Ah, La Tour Eiffel. Architectural wonder, monument of Paris.
ELV has eaten at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the real deal (now run by Alain Ducasse), and found it, despite its tourist-trap reputation, to be one of the most awesome and charming places to dine in all of Gay* Paree.
ELV has eaten in the Las Vegas Eiffel Tower Restaurant many times, and has always found it to be something of a tourist trap.
This puzzles and disappoints ELV, since he’s a big fan of Jean Joho, the uber-French chef from Chicago, who has run ETR since its opening ten years ago. In Chicago, Joho runs the awesome Everest Restaurant, as well as Brasserie JO — the most charming evocation of a French bistro in America you’re likely to find this side of Balthazar. Joho was also the force behind bringing Mon Ami Gabi to town — one of the true dining gems of Las Vegas — a place where the food and service (not to mention the people watching) are always well nigh perfect.
We said as much to Joho back in May when we ran into him during Vegas Uncork’d. But we promised him that we’d return to his Vegas flagship, with an open mind, and so we did (even though it took us five months to do so).
What we found was carefully rendered French bistro food, at haute cuisine prices, served amidst a spectacular setting, accompanied by a wine list that will require a pacemaker adjustment.
Perhaps “bistro food” is too much of a put down, since not many bistros serve perfectly cooked breast of pheasant. Ours was accompanied by a wonderful reduction of the cooking juices, and a rich spinach puree, and couldn’t have tasted any better. But upon reflection, it resembled any old sliced breast of bird you can get in hundreds of places, and the reduction sauce and spinach were hardly something that would cause a line cook to break a sweat. The whole-grain (wild berry) risotto that came with it was a nice touch, though, and far more sophisticated in its simplicity than we think the crowd here appreciates.
That same spinach showed up underneath the sweetbreads too, something you’d never find at Guy Savoy, Le Cirque, or Restaurant Charlie.
We at ELV are big thymus gland fans, and found this version crispy and lush, although yet again, the presentation was pedestrian. Likewise, the vegetarian crepes over a tomato coulis and basil pistou would be right at home downstairs at Mon Ami Gabi.
And so it went throughout the meal. Everything was satisfying in that deep, elemental way only French food can be (although the halibut en papillotte was overwhelmed by thyme), but overall, is hardly the kind of grand luxe food experience you’d expect from the setting or Joho’s reputation.
Then it hit us: This place isn’t really about the food — which fits its tourist clientele to a tee. (They’re not there for the food either, but rather, the experience.) On that level, ETR delivers, but on purely gastronomic terms, everything is so tres cher, culinary expectations (among some of us) are raised above what the kitchen is actually turning out. Thus will adventurous epicureans — those looking for food competing with the likes of ALEX, Joel Robuchon et al — be sorely disappointed.
But for someone who may never get a taste of the real Paris (and maybe doesn’t even want one), who wants an unintimidating dose of decent Gallic grub, amidst the awesome backdrop of the Las Vegas Strip, the Eiffel Tower Restaurant will fit like a fake beret. And when you consider the spectacular setting (looking down on the Bellagio fountains), perhaps the prices aren’t so out of line after all.
Speaking of prices, they haven’t been bent back a bit in the past year (unlike almost every other place in town), but it appears that they don’t need to be. On a recent weekday night, all we could think to ourself was: “Recession? What recession?” when we noticed the joint was SRO. When we returned a few days later, it was equally slammed.
ELV tried to sneak in for an anonymous meal, even going so far as to give a fake name to the hostess-babe at the front of the house. But he was busted, got the VIP treatment, and wasn’t presented a check for the dinner pictured above. He did, however, leave a $100 tip. You can expect to pay at least $300/couple for a three-course dinner with a couple of drinks and a modest bottle of wine. That wine won’t be easy to find, since almost to a bottle, everything here is priced 10-20% higher than the identical juice goes for up and down The Strip. That view again we suppose…
EIFFEL TOWER RESTAURANT
In the Paris Hotel and Casino
3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109-4345
* As in: blithe, convivial and festive.