Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vegas 4: Guy Savoy

And I thought the chef's name was Savoy, as in Savoy Cabbage (makes the best cabbage rolls). Nah, it's French: salve wa. Good thing I knew that when I went in. Entering a temple of food, one must not be inappropriate.
Caesar's Palace was a short walk among furiously smoking people from my dump, the Imperial Palace. I don't think the hotel has any interesting evocations of one's last visit to Rome, certainly not compared to The Venetian or NYNY which is at least sly. But it is grand. I was surrounded by well lit sculpture and enough gold to choke a tax collector. Didn't mind waiting in the lobby a few minutes for Guy Savoy to open. Adjust dinner jacket, now fouled with smoke. A costume of coughing.

I am served by two men, one tall and one short. Reminded me of a book I used to read my daughter at night, about a tall man who was always given a short bed in a hotel, while his short friend always received a bed too long. I was offered a cart of champagne. Which would I choose? After inquiring about the amuse bouches, I dismissed the roses, perhaps prematurely. What I really wanted to say was "which is cheapest?" but it seems a ludicrous question in this restaurant. I went with a dry one. Dry is good for me generally. Upon getting my bill later, I discovered the glass cost more than my fish course. But all things chemically considered, it was worth it.

First up, some sort of bread thing with fois gras and truffle. I didn't taste either of them individually, just the bread but it sort of swam in them, beautifully augmented by the champagne. I don't recognize this as a bread, just some sort of sodden softness.
The French burger once again alters reality. Just as Tommy Keller's artichoke coronet at Per Se a few months ago sent me back to an Italian restaurant in Van Nuys in 1956, this burger transported me to the very first good hamburger I ever ate. Also Van Nuys, late 1962. We weren't killed by Russian missiles. We could eat beef! My parents first fumbles in that direction were disastrous, but we started going out for hamburgers and Van Nuys in 1962 had some great burgers. This was that experience. And the burger was the size of a postage stamp.
I had to re inhabit my 2011 body. The dislocation, the sudden transport to that distant time was so intense. And exhausting. Particularly when I have to suddenly come back and talk. Yes, it was very good. I explain that I'd just traveled to a distant era, and was told, yes, that's what the food's supposed to do. It isn't just Tommy Keller. A successful taste transports you to where you need to be but could not otherwise get to. An unsuccessful taste merely mires you in where you are.
The champagne hasn't been on the table long enough to change flavours but it does, perhaps because of the food. It seems crisper. I needed it with the theatrical amuse. The crab reveal at the end had only a crab aftertaste, nothing within the moment to savour. This is becoming a theme.
And finally the black truffle soup. I'd read such extravagant praise of this soup, I thought it was the best thing I'd eat here. It was OK. There was something addictive about it. I kept spooning it into my mouth yet I wasn't actually enjoying it all that much. Sometimes an artichoke would make its appearance. Maybe I should have had a wine pairing with this, as the dish clearly needs more of an assist than I'm getting from my ice water. The gnocchi I had at Fleur this afternoon not only blew this away, even Hubert Keller's deconstructed onion soup was a far more interesting soup. Maybe because the French burger altered reality so severely a few minutes ago, this soup just couldn't keep up. But it was warm. An antidote to all known winters. Maybe the soup exists in a different dimension than flavour? You gotta give the chef some slack, when you're paying this much for a bowl of soup. The brioche accompaniment was an interesting texture. But there were already too many textures and not enough interesting flavours.
Enough bread on that bread cart to save Ukraine from starvation under Stalin. My relatives starved to death, while I contemplate bread as architecture.
I finally selected a juniper berry bread. I like berries in general, and their juniperocity in this chunk o'bread might well recall the citrusy gin that so inflated my enjoyment of the meal at Mix on Monday. I used to live on fruit bread sandwiches with sharp cheddar when I first came to live in Vancouver in the early 70s. Fruit and bread, or fruit and anything is usually a very good idea.
I enjoyed the juniper bread, though it made me wish for another one of those great gin tonics from Mix two nights before. When it was insisted that I have some lemon bread with my sea bass, I am usually on the side of citrus-influenced anything.
The multi-level dudes were right. The bread goes wonderfully with the sea bass sauce. The crispy sea bass features skin that I could actually eat. This has never happened before. This is a miracle. It is called sea bass "with delicate spices" which turn out to be the peppers so precisely targeted to your tastes you could invent mathematics from their trajectory. The pepper was an immense part of the meal, its lingering aftertaste from one dish influencing how I'd react to the next. Not an unusual experience in this level of foodery, but done most exquisitely here.
Chef Savoy's use of the term "delicate" for the pepper here reminds me of Phil Austin's use of the word "kindness" in his story The House of Little Men and the Firesign Theatre play A Shadow Falls Upon A Land." It is a concept upon which civilization depends, for our species as much as the parliaments of ourselves. Being delicate, like being kind can only be beneficent.
When I left the restaurant, something very strange happened. Thankfully I was holding on to the railing at the top of the stairs when a tsunami overtook me. As the light we see from the sun is from 8 minutes ago, I seem to have been hit from an overload of my senses brought on by Guy's food 8 minutes after my last bite. If it had happened after I'd taken a step down the stairs, I would probably have lost my grip and died. Memo to Guy Savoy: Killing your guests with pleasure is not a sustainable business plan. Even in Vegas.


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