Saturday, April 25, 2009

Eating Las Vegas

I just got back from four days in Vegas. I don't gamble, drink excessively or pay for sex. So yes, I too wondered why I should go to Vegas.

Turns out, you can have a unique experience no matter what your reason for going. Mine turned out to be food.

I must be the last person in the world to figure out that there is a heavyweight panel of fine dining restaurants in Vegas. I've always associated Vegas with buffets and 99 cent shrimp cocktails, but with that amount of money flowing through the desert you can bet there are fine dining restaurants to soak it up.

We stayed at the MGM Grand so first up on my list was Joel Robuchon. It has three Michelin stars...his only North American restaurant with that kind of pedigree. And if the website is to be believed, his only one ever. Sadly, that remained a pipe dream with a six-course tasting menu starting at $250. Next.

Luckily there is also L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon right next door. And I say next door even though what I mean is their entrances are inside...facing all the slot machines. L'Atelier has its own Michelin other words, no 99 cent shrimp cocktails here. But I figured I better make the most of Vegas. Since I wasn't going to indulge in any of the other "finer" things the city has to offer (read: paying for sex and leaving a trail of watery vomit back to your room) I might as well spend it here.

Service at this restaurant is unique. Most people sit at a counter, facing the kitchen so you can watch everything being prepared. I hate sitting at counters (I'd rather face the person I came to eat with, unless it's a deli or something) but I love watching what's happening in the kitchen. Subsequently the kitchen, the cooks and everything else was tailored to an audience. Everything was black with red trim. I didn't notice any reaming out of the cooks by the chef during this meal, although I've subsequently been told that some chefs will purposely do this to keep diners entertained. Maybe I was just enjoying my food too much.

I do have to say I'm not a fan of the over-the-counter service. Part of it is that it's a departure from the traditional. But also the servers were having a difficult time reaching over the various accoutrements just to serve the food. I'm surprised that after this amount of time they still haven't perfected this.

I did something out of character during this meal. I took photos of all the courses. I hate doing that because I feel extra touristy and frankly, in a restaurant like that, I feel tacky. But boy, was that fear put to rest.

Before I go onto the food, I have to write about this one couple. They were sitting a couple seats down from us at the counter. I was immediately drawn to this woman's purse, which had a large clock built into it. If Flavor Flav was a woman, he'd carry this purse. They were dressed like the typical tourist (unflattering khaki shorts). Clearly they'd been to the restaurant before because the chef and sommelier were all over them. Obviously these people had money that their clothing did not reflect.

Anyway, after a while I looked over and noticed something weird about their wine. Then I watched in horror as they proceeded to scoop ice out of their water glasses and put it into their wine. With their hands.


I still don't have the words to describe my reaction to this. It's more like a series of sputtering noises with accompanying uplifted hand gestures. Why??? These people were spending hundreds on their wine. If you come up with an answer, please let me know.

Anyway, after seeing that, I felt much better about our photos. No, we didn't use a flash. I know that bothers other diners and anyway it wasn't necessary.

We had their tasting menu. The descriptions come from their own website.

Amuse bouche: Foie gras parfait with port wine and parmesan foam. Fantastic. The parmesan foam in particular was very familiar to me, so it was like a taste of home.

Smoked salmon in an herb gelée with a light wasabi cream

Poached baby Kusshi oysters with French « Echiré » butter. Notice a couple are already eaten. We almost forgot to take the picture. The oysters are from BC. Another taste of home.

Maine lobster in a tomato sauce and green asparagus. This was the most oustanding dish I had. It was just perfect.

Foie gras ravioli in a warm chicken broth with herbs. I was really looking forward to this one but I have to say, it wasn't all that I'd hoped. You pretty much had to eat the ravioli naked to taste them.

Dover Sole with a warm leek salad and crispy potato

Lamb shoulder comfit, fava bean stew . We split this one because you had a choice between the lamb and...

Foie gras stuffed free-range quail with truffled-mashed potatoes. They were both wonderful.

Pineapple infusion, Tahitian cheesecake.

This was the only thing we had that doesn't appear to be on their website. Dammit. I know that because this sure as hell wasn't Light coffee cream served with coconut milk and lemon from Corsica. What I remember was that it was a strawberry meringue with some kind of ice cream. It was so light and refreshing. I'm pissed I didn't write this down somewhere. But it's not like I was taking notes.

This is already the longest blog posting I've ever done so I don't want to drag it out more. But I know you want to much was the bill? I hate admitting it even to myself. After wine and taxes...for came up to just over $700 Canadian. Was it worth it? I honestly treasure every food experience I have, and this one is going to give me something to digest for years. It didn't give me a gambling addiction or an STD. If anything, it's given me something to write about.