Bouchon is hard to find, impersonal in the extreme, and serves expensive, out-of-fashion (French) food to people who are only there because it’s fashionable to be so.
But that food is so good, you’ll forget about all those objections after a couple of forkfuls.
Thomas (never, NEVER “Tom” or “Tommie”) Keller’s reputation is what drives customers here (in spite of the fact he rarely is), and inspires them to wind through the vast spaces of the Venetian, ask directions at least three times, take the elevator up the Venezia Tower, and wander in to a somewhat cold, forbidding space, where they will either endure either perfunctory, or downright infuriating, service.
We’ve been hard on Bouchon in the past, and have never really bought into the Keller mystique. Like many things that come out of northern California, nothing about Keller’s oeuvre is as magnificent as his acolytes think it is. Neither he, nor Alice Waters nor most of the wine makers up there are doing anything different (or better) than Europeans have for hundreds of years. But they’ve been able to ride the American baby boomer wave of late Twentieth Century success to fame and fortune far out of proportion to what they actually do for a living…which is make food and wine almost as good as Europeans have been doing (better) for hundreds of years.
It probably doesn’t help that ELV just finished Michael (never “Mike” or “Mikey”) Ruhlman’s “The Reach Of A Chef”. Eating Las Vegas imagines the pitch to Keller going something like this:
Ruhlman: “Tom, give me access and I’ll make you a God.”
Keller: “It’s “Thomas”... and…okay.”
Ruhlman’s obsequiousness when it comes to chefs in general (and Keller in particular) borders on parody, and he somehow spends thousands of words on Keller without a single insight into what makes him tick.
From having been in Keller’s restaurants a number of times (going back to Rakel in NYC, and even the Checkers Hotel in Los Angeles), we imagine him not to be the warmest bloke in the balcony, but his food has always been so pristine, so finely-tuned, that matters of his personality don’t really enter the conversation…unlike, say, Emeril or Mario, whose personalities drive their cuisine and their restaurants.
Regardless, there’s no doubt Keller and his brigades can cook the bejesus out of whatever vittles are placed before them.
Take our recent breakfast for example. Beignets de brandade de morue (salt cod fritters) aren’t your normal, American breakfast food. But these are so luscious with the sweet salt of the sea, and so lightly fried, you wish they would kick crab cakes to the curb forever. The beignets just warmed us up for a Dungeness crab stuffed vol au vent with a nice napping of perfect hollandaise, that took savory pastry, eggs and seafood to a different level.
Combine those with the crunchy, sourdough bread served here (with sweet butter that tastes like it was made an hour earlier), and a cup of cappuccino, and you have the perfect breakfast for one person that could’ve served two.
So good was breakfast that we decided to return for dinner. (Remember: Being ELV is like being a porn star: Many think they can do it, but they can’t.)
The food pictured above highlights what makes Bouchon such a consistent stop on anyone’s gourmand tour of Las Vegas: The best oysters, ethereal bread, house-made boudin noir that tastes as good as it does on the Left Bank of Paris, silky, almost Robuchon-like mashed potatoes, and sweetbreads that are much cheaper than those at Eiffel Tower (14 v. 22 bucks) and just as good.
Not pictured is a roast chicken with a sage-infused chicken jus, that was elegant simplicity personified, and for once, a chicken that tasted like one.
Add it all up (and top it all off with some profiteroles dribbled with a dark, intense chocolate sauce) and you have haute bistro food that will make you forget about the outside world for a while, and (perhaps) consider bowing at the feet of Keller the next time he, like all of the famous flyboy chefs, comes to our tacky town to pick up his filthy lucre.*
Our breakfast for one (that could’ve served two) came to $52.16 + a $15 tip). Dinner for three (including a $60 bottle of Muscadet) came to $231.06 plus a $40 tip). ELV has eaten in Bouchon at least fifteen times since it opened five years ago, and never once has been acknowledged, comped or otherwise stroked.)
In the Venetian Hotel and Casino
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109-8941
* ELV is joking, of course. He is extremely happy Keller and the rest of the Celebrity Chef Club,** have deigned to grace us with their presence — however ephemeral that presence may be.
** Even Bobby “Boy Meets Boredom” Flay.