Sunday, October 21, 2007

What I did this summer: Part 1, Vegas

View of the Vegas strip from the balcony of the lounge at Mix, Mandalay Bay

Yeah, it's late in the game, but with the heavy rains and chilly weather (finally), I'm realizing that summer is finally over. My mind now wanders to warmer climes, to lazy sunny days and me in flip flops and sundresses. This is my ode d'ete and the first part of a n-part series (I know you're all holding your collective breaths).

Our mod pod table at Mix, at the top of The Hotel

Though I'm not a fan of Vegas, I do appreciate it coming into its own in recent years as a culinary destination. Several celebrity chefs including Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller, and Todd English have outposts in the city, providing well-heeled alternatives to the ubiquitous (and banal) buffet extravaganzas. Went to Ducasse's, Mix, at the top of The Hotel, where we enjoyed ourselves in an atmospheric, thematic, heaven-hell restaurant. We got a table at a tricked out mod pod and had some (as expected) superb service. The food was good, not great, and definitely not as great as you'd expect for the price and the hype. But the overall experience was nice. I had a forgettable starter, and an average duck breast main. Though medium rare, it had little flavor, but was very tender and lean. Fun place, especially walking through the dark and deliciously dangerous "hell" lounge into the light and ethereal "heaven" dining room with bubble glass chandeliers and soaring ceiling. Oh, yeah, did I mention the amazing views of the city? A must go.

Soaring ceilings with crystal ball "cloud" chandeliers at Mix, at the top of The Hotel

Wine Tower at Aureole
Another night we went to Charlie Palmer's, Aureole. The main draw there is the 40-foot wine tower--complete with a pulley system that lifts "wine angels" to the upper reaches to fetch wine--that houses over 9,000 bottles of wine. A dream for any connoisseur of the grapes. Along with this dramatic wine cellar is the electronic pallet that is the wine list. Amazing. A few drop down menus, a tap of the stylus, and voila, you zip through the thousands long list. We had an awful, pretentious, and forgetful waiter--but mind you, the service at each table includes the main server, the bread guy, the water guy, the sommelier, and for us, the GM...since we had to complain about the negligent service. The food, again, was okay, but be prepared not to be wowed as you should be with a restaurant of this caliber (and price). But alas, it was the atmosphere that made up for it all. I had a boring goat cheese and mushroom tartine (i.e. crostini). Then had the roast rack of Colorado tender lamb stuffed Campari tomato, braised flageolet beans,Nicoise olives and Rosemary Jus. Actually quite tasty. I forget what I had for dessert. Because after the white wine with the appetizers, and bottle of red with our mains, I was done.

One morning I had brunch at Thomas Keller's Bouchon, a more accessible (than his venerable French Laundry) brasserie. Had a very fine Bloody Mary with my Croque Madame. Yum.

Dining room at Bouchon Restaurant, top of Venezia Tower, Venetian Hotel

So Vegas is great for food on a superficial level. You'll get spectacular atmosphere and ambience, and a good show of service at certain places (and you'll pay for it). But due to the mass production sort of quality of the town, truly personal service and attention to detail only come at a higher than average price. Fun times, though. And one other thing, it was hotter than hell this August.

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