ELV note: Daniel Boulud is back, and gastronomes everywhere are licking their chops. But before we dive into reviewing his new spot db Brasserie (opened just three weeks ago), perhaps a little history lesson is in order.
When it was announced ten years ago that Daniel Boulud would be coming to Las Vegas (at the Wynn Hotel and Casino), no one in Las Vegas was happier than yours truly. When the Daniel Boulud Brasserie opened there in May of 2005, no one was a bigger fan or more loyal customer.
When Philippe Rispoli — the on-premises chef de cuisine who made the restaurant hum — was shown the door in ‘o7, things went downhill rapidly. Between the Wynn’s wanting to steak-i-fy the place, and a kitchen crew that had neither the heart nor the chops for true French food, it was pretty much a relief when they closed the joint (on July 4, 2010), so as to no longer sully the name of one of America’s greatest chefs.
But Boulud — being neither a fool nor a bad businessman — knew there was still gold in them thar hills; he just needed the Great Recession to recede a bit more before throwing down for another try in our humble burg. This time he’s maintaining more control (he owns the restaurant in partnership with the hotel, we’re told), and this time he’s gonna stick.
But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. What he’s done is open a huge (220 seat) French brasserie in a hotel with two other similar concepts (Pinot Brasserie and Bouchon), in a town where things like anchovies and pissaladière elicit wrinkled noses and pissing matches with the wait staff.
The place is all sleek lines and dark woods — reminding us of a top flight New York steakhouse — and is unrecognizable from the old Valentino spot it replaced. The designers have cannily opened the place up to the main casino floor, but have somewhat disingenuously placed the bar towards the back of joint. (We’re guessing it was a plumbing thing.)
Regardless, the feng shui is in all the right places, and you will feel right at home as soon as you are seated. The lighting is flattering to the food and the customer — bright but not too so — and the tables are set with tablecloths (hooray for civilized dining!) and eye to the diner’s comfort, not how much money they can save with disgusting, reusable placemats.
Upon being seated, you will be handed a wine list. You will notice that it’s evenly divided between new and old world, and heavy with Burgundies and pinot noirs at expensive, but not insanely expensive, markups.
Put yourself in Head Sommelier Devin Zendel’s hands and he will steer you to both the gems and the bargains on the list. His by-the-glass offerings (above) are compelling, ever-changing, and priced a few bucks below what you would pay for the same juice at Wynn or Bellagio.
As superb as wine is with this cuisine, it would be a serious mistake to begin a meal here without a cocktail. (Side note: The older ELV gets, the less cocktail-y he becomes, but from what we’ve tasted at this bar (and we’ve tasted a bunch), they are doing some serious work here.) Our favorite among many is La Maitresse (The Mistress):
….a concupiscent concoction of rum, lime and coconut that might be the best balanced drink we’ve had in ages.
For those liking something stronger, The Expat presents something new to the serious drinker: a cocktail that changes character over time. Upon first pour:
…you will taste little more than a neat shot of chilled bourbon. But as the ginger-vanilla-infused ice sphere melts, the drink goes from tasting of straight booze, to spicy, ginger-laced bourbon, to an almost a vanilla-enhanced, sweetened, after-dinner liqueur. Somewhere along the way, the flavor profile will be right in your wheelhouse, but no matter when you’re sipping, it’s a treat.
Lest we get too carried away with cocktails, we should, at this point, mention the food. We hesitate to make too many pronouncements about it because Executive Chef David Middleton has told us that the menu is a work in progress, and some things that were love at first bite (like that pissaladière):
….have already been deep-sixed due to the fickle and fatuous flavor failings of the slack-jawed hordes that make up a majority of his customers.
(In this respect, ELV is of two minds. It is precisely those 40 million hoi polloi mouths that have brought these famous chefs and better food to the High Mojave Desert. But even after our culinary revolution of the past 20 years, Vegas remains a steak and potato town, appealing to a customer base with all the imagination of a network sitcom.)
That doesn’t keep Boulud (or Middleton) from pushing the Alsatian envelope. Their tarte flambé:
….are as Burgundian as Romanée-Conti.
What they and the rest of the menu announce is that this restaurant is basically all over the (French) map. So, expect to find an ethereal lemon-saffron-seafood-draped linguine du sud:
….nicely echoing the light and lemony flavors of Provence, side by side with a spicy Tunisian lamb (presented as a luscious chop ringed with a house-made Merguez sausage), or a fabulous duck confit, or crispy-skin, roast chicken:
…either of which could be straight from a central France farmhouse.
All of these (including a superior steak frites) show a kitchen with great attention to detail (a Boulud trademark). What they also show is something new in these here parts: a move away from strictly a la carte dining — as each of the entrees (save the pasta) is presented as a finished plate of food — complete with vegetables sauces and sides attached. In other words, your $48 12 oz. New York strip comes with a sauce and haricot verts — with no need to pay separately for the accoutrements — definitely a bargain compared to what many a top end steakhouse gouges you for…if you want anything but a bare piece of meat on your plate.
As for desserts: they were disappointing on our first try; spectacular on the second, so we’ll give Pastry Chef Robyn Lucas a “work in progress” pass and simply say that her madeleines:
…are so good they should be illegal.
Eating Las Vegas defies you to eat just one.
Or to go here once and not want to return.
ELV has been in four times for various tastings and paid just once for his food…but most of the time, for all of his booze. Dinner for two should run around $150 (exclusive of alcohol); and the $48 three course prix fixe is a flat out steal. Beginning this week dbB opens for lunch, and we’ll be reporting on those dishes in an upcoming article.
In the Venetian Hotel and Casino
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109