mornay.
Eventually the server came over with a small container of house made ketchup for the frites. It was a nice touch, but it’s going to be hard from here on out to eat frites without lightly fried egg coating them, no matter how well they are cooked.
We skipped dessert in favor of another trip to the bakery. Our server’s recommendation turned out to be another favorite – half a croissant, smeared with raspberry preserves, topped with a brown sugar and butter crumb and baked. I wish this read more like a critique and that I had some suggestion for the restaurant. My only real complaint is that, since Keller seems willing to recreate the bistro and bakery pair, that there isn’t one closer to home. Maybe someday.