January 13, 2008

Don’t Count Your Food Miles*

Enjoying my main course and my company at Bouchon.

If you have missed me for the past few days, it’s because I was in Las Vegas with my wonderful husband, Charles.  While neither of us would think, “Vegas!” as our destination of choice, I was thrilled to join him for his business trip.

Of course, I had done some research into the restaurants we should check out there.  We took an Olympic approach to selecting our dining options, ruling out those at the very top and bottom of the spectrum.  Thus, no casino buffets, but no Guy Savoy, either.  No worries, I was perfectly content to settle for Thomas Keller.

We dined at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon on the second evening of our trip. An impromptu dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio, also in the Venetian, had disappointed us with tough ravioli and poor service the night before.  I hoped that Mr. Keller’s bistro would survive the journey from Napa Valley artisanship to Las Vegas volume. 

The meal was excellent.  Our server was efficient and knowledgeable, with the added charm of a faux French accent.  I didn’t believe Charles’s suspicion until the server  mumbled, “Sorry, I don’t speak French,” when the diners next to us requested a carafe d’eau!  It’s all part of the show, folks.

I enjoyed a small carafe of Vouvray, while my sweetheart was in the mood for beer (not a bad call when there’s Chimay on tap!).  We started with cod brandade, perfectly fried with a delicate, fluffy interior enlivened by bits of sweet-tart dried tomato and fried sage on the plate.  Our salads were fresh and flavorful, though both of us preferred the baby arugula, pear, and hazelnut brittle combination to the too-bitter mixture of watercress, endive, apple, and Roquefort.  

For his main course, Charles chose the classic trout almandine, accompanied by a generous serving of firm, sweet green beans.  I had mussels in white wine sauce-- not the best sauce I’ve ever had, but I award extra points for presentation.  The mussels bathed in an egg-shaped, cast-iron vessel, in which a small gate created a pool of broth for dipping the perfectly-crisp baguette.  There were also two shell bowls stacked together, solving the problem of a large shell bowl dominating our two-top: when the top bowl was full, it was promptly removed.  

The service details like this, the artful presentation of each dish, the graciousness of the place: these are the elements that set a great restaurant apart from the trappings of such.  I was entertained by the make-believe elements Vegas offered: window-shopping along a replica canal, strolling along lush gardens and man-made lakes in the middle of the desert.  But hospitality must be genuine, no matter how many times you have to look someone in the eye, listen, and smile in a given day.  Bravo to Thomas Keller and the staff of Bouchon for delivering a superior dining experience to their guests.

*A simple definition of food miles is the distance that food travels from its production to the consumer.  Food miles are one component that can be used in assessing the sustainability of food production and distribution.

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