Dumbed Down Ducasse
They come in waves, but it begins as a trickle. First a couple, then another, then a four-top of salesmen in cheap suits slides by. A few curious souls from the bar pop their heads in. “Wow,” you hear them say, “this place is one of those famous French chefs (sic).” Then the elevators expel four, six, eight, a dozen hungry souls in various stages of convention dress: the obligatory Dockers and Rockports — adorned with the customary jewelry of the day: name tags, badges and lavalieres. Before long a group of twenty streams in — dressed for a big night at the Outback — all ready to spend the company’s money at this hi-falutin’ joint 64 floors above the Las Vegas Strip. “Gol-o-ly,” you can practically hear them saying to themselves. “This place ain’t like nuthin’ back home.” Before too much longer they’re presented with a menu of familiar sounding items that appear at their tables as small Trojan Horse plates of food that sounded like one thing, appeared as another, and tasted like something else entirely, and before they know it, the mind-numbing bill is presented to someone who will willingly pay it because it ain’t comin’ out of his pocket and a rape will just have occurred without the victim even knowing they were penetrated.
Welcome to Rivea.
Remember miX? It was Alain Ducasse’s ode to champagne wishes and caviar dreams floating high above the Mandalay Bay from 2004-2014. It was closed for “renovations” (really, just a change of chairs and fabric), to brightly re-appear late last year as this celebration of more modern, lighter, updated French(?) cuisine. (Read: smaller plates, more lemon juice, and even less bang for your buck.)
It reappeared all right, in a joint that now looks like a coffee shop (see above).
Where before you got a menu of Ducasse classics like filet “Rossini” and lobster “au curry” for fifty-to-sixty bucks, now you get “small plates” (yawn) of things like mozzarella di bufala and vitello tonnato and linguine with clams (for far less cash, but also far less satisfaction per bite) — none of which have anything to do with French food (or the food that made Ducasse famous for that matter), and all of it tasting about as authentic as soul food in Oslo.
Do you blame Executive Chef Bruno Riou? Of course not. He’s a talented guy who turned out a superb menu at miX, night after night, for years. But now he’s like a thoroughbred chained to a milk wagon — being asked to churn and burn steaks and “pizzetta” so far out of his wheelhouse they might as have well asked him to tune up a ’67 Chevy.
Ducasse? Of course he’s to blame, because he’s thrown in the towel and is now just taking the money and running, like Nobu, Giada, Colicchio, Donny & Marie and many before him.
But the real culprits here are the F&B dudes (they’re almost always dudes) who are charged with maximizing the bottom line at the hotel. Like most Vegas hotel execs, they’re a day late and a dollar short whenever it comes to capturing a trend. Small plates may seem like a safe bet, and they were all the rage….in 2010. But this has always been a big deal meal restaurant and they think (while trying to justify their six-figure salaries) that they can turn a spectacular space into the world’s most elaborate, fast-casual Italian restaurant.
By the way, they’re the same suits who ruined Fleur a few years ago — turning an elegant room into a ugly mess of mediocrity in the service of all of those 44 inch middle-manager waistlines.
Lest you think Eating Las Vegas is being naive, we know only too well how these conversations go. The chef’s name still has caché, but the hotel’s demographic seems to demand food they understand. So what’s a poor $200,000/year V.P. to do? Give them gussied up, overpriced things like “chicken breast with lemon confit” is the answer. That way, Edna and Albert can trek back to Omaha bragging about the famous chef’s food they had, while never being challenged anymore than they are at Applebee’s. In essence, what they’re doing is letting Vegas do what it’s always done: give the veneer of sophistication to people who have none, with as little heavy lifting by the hotel chefs as possible.
None of this would matter if the food at Rivea were any good, but it isn’t. They trot out a charcuterie platter like it’s the shroud of Turin, even when you can get the same stuff everywhere these days. They then steer you to the aforementioned “small plates” section that cliches around Italy — foccacia, gnocchi, crostino, risotto, etc.– in portions so Lilliputian that even the Food Gal® left hungry.
“I didn’t know we were coming to an Italian restaurant,” she said. “Well, it certainly doesn’t taste like one,” we shot back.
And so it didn’t.
Whatever Provençal flavors they’re going for here are so tame as to be non-existent. And when things go from the merely boring and bland, like these “crispy socca”:
…to”artisanal” linguine and clams that tastes like it was bathed in lemonade:
…you know there are WAY too many cooks in the kitchen.
And it’s really saying something about how the mighty have fallen when a cocotte of winter vegetables:
…and some creamy polenta:
…are the only memorable things on the menu.
But then you remember how stale, bland and tough-to-chew something called “prawn and calamari crostino” was both times you tried it:
……and you know the kitchen is just phoning it in.
To be fair, the “sage/parmesan cheese potato gnocchi” and “John Dory baked like on the Riviera” weren’t that bad…but they weren’t that good, either — the former being gummy and the latter being overcooked.
The cocktails cost $18/each and the wine list should only be viewed with a soothsayer, your accountant, and a cardiologist on hand.
Like we said, date rape is unconscionable even if you are unconscious.
Of ELV’s two meals here, one had the tab picked up by a generous colleague, and the other cost him $214 for two, with a single glass of wine. The desserts were very good.
In the Delano Hotel
3940 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89119