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March 18, 2004

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Bouchon Bistro


Venetian Hotel

Faster than a celebrity, more powerful than a casino, LOOK, UP IN THE SKY, IT'S A BISTRO, IT'S A BRASSERIE..YES IT'S SUPERCHEF!

Yes it's superchef who, disguised as mild-mannered cook Thomas Keller, fights for truth, justice and the cuisine of the very very French at BOUCHON.

In case you've missed any of the hyperventilating press he's generated lately, Thomas Keller now has a presence in Las Vegas. The man many consider our greatest American chef, and owner of the renowned French Laundry in Napa California, opened this inflated knock-off of his Californianized French Brasserie in January, in the Venetian.

It's official name is the Bouchon Bistro but there's nothing remotely intimate or bistro-like about it. That doesn't stop Keller from hoping the name will give you the warm fuzzies even as you're surrounded by twenty foot ceilings, eye-popping decor, and a hundred and fifty other diners The name Bouchon means 'wine cork'.. But what it really is is a brasserie...what the French call a big, bustling restaurant serving hearty rib-stickin' food (check), good beer (check), and extraordinary shellfish (double-check).. Maybe it's the Keller name, the impressive decor, or that we're over our Francophobia, but this place is hopping most nights, even though it's as hard to find as a stripper who takes credit.

So I suggest self-parking and taking the private elevator and then diving into a plate of steak frites, roasted leg of lamb, or a big black boudin noir. That blood sausage may be too authentic for American tastes, but Keller and his crew get major points for trying. As good as it is, the croque madame-- a cholesterol-fest of toasted ham and cheese bathed in a rich mornay sauce AND topped with a fried egg is even better. I've pretty much worked my way through the whole menu and if I have a criticism it's that the food can be incredibly heavy...and this is ME talking. The portions are on the smallish side, though, so you won't feel so bad pushing the plate away after three or four bites....but there's no excuse for taking tender, haricot verts and drowning them in butter Those wanting to lighten up, should go for the mussels in a white wine saffron and mustard broth...or load up on oysters. Big, briny and fresh...they tell a tale of the sea in every sloppy slurp.

Yeah everything is almost perfect at Bouchon, but that's the problem. These places are money machines pure and simple. I don't blame superchefs for cashing in, that's the American way after all....but Bouchon - for all its wonders-- is a copy of a copy and it has exactly the soul of one.

This is John Curtas

See discussion rules.


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