Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bouchon Bistro (4) and Jean Philippe at Aria, Las Vegas NV

There are very few restaurants I feel compelled to return to again and again – the ones I do are genuinely mind blowing (Alinea,) cheap and kitschy (Griddle Café,) or…well, Bouchon Las Vegas. Open for breakfast, brunch, and dinner I’d been to Chef Keller’s Vegas Bistro on each of my previous three visits to Las Vegas and the opportunity to eat Christmas Brunch there with the three most important people in my life was simply too perfect and obvious a choice to pass up. Having contacted the restaurant to be sure they’d be open on Christmas I was informed that they were indeed open but not taking reservations as is their Saturday Brunch policy – I was also told there would be “holiday themed” specials available.

Waking early to be sure we’d arrive plenty early I have to admit I was a tad surprised when we were the first people in line at 7:45am, though we’d quickly be joined by twenty or so others before the doors opened with a pleasant Merry Christmas from the staff at exactly 8am. Checking in at the hostess stand we were quickly whisked away to a great four-top near the windows overlooking the pools at the center of the Venezia tower and presented with menus. With water poured the next person to visit our table would be our server, a pleasant young woman named Arlene who would live up to Bouchon’s customary service – interested and forthcoming, knowledgable and efficient. Describing the chalkboard specials (no “holiday themed” options to be found) and taking drink orders we were left to ponder our choices.

With the same menu as my previous visit plus the chalkboard specials I decided to venture onto the chalkboard while my family opted for Chef Keller and team’s more traditional breakfast/brunch fare on this seminal visit. With two coffees, a tea, and orange juice served and refilled consistently (save for the orange juice) by the ever circling bussers we sat for mere moments before the ever-welcomed epi-baguette would arrive, this time with that same lovely butter and apricot preserves.

Starting the meal proper and finally dining at Bouchon’s brunch with a group I was this time able to order the pastry basket I’d previously held off on for fear that it would go to waste. With four options to the basket plus one included with my aunt’s Breakfast Americane the basket would actually be a silver platter with a blue cloth. Featuring a cream cheese Danish, Pecan Sticky Bun, Orange Currant Scone, Chocolate Almond Croissant, and two Raspberry Beignets each taste was everything I’ve come to expect from Bouchon bakery and both the Cheese Danish and Orange Currant Scone were truly remarkable given the fact that I generally would not have ordered them at other restaurants. Rumor has it that Keller is working on a Bouchon Bakery cookbook and this experience once again made me hope the rumors are true.

Having already mentioned my aunt’s selection I’ll note it was certainly the bargain of the menu – two eggs buttery and medium scrambled, two slices of bacon, two pieces of impeccable sage accented sausage, toasted sourdough, the previously mentioned Danish, coffee, and orange juice for $22.

For my mother the choice would be a dish familiar to myself from two years prior; the bread pudding style French toast. This time using D’anjou pears as opposed to the Bartletts from my visit but again with lovely layers of custard interspersed with cinnamon spiked compote of fruit between each layer there really isn’t much that can be said about this dish that hasn’t been praised before – a touch of maple syrup, a dust of confectioner’s sugar to finish a truly decadent breakfast. To temper the sweetness she also ordered a side of bacon – 7 thick strips of apple wood smoked Kurobuta pork for a mere $5.

For my sister, still feeling the effects of the gluttony at Picasso the night before, something light was desired and the decision was made to sample Keller’s Waffle recipe. Spiked with vanilla and so crispy on the exterior that I’d not be surprised if cornmeal was involved, the interior of the waffle was supple and spongy – textbook. Topped with fresh bananas and chopped walnuts at a cost of $12 I can’t say this was a cheap waffle, but all things considering it was light, tasty, and unfaultable.

My breakfast selection would be from the chalkboard – it would also be the most expensive option of the day but also thankfully the best. Described merely as Oeuf du jour with Crab and Macaroni Gratin the dish itself would be served in a steaming hot low-ramekin. Featuring tender macaroni intermingling with plump chunks of crab, gruyere, breadcrumbs, and butter at its base the dish was subsequently topped with two medium scrambled eggs and sauce Mornay with paprika and chives. Creamy yet textural, slightly briny but sweet, and buttery beyond anything I’ve had in recent memory the dish was perhaps the best savory I’ve ever had for breakfast and the golden brioche served alongside harkened memories of Per Se and The French Laundry, even if the Apricot Jam wasn’t quite as good as the Foie Gras I was spreading in those settings.

With plates cleaned our bussers would clear the table rapidly and Arlene would return with the check – no offer of dessert, just a “No Rush – Merry Christmas and thanks for having brunch with us today” as she handed us the check in a glass cup. A tad annoyed at the lack of promised “holiday themed” specials we settled the tab and made our way to the door by 9:05 – a mere hour after we entered. With the lounge full and a growing line outside we made our way down the hall, out of the Venezia Tower, and back to our room. While certainly a good meal with great company this visit to Bouchon was a letdown largely due to heightened expectations. While there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll find my way back to Keller’s growing list of tables frequently over the coming years I now realize that on a day like Christmas there simply is no place as special as home, even if you are with all the people you love.

Exchanging our humorous Christmas gag-gifts and packing our bags for the Christmas flight home we next checked out of our hotel and left our bags in the rental car while we decided to finish our vacation with some gaming, coffee, and dessert in the early afternoon at Aria. Having already browsed the newest Jean-Philippe boutique multiple times during our visit and having tried the original at Bellagio in the past we were thrilled to note that as opposed to Bouchon, Jean Philippe was fully embracing the holiday theme.

Having experienced the Nutella gelato and Tiramisu on past visits to Jean Philippe at the Bellagio I personally was wowed by the vastness of the new shop’s selection – from cookies to candies to confections and ice cream everything looked excellent and given the length of the line we were given plenty of time to decide. With the space at Aria including a dining area in addition to the vast shop my mother and sister made their suggestions and went to wait out a table – a successful bid that would land us a four-top overlooking the gaming floor only moments before we paid our bill.

Browsing the selection and deciding on a dessert each, plus an enormous chocolate covered strawberry and a coffee the items were plated on clear plastic trays with the Chef’s signature logo – a nice touch softening the blow of a $38 tab. Splitting each item into fourths in order to design a miniature dessert tasting our selections would be a “gift wrapped” Carrot cake, a Nutella Brioche, a Snowman Tiramisu, and a Chocolate Bouche de Noel.

With each item a stunning example of Jean Philippe and team’s handiwork I still think this is one of the best Tiramisu dishes to ever grace my palate and the Bouche was vastly superior to that at Bouchon Bakery just days before. With the Carrot Cake loaded with a citrus toned cream cheese, raisins, and plenty of texture and the Nutella Brioche featuring the texture of a Croissant with easily two tablespoons of the Hazelnut filling within everything was divine, especially when paired with the subtly chocolate toned coffee. A sweet ending to a wonderful trip – and my first Merry Christmas outside of the Buckeye State.

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