Saturday, December 18, 2010

MoZen Bistro, Las Vegas NV

While I will fully admit that I could eat breakfast at Bouchon every single day I am in Vegas I am also very fond of trying new places and therefore limit my repeats as much as possible. Having already made reservations at Twist for dinner on my second night in Vegas through a lovely reservationist named Megan Lundwall asked me if I’d heard of MoZen. Informing her that I had indeed heard good things she strongly suggested the Sunday brunch but with my family coming into town Saturday afternoon I deferred and instead opted for Saturday Breakfast…it wasn’t a hard sell for Megan as the menu looked divine for breakfast and brunch both.

Arriving early at The Mandarin Oriental for my 7am reservation I first had to navigate the space between Crystals/Aria/Mandarin Oriental. While the Claes Oldenburg piece is certainly interesting and well placed, the directions to the Mandarin front door are not. A walk, a 2 foot elevator ride (couldn’t find the stairs,) more stairs, a doorman, and finally an elevator to the 23rd floor eventually found me standing at the hostess podium where I was greeted pleasantly by a pair of young Asian women – one of whom would end up being my server, Kristy.
Offered a free Newspaper (Times, Journal, or USA Today) I opted for the Times and was led to a comfortable seat near the window. With soft wood tones and plenty of natural light throughout the room and a mild ambient soundtrack playing overhead I’ll note that the restaurant was largely empty with only three other couples dining during my 90 minute breakfast. With that noted, Kristy was an exemplary server and beverages remained full with her checking in on me frequently, asking about where I was from, and making small talk without being invasive at all.
Browsing the menu I’ll note that the prices at MoZen are not at all cheap – but the quality service, room, sourcing, and preparation are worth the cost. With orders placed my coffee was filled (Illy) and I browsed the provided selection of Staud’s honey and jam while waiting. To start my meal I was offered an amuse from the kitchen – a yuzu infused grapefruit “elixir” that was intensely tart but surprisingly sweet - a great way to awaken the palate, though not particularly a great match for the coffee.
For my first course (yes, I ordered two breakfasts since I couldn’t decide on one) I opted for the Croque Madame featuring grilled sourdough, Serrano ham, Gruy√®re cheese, sunny-side up eggs and gratin of Mornay. Served with grilled vegetables and a side of apple wood smoked Kurobuta pork bacon, the Croque was excellent, albeit somewhat small and underfilled compared to that at Comme Ca, Bouchon, Morels, or Fleur. Flawless eggs topping smooth and delicate ham, the sourdough itself was nicely toasted and the cheese/Mornay combination proved a mellow foil to the salty ham – all told a solid Croque, but probably not justifying the $19 price tag.
With at least my third refill of coffee (I lost track, but at $7 I figured I’d drink to my heart’s content) poured it was only a matter or 15 minutes reading about the Islander’s woeful season before my second dish would arrive – this time Walnut-Banana Bread French Toast. Featuring “thickly sliced warm banana and walnut bread, lightly battered and pan-fried with whipped cream and Vermont maple syrup” this was one of those dishes that tasted every bit as good as it sounded. While I generally prefer my French Toast in the custard style, using a hearty bread like Banana Walnut in this case allowed a crispy caramelized exterior while the bread itself maintained its characteristic pastry-like consistency. Topped with warm and bubbly fresh syrup and creamy whipped butter (no whipped cream as noted on the menu) the taste and texture of dish was closer to dessert than breakfast and the flavors went very nicely with the coffee. A hearty portion at $18 the price was still high, but I’d definitely order this one again on a return visit.

Finishing the French Toast Kristy asked if the chef could send out one last taste and I agreed without question. While I cannot recall the official name, the item I received was delivered by the chef himself and described as a warm “donut.” Essentially a pate a choux similar to a large gougere but stuffed with warm vanilla custard the pastry itself literally melted in the mouth leaving behind a warm splash of creamy vanilla – while not exactly a donut, if it were a donut it’d be the best I’ve ever had.

Settling the hefty bill (about the same price as their Sunday brunch after tax and tip) I will note that Mozen was the most expensive solo breakfast I’ve ever attended, but at the same time it really is not out of line with what one would pay at Bouchon or Tableau and the food was just as good while the service was actually superior…and all three are equally tricky to locate. Packing me up a cup of coffee and two extra “donuts” (no charge) to go I thanked Kristy and the woman at the reservations desk for a lovely meal and got lost, again, en route to the lobby. Next time I’m in Vegas I’m heading back to MoZen for the brunch – assuming I can find it. For now I’ll just call it a hidden gem and hope that others discover it for themselves.

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