Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gambling with your Dinner Money

Restaurant Roundup. Vegas April 2006

The weekend before last, Fred and I went to see Elton John and his Red Piano in Las Vegas. Elton was definitely the second highlight of our trip. The set, with it's huge inflatables (giant bananas included) and thought-provoking visuals by David LaChapelle (whom I have long been a fan of) was stunning. His visuals for the song Daniel reduced me to tears and we are not talking droplets, we are talking streaming, buckets full, I was balling my eyes out. (Err, perhaps the three glasses of champagne magnified my emotional frajility?) Don't worry about me too much though, Elton soon had me laughing again with his light-hearted, jealous digs at Celine Dilon's svelte figure. "She's a fucking Q-tip on legs". (His words, not mine.)

No trip to Vegas is complete without paying some attention to the food options available, of which there are more than you could imagine.

photograph picture of bouchon menu the venetian las vegas Friday night is Fred's French Food night and because I didn't want a little thing like a trip to Vegas get in the way of tradition, I went ahead and booked a table for 10pm at Bouchon (in the Venetian), keeping my fingers crossed that our flight would get us there in time. And it did, just, by a whisker. Unfortunately we were seated next to an ugly big-mouthed idiot from New York who was not only trying to loudly weigh up his chances with all the single-looking girls in the dining room, he was vocally criticising them for eating both appetizers and dessert with their meal as well as drinking cocktails and drinking wine. Thankfully they were all too cute, too sexily dressed and having too much of a good time with each other to even notice his existance. He tried to make a little impression on Fred and me by loudly commending our choice of Pomerol from the wine list. I imagine he got all excited because it was a wine he had actually heard of.

Our waiter was incredible. I adored him, especially when he didn't bat an eyelid at my being a skinflint and ordering just two Hors-d'oeuvres from the brown paper menu that he unfolded from its decorative position surrounding my napkin. The Beignets de Brandade de Morue were a slight disappointment. It's seems kind of crazy to complain that salted cod isn't salty enough, but it wasn't. And the batter was a little too greasy for my tastes. Fried sage leaves (one per each of the three beignets), imparted a much needed strong flavour into the dish. My Confit de Canard, however, was superlative. Although I didn't care for the crunchy peashoot garnish, I completely understand why they were balanced precariously on top of the dish. Me, however, I didn't want anything like a healthy, crunchy contrast to get in the way of the pleasurable, comforting, creamy, broken red rice that provided the softest and most satisfying bed for my duck. I can't get it out of my head. It reminded me of bread sauce, something I, my dad and probably few other people in the world love with a vengeance. Mmm, I am drifting into a red rice day dream....Sam! Snap out of it, you have to write about the rest of the food!

Ok, ok. Fred had a simple bibb lettuce with garden herbs to start. He didn't complain. Then he had the special steak of the day with frites. It was E-NORM-OUS! I didn't help him eat it, he was happy, but I was even happier with my little plate of red rice heaven and I didn't want anyone to wake me from my dreams of the little nirvana I had created for myself.

The waiter was a naughty boy. He encouraged me to have dessert (hazlenut pot de creme, fairly standard) and then dessert wine and then Armagnac or cognac or something. Things were getting fuzzy by that stage. As we left the restaurant he thanked us profusely and declared we were "perfect customers". I hope I wasn't so sozzled that put too many zeroes on the tip?

photograph picture of sensi in the bellagio Sensi in the Bellagio, by comparison, with its confusing mix of Asisan, Thai, Indian and Italian choices on the menu, was a disppointment to us. A hopeless and unattentative, inexperienced waiter even forgot to serve us bread. We wouldn't have noticed if the clunkety glass plates vainly decorating the table hadn't betrayed their emptiness so ostentatiously. Over salty salami pizza was already dry and chewy because it hadn't been served directly it came out of the oven. Chewy Osso bucco, that you would normally expect to melt in your mouth was served with a tomato sauce that was too acidic and bright for the slow-cooked meat and a gremolata that did nothing to meld the elements into a complete dish. Although the parmesan croquettes were delicious, the Kobe beef carpaccio that wrapped them was cut so thick it was unedible and made me gag with its chewiness. No one on the staff thought to ask me why exactly I was leaving an entire $18 appetizer dish that had barely been touched. A selection of Sensi 'cones' evoked images of Thomas Keller's signature appetizer cornets. The reality was far more crude; four too-thick, indelicate ice cream waffle cones each with a different filling. Unevenly mashed boil egg and caviar, uninspired, crab and avocado, unsalted and in dire need of a dash of lime juice or something to bring out the flavours. The steak tartare filling was much better even though it jarred with the slightly sweet anaemic waffle. Tuna tartare was the best of the four, expertly spiced and seasoned, this one was a pleasure to eat, even though our waiter had told us it would be salmon.
The fat, succulent, meaty roasted duck pot stickers were truly a pleasure and I was glad that at least one element of my meal could give me some enjoyment. The enjoyment that latterly crept into the meal continued with the dessert, a $36 selection of everything on the menu except the souffle. The desserts were mostly fantastic. I would go back to Sensi just to eat them. For sure. Presentation of the piquant raspberry, mango and creamy coconut sorbets in a huge ice sculpture was stunning and made even moreso by the champagne that was poured over them at the table. An apple fritter that was covered in shocking pink spun sugar was chewy and difficult to eat, but well worth the effort for its caramel, toffee taste. A warm chocolate cake, was as you would expect but satisfying nevertheless. A simple, plain cheesecake was sublime and probably my favourite of all the sweet selections. We would almost have forgotten the ealier menu mishaps and finished the dinner on a high if they hadn't delivered the check to me mid spoonful. I don't really care if I am the last person left in a restaurant and they want to close, I don't care if my dining partner is visibly waning, to try and hurry me up whilst I am still actively eating and revelling in my dessert is simply bad form.

photograph picture of sensi in the bellagio On my previous visit to Vegas, I declared that the burgers at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill were amongst the best I have ever tasted in my life. I now take that all back. On this, our second visit, we found the burgers to be decidedly ordinary and cooked a little too far beyond our specifications. Aside from that, the service had improved no end, our waiter was a darling and ever mindful that we had a flight to catch. The whole approach to middle-of-the-daytime dining was more casual than our prior experience, with a special brunch menu now on offer (instead of the more formal lunch, a copy of the evening menu, that we experienced the first time). Although we went back to Bobby's for seconds, it's now unlikely we'll ever return for a third time lucky. We'd rather keep our luck for another kind of table - you know - the one you can find on the other side of the window, in the casino ...

Archive Alert! On this day in 2005: A trip to the Old Passage Inn at Arlingham, England, featuring my lovely mum and my darling granny.

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Gambling with your Dinner Money


  • At 12/4/06 11:49, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That is so funny Sam. First the New York guy, I hate when situations like this happen, almost like you want to ask them to shup up! Then your Freddie is too funny and too French. Going to Bouchon and taking 1 steak/frites s'il vous plait! ahahah. Sorry, I don't know Fred and I should not laugh, but this is just what my dad does when he goes out to a nice restaurant ;-) Don't hate me, it made me laugh!

  • At 12/4/06 23:59, Blogger June said…

    Working my way through your very impressive blog with great pleasure - it is indeed a world away!

  • At 13/4/06 00:25, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sounds like the meal at Bouchon was great apart from the loud mouth on the other table. It's so annoying when that situation occurs, it happened to me when I ate at Gordon Ramsay a short while ago. The bloke on the other table would not shut up, his voice constantly boomed in my ear.

    I went to Vegas many many years ago and distinctly remember eating at Spagos, which was completely different to the original in LA (in a bad way). I stayed at Bellagios which was completely OTT, I can't say it's my favourite place!

  • At 13/4/06 04:28, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh Sam, I love Bouchon! It sounds like you had a wonderful meal although I'm so sorry your dinner nearly got spoiled by the obnoxious guy. I have a picture of a guy who fell asleep at the table next to us at a restaurant in Woburn after subjecting us to two hours of drunken singing (and bad Neil Diamond songs no less). I still haven't decided what's worse: the singing, or the snoring.

  • At 13/4/06 06:48, Blogger Sam said…

    Bea - you leave off my French guy, oi! ;) I have to say Bouchon is fairly traditionelle, so he couldnt really be too unFrench there if he tried. That said, he invariably migrates to steak frites and is therefore becoming the West Coast's leading expert on the subject!

    June - thank you - I can't wait to read more of yours: A home from home! Hey everyone - check out Jean's great blog I just discovered - at last a food blog from near the place I grew up! Bread Water Salt oil

    Gastrochick - the meal at Bouchon was what you would expect of it. Nothing to blow your mind - just a competent Bistro meal, and compared to all our other vegas dining experiences this time around, definitely our favourite of the weekend. The place is certainly OTT, I can only take it small 2-day doses here and there.

    Casth - obnoxious guy kept me entertained for a little while - it was kind of amusing watching someone be so arrogant, knowing he didnt have a chance. Luckily they started before us so we were on our own for the second half of the meal.

  • At 14/4/06 08:36, Blogger David said…

    Glad Fred got his Steak frites...and you got a new dress! Bravo, mon chérie...

  • At 14/4/06 18:48, Blogger San Francisco Photos said…

    Hi Sam, thanks for posting a comment on SF Photorama! I noticed on your Sam Francisco blog an orchiette pasta dish with brussel sprouts and bacon. Does it also contain hazelnuts? If so I love that dish. We make it all the time and it's too yummy! Did you get it from the dead Williams Sonoma magazine from several years back?? Just curious. Anyway love your blog!!!!

  • At 24/12/07 13:59, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Personally, I go to Las Vegas for the gambling. I was forced to listen to an Elton John CD for a 24 hour trip across country, and let me tell you.. after that, you never want to hear him sing again.

  • At 18/2/08 17:31, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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  • At 28/11/08 09:20, Blogger Unknown said…

    When you get to LV you'll be given all kinds of coupon books but they mostly have coupons that aren't relevant to much of anything - that is unless you want to leave the strip and head out 20 minutes to some random casino to get $20 in free play or see a show at 1am. but if you're a normal person and you are just using the public bus for transportation up and down the old and new strips then you need a REAL coupon book with REAL, legitimate coupons that you can use whenever you'd like.

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