In September of 2008 I had reservations for dinner at Guy Savoy. At the time the menu seemed extravagant and the restaurant appeared to be a perfect way to cap off a great visit to Las Vegas – unfortunately some last minute changes in plans regarding my dining companions took us to MiX – admittedly a great meal in and of itself. Having talked with the wonderful customer service people at Savoy back then I promised them (and myself) that I’d not miss experience on my next trip to Vegas and as such the restaurant was #1 on my list for Vegas 2009. Calling and E-mailing ahead once again in 2009 and actually speaking to both the reservationists and Franck Savoy himself I made them aware of my dietary preferences (essentially, no steak/veal) and was told that it wouldn’t be a problem – and that they had my e-mail from last year and were looking forward to welcoming me.
Having dined at The Mansion the night before and getting excessively full I made sure to space my meals well on the day of my Guy Savoy experience. More acclimated to the weather and time-zone change on day two of my visit I opted for a nap after lunch and felt like a million dollars on my way to Caesars from the Venetian. Arriving approximately 15 minutes early at The Palace I made my way to the Augustus Tower and took some pictures before entering the restaurant – doors held open for me by a pair of young ladies and greeted – literally – by Mr. Savoy, a bright smile, and a “Doctor Uzmann I presume?” Somewhat taken aback by such a warm greeting I confirmed my name and shook the managers hand before being escorted to my table in the main dining room. Arriving at 7:30pm I was surprised that the restaurant only had four full tables – thankfully it filled up relatively quickly around 8:00 and while the well space tables allowed plenty of privacy, the room simply felt more “alive” with more people present.
Having already confirmed my Menu-Prestige via E-mail I was presented with a copy of my menu for the evening by my captain (to follow along) and Mr. Savoy returned to chat about everything from his time visiting the Flagship Guy Savoy in Paris to his father’s training all across France and the manner in which the front doors of this location mirror those of the original to my personal interests in food and how the American mindset of “dining” differs from that of Europe. The conversation ended with Mr. Savoy assuring me that the Vegas location was better than the one in Paris – “but don’t tell my father I said that.”
Browsing around the heavy feeling room I had to chuckle at Marie Osmond smiling across the side of Harrah’s (visible through the large windows of the former “smoking lounge” while the large window to the right proudly displayed a view of the Eiffel Tower at Paris across the street. Adding levity to the heavy dark woods and eggshell walls were multiple pieces of splashy contemporary art – my server suggesting that my bright pink shirt matched the room well – displayed in unique placings throughout the restaurant. Where Robuchon seemed to border on ostentatious, Savoy’s look was sleek and minimalist – MoMA compared to Robuchon’s Met. Standing up later to visit the restroom I also checked out the Bubble Bar and Krug Room – equally modern and refined – but slightly more edgy than the main room.
With my menu presented and myself settled in for a great experience the meal began with a pair of Canapes – both signature trademarks of Guy Savoy’s restaurant both here and overseas. The first dish, entitled “French club” consisted of alternating layers of duck foie gras, truffles, and brioche – now that is how you start a meal. No bigger than the distal part of my thumb the dish was excellent with the buttery bread and earthy truffle providing the first flavor and fragrance but later giving way to the intensely creamy foie gras that lingered on the palate it its signature manner. Without trying to sound too gluttonous I could’ve (and would’ve) eaten at least 50 of these given the chance.
The second canape was not “the norm” for me – but just like previous years I made it my Vegas resolution to try at least one piece of cow flesh. Entitled “French Burger” the second canape was described as a piece of Wagyu tartar with Parmesan Cheese served on a brioche bun. Intensely beefy but literally “melt-in-the-mouth” tender I have to say that this was an excellent canape that didn’t turn me off in the way beef and burgers normally do. As small as the club yet with plenty of nuance and intensity – I’d eat beef more often if it tasted like this.
The final Canape, brought with a large plate of savory heirloom tomato forcaccia (and both a salted and unsalted cow’s butter – both of which were grassy and sweet) was a single soft gruyere breadstick that was similar to Keller’s gougere in taste but a more like a shrimp-chip in texture. (humorously, at a table across the way an elderly gentleman dining with friends – and clearly not accustom to fine dining – asked aloud what these “extras are all about?” This same individual later refused the mignardise cart. Poor fellow.)
Following my canapes was my amuse bouche – chopped celery and turnip topped tableside with a cold Vichyssoise (potato and leek) Soup. On the pedestal – an admixture of 5 spices that I was instructed to brush into the soup before drinking as a shot. Lifting the cup and pouring the fluid into my mouth I was first struck by the heartiness of the concoction – thick and oniony with a bitter finish. After a few moments the flavors of the spices peaked through – notably fennel and coriander, plus possibly thyme. Beneath the cup and revealed only when lifting to drink, a salmon belly and daikon roll with basil gelee – smooth and creamy fish, crispy daikon, potent basil – wonderful.
Following collection of my amuse plate I was next presented the famous bread cart. Featuring nearly twenty varieties on this particular evening, the majority of which were baked by the kitchen staff of Guy Savoy in a special section of the Caesar’s kitchen and cut tableside I was told I could select pieces individually or choose to eat them as a “Bread pairing.” Opting for the pairing plus a few additional selections during the meal I have to admit that all of the breads were solid and I actually understood the pairings, but the cart, the breads, and the fact that they were served warm at Robuchon impressed me more than Savoy’s options.
Kicking off the official portion of the tasting menu I was brought a dish entitled Mosaic of Milk Fed Poularde, Foie Gras, Artichoke with Black Truffle Jus (Bread pairing Toasted Country Bread.) Featuring layers of pounded and roasted chicken that was on par with the version at The French Laundy interspersed with creamy and unctuous moularde duck foie gras and a pureed artichoke the dish was one of the best mixed terrines I’ve ever tasted with the creamy foie, savory chicken, and smooth artichoke each standing separate yet also blending effortlessly to form a uniform taste that somewhat resembled mushroom – all of this was of course brought to an even more potent effect by the addition of a salty and earthy jus that tasted like the very essence of a black truffle and clung to the palate. Pairing well with the warmed bread I spread each bite thin and savored this dish a great deal.
Dish number two was named Marinated Lobster, Salad and Gelée of Summer Herbs (Bread pairing was Sea Weed Forcaccia with an additional request of the Bacon Milk Bread on the side.) Featuring a well prepared and tender yet snappy piece of crustacean served over a tarragon and fennel gelee the dish was topped tableside with a calamari and lobster coral tapioca. Completing the plate was a small salad of haricot vert and peas on each side of the lobster. While the lobster was excellent the dish was highlighted for myself by the sublime seafood tapioca that lent a savory brine to the sweet lobster and the utilization of the tapioca pearls added a “gummy” texture that was totally unexpected yet oddly appealing. To complete the dish the well poached vegetables had plenty of crispiness and their cold temperature added additional contrast. Somewhat boring compared to the incredible nori forcaccia at Providence I elected not to eat too much of the paired bread and opted instead for the milk bread that was absolutely stuffed with warm and savory cheek bacon – pairing or not, this bread was wonderful.
Extremely happy with the meal thus far I was next greeted by one of Monsieur Savoy’s most famous dishes – the Colors of Caviar (Bread pairing Plain Ciabatta.) A multilayered “parfait” of sorts this dish was described at length but essentially consisted of multiple layers of caviar – a chilled caviar creme, a hot egg caviar sabayon, a caviar gelee, a smooth and salty green bean puree, and a thick layer of cool Ossetra egg – eaten with a mother of pearl spoon. Instructed to eat bites of each layer all at once I dug into the dish slowly and let the amalgam dissolve slowly in my mouth; unreal. While I cannot say what the exact overarching flavor of the dish was, the feel of the dish was tremendous with a progression of flavors, textures, temperatures, and densities – a true “study” of the food. Interestingly because of its presentation each bite actually offered a different sensation and progression due to the way the concoction came out on the spoon. At $90 (off menu price) this is the most expensive single dish I’ve ever tasted and had it not been on the menu I’d likely not have indulged – but I’m certainly glad I did. The bread served with this dish was clearly meant to do nothing but allow the caviar to shine – a plain and boring ciabatta that I tasted and discarded the rest of.
Next up on the tour, another Savoy classic - Crispy Sea Bass with Delicate Spices (Bread pairing Lemon Bread.) Featuring a relatively large slice of delicate sea bass cooked skin-down at high temperatures to cook the skin yet barely kiss the bass and then topped with ginger-vanilla fish stock and paired with chard, baby shiitakes, and a blend of rare peppers, fennel, and saffron. Even at a distance – 2-3 feet away – the smell of this dish was absolutely overwhelming with the heavy vanilla barely allowing the delicate fish to peak through. On first bite the essence was that of the vanilla but amazingly this taste melted away on mastication giving rise to the sweet yet delicate flesh and crispy briny skin followed by a lingering palate sensation of pepper and saffron. Further tastes pairing the fish and stock with the chard and mushrooms provided further taste adventures as the bitter chard accented the brine of the skin while the mushrooms added an earthy component that dulled the vanilla and pulled forth more of the spices – particularly fennel. For the second dish in a row the bread went largely untouched as I felt the sour lemon peel detracted too much from the sweetness of the fish – a sweetness I found divine.
Diverting from the classics to something I love the next dish was Radis-Foie, or Foie-Gras "en Papillote" and Radish Bouillon (Bread pairing Caramelized Onion Ciabatta.) Having had my first truly amazing cooked Foie a few weeks earlier at Blackbird (a roasted prep) and L2O (first seared then roasted and served in a cotton candy shell) I was very intrigued by this dish and its novel method of preparation – first seared and then cooked not-exactly “en Papillote” or parchment, but rather steamed in sherry vinegar with pink and white radishes in a plastic bag which is presented tableside before being opened up and returned to the kitchen for plating. Shying away from traditional accoutrements like fruit and nuts the kitchen at Guy Savoy instead chooses to temper their foie with bitter as opposed to sweet utilizing the bitter radish leafs and mild yet spicy radishes to further balance the foie’s characteristic unctuous and buttery body. While I personally love the majority of sweet Foie Gras preparations I’ve experienced I have to say this prep was an eye opener for me and a true showing of Guy’s brilliance. Speaking later with the Chef du cuisine during my tour of the kitchen it was actually this dish that garnered the majority of our discussion – apparently the use of bitters and spices to temper the liver is much more commonplace in France and Italy than in the United States due to their larger consumption of the dish and “American’s have a sweet tooth.” While I’ll not argue with my love of sweets I will say that this dish is one of the more standout Foie Gras preps I’ve had – and the buttery yet sweet bread was excellent as well with its crispy exterior yielding a fluffy interior with hints of sweet yet pungent onion. An additional piece of bread, a parmesan pain au lait, was requested with this dish and while it didn’t pair well it was wonderful with its creamy interior displaying heavy hints of cheese while the soft exterior was coated with crispy baked parmesan.
Continuing the hit parade of Savoy Classics the next dish was good and the bread...oh, the bread. Entitled Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup, Toasted Mushroom Brioche, and Black Truffle Butter the dish was the one of the night that actually came with a bread from the kitchen as opposed to the cart. Featuring a soup of artichoke puree that was then topped with shaved Parmesan and sliced black truffle and served with a piping hot piece of mushroom laden brioche topped with truffle butter I was suggested by my server to dunk the bread in the soup – “It is incredible” he said. Before even taking a bite I was impressed by the heavy and succulent aromas of the soup – specifically the blend of earthy truffle perfume and pungent parmesan. Tasting the soup first with a bite of truffle, then with a bite of parmesan I was further impressed by the manner in which the smooth and understated artichoke managed to highlight the other ingredients – almost making the truffle more earthy and the parmesan more savory. Dunking the rich and flaky brioche into the soup I was further rewarded – honestly, the best soup I’ve ever tasted by far.
The final savory of the evening is not nearly as famous as many of Guy Savoy’s signatures – but it may have been my favorite dish of the entire evening. Crispy Veal Sweetbreads, Petite Potato and Black Truffle Sandwiches (Bread pairing 21 grain cereal bread.) Featuring three large, crispy, and creamy sweetbreads sourced from an organic farm in New Jersey the protein was complimented by a combination of small crispy potato sandwiches – two pieces of crispy yukon gold sealed together with foie gras puree – topped with black truffles and a centerpiece of yukon gold and parsnip hashed browns with a core of black truffle puree. Adding further to the flavors of the dish a pan-jus created from the seared sweetbreads and potato sandwiches was poured over the plate and allowed to soak into the hash. A mélange of creamy sweetbreads and crispy potatoes, earthy truffles and buttery hashed browns – wonderful. The bread, an impressive pairing to the dish, tasted somewhat like honey-nut cheerios and the sweetness was a nice foil for the savory plate.
Shortly following the sweetbreads I was brought the cheese cart. Having skipped the cheeses at Robuchon the day prior I would not make the same mistake this time around and although I don’t know tons about cheese I was very impressed by the effort my server took to teach me about the cheeses. Discussing at length and preferring buttery and fruity to nutty or pungent I decided on a triple-cream brie, a smooth organic camembert, a hard sheep’s milk cheese whose name escapes me and an incredible cheese called Morbier that is apparently made from the morning and evening milk from the same cow and divided by a vein of vegetable ash – all four were great choices and provided good variety within the spectrum of my palate. Paired with the cheeses were a raisin-nut bread and a pine-nut cherry bread, both of which were strongly accented with cinnamon and excellent.
The next dish was an intermezzo, palate cleanser, what-have you and it consisted of Strawberry Sorbet, Nectarine Cream, Champagne Jelly, an Apple Chip, and Apple Foam. Tasting like a spiked fruit punch with a plethora of flavors, temperatures, and nuances all melding into a single balanced flavor I have to say this was one of the most intelligent palate cleansers I’ve had in some time – while small it made a beautiful transition from the heavy meats to the creamy cheeses to the sweets.
Kicking off the dessert courses – the only dish on the menu that I had any doubts about when seeing the tasting – was Coconut Six Ways. Featuring fresh/raw coconut paired with a foam, dehydrated chip, baked shredded, coconut milk ice,and cream I have to admit that the multitude of textures and tastes was an interesting study in the fruit – a fruit I unfortunately am not a fan of in general. While tasty and only somewhat sweet I personally found the dish rather bland – I imagine someone who liked coconut would’ve been vastly more impressed.
Served between my first and second dessert was a glass (followed by four more) of Illy medium roast. As delicious as ever I was additionally surprised when my coffee was delivered with what the server described as “coffee mignardises – items that Chef Savoy feels one should always enjoy with a good cup of coffee.” Featuring a splinter of buttery apple tart, a dark cocoa ganache with Apricot, Raisin, almond, and a quarter-sized Pisacchio and Raisin Coffee Cake I have to admit I’ve never seen this part of a service and each item was quite tasty, albeit tiny.
The final proper dish of the meal was the final Savoy signature - Chocolate Fondant with Crunchy Praline and Chicory Cream. Featuring a thick layer of 80% Valrhona chocolate atop a crunchy caramelized pecan “crust” this dish was perhaps 1/2 inch wide and topped with a toasted macadamia nut and chocolate/praline cookie. On the left side of the plate was a small hollowed-out region filled with a delectably thick and creamy coffee/chicory cream that paired beautifully with the cake. Seemingly small I was actually impressed by how ‘heavy’ this dish felt – even paired with coffee. Like most heavy fondant cakes I rather doubt I could’ve eaten too much more than was served – but I’d have loved the opportunity.
Given plenty of time to digest dessert while I watched one table entirely turn down the dessert trolley and another select only two items between six diners I was ready when the cart made it my way – and when the server kept stating the phrase “and what else” after each selection I felt the need to oblige with another selection – eight, er nine in total. While a number of chocolates and candies were indeed available, my attention quickly turned towards the not-so-common items on a mignardise trolley – the cakes and puddings. Items selected included Fromage Blanc and Brown Butter Ice Cream, Praline Rice Pudding, Raspberry and Caramel Macarons, Flan Caramel, a Chocolate Tarte, and Chocolate Mousse. While each item was excellent the selections that truly stuck out for me were the divinely rich chocolate mousse – again Valrhona based, the frozen cheesecake texture of the Fromage Blanc Icecream, the wonderfully refined rice pudding, and particularly the Flan Caramel – essentially a creme brulee sans blowtorch treatment. Interestingly, as I took a bite of my brown butter ice cream it tasted strangely of banana, another of the ice cream flavors. While delicious I playfully noted to my server that I thought he may have given me banana instead of brown butter and despite my assurances that this was fine he disappeared quickly and returned only moments later with a large scoop of brown butter – possibly the best ice cream I’ve had in a restaurant – served on crushed honey tuille.
Stuffed and happy the hostess once again presented to the table to ask me if I’d like a tour of the restaurant and the kitchen. Assenting to this offer I was asked to bring my menu so that I could get the chef’s signature – as well. Taken from room to room first and then back to the kitchen I was amazed at everyone’s extensive knowledge of the room’s architecture and was additionally impressed by the amount of time Chef Bost took to discuss the menu and concepts – unlike Franck Savoy, Chef Bost went out of his way to strongly recommend a visit to the original when in Paris if only to experience the Guinea hen cooked in a pig’s bladder. Obtaining the chef’s signature after about 10 minutes of chat I paid my bill and thanked everyone for a wonderful evening before making my way to the door where I was handed three candies – a Chartruse hard candy, Butter Caramel, Chocolate-chicory nougat.
Walking back to the Venetian from my meal I ruminated on the past 210 minutes and how/why Guy Savoy had not yet received its third Michelin Star. While the food was not as edgy or innovative as that at Joel Robuchon, it was just as good and the ingredients just as exemplary. In addition, the service was every bit as refined and actually much more friendly – more French Laundry or Alinea than Le Bernardin or Charlie Trotter’s while the room was more modern and vastly less stuffy. While I cannot say which experience I liked more (Robuchon vs. Savoy,) I can absolutely say that I was more impressed by Guy Savoy that I was by either Le Bernardin or Jean-Georges, each garnering three-stars and holding onto them for years. From my welcome by Guy’s son Franck to my departure I was made to feel like the most important room at Guy Savoy – a feeling every diner should have at least once in his/her life.