A taste of Paris in Las Vegas

Amid all the buffets in Las Vegas is Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, with that bustling quiet that a fine dining restaurant usually has and without any of the flash and prefabricated extravagance that the town was built on.

With indoor and outdoor seating, the ambience was lively but contained to low chatter with an old-world bar and an even better bartender who served up a Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2009 Red Rhone Blend. An inviting and intimate atmosphere amidst the overwhelming lights and people of Las Vegas, the staff is punctual and treat customers like what most restaurateurs should treat customers like, but even more so when the prices are as high for elegant but traditional food.

Living in the not-so-coastal town of D.C., every chance I get, I go for the oysters. And though Las Vegas is farther from water than our own home, I took a chance that Bouchon wouldn’t let me down on what I can never eat enough of: oysters. Starting with three varietals of oysters — Fannie Mae, Barron Point and Hama Hama — they were the dream of any seafood lover who never quite gets enough. Creamy and firm all at once with a hit on vinegar on each. Priced at $18 for half a dozen, they were a pricey decadence, but so is Vegas. They did not disappoint.

And then came the Rillettes aux Deux Saumons, or a jello-mold of smoked and baked salmon that the server peeled back a layer of Crisco-looking lard from. Served with toasted croutons, this could have made an entire meal for one. With plentiful croutons, I chose to dollop on more salmon than what was proportional to each garlicky crouton — the fish did not have the usual flakiness that a salmon cake can have, but was a fatty spread. A couple sitting next to us peered at the dish of salmon as the server peeled back the layer of fat, and after I took the first bite asked if it was worth it. It was.

My companion had to try the classic Frisee aux Lardons et Oeuf Poche, which is like an egg sandwich made somewhat healthier with frisse lettuce. Lardons, or thick pieces of bacon and pork belly were embedded in a bacon vinaigrette that deliciously mixed with runny egg yolk from the poached egg. The most indulgent “salad” on earth.

The restaurant features an open seafood bar, with three chefs preparing mussels, lobster, crab and clams with a muster. While watching them during the appetizer course, they prepared a Grand Plateau, or one lobster, 16 oysters, eight shrimp, eight claims, tne mussels and seasonal crab, for $110. It was like watching the building of a boat, with each chef on a particular duty and high fives at the end as the masterpiece was hauled off to a table.

Onto entrees. Gigot d’Agneau, or roasted rack of lamb with crispy swiss chard subric, bite-size pieces of rutabaga and rosemary lamb jus. The portion of lamb was just right with around 5 oz. and perfectly cooked. Oh, and the pears. The pears. Poached in red wine for over three hours, they tasted like what one always wishes plastic fruit on Christmas wreathes should take like: succulent, sweet and with the texture of a good steak that fades slowly away and down the throat. Paired with the slightly salty lamb, it was a match made in heaven and something most would never think to put together, or could pull off. The pears were the best, and I recommend Bouchon start offering them in as dessert.

From the same seafood car comes Moules au Safran, which are steamed with white wine, Dijon mustard and saffron and served with French fries, though we were unable to try it because of the bounds of our stomachs. For gnocchi lovers is a Gnocchi a la Parisienne with a fricassee of garden vegetables and brown butter sauce. And for the more simple bargain shopper is the Croque Madam, or a grilled ham and cheese sandwhich on brioche bread with a fried egg and sauce Mornay.

The classic steak Frites was a tossed bag, with pan-seared prime flatiron, caramelized shallots and maître d’hotel butter. Though the steak was slightly over-cooked for medium to what was probably medium well, the prime cut was still full-flavored and created enough jus for the massive amount of fries to be dipped in. On this front, the fries were too many and heaping. To watch them be dumped in a trashcan after perhaps an eighth was eaten was painful. Downsize the fries, Bouchon.

My companion who hates crème’ caramel, loved the crème caramel. The caramel custard was everything it should be – candied air that had just the right amount of caramel sauce that seems like it could be the jus from sugar. The Marquise au Chocolat was a must, with burnt orange cream on top of a singular disk of dark chocolate mousse that was thick and rich. Also on the dessert menu that was a close toss up in ordering were the Profiteroles, which are the classic puff pastry with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

All in all, the meal was amazing and the service even better. It was a quiet respite, even from the venue of the bar, from Vegas with its French-inspired décor that begged to be likened to a French home and inviting and personal wait staff. The dark wood paneling, tables and bar made myself and my companion feel at home, which complimented the traditional food that was all in all, quite good.

Prices: $60 to $200 for dinner for two
Ambience: Classic and intimate amidst Las Vegas extravagance
Address: 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Las Vegas, NV
Location: In The Venetian
Phone: (702) 414-6200
Web Site: www.bouchonbistro.com
Cuisine: French
Reservations: Recommended

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