The good news is that champagne, croque madame and a platter of exquisite French pastries the morning after has a way of dispensing with any lingering stresses. The very best of all three can be found at Bouchon, a brasserie at the Venetian Resort opened four years ago by French Laundry’s Thomas Keller. While elsewhere in the Venetian, faux gondoliers poled tourists about the hotel’s canals, we three sat at a corner table that overlooked a courtyard garden and worked our way through a good portion of the menu.
If you’re one who thinks that a brunch menu couldn’t possibly showcase Keller’s culinary mastery, you’d be mistaken. Here, “French toast” translates into layers of brioche, vanilla-scented custard and apples that have been baked into a soft and luscious bread pudding and drizzled with maple syrup. Such a reinvention of the old breakfast standby elevates it to something extraordinary. A crock of pork rillette that’s been spiced with red-wine-soaked prunes, pears and orange rind and then cooked with champagne vinegar, mustard and clove tastes utterly sublime spread on toasted slices of house-made baguette. And the only problem with the croissants is that they make all others seem uninspired by comparison.
We spent the afternoon walking the streets of downtown, where ticky-tacky souvenir shops share space with ticky-tacky topless bars. What lends an air of charm to the scene are 1940s-era casinos like the Golden Nugget, which has updated its décor but maintained its retro-cool image. Here you’ll find blue-haired ladies playing the nickel slots, while at the pool a see-through water “tube” bores through a tankful of sharks.
That evening, we headed to dinner at Nobhill, one of four Las Vegas restaurants owned by chef Michael Mina, who made a name for himself at San Francisco’s Aqua and now heads a mini-empire of restaurants. At Nobhill, you’ll find a romantically dark (if somewhat austerely modern) dining room in the MGM Grand, about 100 yards past the lion habitat, where a rotating cast of felines lounges within view of the slots. In addition to featuring dishes from the Michael Mina cookbook, like Maine lobster pot pie, the menu incorporates flavors of the Pacific Rim while giving a nod to Italy. Citrus-steamed black cod with miso-braised Kobe beef short ribs holds its own next to Mina’s signature North Beach cioppino. With images of San Francisco embossed on the glass walls enclosing the booths, the restaurant oozes artistic sex appeal. So does the presentation of the food, which can appear painted onto a plate—as with the trio of sauces accompanying the olive-oil-poached lamb loin.