Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Las Vegas (Dining)

We spent four days in Las Vegas at the end of January 2012.

My main motivation for wanting to visit Las Vegas was to try some of its many fabulous and highly rated restaurants.  Las Vegas is a foodie's heaven, filled with multiple Michelin starred restaurants. I searched through hundreds of reviews of restaurants and constantly changed my mind on where we would eat. In the end, we selected the following restaurants:

  • L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (MGM Grand)
  • Le Cirque (Bellagio)
  • Stripsteak (Mandalay Bay)
  • Todd English Olives (Bellagio)
  • Bouchon (Venetian)
  • Fleur (Mandalay Bay)
  • Jean Philippe Patisserie (Bellagio)
Dining in Las Vegas is expensive. We knew that going into our trip, but still ended up spending so much more money than we had originally anticipated. Unfortunately, based on our experiences on the strip, price is usually indicative of the quality of food you will receive. Our two most expensive meals also happened to be two of the best meals of our lives, while the rest were just ok, with one less-expensive standout (Jean Philippe Patisserie).

If you want to dine well in Las Vegas, you will certainly be able to with much research, planning, and a lot of money lining your pocketbook.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon:
This gourmet French restaurant is owned by the famous chef Joel Robuchon and is located in eight different cities around the world, including lucky Las Vegas where it has received a prestigious Michelin star. Although there are a few tables inside the restaurant, the best seats in the house are at the counter, where guests are able to watch the chefs do their thing. The seating inside the restaurant is limited, so reservations are a must especially if you want to be seated at the counter. 
Exterior of L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon inside the MGM Grand.
View from our counter seats at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
The chefs working hard at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

At L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, you have the option of choosing a la carte from their dinner menu or partaking in one of their tasting menus. We ended up selecting the Club Menu which cost $97 per person.
Club Menu from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

After deciding on our menu, I quickly perused the cocktail list and found a non-alcoholic beverage that sounded delicious: La Cour Rouge (pomegranate juice, muddled orange and cherry, strawberry essence, Sprite).
Le Cour Rouge cocktail from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Prior to our food arriving, our server brought us this amazing selection of incredibly delicious bread that tasted as though it came from a bakery in Paris. I was in heaven!
Bread from L'Atelier de Joel Robochon.
This roll was magical.

First up for the evening was the amuse-bouche: Foie Gras Parfait with Port Wine Reduction and Parmesan Cheese Foam. This was an exciting beginning to what would become an amazing meal. The combination of the salty cheese, sweet port wine, and richness of the foie gras melded together so perfectly.
Foie gras parfait with port wine reduction and parmesan cheese at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Up next was the very delicious Mussels and Mimolette Veloute with Saffron Croutons. This soup, combined with the crispy saffron croutons was crazy good. The croutons, specifically though, were so intensely flavorful; we both could not comprehend how delicious these things were. If you are a fan of saffron, you will be a happy little camper!
Mussels and mimolette veloute with saffron croutons from L'Atelir de Joel Robuchon.
The amazing saffron croutons from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Our server then brought us the Crispy Langoustine Fritter with Basil Pesto. Neither of us had ever actually tried langoustine prior, and our server described the taste as a cross between a shrimp and lobster. Our first introduction to langoustine was quite a happy one. It paired wonderfully with the basil pesto and we savored every single bite.
Crispy langoustine fritter with basil pesto from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Finally, it was time for our main entree. We both ended up selecting the Beef Cheek Burgundian Style. Although it didn't state it on the menu, all of the main entrees come with a side of the very famous Pommes Puree (mashed potatoes), one of the restaurants signature dishes. The beef was incredibly moist and tender; barely touching it with our fork and knife would result in pieces flaking off. 
Beef cheek burgundian style from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

However, the real star of the evening were the mashed potatoes which were literally one of the most delicious and amazing things that have ever been placed into my mouth. Apparently the recipe uses an even butter to potato ratio and the butter is imported from a specific area in France, which gives it its distinct flavor. If you visit this restaurant and do not order the potatoes, you are doing yourself a huge injustice. 
Mashed potatoes from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Our main entrees were followed by a Selection of Cheeses. Unfortunately we were both already feeling a bit full by this point but did manage to make a dent in some of the cheese.
Selection of cheese from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Lastly, our desserts came out. We ordered both the Traditional Tarts and Ice Cream and Sorbet.
Ice cream and sorbet from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

The ice creams and sorbets were absolutely fantastic. Below I have listed the flavors we tried and Shyawn's verbal reactions to them:

  • Raspberry (common flavor, but good)
  • Passion fruit (he laughed at how insanely delicious it tasted, and then called it an intense flavor explosion)
  • Honey (tremendous)
  • Pistachio (amazing) 
  • Malibu (tropical vacation in your mouth)
After tasting the sorbets myself, I agreed with his evaluations. They were definitely the best frozen treats I had ever consumed in my life. The flavors were all very powerful and intense.
Ice cream and sorbet from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

The tarts were just as amazing as the sorbets. From left to right, we were served the following flavors: lemon, chocolate ganache, raspberry, caramel chocolate peanut, and swiss cream cinnamon. The lemon and chocolate ganache were my personal favorites.
Traditional tarts from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

All in all, we had an absolutely fantastic meal at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Every single dish we ate was of extremely high quality and incredibly delicious. It will go down as one of the most memorable meals of our life.

Le Cirque:
This French restaurant, owned by Sirio Maccioni and located inside the Bellagio, has received both the AAA Five Diamond Award and a Michelin star. We had tickets one of our evenings in Las Vegas for Cirque du Soleil's O at the Bellagio, so I wanted to select a restaurant within the hotel to eat at for dinner prior to the show. After perusing the menus on each of the restaurant's website and then reviewing ratings on Yelp, I eventually decided on Le Cirque.

Le Cirque overlooks the Bellagio Fountains, and even though we weren't seated directly next to the windows we still had a great view from our table. The interior of the restaurant is decorated as its name would suggest: a colorful circus tent filled with lots of deep and dark furnishings. Unfortunately, the only downside to this lovely decor scheme is that it's very dark and provides little light thus making it a nightmare for food photography. As a result, I am disappointed with many of my photos so I apologize in advance for the lack of quality.
Le Cirque
Le Cirque
Le Cirque
Le Cirque

Since I had researched the restaurant's menu prior to arrival, I already knew that we were going to order the Pre-Theatre Menu which is available every night from 5:30 to 6:30 PM for just $68 per person; an amazing value for a restaurant of this caliber.

After placing our order, I glanced over the wine and cocktail list and ended up selecting a Pomegranate Martini (Pama Liqueur, Absolut Citron, pomegranate juice, fresh sour). Pomegranate martinis are my favorite cocktail and so I have ordered them plenty of times in my life but this was definitely the most delicious I have had to date.
Pomegranate Martini from Le Cirque.

After placing our orders, our waiter walked Shyawn over to Cirque de Soleil's ticket line in order to pick-up our tickets for the show. Along the way, the waiter and Shyawn struck up a conversation about my passion for food and how much I loved French cuisine. Apparently the waiter told Shyawn that at some point during the evening he would have the Executive Chef Gregory Pugin come out to meet me.

While Shyawn was away, a server had come around with a tray of multiple bread offerings. Unfortunately I cannot remember the types of bread we ate, but I believe three of them included a potato roll, a rosemary roll, and one that had bits of bacon inside of it.
Bread from Le Cirque.
Bread from Le Cirque.
Shyawn eventually arrived back to the restaurant and he told me about his interactions with the waiter and the fact that we would be meeting the chef at some point that night, which made me both nervous and excited!

Before our amuse-bouche arrived, the following little treat was placed on our table. I am unsure of exactly what it was but it was a light and airy bread.

Next was our amuse-bouche, which I believe was a butternut squash soup; extremely delicious and flavorful and an excellent start to our dinner.
Amuse-bouche from Le Cirque.

After the amuse-bouche, we were expecting to receive our chosen appetizers. However, our waiter surprised us with this amazing appetizer; Langoustines au Caviar (citrus marinated New Zealand langoustines, osetra caviar, tapioca, passion fruit, apple & vodka gelee). He indicated that it was compliments of the chef. Aside from being shocked from the amazing gesture, I was also quite excited as I had never tried caviar. As you can see, the dish was presented beautifully. The langoustine paired amazingly well with the caviar and I loved the textural differences with the soft vodka gelee and the crispy apples. 
Langoustines au Caviar from Le Cirque.

Finally, our appetizers came out. Shyawn selected the Tartare de Boeuf (Australian wagyu "Kobe" beef steak tartare, heirloom tomatoes, lotus chips) which he indicated was quite good.
Tartare de Boeuf from Le Cirque.

I on the other hand went with the Risotto de Marche, which on our visit happened to be Squid Ink Risotto (Calamari, chorizo, and tomato confit). The risotto was out of this world incredible. It was cooked perfectly and had an amazing depth of flavor. This was definitely one of my favorite dishes of the evening.
Risotto du Marche (Squid Ink) from Le Cirque.

At some point after our entrees were cleared, the chef Gregory Pugin came out to meet us. I was so excited to see him and thanked him for the wonderful langoustine appetizer and told him that the risotto was the best I had ever eaten, even better than any of the risottos I had eaten in Italy.

Eventually our entrees came out. Shyawn's choice was Le Merou Chilien (Chilean sea bass, hon shimeji mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, carrot ginger sauce). The sea bass was excellent, cooked perfectly, and I really enjoyed the carrot ginger sauce. Unfortunately, below is the best picture I could attain of the pretty dish.
Le Merou Chilien from Le Cirque.

For my entree I selected the Coeur de Filet de Boeuf (Prime beef tenderloin, shallot puree, pommes anna, bearnaise croquette, bordelaise sauce, & asparagus). I love everything on this dish, especially the pommes anna and the prime beef. Definitely an excellent choice!
Coeur de Filet de Boeuf

For dessert, the Pre-Theater menu included a Dessert Fantasy and Mignardises & Gourmandises. We were beginning to run low on time at this point due to the upcoming show, so our waiter indicated that he was trying to rush the desserts to come out. With about ten minutes left until we absolutely had to leave, several waiters arrived at our table with four massive plates of dessert, plus a small plate of little desserts. We were both so shocked, and didn't know what to say. Shyawn exclaimed, "what is going on?!?" The waiter said that the desserts were on the house and compliments of the chef. I don't think I had ever been so excited and happy to eat dessert in my entire life. The only problem was that we had less than ten minutes to scarf down all of the food! Additionally, since we were so short on time I knew I wouldn't be able to shoot in manual so I switch to the automatic setting and turned on my flash as I wanted to spend those precious moments eating instead of focusing on shooting.

Petite Boule de Chocolat, Eclats de Noisette Caramelisee, Glace Chocolat Blanc (chocolate sphere: praline mousse, white chocolate ice cream, hazelnut caramel crunch, chocolate sauce). As soon as my waiter placed this in front of me, he poured the hot chocolate sauce over the top, which caused the chocolate sphere to melt away and revealed the ice cream underneath. It was quite the visual spectacle which we were able to capture on Shyawn's iPhone. This dessert was nothing short of amazing; every single bite was beyond incredible. This dish definitely ranks in my top list of desserts ever eaten.
Petite Boule de Chocolat, Eclats de Noisette Caramelisee, Glace Chocolat Blanc from le Cirque.

Souffle de Saison (seasonal souffle). Unfortunately I was able to write down the type of souffle we had, but it was accompanied by a delicious sorbet (I believe it was mango) and bits of pineapple. A very strong dish and I would definitely order again!
Souffle de Saison from Le Cirque.

Fraise Pochee a La Vanille, Creme au Yuzu, Streusel Croquant (vanilla poached strawberry, yuzu cream, crunchy streusel). This dish was incredible. It was so different than anything we had ever eaten before. The yuzu cream was delicious and I loved the textural differences when paired with the soft strawberries and crunchy streusel.
Fraise Pochee a La Vanille, Creme au Yuzu, Streusel Croquant from Le Cirque.

La Pomme Verte en Declinaison, Mousse de Lait Citronelle, Sorbet au Beaumes de Venise (green apple degustation, lemongrass mouse, caramelized rice crispies, sorbet muscat Beaumes de Venise). This dish was unexpectedly amazing. The sorbet was intensely powerful and flavorful, and when combined with the lemongrass mousse and the crunchy rice crispies, was literally an explosion of flavors and textures in your mouth. I have never in my life eaten something like this, and had I chosen off the menu myself I probably would have stuck to something more traditional (like the chocolate sphere). However, eating this dessert has taught me to be a little more daring in my dessert choices for the future. If this dish is on the dessert menu when you visit, please do yourself a huge favor and order it!
La Pomme Verte en Declinaison, Mousse de Lait Citronnelle, Sorbet au Beaumes de Venise from Le Cirque.

Overall, the meal here was obviously incredible. I was impressed with everything, but the highlights for me were definitely the risotto and the array of desserts we had. Although the restaurant has the typical and traditional French dessert options (such as Creme Brulee and a multitude of sorbets) they also have quite a long list of unique and different desserts. I found their desserts to be one of their strongest assets and definitely encourage all who come to this restaurant to save a lot of room for the dessert.

At the end of the meal, women are always given this cute little box of two chocolate candies as a parting gift.
Box of chocolates from Le Cirque.

Box of chocolates from Le Cirque.
Box of chocolates from Le Cirque.

Strip Steak:
This steak house was created by the famous American chef Michael Mina and is located inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Shyawn is a big steak fan, so I wanted to make sure that we ate at one of Las Vegas' many steakhouses during one of our dinners. I ended up selecting Strip Steak based not only on its favorable reviews on Yelp, but also because I was able to snag a $50 gift certificate for the restaurant on Restaurant.com for just $20. 
Strip Steak inside Mandalay Bay.
Interior of Strip Steak, as viewed from our table.
Interior of Strip Steak.
Interior of Strip Steak.
Interior of Strip Steak.
Instead of your typical bread, Strip Steak serves a trio of duck fat fries to all of their guests with a variety of three different dipping sauces. These were super good. I definitely would have paid for these but it was nice that they were free!
Duck fat fries from Strip Steak.

For our appetizer we decided to order the Oysters. These were from the west coast and were quite delicious.
Oysters from Strip Steak.

Even though I was at a steak house, I opted not to order a steak. Instead, I selected the Braised Pork Shank with Spicy Long Beans. The pork was incredibly tender; I barely had to use my knife as my fork was able to do most of the work. The beans, as their name indicated, were quite spicy; in fact a little too spicy if you ask my opinion. The spiciness was so strong that I had to drink in between every bite and wash it down with the macaroni and cheese side dish we ordered just to be able to breath. I would probably order this dish again but request a different vegetable.
Braised Pork Shank with Spicy Long Beans from Strip Steak.

Shyawn's entree choice was the Wagyu Beef 8 oz American Kobe Filet. Shyawn stated that his steak was good but wasn't to die for; at $72, I think we both expected a bit more.
Wagyu Beef 8 oz American Kobe Filet from Strip Steak.
We also ordered a side dish of Truffled Mac & Cheese, which like the steak was fine, but nothing out of this world. Although we couldn't tell when the bowl arrived, there were actually pieces of broccoli mixed in with the mac & cheese, which isn't my most favorite thing.
Truffled Mac & Cheese from Strip Steak.

Overall, our meal was good but neither one of us felt as though it was worth the expensive price tag. Using the $50 Restaurant.com gift certificate helped, but even after using that we still spent over $125. Next time, we'll seek out a different steak house to try in Las Vegas.

Todd English's Olives:
There were numerous places I had selected as possible options for lunch, including Olives. The restaurant offers Mediterranean-style food including pizzas and pastas. I had read multiple recommendations for its Butternut Squash Tortelli pasta dish, so I was quite excited to try that.
Todd English's Olives
Todd English's Olives

Upon arrival around 13:00, the restaurant was still fairly busy, but had plenty of open seating available. The hostess asked if we had reservations and when we said no she seemed quite irritated; not sure why an attitude was necessary considering there were so many tables available, but whatever. From there, the unfriendly service continued. Our waitress was very crabby and not at all engaging. After being handed our menus, she came back about two minutes later and expected us to have already decided. After telling her we needed more time, she didn't come back for nearly 15 minutes! When we were finally able to order, I pointed and stated out loud that I wanted the Butternut Squash Tortelli dish and she immediately asked "the butternut squash soup?" I had to correct her and it appeared as though she straightened out the confusion. Unfortunately, when our food arrived, I received the butternut squash soup instead of the pasta dish. I reminded her that I had ordered the pasta, not the soup, and then she began to get very irritated with me. She eventually brought me out the correct dish, but it only took about 20 minutes. Thankfully, we had been given some bread and crackers with several olive tapenades (which were quite delicious) so at least I had something to munch on while I waited for the correct dish.
Bread and crackers with olive tapenade from Todd English's Olives.
Olive tapenades from Todd English's Olives.

Shyawn ordered the Portobello Pizza (wild mushroom puree, roasted portobello, red onions, fontina cheese, white truffle oil). It was decent, but nothing memorable. Unfortunately I do not enjoy portobello mushrooms, so I refrained from sampling his pizza.
Portobello Pizza from Todd English's Olives.
Portobello Pizza from Todd English's Olives.

Thankfully, even after the misunderstanding regarding my entree order, the Butternut Squash Tortelli (amaretto cookies, sage, brown butter, parmesan cheese) ended up tasting delicious. It was not quite as savory as I expected it would be and was a tiny bit too sweet, but it was still very good. I loved the addition of the sage leaves to the dish.
Butternut Squash Tortelli from Todd English's Olives.

Would I recommend the restaurant to someone else? Maybe, if the restaurant's location inside the Bellagio is convenient for your lunch stop, go ahead and pay a visit. But expect to spend about $15-$20 for most of the lunch entrees; this isn't a cheap place. Otherwise, I wouldn't go running out of my way to visit again.

This restaurant is the brainchild of American chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller who runs the famous French Laundry in Napa Valley, California. The original Bouchon opened down the street from the French Laundry in 1998 and this second outpost opened in Las Vegas in 2004. I had actually eaten at the Bouchon in Napa Valley several years earlier for dinner but had been less than impressed. However, both the Las Vegas and Napa Valley locations are rated 4 out of 5 stars on Yelp, so I thought I would give it another opportunity, this time for breakfast in Las Vegas.

Miniature poppy seed muffins were available to the guests in the waiting area.

To begin my meal, I ordered a bellini, which was a rather strong start to my breakfast.
Bellini cocktail from Bouchon.
Jam and butter for bread service at Bouchon.
Fun bread from Bouchon.

When ordering, I wanted to stick with something more breakfast-oriented while Shyawn opted to go with something more savory. I requested the Bouchon French Toast (bread pudding style with warm layers of brioche, custard, and apples) and Shyawn ordered the Croque Madame (toasted ham and cheese on brioche with a fried egg & mornay sauce served with French fries). We also ordered a side of Lyonnaise Potatoes although in hindsight shouldn't have, considering the size of Shyawn's entree.

The Croque Madame was good, but it was a huge plate of food. We easily could have split this dish and been full. Unfortunately, this was not the case so we only ate about half.
Croque Madame from Bouchon.
The Bouchon French Toast was quite delicious but very sweet. Additionally, the layers of apples seemed to be a bit too soggy so I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.
Bouchon French Toast.
The Lyonnaise potatoes were very good, but I only managed to take a few bites because we simply had too much food. The entrees here are generous so don't be worried about not getting enough!
Lyonnaise Potatoes from Bouchon.

Overall, my experience at Bouchon for breakfast was better than the experience I had previously at dinner, however, I wouldn't classify it as being an amazing or particularly memorable meal. It's good, but Las Vegas has so many incredible dining options that I probably won't eat here again.

As with Strip Steak, I was able to purchase a Restaurant.com gift certificate for Fleur which is located inside of Mandalay Bay. This restaurant was created by the famous French chef Hubert Keller and serves small plates from around the world.

In an effort to quench my thirst, I ordered a Cherry Limeade (three olive's cherry vodka, black cherry puree, fresh lime). Unfortunately, this did not quite live up to my expectations and was rather "meh." And the worst part? I was stupid enough to pay $15 for this mediocre drink. Fail #1.
Cherry Limeade from Fleur.
For an appetizer, we requested the Tarte Flambee (onion, bacon, truffle, and asparagus). As soon as I took my first bite, I could have sworn I tasted what was goat cheese (my sworn enemy in life). I asked the waiter what sort of cheese was on the tarte and he indicated creme fraiche. I've had plenty of creme fraiche in my life and this certainly didn't taste like it, but I'll take the waiter's word for it. However, the taste put me off so much (fail #2) that Shyawn had to eat this all by himself, which he liked quite a bit.
Tarte Flambee from Fleur.
Tarte Flambee from Fleur.
Shyawn ordered the Angus Burger (8 oz c.a.b, caramelized onion, blue cheese, potato bun, French fries). He enjoyed his burger while I enjoyed eating most of his fries.

Angus Burger from Fleur.
 I wanted something healthy, so I went with the Grilled Chicken Sandwich (pesto, tomato, Swiss cheese, potato bun, and fries (although I substituted a Field Green Salad in place of the fries). The sandwich tasted fine, but nothing that you couldn't find at any regular sandwich shop (fail #3). The salad was slightly better, but not by much. The only reason I walked out feeling full was because of Shyawn's fries.
Grilled Chicken Sandwich from Fleur.

Overall, our experience at Fleur was full of big fat fails. Our meal was $64 before tax and tip, which is a ridiculous sum of money for a subpar lunch. I am assuming based on the restaurant's popularity that dinner must be a lot better, but we had no indication of that during our lunch.

Jean Philippe Patisserie:
Las Vegas is fortunate enough to have two outposts of this lovely pastry shop (Bellagio and Aria). I had been under the impression prior to our visit that they served just pastries and desserts, however, that is definitely not the case as in addition to the sweets, they offer sandwiches, salads, and soups. It would make a wonderful stop for lunch. The location inside the Bellagio has a massive chocolate fountain, that they claim as being the world's largest.
Jean Philippe Patisserie
Jean Philippe Patisserie
Looking up at the chocolate fountain at Jean Philippe Patisserie.
Shyawn checking out the chocolate fountain at Jean Philippe Patisserie.
Jean Philippe Patisserie
More of the chocolate fountain at Jean Philippe Patisserie.
Beautiful pastries from Jean Philippe Patisserie.
Jean Philippe Patisserie
More beautiful pastries from Philippe Patisserie.
Amazing cake from Jean Philippe Patisserie.
Pretty cakes from Jean Philippe Patisserie.
Jean Philippe Patisserie
We had just eaten lunch prior to our visit but I did manage to sneak in one pastry purchase that we later ate in our hotel room; Trio Chocolate Cheesecake (milk, white, & dark cheesecake, Oreo cracker crust). This little pastry was an absolute delicious gem and seriously yummy. Although pricey, in hindsight I wish we would have purchased a few more of the desserts to try. 
Trio Chocolate Cheesecake from Jean Philippe Patisserie.
Trio Chocolate Cheesecake from Jean Philippe Patisserie.

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