…and the crumbs…touched my palate….(and) a shudder ran through my whole body, as I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place….at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me…
— Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 1: Swann’s Way
Proust got it right; sometimes the taste or smell of food can create an out of body experience.
Daniel Boulud‘s food does that to ELV almost everytime he eats it. Whether it’s at Daniel, Cafe Boulud, DB Moderne, or Bar Boulud, almost every meal we’ve ever had at a Boulud restaurant (with one exception) has been well nigh flawless…and caused our skin to tingle.
The exception, of course, was Boulud Brasserie in the Wynn — a restaurant that never recovered its footing after Chef Philippe Rispoli left three years ago. There was nothing wrong with the food Wes Holton and his crew turned out — some of it was good-to-great. But it was great in the same way a cover band does a faithful version of an old standard. The inspiration just wasn’t there. They were going through the motions, playing out the string.
Our personal theory — completely lacking in factual foundation (call it an educated hunch) — was that DB and his crackerjack team got tired of dealing with the honchos at the Wynn (from Steverino on down) and their persistent, micro-management, foot-shooting methodology. Wynn/Encore seems to be constantly at war with itself over how to dumb down its restaurants (to please management’s tastes) while maintaining the highest prices possible. Boulud may have a worldwide empire — 11 stores and counting — but lowest common denominator will never define his food. We at ELV can only imagine the folly of him and his chefs trying to explain the beautiful, subtle complexities of fine charcuterie to a Vegas hotel executive. (ELV note: ALEX and Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare are excluded from this generalization, because, ELV is convinced, those calling the shots don’t understand the food enough in either of them to mess with it.)
Truth be told, we never forgave this place for dumbing down its menu — making it more of a steakhouse — after a couple of years of stunning, inventively French food. But even after it went to early bird specials and cote de bouefs, it was still a charcuterie-lover’s dream, that also set the standard around here for standards like soup a la oignon and braised short ribs.
And let’s not forget the DB Burger — the hamburger that launched a thousand imitators (and the burger craze over the past decade), after it burst upon the scene at DB Moderne in 2001. It tastes like no other burger you’ve ever had, or ever will have — ground prime rib stuffed with red-wine braised short ribs, oozing foie gras and topped with a Parmesan-flecked bun; it is a study in unctuousness.
Like Boulud’s pate de grand-mere, pate de campagne, or pate de foie gras, a single bite of this burger can transport body and soul to a gustatory place it rarely goes: gastronomic perfection. For that, ELV and his staff will miss the Boulud Brasserie, and we’ll miss having Daniel around for his general bonhomie, which graced Las Vegas several times a year.
Back in ’03, when we first heard of Wynn’s plans to open his murderer’s row of restaurants at his new resort, we were most intrigued by the inclusion of Boulud. “A world famous French chef (even an absentee one doing a faux brasserie) will give Vegas just the sort of international foodie cred it needs to launch it into the stratosphere of fine dining,” we thought to ourselves.
And so it did.
And so he did.
Au revoir mon ami, we’ll see you at DBGB soon enough.