One of the great things about Las Vegas — hell, just about the only great thing about Vegas these days besides the weather — is how our world wide fame makes it a magnet for talented, successful people, especially in certain creative crafts. Once people have made it in popular music, comedy, film, television, and yes, food, they inevitably end up in our back yard — if only for brief visits, but regular visits just the same. Few other American cities can boast of having Jerry Seinfeld or Jay-Z dropping by all the time, but we pretty much take it for granted that such high-wattage luminaries will be hanging out in our hotels on any given weekend. (Because, let’s face it, this is where the money is.)
Even though we’re only the 43rd largest media market in America (behind even the megalopolis of Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo fer chrissakes), we get national and international recognition far beyond our population numbers…and A-list celebrities that Dallas and Denver can only dream of.
Cognizant of this fact, ELV wouldn’t trade his food perch here for anywhere except maybe the Big Apple or Gay* Paree.
And even in those pantheons of gourmandia, do you think food writers get to sit down and shoot the shit with Wolfgang Puck, Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon, or Pierre Gagnaire on a regular basis?
We seriously doubt it….and we seriously do it all the time. Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether this makes us too cozy with our subject matter, there’s no doubt that Las Vegas’s reputation earns us access that few other writers in the world can match. And we wouldn’t pass it up for all the fermented juice in Burgundy. (On second thought….?)
Just as we couldn’t pass up at invitation to miX the other night with one of the greatest, and certainly the farthest French flung chefs in the world: Alain Ducasse.
The occasion was to watch him test drive some new winter menu items from his new executive chef Bruno Riou:
….and to interview him for an upcoming article we’re doing on the most romantic restaurants in town for VEGAS magazine. Ducasse now runs 26 restaurants on three continents (the most recent opened in St. Petersburg, Russia, not Florida), and had just flown in from Tokyo when caught up with him in the miX Bar and peppered him with questions like:
ELV: How many miles do you fly a year?
Alain Ducasse: Tens of thousands….too many to count.
ELV: Doesn’t it wear you out/how do you do it? You’re not a young man you know? (Ed. note: ELV and AD are about the same age.)
AD: You get used to it but it’s still tiring. I much prefer flying west to east (as from Tokyo to Vegas) rather than the opposite direction. It just seems to be easier to handle. And obviously, I’ve learned to sleep very well on airplanes.
ELV: Okay, enough pleasantries. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Is French food dead?
AD (smiling a smile that tells us he’s tired (with good reason) of answering this question): All I can say is this: Between Joel Robuchon and me we have over 50 great restaurants all over the world. Add in Jean-Georges Vongerichten and it is over seventy-five. What other cuisine in the world can say that!?
In between the jokes and sips of his house brand champagne (very good, btw), he told us his most recent restaurant expansion (besides Russia) has been Puerto Rico (where he practically swooned telling us how talented his young, Puerto Rico-born, CIA-educated chef was) and Qatar (where his restaurant will be located inside the Museum of Islamic Arts). He’s also working on a Middle-Eastern/French cookbook “which expands the traditional recipes of the region by applying French technique to them.” “For example,” he said, “this part of the world tends to cook meat only one way (well done, how well we know). We hope to help them discover a new way of looking at meat when it is rare** or medium-rare, and how delicious it can taste with only salt and pepper.” Amen to that Alain.
As for the food at this gathering of the fortunate foodie few, it was all that and a bag of chips, the cat’s meow, the gnat’s bollocks, the bee’s knees:
Our modest little repast (modest if you consider seven courses and six wines modest) began with a spicy crab salad with heart of palm and citrus marmalade. It was very spicy (for a French dish) and started the meal on a piquant note, assisted by a Reiully (Loire Valley) white we’d never heard of, courtesy of sommelier Christophe Tassan. “Sautée gourmand” of lobster came next, along with another unheard of white, this time a petite arvine from Switzerland — a wine that looked like a Sauterne and tasted like mineral-laced apple and pear juice. It was a revelation, as were the truffled chicken quenelles that came with the lobster chunks and al dente tubes of fresh pasta — a dish as busy as the Champs-Elysée that somehow knitted together nicely in the mouth — high-toned French technique at its finest.
Of course, with the boss there taking notes, you would expect everything to be à point, but still, every bite was fork-droppingly delicious…so good in fact, that even a rube like Al Mancini was impressed.
Another revelation was the sea bass festooned with the tiny shellfish/snails that ELV calls periwinkles. Once again, surf and turf found themselves married — this time by a righteous celery root fondant — and once again, the wine — a Franz Keller pinot blanc — made the whole shebang seem like a match made in heaven. The lamb was as good as lamb can be, and pastry chef Oraby Ditgnavong’s apple, quince & caramel tatin with a caramel parfait and green apple sorbet was a seasonal winner in the best French tradition of molded, intensified desserts. We would’ve eaten more of it if they hadn’t kept force feeding us madeleines right out of the oven.
Those damn French chefs. They know ELV can resist anything but temptation.
In THEhotel at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89119
* As in fun-loving, free-spirited and frolicsome.
** The French way of cooking lamb is for someone to yell “fire!” as it’s leaving the kitchen.