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Aureole (Las Vegas, NV) / Charlie Palmer @ Bloomingdale’s (Costa Mesa, CA) – CPx2

March 23, 2010

That’s right, this is going to be a double dose of Charlie Palmer, pioneer of progressive American Cuisine! Charlie Palmer + Charlie Palmer! CPx2!

(…Okay, enough of that. Can you tell I can’t think of any ideas for a lead in? I’m just going to get right into this.)

Aureole

I’m going to straight with you: This is going to be a biased review.

My mistake wasn’t making a reservation at Aureole; the mistake was keeping it after a long, hard night of drinking. The morning of my Aureole reservation, I found myself lying in bed with a hangover and a craving for the cheapest steak and eggs I could find on the Strip. After pounding down a whole steak, two eggs over easy, a side of toast and god knows how many cups of coffee, my headache and nausea had subsided…but so had my hunger for food.

I may have lost my appetite that day, I’d like to think my sense of taste remained relatively intact (whether it actually was, you can decide). Thus, taste away I did.

(The stark white exterior is a foreshadowing of its the cold white interior.)

The first thing I noticed when I descended down the staircase into Aureole’s dining room was the sterility of the restaurant. I typically love modern design but the glass tower coupled with the cavernous room made the whole area seem cold and unemotional (especially after L’Atelier’s bustling open kitchen the night before). I pictured the dining space circling Aureole’s signature 42-foot glass wine tower, making it the center of attention; however, in reality, the wine tower acted more as a dividing wall than a focus piece and I sat with my back facing the tower for the entire night.

As mentioned, I wasn’t hungry when I arrived at dinner so I ordered from the 3-course theater menu and added the starter of the trio of house cured salmon. The trio had a wide range of flavor combinations, from the familiar creamy dill in the gravlax to the unique citrus tones in the pepper crusted salmon.

My first course, the Thai popcorn shrimp, was more a soup than an appetizer. The curry flavor in the spicy coconut broth was bold and had a lingering kick to it, which was completely unexpected. To drink a whole bowl was overwhelming – I picked the morsels of shrimp from the depths of the broth and moved on.

The pork scallopini was uneventful both times I tried it (I tried it twice as I had most of it boxed up to go). The cream sauce was thick and the pork was charred…I picked out the noodles instead as they were delightfully chewy.

Dessert was a banana bread pudding – that’s all I remember about that.

Considering the circumstances and taking into account my incapacitated position, Aureole still did not meet my expectations. As I previously mentioned, this is somewhat of a biased review so take from this what you want. All I can say is, even thinking back on the experience now, I still can’t say I fully enjoyed my meal at Aureole.

Aureole
3950 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119
(702) 632-7401
Website: http://www.charliepalmer.com/

Aureole (Mandalay Bay) on Urbanspoon

Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s

(As the name implies, this is Charlie Palmer’s restaurant. It’s next to a Bloomingdale’s.)

The lounge in Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s is as hip as Aureole in Las Vegas is sterile. When I walked in, I immediately thought to myself,

“I don’t think I’m cool enough for this place.”

I don’t find myself in the heart of Orange County often, but work has sent me to this far away land and I told myself I would make the best of the situation. Thus, when I discovered the nearby Charlie Palmer had two happy hours a day (with the second one going from 10PM-midnight) and that I would be able to sneak out early sometime mid-week, I made sure to take advantage.

I expected to roll in dressed in my normal number crunching uniform, find myself a little corner spot to bunker down with my ethics textbook, grab a glass of wine and a couple appetizers and enjoy Charlie’s only California establishment. Instead I find myself feeling thoroughly under dressed, awkwardly sitting in a corner booth of a place that sounded like an LA club with matching clientele. (Again, note: This was at 10:30PM on a Wednesday night. Not quite what I had imagined.)

Although I felt sorely out of place, I wasn’t going to deny myself food and wine just because I looked like an accountant in a club. I promptly ordered myself a glass of wine, and three appetizers: the bone marrow, a seafood sausage and a truffle grilled cheese.

My favorite of the three was definitely the bone marrow, with its pickled onions and slightly sugary raisins. The sweetness was enjoyable, not overpowering, and the vinegar cut through the buttery marrow, adding a touch of tang to every bite. My only qualm with the dish was that half of my toast was burnt, which resulted in my overloading the non-burnt pieces with heaping lumps of marrow.

According to the waitress, the seafood sausage was a recent addition to the menu, only added a couple weeks prior. The sausages are made in house and are composed of a mix of shrimp, scallops, salmon and bass. Reminiscent of fish balls you may find in Asian supermarkets, the seafood sausage was actually smoother in texture and much softer, almost like the inside of a perfectly cooked scallop. However, the one I received was over seasoned and required a nibble of bread with every bite to counter the salt.

The truffle mac and cheese was probably the most underwhelming dish of the three as it was simply a grilled cheese sandwich with a hint of truffle. Nothing spectacular, almost one note – I wished I had tried something a bit more adventurous instead.

All in all, once I got my food and settling in with book in hand, it was actually quite an enjoyable experience. Not quite the quiet night I expected but hey – the wine was half-off, the food met expectations and I got some work done to boot. Next time I’ll just remember to bring a change of clothes…

Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s
3333 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 352-2525
Website: http://www.charliepalmer.com/

Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza on Urbanspoon

Le Bernardin (Manhattan, NY) – A Fishing Story

December 17, 2009

Seeing that Le Bernardin is arguably the best seafood restaurant in the nation, it seems fitting to begin this review with a fishing story of my own. Like most stereotyical fishing stories, my story starts with an outrageous claim and ends with no proof that what I claim ever existed…but trust me, it’s true.

I was at Le Bernardin on Saturday night and was *THIS CLOSE!* to…*dramatic pause*…ERIC RIPERT.

Yes, you read that correctly, I SAW ERIC RIPERT. I watched him wander from the bar to the dining room, stopping by and chatting with the patrons at each table. I watched him walk from the dining room to the kitchen, disappearing behind the swinging doors. However, I did NOT see him drop by my table and, by the time I thought of asking to meet the chef, he had left for the night. No picture, no proof…all I have is disappointment and regret for not jumping him when I had the chance.

*sigh*

Luckily, that was my only disappointment that night.

———-

It’s times like these that I absolutely hate my inability to write eloquently. How do I describe my 3-star experience at Le Bernardin beyond “Just…WOW.”? Where do I begin to describe the dishes we were served, how can I convey to you the thoughts that ran through my head with every bite? I can only hope that pictures do more justice than words – there are so many words one can use; I can only use the ones within my reach.

Of the three prix fixe options at Le Bernardin (4-, 7- or 8-courses), my dining companion Jenn and I both ordered the 8-course Chef’s tasting menu, complete with wine pairing. After completing our meal, both of us agreed – the wine pairing was a MUST. Some dishes were amazing with or without the pairing but others were elevated to that next level (to the level one would expect from a restaurant like Le Bernardin) because of that one sip. Highly recommended.

Amouse-Bouche: ?

Unfortunately, I forgot to write down what we were served for the amuse-bouche but it wasn’t a standout dish in any fashion so I’m not sure if it matters. There was something odd about the texture of the dish – it was little mushy and I couldn’t quite figure out if it was from the seafood or from the accompanying puree underneath. The foam (made of mushrooms, if my memory serves me correctly) complemented the other flavors well; however, the texture was still very distracting.

Course 1: Smoked Yellowfin Tuna “Prosciutto”; Japanese Pickled Vegetables and Crispy Kombu (Pairing: Muscadet ‘Clos des Briords’, Pepiere, Loire 2008)

The smooth smokiness of the tuna played well against the crisp sweetness of the Japanese pickles. I admit, I did without the crispy kombu (a type of seaweed typically used in Japanese cooking); it may have added a hint of saltiness to each bite but it was also a battle to break it into pieces.

Course 2: Poached Pastured Egg; Osetra Caviar; Mariniere Broth and English Muffin (Pairing: Krug, Grande Cuvee)

When first looking at the menu, there were three dishes that caught my eye and ultimately resulted in my choosing the Chef’s tasting over the Le Bernardin tasting, this being the first. The egg, perfectly poached, floating in a pool of broth, rich with the flavor of white wine and mussels – it was divine. The dish just asked to be sopped with the two strips of lightly toasted English muffin (and I, of course, gladly obliged, sopping the running yolks and the broth as daintily as I could).

Course 3: Seared Langoustine, Mache, Wild Mushroom Salad; Shaved Foie Gras; White Balsamic Vinaigrette (Pairing: Gewurztraminer, Cantina Tramin, Alto Adige 2007)

The second of my three must haves, this was a prime example of a good dish elevated by an excellent wine pairing. The course, by itself was a solid dish – the langoustine was tender and the there was just enough foie to add a hint of flavor to, but not overwhelm, the other components of the dish. However, the wine brought out the sweetness of the langoustine, creating a very pleasant taste all together.

Course 4: Pan Roasted Monkfish; Hon Shimeji Mushrooms; Turnip – Ginger Emulsion; Sake Broth (Pairing: Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru Chenevottes, Bernard Moreau 2006)

Typically, I’m not a huge monkfish fan – I enjoy some of the flakier fishes and monkfish tends to be a bit too dense for me. However, I polished off the fish, along with everything else, in order to taste as much of the sake and miso broth as possible. (Le Bernardin may be known for seafood but their sauces and broths are what really make the dish and compliment the natural flavors of the seafood.)

Course 5: Crispy Black Bass; Braised Celery and Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham – Green Peppercorn Sauce (Pairing: Rioja, Reserve ‘Vina Ardanza’, La Rioja Alta, Spain 2000)

A psuedo Top Chef groupie (I’m not a true groupie as I missed most of seasons 3-5), I was excited to see a dish featured in the Le Bernardin challenge of season 5. It was suggested that we enjoy the creaminess of the parsnip custard (served separately) in between bites of the bass, a welcome change from the saltiness of the ham and peppercorn sauce and the braised celery.

Course 6: Baked Lobster on a Bed of Truffled Foie Gras Stuffing; Brandy Red Wine Sauce (Pairing: Chateau Haut-Bages Averous, Pauillac Bordeaux 2001)

Lobster with foie and truffles – this could be the definition of luxury. The fattiness of the lobster against the foie was fantastic, although I actually could have done without half the lobster (the portion size was rather large in comparison to the other courses and it just got heavy after a while).

Course 7: Creamy Goat Cheese Spheres, Concord Grape, Candied Walnut, Black Pepper (Pairing: Torrontez Sparkling-Deseado Familia Schroeder, Patagonia Argentina)

The third of the three, this was easily my favorite course of the night. The goat cheese popped in my mouth and mixed in with the sweetness of the walnuts and grape – not quite a sweet and savory but more something perfectly in the middle. With a sip of the paired sparkling wine, I was in heaven.

Course 8: Caramelized Corn Custard, Hazelnut Praline, Brown Butter Ice Cream, Popcorn Tuile (Pairing: Ron Zacapa Rum, Guatemala)

Another not quite sweet, not quite savory but perfectly in between dessert, this was another favorite, partially because of the novelty of the popcorn tuile. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple piece of sugar; however, it tasted exactly like a freshly popped kernel of corn.

———-

…There’s really nothing left to say besides that.

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st St
Manhattan, NY 10019
(212) 554-1515
Website: http://www.le-bernardin.com/

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Las Vegas, NV) – A Homecoming

November 25, 2009

I love Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is like my second home. I enjoy every moment when I’m there and I miss it when I’m gone. Recently Vegas has become my escape – a place to forget about work and Corporate America, a place to pretend I’m someone I’m not and immerse myself in the little pleasures in life.

L’Atelier is one of those little pleasures. When Vegas calls me home, L’Atelier is there to meet me at the door.

(Welcome home.)

I’ve been to L’Atelier twice now and I see no signs of stopping. My first time, I ordered the L’Unique menu (a three course meal that is brought out all at once) with an order of the foie gras ravioli a la carte. Surprisingly, it was not the ravioli but the chicken broth in which they were swimming in that blew my mind away. It was comforting and familiar, rich and exquisite…

I knew I had to return.

This time around, I splurged. I knew what L’Atelier was capable of and I wanted to try its best! I found myself ordering the Discovery Menu – a nine course degustation that I hoped would both exemplify its strengths and, at the same time, soothe my tired soul.

The menu started off strong – you can never go wrong when you start with foie. Our amuse bouche, a foie gras parfait with a port wine and parmesan foam, was a spoonful of bliss.

Course 2: King Crab on a Turnip Disc with a Sweet and Sour Sauce

Our next course, le crabe royale, was delicate and fresh.

Soon after, the courses wavered a bit. The scallop, although perfectly cooked, only had that *wow* factor if you were greeted with the crunch of sea salt in that same bite. The white onion tart with bacon and mushrooms was good but with the time-tested combination of bacon, mushrooms and onions, how could it not?

Course 5: Duck Foie Gras with Confit Quince and Yuzu

The fifth course was another foie dish: buttery foie gras in an unadulterated form…Mmm. However, the richness of the foie overpowered the dover sole in the sixth course, smothering it with the taste of the past. By the time the seventh course arrived (yet another foie dish – a foie-stuffed free range quail), I was full.

(As a side note: You know you’ve spoiled yourself when you’re bored with the taste of foie.)

Course 7: Grapefruit Infused with Prosecco with Lychee Sorbet

Luckily, L’Atelier had a trick up its sleeve to perk up my palate. The menu simply said “grapefruit infused with Prosecco with lychee sorbet” but what it failed to note were the Pop Rocks that lined the rim of the bowl and the Rice Krispies that lay hidden below the sorbet. The crackling of candy and cereal against the cold lychee sorbet sparked just enough appetite to finish the last course (a chocolate cake with espresso ice cream).

And thus the meal was complete. I sipped my cappuccino, gathered all my strength, then threw myself back into the world. Who knows if I’ll survive the next battle in life but if anything happens…well…at least I can always go home.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
MGM Grand
3799 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 891-7358
Website: http://www.mgmgrand.com/restaurants/
Twitter: @robuchonlv

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon

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