Eating Las Vegas

During my long weekend in Las Vegas, everything seemed up.  I won a few hundred dollars playing craps, boosted my tan while relaxing by the pool and managed to put on a few pounds, thanks to the many dining options that Las Vegas has to offer.

I spent most of my restaurant time at Mandalay Bay, where I was staying.  You can’t go wrong there, with more than 20 restaurants including a few by big name chefs.  I did venture off site on Sunday for the Wynn’s incredible Champagne brunch, which I fondly remembered from the year before.

Click here to read about the Champagne brunch at the Wynn from April 2009

My husband and I arrived at the hotel around 9:30pm Friday night, though it felt like well after midnight to us.  We knew we weren’t up for gambling quite yet, but weren’t ready to go to sleep either.  We decided to get a glass of wine at Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s restaurant famous for its four-story wine tower and its “wine angels” who fetch the bottles.

Click here to read “Wine and a Performance at Aureole” from April 2009

We found a comfy table in the lounge and took a look at the wine list.  Had we not been so tired it would have been fun to select a bottle from one of the thousands on the eWinelist and watch a wine angel get it for us, but we instead opted for one glass each.  Both wines were great — a big and earthy Napa Cab for me and a spicy Russian River Valley Zin for him.  We split an order of the sirloin sliders, perfect with both wines.  Juicy, with guacamole and a zesty chipotle sauce, they were some of the best sliders I’ve had.

The reason for our trip was to meet up with my sister, who was traveling to Las Vegas the following day with a group of friends during their week off from their third year of medical school.

Fresh from assisting in surgeries and other doctor-related activities that make my weak stomach turn, my sister was ready for a weekend of fun and relaxation — and of course, good food (it runs in the family).

To ensure the trip kicked off on a high note, we had booked a table for three on Saturday night at Fleur de Lys, Hubert Keller’s restaurant.

Before dinner we decided to try our luck in the casino.  We hit the craps table at just the right time, doubling our money in 20 minutes thanks to a few hot shot rollers (my sister included).

Feeling good after cashing in my extra $50 in chips, I couldn’t wait to put the money towards a nice meal at Fleur de Lys, conveniently located about a 30 second walk from the craps tables.

Though just steps away from the casino floor, Fleur de Lys felt like an entirely different world.  Through the doors that blocked the chiming of slot machines, the restaurant was smaller than I imagined, with 30 foot ceilings that helped keep the noise down.  The room was warm and inviting with its chocolate brown tones and wall of stones and fresh roses.  From our table I could look up into the wine loft at part of the restaurant’s 12,000 bottle collection.

I could have spent hours looking through the wine list, a binder with all sorts of enticing options.  Fortunately for us budget conscious diners, the list had all of its bottles under $100 listed in one section.  I chose a lovely Côtes du Rhône that cost $63.

Since we wanted to get the full experience of Fleur de Lys at our first visit, we all opted for the four course prix fixe menu that cost $89.  I didn’t take photos of the dishes because it didn’t feel appropriate in the restaurant, but suffice it to say that the presentation of all our courses was artful with a purpose.  Everything on the plate was so flavorful and could be enjoyed on its own or together.

For the first course I had the Ahi Tuna Tartare, which was chopped up and served on a bed of shaved fennel slaw with a ginger ponzu sauce.  I’m not normally a fan of fennel but I loved it in this dish.  The fennel soaked up the ponzu sauce and offered a refreshing contrast in taste to the meaty tuna.

Next I ordered the Braised Veal and Yukon Gold Potato Ravioli.  Veal is not something I tend to order at restaurants but I was glad that I did here.  The pasta itself was so light and delicate, with wonderfully flavored meat inside.  It was a toss up who had ordered better, me or my husband and sister who had both opted for sea bass that was wrapped in a thin slice of chorizo and served with barley in a savory sun dried tomato sauce.

For the main course my husband and sister ordered the Prime Filet Mignon, served with a red wine reduction.  I have never seen a steak more perfectly cooked.  Both were medium rare, with a uniform pink color from one side to the other.  The meat itself was delicious and extremely tender.

However, I won the round with the Stout Braised Beef Shortribs.  They were topped with a small bit of whole grain mustard and served with a root vegetable puree.  “Wow” is really the only thing I need to say about this dish.

Besides being by far the best shortribs I’ve ever eaten (I’m a fan so I’ve ordered them often), it was the best dish I’ve had in months, maybe years.

I couldn’t get enough of the sauce, an insanely good Guinness reduction that the waiter poured around the meat.  Beef, lamb, a piece of cardboard — I would eat anything served with this sauce.  My husband and sister agreed, scooping up the sauce on pieces of their filet mignon after I refused to share any more of my shortribs.  And the root vegetable puree!  It was silky and luscious and wonderful with a little of the sauce.

With every dish, Keller demonstrated his exceptional skill at sauces.  Like a great wine, all were loaded with flavor, and yet they were never heavy.

I had already made up my mind that my meal at Fleur de Lys was the best dining experience I’ve had in the last couple of years; dessert made it official.

I ordered the trio of desserts: a warm Valrhona chocolate cake, peanut butter milkshake and caramel corn ice cream, served with a few pieces of caramel corn.  I’ve lost track of how many warm Valrhona chocolate cakes I’ve eaten over the years but this one was the best, with a center of pure heaven.  The ice cream was a sweet palate cleanser between the cake and the milkshake, my favorite on the plate.  Served in a glass resembling a tall shot glass with a short straw, the milkshake tasted like Reese’s peanut butter cups.  Though full after the fabulous meal, I wish I could have gotten several refills!

Top Chef Masters fans, take note: Fleur de Lys offers an early evening menu based on the dishes Keller made on season one of the show.  Yes, even the macaroni and cheese he made in a dorm room shower makes the menu, though I’m assuming he doesn’t actually prepare it in a shower anymore.

During my trip I also ate at Keller’s Burger Bar.  Though I’m kind of over the concept of big name chefs opening up burger joints because they’re ALL doing it, I have to say I was a fan of Keller’s.  From my seat at the bar I could see the assortment of beers on tap and the even larger selection of bottled beer in the fridges.  I ordered an amber from Sin City Brewing Company, a local microbrewery.

As with all these burger restaurants, the meal can cost as little or as much as you’d like it to be, depending on how many toppings (and how exotic) you order.  Burger Bar offers an assortment of patties including Black Angus, Kobe beef, buffalo, salmon, chicken and a veggie burger.  You also choose your bun from five options.  Toppings range from a variety of cheeses, sauces, mushrooms and bacons, to the more expensive foie gras and lobster.  Those who’ve won big may want to skip the customization and go right for the Rossini, a Kobe beef burger with sautéed foie gras and shaved truffles on an onion bun which costs $60.

I opted for the Country Natural burger ($10.25), made from beef which comes from a family-owned sustainable ranch.  I selected a ciabatta bun, then added on cheddar cheese and oyster mushrooms, which bumped up the price by $1.85.  It arrived loaded and juicy, and was great with my amber.

Had I not ordered both the sweet potato fries and the beer battered jalapeño pickles, I might have had room for dessert.  Specifically, the Nutella milkshake.  Thinking back to the yummy peanut butter milkshake, I could imagine how wonderfully rich it would taste.  I planned to return another day just for the milkshake, but unfortunately never made it back.

For diners wanting a burger for dessert, Burger Bar offers a Chocolate Burger.  It has a warm donut for the bun, Nutella mousse for the patty and passion fruit, strawberry and kiwi as the toppings.

On my final evening in Las Vegas I happened to visit another Top Chef Masters star’s restaurant — Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood, a sustainable seafood restaurant in the middle of the desert.

As we were a large group (in addition to my husband, sister and me, four of my sister’s friends joined us), we were seated at a big table just outside the restaurant which took away some of the ambiance, though we still enjoyed our meal.

For my first course I went for turf rather than surf, with the oh so good Steak Tartare ($17), which had pieces of shaved truffles, Parmesan and miso egg yolk mixed in.  For my main course I ordered the Cioppino ($35), a delicious mix of mussels, clams, shrimp, fish and calamari-resembling calamarata pasta in a light and savory tomato broth.  The shellfish was well cooked, not too chewy, and the broth was so good I wish I had more of the sourdough garlic bread to soak it up.

My second favorite dish was the Rainbow Trout ($31), which my sister ordered.  It was served on top of bacon and marble potatoes with a pecan-mustard dressing.  I loved the flavor combination of the fish and the smoky bacon.

Even before we arrived at RM Seafood, we knew we were ordering dessert.  And we knew which dessert we were ordering: Rick’s Tasting Game.  Sixteen different ice creams and sorbets are served blind, with the diner guessing the flavors.  As our waiter informed us, no one has ever gotten all 16 correct.

Armed with my experience tasting wines, I was ready for the challenge.

How did we do?  Click here to find out.

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