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




10 thoughts on “Dumbed Down Ducasse

  1. Shameful for such a beautiful location.

    I appreciate your writing and cutting-to-the-chase, Mr. Curtas. FYI, I only agree with you roughly 85% of the time.

  2. Someone had to say it publicly, because the city’s taste makers have been saying this in private since the day Rivea premiered. I agree with every word.

    The only thing to add is that Rivea is the Alain Ducasse mass-market chain concept. He opened Rivera locations in London and Saint-Tropez recently, and more are scheduled. Rivea is fairly special for a chain (unless you compare it to Ducasse’s contemporary L’Atelier De Joël Robuchon), but in the end it is the lowest end restaurant concept Ducasse has ever produced.

  3. As usual, I appreciate your comments. This article comes as no surprise anymore. In preparation for Las Vegas conferences, I now spend several hours looking into a globe, trying to forecast where I will feel “least” ravaged by the non-present chef and the ever-present F&B miscreants. FWIW, none of those photos look like I’d have left happy.

  4. Just like most things dirtied with the greasy fingerprints of MGM’s empty suits, a flamed out shell of an experience operating in the shadow of former glory.

  5. I could not agree more with this review, with one exception: I found the prices on the wine least to be reasonably standard with a few priced quite nicely. Having experienced miX from the opening hype to its final days, it was clear it wasn’t where it began. Rivea, however, was a HUGE disappointment! This is nothing more than a Casino Coffee Shop with a great view & a ridiculous check for your final course. The ONLY thing they had going for them aside from the view was the service. With so many choices of dining in Las Vegas, this is one I will not be repeating. Might as well have built a shack on 10 acres in Malibu!

  6. The fact that you use date rape as an example shows us all that you really have no right saying anything negative about another human being. One can hope you get to experience the feeling conscious or not one day. Whether you enjoyed dining in a restaurant, yes just a restaurant or not gives you no right to compare to an illegal, horrible, life destroying act like rape.

  7. I read this on facebook

    “John Curtas the next year or few are going to bring tough times for everyone. MGM is cinching the purse strings for Dubai world and quality is getting caught in the tourniquet.. Limited purchase avenues, decreased staffing levels & cost controls are going to make delivering value more challenging than ever. You will see the difference in 2016. True enough F&B VP’s are challenged to maximize profitability but many of these directives come from above. And believe it or not some Hotel execs are proponents of quality and service and facilitate operators success..”

    Looking at the pictures and reading your post, this person who made this reply did not get in depth to what you were saying and only made a point at being right and justifying the actions of a lazy Food and Beverage Program. That food looked gross you pictured. All of it. The dining room looks cheap..and so why should any paying patron need to deal with the tough times of MGM, because they want to fucking play cheap because they need to make Dubai world. Who gives a shit about their financial stress. Make fucking food that taste good and blows peoples mind, instead of union, crap house bottom line filler…lets see what we can get away with to the dying public. Curate a dining floor that brings people back…and quit making fucking excuses because you feel entitled to because your pay check has made you a company man.

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