Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Vegas 5: Tuesday, Wed and out.

Tuesday, Feb. 10, Wed. Feb. 11 and out

  I get up at my usual 7ish (I always seem to get up early when I travel), and, on an empty stomach, make my way back to Paris to breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi. Not just the magnificent grapefruit but the friendliness of  the older, plump waitress from Boston. Kept calling me “my love.”  Great service, food and ambiance- a fine place. A young Ricki Lee Jones look-alike across from me, with Ricki’s signature hat.
  Great heirloom beet salad at DB Bistro for lunch. Very disappointed that the menu didn’t include what was on the web menu. It briefly featured swordfish, but it rapidly swam away from the menu. So Coq au Vin was on the menu, I’d love to try Daniel Boulud's take on the French classic. Nope, it had also disappeared. Probably knew I was coming. So I ordered WILD MUSHROOMS with some sort of pasta. Instead I got PASTA PASTA PASTA with a Lilliputian portion of mushrooms. I never order pasta in a restaurant, though I eat tons at home. I also never order bread, no matter how good it may be. I see no reason to overwhelm my microscopic appetite with starch and then Pay for it. If money is to leave my pocket, it is for wondrous protein, exquisite vegetables and perhaps some perfect fruit. I’ve dined at Danny boy’s flagship restaurant in NYC as well as excellent meals in his two Vancouver restaurants so I had high expectations coming to his new place in Vegas. It’s not that the pasta dish was bad, it’s just irrelevant to me. But the heirloom beet salad- Ah! That’s why one goes to restaurants and pays for suitable cheffery.
  When I turn on the TV at Excalibur (no doubt true in the rest of the hotels owned by MGM) I find myself on the M channel. Complemented by M Life magazine in every room, I’m given ideas for the best cocktails in town. I cut out the magazine pages with the cocktails and began to search for those I thought I’d like. First off, the original Mai Tai, created in 1944 by Trader Vic Bergeron, now at Rhumbar in the Mirage. I had had an unpleasant experience there a few years ago when I entered the bar having been given a two for one coupon outside, only to be told the good cocktails were only one for one. Maybe just well drinks (the cheapest possible booze) were on sale. I’d call that dishonest, but not evil. This time was a long step down. The bar was empty at 12:30. I showed the M Life cocktail pages to the bartender. “We don’t make that,” she said, anxious for me to quickly leave her alone. “But this is the new issue of M Life, surely you haven’t stopped making the 1944 Mai Tai yet!” With vast reluctance, she agreed to make me the drink. It was a bit too potent for the hour, but very tasty. I’ve long loved Tiki drinks and this was “a nod to the original,” featuring Appleton reserve rum, lime, orange curacao,rock candy syrup, French orgeat (subtle, almost almond flavour) shaken with crushed ice. An aftertaste of those little red cinnamon candies I enjoyed as a kid. Reminded me of the zombies I’d had the day before at Margaritaville with the Ivys, but more subtle. I SHOULD have really been enjoying the Mai Tai. Unfortunately, the bartender was determined to cancel any enjoyment I might find there. Not only did she wish I wasn’t there and act accordingly, two young couples came in, and upon encountering her, quickly exited Rhumbar, fleeing her evil glare Funny, I thought you had to be social to be a bartender. Maybe she’s just having a bad day. Whatever enjoyment the Mai Tai would have provided was utterly destroyed by her. Bad service destroys the best of tastes, just as great service can make a mediocre meal or drink soar. I did not know it was possible to have bad service in Vegas- I thought I had to be in Canada for that.
  I scurry over to the Vesper bar in the Cosmopolitan hotel, where I had encountered marvelous mixology on my last trip to Vegas. Luckily, I encounter a great bartender named Emmett. As different as life and death from the Rhumbar vibe. We immediately start talking cocktail ideas. I tell him I like fruity drinks, like Sangria. He decides on smoky mescal for a base, aloe, orange bitters, muddled blueberries and raspberries (which I can really taste) and soda. The glass is rimmed with orange. The whole cocktail tastes like Oolong tea, with welcoming fruit. More to the point, Emmett is delightful, a companion in the search for flavour instead of an adversary. He tells me he’ll be at the Chandelier bar in the same hotel tomorrow. I had gone to the Chandelier bar in search of its famous Sage 75 a few years ago, only to be told they were out of sage that day. Maybe this trip I’ll have better luck. Emmett wants me to try a drink with an edible flower in it, called The Verbena. I promise to look him up the following day.
  I spend some quality time at Fleur for the rest of the afternoon, then make my way over the Bellagio. Reservation at Le Cirque for 6:00 (I always dine early in Vegas, so I can then dine later somewhere else.) Close to Le Cirque is the Petrossian Bar which is also featured in the M Life mag/TV show as the home of the Bellagio cocktail, an invention of the original modern mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim whom I only knew from Al Mancini’s TV show. Will it be a masterly drink? It’s full of passion fruit, probably my favourite cocktail fruit, the main ingredient in my favourite cocktail at Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental. The absence of that cocktail so disturbed me in my last trip to Vegas, I sent an email to the restaurant complaining of its absence (it was still on their website menu) and was assured that this trip, they’d recreate that cocktail to perfection for me. OK, let’s see what Tony AG can do. A very pretty cocktail. Like a lot of great cocktails, it improves the more I delve into it. It is never as good as Pierre’s passion fruit perfection, but it’s not bad at all. I’d order it my next trip here. But more more intriguing, Daniel the bartender offered me some of the Petrossian’s famous infusion: blueberries, strawberries, pineapple and a vanilla bean infused in Skye vodka for 5 days. It is the best drink I have in Vegas the whole trip. Thank you, M Life, for bringing me to the Petrossian. I’d walked by the place many times but thought they only served caviar (as the menu seems to indicate.). Like my favourite meal, the Budo salad at Yonaka, this inspires me to try and make for myself. Yes, it’s a high aspiration, but why aim low and easy? The pleasure is up top.
I scuttle over to Le Cirque for my 6:00 and am greeted by Ivo and the staff. It’s one thing to dine at one of the world’s best restaurants, and quite another experience to be welcomed as if I belonged there. I have a hard time deciding between the Dover Sole and the Loup de Mer. While I’m thinking about that, I am presented first with an amuse bouchery of caviar (and other stuff), followed by some luxurious gnocchi with shaved black truffles. The signature Le Cirque cocktail works well as a lubricant. Instead of having to choose, I'm brought both fish dishes. The Loup de Mer 
is almost as good as Yonaka's  Budo salad. The meal ends with a raspberry souffle. Later, it's back to Twist to see if they can recreate the passion fruit cocktail they promised me. Well, not quite, but at least they make the effort. With the wondrous view from the windows at Twist, I have nothing to complain about.
  Wednesday I start exactly the same way as Tuesday, hiking over to Mon Ami Gabi with an empty stomach only to have it filled most perfectly with a magnificent grapefruit, combined with ginger and mint leaves, and a great cup of tea. For lunch, I check out the creperie in Paris shops. Not up to the crepes in Mon Ami and Eiffel Tower, but those are sit-down restaurants, this is just fast food, which Mina had warned me Paris was now full of. Later, I go back to the Mandarin Tea Room for the Royal Tea, the cocktail that so entranced me 14 months ago. This time, not so much. But their mocktail is the hit of the trip. 2nd would be the fruit infused vodka at Petrossian, then maybe the first cocktail at DCR. After that,  I find Emmett at the Chandelier bar where he has promised me a drink with an edible, but mouth numbing flower. Called the Verbena, it does alter my taste buds. The tequila sour with ginger come into and out of alteration. Great to have an adventuresome bartender
   I'd been in touch with Bazaar Meat  before arriving. I emphasized my desire for tapas sized portions. I begin with Jose’s gin tonic. I had it at Jaleo before. It comes in a large glass, with an ice cube the size and shape of a baseball in it. It is served with a selection of olives, both real stuffed olives and Ferran Adria's molecular take on olives. Far too many of both.The tomato tartare arrives. I had so looked forward to from John Curtas’s review. It comes with romaine lettuce leaves to use as spoons for it. Called Beefsteak Tomato tartare, it actually tastes meatier than the beef I get later. I was hoping for something as good as Payard’s tartine de tomate I had for my first meal on the strip. Nope. I had to not finish that because I was too full. This one I could only eat half of because it wasn’t very good. The beef wrapped bread sticks with a cheese dipping sauce was delicious, but I could only eat 2 of the five sticks- my stomach had been filled with the tomato disaster and even more wretched brussel sprout dish. That reminded me of Jose talking to Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes about how boring meat is, because it loses its flavour the more you chew, which then becomes a tedious act. It didn’t remind me at all of what Jose told Anthony Bourdain about his love for tomatoes. About the bread sticks: bread itself is filling, which is why I studiously avoid it in restaurants ( but eat lots of bread at home.)  The server then brings me Jose’s gazpacho, which isn’t bad but I no longer have anything resembling an appetite. The brussel sprout things isn’t bad at first, but then becomes way too chewy and there’s 10 times more than I could eat, even if I wanted to. Perhaps an elephant can eat this, I tell my server. The gazpacho is full of vegies and stuff but it leaves a bad aftertaste. Best thing in the restaurant for me is the gin tonic, which was also the case at Jaleo/e.

  When I arrived at Bazaar Meat,  my server had read my emails and complimented me for caring about Jose’s philanthropic endeavors instead of just his food. In the same email, I had told the restaurant that I had an amazingly small appetite and was looking forward to tapas size meals. Instead, I was pummeled with massive portions. I would come back here for the beefy breadsticks and the gin tonic, but nothing else. In 10 years of eating at Jose's, now five restaurants, I may have had 5 dishes I'd order again. In baseball, that wouldn't even get you Into the minors. But Jose's such a Great Guy, eh?
  Later, I have a reservation at L’Attelier for 9:00. I get there and have some difficulty finding the same cocktail I had in 2013, but the yuzu drink goes splendidly with the langoustine fritter. When I order the fritter, I’m told I can only get 3 fritters now, not one. The menu is now offering a langoustine in green curry. Not for me, please. No curry at all is too much curry for me. But the chef relents and serves me only one langoustine. It doesn’t effect me the way it did the first 2 times I had it, in my 2 previous visits here, but it’s still damn good and Just The Right Size. Finally someone takes the sheer tininess of my appetite seriously. Thanks, Joel Robuchon. Every other restaurant in Vegas: Pay Attention.
 At the airport the following morning, I get a lettuce wrap, some sort of chicken with lettuce to wrap it in. This tastes as good as I'd hoped Jose's Tomato Tartare would have, with the refreshing lettuce. Great to end the trip with a good meal, even if it's only lettuce.


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