Monday, October 30, 2006
A little piece of heaven....Bouchon
As I've mentioned before, travel is hard for the Food Allergy Queen. I was in Vegas for the weekend, and since it is the land of cheap food, I mostly subsisted on beef and potatoes, usually in the form of burgers and fries. And more burgers and fries. And then some prime rib. With some fries. You get the idea.
After suffering through McDonalds, a few rounds of a cheap buffet and a few quick bites grabbed while wallowing in the seediness and general weirdness of Vegas I finally crawled -- scraped and bleeding (just kidding) into the pristine yet friendly elegance of Bouchon, Thomas Keller's French bistro located in the Venetian. (On a side note, my friend Vasco and I got thoroughly stuck outside of the Venetian canals trying to find our way in for 20 minutes...we could not figure out for the life of us how to get INTO the casino/hotel. Crazy. Usually you can't get OUT.) This place is a version of his famous French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley, and I was thrilled to be able to sample his cooking style. Going in, I didn't realize that I was feeling beat up and skanky/dirty and low, until I walked in I breathed a sigh of relief. Aaaahhhh. I was with people who cared about food again. My people.
I was seated with a view out the window, and my very sweet server Krzyszto (who was from Poland) immediately took care of me. Aaaahhhh, good customer service. I wiggled my toes in happiness and plunged into the menu. I had reviewed it before going to ensure there were enough KF items on the menu, and although I wanted to try the Moules Frites with saffron and mustard, I ended up with Steak Frites instead to avoid the inevitable garlic in the mussels. I had ordered beef and potatoes. Again. But not just ANY beef and potatoes, my friend. The fries were the best I'd ever had on this planet. This is not an exaggeration. Crisp yet tender, flavorful, light and dusted with just the right amount of salt and not an ounce of grease to be found. They were piled high to the sky, and since I was feeling very European (what's up with that, Chinese girl?) I ordered a side of mayo to dip my fries into, just like in Belgium...where fries were invented, don't you know. The beef was a flatiron steak, and cut like smooth butter. The braised shallots on top with a little parsley helped make this the best Steak Frites I've ever had. EVER HAD. After later spotting on the daily specials menu one of the more innovative dish combinations, I also had an appetizer of pork belly on a bed of green lentils with pickled cherries. The pork had a crispy skin (like Chinese roast pork), a layer of fat and then tender meat beneath. All the size of a small bar of soap. A little heavy for an appetizer, but a lovely combination of tastes and textures. Gentle on the tummy, and thoughtfully easy to devour.
The bread was handmade, made in a pretty little twist with a unapologetically crusty crust (you like zee French bread? Thees is how weee eat it in France...weeth a very theeck crust...you silly American...eh eh). Served with a very fresh and sweet American butter, I took just a bite to get the taste then pushed it away to keep from getting that miserable feeling when I eat too much wheat. I miss bread and butter. A lot. *sigh*
When Krzyszto, who had figured out that I was a food geek like himself and chatted me up about Hudson Valley beef and the percentage of Valhrona chocolate he liked best (like I said, MY people), he innocently said, "do you like chocolate?" Baby, is the sky blue? Of COURSE I like chocolate. "Well then, I'll bring you a chocolate dessert you can't resist." Whereupon he reappeared with the restaurant's signature chocolate bouchons, which translates to "corks". Unappetizing, I know, but hey, I was in the Zone. Dark 70% Valhrona little bites, crispy on the outside, but soft and light on the inside, it was definitely NOT the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake served everywhere. No sirree. They were heavier than a souffle, but lighter than a brownie. And served with handmade vanilla ice cream. Once again, I took a nibble for politeness since it was dairy, but I strategically needed the room for my chocolate and the coffee to sip it with. After the devastation was over, Krzyszto politely pointed out "I know how much you love chocolate now"...which was his gentle way of saying, "you've got chocolate on your face, piggy girl".
Two hours later, I emerged from Bouchon to plunge once more into the grotty casinos to mingle with the drunken unwashed. I was a new woman, stuffed to the brim with chocolate....happy, content and nourished by the joy and care that goes into the making and serving of good food.