Living To Eat

From My Taste Buds To Yours

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Archive for October, 2009

Fleur de Lys – Las Vegas

Posted by Austios on October 23, 2009

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:

– Ahi Tuna Tartare – shaved fennel slaw, ginger ponzu, fennel seed tuile

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.

– Yukon Gold Potato ravioli – sunchoke foam, veal jus, English peas, pea shoots

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.

– Prime Filet Mignon – potato puree, baby spinach, wild mushrooms, and a red wine reduction

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.

– Banana Chocolate Lava Cake – Peanut butter milkshake, Baileys ice cream, chocolate tuile and crushed peanuts.

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.

Going back to the desserts, I had taken a few bites of both the Grand Marnier soufflé and chocolate soufflé and I think the grand marnier soufflé was much better.

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!”

Fleur de Lys (Mandalay Bay) on Urbanspoon

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Grace Restaurant: All In The Name

Posted by Austios on October 16, 2009

You ever go to a restaurant where it has a particular food or adjective in its name and expect that place to be known for whatever food or adjective is in the name? Take California Pizza Kitchen for example. Is their pizza the best thing on the menu? Arguably yes, but it’s certainly not the best pizza you can get anywhere. Maybe that is a horrible example, but hopefully you get my point.

Which brings me to Grace Restaurant in Los Angeles. Let it roll off your tongue… “Grace”. What do you think of? If you’re like me, you immediately imagine a restaurant that is elegant yet not extravagant, with food that equally exude a grace like none other.

We came on a rainy Tuesday October evening. I had made reservations probably about a month prior, and the woman I spoke to (have since forgotten her name) was very courteous and patient with my questions. I actually knew right from that initial phone call that it was going to be a good experience. They had even called the day of to confirm the reservation.

When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by the hostess. Upon checking in, it was realized someone in our party was already there and seated, so we were lead to our table. Our table was situated in the corner by the window, along that little side wall when you first walk in.

Our server was nice. But kind of strange. When Felicia and I wanted to order a glass that our other friend ordered, I guess he didn’t hear us and only brought her glass then walked away. After a couple of minutes, I realize maybe he didn’t hear us, so when he came back and we told him, low and behold, he said he didn’t hear us. No worries, miscommunications between patrons and servers happens.

Just like at Fleur de Lys, we came for the 3 course DineLA menu, however, at the bottom there was a 5 course for $65 tempting us like a harlot. Yes, I just made that kind of analogy. 2 additional course for $21? Why not??? I also liked the way the menu was set up. It was non-traditional DineLA in terms of the selection. Typically most places will offer just 2 or 3 dishes per course, however, Grace had at least 4-5 options per course, plus 2-3 supplmentals, meaning you paid additional for those courses on top of the pre-determined meal price. Make sense? Hope so. I opted not to get any supplementals, despite them all sounding DELICIOUS.

3 or 4 of us opted for 5 courses, so the pacing was a little different, meaning there were times when we had our 1st courses first, then had our 2nd courses when everybody else was just having their 1st course. Make sense? Hope so…

I started with the heirloom tomato terrine. It was served with burrata cheese, an herb salad and passion fruit vinaigrette. Everything was awesome on its own, but all together as a single bite, it was just a perfect marriage of flavors and textures. I LOVE that. I was tempted to lick my plate, but of course given the environment and company I was in, I opted not to. Seriously, it was that good.

My 2nd course I opted for the Thai Lobster Soup. It was basically a Tom Yum soup (but without all the veggies and whatnot) with one little itty bitty piece of lobster tail. It had such a great depth of flavor.

The first of my 2 entrees, which I guess it was my fault for ordering it this way, and again for maybe not saying anything, but I got the braised pork shank. I’ll explain that more in a little bit. However, as soon as he put the plate down, the smokiness emanating from the shank was just awesome. The flavor as well was just so freaking good. Well seasoned with plenty of spices. It was served with rapini and a caramelized shallot and chorizo home fries. The home fries were really good. The chorizo was sliced very thin, so it wasn’t too heavy or overpowering.

My 2nd entree was the sauteed halibut, served with swiss chard, braised fennel, cherry tomatoes, and a white wine nage. Now this is what I meant earlier. I was deciding between the halibut and the salmon, so I went ahead and ordered the pork shank first, then asked him about the fishes, in which he suggested the halibut, not realizing that that was in the order they were going to come out. I mean, you usually would want to have the fish first because it’s lighter, then go onto the heavier meat. Oh well, miscommunication… c’est la vie.

For dessert, I ordered the sticky toffee pudding. It was a delicate chocolate spongey cake, served with bruleed bananas, a toffee sauce, and hazelnut ice cream. Hazelnut? Yes please!!! The other dessert was a chocolate and coffee parfait, which looked good but I did not try. I did however try a bite of someone’s salted caramel donuts and goodness, those were amazing.

Such a wonderful meal. The only thing that made it fall short of perfect was the server. So, out of the 7 of us, 3 of us needed to card it. Now, typically when several pieces of plastic are involved, one of us usually writes down how much everybody is going to put down, along with any cash. Not really complicated. We didn’t have a problem at Fleur de Lys. So, we had probably $200+ in cash, with the remaining $150 or whatever it was on the 3 cards. Well, the first 2 cards were charged just a few dollars off, but the last card was charged almost $300!!! Where’d the cash go? We immediately called him back, explained our breakdown in a little bit more detail, and luckily on the 2nd try, he got it right. Strange….

But what made up for it a little bit was Chef Fraser taking a picture with us. Aside from the couple he was talking to, we were the last ones to leave.

So while the restaurant and food were quite graceful, the server unfortunately fell short just a little. You might want to work on that a little bit.

Grace Restaurant in Los Angeles
Grace on Urbanspoon

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