Las Vegas Trip Report (Many thanks to Dave Feldman)
It was time for the semi-annual weeklong business trip to Las Vegas. This time Allison was tagging along for part of the trip. We arrived before noon on Saturday. Its always amusing to witness peoples reactions upon seeing Las Vegas Boulevard for the first time. Allison was no exception. Her expression conveyed awe, admiration, incredulity and revulsion.
Since this was Allisons first time in Las Vegas we decided to start with a walk up the strip and a casino and hotel tour. We window shopped and walked through the Venetian, Bellagio, Alladin, and Paris. Its hard not to be amazed at the size and scope of the Casinos. The ceiling of the lobby in the Bellagio is covered with hundreds of Chihuly glass flowers. I think that I read somewhere that each flower cost about $25,000. There are at least seven hundred of them! While in the Bellagio we also visited the art gallery, which featured a traveling exhibit from the Phillips Collection.
Dinner on Saturday was at Aureole. The wine list and wine tower at Aureole is legendary. The tower is four stories tall and bottles are brought down by angels who get up to the top with the assistance of a cable and pulley system. Allison started with the spicy tuna tartare that was amazing. I dont understand how they find such fantastic quality tuna. I started with the duck and foie graspot au feu which was essentially a duck and foie gras pot pie except the inside was broth with chunks of foie gras and duck. Dinner definitely started out with a bang. For an entrée Allison had the filet mignon topped with sautéed shitake mushrooms and foie gras foam. I had the seared tuna block. Both dishes were truly exceptional. Dessert was spectacular. We shared Meyer lemon pound cake with Meyer Lemon sorbet and mocha crème brulee. Im not a huge dessert fan, but these were phenomenal.
The wine list was so large that it was overwhelming. In addition it was quite pricey. Although there were 1200+ wines to choose from, the pricing was outrageous. The number of bottles under $75 was few and far between. I ordered the 95 Coudelet de Beaucastel Rouge. Ive had the 97 & 98 versions recently and many people have commented about how the wine could use a few more years. Trying the 95 would give me the opportunity to make a firsthand evaluation about a bottle with a few years on it. The wine was deep red with a beautiful Mourvedre dominated nose and palate. Prunes, plums and earth dominated the profile.
Sunday was spent exploring Hoover Dam and Red Rock Canyon. Both were incredible sights. Dinner was at Rosemarys Restaurant way west on Sahara. Rosemarys is a local place that I was introduced to on my last trip six months ago. The husband and wife chefs are from Emerils and Peristyle. Needless to say, their resumes are impressive. I was told that Michael (the husband) worked at Emerils in New Orleans. He then was instrumental in getting NOLA off the ground and then was sent to Las Vegas to open Emerils New Orleans Fish House in the MGM Grand.
Allison started with the wild mushroom goat toast. The dish consists of a piece of bread with goat cheese spread on it. The bread is then grilled and topped with mushrooms sautéed with a bit of cream. Allison called it, a grown up version of a grilled cheese sandwich. I started with the Maytag blue cheese wedge. This was a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with homemade Maytag blue cheese dressing, crumbled Maytag blue and sautéed applewood smoked bacon. Allison had the roast chicken and I had the crispy skin sea bass topped with shaved potato fries. Dessert was a bit disappointing. Since both chefs have New Orleans backgrounds we had high hopes for the chocolate filled beignets. However they were undercooked and doughy. Rosemarys wine program is California based. However I spoke with the Sommelier who told me she is working on balancing the list a little better. The prices are very fair and Sunday is half priced wine night. We had the 97 Jean Marc Bouley Beaune 1er Cru. The wine was full of cherries, mushrooms, and earth. It was a nice wine that was very food friendly especially at $23.
Monday was a full day of work followed by a corporate dinner at Chinois. Dinner was served family style and consisted of edamame, spicy tuna rolls and honey glazed spare ribs for appetizers. For entrees we had kung pao chicken, sweet and sour chicken, Szechuan beef and wok fried lobster. It was just the thing that we needed after a long day at work, hot food and lots of it.
Tuesdays dinner proved to be one of the most unique dining experiences of my life. After reading Jonathan Golds review of Lotus of Siam in Gourmet magazine I just knew that I had to eat there. In addition to Gold calling Lotus of Siam the best Thai restaurant in the United States, there have been outstanding reviews on chowhound.com. None of the reviews have been more positive than those of Dave Feldman. After mentioning that I was going to be at LOS, Dave e-mailed me and suggested that I ask for Bill, the owner of LOS and tell him that I was a friend of Daves. Well thats what I did. Bill came to our table and I introduced myself. We asked Bill if he would be so kind as to order for our table. After Bill asked a few questions about how hot we like our food, dietary restrictions, etc. Bill made some suggestions that we happily agreed to try. He then headed back into the kitchen to see to our dinner.
We started with some appetizers. First up was the minced sour sausage with crispy rice and cabbage. The rice had a crunch that made for a great mix of textures when combined with the cabbage and sausage. Next was prawns wrapped in bacon and then wrapped in wonton wrappers and fried. It was an unbelievable combination of tastes. We then had a series of entrees. The first was a charbroiled Thai beef salad with chilies and lime juice. It was spicy yet refreshing at the same time. We followed that with Drunken Noodle Seafood. This consisted of assorted shellfish served over pan fried flat noodles. Bill explained how this dish incorporated three different types of chilies. After tasting the medium hot version I dont doubt the veracity of that statement. This was some serious heat. Bill then brought out a saran wrapped platter to show us. On the platter was the largest prawn (freshwater Thai prawns) that I have ever seen. It was bigger than some lobsters that Ive eaten. Bill told us that they shrink up quite a bit while they are cooking. The dish was giant prawns in a rich curry sauce. Utterly delicious is the only way that I can describe the dish. Our last savory course was whole fried catfish with basil, lime and peanuts. I dont eat a lot of catfish, but I can safely say that this may have been the best single dish of food that I have had in months! Dessert (which was on the house) was sticky rice with vanilla sorbet. The second dessert was fired banana spring rolls. It was the perfect way to end the meal.
Lotus of Siam proved to be one of the most interesting and tasty meals that Ive had in years. Its mind boggling to think that this stunning food is being served in a small, New Jersey diner like place set in a strip mall well off the beaten path in Las Vegas. During the meal, Bill took the time to explain how all the dishes were made and to give us a little background on the history of LOS and Thai food. It really made the meal that much more special. By the way, this feast for four with drinks and a generous tip was $130. That is virtually unheard of in Las Vegas.
Wednesday night found us dining at Emerils New Orleans Fish House in the MGM Grand. After the meal at Lotus of Siam the night before I should have been expecting a disappointment. However, I cant help the fact that I had high expectations from Emerils. It is consistently one of the hardest reservations to get in Las Vegas. I had a warm spinach salad with bacon that was very nice. For an entrée I had the seared tuna provencal. The tuna suffered in comparison to the ethereal piece that I had at Aureole a few nights earlier. I probably should have ordered some of the more creolized dishes instead. The wine was the 98 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape. It was very spicy, but a bit closed on the nose and palate. I had been feeling a head cold coming on all day and that may have affected my experience with the wine. I suspect that as with many VTs it will be great with time. As a side note, I found our waiter to be a bit much. He really pushed the expensive tasting menu with accompanying wines. Also I had to laugh when I ordered the wine and he said, the 98 VT rocks!
Dinner on Thursday night was at Z Tejas Grill. There were a bunch of us and we were much more interested in the free flowing margaritas than the food. This was lucky for us since the food was more of a Southwestern take on TGI Fridays.
I leave Las Vegas much in need of a treadmill. However Im looking forward to returning in May and August for another shot at Lotus of Siam!
I'm so glad that you loved Lotus and had a chance to talk to Bill. I'm sure you realize that your meal would have been half the price or less if you'd have been served more mundane dishes. The fresh-water prawns cost more than twice as much as anything else on the menu (a Thai friend of mine told me that one of these babies cost her $7 apiece, retail, in a market in Bangkok). I've never been served that prawn/bacon/wonton appetizer, and can't wait to try it.
I'm glad that your Aureole experience was better than mine, and you've given me more motivaton to try Rosemary's, which seems to be a favorite of locals in the restaurant and food business.
re: Dave Feldman
In addition to the client that we were entertaining, it was my mother, my father and I. When we asked Bill if he would order for us, my mother mentioned, "of course we'd like to have an order of Pad Thai". Bill looked at her and said, "Please Ma'am, no Pad Thai for you here. You can get Pad Thai in NYC at Ja Ya Thai or any other Thai restaurant." We got such a kick out of Bill's honesty. I'm sure that the Pad Thai at LOS would probably have been the best version of the dish that I have ever tasted. However, Bill didn't think of it as one of their specialties and thus wanted to steer us in another direction.
Frankly I wasn't looking forward to Aureole. But my wife and clients were, so that's where we went. Of all the "name" restaurants in LV that I've eaten at I thought that this was the best. It was better than my meal at Le Cirque LV six months ago.
Rosemary's is very good. Would I call it great? Maybe not. However, it is a refreshing, relaxing option when you are looking for something other than the craziness that goes on at the restaurants on the strip.
Although I'll be there again in May, its for a bachelor party and I doubt that I could convince 25 meat craving guys to try LOS. Nor would I even want to subject Bill and his staff/family to such craziness. In August I'll be back for business and I'm planning on a sequel at LOS.
Thanks again for the use of your name. When I mentioned to Bill that I was a friend of yours he said, "Ohhhhh, Mr. Feldman is a verrrry good customer!" :)