I took a slightly longer break from blogging than I intended. Vacation can be wonderfully relaxing, but why does returning from vacation have to be so stressful? But you don’t want to hear about that. Let’s get to the good stuff — the food.
This was my first visit to Las Vegas. I have to say that for the most part, I found it a rather tawdry city, reminiscent of a gigantic shopping mall, but one that allows gambling, drinking and smoking everywhere. While I appreciated the twilit coolness of the casinos, I didn’t appreciate the crowds, the noise or the 109-degree heat. Hey, at least it was a dry heat.
Ah, the beauty of the Las Vegas skyline, where the construction never stops.
What I liked about Las Vegas was the eating. There are a ton of really good restaurants owned by well-known chefs, and unlike in New York or other major cities, it is very easy to get a reservation.
Since we were only there for three nights total — we spent the rest of our vacation enjoying the quiet beauty of Zion National Park in Utah — we had to choose carefully where we ate. For our major splurges, we chose Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in the Venetian and Tom Colicchio’s CraftSteak in the MGM Grand.
Bouchon was the favorite of both my husband and me. The menu is traditional French bistro, and the prices are rather reasonable, for the context. I began with the apricot and arugula salad, something I wouldn’t normally have ordered. It was fantastic, a perfectly subtle mix of flavors: sweet apricot, peppery arugula, a hint of anise from the fennel, salty nut brittle. My entree was the roasted chicken, which was incredibly juicy and succulent. It was served atop a puff pastry filled with ratatouille vegetables and topped with crisp garlic chips in a pool of the chicken jus. For dessert, I had the crème brulée, which provided the ideal light and creamy finish. This was a great meal, and I would return to Las Vegas just to eat here again.
CraftSteak is a deconstructed version of a classic steakhouse. Everything is served a la carte in rustic copper pans. Each dish is simple and elegant; there are no towers of layered food here. So each dish had to rely absolutely on impeccably fresh and well-prepared ingredients, and that was delivered. The side dishes seemed a little pricey, but I guess when you’re a chef with his own TV show, you can charge what you like.
For an appetizer, I ordered the heirloom tomatoes. This was literally a platter of different kinds of tomatoes, dressed very simply with olive oil and vinegar and garnished with fresh herbs. Many of the tomatoes I have never seen or tasted before; it was a tomato lover’s fantasy. For an entree, I had the diver scallops, which were perfectly seared and served in a pool of a light wine and butter sauce. My husband had the steak (I don’t eat beef), and he declared it one of the best steaks he had ever eaten. As a side, we got the leek and roasted garlic potato gratin, which was very light, cheesy and creamy with just a hint of white pepper. The perfect dessert was a simple homemade blackberry sorbet or vanilla ice cream; after all that food, we didn’t want anything too heavy. So despite the hefty bill, CraftSteak won us over, although next time I would rather go with a large group so I can try more of the sides.
Other memorable eating experiences were the breakfast buffet at the Wynn (they have American, European and Chinese-style breakfasts); the fried mozzarella with just a hint of salty anchovies in the breading at the old-fashioned Italian eatery Piero’s, and the truffles made with red chile and balsamic vinegar we sampled in Vosges Haut-Chocolatier in Caesar’s Palace.
The eating in Utah was not quite so memorable; the scenery is the reason to go. But one restaurant in Springdale, near Zion National Park stood out: the Spotted Dog Cafe. This was perhaps the closest thing to “local” cuisine that we found; at least, the ingredients seemed local and seasonal. I had the fettuccine with pumpkin seed pesto. But what most impressed me most was that with the bread and butter, they brought out a whole head of roasted garlic — yum! Still, hiking around in the glorious scenery of southern Utah really builds up an appetite for classic fare like big breakfasts of eggs or pancakes, tacos or pizzas, and all are readily available.
Vacation went too quickly. For our next culinary adventure, we are thinking of going to Chicago for a long weekend. Any suggestions?