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At first bite: The French reconnection
Story by Debbie Lee
Daniel Boulud returns to town with a modern brasserie. French fries? Of course — and so much more
Like every other celebrity chef these days, Daniel Boulud makes a signature burger with fries — three kinds, in fact. (I’m partial to The Piggie, topped with pulled pork so good you’d think you were in Memphis.) Just don’t expect it to arrive in a paper bag. Boulud, a Frenchman, approaches the traditional combo meal with his signature style. At db Brasserie, now open at the Venetian, the legendary French chef feeds your fix for fast food in an impressive white-tablecloth setting.
Relative to his Michelin-rated flagship restaurant in New York City, the brasserie is a casual concept. But from the perspective of a diner who can’t bear to bite into another predictable haute chicken wing, it’s the most sophisticated dining experience I’ve had this year. And one well worth the wait: This marks Boulud’s highly anticipated return to our city after shuttering Daniel Boulud Brasserie at the Wynn in 2010. It is also a trip back to the Strip for executive chef David Middleton (Alex, Scarpetta), who left in 2011 to lead the kitchen at local favorite Marché Bacchus.
Before we get to their collaborative efforts, I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to restaurant design firm Jeffrey Beers International. Every detail of the Beaux-Arts inspired interior — dramatic tilework, brass portrait lamps, gilded light fixtures — spoke to my inner (albeit amateur) design snob. After a recent meal, I spent the evening scouring the Internet for new dining room fixtures, my envy greener than the restaurant’s simple but stunning water tumblers.
But why sip water when you can have wine? There are approximately 300 bottles to choose from, largely consisting of French and Californian producers. You could also do the locavore thing and start with db’s Knees — a bracing gin sour sweetened with local desert honey. Mine was garnished with a velvety viola blossom and elicited a small squee of delight. (For once I regret that there wasn’t a supersize option.)
From the starters, the lamb flatbread was a delicious homage to North African flavors. Apricots and labneh (yogurt cheese) added sweet and sour qualities, and the thin crust was satisfyingly loud and crunchy. I only wished for a small dash of heat to tie it all together. Traditional Francophiles will probably prefer the pâté de Campagne, or country pâté. The rustic pork terrine is served in a thin slice with country bread and precious pickled baby vegetables.
Special honors go to Boulud’s fried calamari — the best I have ever had. A crackling tempura-style beer batter gave way to super-tender flesh, and a generous swipe of Thai-spiced crème fraiche (deliciously heavy on fragrant kaffir lime) provided an extra boost of flavor with each bite.
The only slight disappointment was an order of escargot. There was a lot to love: the snails were tender, a topping of spaetzle was fluffy and buttery, and two chicken “oysters” (the cut of dark meat near the thigh) were a genius addition. But there’s really only one reason to ever order the little critters: snail butter. Unfortunately, that over-the-top, garlic-studded sauce was replaced with a clean, green parsley coulis. (The dish was also missing salt.) Waiting with a slice of bread, aka my butter sponge, in hand, I was heartbroken. Please, chefs — don’t spare the fat. Anything that tastes like a wheatgrass shot can wait until my post-meal cleanse.
It’s not that I shun light dishes. A filet of salmon, cooked until just barely pink and served with precious little rice beans, was satisfying without weighing me down. However, my consort’s steak frites, requested medium, arrived bloody rare. He also noted that a medallion of red wine-infused butter served on top wasn’t a universally pleasing choice. (I agreed that it was slightly bitter.) Some guests may want to ask for it on the side.
Dessert, courtesy of Robyn Lucas, was excellent. A boring molten chocolate lava cake — the absolute bane of my former existence as a pastry chef — was made interesting with a side of lemon verbena ice cream. The herbal quality isn’t for everyone, but for citrus lovers, the flavor is unapologetically bold. And a pistachio and vanilla ice cream sundae with cherries, marshmallows and a brown butter cookie was a flawless take on an old-fashioned favorite. Its generous size was the only un-French thing about the meal — but I doubt you’ll hear anyone complain about that.
Inside the Venetian, 702-430-1235, dbbrasserie.com
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