When André Rochat closed his namesake restaurant downtown in 2009, it’s safe to say that nary a tear was shed around the ELV offices.
The story of the cheesecloth-skinned chef tossing me from Alize (one of three restaurants he once owned) in 2002 is pretty well known in our humble burg, and we never tire of showing the (mostly) rave review/profile we wrote about him (in April 1999) that inexplicably set him off and led to our banishment. (Yes, we didn’t care for a few items, and felt some wine bottles were massively overpriced, but on the whole, we sang his praises left and right.)
But Rochat didn’t see it that way. In his mind, I had dared to question his preeminence as a chef, and was presumptuous to even think that every single thing about his restaurant was anything less than perfect. (His hissy fit* is a testament to how unsophisticated our food writing/dining/chef scene was even a dozen years ago. These days, any chef in town would kill to get such a profile in dead tree media.)
Over the years, we’ve gone out of our way to praise his contributions to the Vegas food scene, but have generally avoided walking into any of his joints, for the same reason we don’t go to Oath Keeper rallies or our former in-laws for Thanksgiving.
But thirteen years is a long time, and we had heard through the grapevine that the current management at Andre’s Monte Carlo wouldn’t at all mind if we stopped in for a bite. (For the record, Rochat still has an interest in the restaurant, despite being in and out of bankruptcy over the past ten years, but apparently doesn’t spend much time in Vegas anymore.)
So stopped in we did and impressed we were. Just like we had been when the joint opened in 1996.
Because, you see, we always loved André’s — both the original and the Monte Carlo offshoot. And we had loved them both since their inception. Andre’s downtown was a fave going all the way back to the early 80s, and we were so thrilled with the Monte Carlo incarnation that, by the time we wrote the review in 1999, we had taken numerous clients, colleagues and dates there.
Sure the review was critical of a few dishes — such as a Roquefort-phyllo-pear thingee that was impossible to eat — but that’s what a critic is paid to do. A critic, first and foremost, is a consumer advocate. You are there to communicate with the reader how best to spend their money when they go out to eat. Anyone who goes into restaurant writing with any other agenda is in it for all the wrong reasons. A critic is also paid to educate, not pander to the lowest common denominator.
Good chefs, mature chefs, intelligent chefs recognize this. They may have titanic egos, but they also know that tastes differ, and maybe each and every dish coming out of their kitchen isn’t the Mona Lisa of mastication.
Not André. So used had he become to being the only game in town, and not having any real critics writing anything (remember, ELV had the territory all to himself until 2001), that reading a sentence like “…a dish of lentils with pancetta and sweet vinegar is by no means a disaster, but is as one-dimensional as it is cloying” must have struck him like nut-punch.
But instead of acting like an adult, he gave me the old heave-ho, refusing to recognize that tastes differ, and that a town with no real critics, and nothing but effusive praise, was a thing of the past.
By doing so, he pretty much insured the marginalization of his businesses. André Rochat should have been the grand-père of Las Vegas’s food revolutions — especially the 2.0 (1998) and 3.0 (2005) versions, but instead, he spent over a decade battling bankruptcy and bad business decisions. Could further press pushes from yours truly and others have made a difference? Maybe yes, maybe no, but it sure couldn’t have hurt. And acting like a petulant little shit to the only writer in town at the time certainly didn’t help.
The good news is André’s, with or without André, is still the old-school, comfortable, rococo, well-lit, gorgeous bar, impeccable service frog pond it always was. And the food is even better than we remember from thirteen years ago.
It’s slightly amazing to me that it’s been able to sustain itself for lo these 19 years in a middle-brow afterthought like the Monte Carlo Hotel, but sustain it has, with a menu of tried and true classics like escargot swimming in a garlicky-but-not-too-garlicky, parsley-imbued butter sauce:
….and a salty-but-not-too-salty smoked salmon parfait:
…and a textbook lobster bisque, enlivened with a mini, puff-pastry, lobster crouton:
(Lobster bisque action shot!)
You don’t come here expecting the pirouettes on a plate of Twist by Pierre Gagnaire or L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Nor are you seeking the gutsy bistro/brasserie stylings of Bouchon or Brasserie Bardot. Here you experience slightly tweaked and updated of classics such as this thick, tender true Dover sole:
…shown above done “Véronique” — in a style that even Escoffier would applaud. Instead of the classic cream sauce, Executive Chef Chris Bulen lightens things up considerably with lemon and white wine that actually allows you to taste the succulence of one of the world’s great swimmers.
These dishes may seem as dated as a Maurice Chevalier tune to many, but when they’re done right (as they are here) they’re some of the greatest recipes on the planet, and proof that quintessence never truly goes out of style.
Bulen and his troops are to be applauded. They’re not breaking any new ground with this menu, but they are faithful craftsmen who are loyal to its tenets. After only a few bites, I turned to the Food Gal® and said every forkful was making me regret having missed out on this food, in my own backyard for well over a decade.
I could hold a grudge against André for keeping this cuisine from me, but I won’t. We all grow up and perhaps even he has, although I doubt it. A good chef these days knows that if he gets a good review, he or she should contact the reviewer and thank them. And if they get a bad one, they should do the same. Restaurants and writers are not playing a zero-sum game. We are in it together, and both have a lot to learn from each other.
ELV’s dinner for two — four apps, two desserts, plus the $78 Dover sole — came to $162 + $38 tip = $200. Three glass of Chablis (perfect with the fish, btw), were comped.
In the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino
3770 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
* Rochat complained loudly to the editors at Greenspun Media Group** about what a hack I was, ignoring the fact that two years earlier he had personally praised me – in print and with a handwritten note – as the only food writer in town who knew anything about food. His Chef de Cuisine also sent a six-page, single spaced, handwritten letter (buried somewhere in my closet) to Las Vegas Life, detailing, with Unabomber-like thoroughness, every full of shit factor and faulty facet present in our review.
** After several years of reviews, including one where Smith & Wollensky was accurately described as a “cattle call,” and another where the Gold Coast was referred to as the “Grease Coast,” the editors at Las Vegas Life decided to bring in someone who wouldn’t ruffle as many feathers. Or impinge upon advertising dollars. Or cost the publishers further indigestion….or their favorite table. Enter Max Jacobson.