Daniel Boulud Brasserie
Wynn Las Vegas (last visit: July 2009).
Daniel Boulud bears a passing resemblance to Bouchon, but there are differences. Both restaurants have an informal, relaxed feel, but Daniel Boulud is slightly fancier. Both serve simple food, but here too Daniel Boulud is slightly fancier.
I ate at Daniel Boulud shortly after it opened, and there were a couple of service lapses - nothing dramatic, but annoying. By the time I returned, service had improved, and service has remained good since then.
There are three different areas in which to eat: an informal bar and lounge; the main dining room; outdoors, overlooking a lake. The same menu is offered in all locations. When the weather is nice, I'd opt for outdoors. The atmosphere is relaxed, there's lots of greenery, and once it gets dark there's a modest but interesting light show on the water. When I was there, a giant frog, with huge eyes, sang "What a Wonderful World" - in Louis Armstrong's voice, of course.
I can also recommend the bar. The bartenders are friendly, and some have eerily good memories. One remembered my name from my previous visit a couple of months earlier.
I started with an appetizer of roasted beet salad with blue cheese, endives and walnuts. I'm not a big beet fan, but wanted something light and this sounded interesting. I'm glad I ordered it. The dish consisted of wedges of red and white beets, a puree of blue cheese, endive leaves, and some walnuts that were slightly crunchy - a fine combination of contrasting flavors and textures.
For the main course, I had oregano braised veal cheeks and sweetbread schnitzel, with carrots and broccoli rabe. The sweetbreads were served as a fried slab with a crunchy coating; very good. Now (drum roll please) on to the veal cheeks. Wow! Tender, cut-with-a-fork, full of flavor, with a rich sauce. This is one of my favorite dishes in recent memory.
Finally, dessert was a warm milk chocolate fondant, with vanilla ice cream. This is a dessert with a crisp cake/cookie-type of shell, filled with a milk chocolate and hazelnut paste. It was excellent (not quite as good as the similar dessert at Picasso, but close).
I had heard good things about the Danish Smoked Salmon appetizer. What I heard was correct. It was very smoky, chewy yet soft, and not too salty. Creme fraiche, minced onion, capers and some green accompanied it. Very good!
My entree was the day's special: osso bucco. It was extremely tender, falling apart, with a rich sauce. On the side were small pieces of zucchini, yellow squash, fingerling potatoes, and some leafy vegetable. Also very good.
The bill (with two glasses of wine, tax and tip): somewhere around $100 - I didn't write it down.
The meal started with Paté de Campagne Forestière: a large slice of moderately coarse paté, served with thick toasted slices of country bread, small pickled vegetables, and a little mustard. It was very rich, although not so overwhelmingly rich as some patés. Very good.
My main course was Crispy Duck Confit. This consisted of the leg quarter of a duck, the meat rich, soft and strongly flavored, the skin crispy/crunchy. Surrounding the duck were several varieties of mushrooms, in a dark sauce. I used some of the breads provided (sesame semolina; country; baguette) to sop it up. This is another excellent entrée.
Finally came Cocoa-Crusted Profiteroles. Three round pieces of pastry were studded with bits of dark chocolate, filled with rocky road ice cream, with bittersweet chocolate sauce. Now, I'm not much of a fan of rocky road ice cream, but my opinion might change. This version was delicious, with chunks of very dark, rich chocolate.
The food was almost as good as my first meal here and, given the smoother service, was even more satisfying. The bill (this time excluding drinks, tax tip) was $58.
I started with Maryland Crab Gratin. It was a large patty of crab meat with a strongly flavored cream sauce; no cheese flavor was apparent. The crab had pretty good flavor, but it wasn't lump meat. Overall, good but not great.
My entree was their often praised Braised Short Ribs. They were a large rectangle of shredded meat, slightly salty, rich and soft. Smoky carrot mousseline accompanied it. It was good but not as good as I had hoped.
I was a little disappointed with the meal. While it was good enough, it didn't meet the standard I had come to expect based on my other meals here. The bill was $65 plus drinks, tax and tip.
It's 6 pm on a Wednesday, and the restaurant is deserted. It will get a little more crowded later on, but the economy of 2009 has certainly done a number on this place. I eat at the bar, and end up talking to some of the friendliest bartenders in recent memory. They're a lot of fun.
My "appetizer" is a pear mojito: Absolut Pear, pear puree, mint and lime juice. It's a strong one; the pear puree can be tasted, but isn't the majority of the drink. To me, there's too much mint, but it's still a pretty good drink.
One of the bartenders recommends the special: Pork Three Ways. OK, I'll bite. First is pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon. That's a pretty standard item, but as with most things here, it is executed very well. The pork is cooked medium, as requested. It's tasty, and is not at all dry.
The second preparation has some name I didn't get, but was told it was like head cheese. A small fried rectangle of meaty, soft...oh, I give up, I can't really describe it, but it is very good indeed. Perhaps it's best I don't know what it is.
Last is pork belly, something that every second restaurant seems to offer these days. Standard item yes, but again the execution is excellent. Two cubes of pork belly are meaty and of course fatty...but not too fatty...and not too salty...and nicely crisp. Accompanying the pork belly are mushrooms tempura style, asparagus and some green puree I'm ashamed to admit I can't identify but nonetheless enjoy. This is better than the not-head-cheese.
My side dish is Super Green Spinach. Well, it really is incredibly green, so I guess the name is OK. It's also super. There's a good amount of butter, or butter and oil, and something else. In any case, the flavor is great. I eat the large, meant-for-sharing dish all by myself.
For dessert, a raspberry and pistachio tart. I'm told that the base is sablé breton, a kind of shortbread. The three to four inch circle is covered with a thick layer of pistachio mousse, then topped with fresh raspberries and crushed pistachios. Some raspberry lavender honey sauce graces the plate. It sounds better than it tastes, but it still tastes pretty good.
After my previous meal, I was a little concerned that Daniel Boulud's quality might be slipping. Not to worry. This meal is as tasty as in the good old days of two years ago.
I've also tried DB's famous hamburger: a "9 oz. sirloin burger stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffle [on a] Parmesan bun." The hamburger's shape is somewhere between that of a traditional patty and a meatball; it's tricky to eat! There's a strong horseradish flavor, which I consider a plus. The short ribs, foie gras and truffle aren't readily apparent, but since the overall flavor is good, I don't consider this a negative, just a matter of style. Overall, I liked the hamburger well enough, but it didn't blow me away. I prefer Bradley Ogden's burger, and Burger Bar's offering is about as good as DB's.
It ain't fancy food, but it's very good - certainly on my top 20 list for Las Vegas. It's also the kind of place to which I find myself returning. Whether you choose outdoors, the main restaurant or the bar/lounge, you'll have a good meal and a good time.
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