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December 02, 2004
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Fleur de Lys

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Fleur de Lys
Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89119
632.9400

If Fleur de Lys isn't the best restaurant in town right now, I'll eat a pound of rancid headcheese. What is a fleur de lys, you ask? Well it's a flower, or the symbol of a flower, or the symbol of France. Depending on whom you ask, that flower is either a lily or an iris, and that symbol has designated the royalty of France since the twelfth century. None of this contributes to how good the food is at Fleur de Lys in the Mandalay Bay, but knowing this esoterica might make your meal there even more enjoyable.... if that's possible.

Fleur de Lys is also the name of one of San Francisco's best and most romantic restaurants-of which this is the only off-shoot. . It's chef, Hubert Keller, is no relation to Thomas, and is less of an empire-builder and globetrotter. For that we can be thankful. This Keller is content to let his cooking speak for itself. And that cooking is gutsy, intriguing and refined, and just what you'd expect from an Alsatian-born, French trained California cook. Under the command of Keller's executive chef Laurent Pillard and pastry chef Raul Villa this kitchen is capable of dazzling even a jaded diner like yours truly. That's just what they did recently with a vegetarian feast that I ordered on a dare, and regretted not a bit. A beautiful baby artichoke salad in an orange pesto broth, and a risotto of soy bean sprouts with a parmesan-truffle emulsion, almost made me forget about the Food Gal's intense and gamy truffle- stuffed squab breast.

I don't envy wine director Michelle Morey having to match wines with a dish like pan-seared diver scallops with foie gras ravioli, parsnip puree and lemon verbena sauce, or a symphony of beets, but she and the well chosen and French accented wine list, are more than up to the task. Most dishes are even more delightful to look at and taste than you would imagine...a good example being the lobster baeckoffe-a seafoody stew served with the cutest lobster claw sandwich you'll ever devour in one gulp.

These kitchen cartwheels are served in a jaw-dropping room of thirty-foot ceilings, lush drapes and very chic stonework. Don't ask me how it all works-I'm no arch-e-teck-but it does so-splendidly. The noise level is non-existent (those thirty foot ceilings I'm guessing), and the appointments and place settings are a perfect blend of old and new school. Best of all, at sixty-eight bucks the prix fixe is a major bargain compared with the same old same old at other high falutin' joints around town. Put it all together and take one bite of lamb loin and sweetbreads with cumin (or is it Koo-Min?) and honey sauce and you'll know you'll be cumin back for more.

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