We were in Las Vegas for 4 nights and we had 3 great dinners, all of them memorable, all of them unique. (The fourth night we saw Mystère, a Cirque du Soleil show that was also pretty memorable, and only grabbed a quick bite afterward.) I have a hard time saying which meal was the best, because they each evoked such a different style of food and eating. But I will say that they were all under $200, with alcohol, which in Las Vegas is no mean feat, let me tell you.
I’ll start with our anniversary dinner at Bouchon. Bouchon, one of Thomas Keller‘s restaurants, is fast becoming one of my favorite restaurants in the world. I love the style: French bistro with a bit of a contemporary twist. The restaurant in the Venetian is open, airy and bright. The waiters, at least at dinner, are chatty and helpful. The ambiance is generally casual, fun and the antithesis of stuffy fine dining.
My husband and I shared everything but dessert. We started with two stellar appetizers. One was a pork belly sausage served with tiny potatoes in a very sweet, reduced vinaigrette. The second was my personal favorite: smoked salmon and fresh salmon rillettes. It came in a little jar topped with a layer of clarified butter, which the waiter had to cut away in a nifty presentation. We then scooped out the rillettes and spread it on croutons. For dinner, we split the steamed mussels in mustard, cream and saffron, with a side of frites and an extra order of macaroni gratin. It was all delicious, and so generous that even two people could not finish.
We also ate breakfast at Bouchon, and let me tell you, if I could eat breakfast there every day for the rest of my life, I gladly would. The waffles I had were practically ethereal, they were so light, but just the fresh baguette with homemade preserves would make a great breakfast any day of the week. I was dying to try the other pastries. Maybe next time.
Nobhill, one of Michael Mina‘s restaurants in the MGM Grand, was a very different experience. The decor there is also beautiful, but much more private, hushed and very relaxed. It’s like eating dinner in your living room, if your living room is very nicely furnished and decorated, and comes with a helpful waiter. The specialty there is the lobster pot pie, but I think I found a true bargain in Las Vegas when I ordered the San Francisco cioppino. Normally, I would think of cioppino as a stew made up of bits of mixed fish and shellfish. What arrived, though, was a beautiful plate of individually cooked seafood: rare tuna, flaky salmon, plump shrimp, mussels and clams. When I removed my crouton, there was a surprise: two perfectly seared scallops. A thick tomato broth was poured over all. (See my husband’s photo above.) It was like getting the best of the restaurant’s seafood offerings on one plate, and so generous I couldn’t finish it, although I gave it my best shot.
Okada is the Wynn’s Japanese restaurant, where we ate our first night. Our rule is that we no longer eat sushi unless we are in a major city where we know the fish is fresh and the chefs are first-rate. In Okada, we sat at the sushi bar (which I recommend — no waiting) and made friends with the chef. We asked him his recommendations and so tried some of the best fish of the night: the yellowtail and the kampachi. We also had delicious halibut, served two ways, and a mackerel roll that the chef made for me, since I told him I wasn’t overly fond of mackerel. But my favorite had to be the snapper, which was dressed only with a little sea salt and lemon juice, and was so good we had to order it again.
So, there you have it. Three nights of dining in the desert on seafood, three wonderful meals. I have to say that eating in Las Vegas is amazing. There are so many choices of great restaurants, and it is absurdly easy to get a reservation or just walk in and get a table. Even if you don’t partake of Vegas’s other vices, it is worth visiting just for the food.
Update: The recipe for the smoked and steamed salmon rillettes is in my Bouchon cookbook! I must try to make this sometime.
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