Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bouchon Bakery and Cafe Society Encore, Las Vegas NV

...you wake up after a meal at Joel Robuchon and the gym at Excalibur (really, it isn't that bad) is the only free one in the city...you run your normal 6 miles with the amazing sort of energy that only about 3,000 calories of luxurious French Food can provide. Next you check out of the castle, stow your bags at the Venetian (home for the next 3 days) - time for some Bouchon bakery!

Having been to each of Keller's three wonderful bakeries in the past year (along with both Bouchons, The French Laundry,and Ad Hoc) I - the guy who doesn't regularly "repeat" in vacation cities - knew that a stop or two at the bakery and a visit to Bouchon itself would definitely be on the docket for this trip to Vegas. Arriving around 7:15am and checking out the fresh selection I must admit I was a little disappointed that so few new choices existed from last year – everything from the macarons to the cupcakes to the √©clairs were the same. Waiting in the short line and browsing the items I eventually settled on a couple of choices knowing I’d be back later to pick up macarons for my mother anyhow.

Starting first with the Cinnamon Brioche I have to say that this was the first time a Bouchon item ever let me down. Served as a sort of “pull-apart” the cinnamon speckled bun was quite expensive at $4.50 and it honestly tasted like it may have been left over from the day before. Appropriately buttery but relatively dry the bread tasted more of a dinner roll than a true brioche and the cinnamon was largely lost on my palate. Furthering my opinion that I’d been hoodwinked on a day-old, the center piece was actually much better and more moist than the outer ring – evidence of “drying out” perhaps.

The second selection was the saving grace of the visit – a luscious strawberry croissant that was almost as much a coffee cake as a true croissant. Featuring the wonderfully buttery French pastry that I sampled on last visit (with chocolate and almonds) the inside of the flaky pastry was this time filled with sliced fresh strawberries while the bottom of the croissant was covered with a cinnamon and butter crumble. Crisp shell and soft interior – buttery, tart, fresh, excellent.

While I admit that this visit wasn’t as wonderful as previous experiences with Bouchon Bakery, the service was still excellent and when I returned the day before leaving for home to purchase the macarons they actually did a wonderful job in packaging the cookies for the long flight home. Selecting Strawberry, Lemon, and Orange my mom stated that the brown/green box was her favorite souvenir from this as well as many of my previous trips. Can’t really argue with that.

Oddly, as I was eating my croissant I received a text from my friend who I was to eat lunch with later that day – he had made it to town early and was going to be stuck at the Olympia all afternoon – he wanted to know if we could make it breakfast instead. Certainly not full after two small pastries I agreed and he suggested we meet over at the Wynn – near the poker room. As previously noted, I’m usually a man with a plan when it comes to eating on vacation so the walk over to the Wynn provided me ample time to think of a good spot – eventually deciding to get out of the Wynn, check out Encore, and grab breakfast at Caf√© Society Encore.

Arriving just after 9:00am I was surprised to find the large restaurant packed and my friend and I opted to sit at the bar rather than wait 20 minutes for a table. Seated promptly and provided with menus our drink orders were taken – a coffee for myself and a $9 (ouch) vanilla protein shake for my friend. While he noted the shake was tasty my friend was admittedly shocked when the bill arrived – even using the best whey on the market there is no way this shake was more than $1 worth of ingredients. My coffee, also expensive at $4 for a relatively average brew, was refilled slowly at best – and only when I asked. All this despite there being two bartenders and only one other person at the 10-seat bar.

Placing our orders next my buddy opted for the waffle with blueberries, a side of egg whites, and an English muffin – all of which he stated were good but “overpriced” while I myself chose the Frosted Flake French Toast with Caramelized Bananas and Chocolate Cream. Arriving after a relatively short wait the dish contained two pieces of brioche dipped in frosted flakes and topped with perhaps one half of a caramelized banana plus a small dollop of creamy but decidedly unchocolately chocolate cream. Taking an initial bite I have to admit the quality of the bread itself was marvelous and the bananas were wonderful while the chocolate lacked. Adding a few tablespoons of pure Vermont maple syrup definitely helped the dish – mostly by adding a bit of sweetness but also by bringing forth some of the more subtle vanilla and cinnamon tones of the bread. A good dish, but at $15 nearly twice the price of the vastly superior and larger French toast at m.henry in Chicago and more expensive than either Keller’s or The Country Club’s wonderful bread-pudding-style French Toasts in Vegas.

Sitting for a while and chatting with my friend – later making plans for another brunch a couple days later I was glad that we were not rushed out but a little disappointed that I had to ask more than once for a coffee refill and that my water glass was taken away after a single glass and never returned. In the end the total cost for the meal was nearly $50 for food that was good but not great and service that was present at best. Paying our bill we walked away largely unimpressed – having had breakfasts at multiple places in Vegas now I’d steer clear and make my way to Bouchon, Mon Ami Gabi, The Country Club, or Tableau first – for the price you could even cab it to Hash-House-A-Go-Go and eat cheaper (and perhaps better) – but then if you did that you probably wouldn’t have room for lunch and dinner.

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