There are very few things in life that evoke such an ethereal response from a person. For some, it could be a certain fragrance or aroma. For others, it could be something they see throughout their day or as they pass by. No matter the means, the result is always the same: a celestial response followed by pure serenity (at least that’s what happens to me).
As for me, the only thing that truly brings forth the aforementioned response is food. More so when I am dining at a higher end restaurant. In what I firmly believe are one of the very few things in existence to utilize all five senses at once, food, particularly good food, is one of life’s universal languages and is a great vessel for people to come together. It is the ultimate excuse to hang out with friends and family over a special occasion or not.
The most recent of these moments I experienced with food was over Labor Day weekend at Fleur de Lys in Las Vegas, acclaimed Chef Huber Keller’s flagship restaurant, 2nd only to its counterpart location in San Francisco. As an individual who is in the industry, I highly look up to Chef Keller and praise his contributions to the restaurant scene in not only San Francisco and Las Vegas, but across the entire country. He is a chef who is highly respected and loved and deserves all of the accolades he has received. The San Francisco location has also received the highly-coveted Michelin Star rating, so I was very excited to pay a visit to this establishment.
The restaurant itself is beautiful. There is not any artwork or decorations on the walls, as the layered slate stones do not need artwork. Plus I could imagine how difficult it would be to attempt to hang a painting on a wall that is uneven. The tables are simply adorn with solid white table cloths and are surrounded with dark wood chairs. The high ceiling aides in the illusion that the restaurant is much larger than it probably really is, with the wine cellar (though inaccessible to the public) is housed upstairs, leaving the patrons to admire it from afar.
There was a slight delay with our reservation at 8:30, so the hostess, on her manager’s behalf, offered us complimentary champagne to be enjoyed as we continued to wait in their lounge. The lounge itself is rather small and VERY poorly lit, but I suppose that might have been their intention in some way. It did however seem to make our wait instantly shorter.
Once we were sat, our table was semi-tucked away in the back corner of the restaurant, offering a subtle sense of privacy. Almost immediately our server, Marcus, came by to introduce himself and give us our menus. I should add that we probably would not have decided to come to this restaurant had it not been restaurant week in Las Vegas. A majority of the restaurants were offering a 3 course meal for $50. In terms of fine dining, that is a very good deal.
The only problem was once we opened our menus, a 4 course “Elegance Menu” for $89 was staring right at us. It was almost like a proverbial splash of water in the face. Normally I would have difficulty justifying 1 dish for $39, but my justification was that this Elegance Menu had more and better choices than the 3 course RW (Restaurant Week) menu. The only steak offered on the RW menu was skirt steak, whereas on the Elegance menu, there was a choice of prime filet mignon. Skirt steak vs. filet mignon: who do you think will win 9 out of 10 times?
We all started off the meal with an amuse bouche, typically a one (MAYBE two) bite delectable offering from the chef. What we were given was basically a tiny black cod fritter, with braised potatoes and a sauce I have since forgotten, but found to very delicious.
After some deliberation and some discussion, I decided to get the following courses:
The tuna was very fresh and the fennel slaw underneath was a very nice and refreshing flavor and textural contrast to the fish. The ginger ponzu was not overpowering nor too salty. Very nice opening.
The ravioli were nice and well seasoned, however I feel the jus was a little salty. Overall a nice 2nd course leading into the main entrée.
Quite possibly the highlight of the evening. Hold on, let me think about that for a second…. Yes, it WAS the highlight of the evening. A perfect medium rare piece of filet. Very tender though slightly under seasoned. I can overlook an under seasoned piece of meat than other mishaps. The potato puree was very buttery and the vegetables were cooked just right. The only thing I would have changed about this meal was that there was an option to add foie gras and black truffles for an additional $25. I opted not to partake in that, however, a couple others at the table did and I have to tell you, they definitely received $25 worth of foie gras and truffles. The foie gras was as round as the filet and there was a copious amount of truffles. It was not just 3 or 5 or 6 slices, but a PILE. My guess was it had to be at least a dozen or so slices. I was very jealous but lucky for me they were generous enough to both give me some of their foie gras and truffles. My eyes grew incredibly enormous with anticipation in devouring such delicacies. I almost did not want my dessert because I did not want to rid myself of the flavor.
As an aspiring pastry chef, the dessert course is one of my favorite if not the favorite course of my meal. The cake itself was very good and cooked perfectly and the “lava” had a pleasantly subtle banana flavor. The peanut butter milkshake was very good and had a smooth texture. I do not, however, necessarily understand the Baileys ice cream.
On top of these 4 courses, a friend and I shared an order of the veal sweetbreads, which came with a deep fried poached egg and spinach and apple salad. I absolutely LOVE sweetbreads and they were cooked to perfection.
The meal ended with an assortment of petit fours. There was a classic French canele, passion fruit gummy thing of sorts (I didn’t try it), a homemade marshmallow (I forget the flavor) and a macaron (I forget the flavor as well). My lack of remembering these shows just how memorable (or lack thereof) they were.
Service was impeccable. The lady that gave us bread was very courteous, offering 4 different types of bread. I will have to say while it was still very good, the pretzel bread at CUT is way better. Our server Marcus was very attentive and patient with us. He was very helpful and he and the expediters explained each course and each different dish thoroughly and patiently. Marcus even showed proper wine pouring etiquette by pouring our wine label up. I learned from my wine instructor in culinary school (who I believe by now is a master sommelier) that proper wine pouring etiquette means pouring the label up as well as slightly twisting the bottle as he raised the bottle from the glass so it doesn’t drip. Yes, I pay attention to these things.
Again, I feel so very fortunate to have dined at such a fine establishment and look forward to dining at the flagship San Francisco location very soon. If Chef Keller were reading this right now, I would have to say “Merci beaucoup Chef Keller!”