>> Wednesday, February 27, 2013
This is the first post in the Winter in Las Vegas series.
Out of all the lavish and extravagant things to be had in Las Vegas, my absolute favorite thing is actually completely free.
I'll never lose my fascination with the magical fountains in front of the Bellagio. This dramatic 5-minute long show - where water dances in perfect time to the ever-changing music - never ceases to capture me. I can sit all night and stare at the fountains - song after song after song.
In fact, the one time Bryan and I got to stay in a fountain-facing room at the Bellagio (in the dead heat of the desert summer when rates were actually very reasonable), I just sat in our room and stared out the window for several hours, entranced by this captivating show.
There are just a few restaurants that are lucky enough to have that coveted fountain-facing real estate. I had visited one previously (and absolutely fell in love with sitting on the terrace there). This past trip, I got the chance to visit another fountain facing restaurant: the whimsical and playful Le Cirque.
This is the second "flagship" location of Le Cirque. The original restaurant resides in New York, where it's been there for almost forty years. It boasts its own share of famous past chefs, including Daniel Boulud as executive chef from 1986-1992.
The Las Vegas location has been awarded one Michelin Star (interesting the New York one doesn't have one). Gregory Putin is the executive chef at Le Cirque in Las Vegas. Previously, Chef Putin helped Joel Robuchon open up eight new restaurants worldwide, staying on as executive sous chef at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in New York for 2 years.
He joined Le Cirque in 2011 after earning a Michelin star as executive chef at Veritas in New York.
The menu has many options. There's a Degustation tasting menu for $135 per person (6-7 courses). You can also opt for the pre-theatre menu (available 5:15-6:30), which includes an amuse, two courses + dessert for $72 (+$30 for wine pairing). Finally, there's an a la carte menu, where appetizers cost $31 and entrees $52 (yes, dining on the Las Vegas Strip is just expensive!).
The folks at the Bellagio were kind enough to treat us to a lovely Degustation tasting menu showcasing some of their best stuff.
We started with the Santa Barbara Sea Urchin “Ice Cream”, which is served with ginger-lemongrass gelée, fennel purée and topped with Osetra caviar and an edible gold leaf. It's creamy, decadent, and clearly meant to impress. How often do you see edible gold in your food? Bering Sea Snow Crab came next with a gorgeous assortment of colorfully plated vegetables, including turnips, avocadoes, granny Smith apples, and pomegranate seeds tossed together in a rosemary vinaigrette. This was paired with a lovely champagne called Ruinart, Blanc de Blancs, Reims, MV
We could smell the next course well before it arrived at our table.
The Nantucket Bay Scallops were covered with gorgeously fragrant shaved white truffles. We seriously couldn't stop inhaling the aromas of our dish before actually tasting it. The scallops sat over a butternut squash purée, thinly sliced jamón Ibérico (my favorite), potato gnocchi, and chestnut espuma. This was paired with Puligny-Montrachet, Jean Chartron, Burgundy, 2010. New Zealand Langoustine and Foie Gras Royale came wrapped in a thin later of cabbage with black truffles. The soup, a potato and leek velouté (a velvety, creamy soup), was poured table-side. We ate this while sipping on Tokaji, 5 Puttonyos, Royal Tokaji, Hungary, 2008 Alaskan Black Cod was served with crushed fingerling potatoes, grapefruit and “citrus caviar”. A creamy shellfish and coconut nage (a flavorful broth made from shellfish, vegetables, and herbs) was again poured table-side. This came with Condrieu, E. Guigal, Rhone, 2009. New Zealand Cervena Venison was cooked rare and served with a few sticks of spiced squash, quince, and a tiny little cake topped with huckleberry compote. The venison was appropriately served with "Grand Veneur" sauce, a "huntsman's sauce" based on the classic pepper or poivre sauce but made from game meat. This paired with Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vieille Vignes, Patrice Rion, Burgundy, 2009 Japanese A5 Kobe Beef Tenderloin was served with pommes boulangère (French gratin potatoes), cardons gratinés (a cheesy version of a celery-like vegetable), and a croquette filled with Béarnaise sauce. The server told us we were supposed to "crack" the croquette over the A5 beef, thus allowing the creamy and rich Béarnaise sauce to envelop the small piece of beef. This beef was also served with a bordelaise sauce and the entire meal was served with Margaux, Château Giscours, Bordeaux, 2006. Bryan loved this dish and ended up eating half of mine (not the first time this has happened with rich, Japanese steak).
A brief aside about steak in Japan
Just so you can appreciate how incredibly rare A5 steak is, here's a brief aside about Japanese Kobe beef. Unlike in the US, where we just have four grades of beef ("prime", "choice", "select", and "standard"), Japanese beef is rated on multiple different scales. First you have "yield grade" (A, B, or C), which indicates what percentage of good, usable beef you can cut out.
Then you "Total Meat Quality", which takes into account a number of factors, such as meat color and brightness, firmness and texture, fat color, and beef marbling. Most of these are rated from 1-5, except for beef marbling (one of the most important ones!) which is rated on a 12-point scale.
source of chart: J.R. Busboom and J.J. Reeves Washington State University Pullman, WA 99164
The final score is a combination of the average overall meat quality grade and the yield score. The highest score a piece of meat can achieve is A5: a yield score of A plus a quality grade of 5.
Between 2010 and 2012, it was illegal to import any beef from Japan due to fears about foot and mouth disease. It wasn't until late 2012 that this ban was lifted. Now, if you're lucky, you may be able to find Japanese A5 Kobe beef in a few select places in the US (like here!).
Back to our French meal . . . .
For the cheese course, we enjoyed a few slices of warm Epoisses, a pungeant, creamy, unpasteurized cow's milk cheese with a washed rind. It comes from the French village called Epoisses in Eastern France. This was topped with shaved black truffles and served with bread.For our "Dessert Fantasy", the sommelier brought over one of my favorite styles of dessert wine: Sauternes. This one is Le Tertre du Lys d’Or, Bordeaux from 2005.
Each of us received a different dessert, and each one was extravagant and beautiful in its own way. The Boule de Sucre (literally "sugar sphere") comes with chocolate mousse, cranberry gelée, and Oreo dust. Doesn't that just look like a piece of art?
Another delicate dessert came with finely spun sugar threads, ice cream, tiny little batons, and yet another gold leaf.
The Petite Boule de Chocolat has its own dramatic presentation. A perfectly formed chocolate ball, topped with a tiny gold leaf, undergoes transformation when the server pours chocolate sauce over it. As you can see from the photos, the ball dissolves to reveal its insides: a praline mousse, white chocolate ice cream, and a hazelnut caramel crunch.
We thought it was over, but the presentation of Les Mignardises is what really made us gasp. Our little after dinner "bites" came with the most gorgeous sugar swans. It's like hand-blown glass, but with sugar instead. We were floored with the elegance and beauty of the desserts.
And finally, every diner got to take away a small little gift: chocolate truffles are hidden inside those whimsical drawers.
We had a lovely evening at Le Cirque. I would say that the style of dining is pretty traditional upscale French, complete with all your typical "fancy" French ingredients (foie gras, caviar, velouté, Béarnaise sauce, etc.). There are glimpses of international influences, such as the use of jamón Ibérico (very Spanish), sea urchin (Japanese?), and gnocchi with white truffles (so Italian!). The coconut nage in the fish almost made me think Southeast Asian. In general, however, I still think that the flavors lean towards being more traditional, conservative, and "safe." You won't find anything too crazy here, which is good for events like business dinners and situations where you need to please a wide range of palates.
Well, I guess there is one very unique, very special aspect.
We sat right next to the window, and therefore had a perfect view of the lovely fountain show outside. That combined with those breathtaking desserts, how much more romantic can you get?
Le Cirque at The Bellagio
3600 Las Vegas Blvd
S Las Vegas, NV
Disclaimer: I did not pay for this meal. All opinions are my own.