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Chef and Wine Professional need advice on MUST do's for my first trip to Vegas

Quick background....
Wife...CIA grad and Pastry Chef (so desserts must be top notch)(she no longer cooks but you know once a chef always a chef)
Me...Certified Sommelier(on my way to Master someday?) and a VERY adventurous eater

Both travelling to Vegas in mid-December with my wife's sisters and spouses(6 people total).....
This is my very first time to Vegas and I have asked a few of my wine buddies but I want a few fellow ChowHound's two cents.....

1st night, Tues 13 Dec2011 will be dinner for all couples... 4.5 adventurous eaters and 1.5 not so

-Willing to travel by cab or any means necessary if the experience is worth it
-Budget upper end of moderate to expensive..again if the experience is worth it
-Open to most types of cuisines, prefer rich and decadent
IMPORTANT-----Really want a dining experience, jackets and cocktail dresses with classic fine dining ambience, exceptional quality, great presentation, outstanding service, creative menu.. prefer NOT to see fellow patrons in t-shirts and ballcaps (this really can spoil the evening for us, America has gotten WAY too casual)..<stepping down from soapbox>

Currently under consideration...
=Michael Mina's- which one has steaks cooked in Beurre Monte(butter)?
=Jaleo's - I LOVE paella!
=Aureole - Would likee to see the Wine Angels
=Olive - Friend knows the sommelier there (possibly free wine!)
=Hugo's - sounds like it could be fun and tasty in old school Vegas way
=Would consider any Daniel Boulud or Jean George suggestions as well

Okay that is night one and THANK YOU to anyone that has read on. I know this is a lengthy post.

2nd night, Weds 14Dec2011..Boy's night=BUFFET night...girls are going to a CdSoleil show and we have stretchy pants ready to go
-Same criteria as above, travel and budget are open if experience is worth it
-Quality Crab legs, prefer Alaskan King Crab but will settle for higher quality of other species shellfish, Lobster a major bonus
-Prime Rib of above average quality, would like an overall great carving station
-Comfy booth, we plan to be here for quite a while

THANK YOU AGAIN to anyone and everyone that read this long posts and offers some wisdom and insight....

Roy aka WineGuyDFW

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  1. What do you consider to be upper end of moderate to expensive? Pretty much all the restaurants are business casual. I doubt you'll find a restaurant with everyone dressed in jackets and cocktail dresses. The only buffet I know of that serve lobster are the Rio (spiny lobster and not Maine lobster and dried out) and Aria ($10 extra for a half a lobster tail.) There are no buffets that serve all you can eat Maine lobster. The buffets that were serving Alaskan King crab legs are now serving snow crab.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Eric

      Moderate would be $75-100 average per person for 3+ courses...Expensive would enter the $150+ per person.
      We were afraid of the biz casual dominance in most places, a few of you fellow chowhounds pointed out some likely hat and jeans free ideas that we are thinking about.
      I have already crossed Rio off the list, too many poor marks.
      Do you believe the buffets have switch from Alaska King due to cost?
      Thanks for all your input

    2. Great list..
      You must dine at Lotus of Siam for either lunch or dinner...they have a buffet but I do the menu..it is so off the chain good..best Thai I have ever ever had.
      I like Country Club at Wynn and so miss Alex.
      City Center is really going on had drinks at Chandelier last month at the Cosmo hotel that was incredible...great hotel and had happy hour at Todd English's P.U.B.

      1. Vegas is a tourist town and not very many restaurants require anything more than business casual. Even then, you will often see a few people in jeans or even shorts and a t-shirt.

        The two most "upscale" restaurants aren't on your list:
        L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
        é by josé andrés <--this will satisfy your want for fine food and a good experience, plus you can talk chef talk to the four chefs who plate table-side for you.

        You should also go to Scarpetta. I've heard nothing but rave reviews for it.

        For buffet, Wynn usually has Alaskan king crab, although sometimes they substitute with a large spiny snow crab if king crab is too expensive. Take a plate of crab to the grill and ask them to heat them up for you. They'll get crispy at the edges, juicy in the flesh, and have a very nice (and light) mesquite flavor. Squeeze on a bit of lemon and it's perfect.

        The School of Pastry Design is in Vegas and is run by Chef Chris Hanmer, who just won Top Chef Just Desserts. He gives one-on-one or small group classes on sugar and chocolate. Since it seems you don't really need instruction on pastry, he also does a molecular gastronomy course. The school is within a small restaurant supply store which sells chemicals, additives, silicon molds, etc.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ah6tyfour

          Thank you for your insight...I had é on my radar, but read $250 a person and knew thought that might be a bit much per person for the whole group to agree on. L'Atelier though may be spot on! We like the menu and concept and that has climbed right up to the top THANKS! With Scarpetta right behind it along side Mina.

          Great tip on the crab at Wynn's. I hear it can be quite a wait, even on a week night. Is it worth it?

        2. Given your desire for fine dining ambience, I'd go with Aureole and sit in the Swan Court.
          You won't be able to see the wine angels from that part of the room though.
          Swan Court is one of the least likely places to see fellow diners in t-shirts and ballcaps short of Robuchon.

          Michael Mina's steak place in Mandalay Bay, Strip Steak, does a butter cooked prime rib which is then grilled. It's not bad. Ambience is okay but the front of the restaurant is big glass walls open to the passing crowds on their way to/from the food court and convention center.

          Michael Mina in Bellagio is a very nice room. Much nicer than the one at MGM Grand.

          I've always had excellent service at the above places.

          BTW, Daniel Boulud closed a while ago.

          2 Replies
          1. re: zippyh

            Swan Court at Aureole, just made the new list too. Wife is reviewing the menu now.
            Don't really want to gaze at the herds of fellow tourists while eating, so Mina's may get bumped off.


            1. re: WineguyDFW

              BTW, the Swan Court menu is slightly different from the standard ala carte menu. It's a fixed price 3 course menu with choice of starter, main, dessert, plus a side. There's a premium for some of the course. The choices are everything that's on the standard menu. There are also the tasting menus available.

              I seem to recall Swan Court patrons also get a more extensive amuse and something extra with dessert.

          2. I consider myself a foodie as well. Forty plus years in the business. I find Las Vegas as one of the top notch dining destinations. Some of places I've visited and suggest are:
            Picasso- One of my favorite. "Classic cuisine" and great quality food and service,
            L'Atalier- We sit at the bar and watch the creativity.
            Sage- The poached farm raised egg appetizer is one of the best apps I've had in Vegas.
            Eiffel Tower Room- Some feel this is too touristy but we visit each year. Maybe not quite as upscale as Picasso but the classic French dishes are of great quality and the service attentive and professional. The view and atmosphere can not be beat. At least visit the bar for a drink and app. The fois gras is super.
            Joel Rubechon "Mansion"- Have not dined here yet. Price is a little steep formy wallet but I here it is the ultimate dining experience.

            Eiffel Tower Restaurant
            3655 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

            1 Reply
            1. re: gdiego

              Sage is under review by my wife(along with Swan Court) now. Your thoughts between these two?
              L'Atelier is still sitting on top for me, but not sure the whole crowd likes the "bar" idea.


            2. Have to agree that Lotus of Siam is a MUST - even though it is not a dress-up place. Sage in the Aria has great service and a wonderful menu and you would not feel out of place dressing up. You probably have time to make reservations at e by Jose Andres at $250/head all in and you could definitely dress up and have an awesome foodie experience. For old school Vegas there's always the steakhouse at Circus Circus or Andres at Monte Carlo. I think you could dress up there. Then you have the big name chefs. Aureole is obviously a possibility - I fell in love with the New York Aureole before it was well known.

              Lotus of Siam
              953 E Sahara Ave Ste A5, Las Vegas, NV 89104

              4 Replies
              1. re: kagemusha49

                Just to update, e by Jose Andres is no longer $250 for meal + wine + gratuity. It's now $160 for the meal exclusive of tax and tip (comes to ~$205 after all added). Non-alcoholic tasting (6 tastings) is $65 and alcoholic tasting (9 tastings) is $110. Then add tax and tip to that.

                1. re: kagemusha49

                  All great suggestions....I am all for LoS, but not sure all of my brothers-in-law are Thai fans. We may try to hit this for lunch on the last day if we didn't OD the night before.
                  I think the old school dining would be fun, waiters in tuxedos, tableside preparation of Caesar salad, bananas foster etc....Awaiting group verdict.

                  1. re: WineguyDFW

                    Namaste is right next door to LOS and serves excellent Indian cuisine.

                2. For your buffet: Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan. I've gone once for dinner and twice for lunch, and I've never gone to any other Vegas buffet multiple times. I don't remember if they have King crab legs (which are increasingly all but impossible to find at buffets), I was too busy scarfing down everything else. Carving station when I went for dinner had prime rib, chorizo-stuffed mahi mahi, roasted lamb, roasted marrow bones (!), and accoutrements including chimichurri and harissa, both of which were full-strength. Their Korean BBQ short ribs are the best I've had anywhere, there's HUGE chocolate covered strawberries, I could go on at even greater length than I already have... Just go, it's amazing. Oh, word of warning, if you want an espresso afterward, hit Va Bene out in the shopping area on the 2nd floor; Wicked Spoon overcharges for their espresso. I have heard wonderful things about the buffet at the M Resort, but have been too busy gawking at Cosmopolitan to try them. An excellent thing to note about the M Resort's buffet is that beer, wine, and espresso drinks are included with your buffet.

                  The only buffet that has lobster at dinner is the seafood buffet at Rio, and it's completely not worth it. You will not find comfortable booths at buffets, precisely because they want you to eat up and get out. I think I sat at a banquette while dining at the Rio Carnival World Buffet, but that trades the Cosmopolitan's outstanding quality for jaw-dropping quantity; I swear Rio's buffet is a football field long.

                  Carnival World Buffet
                  3700 W Flamingo Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89103

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                    Wicked Spoon is holding in second place due to the overwhelming comments re: quality. We REALLY want those crab legs.... Great insight though and very much appreciated....I am ready to push it up a notch just for the mention of MARROW!


                  2. For the best high-end dining you should go to Joel Robuchon (not L'Atelier). Beautiful room, attentive service and fantastic food! Definitely a "dress-up" place. They'll even send a gold limo to pick you up at your hotel and bring you back after dinner.

                    For the most creative and delicious cuisine, you should definitely go to e by Jose Andres. Intimate private room at the Jaleo restaurant at the Cosmopolitan. It is counter dining for less than a dozen (maybe 8) guests.

                    I've heard excellent things about Sage. Skip Picasso. If you're at the Bellagio, I recommend Le Cirque instead.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ellenost

                      Is Le Cirque still open in Vegas? We heard it was closed? Gonna check online after this reply!

                      Unfortunately, Robuchon may be a bit rich for the entire party. Wife and I may have to make a weekend getaway for that one. Unless I win big at a table after we arrive...hmmm hadn't even thought about gambling yet..

                      Le Cirque
                      Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

                      1. re: WineguyDFW

                        Le Cirque LV is definitely open (the restaurant is not open on Mondays). Their new chef, Gregory Pugin is most recently from NYC's Veritas, and a good NYC CH friend of mine, RGR, loved his food. It's definitely on my list of restaurants when I return to LV in March.

                        Le Cirque
                        Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

                    2. Sunday Brunch at Bally's Steakhouse has unlimited Lobster, caviar and Perrier-Jouët Champagne. It also has great deserts. It is only on Sunday and well worth the price. It is call the STERLING BRUNCH. I think one of the best in North America.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: JB BANNISTER

                        Breaking my heart that we won't be there on a Sunday...That is EXACTLY what I am looking for a decadent buffet experience! Will have to plan a Sunday trip soon!

                      2. For the buffet, we really want our crab legs so it looks like:
                        -M Resort
                        Does anyone know if the legs are split already at any/all of these buffets or would we benefit by fedex some crab zippers to the hotel ahead of time?
                        Thanks again to all that are helping us with our decisions...Hope I can return the favor for anyone wanting to dine in DFW soon.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: WineguyDFW

                          You will be very disappointed with the crab at Bellagio. They're tiny slivers, barely larger than small snow crab. More often than not, they are still slightly frozen when put out. Snow crab is at both sides of buffet while king crab is only on the salad side. But very very disappointing.

                          Wynn at least will have decent crab. And again, the fact that they grill it over mesquite is a great bonus.

                          Both Bellagio and Wynn serve their crab pre-split. But with the size of the crab at Bellagio, splitting actually leaves each half quite bare.

                          M Resort's crab is snow crab, but very decent sized snow crab. And they let you choose between hot and cold crab. The crab are not split, but have scored so it's easy to open. They have crab zippers if needed. They actually serve them still attached to a piece of the body so you receive four legs each time you grab one.

                          Cosmo's crab is actually quite unique (although it's always quite cold when I get it). It's pre-split snow crab with lemon pepper and salt seasoning. It's served warm straight from the carving station (which is why I can't figure out why it's always cold when I get it).

                          Based on crab, this would be my order:
                          1. Wynn
                          2. M Resort
                          3. Cosmopolitan
                          4. Bellagio

                          Overall, the order would be the same except I'd put M in first place. Sashimi salad, big pieces of crab body with your crab leg, best desserts, alcohol and coffee bar included, etc.

                          3600 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV

                          1. re: ah6tyfour

                            Wine guy,

                            L'Atelier is must for you and your wife. Great, great wine list w outstanding sommeliers and creative desserts. The Roticerie item each night is exceptional. So too is Jamon Iberrico (belotta) which is hard to find. But, it's not good for a group as you'll be sitting 6 in a row along the bar. Not good for conversation. Drop the friends and take the wife!

                            Another interesting choice is MoZen in the Mandarin Oriental which offers its take on multi ethnic Singaporean street food. Their Sunday brunch is a marvel. Buffet appetizers, including all manner of sushi and sashimi. Not sure about crab. Main courses are not buffet and include Thai, Chinese and Japanese choices. Spicy and delicious. Delicious desser buffet.. Bottomless Veuve Cliquot to accompany all this. Amazing stuff in a smaller, more intimate "zen" space in a remarkable hotel

                        2. My husband and I are locals. We live 4 miles east of the strip and have tried many of the fine dining options Vegas has to offer. You will be hard pressed to find a restaurant without some jeans and t-shirt wearing diners. My husband proposed to me at Joel Robuchon last December...12 course meal over $1000 at the Mansion and there was still a table of very casually dressed people. Anywhoo, these are our favorites --

                          Joel Robuchon
                          Guy Savoy -- EXCELLENT service

                          Aureole was "meh" at best

                          1. My wife and I are passionate about great food and wine. We live in SoCal but travel to LV 3 or so times a year for the cuisine and shows. Our personal wine collection is several hundred bottles, deepest in French and California Pinot Noirs. We're former long time members of the Chaine de Rotisseur, a French inspired food and wine society. We're in our early 60's. Our son is a CIA grad (40K well spent) and currently a chef. From this perspective, my thoughts on some of the places mentioned....

                            JOEL ROBUCHON - Best of the Best, but probably wouldn't be fully appreciated by those in your group not as schooled in fine cuisine as you and your wife. A special occasion destination. We ordered a la carte, preferring two or three larger items we really wanted to a menu of smaller dishes we weren't sure about. Worked out perfectly. Had a foie gras stuffed whole French chicken with a 1996 grand cru burgundy I brought in. Corkage was $100. Don't know if they even still allow this.

                            L'ATELIER - Been four times since they opened and the last was the best. Great concept with the bar and all. All conversation amongst the kitchen staff, which one can sometimes overhear, is in French. Sadly, the bar just doesn't work well IMHO for more than 2 people, due to inability to easily converse. We dined there once at a table with a group of six. Tables seemed a little high like bar tables. Not nearly the same ambiance as at bar.

                            SAGE - A beautiful, "only-in-Vegas" kind of room with an adventurous and well-executed menu. Rave reviews from others I've sent there. We've dined there twice, but not within the last year. Highly recommended.

                            SWAN COURT @AUREOLE - If you go to Aureole, Swan Court is the way to go. There are several little outside patios just steps from your table where you can go to stretch your legs between courses and watch the swans. Chilly for that in December, though. We avoided Aureole for years, thinking it just wouldn't be up to par, but have now been twice and are so impressed with the setting, the food and the service. A very quiet, serene dining experience. My only complaint was the electronic device they give you instead of a wine list was hard for us over-60's to figure out.

                            GUY SAVOY - Similar to Robuchon in that it's an over the top French dining experience. Unlike Robuchon, the room seemed a touch sterile and cold to us. Cuisine and service all you'd expect it to be. Overall, we much preferred Robuchon.

                            e by Jose Andres - reminded by this post we haven't been yet and will try it on our next trip in December.

                            Old school Las Vegas - we adore these places when in the mood for 60's style food, ambiance and service. You mentioned Hugo's. Others we've tried include The Golden Steer on Sahara and Pietro's for Italian. Slices of Vegas history that won't be there forever. For Lunch or breakfast someday, try the Pepppermill on the Strip, which is slightly newer, but still old school Vegas.

                            I didn't see Twist mentioned in the Mandarin Oriental at City Center. Adventurous French cuisine from Michelin 3 star chef Pierre Gagnaire. We liked it a lot, and the room is beautiful.

                            Michael Mina at Bellagio is another beautiful room that'll be approachable for everyone in your group, with the added benefit of enjoying the extensive Bellagio gardens prior to entering. Always thought it a little pricey, though, all things considered.

                            Michael Mina Restaurant
                            3600 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

                            Golden Steer
                            308 West Sahra, Las Vegas, NV 89102

                            3600 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: mcgrath


                              Very helpful..Thanks for the excellent reviews. We visit Las Vegas each year and relish the fine dining. I just turned 60, (a hard one to accept) my dad was a fine chef and we owned a restaurant for many years.
                              We visited Sage last year and had a great experience. The farm raised poached egg appetizer was one of the best things consumed in the city. L'Atalier and Picasso are two others on our best list. We also enjoy the Eiffel Tower Room for the food and gracious service from the staff there.
                              I see where you do not mention Le Cirque. We have read great reviews recently and thought we might give it a try when we visit during the first week of December. Comments?

                              1. re: gdiego

                                Interesting you'd mention Le Cirque. As with Aureole, we've avoided it all these years, and I don't know why really. Maybe the circus-like decor suggested to me they weren't all that serious. Plus, I don't remember until recently there being any commentary about it here on CH.

                                HOWEVER, I am flying my work staff over and back for our annual fancy, no holds barred holiday meal, and--you guessed it--I've decided on Le Cirque. We usually do this locally in SD, but this year I proposed LV and it was a major hit. These are three attractive, hard-working ladies who've already gone out and bought dresses, etc. I'm pretty sure Le Cirque will be perfect for us.

                                Le Cirque
                                Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

                                1. re: mcgrath

                                  Hi mcgrath!
                                  I know its not fancy but Lotus of Siam is off the chain good..have you and your wife been there yet?
                                  It's on Sahara about a mile from the Wynn...Thai food beyond sublime..
                                  DH and I went right at 11:30am and ordered off the menu but the buffet is very popular.
                                  Just not a buffet chicka unless there is King Crab and Iranian caviar.. ; )
                                  I was extremely impressed with the Cosmo Hotel and City Center.
                                  Thanks for the Le Cirque reminder..have a great time at your Xmas party..
                                  Just got an e-mail for the Wynn..$139 a night with $50 resort credit for the holidays.

                                  1. re: Beach Chick

                                    Yeah, Chick, those 5 star hotels are begging for business. Make sure you put all your meals on your room tab so they know how much you've spent and will keep the deals coming.

                                    This thread has gotten a little Twilight Zone for me. Hadn't been to LOS for years, then happened to be in LV alone at dinner time last Saturday and decided great Thai food would be nice. I do love it. I always ask for the heat index to be as "spicy as you're legally allowed to serve a Caucasian"... This always produces a laugh and a very spicy dish.

                                    1. re: mcgrath

                                      We just stayed at the Trump and they upgraded us to a 1bdr suite which was nice but I still like staying at the Wynn...

                                      LOS is sublime but I like spicy beyond what they think I can handle and I told the waiter I wanted a 9+ and he brought out about a 6...hate when that happens.
                                      Report back on your dinner with your staff...already jonesing to go back for a long weekend.

                                  2. re: mcgrath

                                    I'll be expecting a report of your dining experience at Le Cirque. .......We hope to visit the first week in December.

                                    Le Cirque
                                    Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

                              2. Sage is great, had our wedding reception dinner there this June

                                They will customize a tasting menu for you if you call ahead and are great to work with

                                you can see my review if you search my name under this forum

                                1. As I read your post and the replies, I would tend to agree not to miss L'Atelier or Joel Robuchon next door. My wife and I dine at L' Atelier every 6-8 weeks as we have lived in Vegas 11+ years. I agree that Sage is wonderful as is Lotus of Siam. Another place I highly recommend is Raku but a party of 6 might be required to pre order or partake in an omakase menu (I would call ahead if this strikes you as a place to eat). Also, Raku is off the Strip. Additionally, I would recommend the $20 lunch at Estiatorio Milos at the Cosmopolitan (check availability on weekends). Likewise, I enjoy eating at Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan. I want to dine at E by Jose Andres (located within Jaleo) but have not had the opportunity.
                                  If you are in the Cosmopolitan please have drinks at the Chandelier Bar; it is a great place to have drinks and people watch-AND you don't have to do bottle service to get a table.
                                  Have a great trip.

                                  Lotus of Siam
                                  953 E Sahara Ave Ste A5, Las Vegas, NV 89104

                                  3708 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: cscruz

                                    Love Chandelier bar a the Cosmopolitan...really impressed with the whole City Center area.
                                    Wonder how the rooms are at the Cosmo..
                                    Can't wait to dine at Jaleo and Raku.

                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                      @BeachChick We love the Cosmopolitan and the rooms are very nice at the Cosmo unless you are above Marquee when the club is open as you will not sleep. My family and I love Jaleo and Raku.

                                      3708 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

                                    2. re: cscruz

                                      Best part of The Chandelier is the center of it, Floor 1.5 if you use the elevator. That's where they do all the wild experimental cocktails. I think my favorite bar at Cosmopolitan is Vesper, with outstanding vintage cocktails and modern interpretations.

                                      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                        The Chandelier and Vesper are both great. I usually go to Floor 1.5. The bartenders there are really nice.

                                        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                          JK..thanks again for the Chandelier bar and secret pizza rec...jonesing for a slice, cocktail and to play that vintage Galaga vid game!

                                        2. re: cscruz

                                          Raku is a good call. We went there with a hard-to-please foodie couple a year ago based on writeups here on CH. It was a major hit with everyone, and I love how it's off the Strip in an easy to miss little mall in the Asian area of the city.

                                        3. I continue to be a fan of Andre's from the time we had our wedding reception there to the last time we ate there last year. It is elegant, exceptional service, a great choice of 2 tasting menus , nice wine pairing and outstanding souffle (they had a pumpkin one last year that was outrageous).

                                          1. THANK YOU to everyone for your great comments and suggestions. We are in the process of making our final decision this week....BUT
                                            We have called 4 different restaurants to make our reservations and ALL of them are closed for some reason on the 13th of Dec (many closed for the entire 3 days we are there)

                                            Is there a reason so many of the fine restaurants are closed during this time frame?????


                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: WineguyDFW

                                              Many restaurants are closed on Mondays so that staff get a day off. My guess is that now they are closing on Tuesdays too to save costs.

                                              1. re: WineguyDFW

                                                That's the week a lot of restaurants close for their yearly "spring cleaning" if you will. I also think it's a sort of break for the staff before the holiday season. My birthday is December 13th...instead of proposing to me at Bouchon last year like my husband had planned (the location of our first date), he had to propose at Joel Robuchon (poor me I know). Anyway, Joel Robuchon should be open that week if you want to check it out.