Las Vegas 2008

Enoteca San Marco (Saturday Night): Owned by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, it’s a casual place in the Venetian. Those who have been to Italy would appreciate the high quality of ingredients and the style of eating. B&B, their ristorante, was booked solid, so this was our second Batali choice.

Jay and I decided to graze….and it was a great decision. We started with our first of two bottles of “Joe’s Rosso,” a blend of reds from Friuli that Bastianish had created, which worked very well with the assortment of antipasti we enjoyed. The wine list was extensive and expensive, focused on regional Italian and Italian-style American wines. But, they also had reasonably priced wine by the glass or quartino.

First, a salumi selection….bresaola, dried salami and pancetta. Bresaola is a type of dry-cured beef, sliced very thin. Absolutely delicious. The salami was a product from Batali’s father’s salumi deli in Seattle. The best we’ve ever eaten. The pancetta was, well, Italian cured (not smoked) bacon. I use it a lot for cooking, but eaten raw, sliced paper thin, was a wonderful porky experience.

Next were the cheese selections. First, our server arrived with the condiments: brandied sweet cherries in sauce, apricot mostardo (dried apricots rehydrated in white wine and seasoned with mustard seeds and chile flakes) and black truffle honey (transcendent!!!) Jay wanted Parmesano Reggiano. It was even better than the pricey imported stuff I get here in Chicago. We also got tallegio and a soft cheese whose name escapes me, but was better than some of the best brie I’ve had. The flavor combinations were outstanding.

Then, three fried antipasti selections: golf ball-sized arancini were delicious. The proscuitto balls were the same size and truly wonderful. Some how, some way, I MUST get that recipe. Finally, a couple fresh mozzarella and anchovy sandwiches. If you love anchovies (I don’t, but hubby does), this is a grilled cheese sandwich you’ll fantasize about for months.

The table next to us had ordered a couple pizzas, and they looked so good, we just had to try the Pizza Margherita. Approximately 10″ in diameter, super thin crust, fresh-tasting tomato sauce, topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil leaves. Had we not had so much antipasti, we could have eaten two or three of these each.

Dessert was a roasted banana-topped scoop of banana gelato with a rich dark chocolate sauce and a couple Illy espressos.

It was an expensive dinner but with the high quality of food and service, not to mention the two bottles of wonderful wine, it was worth every penny. The restaurant was quite comfortable and the service was quite good.

Sunday night was Table 10, Emeril’s new restaurant in the Palazzo, a new hotel/casino next door to the Venetian. First, the Palazzo is gorgeous, on par with Bellagio. The restaurant was beautiful and comfortable.

Having eaten at a number of his restaurants, we were looking forward to a wonderful experience and we were not disappointed. For a restaurant open only 2 weeks, it seems ALL the kinks had been worked out. Our server was a delight (a NOLA native) who knew the menu inside-and-out.

Jay wanted champagne, so he selected one from a small producer in France. 2002 Pierre Gimmonet Gastronome. Fruity, yet dry with a wonderful fizz and finish.

I started with a simple salad of cornmeal-fried oysters (prepared perfectly, plump, juicy on the inside and nicely crunchy on the outside), arugula, shaved white cheddar cheese and a roasted tomato vinaigrette. Jay had the roasted tomato bisque, which was perfectly prepared. Both were accompanied by fresh, delicate, delicious biscuits with a sweet whipped butter.

Jay was feeling beefy, so he had the NY strip, done rare in a wonderful wine reduction. The flavor was amazing and the steak prepared perfectly.

I had the Kurabuta roasted pork loin in a Calvados reduction. It was truly the best pork I ever had. It reminded me of the pork of my childhood…..tender, juicy, flavorful. It was so rich, I simply couldn’t finish it. I had also ordered a half-bottle of Storybook Old Vine Zinfandel, which was perfect with the pork….enough acid to cut through the fat, while enhancing the pork flavor.

We split a side of lobster macaroni and cheese. Wow! One bite and I was swooning. Not too much cheese (a lovely gruyere), pasta cooked perfectly, chunks of perfectly steamed lobster meat, and just enough breadcrumbs and butter on top for a perfect gratin finish.

By dessert time, we were a bit tipsy due to the wine, and giggly due to the tremendous food. So, we split chocolate bread pudding served with vanilla bean gelato with a dark chocolate sauce. Had we not eaten so much, I would have had another.

Pricy? Yes! Worth it? Indeed. Perfect service (friendly, anticipatory, well-timed), incredible ingredients very well-prepared. Portions were large, but not overly so, like Emeril’s other restaurants. The menu is about 75% classic American with a twist, and 25% typical Emeril New Orleans cuisine. We’d go back there in a heartbeat.

Finally, Monday night was Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s French bistro in the Venetian. We thought we had saved the best for last. They had called us a few days earlier to confirm our reservation, so we thought we were all set.

It was, unfortunately, an incredible disappointment. We arrived at 6:55 for 7:15 reservations and had a drink at the bar while we waited…and waited. When we arrived, the restaurant was half-full, with plenty of two-tops available. At 7:30, Jay inquired about our reservation, after seeing 6 different couples who arrived after us, being seated at two-tops. We were finally seated at 7:55.

Our server was young, enthusiastic and inexperienced. It took 20 minutes for him to come to our table to ask for our drink order. While we sat, awaiting water, bread, our server, or some acknowledgment that we existed, we watched bus boys running into each other, dropping service items, servers arguing about whose table belongs to whom, and in general, a chaotic scene we would never expect from Thomas Keller.

We finally placed our orders…splitting a 1/2 dozen Dabob, WA oysters. Then, onion soup for each of us. Jay ordered the steak frites medium rare, and I ordered the roast chicken.

Our onion soup arrived first (!), followed by the oysters 3 minutes later. Our server stopped by and apologized for the mix-up, blaming the kitchen. We had been so hungry that we had already started the soup, so we just let it go. He told us he would slow down the entree order. Frankly, my onion soup is better.

The oysters were okay, served with three condiments….freshly grated horseradish, a pedestrian cocktail sauce, and red wine vinegar.

As we slurped the last of the oysters, our entrees appeared. Jay’s steak, ordered medium-rare, was quite rare, and tough. The steak at Table 10 the night before, was better quality and much better prepared. The frites were tasty but heavily salted…even for me.

My roasted chicken was the only highlight of the evening. Perfectly cooked, atop a celery root black truffle tartlet.

At the next table, a woman had ordered the foie gras (at $48 per order, we passed on it). It was served in a 4-ounce jar with a few slices of toast. She asked the server if she could take the rest home, and he launched into a 10-minute dissertation on how he’d be happy to package it in the 4-ounce jar, which would cost another $35, or in styrofoam. Mind you, this was a $1.99 Container Store jar (I have a number of them at home).

At this point, we decided to pass on dessert and asked for the check. Our server, who was oblivious to our apparent disappointment, then started in on how they still have a few cookbooks, signed by Keller, available for $50 each. We passed.

Fifteen minutes later, he brought the check, which I picked up (I was buying). As I was examining the check, he told Jay to look it over carefully because they kept getting screwed up. I looked up at him, told him it was fine, and handed him my credit card. Ten minutes later, he returned and gave the check and my credit card to Jay. I grabbed it and the server said, “Oops, I’m from Ohio where we always give the check to the man at the table.”

At this point, I figured that this was a brand new restaurant and they were still working out the kinks. I asked the server how long the place had been open, and he said he should know for sure, but he thinks it opened in 2004!

By the time we left, the place was packed, the bus boys were still running into each other, dropping service items, and in general, maintaining the chaos of the evening.

It was our least expensive of the three dinners (Jay drank beer and I had just 1 glass of wine), but we felt ripped off. Both front and back-of-the-house need a lot of work. The floor manager seemed to be oblivious to the chaos and all the missteps as he regularly circled the dining room. The expediter in the kitchen needed training. The wait staff seemed clueless. Jay thinks it is a tourist trap. I’m debating sending a letter to Chef Keller.

Two out of three ain’t bad……and those first two meals were so delicious and so memorable, they far overshadowed the bad experience at Bouchon.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Jay on April 3, 2009 at 4:02 am

    The term I used was “Kellerbees”.


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