Wouldn’t it make more sense if Bouchon was in the Paris hotel rather than the Venetian? I think so. I suppose, though, that each hotel has to have a multitude of ethnic restaurants in order to keep the guest from actually leaving the hotel/casino in which they are staying. Anyway, we attended a private dinner party at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (in the Venetian) this past weekend.
Sometimes it’s nice not to have too many options when dining out. You know, like when you’re attending someone else’s event and they’ve already chosen a limited menu for the guests (including yourself) to make a selection from? That way you can just focus on the others who are dining with you rather than salivating over every detail of the entire menu, going back and forth, trying to come up with the best possible way to taste as much as possible without stuffing yourself like a goose. Ok, I’m totally lying. I’d much rather scour the menu, up and down, imagining combinations of courses and anticipating what the real thing will bring compared to the vision in my head. I mean, cummon! That’s almost the best part! I love reading menus! I even love reading them with no intention of eating.
But that’s not what I got to do this time. Sigh. Oh well. I guess I’ll tell you about it anyway:).
First was the 2-tiered cold shellfish platter; wonderfully clean and light and fresh. Nothin’ fancy but neither was the rest of the meal, intentionally. Chilled steamed lobster, crab, prawns, mussels and clams as well as raw oysters rested on a bed of those cute, little mini ice cubes with a couple of sauces on the side for accompaniment. It was good and honest and unadulterated. That’s Bouchon’s style. Once I read somewhere that Keller opened Bouchon (the one in Napa, of course) so that he’d have somewhere to eat after being at the French Laundry all night. It’s kind of a funny statement but one can only eat so much fancy food before they crave something uncomplicated and comforting. And our meal at Bouchon was a true expression of that.
Along with the seafood was a plate of charcuterie which I found quite plain. Just a few slices of barely differentiable salumi with some cornichons, pickled onions and dijon. The little jars of salmon rillettes was a nice addition which is why I didn’t understand the reason that they were hardly touched. People are afraid of unfamiliar things, I guess. Most Americans would rather just have the salami. I’m sure someone in the kitchen was annoyed when the servers re-entered with 3/4-full jars of deliciousness to be tossed directly into the garbage. I know I would be.
Then came our chosen appetizer course. My dining partner-in-crime and I ordered both options, of course. I won. Actually, the cauliflower veloute may have been my favorite thing on the table all night long. It was ugly as hell, which you can see from the picture below, but very flavorful. To account for its unappetizing color and depth of flavor, I assume that the cauliflower was roasted before being made into a soup since the server informed me that there was, in fact, no chicken stock in it. Its green olive tapanade garnish lent a salty brightness to the smooth, mouth-coating veloute. We both thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the other recipients of it at the table.
Beet salad was our second appetizer and we both agreed that it needed help. For me, it was just (naturally) overly sweet and could have benefitted from a salt or acid component (or more of what was already there). The strategically composed bites of sweet beet, bright orange, toasty hazelnut and salty frisee were the best. But the complimentary components were gone long before their protagonist, leaving us with a big pile of beets and nothing to eat them with.
Now, please don’t hold my entree order against me. It is a very rare occasion that I find it appropriate to order chicken. For the most part, I shake my head in disappointment at the chicken orderers of the world. But that’s because it is most often their safety net. And if there is ever a time to order a half of a roasted chicken, I thought it would be at Bouchon where I was hoping to be delighted with browned, crispy skin and tender, juicy meat. And it was almost there. Nicely browned but not as juicy as I’d hoped. Keller is a big believer in brining so I was expecting ridiculously juicy meat. But it wasn’t. Better were the roasted oyster and shiitake mushrooms with fresh (yes, fresh) peas that my bird sat atop. And I couldn’t help but butter a thick-crusted baguette and let it rest in the plate’s deep, rich sauce before devouring it. I was very happy with that part.
The lamb loin was fine. Nothing to write home about. A perfect medium rare but not juicy which leads my to believe they used one of those temperature holding ovens. I guess you can’t expect them to sear off 15 orders of meat at once for a private party. It was served simply with turnips and carrots (meh) and a delicious, eggy, almost quiche-like, chard-specked slab that I was not familiar with but would like to be. I polished it off without a second thought.
And can you believe that I gave up dessert for lent?! I didn’t even taste one of the simple but delicious looking spread they set out before us. There was a custard of sorts, chocolate cake, lemon tart, cream filled bignets (which the table seemed to think took the cake- pun intended) among others. They looked quite lovely but that’s as much as I can say about it. Disappointing, no?
I’m sure that both the ambiance and the service are better in the main dining room than in the private room. It’s just that way. The main dining is as one would imagine a Parisian bistro to be. Charming and quaint-ish (it is Vegas, after all). The service was a bit a awkward and stand off-ish which I understand considering the circumstances. Overall, it was a an enjoyable experience with well prepared, simple bistro fare and nice company.
The short version (out of 10)…
Ambiance: 9 (I’m rating main dining room… I would have like to sit there.)
Hmmmm…. Probably not considering how infrequently I get to dine in Vegas or Napa and how many other restaurant experiences there are to be had. But that doesn’t mean that the food or our experience was bad. In fact, it hit its mark. Let’s just say that I would return if this restaurant was in my city and I didn’t have to give up another dining experience for it.