There was a time, a few years ago, when an exodus of sort took place from California to Henderson, Nevada, which is where the hotel I am staying is located. Insulated inside a fancy residential compound, surrounded by golf courses and a fake lake, the recession couldn’t feel farther away. But drive around Henderson, essentially a Vegas suburb, and the picture is clearly bleak. Developments of cookie cutter homes abruptly end near building sites where all construction has been clearly halted. These new neighbourhoods, that were supposed to sustain malls and stores and restaurants, now sit desolate and empty, with malls fully built and completely devoid of business – one even had a huge banner advertising free rent – no takers though. I haven’t researched any figures but knowing how bad Nevada has been hit by the implosion of the housing bubble, I would venture to say that a high percentage of those homes, neatly arranged in boring looking rows, are in foreclosure or have never been occupied.
And then one gets to Las Vegas proper. There must be pretty neighbourhoods somewhere but I have never encountered them. On Saturday night, the Strip is a gigantic lit magnet for throngs of people who move as a mass – it’s impossible to spot individuals, it’s all a blur of human swarms, crossing the street, entering the casinos, waiting for taxis, getting drunk. A lot of them seem to be taking seriously the motto that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. It’s obviously an amusement park and as amusement parks are not amongst my favorite pastimes, it’s clear why I despise Sin City so much. But I am obviously a minority. Anyway, I have come to eat.
My reservation at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, on of the four French style bistros he owns (the other three being in Los Angeles, New York and Yountville) is honored 10 minutes early. Despite the monstrous traffic around the Strip I managed to get to the Venetian early and I got sick and tired pretty quickly of the fake canals and imitation frescoes. My server is refreshingly older, the way a server would actually look in Paris. He is also knowledgeable and attentive and by far one of the best servers I have come across in a long time. The room is beautiful, similar to many a fancy French bistro, minus the patina of smoke and time gone by, absent from the furniture, the mirrors and the tiles. The menu is strictly French, with some concessions to Californian ingredients and I pick the special starter of Squid a la Grecque. While I wait I munch on the bread, a nearly perfect baguette, a little bit too crusty to claim French perfection but the butter is very high quality. Pistachios in their shells also sit on the table, ready to fatten up a hungry girl.
The salad is spectacular, with the baby squid’s tentacles gently fried and melting in my mouth and the tiny rings simply marinated and steamed and scattered over a bed of vinegary clumps of bread, tender mushrooms and eggplant and tiny dice of cucumbers. I could actually order another one. But the Colorado River sturgeon appears – it’s very good, perfectly cooked sous vide (and finished in a pan, I assume) accompanied by beurre blanc, beets, ramps and Russet potato gnocchi. The pairing of two very earthy flavors such as beets and potatoes with the smokiness of the fish is pretty inspired but, flawless execution aside, the dish fails to impress me, my standard being “Would I order it again?”.
Dessert flat-out disappoints. As a pastry chef, I look forward to be wowed, especially by simple desserts, made as they were meant to. But the profiteroles filled with very good vanilla ice cream and topped with warm chocolate sauce are just average. The pate a choux has been clearly pre-filled and stuck back in the freezer, making it hard to cut into. I would prefer to bite into my profiterole and have the filling, be it chocolate or vanilla, squirt out. All in all – I liked my meal but, apart from the squid, it wasn’t memorable.
On the way home , Ottie and I stop at Red Rock National Park where, for 5$ we take the 13 miles scenic route to admire the rock formations that veer from deep red to brown to grey and we hop out for a hike to a waterfall. It’s beautiful and what I think Utah looks like – although don’t take my word for it, I really don’t have a clue. Bad blogger that I am, I forgot my camera at home so the scant evidence I can provide of this trip is a few snapshots taken with my crappy phone. At this point, I am so mellow and the days have stretched so much longer than their typical 24 hours that I thoroughly do not care.