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January 22, 2010

Fleur de Lys

Cod Fritter with Potato Salad Dominic Armato

Once upon a time, I had Vegas restaurants down cold. What's the occasion? What kind of food do you like? How much do you want to spend? Where are you staying? Go here, here or here. Done. Squeezing 20 or 25 visits into a five year span will do that. Today? *pfft* Clueless. I spent a few days in Vegas last week, and I didn't even recognize the skyline. And we're not talking a token building here or there. Heading north on the 15, cruising past the new CityCenter, it was like they just dropped a whole new entire skyline right in the middle of the existing one. I ate at restaurants in casinos I'd never even heard of. Which is actually pretty sweet, now that I think about it. So on this past trip, we mixed it up a bit. A little old, a little new, and a little off-strip.

Truffled Onion SoupDominic Armato

That Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay qualifies as old, at this point, pretty much sums it up. I've stayed at Mandalay a number of times, and been burned by Aureole almost as many, it seems, so when looking for an early evening option close to home that skewed more towards the traditional end of the spectrum, checking out Hubert Keller's Vegas outpost struck me as the logical conclusion. And if only because I needed to take a little step back from Top Chef while I could, I passed on the menu highlighting his dishes from Masters (his salmon from the finale was notably absent) and instead, I actually ordered a la carte at a high-end restaurant for the first time in as long as I can remember. First taste out of the gate was a cod fritter amuse with potato salad and cayenne mayonnaise. Crisp and hot tempura-style fish and a little zip from the mayo were nice, but the key was a heavy shot of vinegar in the potato salad, keeping it bright and punchy.

Veal RavioliDominic Armato

To start, I went with a simple soup... as simple as truffled onion soup with braised duck crepe and red wine shallot puree gets, anyway. It played simply, though, taking a sweet and unexpectedly creamy angle that still didn't feel as though it had been drowned in dairy. This was an onion soup, not a cream soup, deepened by the red wine reduction that swirled throughout when the soup was poured tableside. The duck-filled crepe, while it seemed like a fine idea, was kind of superfluous. It was tiny to begin with, it got lost in the flavor of the soup, and a soft crepe around shredded, stewed meat didn't provide any kind of textural contrast whatsoever. But as an onion soup, this delivered. I wanted big onion flavor and I got it, even if the truffle was borderline AWOL.

Stout Braised ShortribDominic Armato

My ravioli wasn't without merit, but it was unquestionably the weak link of the evening. I try not to prejudge and I strive to avoid thoughts like, "Don't order pasta from the French chef," but I probably would have done well to listen to my first impulse in this instance. A braised veal and yukon gold filling got the delicate treatment, with diced sunchoke, a few token peas and a light veal sauce, and its delicacy was just the problem. In wasn't so much a problem in terms of flavor, as the elements were well-balanced and it's hard to go wrong with a good veal stock, but the pasta just didn't work. Even setting aside the fact that my five or six ravioli had fused in the center of the plate, creating a kind of pasta Pangaea, they just had no body or substance at all. There's a school of thought that's okay with this kind of symbolic wrapper -- the school that thinks of dumpling skins as a viable alternative to pasta -- but I just don't see how it makes for a better dish.

Carrot CakeDominic Armato

While my main dish may have been treading over well-worn ground, it did so with skill and made me happy in the process. A boneless block of shortrib was braised in Guinness, set atop melted leeks and root vegetable purees, then topped with some manner of foam, a slathering of grainy mustard and more of the reduced Guinness and beef jus. This is a tough dish to screw up, but it did achieve a really nice depth of flavor and had the perfect texture. It may have been undershooting the restaurant's price point a bit -- I've had similar braised shortrib dishes at a fraction of the cost -- but the addition of the mustard, simple as it was, gave it a bit of a spin that I enjoyed, cutting through the meatiness and keeping the dish from striking too simple a chord. As twists go, this was hardly inspired, but it was effective.

Dessert -- carrot cake with cream cheese ice cream filling and some manner of sorbet -- was completely forgettable. But even with that and the problematic ravioli, I walked away pleased with my dinner but less thrilled about the overall experience. My first thought was that I somehow expected more, both from the price point and Keller's reputation. My second thought was that even if the meal had been at a level that I thought justified the price, there are so many other compelling options on the strip that I really couldn't see myself returning. And my third thought, oddly enough, was regarding the service. When's the last time I wrote anything about a restaurant's service? Have I ever made an issue thereof? The fact that I found it glaringly and distractingly inappropriate should probably serve as a stark warning to those who, unlike me, usually care about such things. Plates and utensils were stacked with loud clattering, both on the table itself and right behind our heads. Staff seemed vocally pushy about clearing, which was especially puzzling considering that the room wasn't nearly full enough to suggest a need to turn the table quickly (not that rushing us would have been appropriate had the need existed). Many of those working the room seemed, for lack of a better way of putting it, uncomfortable with the level of formality the decor and price point dictated. And I was particularly amused by the fellow bearing the bread basket, who aggressively gesticulated with his tongs, going so far as to point them at you, arm extended, when it was your turn to choose your roll. I found it all more comical than anything, though others, I've no doubt, would be far less amused. My dining compatriots were wonderful company, and for that reason (and perhaps the menacing bread tongs), the dinner will stick with me. But otherwise, I'm comfortable checking Fleur de Lys off the list as a place I need no longer consider when picking restaurants in Vegas.

Fleur de Lys
Mandalay Bay
3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Tue - Sat5:30 PM - 10:30 PM


"...creating a kind of pasta Pangaea..."

Great one, Dom. I'm going to have to steal that at some point in the future.

I can't believe I'm asking this, but... How was the decor? I've eaten at the HQ a handful of times and enjoyed it, but found the over the top decorations distracting/garrish. And this in a city where over-the-top is a way of life. (Actually, I guess you can say that about Vegas, too.)

I still can't get used to the idea of Vegas as a food town. I did my first professional show there (no, not that kind of show) over 20 years ago and my dining experiences mostly consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches in the casino's cafeteria between shows (8 and 11 every night but Monday).

Actually, Anon Man, I thought the room was pretty nice. The ceiling must be 25 feet, but it doesn't play like the cavern you'd think. There's a curved wall of pale stone, and some very muted, drapey curtains that separate the dining area from the lounge area. Really the only things in the way of decoration are some neutral embroidered flowers on the backs of the chairs -- which are far more subtle than the description suggests -- and a big, maybe 15' wide oval-shaped thing on the stone wall that holds a big wash of fresh flowers. It's huge, but the fact that it's all one type of bud, one color makes it very understated. The room's a little grandiose, in Vegas fashion, but I definitely wouldn't describe it as distracting and certainly not garish. On the Mandalay site (link at the bottom of the post), there's a VR tour that I'd say actually gives you a very good sense of the space.

I had the pleasure of eating at Fleur de Lys in SF a few years ago. I enjoyed eating the food, but was especially impressed with all the sauces on the this dishes. My experience with the service was fine, but I distinctly remember the bread guy, who would frequent our table the moment we finished any bread. We found this amusing, but did appreciate it at some level since there were a few rolls that we liked. The service was fine but not exceptional, though I have read complaints about the service on yelp. On the other hand, I found the tables a little close together. While I like to see what other diners order, it was a tad too close for comfort. If you want to go a restaurant for great service and food, I would recommend Gary Danko's in SF or Quinones in Atlanta.

Wow, the one thing that struck me is that I would have been really disappointed to spend that kind of money for a meal at a restaurant like that, and then to get a bunch of super-thin, dumpling-skin ravioli all clumped together (just like my mom used to do!). It seems like such an amateur hour mistake of execution, either in cooking or service (not getting it out fast enough).

The truffled onion soup looks very nice, especially the streaks of wine reduction, although the "crepe" looks more like a garnish than anything.

The carrot cake dessert looks as forgettable as you describe it. I've never had a fancified version of carrot cake better than a well-done, big ole hunk of regular carrot cake, but I like the idea of a cream cheese ice cream.

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