An interesting idea, credited to the Keeper of the Keys to this blog – Mr. John Curtas- is two critics taking in the same meal, writing a couple articles blind of each other’s impressions, and seeing where that leaves them. This was doubly fortuitous, as in the making I learned of a crazy-good restaurant, easily overlooked for lack of PR, Pinot Brasserie. Judging by our overlapping cares and qualms with the Franco-foods, it makes for an interesting look at things.
Pinot Brasserie, perhaps the most overlooked restaurant on the strip, has been punching out what can only be called “some seriously good food”. Now I am generally loath to talk about food in the way people usually describe a burger stuffed bacon and hair gel, but the dishes coming from the hands of Chefs Eric Lhuiller and John Courtney are definitely -seriously- serious. The menu has a ton of old-school French staples, from escargot to lobster bisque, precicely what you’d expect from a Brasserie but missing the specter of pomp and pernicious hoity-toity-isms so often looming in even the most traditionally casual French concepts. A “bouchon” is no longer synonymous with friendly home-spun Lyonnaise sausage-huts, and a “bistro” is anything but modest or moderate, but a brasserie still clings to it’s roots as relaxed.
There are some very VERY strong dishes that would be blowing people away if they were all hip and trendy and new, but it looks like you’d have to cover the walls in graffiti, pump in whatever pop singer my five-year-old niece is listening to, and call it “P” by Morton’s. But it would be a downright crime to let the fog machines and bass beats cloud your perception of this delicious little langostino bite, poached with black truffles to double up on that richness, and perfectly seasoned by a salty, full bodied, consumme-ish aspic. It gives what is sometimes felt missing with the better crustaceans, that little hint of the sea that makes oysters or urchin so addictive.
And their foie gras! Don’t go telling me about your apricot compotes, or your mushroom reduced sauces, or your candied fig. In a very inspired move, they go for complimenting flavors by pairing this seared taste of heaven with a smoked sausage coin, but then contrasting flavors with green lentils cooked in some kind of buttery, light, tangy sauce. Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised by another foie gras, such an iron-clad staple of French dining, I get my perceptions on the stuff challenged.
The “main attraction” of our tasting was a duo of lamb saddle and loin, rolled in a distinctly Moroccan spice blend (paprika-centric, but with some great aromatics). Along side a sweet date sauce, it was an interesting little side-note from a predominantly “French as French can be” tasting.
I’ll touch on desert last for the sake of chronology, but for the savory courses, I wanted to hit on this lobster bisque. You guys THIS LOBSTER BISQUE, oh my stars and stripes. It’s poured into the bowl at-table, around the standing claw meat and the little fresh cream lobster salad crustini, topped with a healthy bit of caviar. There’s that note again, the sea-flavor of the caviar and the rich, sweet lobster, so perfect together. That’s all great, but this bisque is mana from heaven. It’s not the thick canned-soup bisque you get ladled to you everywhere else, but a frothy, creamy, but light concoction. Fresh minced vegetables, roma tomatoes, a good helping of garlic, and something perceptively smoky (paprika again?). Downright addictive, I’d buy it by the industrial drum if I could. I’d have a cup of that in the morning to wake me up, just from pure enjoyment.
The desert was something I enjoyed for it’s creativity. Not the common confectionary of French places, but an interesting pairing between a strawberry and a Humbolt-Fog looking cheese. The strawberry was sliced up like a hasselback potato, roasted and drizzled with a sweet and tangy balsamic and black pepper sauce. It was the kind of ending of a tasting that I really prefer, not where it’s looked at like a challenge or prison sentence, but just a little unassuming bite of sweetness and complexity.
Of course there was much more to this meal than I can speak to. The wine pairings were expertly picked (the dessert port especially, WOW), there was a cheese plate, a scallop course with a watercress puree done as well as you’d expect in such a great restaurant. It’s unusual when a great crime of our undulating restaurant industry isn’t a place closing, but a place just not being a constant reminder of what a semi-casual French dining should be. Unpretentious, comfortable, and once again, serious food. Vive le Pinot!
In the Venetian Hotel and Casino
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109