French bistros are about as hip as a dickey. They’ve been around for over two hundred years, and there is nothing fancy about them (or the food they serve). But if you want to do them well, certain formulas must be followed and menus and rules adhered to.
Brasseries are different from bistros. Technically, a brasserie is an Alsatian/Franco/Germanic beer hall with lots of hearty food (cassoulet, tarte flambée, boudin noir, etc.) on hand to compliment the brews and boisterousness. Bistros are smaller, more personal eateries, often spilling out onto Parisian sidewalks, with quick cooking and inexpensive wines at their core. The classic template for both started getting confused in the latter half of the twentieth century, and anywhere but Paris (France, not Ohio), the two monikers are now used interchangeably….although even among the hoi polloi, the term “bistro” still connotes a more intimate, casual setting.
Brasseries are also convivial. They can get noisy. They have zinc (or pewter) bars loaded with interesting libations. Service can be brusque (In France, no one ever tells you their first name, thank god) but efficient, and the staff is usually a blur of white shirts and black aprons. The menu should be as familiar as an old sweater. Save for an occasional special, most people know what they want to order before they hit the front door. At Brasserie Lipp, we start tasting the oysters and the choucroute as soon as we see the sign.
Bardot Brasserie — Michael Mina‘s new ode to Francophilia in the Aria — is resolutely a copy of brasserie…with lots of traditional-yet-modernized bistro recipes thrown in for good measure. But we don’t really care what Mina calls it, because right now, he and his Executive Chef Joshua Smith are cooking the best French food of this kind Las Vegas has ever seen.
All the above rules are important, but rule number one is you have to have cooks who give a shit. Since the baseline of all bistro cooking is French classics like omelet aux fine herbs, steak frites and croque Monsieur (or Madame), it is essential that your head chef and line cooks know how to execute these recipes to perfection, hundreds of times, like they’re tying their own shoes.
Top shelf ingredients aren’t essential, but certainly help. This is bistro cooking after all, not some Dan Barber-temple-of-locavore-lore, so freshness and respect trumps pedigree and pretension. Take the croque Madame mentioned above. It starts with good, fresh brioche toast, upon which lightly cured, not-to-thinly-sliced French ham is placed, along with some Gruyere that melts into that soft, eggy bread. That bread retains its squishiness on the interior whilst becoming caramelized and crisp on the outside — the whole then being bathed in a proper Mornay sauce that emits the subtle creamy/silky tang of a cheesy béchamel. Screw up any one of these ingredients and you have a lousy ham and cheese sandwich. Pay close attention to each and you have a thing of beauty:
Francophiles everywhere will be happy to know that Smith’s skills don’t stop at sandwich making, and that the dining room also hits all the right notes:
….it carrying through the glass, wood and polished metal theme like it was lifted straight from the Left Bank.
This being 2,015 years since the death of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Mina and his troops have dispensed with the brusqueness, added the obligatory hand-made cocktails (at $12, a bargain), and feature a special list of four rosé wines by the glass that go perfectly with this food. The “everlasting” glass of Chateau D’Esclans for $20 (weekend brunch only) is also a treat, and sorta makes up for the typical, gouge-the-turistas prices on the main list.
Where the real treats reside, however, is on the menu. At first glance, you might think you wandered into Bouchon or Mon Ami Gabi by mistake….that is, until you take a bite. Along with Comme Ca, these latter two make up Vegas’s triumvirate of mid-level, Gallic gastronomia, but none of those three are putting out a frisée aux lardons salade of this piquancy or perfection:
…which is everything most tartares are not: highly seasoned, properly mixed, and full of textural contrast. (The liberal use of capers and onions is also a plus – something most restaurants wimp out on.)
It doesn’t hurt either that they’re using the brightest, firmest, orange-iest eggs we’ve ever seen in a restaurant, or that the chicken rôti:
…is as firm and moist and crispy a bird as you’ll find anywhere.
Equally lip-smacking are the skate wing with caper-brown butter, wood-grilled, meaty duck wings with a textbook-perfect sauce Maltaise, pâté de Campagne that Daniel Boulud would be proud to serve, and a finger-licking-good foie gras parfait:
…that’s so good it should be illegal.
Speaking of db Brasserie, several friends-in-food have asked us how these two similar concepts compare. Summoning our most diplomatic demeanor (something at odds with our personality, generally), all we can say is Daniel’s brasserie is a corporate calculation, made to feature the “best hits” of Boulud’s other restaurants. As such, it’s always lacked a theme and suffers for it. (He should’ve had the guts to go full-offal, à la Bar Boulud in NYC, and feature his panoply of sausages and cured meats, but the bean counters said otherwise.) Bardot Brasserie feels like Mina (and Smith) made the commitment to go balls-to-the-wall bistro, and make these cuisine classique recipes sing with their own special tweaks and twerks. They have done just that, and the passion behind these plates is palpable.
Add to all these pluses an onion soup that kicks ass, escargot in puff pastry that take no prisoners, and drop dead delicious breads, pastries and desserts, and our staff is trying to think of a reason ever to go to another informal frog pond in town.
Yeah, it’s that good.
C’est très très bon as they say en Français.
ELV’s dinner and brunch were both comped. He left a $100 tip at one and a $40 tip at the other.
In the Aria Hotel and Casino
3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89158