Friday, March 28, 2008

Bouchon Las Vegas

D. proposes. D. discloses location of surprise trip. D. reveals that we have reservations at Bouchon.

Guess which had me squealing and jumping up and down? Let's just say it didn't involve any sparkly objects and a lot of Thomas Keller.

I might never hear the end of it, but it makes a fantastic conversation piece. The most hilarious thing is that my response surprised no one. No one. In my defense, I thought the proposal would be coming during the trip, but I'd never guess that D. would willingly make reservations at what he would consider a "frou-frou" restaurant.

Apparently, it was Anthony Bourdain who changed his mind. During the Las Vegas episode of
No Reservations, Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman visit Bouchon and order steak frites. D., noting that one of his favorite dishes were on the menu, decided that it was an acceptable location.

We both loved it. It's an amazing restaurant and, while I know Keller doesn't cook there, it lives up to his and his restaurants' reputation. It certainly wasn't frou-frou at all, with a relaxed atmosphere, a warm and friendly staff, and absolutely no pretension. Del Mar's Market could definitely take a page out of Bouchon's book. You can have a upscale restaurant with fabulous food and still behave warmly (not to mention without judgment) at your guests.

Our server was witty and knowledgable. I suspect Bouchon has seen its fair share of food geeks, because they were completely comfortable with photography in the restaurant. I was especially reassured by the guy at our next table, who was photographing his dinner with a Nikon digital SLR. The menus were printed on parchment paper and it didn't look like they would reuse them often, so I asked if I could keep one. Our server didn't even blink. He said people ask all the time and, since they don't reuse them at all (oy, that's not very environmentally conscious), I was more than welcome to do so. Yay!

He suggested that D. try the James Bond, a martini-esque drink of gin and vodka with a twist of yuzu. Again, I love yuzu and it's many uses. I ordered a syrah from Paso Robles (Update: The asst. GM at Bouchon replied to my inquiry and it's a '05 Clos Mimi, petite rousse... they did err on one thing, though, the winery is in Santa Maria, CA, not Paso Robles, CA), which was decent. Mellow and sweet, it was a little on the bland side, but it was good for this dinner because it took a backseat to the amazing dishes.

The meal began with an epi baguette (epi is the central flower in a wheat stalk, hence the name of the baguette's shape). I need to bake my next loaf like this.

The appetizers were nothing less than fabulous. D. ordered one of the specials, a slice of lightly crisped pork belly in a bed of flageolet beans and topped with fruit (apples, oranges, dried apricots). D. said the fruit sounded like an odd choice, but it meshed perfectly with the pork and beans. The pork was nice and fatty.

I ordered the
pâté de campagne, which was pretty memorable. The pate was smooth and rich, with the sharp watercress and spicy mustard being great accompaniments. There were little cornichons, which are basically gherkins. These are baby gherkins (pickling cucumber) lightly pickled. As with all baby vegetables, the flavor is sweeter. I normally dislike pickles, but this was really good.

D. ordered his steak frites, which he enjoyed. The meat was excellent and the fries were very good. The steak was topped with a little slab of maitre d'hotel butter. Recipes vary, but it's basically a compound butter with parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Picture's a bit blurry b/c I didn't get close enough with my camera on the macro setting.

My entree was incredible. Unbelievable. I could write sonnets. On the menu, it's
plats de cotes de porc. It's slow-cooked pork shortribs on a bed of red wine-braised cabbage and a side of yellow corn polenta.

The pork was fork-tender, outrageously moist, and fatty enough to bring a delectable depth of flavor. I loved it so much that I'm now obsessed with buying the Bouchon cookbook so I can make it at home. Since the dish was dark and the lighting dim, the camera had a hard time focusing, so the picture is also blurry. I should have focused on an area with hard lines, like the edge of the plate, then keep the focus and turn the lens on the meat itself.

I couldn't let a blurry picture be the only remnant of that incredible meal, so I decided to take an shot of it half-consumed.

The little blob on the left is a spoonful of the polenta. The polenta itself was creamy and perfect texture-wise, but it was too buttery and bland overall. Corn isn't in season, hence the lack of sweetness expected from a corn-based dish. The cabbage, on the other hand, was obscenely delicious. It had the sweet and musky flavors of the wine and the tartness of the cabbage.

What amazed us was that we finished the meal absolutely stuffed. We were expecting the plates to be somewhat small and adequately filling, but the portion sizes were larger than we thought.

Nevertheless, we couldn't leave without dessert. D. picked another item from the specials menu, a Valrhona chocolate cake topped with Bavarian pastry cream and fresh strawberry sorbet. On the side were roasted bananas. The sorbet was my favorite part of this dish... it was light, sweet, and very fresh, which contrasted nicely with the dark chocolate cake.

My dessert, also from the specials, were chocolate bouchons (bouchon means cap or cork in French... the cakes are shaped like corks) topped with homemade ice cream. Left to right: mint chocolate chip, vanilla, and hazelnut. I loved the bouchons, which were a little better than D.'s cake. They were like crisp brownie bites with a moist cake center. The tops literally crunched like a cookie. The ice creams were also very good. Strong vanilla bean, smoky hazelnut (this was the best one), and a sharp and herb-y (not artificially flavored) mint chip.

Now, if only we could have food like this at our wedding, then I'd be a happy camper.

4 bites:

Anonymous said...

This is one of our favorite places too and you guys really did feast!!
We ate so much when we were there, but regret not ordering one thin....the frites!! They looked so good!
Next time for sure are the frites!

Meandering Eats said...

Yes, the frites are an absolute must! By the way, I love the Two Dog Blog. :)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on getting engaged! Happy wedding planing!!! Look forward to reading your updates on planing the big day. Oh and the food looks amazing. I have the cookbook for the restaurant but I have yet to try my hand at any of the recipes.

Meandering Eats said...

Thanks, Liz! The big day will be mayhem, but it will be fun mayhem (I hope). I'm getting the Bouchon cookbook in a week or two, so I'm really looking forward to trying some of those recipes.

4 bites