Compressed Peaches and Strawberries
Bouchon, Las Vegas, Nevada
I haven’t been to the original one in Napa (and doubt I’ll ever go – there are too many other temptations in that region), and I refuse to eat under the “SAMSUNG” sign in the Time Warner Center.
So, sadly, Las Vegas is the only place I’d actually commit to a meal at Thomas Keller’s cottage industry eatery, Bouchon.
Shooting from the hip, Cowboy and I decided to stop in for brunch.
At the height of Las Vegas’s go-go years, I’m sure that a table on a Saturday between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. would have posed an annoyingly difficult proposition.
We strolled in half-past eleven and were seated within five minutes. Though the place was abuzz, there were plenty of tables.
As far as Las Vegas restaurants go, Bouchon’s got character. I mean, this place actually looks like someone read the restaurant’s mission statement.
A brasserie it is.
For the unimaginative (and xenophobic) type that frequent Las Vegas, Bouchon – like many other destination-themed hotels and restaurants – affords a watered-down and sanitized peak into a different culture: Bouchon looks Old-World without actually feeling old.
It’s got a long, handsome oyster bar, tiled floors, and a lofted ceiling. Trimmed with brass railings and globe sconces, it actually makes you forget you’re just two steps away from a bank of hotel lifts, (if you look in the right directions) within a stone’s throw of sun-bathers on the Venetian’s Venezia Tower pool deck, and above a whirling, buzzing, and flashing floor of slot machines and black jack tables.
Brunch here – like almost everywhere else in the United States – is pretty straightforward. Add to that Keller’s touch: above-board service, predictably decent execution, and an injection of authenticity. And voila, you have a pretty reliable seat-filler.
But to that point of authenticity, Bouchon doesn’t take it to the level of farce, like so many other places in Las Vegas. Rather, it’s quite frank about it.
Pain epi, for example, is torn from a larger sheaf and plopped right on your tabletop. This drew a nasty gasp from a nearby diner. No doubt, she’s never been to France. (I know, how terribly bourgeois of me.)
And shelves of ice piled with a wharf of various shellfish, mollusks, and crustacea can be assembled in grand or petit order.
Having overeaten the night before, and staring down a rather substantial meal at Joël Robuchon at The Mansion that evening, I was trying to eat light. Though the Eggs Sardou (on the chalkboard) and the Boudin Blanc vied for attention, I stuck to two salads.
One of the them was a plate of “Compressed Peaches and Strawberries” ($11) from the daily chalkboard. Atypically brasserie, could you deny this dish was typically Keller? It was a smart and effective way to promote the “cook with a bag” method, Keller’s latest culinary hook.* The large boulders of peaches and halved strawberries gushed with sweet nectar (the peaches, especially).The fruit was supposed to be dressed with a vinaigrette, but I asked it to be left on the side. I’m glad I did. I wanted to enjoy the pure flavor of the fruits.
“Salade Maraichere au Chevre Chaud,” wasn’t ($9.75) any more or less than what it should have been. The generous pile of mesclun is what I needed (a friend noted that the lettuce, browned at the ends, was, perhaps, not in tip-top shape; I suppose he was right, though most of it was perky and alive). The puck of goat cheese was warmed just enough to activate the aroma factory in its coat of olive oil heavily infused with herbes de Provence.
Cowboy’s “Croque Madame” ($19) was a hearty work. Runny yolk? Check. Velvety mornay sauce? Check. Moist and flavorful ham? Check. Gooey, oozy cheese? Check. Toasty crust and a fluffy, buttery crumb? Check. It was, in every way, that Croque Madame.
Not really needing or caring for dessert, we allowed our waiter to humor us into trying the restaurant’s namesake confection. An off-menu item, “Bouchons” (which, if you didn’t know, means “cork” in French; it also refers to a certain type of bistro in particular regions of France) were essentially what they sounded looked like: cork-shaped brownies ($9.75).
Three to an order, each mini cupcake-sized round was topped with a scoop of ice cream. We were told: cinnamon, pistachio, and vanilla. In fact, they were cinnamon, mint, and vanilla ice creams. Sided by a rich dark chocolate sauce, it was a cute take on the brownie sundae, but not much more. (They sell these “bouchons” at the Bouchon Bakery too.)
Dining on The Strip meant that inflated pricing was inescapable – $17 for a three-egg omelette? (To be fair, it came with either bacon or sausage and toasted brioche. *Rolls eyes*). But, at least at Bouchon, I took comfort in knowing that the premium pricing includes a manufacturer’s warranty policy. The food will most likely be solid, but if it’s defective in any way, they’ll be more than happy to replace it.
Like everything Keller, Bouchon puts on a classy show.
The place hums a nice tune, turning tables with grace and ease. Not a detail is missed, no crumb overlooked.
Like the rest of the operation, the service is informed, if not scripted. (Sometimes, my evil twin brother wonders what would happen if you interrupted these recordings. How would the server handle off the road? Everyone needs an unforgivably mischievous whipping boy like I have.) Water, iced tea, coffee, and refills came at a snap.
This was brunch, not rocket science. So, there weren’t any surprises, but no out of orbit experiences either.
3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South
* It turns out that Keller didn’t bring the compression technique to Bouchon. Rather, Bouchon brought the compression technique to Keller. Bagwhat left a comment on my photo of the Compressed Peaches and Strawberries retelling Keller’s own account of his discovery. On one of his routine trips to Bouchon Las Vegas, Keller was served a plate of compressed fruit. Taken with the texture, flavor, and color of the fruit, he asked the chef to show him the method. Upon returning to The French Laundry, he got on the Kellercam and taught the technique to the staff at per se. (Compression is explained and summarized HERE by Mark Hopper of Bouchon.)