Friday, March 13, 2009

The Strip

We used our extra leave over the inauguration to escape the madness and head out to Vegas for the weekend. Now, I'm finally getting around to writing about it.

Upon arrival, we started walking the Strip to locate some of our old favorites, particularly regional spots that have Vegas outposts. We were disappointed to find that Pink's Hot Dogs of Hollywood and Commander's Palace of New Orleans have departed what was the Aladdin to make room for Planet Hollywood Hotel upgrades. Really, are these upgrades worth losing both spots?

Reasonably-priced meals are not easy to find in Vegas, but we did enjoy natural, nutricious, and somehow tasty fare, including housemade sodas and juices, at the Canyon Ranch Grill. We had hoped to hit up the top-ranked Wynn Buffet for Sunday brunch, but with a two-hour wait, we had to look elsewhere. Alternatives ranged from vomit-inducing (Sugar & Ice cafe in the Wynn) to not-too-shabby (Noodles dim sum and noodle bar in the Bellagio).

Other hits on our trip (seriously folks, Vegas is made for foodies, just foodies with deep pockets) included Joe's Stone Crab and BLT Burger. Joe's offers the opportunity to try fresh stone crab claws outside of Miami, the only location other than Chicago. The large portions can be shared, even with big eaters. Though a bread basket is not often worth mentioning, Joe's offers such a variety that I think it's worth the nod. I had high expectations for the key lime pie, but I honestly think the version at Ray's the Steaks is better. With BLT Steak a local destination here in town, we thought it only appropriate that we try BLT Burger, located in the Mirage. BLT is noteworthy for its classic, simple, respectable burger. While I don't consider it on par with a Hellburger (this Ray's comparison thing is becoming a theme) or Central, I would return for the great fries and shakes.

Truly though, the crowning glory of our weekend was B & B Ristorante, with Thomas Keller's Bouchon a trailing though secure second place. Both are located at the Venetian.

B & B is Mario Batali's mid-priced Vegas venture with partner Joseph Bastianich, a perfectly pleasing and stuffing choice. I would focus on pasta here; in fact, I ordered one for my appetizer and one for my main course. My particular favorite was the tagliatelle. The pork belly was quite fatty, though flavorful. Generally, the carniverous fare paled in comparison to the crowd-pleasing gnocchi and linguine. The struedel dessert was truly a culinary milestone.

At Bouchon, I must stress that you should focus your attentions on the entrees. Cod beignets were chewy and dry at the same time, with a tanic aftertaste that really was kinda yucky; The beet salad was edible (really, it's pretty hard to screw up roasted beets), though lackluster; and the very minute serving of chocolate mousse failed to leave any impression. Why then do I score Bouchon at a solid second? Two reasons. First, the steak frites were simply amazing. Served with a pat of herbed garlic butter, the flank steak was tender and juicy. The fries were crisp and plentiful, the perfect yin to the steak's yang. Second, the macarons are coma-inducing. I went with the chocolate variety, filled with ganache. Heaven ---- on ---- Earth. Seriously, good stuff folks. Just trust me here and pick up a couple at the Bakery just off the casino if you have a chance. Given the quality of the baked goods, I would also trust the Zagat rating for Bouchon as one of the best breakfasts in Vegas, though we were just too full to give it a shot on this trip.

In the end, both B&B and Bouchon thrive in their respective specialties. Both are definitely worth stop-ins on future trips.


iEatDC said...

Yay! We're stopping in Vegas (it'll be my first time there) in May, and are starting to plan our culinary destinations. Thanks for the timely post.

W. Mark Felt, Sr. said...

Glad to hear the post was helpful. One other note...if you want to have a blow-out big-dollar celebratory meal, Picasso at the Bellagio is amazing. Though we were there several years ago, it still rates among my top five dining experiences.