Trouble With Toast

Las Vegas, Part One (of many, I hope)

November 18, 2007
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Whew…Las Vegas is an exhausting city, especially when you’re fortunate enough to eat like I did! Here’s the report from the field…

For lunch on my first day, I went to Burger Bar (in Mandalay Place). In terms of atmosphere, it is virtually indistinguishable from any other sports bar or mall restaurant. While there are a few “set” recipes (such as the Surf ‘N Turf burger, which features Angus beef, lobster, and asparagus), the fun at Burger Bar lies largely in the diner’s ability to customize. I opted for the Kobe beef burger (which was $16), cooked rare and topped with swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and oyster mushrooms (these ranged from about sixty cents to two dollars). I also added a side of sweet potato fries (I believe they were just under $3). The burger was absolutely enormous, and it was more or less tartare-style with just a touch of great-tasting char around the outside. The combination of toppings worked well together and added some dimension, but they didn’t mask the wonderful flavor of the beef. The sweet potato fries were good and crunchy, but they weren’t anything particularly special. I also didn’t eat much of the whole wheat bun I had chosen—next time, I’ll just pass on the carbs and save room for dessert. Service was mediocre (I waited almost 15 minutes for someone to acknowledge my presence at the bar), but the draft beer list was surprisingly varied (most domestic drafts hovered around $5).

Next was dinner at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (in the MGM Grand). The trick is to get a seat at the bar and watch the food being prepared. I was right in the center of the madness, with views of nearly all the kitchen stations, and I enjoyed watching the controlled chaos of such an esteemed kitchen. I indulged in the 9-course tasting menu ($135), and it was absolutely phenomenal. Personal highlights included butter-poached oysters, pumpkin soup with chestnuts and homemade croutons, free-range quail stuffed with foie gras and glazed with acacia honey (served with truffled mashed potatoes that included three huge slices of the exotic mushroom—heavenly), and papaya puree with banana ice cream. Service from my individual waiter was somewhat lackluster (he seemed disappointed that I wanted tap water and only ordered one glass of wine—which, consequently, was $22), but the “supporting cast” of servers assistants did a great job of enhancing my experience. Also, the sommelier stopped by to chat a few times, and he was incredibly gracious and friendly. He even brought over a sample of a rare desert wine for me to try, as he noted that it worked quite well with my final sweet course. Overall, it was a delicious and inventive French culinary experience.

Even though I got a late start on Thursday morning, I knew that my breakfast had to be at Bouchon (in the Venetian). I had heard great things about the bistro and bakery, and I hoped it wouldn’t let me down. When I arrived at about 9 AM, the place was bustling. I took a seat at the bar and waited about 10 minutes for someone to greet me with a menu. I knew immediately what I wanted to order—French toast, a side of sausage, and coffee—and my food was rung in at 9:15. As I caffeinated myself, the minutes ticked away and everyone around me received his or her food. At 9:50 AM, I still had nothing to eat, and I asked the server to check on my food and put it in to-go containers (I had to be at work at 10 AM). Finally, just a few moments before ten, my breakfast appeared from the kitchen and I bolted to my conference. I didn’t take my hunger-stoked anger out on the waitress—after all, it wasn’t her fault, and she kept my coffee full. However, I will be hesitant to return to Bouchon without much more time to spare. That said, the French toast was divine; the brioche was layered with apples and custard, and it had just the right amount of sweetness. The sausage was spicy, house-made, and absolutely out of this world. If the food was that good on the run, I’d absolutely like to taste it while relaxing in the charming atmosphere of the bistro itself.

I knew that I had to venture off the strip for one meal, and I knew exactly where that meal was going to be. So, after work on Thursday, I hailed a cab and told him to rush me to Lotus of Siam (located on East Sahara Avenue). I told my server about my peanut allergy and told him to pick me out an appetizer and an entrée that would represent the best the restaurant had to offer. To start, I had prawns that were wrapped in bacon, fried (in what tasted almost like egg roll batter), and served with sweet and sour sauce. Meaty and full of flavor, I would definitely order them again. For my main course, I had the drunken noodles with sea bass—and oh my gawd, that stuff was incredible. The fish was lightly fried and crispy on the edges, but velvety smooth on the inside. The noodles were tender and intensely flavorful, especially when paired with the peppers and basil leaves that accompanied them. I asked for the dish medium spicy, and it was the perfect amount of heat—it challenged my palate, but it didn’t obscure the wonderful flavor of the delicate fish. After all of that food and two Singha beers (I had forgotten how good they were), I was as full as I’ve been in a while. But any stomach stretching was 110% worth it, as Lotus of Siam was the highlight of my Las Vegas dining.

There you have it–hope that helps any future Vegas-goers! Back to my regularly scheduled diet…