Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thomas Keller's Bouchon Restauraunt

Mosaic floors, a zinc bar and marble-topped bistro tables lend an air of authenticity to Bouchon, located on the third floor the Venezia Tower of the Venetian Resort (difficult to locate, so ask for directions; facing the Venetian registration desk, look to the right to find the entrance to the Venezia Tower).
702-414-6200; open for breakfast and dinner daily; brunch Saturday & Sunday
Reservations through

Something unusual happened in Las Vegas in the early 90s, when big-name, star-laden chefs from all over the world started to move into the larger hotels. The mainstay all-you-can-eat buffets were suddenly out-the-window, and luxury dining was in. The Strip now boasts restaurants by the likes of Joel Robuchon (book a month in advance - I'm not kidding), Alain Ducasse, Michael Mina, Charlie Trotter, Todd English and Guy Savoy. Las Vegas is today one of the great fine dining destinations of the world.

Bouchon is the vision of world-renowned chef Thomas Keller, who was named "America's Best Chef" by Time magazine. He is also the sole recipient of consecutive "Best Chef" awards from the prestigious James Beard Foundation. Born at Camp Pendleton to a Marine drill instructor, Keller eventually found his way to Paris, where he apprenticed to several Michelin-starred chefs. However, Thomas Keller is the one and only chef to receive three Michelin starts for two separate restaurants -- Per Se in New York and the French Laundry in Napa Valley.

Bouchon brings to Las Vegas the top cuisine and service that made the original Napa Valley location, just down the street from the French Laundry, an institution in Yountville. Earlier this year Keller opened a Beverly Hills branch of Bouchon, to great acclaim.

Like the original bouchons of Lyon after which it was modeled, Bouchon serves a menu of bistro classics in a main dining room or in the garden poolside setting. As opposed to haute cuisine, a bouchon stresses comfort food, with an emphasis on meats, such as sausages, duck pâté and roast pork. Coq au vin, steak frites and pot au feu are typical bouchon offerings. Desserts include profiteroles and a classic pot de crème. This location is particularly noted for the breakfast they serve, and the French Fries are legendary (and available at breakfast, as well). In photo below: trout with cauliflower and the classic steak frites.

Keller's perfectionist bent shows in the ingredients . Mushrooms are trucked in from the Northwest, fish flown in from Florida and New York, lamb procured from a farm in northern Pennsylvania, mussels from Maine and oysters from Puget Sound. Bouchon's grand plateau of fruits de mer consists of a whole lobster, 16 oysters, eight shrimp, eight clams, nine mussels and seasonal crab, all ocean fresh and served with a number of sauces. His classic steak frites is a pan-seared flatiron topped with maitre d'hotel butter (butter enhanced by lemon juice, Italian parsley, and salt and pepper) flanked by a pile of the best French fries you'll ever eat. Poulet rôti (roast chicken) is served on a bed of Swiss chard and sweet cipollini onions; Keller's version will forever change your mind about humble roast chicken.

There are ripe and strongly scented French cheeses for dessert, as well as a lemon tarte and profiteroles (pastry puffs filled with vanilla ice cream and doused with a chocolate sauce). A further nod to authenticity is a blackboard menu touting the daily specials.

In 2005, when Bouchon opened in Las Vegas, the restaurant was named Best New Restaurant, Best Strip Restaurant, Best French Restaurant and Best Overall Restaurant. There is an oyster bar (from 3:00 pm daily) and French bakery adjacent to the restaurant's bar.

Renowned designer Adam D. Tihany created the interior that features a zinc bar, a mosaic floor, velvet banquettes, antique light fixtures and a hand-painted mural by noted French artist Paulin Paris. Approached from the over-the-top excess of the Venetian Resort architecture and decor, this space is a welcome haven of restraint, balance and comfort; and its out-of-the-way location provides a respite from the noisy casino floor, which afflicts so many fine dining establishments in Las Vegas.

Note: Bouchon operates a bakery under the escalators adjacent to the Venetian's Phantom Theater. This should be your last stop before check-out. The cheese danish is not to be missed.