Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Las Vegas Trip #2 - Days 2 and 3

As you might imagine, given our late night snack (VERY late night if you consider the time change back to Chicago), Mrs. Hackknife and I did not exactly wake up ready to begin the next day's onslaught of gluttony. Luckily, I had anticipated this contingency and planned on us having a late brunch (it was Sunday, after all) and then a late dinner in the evening. By 11 am local time, the contents of my stomach had cleared to the point where I could actually conceive of eating a new meal, so off we went to our brunch destination, the buffet at the Wynn casino, which my insider's information had indicated to me was among the best, if not THE best, Sunday brunch in town. This turned out to be completely and utterly accurate - for about $32 a head (I still can't believe that's all it cost), we were treated to a lavish buffet spread the breadth and quality of which I'd never encountered. Upon being seated, Mrs. Hackknife, her mom, and I made our way to the set of stations nearest to us, where we found lots of fresh fruit choices, antipasti/cheeses, and a diverse cooked fish counter, where I sampled carved-to-order salmon en croute, a mahi mahi dish, fish cake, and a slice of smoked salmon pizza. It was about at this point where I just happened to turn my head only to realize that there was literally a whole HALLWAY of additional stations to explore, extending off in the distance as one might imagine a foodie paradise on the business side of the pearly gates would look. The bounty discovered within was nothing less than remarkable: fresh raw fish (white anchovies, shrimp, ceviches, although, oddly enough, no oysters or crab legs on this day), a carving station of prime rib AND black pepper-encrusted slab bacon, a made-to-order pho (Vietnamese soup) counter, Indian dishes, Italian dishes, pork buns and shrimp dumplings, American comfort food (such as pulled pork on cornbread), and on and on, all delicious, at least from what I was able to try. I began to narrow down my choices and found myself having to winnow even further lest I not be able to partake in the separate dessert wing of the buffet. The desserts on display included various cakes and pies, bread pudding, purees (like kiwi-banana), large dayglo red candied apples, profiteroles, rice krispy treats, and even a gelato counter. I sampled and sampled until I could sample no more, fully aware that I would now be sated until our much-heralded dinner at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand some 8 hours later.

Speaking of L'Atelier, this was to be the dining highlight of our trip. Joel Robuchon is one of the legendary masters of French cooking, specializing in nouvelle cuisine, which simply refers to the fact that the ingredients in each dish stand mostly on their own without a lot of elaborate sauces or preparation (i.e., simplicity is paramount). His Atelier restaurant chain (there are 8 of them worldwide) is set up such that the diners are primarily seated at a long bar, behind which the kitchen is completely open so that the chefs are in full view as they prepare each plate (atelier means "workshop" in French). As you can see in Photo #1 above, the kitchen decor is heavy on pink, green, and blacks, and this color scheme is also reflected in many of the dishes. For example, our amuse bouche was a nice cube of avocado (green) and cilantro (green)-flavored grapefruit (pink) gelee. This theme continued throughout the meal, with each plate being not only delicious, but also a visual delight (another characteristic of nouvelle cuisine).

Mrs. Hackknife and I chose separate tasting menus - hers (the Club Menu) came with a wine pairing while I opted to forgo wine in favor of a larger number of courses (the Seasonal Discovery Menu). Both of us received a first course of tomatoes, hers in a chilled gazpacho with croutons, mine featuring heirlooms, basil oil, and fleur de sel with an edible flower to boot (see Photo #2 above). Next up for us was an amazing langoustine course - mine was pounded into a thin carpaccio rectangle and drizzled with lemon vinaigrette and green/red/black fleur de sel, while Mrs. Hackknife received a crispy langoustine fritter with basil pesto. At this point, I was given three additional courses: a nugget of king crab cooked "a la plancha" (grilled on a metal plate) and served with vegetables drizzled with lemongrass oil, a green asparagus kabob topped with a tiny fried quail egg, some shimeji (mushrooms), and decadent Iberico ham imported from Spain (I could see the giant leg of this ham waiting to be sliced up on a counter at the back of the kitchen), and a nice turbot filet with baby leeks, served in a buttery shellfish sauce with lime and ginger. For my main meat course, I chose foie gras-stuffed quail served with a ramekin of the famous Robuchon "death" potatoes, while Mrs. Hackknife enjoyed a plate of veal piccata served with said potatoes (she got a larger portion than me....grrrrrr....) and arugula salad. Allegedly, the death potatoes contain more butter/cream by mass than actual potato (very much the opposite of nouvelle cuisine) and we can pretty much attest to this as we saw the cream generously ladled into the pot as they were made to order in the kitchen (but, boy, were they good). After this, a plate of tasty French cheeses were delivered to the missus, followed by 5 small slices of very good tarts, and finally some rhubarb sorbet. My desserts were just as good, featuring marscapone panna cotta topped with strawberries and balsamic ice cream (see Photo #3 above), then a blackberry compote with spice cake and rhubarb sorbet. With that, our first-ever experience in a Robuchon restaurant concluded and we were both very impressed (I can't imagine how impressed the diners in his other Las Vegas establishment, the higher-end, 3-Michelin starred eatery simply known as Joel Robuchon, must be - hopefully, we'll find out someday).

From that foodie high on Sunday night, it was an anticlimactic descent to our final meal of the trip (not counting dinner at the wedding) on Monday morning, when the 3 of us, plus Mrs. Hackknife's Uncle Bob and lovely wife Sandy joined us for a late breakfast repast at Hash House a Go Go in the Imperial Palace, that wacky joint of the giant plates of farm-inspired cuisine first featured in my last Vegas trip postings in August 2010. As before, I started out with a house Bloody Mary, followed this time by a platter of two sausages, two scrambled eggs, some hash browns, a biscuit on the side, and a humongous Snickers pancake, which sounds disgusting in theory, but was interesting enough that I had to try it. Actually, the pancake wasn't bad, not exactly covered in Snickers, but containing chopped-up pieces of it distributed here and there amongst the batter (needless to say, no syrup was necessary). The rest of the dish was fine except for the biscuit, which was a little underwhelming given the largesse of everything else. As before, I had to tap out way in advance of even coming close to finishing (they like it that way, apparently - I wonder how much food they end up discarding?). In fact, I was so stuffed that I couldn't justify a pre-wedding run to In-n-Out Burger, located tantalizingly close to our hotel just on the far side of I-15 (their sign taunted me all weekend every time I looked out our window), as I'd hoped at one point. Maybe that's where next trip's dining should begin.....

(Ed. Note - The Commissary will be closed for the next 10 days as we make our annual pilgrimage to BBQ country and the Atlantic Coast. Stay tuned for associated postings on this channel in early August)....

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