November 23, 2011
Reporting from the restaurant front lines of my fall trip to Las Vegas. Here are the highs and lows of a week (mostly) well spent.
Lotus of Siam – Some years ago, Gourmet magazine crowned this unpretentious resto – located in a mall about a mile from The Strip – the best Thai restaurant in the U.S. Food was vibrantly spiced and carefully prepared and I’d return in a heartbeat. Loved the rice crisps tossed with bits of sausage, mint leaves, peanuts and onion, in a bracing vinaigrette, and the chargrilled whole catfish. Make sure to reserve a table or show up before 6:30 p.m., because the place fills up fast.
Bartolotta – Nestled in the tony Wynn hotel, Bartolotta is straight-ahead rustic Italian based on first-rate ingredients. Thus, a deeply satisfying salad of arugula, porcini mushrooms, and parmigiano reggiano; grilled scampi (taken live from a tank in the kitchen); and deliciously rustic pastas (Bolognese-sauced, say, or in a delicate lobster and shrimp construction).
Bouchon Bistro – Thomas Keller’s Vegas outpost, in the Venetian, is pure Paris, and could have been airlifted right out of the Left Bank. Three breakfasts, three successes: sourdough waffles; creamy, feather-light spinach quiche (but what’s this soggy crust? Tsk tsk); and, the best of a strong trio, custardy French toast layered with sautéed apples. Deft, professional service.
Bar Masa – Sister restaurant of New York’s much-lauded Masa and Bar Masa, the Vegas outpost is a soaring, airy space in the Aria hotel. But the sushi and sashimi disappoint, and are rescued by the hot dishes (custard-textured black cod; soft mini-tacos willed with shredded peking Duck, foie gras and pineapple hoisin sauce).
Joel Robuchon – French superchef Joel Robuchon now commands a global empire of 20 restaurants; is he stretching himself too thin? This might explain the unevenness of the tasting menu I sampled in his jewel box of a restaurant in the MGM Grand. To be sure, there were highlights (warm gorgonzola custard topped with poached pear; superb dessert and bread carts; Iranian oscetra caviar on perfect chopped salmon tartare). But too man dishes lacked flair, and luxury, and several were shockingly amateurish. At these prices, we expect better.
I (Heart) Burgers – Well, actually we didn’t (heart) these burgers, at least, the dry, crumbly turkey burger topped with (bland) bread stuffing and cranberry sauce, in a lackluster approximation of Thanksgiving dinner between a bun. Shame that this gobbler died in vain.