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SAVOY UPS THE ANTE IN VEGAS by John A.
with Guy Savoy by John A. Curtas
NEW YORK CORNER: Barbetta
by John Mariani
GUY SAVOY UPS THE ANTE IN VEGAS
by John A. Curtas
It’s been a decade since my one and only meal at the French Laundry, half a dozen years since I endured Charlie Trotter's, about five since Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges blew my socks off, and a few months since Daniel Boulud last dazzled me in the Big Apple. In 1998 I devoured thirteen of the then 19 Michelin 3 Star restaurants in France, and about a week ago Joël Robuchon at The Mansion fed me what I thought was the dining experience of a lifetime.
It is with these meals in mind that I contemplate whether the new Restaurant Guy Savoy (Caesars Palace, 3570 Las vegas Boulevard; 702-731-SAVOY) right now is the best restaurant in the
With the opening of Joël Robuchon (click for review) in the MGM Grand last October, a new level was reached in both the quality and price in the haute cuisine available in the high
Deciding to open his first venture outside of
While little fault can be found with the cooking of any of other pioneers of Vegas’s culinary transformation, none of their restaurants competes with the architectural drama that confronts you as you approach Guy Savoy on the second floor of the new Augustus Tower in Caesars. There is a "Land of the Giants" feel to approaching the 30-foot wooden doors at the end of a short hallway, well out of ear- and eye-shot of the casino floor. Across their top are the subtle, almost recessive graphics announcing the entrance to RESTAURANT GUY SAVOY. Thus, from the architecture are you given clues to the cuisine soon to be encountered—at times bold and overwhelming, at others, discerning and ethereal. Those massive doors give way to a foyer to the left of which lies a minimalist Champagne bar with six bar stools and a low-slung couch for lounging, grazing on appetizers, or perusing the menu and wine list. A small but telling detail in this operation is that you are welcome to only order a small plate or two at the bar, or simply sip champagne as you drink in the ambiance and ponder the brown and beige grandeur that surrounds you.
The extraordinary design by Jean-Michel Wilmotte may be the most impressive in town. He takes his cues from his 2001 re-design of Guy Savoy in
The again, it would be tough to overshadow tiny foie gras “club” sandwiches served on sterling silver skewers as an amuse both at the bar and at your table. Tiny triangles of toasted bread caress dense and silky slivers of duck liver that are the ideal marriage for a glass of Billecart-Salmon Rosé. Likewise, “Colors of Caviar” (right) is brought in a cylindrical shot glass exposing haricot vert purée, caviar vinaigrette foam, caviar-studded crème fraîche, and sevruga and osietra eggs (each layer a different temperature and texture), which meld with those acidic, fruity bubbles into salty and sweet perfection on the tongue.
"Entrees" are the starter courses on a French menu, and here they are some of the more intriguing choices. “Tout Petit Pois” or “peas all around” is another Savoy signature dish that is a delectable mosaic of fat green pearls atop a thick purée sitting in a luscious, preternaturally green broth (below, left). An exquisite poached egg provides just the right unctuousness, and shards of black truffle add an earthy touch to this celebration of the joys of a much underrated vegetable. Numerous food writers have sung the praises of
Thin slices of seaweed bread will probably be offered with your oysters, and a tiny mushroom and truffle brioche is brought to your table to accompany the artichoke and truffle soup by the ever-present (but not obtrusive) bread sommelier. It seems that in taking French haute cuisine to “11”
Playfulness shows up in (and under) other plates as well. Many is the diner who finishes his plate of impeccable roasted monchong (Hawaiian permit), only to have the waiter lift the top plate to reveal asparagus soup lying beneath the cross-hatched top piece of china, in a hidden soup bowl that has both given and received taste to and from the fish that once rested above it.
For pure dazzle-factor though, it’s hard to top the pintade (guinea hen) cooked in a pig’s bladder. The staff proudly parades the huge brownish-gray, basketball-sized balloon through the dining room to wide-eyed "oohs" and "ahhs" as it is shown to your table, then whisked away. Inside is the extraordinary fowl whose flavor outshines all others. The expandable bladder acts as a kind of pressure cooker, insuring intensity, tenderness and succulence. Both Robuchon and
Neither Executive Chef Damien Dulas (left) nor Chef de Cuisine Adam Sobel (below) look old enough to legally drink, but they seem more than adept at adapting these signature recipes and moving their menu confidently between surf and turf.
Those prawns paired perfectly with a Drouhin Meursault 2004 that came from the 1,400 bottle dictionary-sized list. It is presented on its own three-foot high stand and makes for great reading if your dining companions don’t mind you taking an hour or so doing just that. Better to leave the choices to General Manager Franck
One of those Alsatian whites might be just the ticket for washing down a selection from the two-tiered cheese cart laden with two dozen of
Calling the dessert offerings here over-the-top is an understatement. To begin, you will be given a dessert “amuse” of an avocado purée topped with passion fruit or pineapple foam. At this point you will be thinking to yourself: “That’s nice, now maybe a bite or two of something and we’ll be done.”
Think again, then gird your loins, for in keeping with Parisian three-star tradition, the desserts just keep coming and coming. What you actually order will show up sometime before the house-made swizzle sticks of outrageously flavored candy, the chocolate candy bars, the traditional French pastries, or the jars of crème brûlée and variously flavored rice puddings, or the fresh marshmallows, or the cotton candy, or the sorbets and ice creams dished out promiscuously if you even hint at wondering what it is, or the chocolate fondant with crunchy praline and chicory cream, or the grapefruit terrine with tea sauce, or the chocolate ganache with Tonka beans…you get the idea. There might even be a way to convince Franck Savoy to back off and not dish at least a dozen of the most delectable sweets on earth onto your plate—after you’ve finished dessert--but in four meals here, I haven’t found it.
His father is supposed to come to Vegas every two months in the next year to oversee the kitchen. Maybe I can get him to get his son to stop making me so fat. . . and happy.
Restaurant Guy Savoy is open Wed.-Sun. for dinner only.
A Conversation with Guy Savoy
byJohn A. Curtas
(Special thanks to Laura Savoy and her husband Franck, for arranging the interview and providing invaluable English-French and French-English translation services, without which this conversation would not have been possible.)
JC: So how easy was it to get you to come to
GS: Not very. I have been to
JC: What changed your mind?
GS: In March 2003, Greg Waldron (Vice President of Food & Beverage at Caesars), came to my restaurant in
JC: I take it you weren’t that enthusiastic about what you would find here?
GS: I thought I’d see a lot of gambling and big casinos, but little else to make me want to bring my concept here.
JC: So you didn’t think much or know much about our restaurants?
GS: I had heard some good things, but I had no idea how good the cooking and food was until we had three very good meals in a row at Bradley Ogden in Caesars, Picasso with Julian Serrano at the Bellagio, and finally Renoir--where Alex Stratta’s food really impressed me. (N.B.: Stratta is now at ALEX in
JC: What did your wife think?
GS: She loved all the luxury boutiques, of course, and neither of us knew there were so many of them. After seeing Céline Dion and Cirque du Soleil’s “O,” we could see that there was much more to Las Vegas than huge gambling casinos.
JC: Any other surprises, pleasant or otherwise?
GS: I was taken to Whole Foods and was impressed by the qualities and varieties of fruits, vegetables and cheeses. The types of olive oils alone were very great compared to all but the best Parisian food shops. In fact, I would say the Whole Foods store I saw had a better variety and quality in those items than any store you would find in
JC: How have you had to change/adapt your recipes and cooking to the American/Vegas market?
GS: We have had to do that very little and mostly in good ways. In
JC: So no compromises were made?
GS: Our philosophy here was to open with a good, experienced staff (chefs Williams Caussimon and Laurent Solivères, with Savoy for fifteen years, and Savoy's son Franck and wife Laura, who run the front of the house), not too many seats (75) and to get good products that we, as chefs, can transform into happiness for our guests. Once I saw what was being done in your better restaurants, I knew we could operate here without lowering our quality.
JC: How would you summarize your philosophy of cooking?
GS: It is most important for a chef to know everything about his products, including their entire history as a food, so that he can use that knowledge to transform that product into pleasure for the diner.
JC: So do you consider those skills and the skills of a great chef to be those of an artist or a craftsman?
GS: A great chef is a craftsman with the soul of an artist.
JC: Many people have written lately that haute cuisine and dining, the way it is practiced in the great Parisian temples of gastronomy, is dead or dying. I cite as an example the decision of Alain Senderens of Lucas Carton to downscale his cooking and the formality of the restaurant (and its prices). Your thoughts?
GS: It is dangerous to make a conclusion like that based on one example. Just as it was foolish of me to judge all of Vegas only by what little I knew of casinos and gambling. Attendance at great restaurants is growing throughout the world. You must put aside your prejudices to evaluate these things. Even in
JC: Has it been hard being away from
GS: Not really. [He chuckled as he leads me to one of the twenty-foot windows at Guy Savoy that look onto the Las Vegas Strip] Whenever I get homesick, I can look out these windows and see Chanel and Christian Dior right across the street (in the Bellagio Shops), and the Tour Eiffel right down the street—just like in Paris!
Since 1995, John A. Curtas has been the restaurant critic for KNPR-Nevada Public Radio.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
321 West 46th Street
A hundred years! A century! Ten decades! and twenty years ago! Sustaining a restaurant for that long, especially under the same family ownership, is a remarkable achievement, one that only a handful of restaurants in the entire world have achieved.
Even more remarkable is that at Barbetta, only two generations of one family have maintained its eminence, from the day in 1906 when Sebastiano Maioglio opened the doors, making it also the oldest Italian restaurant in NYC and the first to achieve landmark status. Today it is run by his immensely charming daughter, Laura, who has maintained all that is old and beautiful with impeccable taste while bringing fresh ideas to the beloved establishment, which in 1963 included her design for a stunning leafy garden surrounded by hundred-year-old trees and flowering magnolia, wisteria, jasmine, oleander and gardenia that perfume an al fresco evening here.
The restaurant is composed of four townhouses dating to the 19th century when owned by the Astor family, and in contrast to most pre-war red-and-white tablecloth Italian restaurants in NYC, decorated with 18th century Piedmontese antiques that include an extraordinary Turinese chandelier from the Savoy family in the main dining room (above), and a harpsichord signed by Francesco Fabbri 1631 (which the Metropolitan Museum has requested be donated to them). The upstairs private dining rooms, like the Rose Room (right) are stunningly preserved period-style salons.
Since its inception Barbetta has never gone along with the clichés of Italian-American menus that would seem foreign to visiting Italians; instead, the menu has always been resolutely Piedmontese, with refined renditions of antipasti like bagna cauda, pastas like tajarin, and desserts like monte bianco rarely found anywhere else in America. These signature dishes are notated with the year they appeared on the menu. Barbetta was the first restaurant in
In addition, the winelist is a template of vini italiani offerings, especially for the glorious Barolos and Barbarescos of Piedmont. Since 1997, Barbetta has won the Best Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator, and now lists 1,700 selections, with numerous verticals and many wines dating to the 1960s, some, including Grignolino and Barbera, are from her own vineyards. (Laura is married to Nobel Prize-winning physician Günter Blobel.)
On a recent glorious late summer's evening in New York, I decided there was nowhere I'd rather be than in Barbetta's garden (below). I made a reservation for just after 8 PM, because before that the restaurant is always teeming with rushed theater-goers frantic to make their curtain. The garden was as beautiful as ever, the candles flickered, the crickets chirped, and sweet-smelling roses were set on the fine linens of our table near the little found surrounded by cherub statues.
Having been informed by Laura that there had been changes on the menu and some new dishes since out last visit, my wife and I simply turned everything over to her, maître d' Florin Slavescu, and sommelier Alessandro Merlo, and began our evening with an array of grissini breadsticks, good rolls, and an icy Campari and soda. After "preparing the wineglasses," Merlo brought an exquisite blend of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc from Angelo Gaia, his Rossj-Bass (named after his daughter), which was absolutely delicious with our first course of thinly sliced, pink veal with mâche, lemon, and olive oil, and charcoal-grilled octopus and calamari with marinated black chickpeas. Even though I have gotten very tired of beets at this point in the year, the salad of full-flavored roasted beets was refreshingly good, as was a rollatine of robiola cheese wrapped in grilled zucchini.
It had been a few years since I gobbled up Barbetta's rich fonduta of melted fontina cheese (below), which now comes nestled on thinly sliced fried leeks with quail's eggs, and, for whatever uncharacteristic reason, Chinese bok choy. This was followed by a marvelous minestrone thick with fresh, seasonal vegetables and served at room temperature, along with an equally impressive warm roasted eggplant soup.
Ordinarily I am not a fan of herbaceous risotti, but Barbetta's balances the herbs to such a degree of finesse that I loved the dish, the tender rice laced with olive oil. Nothing could improve the perfect gnochetti with Piedmontese cheeses, which I wanted to eat more and more of and end the meal right then and there. But there was still to come toothsome sea scallops with a julienne of Yukon Gold potatoes in a fresh tomato jus, and the crowning glory of the evening: absolutely the finest bistecca alla fiorentina I've had this side of Il Latini on the Via del Palchetti. Angus beef with perfect marbling cooked to a char on the outside and rare within, sliced thickly, glossed with olive oil, and served with Tuscan white beans. This dish is served for two, and at $38 per person, a truly sumptuous dish two people will probably not be able to finish.
There are cheeses to be selected but here is one place I forgo them, in favor of choosing from two carts groaning with magnificent desserts--something you almost never see any more--from a macédoine of fruits and zuppa inglese to panna cotta and monte bianco, from espresso chocolate cake to baked peaches, from apricot tart to lemon-pistachio tart. Then coffee and Piedmontese pastries.
Above us the sky was starry and the crickets still sang. And I knew all over again how unique Barbetta truly is, not only for its great link to the past of grand cucina italiana but for keeping in step and in touch with modern cooking, viticulture, and service. I once wrote that Barbetta is one of the half-dozen best Italian restaurants in America, and this splendid, romantic evening did nothing to alter that opinion except perhaps to push Barbetta further up that short list.
Prices at Barbetta actually seem more reasonable than ever for this level of sumptuous dining, with antipasti $13-$17, pastas $17-$19 (as full portions, from $24), and entrees $28-$36. A pre-theater dinner, with 24 options, is available for $49. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner.
"Service, too, evokes a return to Ruggeri's heyday. . . . Pacing was spot on, and our server's discreet presence never allowed us to feel rushed or neglected. Water glasses were continuously topped off and spent plates whisked away in a manner that left us wondering if David Copperfield were moonlighting as our busboy."--Kim Harwell, "Seems Like Old Times," Dallas Morning News (Aug. 11, 2006).
O Rufus, Where Art Thou?
In Jacques Spur,
* On Sept. 6, A Taste of
* Red Carnation Hotels is offering “It's a Wonderful Life” festive package at their three
* On Sept. 13 in Chicago, Shaw’s Crab House and Female Winemakers of California host “Wine, Women and Shoes” a 4-course meal featuring wines from St. Supery, Astrale e Terra, and Katherine Hall Vineyards, a fundraiser to benefit UNICEF’s Girls’ Education Programs, with half of the proceeds going to the charity. $100 pp. Visit firstname.lastname@example.org or call 312-527-2722.
* Guests at L’Auberge de Sedona can attend an event called “State of the Art, A Collector’s Evening,” presented by Sedona’s
* The Chef’s Table at NYC’s Waldorf=Astoria hotel, held in the hotel’s main kitchen, is returning for a series of 8 dinners throughout the fall and winter that will offer guests a 5-course dinner with wines, prepared by Executive Chef John Doherty. They will be held Sept. 15 & 29, Oct. 6 & 11, Nov. 8 & 17, and Dec. 15 & 20. $150 pp. Call 212- 872-1275. . . . On Sept. r 10 the Waldorf will be reintroducing its brunch at its Peacock Alley restaurant, created by Peacock Alley’s Chef & Restaurant Director Cedric Tovar, taking over the hotel’s Art Deco main lobby. $75 pp. Call 212- 872-7335.
* From Sept. 22 and Oct. 15, The Peninsula Beverly Hills offers a “Belvedere Experience” package, incl. accommodations and dinner at the acclaimed Belvedere restaurant from a tasting menu crafted by Executive Chef Sean Hardy, with a bottle of 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Lewis Cellars, continental breakfast for two in your room or poolside at The Roof Garden. Visit peninsula.com or Call 800-462-7899.
* From Sept. 22-24, Southern Exposure, presented by The Cliffs Communities, is a 3-day food and wine celebration with demos, tasting events and musical performances, beginning with the “Taste of the South" featuring several
* This October, in Venice, the Hotel Cipriani’s
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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