Friday, February 25, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bradley Ogden, Las Vegas

I spent the weekend in Las Vegas. Not my first visit to the fine city and surely not my last. It was a quick trip, taking advantage of a three day weekend.

I traveled with my beau, Matt, who had never been to sin city before. Like all tourists we each had an agenda of "must see" places and plenty of "would like to see" alternatives. For him, number one on the "must visit" list was The Gun Store, a firearms store with an indoor range and package prices for trying out the guns. I shot a glock handgun and an AK47 semi automatic assault rifle... Which really isn't much different then shooting an old school .22 rifle (my gun of choice). It’s easily clear why it’s such a popular militia gun - light weight, easy to aim, and easy to shoot. It was fun that it was a pink AK47, and adorned with a Hello Kitty sticker (to discourage men from opting for the steeply discounted Ladies Package). Matt also shot an AK47 (although not the pink one) and another machine gun, a SAW. Gun guys apparently shy away from "cute" when comes to firearms.

My one "must" in Vegas was to dine at a celebrity chef's restaurant. And oh the choices we had! Well over two dozen famous eateries called to me and I dragged Matt over to peruse the menus at almost all of them. Some I rejected on price alone, like 3 Michelin Star Joël Robbuchon's place at the MGM ($155 per person prix fixe (before wine, tax or tip) for 10 courses was no doubt a steal for quality but a bit too pricey for my budget) some I rejected based the chef’s home base (I can eat at Bobby Flay's Bar Americain in NY, so Mesa Grill in Vegas just didn't make the priority list). And I rejected Thomas Keller's Bouchon, described in Las Vegas magazine as "as close to perfection one can get" simply because I'd been there before (although I assure you, the afore mentioned quote is the gospel truth). Other's on the chopped list included Guy Savoy's (another 3 Michelin Star chef), Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak ($92 Wagyu steak is no doubt delicious, but a bit pricey and anyway, I ate at Craftsteak when it was in NYC). Emeril Lagasse bugs me on TV so we passed on him and Mario Batali's place just didn't call to me. I'd been to Todd English's Olives on my first visit to Vegas years ago and found the menu featured too many of the Mediterranean fruit.

I decided on Bradley Ogden. I'd heard of him and tend to prefer his culinary emphasis on fresh & seasonal foods, but me being a diehard New Yorker and Mr. Ogden being a California chef, I'd never tried his food before. The 3-course, $55 pre fixe didn't hurt the decision making process either. I was flip flopping on choice right up to the last moment as we walked past restaurant after restaurant on our way to dinner. But ultimately I stuck it out and we went to Bradley Ogden’s.

It was the right choice.

The restaurant was gorgeous in an elegant, understated way, with dark wood & natural stone - a nice contrast to the artificial over opulence of faux white marble that makes Caesar’s Palace, where the restaurant is located. The staff, including our waitress and the (female) sommelier, were dressed in men's style suits, complete with necktie. Another nice contrast to the world immediately outside the restaurant's walls, where bikini clad Pussycat Dolls danced in cages over the slot machines and cocktail waitresses in leotards & bolero jackets serve drinks to gamblers.

We were taken to our table and greeted by a very friendly waitress who chatted with us briefly about NY (she apparently had lived in Kingston for several years). We ordered our appetizers and entrees and drinks - Syrah for me (I had to remind myself: in Vegas California wine is a green choice) and Diet Pepsi for
Matt. Big points from him on getting Pepsi instead of Coke. And points to our waitress for never letting him find the bottom of the glass - refills appeared as soon as his soda level reached about an inch.

I was given a sample sip of wine before my glass was poured - a practice I'd never experienced when ordering by the glass.

Before our first course came out we were treated to a tiny beet something, a muse of the chef. It came on a small square spoon-like thing that confused us.
The treat itself was too small to use a fork with, too squishy and complicated to pick up with our fingers and the serving dish was too deep and wide to eat directly off of. I looked around, saw no one was watching and then suggested we just lick it off. Inelegant perhaps, but an effective way to tackle the task. It was delectable.

Then came our first courses. For me Bradley Ogden’s "signature Ceasar salad" - which consisted of six full Romaine leaves, each individually dressed and then stacked and toped with two perfect parmesan slivers. Homemade croutons were scattered around the leafy tower. Matt got the twice baked Maytag blue cheese soufflé. Two smooth creamy disks with cranberry relish and walnut brittle. It was strong start.

Next, entrées. For me roasted salmon over lemon rosemary gnocchi and tons of tiny long stemmed mushrooms and pearl onions. When ordering the waitress had mentioned the salmon would be medium rare, almost seeming rare. I was very agreeable to that. What came out though... It was the smoothest, most perfectly (and evenly) cooked salmon I have ever had. The consistency was like custard and the flavor hovered between raw salmon and fully cooked, but in a way different then a typical "rare". The gnocchi added a lemon compliment but in a rich, savory way, and the mushrooms were delicate and mild.    It was the perfect salmon dish.

Matt opted for the Duroc pork loin - a generous serving of two boneless loin chops in a pool of garlic cheddar cheese sauce with broccolini and spaetzle. The pork was seasoned and grilled with a delicately pink center, and all the rich flavors made for a hearty meal unlike what one tends to think typical of fine dining, but a welcome addition to a busy day and chilly February weather.

Dessert was bananas foster cake with banana ice cream and German chocolate mousse. Both were beautifully presented so much so that we actually paused for a moment to just look at them. It was the first course we thought to photograph, although the previous ones had been perfectly nice plating. The sommelier had recommended a dessert wine to go with my bananas foster - a banana muffin and dollop of banana ice cream on top of a fudge sauce and doused in bananas in caramel sauce. It was a lovely amber liquid with slow legs and tasted like something in between a port and a brandy; it was the perfect choice. It added a new dimension to the dessert.

The mousse was a dark oval encased in a perfect fudgey frosting (how did they plate that?) and was as rich and sweet as it looked. It was garnished with a dark chocolate straw.

At this point we were full and satisfied and truly in awe of how good our meal had been. And then came along our waitress with a huge grin and another plate.
Two shot glasses filled with butterscotch pudding, whipped cream and a sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds were irresistible despite us being ready to burst from the feast we'd just experienced. It was smooth, creamy and mild, delicately sweet.

And thanks to the prix fixe, and that Matt only drinks soda, the bill was down right reasonable.

I don't know if Mr. Ogden was cooking that night or not but the food certainly confirmed all the numerous awards displayed directly outside the restaurant (I guess any place with a filled (and current) trophy case should be excellent).

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