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Supping on the Strip


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#1 BryanZ

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Posted 18 August 2007 - 11:56 PM

Well, I wanted to call this travelblog "Dining in the Desert," but it seems I was beaten to the punch. Anyway, I just came back from a four day trip to Las Vegas. It had been about three years since my last visit, so it was nice to be back and see what had changed. The amount of new construction is shocking. Not that there was much local culture on the Strip three years ago, but new buildings are going up everywhere. This was also the first time that I would be able to gamble and drink—on my two previous visits I was woefully underage—thus allowing me two new avenues for entertainment in this most peculiar of cities. I should note that almost everywhere I went I was carded, both to gamble and drink, so although Vegas may be known for its “anything goes” attitude, the major casinos consistently uphold their side of the law.

On this trip I was fortunate enough to stay in two different hotels and eat at a pretty wide selection of restaurants. I’ll speak briefly about the hotels I stayed in only because I know questions of that nature occasionally come up on this board. Obviously, the majority of this lengthy trip report will focus on the food. There was a lot of it.

Feel free to ask any questions if you have them. Las Vegas is at once an incredibly simple city yet one where one can easily feel at a loss. While I wasn't the slightest bit intimidated walking up to Restaurant Guy Savoy, playing my first hands of single-deck Blackjack was a humbling experience.

To keep this interesting, I'll post lots of pictures. I also have a couple foodie celebrity sightings to share for those who are into that kind of thing.


Day 1

Checked into a standard resort room at the Wynn. The public spaces at the Wynn are some of the most striking in Vegas. The fit and finish throughout all the open areas is truly top-notch. The hotel lacks some of punch of the Venetian or the Bellagio but feels much more adult, playful and irreverent without being tacky. Our room was quite appealing and had nice luxury touches—power curtains, HDTV, great robes—but seemed somewhat empty. There just wasn't a lot going on to fill the space and not in a minimalist chic way. The Wynn is probably my favorite resort in Vegas but certainly not for the rooms.

Edited to include: Picture of half of the room at the Wynn
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My first eating experience would occur that afternoon at Aquaknox in the Venetian. All I had here was a drink and some pre-show appetizers. The space kind of feels like it’s underwater, awash in cool blues. My grapefruit martini was really delicious, while the cheese plate and cold seafood sampler—jumbo lump crab, rock shrimp, and lobster with topped with different sauces—were merely good. I wouldn’t rush back here, but for a quick bite in the bar it definitely suited our purposes. At $15 the cheese plate was actually a pretty good value for the wide variety of accoutrements provided.

Immediately after Aquaknox it was off to La Reve at the Wynn. La Reve was a memorable, engaging show, and I think I liked it more than Mystere and O. I’ve also been hearing very good things about Love at the Mirage, so I would’ve liked to check that out too.

After the show it was straight to the MGM Grand for dinner at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon As countless others have reported, the space here is sexy, dark, and intimate. The staff is generally young and convivial but serious about food, well-suited to their surroundings. The meal I had here was amazingly solid, superceding the hype that precedes Chef Robuchon. The cuisine is ripe with classic flavors updated with well-placed touches of lightness and creativity that rarely seem contrived.

Naturally, we selected the Discovery Menu, which at $135 represents a fair value given the rather high a la carte pricing.

Le menu
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After receiving our basket of crispy mini baguettes, the procession of food began.

Amuse bouche
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Although this dish wasn’t bad by any means it was undoubtedly the low point of the evening. This was the only time when a deconstruction of a rather classic flavor combination—cucumber, yogurt, cumin—seemed rather disjointed. I thought it was a fresh way to open up the palate, though my mother genuinely did not particularly enjoy the dish.

La tomate
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In my mind, this was the true start to the meal. Basil oil and the addition of a simple scattering of croutons subtly enhanced the positively vibrant tomato gazpacho. A nearly perfect, yet basic beginning.

La langoustine
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Another home run that again demonstrated how excellent ingredients creatively combined can create a memorable dish. Here, a thin layer of raw langoustine was topped with poppy seeds, baby chives, Espelette pepper, and a light drizzle of oil and sprinkling of salt. This dish was crazy good. The Espelette pepper giving the faintest hint of smoky heat.

Les huitres
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Kussi oysters were poached butter and served with this herbal, lemony, salty poaching liquid in the shell. Additional lemon was provided for more acidity. This was another excellent dish; among the best oyster dishes I’ve ever had and certainly up there with Oysters and Pearls. One of my trio was particularly plump and literally exploded briny, buttery goodness when met with the slightest pressure.

Le foie gras
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Those who read the Chicago board and LTH Forum know that I’ve been living in Chicago for the summer, where foie is criminally (pun intended) banned. I’d gotten a couple foie dishes on the down low during my stay in the Windy City, but was generally in a state of withdrawal, constantly on the lookout for my next hit. This dish really satisfied my craving. It may be that my deprived state skewed my impressions of the dish—it was rather simple after all—but I do think this was a superlative piece of seared foie.

Le fletan
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I really enjoyed this dish, too, but it was perhaps a bit of a step down from the dishes that preceded it. The halibut was perfectly steamed and topped with a light glaze of lemon-thyme butter and a medley of vegetables one normally associates with southern France—zucchini, peppers, olives, etc. Again, I would happily eat this dish at any Michelin three-star restaurant, but it just wasn’t quite as appealing as some of the dishes that came before.

La caille
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The only bad thing I can say about this dish was that there weren’t enough of the truffled potatoes. It’s rare that the heady aroma of truffles “cuts” through the richness of a dish, but compared to the non-truffled version the truffles served to cut through the nearly comical butter overload of the potatoes. The quail itself was deliciously crispy and even a bit sticky, making it fun to eat with my hands. The foie rolled into the breast acted more as seasoning than anything else.

Le veau
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My mother ordered this dish and I had about half of it. I thought it was perhaps the weakest of the “real” courses, but she really enjoyed it and found it among her favorite few courses. It was delicious, but I felt it was fundamentally the veal picatta with arugula that one can get at any decent Italian restaurant. Expertly prepared but not moved to the point of greatness.

L’aloes
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A wonderful pre-dessert. Not seen in the picture is a blueberry compote at the bottom of the dish that added a bit of pleasant sweetness. Otherwise, the lime cream and subtle aloe sorbet did a great job of cleansing the palate.

La fraise
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A fresh, summery finish with vanilla panna cotta, strawberry sorbet, and pistachio streusel. The quotes here are well-intended, as the dish really did taste like a more mature strawberry milkshake. It was also very refreshing to see a lengthy tasting menu end in something other than chocolate.

All in all, this was a fantastic meal. A solid three NYT stars, with four only dependent on a more complete dining experience vis a vis a formal dining room and service. I can easily see how Joel Robuchon proper could be among the very, very best restaurants in the country. With an average of 1.5 glasses of wine per person, the bill was $200/person after tax and tip. Not exactly cheap, but not in the realm of the super expensive either. We all thought it was worth it, the food surpassing most other “fine-dining” restaurants.

Edited by BryanZ, 19 August 2007 - 10:04 PM.


#2 BryanZ

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 12:20 AM

Day 2

Breakfast/lunch at the buffet at the Wynn. I feel kind of bad admitting this, but here’s a freeloader tip for anyone going to most of the big Vegas buffets. If you can get in just around the transition period, you can try two sets of food for the lower-priced of the meals. For instance, we went to breakfast shortly after 10:00 AM but weren’t seated until about 10:35-40 after waiting in line. Breakfast technically ends at 10:30 and lunch starts at 11:00, but they’re obviously not going to charge the lunch price to people who have been waiting since 10:00. They’re also not going to force the people out who sat down at 10:40 to eat breakfast when the lunch change over occurs at exactly 11:00.

So my mother and I paid our $17.95 thinking we’d only get breakfast, but after my first plate I stood up to return to the food stations only to find that nearly everything had been changed over the past 15 or so minutes. A notable feat to say the least. Because of this I was able to try the Wynn’s breakfast and lunch buffet offerings. I will say I was a little bit disappointed in this buffet. I think part of it is because I’m older and can’t get as excited as I used to about the buffet experience. I also thought that the “16 live cooking stations” thing was kind of a farce. Sure, they’re cooking some of the food behind the buffet line, but it’s not like they’re cooking a la carte as Steve Wynn’s deep, gravelly voice assured me they would on the Wynn’s television channel. Like at most of buffets of a certain quality there were a couple legitimately tasty items, but some of the stuff wasn’t all that appetizing. It’s an appealing space—the main hall evokes the solarium vibe of the lobby, but I found myself enjoying the food at the Bellagio’s lunch buffet and the natural light and poolside setting at the Mandalay Bay buffet more.

#3 docsconz

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 06:16 AM

Bryan, so far your experience has been fairly similar to my own of last spring. L'Atelier displays classic French virtuosity with generally pure , crisp flavors. I have to admit, I was half expecting thee menu to be very similar to the one that I had in March. In one sense it is, in that the principle ingredients remain the same, however, with the exception of the quail and the veal, the preparations were substantially different.

I agree with your overall assessment of the Wynn though I never did get to the buffet.
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#4 BryanZ

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 09:12 AM

Day 2, cont'd.

I said goodbye to my mother immediately after breakfast-lunch and headed to Caesar’s Palace, where I’d be spending the next two nights of the trip. As I would be financing this part of my stay, I thought I’d try to get a killer hotel deal and spend the money I saved on food. I found said deal at Caesar’s and got a great upgraded room there for $130—thanks, FatWallet.com. After slipping the front desk agent a discrete $20 between my credit card and driver’s license, I procured another upgrade to the Augustus Tower and got a room on a very high floor, overlooking the Eiffel Tower and the lake at the Bellagio—thanks again, FatWallet.com. I’m probably going to hell for this, and I’ve really never palmed anyone before, but it was probably the most value I’ve gotten out of $20 in Vegas. Larger flat screens and beds than at Wynn, more furniture, and a Jacuzzi tub. The linens and some of the smaller luxury touches at the Wynn were absent, but this room at Caesar’s was definitely more comfortable. Overall, I still like the suites at THEhotel the most, however.

Room
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With a view
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The second picture is a funny one because it appears as if a flat screen television is floating atop the MGM Grand. Crazy reflections.

Caesar’s itself is something of a step down from the best hotels in Vegas. I’m partial to Wynn, Bellagio, Venetian, and Mandalay Bay, having now stayed in the first and last, but Caesar’s more than fit my needs. The room, again, was great, even if the casino was not quite as welcoming. Caesar’s is a sprawling complex and the continued expansion of the years is apparent. I think that the Forum Shops have probably the best assortment of stores in Las Vegas. Via Bellagio and the Wynn Esplanade don’t have anything but high-end shops; the Forum Shops have the same brands and more variety.

At this point, I should note my companion for this second part of the trip arrived just after I had checked in. The eating machine, aka “the g/f” from my previous eG foodblogs, travel blogs, and general dining debauchery, would be making her first visit to Las Vegas and would be accompanying to a couple other notable dining establishments.

Our first meal would be at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill at Caesar’s. I dine out in New York very frequently and have never been to nor even really had the desire to eat at a Bobby Flay restaurant. This, however, was Vegas, and a confluence of factors—namely the g/f’s insatiable need to eat and eat now and the g/f’s insatiable desire to follow in the path of Anthony Bourdain—led to our having a couple items off the Mesa Grill menu. Mesa Grill was exactly as I imagined it to be, solid food in an attractive if somewhat over-designed space. Not somewhere I’d make it a point to return to, but I’m kind of glad I finally went. Had the corn and shrimp tamale and the Cuban burger—kind of interesting with a thick patty of ground meat, thick slices of ham, pickles, and cheese, pressed on panini grill. The food was both heavy and heavily seasoned, but still pretty tasty. Not much more to say.

From Mesa Grill it was off to the Bellagio and, particularly, a stop at the Jean Philippe Patisserie. Located a few steps off the main lobby the shop kind of sneaks up on you. There’s no doorway or storefront, just a curved counter that sits off to the side of a hallway. Looking up, however, one sees the famous chocolate fountain and a variety of striking pieces of chocolate-based décor.

Exotic crepe and Raspberry pastry
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Unfortunately, the shop was out of the Exotic pastry that I had really wanted to try. I settled on the Raspberry. A shortbread-like crust held both raspberry and pistachio creams and was topped with a mountain of fresh raspberries. The flavors were good, but I thought the crust a bit too hard or thick. I would’ve liked a cakier bottom layer, more in line with pastry’s creamy center. Also had an exotic crepe, filled with mango, guava, and passion fruit puree. This was a forceful filling, rather topping, for the delicate crepe that, while tasty, was a bit overwhelming. Paired with a super potent coconut ice cream it was a bit too much for me after my breakfast-lunch buffet and the snack at Mesa Grill. Nevertheless, this is a good pastry shop, but perhaps not as good as I expected or wanted it to be.

Edited by BryanZ, 19 August 2007 - 09:24 AM.


#5 gfron1

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 09:23 AM

Thanks for these reports Bryan - I've been enjoying them. I have long wondered if the patisserie was going to hold its quality as it matured. I've been watching since its launch documented in a previous topic, and have even had a friend drive a pastry to me (12 hours). And I've heard its become a major training ground and has huge output through the hotel, so I would love to know if people who were there in "the early days" think its the same or slipping - or maybe improving.

I also think its interesting how many people have said they were out of the exotic - that is what I ordered but was unable to get on my delivered pastry.

#6 molto e

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 10:40 AM

I would have never guessed you for Mesa Grill :unsure: ...after trying Atelier in Vegas would you give it a spin in NY? Atelier is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere and in my experience no matter which Atelier you walk into, Robuchon replicates the same experience.
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#7 BryanZ

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 10:47 AM

Yeah, it was kind of a dark horse candidate but after walking around Caesar's with a young lady who makes it very clear that she's VERY hungry, Mesa seemed like a good choice. And again, I've never been to a Flay restaurant; this seemed as good a time as any to try one.

The reason I chose Atelier in Vegas is because it's significantly cheaper than the one in New York for that same experience. It was an excellent meal and in Vegas made for an even better "value."

#8 BryanZ

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 10:54 AM

Day 3, part 3

Dinner that night would be at Wing Lei, the Chinese fine-dining restaurant at the Wynn. rjwong and I corresponded a bit right after his most recent trip earlier this month and immediately before mine. In one of his PMs he warned me that the tasting menu at Wing Lei had been somewhat dumbed down or Westernized since initial reports. I would have to agree with this assessment, and though the price has been brought down as well it’s not quite as appealing. I thought that this meal was quite good, at times very good, but failed to fundamentally change the way I feel about Chinese cuisine. This was my first high-end Chinese dining experience in this country and would have to rate it at about two stars. We selected the Peking duck tasting menu at $88/person.

While the duck dishes themselves were quite tasty, sometimes exceedingly so, the service experience and attention to detail was lacking. I’m not sure if there are better Chinese restaurants in Vegas, as I’ve not eaten at any others, but this meal fell somewhat short of comparable French or New American ones. If some of the service issues were resolved it would stand to be on par for the price point.

Menu
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The signature tasting menu has come down in price, but the Peking duck menu has gone up. I didn’t feel that it was necessarily overpriced, however; the quality of the food was very good. Ordering presented a slight problem, as we were ignored for a few minutes after receiving our initial welcome and water. This wasn’t ignored in the let-them-get-settled sense but more like we were sitting there with our menus closed waiting for someone to come by. Even after I made eye contact with out captain he went off to put in an order at the bar for another table before coming to even check on us and explain the menu.

Carved Peking duck
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The whole duck was presented tableside by our captain and assistant captain. The assistant quickly flayed off eight slices of duck enrobed by gloriously crispy skin. The captain the proceeded to place two slices in each pancake, giving us to wraps each. Extra hoisin sauce was provided for a little extra salt and sweetness. This was simple but pretty awesome.

Peking duck salad
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Perhaps the most Western-tasting of all the evening’s dishes, this presented a nice balance between bitter greens, unctuous duck, and the sweet acidity of orange. The truffle vinaigrette, while very assertive, did a good job in giving the dish some body. I should note, however, that this dish was brought immediately after we had finished our duck wraps. As in, the busser cleared our dishes which were immediately replaced by the salad. To me this is a major faux pas, as there was no need to serve the salad immediately. It could have been fired in no more than a couple minutes or even could have sat on the pass as we regrouped.

Wild duck soup
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A deep, rich soup that was laden with shredded vegetables, duck, and anise. To me, this dish tasted the most Chinese, probably because of the spices. This dish was brought out while my dining companion was in the bathroom. Thankfully it had a cover, so I told my captain to leave the cover on. Still, there was no need to serve the soup with one diner absent. The cover to my dish also had a small chip on its handle. I found these two service lapses disappointing.

Wok-fried duck and pan-seared duck noodles
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This picture is so not representative of the amount of food we received it’s almost comical. While I might consider what I show on my plate a fair tasting-sized portion, not seen is the heaping mounds of food on the middle of the table. These dishes were both delicious and sufficiently diverse, but the amount of food most certainly betrayed the tasting menu aspect of this meal. Seriously, there was about ten times the amount of food on our communal plates in the center of the table and unfortunately we were not quite able to finish all of it. I’m sure, and hope, they serve the same amount of food to four tops.

Chef’s dessert selection
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We made a request that no chocolate desserts be served at the beginning of the meal because we did not want a heavy finish. With the previous course under our belts a light finish was pretty much a necessity. The sorbet and honey was nice and palate cleansing and the sesame napoleon a little bit more substantial. Both made for a nice end to the meal even if they weren’t explicitly memorable.

#9 molto e

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 12:20 PM

Carved Peking duck
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GREAT SHOT...there are varying levels of the Chef's Tasting Menu so depending on how one make's their desire known to the kitchen reflects on what style of menu that you get served. AND if one is a heavy gambler (or in Vegas parlance- whale, not the kind that I can achieve with careful eating :laugh: ) , the menu's sophistication goes up SIGNIFICANTLY.
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#10 David Ross

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 01:09 PM

Sorry your dinner at Wing Lei wasn't exceptional. My experience there in May was wonderful and scored an A+ for both the food and service. You may have seen my review in the Wing Lei thread.

I've found that one has to go to Las Vegas on a regular basis, trying different hotels and restaurants on each trip, before you settle on one hotel that fits within your personal tastes and budget. At least for the past two years and probably into the future, I'm a Venetian hotel customer.

As you know, the restaurant scene in Las Vegas practically changes daily. It all depends on what is popular with the public at any particular moment and who is in the kitchen and who is serving in the dining room. A high-level of consisteny over the long-term seems to be a bit elusive in my Las Vegas dining experience.

For example, I had wonderful experiences at Bouchon at The Venetian when it first opened a few years back-both at breakfast and at dinner. While the name remains, there hasn't been much of the Thomas Keller touch at Bouchon in Las Vegas on my visits in the past year. I now only go there for breakfast, mainly because of the serene outdoor patio setting and never for dinner. I can have a perfectly enjoyable dinner in the same price range elsewhere. And I wonder how a great restaurant owned by one of America's great chefs can slip in just a few years. Such is the fate of many of the nice places in Las Vegas.

Thank you for the great writing and reviews.

#11 BryanZ

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 03:39 PM

Day 3

After sleeping in, breakfast at Bouchon would be out of the question. By the time we were finally ready to leave, it was nearing lunchtime, and the lunch buffet at the Bellagio would be our destination. I had considered going to the Paris buffet, which I’d enjoyed at breakfast on my two previous visits, but thought I’d try something new. I would not normally do two buffets in two days, but this would also be my companion’s first opportunity to enjoy a buffet of this nature. It seemed that the offerings at the Bellagio were more diverse than those at the Wynn and often tastier. A build-your-own gyro station was the surprise hit of the meal. The room, however was a major disappointment. Totally unremarkable and without even a ray of natural light. As I mentioned previously, the main hall at the buffet at the Wynn evokes a flower-filled solarium and the buffet at Mandalay overlooks the pool/beach with picture windows. Even the comparatively cheaper buffet at Paris has something of an open air feel thanks to the fact that it has windows that look out on a major causeway. At around $20 we thought it was a pretty good deal and just a little bit cheaper than at the Wynn. Not the way we’d want to dine frequently but worth the experience.

#12 BryanZ

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 12:00 AM

Day 3 cont’d.

Walking through the Bellagio’s casino and into the Via Bellagio we stumbled across Le Cirque. Wanting to check out the menu, we strolled on by. As we were approaching the restaurant, however, a rather familiar looking man in chef’s whites walked behind us. My immediate reaction was one of skepticism, as this chef has come under increasing criticism for building a global empire while ignoring some of his older, less storied outlets. Nevertheless, we quickly disembarked from Le Cirque and followed the mystery chef for a few seconds. Indeed, our flyby revealed that it was in fact Jean Georges Vongerichten. Jean Georges has been praised for the amount of time he spends at his Columbus Circle flagship and my frequent visits to that restaurant find him in the dining room and kitchen quite often. I would have hardly believed, however, that Chef Vongerichten would spend anytime at Prime, his steakhouse in the Bellagio. It seems that in the case of Jean Georges, he at least spends some time at his Vegas property. We found this sighting rather amusing.

Vegas, however, is not without its pitfalls. A brief jaunt to Paris—in Vegas it’s easy to be a member of the jet set—found me at a blackjack table. Up to this point I’d been squeaking by without losing too much money. Rather, I was losing money but kept myself entertained as long as I wanted to gamble without going completely broke. In Paris, this all changed. In a matter of about 12 minutes I found myself down $200 playing at a cheap, $10 table. The two bottles of water procured from the passing cocktail waitress therefore became the most expensive bottles of water we’d ever drank. At $100 each, with a side of general frustration thrown in for good measure, I was less than pleased.

Dinner on this evening would be the meal that would make or break my trip. At this point I had enjoyed a wide range of good, sometimes great, food, but this was the climax. The Menu Prestige at Restaurant Guy Savoy was to be, even by my warped, deluded standards, a shockingly expensive meal. Although a recent Tour at Alinea with wine pairings was technically pricier, for food alone Guy Savoy reigns supreme. It also hurt that I’d be paying for this meal myself, as my parents had taken me to Alinea for my birthday the month before. To put this in perspective, the final cost of Guy Savoy for just one of us was more expensive than the two nights of accommodations for both of us, by a factor of over 1.5.

But to harp on the price misses the point. I should simply say that my expectations for this meal were extremely high, to the extent where I was nearly nervous upon walking through the restaurant’s front doors. I’m now happy to say that this was a phenomenal meal, easily one of the best of my life. While Alinea still speaks to me on a deeply philosophical level and remains my favorite restaurant in this country, my experience at Guy Savoy far surpassed any meal I’ve had in New York, a city I love and whose restaurants I know quite well and frequently champion.

For now, the menu. Tomorrow, pictures, the chef himself, Joshua the bread boy/fashionisto, Hung from Top Chef, lusting after Franck Savoy, and Gordon Ramsay. Yes, Gordon Ramsay.

Menu Prestige
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Edited by BryanZ, 20 August 2007 - 12:03 AM.


#13 Ling

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 11:53 AM

I’m now happy to say that this was a phenomenal meal, easily one of the best of my life. While Alinea still speaks to me on a deeply philosophical level and remains my favorite restaurant in this country, my experience at Guy Savoy far surpassed any meal I’ve had in New York, a city I love and whose restaurants I know quite well and frequently champion.

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Ugh...why did you have to go and say this. Guy Savoy was my #1 pick for our upcoming trip in October, but Henry vetoed that motion considering the hefty price tag. Now I think I might have to make a reservation just for myself and eat there alone!

#14 stetson99

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 08:38 PM

I had identical tasting menus at both Robuchon and Guy Savoy the same evenings as Bryan, although we were not in the same party. I'll probably go ahead and add my thoughts on these meals in this thread in the near future. I have to say that it is incredibly surreal to be in the middle of your cheese course while Gordon Ramsay and his wife are seated ten feet away from you. The very charismatic 'bread sommelier' was also a hoot.

Edited by stetson99, 20 August 2007 - 08:48 PM.


#15 BryanZ

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 10:27 PM

Stetson, that's bizzare, though I must say you have good taste. Joshua was definitely a cool dude, and at least for us was the member of the waitstaff we interacted with most. He was the one who gave us the down low on Vegas cooks' happenings and other reflections on growing up in a rather unique city.

#16 stetson99

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 11:01 PM

I sadly did not have too many interactions with Joshua. Most of the the time he was on the other, more populated half of the restaurant. The bread was delivered by the captain most of the time. That guy was incredibly professional. Probably the person I had the most interaction with was the champagne woman. She checked in time to time, and towards the end offered a list of restaurants to check out in case the tropical storm delayed my flight back to Houston. Of course I'd already heard of most of them, but the attention was appreciated.

In case you were observant, I was the sweaty young kid in his mid twenties, dining alone, who made the mistake of wearing a tie in that weather. The walk from the bellagio to caesar's may be short, but it's a killer when one is wearing a jacket and tie in that heat. Needless to say, that glass of champagne really hit the spot after it was served.

It seems ironic that with all of the luxury ingredients like foie, truffles, caviar, and tuna belly that my favorite course ended up being the dish that focused on tomatoes. It was the perfect summer dish. I wish I could eat that every single day. Hell, I could even go for a large bowl that simply consisted of their tomato granite right now.

#17 BryanZ

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 11:07 PM

We seriously should have hung out. I was on the far side of the restaurant, probably in the opposite corner from you--we were kind of far removed from Chef Ramsay. I respect you for wearing the tie, though we did not see anyone dining alone. Were you in the long hall-like main room (i.e., where Chef Ramsay was) or in one of the smaller rooms by the windows?

#18 stetson99

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 11:25 PM

It's funny you mentioned Jean Georges. I also saw him walking through the halls of the Bellagio near the elevator to my room in the spa tower. At first I didn't even recognize him. I simply saw the colors of the french flag on the collar of his chefs jacket, figured he may be someone important, and then saw 'Jean Geo..." stiched on his jacket. It took me about ten more seconds to realize that an icon had just walked past me. I wish I had my camera with me at that time. It would have been a good photo op. I also wish that I had the guts to interrupt Gordon while he was on a nice date with his wife. Now that would be a great picture. I'm too nice for that though. As I was the only person near Gordon's table at the time and had the only clear, direct view of him, I spoke to the captain and insisted that I rotate my chair at the table so I was not facing them. I did this to give him and his wife a nice evening out without worrying that this fanboy/foodie was gawking at him from time to time, even though I was really trying hard not to. I also moved because it's a little weird knowing that Gordon Ramsay is in direct eyesight and is watching you eat every single bite. I guess you have to be there to understand all of the dynamics of the situation.

#19 stetson99

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 11:28 PM

We seriously should have hung out.  I was on the far side of the restaurant, probably in the opposite corner from you--we were kind of far removed from Chef Ramsay.  I respect you for wearing the tie, though we did not see anyone dining alone.  Were you in the long hall-like main room (i.e., where Chef Ramsay was) or in one of the smaller rooms by the windows?

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The hall dining room. This half of the room was completely empty at the time w/ the exception of myself and Gordon+1.

#20 David Ross

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Posted 21 August 2007 - 08:41 AM

Day 3 cont’d.
Joshua the bread boy/fashionisto

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I'm wondering if Joshua was our 'bread boy' when I was at Guy Savoy in May at the private dinner for the Bon Appetit Food and Wine Focus.

Fashionisto is a good term to describe bread boy if it's the same guy we had-his hair was preened into a spike in the middle of his head and he was wearing these white gloves that were too big for his hands. He tromped through the dining room holding these tongs in the little hands covered with the too-big white gloves. Comical for sure. I didn't care for the seaweed bread he offered with our caviar course, but I did like the salty pretzel bread. I had a couple of helpings of that choice.

#21 BryanZ

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Posted 21 August 2007 - 08:45 AM

Joshua is in the Neiman and Saks "look books." The g/f tells me that's a big deal. I had the whole food angle played up. They, however, were collectively swooning over the designers that have come in to dine at the restaurant.

#22 BryanZ

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Posted 21 August 2007 - 08:57 AM

Day 3, Guy Savoy

Getting back to the trip report, on Wednesday evening we hopped into elevator and rode down the Augustus Tower to Restaurant Guy Savoy. We were greeted eagerly and quickly led to our table. The deuces here are smaller than at other Michelin three-star restaurants I’ve been to but not to the point of distraction. The room, as has been noted elsewhere is sparse, bordering on cold and almost cathedral-like, with soaring windows and two pieces of abstract art—one black one neon—on the far side of the room. I liked it for its understated yet grand masculinity but understand that it won’t appeal to everyone. It’s almost ironic and perhaps intentional but from our table we saw the Eiffel tower out of one window and a large Chanel marquee out the other.

Upon sitting down—rather chic low stools are offered for ladies’ purses—we were immediately asked as to our water preference. It was made very clear that bottle water is complimentary, something other restaurants of a similar caliber do not do, thus leading to confusion. I’ll drop a few hundred dollars on a meal, but I’ll be damned if I’m paying $9 for a bottle of water, $100 bottles at Paris notwithstanding.

At this point a rather jolly-looking gentleman in chef’s whites strolled into the dining room. This was actually Guy Savoy himself, smiling even more than in his press photos. He made a brief stop at our table, welcoming us to the restaurant and would proceed to work the room and ajoining lounge for stretches of the evening. It was great to see the restaurant’s eponymous chef in house, and while his presence likely did not have a tangible effect on our meal it added a sense of authenticity to our otherwise terribly inauthentic Vegas surroundings.

Upon settling in, we got the whole cocktail or wine song and dance, and I asked to see the wine list. Another stool was provided and the rather large wine list placed atop it. At this point I realized there was a good chance that glasses would not be in this tome. I asked and my suspicions were proved correct. There is no wines-by-the-glass list per se, so the wine steward recited them off the top off his head. I had encountered this in Europe but never in the States. Since we were doing glasses—read: a glass each—this setup proved somewhat awkward. We were provided with two serviceable glasses that more or less fit our tastes, but I like to be able see a list of my options.

The chef’s canapé was a mini foie gras sandwich. We were too excited at this point and forgot to take a picture of it. It was quite delicious.

At this point we had finished our snack and received our wine. Menus were brought, explained, and soon after we quickly ordered. I think having our captain come over to actually take our order took maybe a minute or two longer than I wanted, but I think they just wanted to give us space and time to settle in. We knew we’d be going Prestige from the get go and took a cursory glace at the other offerings.

Now for the food. It was awesome.

Amuse bouche
Chilled corn soup and Espelette pepper
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Scallop tartare
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A promising start. It’s not entirely apparent, but the tartare sat beneath the soup cup as part of the same service piece. Delicate flavors yet creative and even playful in presentation. At this point I was pretty psyched for the meal; very good things seemed to be in the making.

Bread cart
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Restaurant Guy Savoy has probably the most ridiculous bread cart I’ve ever seen. There are something like ten different varieties. To sweeten the deal, the restaurant offers bread pairings for the tasting menu. Naturally, we partook. And even better than the bread was the bread steward, Joshua. Joshua is a young gentleman about our age or a few years older. Because of this we had something of an immediate rapport. Joshua gave us the info. on Hung, Elia, Marcel and that whole crew of young Top Chef alums. When we asked if Hung was still at Guy Savoy, Joshua countered by asking if we wanted to meet him in person. Seeing that we’re not that desperate we politely declined, but Joshua continued to harangue us about it throughout the night. Hung came out to talk to another party in the lounge and from our table we could see that his antics were surprisingly similar to those on the show. He’s constantly moving and always on the balls of his feet, even in the middle of conversation. We would have several lengthy conversations with Joshua throughout the night and perhaps my only criticism of his service was that he didn’t give us the update, perhaps gossip is more accurate, we so wanted on the happenings at Gordon Ramsay’s table at the conclusion of our meal.

Oysters in ice gelee
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A cool, succulent oyster encased in a briny gelee of its own liquor. It’s difficult to see in this image but the vegetable garnish encased in the gelee looks like a flower. My only criticism of this dish is that the crème fraiche at the bottom of the oyster shell was not easily incorporated into the oyster/gelee package, necessitating the dish be eaten in two steps: oyster/gelee quickly followed by a spoonful of the crème fraiche to finish.

Heirloom tomatoes, aged Xeres vinegar, baby vegetables, basil and tomato granite
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The dish is placed in front of the diner without the granita and looks very Spanish in presentation. Cores of the three different heirloom tomatoes—I loved how they used the core and not the outer flesh—sit atop a thin layer of delicious tomato water gelee, along with various herbs, accompaniments, and seasonings. The captain then spoons the granita on top of the dish, adding yet another layer of flavor, texture, and temperature of the dish. This was a truly memorable dish.

Blue fin tuna and golden Oscetra caviar
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In these two different preparations of tuna belly the focus was more on the accompaniments than the tuna itself. The fish was of a very high quality, but I was more impressed by the creamy, salty caviar dressing on one side and the surprisingly delicious sweet-salty crust on the other. A nice, luxurious take on a now often overrepresented ingredient.

John Dory, lemon crust, salsify, herb puree, light jus
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My understanding of this dish was a little bit shaky because there was so much going on on the plate. The fish itself was coated with a breadcrumb-like topping and surrounded by a delicate herb puree. This was then topped with tender salsify and crispy herbs and lemon chips. Finally, a froth fish just was poured tableside. Clearly a complex dish but an incredibly delicious and creative one, taking classic flavors and recasting them in a new yet accessible way.

Maine lobster and heirloom baby carrots
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Lobster at fine-dining restaurants is generally hit or miss for me. Sometimes it’s awesome and reminds me why lobster is considered a luxury ingredient. Other times the lobster course kind of feels like a placeholder for a dish with a luxury ingredient. This dish kind of fell into the latter camp in that it didn’t quite sing for me the way the others did. It was fundamentally a very logical—sweet carrots and sweet lobster—and tasty dish but much like the halibut at Atelier I was a bit bored. My tastes with lobster in the fine-dining context tend toward sweet (e.g., passion fruit, banana, vanilla) or rich (e.g. butter poached with a rich lobster or even meat-based jus). This dish kind of skirted between the two camps and didn’t quite do it for me.

Artichoke and black truffle soup, toasted mushroom brioche, and black truffle butter
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If the previous dish didn’t quite reach memorable level, this next dish certainly placed among the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten. There’s not much more to say about this dish than the painfully obvious: it was totally awesome. The soup itself was a surprisingly light vehicle in which the truffles and salty cheese took full command. I’ve sampled a very similar dish at the three-starred L’Astrance in Paris, but this dish was lighter and more delicate thanks to artichoke. The L’Astrance version is a thick celery root soup mixed with a black truffle puree. While it could be argued that the dish at L’Astrance is even more luxurious, this dish at Guy Savoy had more layers of flavor. The brioche was ridiculous, and Joshua gave us the tip to try both the bacon and Parmesan breads with this course. His recommendation was spot on.

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Cool meat knives by Laguiole for the next course. Irreverent touches like this kept the restaurant from being too stuffy.

Poussin “a la Broche”, seared foie gras, baby chanterelles, spinach salad
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Immediately before serving the whole poussin is presented tableside. This is a beautiful bird in its whole form made even more appetizing when we were told that it had been roasted with foie gras underneath its skin. The foie melted into the breast meat and seasoned with flesh marvelously. A great, decadent dish.

Palate cleanser
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A virgin mojito.

We didn’t get a picture of the cheese plates because they were just cheese plates. The cart itself is nice and rather modern in design but not super impressive. I think I counted about 12 selections. For me, Picholine is the quintessential cheese experience—that cart is literally overflowing with perfect cheese—and even Guy Savoy could not the approach the diversity or quality of the cheeses offered there. We picked out about eight cheeses between the two of us and enjoyed most of all of them. I was a bit disappointed, however, that the unopened Epoisses on the cart was found to be too under-ripe upon first slicing. The assistant captain who served our cheeses did not want to serve it to me but also did not give me the option of trying it anyway. It did look under-ripe and I agree with his assessment and I suppose I could have just asked, but the option would have been nice. Mainly it was sad because I love Epoisses.

Cherries
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A study of textures, here cherries and pistachios were presented in a variety of guises. I appreciated the variety of approaches to the same ingredients in one dish.

Grapefruit
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We had made a special request for my dining companion at the beginning of the meal, as her delicate sensibilities do not take well to chocolate at the end of lengthy meals. While she has no problem throwing down a dozen, two dozen courses, chocolate has been her nemesis from Alinea to Per Se to Pierre Gagnaire (notice the poetic rhyming). This was what was served, and it was honestly one of the coolest yet simplest desserts I’ve ever had. Described to us simply as a grapefruit cake, this was whole segments of grapefruit somehow bound together in a loaf-like form. This was topped tableside with a grapefruit-basil syrup. Light, refreshing, sweet, and just a bit bitter, I can’t speak highly enough of this dessert.

Chocolate fondant, crunchy praline, chicory cream
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A more typical end, this dessert had a gianduja bar vibe going on. The chicory cream added a somewhat woody, bitter note to the dish.

Snacks with coffee
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Always a nice touch.

Our numerous selections from the dessert cart
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The dessert cart here is pretty out of control. Not only are there your typical chocolates and macaroons but also ice cream, sorbet, crème caramel, rice pudding, hard candy, truffles, cookies, etc. One could easily not order dessert here and try more things off this dessert cart than most other restaurants in Las Vegas have on their entire dessert menus.

Somewhere around the end of our savory courses a gentleman walked into the restaurant in jeans in a t-shirt. First reaction, “What a douche.” A second later, I’m like, “Wait, isn’t that Gordon Ramsay?” And, indeed it was, Gordo himself. We’d been to his eponymous New York outpost just days after it opened only to find that he was not in house. Now, in Vegas of all places, Gordon had come to us. After seeing Jean Georges earlier that day, having Guy Savoy in house, and watching Hung in action, this was just too much. Much hilarity ensued. The majority of the remainder of the meal was spent trying not to awkwardly stare at Gordon and Tana.

Already, intrigued by the charms of the undisputedly handsome Franck Savoy—“They’re taking good care of you, no?” Wink. “Let me know if they’re not taking good care of you.” Double wink—my dining companion’s obviously delirious grin in the above picture is no doubt motivated by fantasies of propositioning Franck and/or Gordon and/or Tana at that very moment.

On a more serious note, I kind of felt that the level of service dipped a bit when Chef Ramsay walked in. Our captain, who had stayed exclusively on our side of the restaurant, was now more frequently tending to Chef Ramsay’s table and assisting the captains in that section, removing him from easy contact. Whereas service throughout most of the meal had been flawless, toward the end I had to ask for my water to be refilled once when it ran low, had to ask to have the dessert cart rolled around after waiting several minutes with no communication, and had some difficulty flagging someone down to sort out billing the check to my room account. This type of slight drop off is not uncommon at even top restaurants but because service had been spot on at the beginning it seemed a bit more apparent here. I also understand that most restaurants like to give their tables space after most of the serving is done, but to my fast-paced tastes things weren’t quite as easy as I would have preferred at the latter stages of the meal.

While this may not have been the perfect meal, it was still about as good as I’ve experienced and easily in my top five restaurant experiences anywhere. The quibbles I mention are clearly very minor and in no way fundamentally changed my impressions of the meal, but I still choose to note them in detail because I hope this report will help others decide whether or not to take the plunge into a meal of such significant expense. After tax and tip, we got out of there for $400/person. If one is doing the Menu Prestige, which I highly recommend, that’s about as cheap as you can do it. As I mentioned, we had only a glass of wine each and thankfully they were relatively inexpensive at $16 and $18 each.

But, the key takeaway: this was a great meal and the one that made my trip to Vegas an undeniable success.

#23 stetson99

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Posted 21 August 2007 - 10:54 AM

On a more serious note, I kind of felt that the level of service dipped a bit when Chef Ramsay walked in. 


I completely agree with this statement. There was around a 30 minute lag in between courses after Gordon walked in. This wouldn't normally be a huge deal, but I can't imagine that it would normally take that much time to 'cook' and plate the cherries course.

Edited by stetson99, 21 August 2007 - 10:54 AM.


#24 David Ross

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Posted 22 August 2007 - 01:40 PM

From Mesa Grill it was off to the Bellagio and, particularly, a stop at the Jean Philippe Patisserie.  Located a few steps off the main lobby the shop kind of sneaks up on you.  There’s no doorway or storefront, just a curved counter that sits off to the side of a hallway.  Looking up, however, one sees the famous chocolate fountain and a variety of striking pieces of chocolate-based décor.

Exotic crepe and Raspberry pastry
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Unfortunately, the shop was out of the Exotic pastry that I had really wanted to try.  I settled on the Raspberry.  A shortbread-like crust held both raspberry and pistachio creams and was topped with a mountain of fresh raspberries.  The flavors were good, but I thought the crust a bit too hard or thick.  I would’ve liked a cakier bottom layer, more in line with pastry’s creamy center.  Also had an exotic crepe, filled with mango, guava, and passion fruit puree.  This was a forceful filling, rather topping, for the delicate crepe that, while tasty, was a bit overwhelming.  Paired with a super potent coconut ice cream it was a bit too much for me after my breakfast-lunch buffet and the snack at Mesa Grill.  Nevertheless, this is a good pastry shop, but perhaps not as good as I expected or wanted it to be.

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Bryan-very good report. I like your photos and the insightful comments on your dining experiences in Las Vegas. For those of us who love the Las Vegas dining scene it is always interesting to read about the experiences of others who have supped in some of the finer dining rooms in Las Vegas.

I agree with you that Jean Phillipe is a 'good pastry shop,' but that it wasn't as good as you expected. I found the same in my trip there in May.

The servers at the shop don't seem to have an understanding or knowledge for the high-quality pastries they are selling. Most of their time is taken up with filling ice cream orders. I found the pastry cases nearly empty and I got blank stares when I requested a couple of pastry choices from the meager offerings that were left. Don't try to ask what the ingredients are or how a particular pastry is made-the help may not have a clue.

And like you, the pastry that I was interested in buying was not available-even though the sign describing that particular pastry was still in the case. NOTE TO BAKERIES: If you're open for business in Las Vegas at 830pm on a Thursday night, you better have your cases properly stocked. If you are out of an item, take out the menu card.

The quality of the baking is very good at Jean-Phillipe, but not good enough to encourage me to go back for another $12.00 bag of 4 macaroons.

Here are a couple of photos from my May trip to the patisserie:

The famous 'world's tallest' chocolate fountain:
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If you are going to be wed at Bellagio, Jean-Phillipe is happy to create your wedding cake:
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#25 docsconz

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Posted 22 August 2007 - 02:27 PM

Great report, Bryan. Your meal at Savoy sounds and looks like an extraordinary one. I had been under the impression that Savoy banned cameras in the restaurant and in fact that was the reason that molto e and I did not go there this past March. Was that an issue at all for you? Did it even come up?
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#26 BryanZ

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Posted 22 August 2007 - 11:21 PM

Not an issue at all. In fact, the ever eloquent Joshua broke the ice with, "I hope you're not going to put those up on MySpace." I doubt he would have said the same thing to older diners, but we rolled with it. Sadly, I have a MySpace profile, long dormant, but a profile nonetheless. From this comment we had a brief exchange about eGullet. He had heard of it.

#27 BryanZ

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Posted 22 August 2007 - 11:53 PM

Day 4

Our last morning in Vegas we arose relatively early to catch a cab over to Bouchon in the Venetian. I was last at Bouchon in Yountville about a year ago and frequent Bouchon Bakery in New York every few months. I also cook from the Bouchon cookbook a good deal. With this said, I’m quite familiar with Chef Keller’s take on bistro cuisine and am a big fan.

This meal did not disappoint. As so many others have said, breakfast at Bouchon is a welcome respite from the hustle and glitz of Vegas. Looking out over the pool garden, awash in natural light with a pastry and orange juice, life is good. We ordered several Bouchon staples.

Pain au chocolat
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This was an exemplary pastry, superior to those I enjoyed in Paris. The crust was impossibly flaky, the interior moist, with just a bit of chew and the ideal amount of chocolate.

French toast
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Completely decadent and quite delicious. I could never eat this kind of breakfast regularly but once in a while custardy, fruity, syrupy overkill can be a good thing.

Quiche Florentine
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Bouchon’s quiche, when I first had it a year ago, opened my eyes to how good quiche can be and remains one of the tastiest things I’ve had in recent memory. We make various Keller quiches at home, but it’s always nice to sample one from the horse’s mouth.

Service was adequate if not quite fawning. Had this been dinner I may have been a bit disappointed but at breakfast a bit of space and time to decompress was just what was needed.

After this meal the culinary part of our trip would come to a close. Net-net, I only lost a few hundred dollars gambling, got to stay in a couple great hotels, and, most importantly, had a wide range of enjoyable meals.

#28 somemale

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 03:02 PM

BryanZ this is an amazing thread, thank you for sharing. I wish I was as talented as you in writing amazing descriptions and posts.

What camera were you using for the pictures?

#29 BryanZ

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 09:41 PM

Thank you for the kind words. The pictures were taken with a standard 3.2 megapixel point-and-shoot bought circa 2003. It's pretty crappy actually. I Photoshop some pictures if they're really bad, but it's really all about having a steady hand and getting as much light on the plate as possible. Not flash mind you, but I've been known to move the plate in question halfway across the table to get more light on it.

#30 somemale

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 03:13 AM

Thank you for the kind words.  The pictures were taken with a standard 3.2 megapixel point-and-shoot bought circa 2003.  It's pretty crappy actually.  I Photoshop some pictures if they're really bad, but it's really all about having a steady hand and getting as much light on the plate as possible.  Not flash mind you, but I've been known to move the plate in question halfway across the table to get more light on it.

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Thanks for the reply! You are certainly do a wonderful job with the camera you have! The pictures are more then presentable! Thanks for the tips!

Do you ever feel timid when taking pictures of food?Especially at 'fine dining' or 'starred' restaurants?. When my girlfriend and I went to Joel Robouchon (mansion) on our last trip to Vegas, we really wanted to take pictures of the food (once in a life time experience!) but definitely chickened out especially with all the people watching you... Its okay though, that meal was so amazing that it is ALWAYS in our minds, would've been nice to take pics of the food however!

On our last 'nice' meal we were at Michael Mina in SF and had no problems taking pictures (well to be honest my girlfriend took the pictures) but the server was definitely very nice and accomadating (when he was serving the lobster pot pie he even waited for her so she could get a good shot at times). Even though she was the one snaping the shots, I still felt a little cowardly. I guess its just something I need to overcome?

Have you ever had any looks or reaction from workers at the restaurant? Or do you tend not to care at all? I'm especially curious about your experiences in Europe, you have some amazing pics from there..

Keep up the good work!