Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Country Club at Wynn, Las Vegas NV

During my most recent trip to Las Vegas, having already had an early breakfast at Bouchon and planning for a late dinner after the hockey game at Craftsteak, I was called by a good friend who suggested we "do brunch" around 1-2pm. My buddy wanting "either a steak or a burger" and his wife wanting a "good fillet" we decided on Steve Wynn's interpretation of the country club at the Wynn. Really, I imagine that if anyone would know what a Country Club should look like it is probably Steve Wynn....either him or Jack Nicklaus. Calling ahead for reservations for three we were told they were mostly booked but had a four-top available at 1:30.

Arriving before my friends I took a seat at the bar with a couple of well-heeled Texans who were cheering animatedly for the Longhorns displayed on the plasma screen over the bar. Opting for a water and chatting with another patron from Indiana (unfortunately a Purdue fan who humorously offered to buy me a boilermaker to help me "see the light" - an offer I declined) about the Big10 I browsed around the heavy feeling room and watched as the kitchen served a the couple next to me a (oddly) very excellent looking hotdog and enormous plate of fries. Standing up and walking to the windows I looked out over the amazing 18 holes of greenery that Mr. Wynn had built in the middle of the desert - quite possibly the most impressive "architecture" in the Wynn empire.

With my pals arriving only 2 minutes after our reservation we made our way to our table and were met by our witty and surprisingly down-to-earth and casual server. Explaining some of the daily specials while handing us our menus the waiter quipped about his favorite dishes, the design of the restaurant, Chef Guia's culinary pedigree, and the multiple celebrities who'd sat in our very seats - Bill Murray and Michael Jordan to name a few. While clearly intending to impress I actually found our waiter to be a pretty genuine individual throughout our meal - something a bit different for "Wynn service" which is normally a bit starchy and unapproachable.

Dining with friends who love to eat (and aren't afraid to order "too much") we placed our orders - an order our server suggested might be too much when he said "be careful, you have to save room for dessert!" Sitting and chatting for a little while we were soon brought refills of our waters and diet cokes and a large basket of bread - fresh from the oven. Served with a soft and fragrant butter the bread itself was almost a cross between a brioche in density and a soda bread in texture. With a lovely crunchy crust giving way to a soft and buttery center we devoured the first basket before our appetizers even arrived and ended up finishing a second basket before the mains were completed. While I fully admit that I think a multitude of bread choices is best, one great choice also works.

For our first course - remember, I said my friends can eat - the choices were certainly unique. For my friend's wife who wanted a steak she decided to go with "something light" as an appetizer - opting for the sweet corn chowder with aromatic vegetables. Poured tableside from a copper kettle into a bowl filled with late-summer herbs the dish was attractive and smelled great - both my friend and his wife said the soup was great, like buttery creamed corn. Served with the chowder, a large plate of fries ordered as a sidedish to her main course (but requested to come with her soup.) Served with a generous helping of housemade ketchup the fries were seasoned with Old Bay plus a touch of vinegar and tasted fantastic. While I admit we all ordered a lot of food, I'll note that the portion size on the fries was huge - despite the work of all three of us through two courses about half the basket remained at meal's end.

For Matt and myself – I absolutely cracked up when he thought of this possibility because I’d been thinking the exact same myself – why not get a sweet for one course and a savory for the other? Agreeing that this would be the best plan of action we also managed to end up ordering the same “appetizer,” the French Toast Bread Pudding with Vermont Maple Syrup, Berries, Candied Pecans, Glazed Bacon. With Melissa looking on in amusement we were each brought a “round” of the pudding – essentially two large English-muffin sized pieces of custard laden and smooth maple bread pudding stacked and surrounded with fresh berries and candied pecans – then topped with a slice of thick and perfect maple glazed bacon. Honestly – no offense to Thomas Keller’s similar option at Bouchon – but this was better. A mélange of vanilla and maple, cinnamon and butter, and crispy exterior yielding a custard-like interior – it could’ve been breakfast, it could’ve been dessert – and it was one heck of an appetizer.

After a wait, more talk, more fries, and more coffee our mains arrived. For Matt the choice was a large medium-rare burger with cheese and – yes, more fries. For Melissa, a medium 8oz Filet – just what she’d come for and centered with a playful tater tot/potato puree similar to the version served with the pork belly at L2O. Finally, for myself, Two large organic poached eggs with BBQ Smoked Pork, Bacon Cheese Muffins, and Charred Green Chile Hollandaise. Somewhat “Tex Mex” but also at the same time as refined as a traditional Benedict it is hard to say what aspect of this dish was most appealing – the maple-heavy pulled pork, the creamy poached eggs, the spicy hollandaise with only mild hints of sour, or those indelible English muffins. Rupturing the eggs and allowed the dish to flood with a combination of creamy and spicy, sweet and savory I have to say the result wasn’t as pretty as the presentation, but the flavor was fantastic.

With each of us feeling pretty full our server next offered us a dessert menu – deferring to my friends as to whether we should get dessert Matt’s eyes lit up with an emphatic “Yes” when he eyed the house made Cookies and Glenlivet 12-year spiked Milkshake option. With Melissa choosing an ice cream and sorbet platter with chocolate, caramel, and cinnamon I deferred to my server – which was better, the Blueberry Cobbler or the Chocolate Bombolone. Without hesitation her recommended the Bombolone and stated it was one of his five favorite dishes in Vegas. Taking him on his word I agreed and approximately 15 minutes later the dishes arrived. While I’d like to say that watching Matt moan over his “amazing – best shake ever” selection, I instead must state that although my choice may not have been on my “Vegas top 5,” it was really really good. Entitled Chocolate Bombolone with Brioche Donuts, Berries, Creme Anglaise, and Chocolate Sauce the dish was simple – five 72% dark chocolate truffles dipped in brioche batter and deep fried only long enough to brown the outside and liquefy the center paired with a smooth vanilla anglaise, fresh berries, and a hefty dark chocolate sauce. What the dish lacked in complexity, however, it more than made up for in flavor. Instructed to place the whole bite into my mouth before chewing (to save my shirt and pants, per the server who had multiple stories of patrons clothing being rushed to the cleaners when such a warning wasn’t provided) each bite simply burst forth with chocolate on masticating. Small in portion the richness of the chocolate was a perfect way to end a great meal and any more would have likely been too decadent to finish.

Sitting and chatting for another half hour before our departure our drinks were continually refilled and our server occasionally stopped by to be sure all was well. Never rushed as it was the end of the brunch service I was impressed at how laid back such a refined restaurant felt – it really did feel like a “member’s only” club where people were welcome to socialize as long as they like. Settling the bill – Matt and Melissa volunteering to pick up the tab – we made our way to the doors and were bid farewell by our server who jokingly asked if we’d like an order of fries to go. Very happy with the meal and the uncharacteristically casual feel of a Wynn-core enterprise I have to say that aside from Bouchon, the Country Club may be my favorite mid-day meal in Las Vegas. A great view, great service, great company, and most importantly – great food – definitely a meal worth a day away from Bouchon’s breakfast/brunch.

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