Monday, February 5, 2008. Dinner at Bouchon! After reading every review I could find on this board and others, I decided that Bouchon looked like a standout in our price range, and having been to Per Se I knew I liked Thomas Keller, so I made a reservation. I (and all of you who recommended it) could not have been more right! We walked over from the Palazzo and were seated immediately, 15 mins before our reservation. I was slightly turned off by the noise level in the restaurant – it was fairly crowded and there was a lot of patron noise in addition to some off-putting music. It was a little more casual than I was expecting, as well – definitely more Balthazar than Per Se, if you NYCers know what I mean. It’s still a lovely restaurant, though.
Anyway, we ordered drinks (a very nice $10 glass of Zinfandel for me and a black lager for BF) and dug into the baguette (my first good piece of bread in Vegas, hallelujah!), served with excellent salted butter and a dish of warm pistachios (an unusual but nice touch). We started looking over the menu and also snuck peeks at our neighbors’ meals, which were very revealing. Again, I was surprised at the portion sizes. Everything really is bigger in Vegas! Since we pigged out at Bonito Michoacan earlier today, we were pretty sure we wouldn’t make it through 3 courses. BF, being suspicious of French food, wanted to order steak frites, but I was able to dissuade him by steering him to a red wine braised pork short rib entrée. He also ordered a side of frites, because he is a potato freak. I decided to try something new to me and ordered the much-praised boudin noir plus a side of bacon-roasted Brussels sprouts (the server tried his best to dissuade me from ordering the sausage, but that just made me want it more). The starters didn’t look all that interesting to me anyway, although they were offering an escargots special that I would have enjoyed, as well as a duck confit with red grapefruit supremes that sounded good.
When the food arrived, I started drooling just at the sight of BF’s short ribs. A beautiful, glistening hunk of pork perched on a pile of braised red cabbage, glazed in a thick red wine reduction, with a side dish of creamy polenta. My entrée was also appealing – a single, dark reddish-purple sausage nestled next to a potato puree with 4 thick slices of fried apple. Every aspect of both entrees was absolutely perfect. Each element worked seamlessly with all of the others. BF tasted his polenta separately and thought it was bland, but then he took a bite of it with the pork and cabbage and realized that it was the perfect flavor and texture to temper and enhance the tart cabbage and crispy, tender pork. The pork itself was maybe the best pork of any kind I’ve ever tasted. The outside was outrageously crisp, and the inside was tender and luscious. The red wine glaze was perfectly balanced. Magnificent. As for the boudin, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t care for it, but the flavor was rich, earthy, and not at all gamey. It had a dry, almost crumbly texture that was unexpectedly pleasant. The potato puree was excellent and the combination of apple, potato and sausage was inspired. As I mentioned, the portions were quite adequate, so the sides we ordered were really unnecessary, but the frites were fabulous. The Brussels sprouts were also delicious, although they were cooked quite a bit softer than I normally cook sprouts (or any vegetable). The rich caramelization (and all the lardons) saved them from just being mushy sprouts.
We opted for dark chocolate mousse for dessert, along with a complimentary plate of mignardises. I enjoyed the mousse, but it was not exactly what I was expecting. It was clearly made with dark chocolate (not too sweet), but the texture of the mousse itself was very light, more like the texture of chocolate cream pie than the dense mousse that one normally gets at a French restaurant. I think we should have followed the waiter’s advice and ordered the dessert special, which was a series of miniature chocolate cakes, each topped with a different flavor of ice cream on a bed of Valrhona chocolate sauce. Honestly, the reason I didn’t choose that was because I generally don’t care for Valrhona chocolate – I probably should have just put that prejudice aside. Those little cakes are available at the Bouchon bakery, though (I was there this morning), so I figured we could go to the bakery if we just had to have them.
So anyway, there it is – Bouchon in a nutshell! I would go back in a heartbeat (I would eat that pork every day if I could!) and I think this is a definite MUST for Vegas, especially considering the prices. We had 2 drinks each, 2 entrees, 2 sides and a dessert for $140 including tax and 20% tip – a very good value considering the extremely high quality of the food. I would rank this restaurant right up there with my NYC faves, and I would say it’s better than any of the French bistro places I’ve tried in NYC (Les Halles, Balthazar, etc). Amazing.