Besides the sunshine, what I looked forward to the most in Las Vegas was dining at Bouchon. Thomas Keller has a reputation in the culinary world for, well, perfection. Innovation, yes, but he seems to prefer to leave the real experiments to guys like Homaro Cantu at Moto. What I noticed at Bouchon, and what I hear about French Laundry is that he’s far more interested in ingredients, detail and quality.
Let’s begin with the begin. Aaron made reservations for us for Monday at 9:15. We arrived a few minutes early after wandering open-mouthed through the Venetian in the wrong direction. They have hidden Bouchon in the upper reaches, accessible only by elevator and down a long hallway. You would never know you were in a casino, and I’m guessing that’s exactly the point.
Upon entry and past the host stand, is the oyster shucking area, displaying five varieties of oysters and some mussels. Past that, is a classic zinc bar with dark-stained wood chairs and shelves behind the bar itself. It took us a little too long to get the bartender’s attention, which put a strike against them in Aaron’s mind – I was a bit more forgiving. Or I just didn’t want to see anything bad and chose to ignore it, which is probably more accurate. Either way, we got our drinks (I chose to go with a glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne – very buttery, with lovely apple notes and a crisp finish) and took them to a little lounge area they have across from the oyster prep area. We were shown our seats shortly after.
The warmth of the room was wonderful. My photo has a yellow tint because I didn’t to use a flash, but the idea is the same. We were lucky enough to sit in a corner table, with a bench on one side and chairs on the other. The tables were not spaced far apart, but it felt more intimate than intrusive. I particularly love the chair backs, but I’m weird like that I think. The menus arrive printed on brown paper, folded around the napkins. They are a little large and cumbersome when opened, and there is a lit candle on the table, but luckily there were no mishaps. Still, I had hoped to take one with me but they were collected as soon as we placed our orders.
We ordered a half dozen assorted oysters and a sampling of mussels. I am not really a mussels fan, but I was happy to try them there. They were chilled, which took Aaron by surprise, but I thought the chill really brought out what I presume to be is their natural flavor. I’ve only ever had them in various sauces. I can see why people like them, but I’ll leave them for the fans. The oysters however, were fantastic. I could actually taste the sea, which I have never been able to say. They were the only oysters I’ve ever eaten that didn’t require a loosening from the shell, no matter the type of establishment.
Our server was fantastic. She was friendly and completely on top of her game. She told us of the specials right away and recommended if we were interested in any of them, to let her know so she could tell the kitchen to hold an order as they were running low. As soon as the words ‘monk fish’ were out of her mouth my ears all but closed. I’d had some monk fish at a place near home, actually just a bite of a friend’s, and couldn’t stop thinking about it – that was three years ago. I’d never seen it on a menu since, and that’s all I needed to hear. Aaron ordered his litmus test for all French restaurants, Steak Frites. We also ordered some mac & cheese and a bowl of the special soup, Cream of Cauliflower. They were both fantastic. The mac & cheese had some nutmeg in it and a few different cheeses, and the soup was nutty and smooth.
The wine list was large without being overwhelming, and had some wonderful selections. The prices were exorbitant though so we didn’t go with the sommolier’s recommendations for half bottles and just went with a glass each of what best matched our dishes. They were both great, no regrets.
Aaron wasn’t happy with his choice of entree, and he had good reason. The steak was thicker than either of us had ever seen prepared for that dish. Close to an inch thick rather than the more typical quarter-to-half inch, and not very peppery. The fries were also pretty typical and seemed like they could have been from anywhere. He said he felt he should have gone for the pork tenderloin special, in hindsight. My monk fish was excellent. It was meaty, still on the backbone and cooked to perfection. It was so delicious I can barely recall how it was prepared. I think it had been perhaps poached then seared on the grill lightly, and the sauce was light, a little citric and complimented perfectly without competing with the fish itself. It also came with a slice of doughy, eggy bread. Our server said it was very similar to the type of bread they serve for their version of French toast, which was a pretty good endorsement for trying the breakfast menu.
For dessert, we ordered some coffees and sweets. Neither of us had the room, but if there’s one thing the French are masters of, it seems to be pastries and custards. Aaron ordered his other favorite dish (besides his date, ha ha), creme brulee. It did not disappoint. I imagine it was exactly like it should always be, and that’s all I can say about it. I ordered their namesake, bouchons.
Bouchons are small pastries, either puff or brownie as far as I can figure it, and these were topped with house-made chocolate, vanilla and mint ice creams. The ice creams were better than the brownies, I have to say. I was so full I barely put a dent into the poor things. Aaron’s creme brulee however, was demolished. And I helped demolish it, proudly.
We left stuffed and happy. I stopped to pick up the copy of the French Laundry cookbook near the entry as we left, and the manager said that Keller had been in the week before autographing copies. As much as I’d have liked to have met him in the flesh, I was happy tasting his inspiration. I can highly recommend Bouchon, and next time I’m in Las Vegas I hope to go there again, though this time for breakfast.
Here we are, happily waiting for our food.