Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pinot Brasserie, Las Vegas NV

Managed by the Patina Restaurant Group and a team including former Beard Award winning Chef Joachim Splichal, Pinot Brasserie at the Venetian offers a unique look at the French Brasserie in a setting that isn't quite the same as all of the rest of the Patina group - a casino rather than a "cultural center" such as a museum or opera. Having read mixed reviews but originally planning on a lunch with a friend who wanted to check the place out I'd originally made reservations for two which had to be augmented for one when plans changed - no problem I was assured, and when I additionally inquired if items from the dinner menu could be prepared at lunch I was assured that this too was not a problem.

Arriving early for my 12:30 reservation I was told I could take a seat inside while my table was prepared. Sitting down in the bar area I was instantly glad I'd made a reservation - possibly the busiest restaurant I saw during my whole trip to Vegas the average wait for a party of 2 was 30 minutes! After approximately 5 minutes I was led to my table - a small two-top at the edge of the main dining room and thankfully somewhat isolated by the intensely loud interior of the restaurant - and handed a menu. Greeted by my seemingly overworked server I was asked if I wanted wine and when I declined she simply disappeared for approximately ten minutes, a theme of absence that would recur frequently during the meal.

Eventually returning to take my order and fill my water glass I had spent plenty of time browsing the unique Cali-French cuisine of Chef Eric Lhuillier and when I asked regarding the foie gras on the dinner menu I was told that the chef would be glad to prepare it - placing my orders I was left to wait - again for an excessive amount of time (nearly 30 minutes without a sign of my server.) Thankfully in my server's absence another young man took the onus to attend to my water glass while another well dressed server brought me a couple of fantastic dinner rolls. Served with small chunks of cold and unsalted butter the rolls were served piping hot from the oven and had a great ratio of crusty salted exterior to soft and airy interior - they were actually so buttery sweet that adding the table butter was entirely unnecessary. Being sure not to overfill like the prior day I limited myself to only two pieces of bread and plenty of water while I waited - I really don't think one can drink enough water in Vegas, at least I can't.

Arriving literally after the table across from myself had ordered, eaten, paid and departed, my first dish was indeed my special request from the dinner menu - and while there was nothing special about the service at this meal, the dish continued a theme of quite exceptional food that was started by the rolls. Described as "Chaud froid of seared foie gras – Pickled pineapple and heirloom radishes" the dish was actually presented as a large pile of artisan greens and shredded radishes with great snap and pieces of duck confit intermixed over the top of two medium sized lobes of warm seared foie atop a chunk of incredibly tart yet savory pineapple. While clearly following a formula of balancing the unctuous foie with the sweet components of fruit and adding greens for texture I actually loved this preparation for the pickled pineapple and the manner in which the acid mingled with the foie. The foie itself, while good, notably did have a couple of small veins that clearly would not have "made the cut" at a higher end restaurant - regardless, for an item not regularly prepared at lunch it was quite nice.

Finishing my foie the plate was left on the table for some time (the table across from me still sat uncleaned as well) before my main course arrived - and even after delivery of my dish the empty plate remained. Service issues aside, the food once again impressed - this time a classic Croque Monsieur served with crispy garlic frites and a small salad with oil and vinegar. Not usually a fan of fries I will say these were superb - the best I'd had since those at Bouchon with their Croque, actually. Served with gruyere and crème fraiche as opposed to the more traditional Mornay or Bechamel sauce I have to admit I liked the "tang" from the creme and the combination of the buttery brioche, savory cheese, and well prepared ham made for an excellent sandwich - not as good as some, but vastly better than others - and something "different" than the norm.

Happy with the food thus far I knew dessert was a must - it was just a matter of deciding on one. With balsamic strawberries, apple tart tatin, and souffle there were so many options - but clearly the bread pudding stated to be Chef Splichal's signature was the obvious choice. Beginning with a buttery and rich croissant the dish was bound with a thick vanilla custard and studded with rich chunks of dark chocolate forming pockets within the admixture. Delicious on its own the square of cake-like pudding was topped with a sweet strawberry and accompanied by a small vessel of buttery bourbon creme that only served to enhance the sweetness of the dish while accenting the subtle notes of the chocolate and vanilla expertly. While not as "fancy" as a souffle, definitely a worthy "signature" dessert and a reason enough alone to visit Pinot for lunch or dinner - or just dessert.

Finishing another glass of water I paid the bill - nearly $50 for lunch largely due to the foie - and left a modest tip with a small note stating I hoped this tip would go to the water/bread guy as the service was sub-par otherwise. While I fully admit that I'm a bit choosy when it comes to my service there is nothing worse than a chef's vision being compromised by the front of the house - it is like someone hanging a great painting in a dimly lit hallway or listening to a great song on laptop speakers. While the food wasn't as amazing as many places in Vegas and the service could certainly stand to take some lessons from Keller's team at Bouchon I'd definitely consider a return visit in the future to try some of the other desserts and dinner options...if there weren't so many other top notch options in Vegas.

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