The stars were aligned that star-struck night in Las Vegas. First a very good meal at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, the famed celebrity chef’s (he of 25 Michelin stars) LV outpost in the MGM Grand, and then Wang Lee Hom’s stupendously awesome concert in the same casino.

Ever the deal seeker, I found that L’Atelier was having a $75 5-course prix-fixe. Considering a small plate costs anywhere between $20-40, this was a great deal. I did find it a little disingenuous that the server only presented us the regular menu, and only gave us the special menu after we had asked. Restauranters, please be more honest with your customers. Thank you. However, it is noted that we were not discriminated service-wise, and the meal flowed smoothly and pleasantly as my sisters and I sat at the characteristic bar overlooking the open kitchen, ogling at the beautiful plates of food that came out.

 
foie gras panna cotta

foie gras panna cotta

We chewed our basket of mini-loafs with restrain and started with an amuse bouche of foie gras panna cotta, the richness of the liver cut by sweet balsamic vinagrette reduction and savoryness enhanced by parmesan foam. Tasty, though a little heavy though for an amuse.
Les legumes

Les legumes

Our first course was a beautifully composed plate of sweet grilled vegetables layered with fresh buffalo mozzarella, so soft it still oozes milk. Very provencal, down to the basil pesto, and tasty enough that it would make Ruoying, who usually abhors eggplant, clear the plate.
langoustine

La langoustine

Next was a famous L’Atelier dish, a single fritter of langoustine wrapped in brik pastry. The meat was so soft, so sweet, like eating a very delectable lobster dish, with the single basil leaf wrapped within the fritter providing a light herbal fragrance.
L'Onglet

L'Onglet

 A choice of mains were made and Ruoying and I decided on a substantial cut of hangar steak, cooked nicely rare and while not tender, very flavorful, particularly with the simple grilled shallot topping. Ruoyi went for the cod fish, a well cooked piece of fish swimming in a Basque inspired pepper stew.

robuchon's famous mashed potatoes

robuchon's famous mashed potatoes

Our mains came with a side of Robuchon’s most famous pommes puree, aka mashed potato. Or should I say, mashed butter with some potato, it was so creamy, so rich, a few spoons were all we could muster.
A stunning array of tarts

A stunning array of tarts

followed by ices

followed by ices

We then ate a trio of cheese, the semi-soft funky Livarot most memorable, before dessert time. Not surprisingly, the dessert selection within the prix fixe is limited and less complex than others found in the ala carte menu, but the tart and ice cream  plates are definitely top notch in terms of variety and flavor. I loved all 6 of my tart slivers excepting the overtly cinnamony one, while Ruoyi’s icecream flavors were all intense and true, especially the pinkish litchee sorbet. Too often had I tasted artificial litchee, and I am glad a restaurant of L’Atelier’s caliber managed to find some real, sweet fruit to turn into tasty treats.
While the special prix-fixe is not a good benchmark of a typical meal, which would likely run at least 2 times more expensive, we got to try some signature dishes that gave me a glimpse of the potential of a truely decadent meal. With so many restaurants in so many cities, I am sure I will be dining at another Robuchon establishment sometime in the future.
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Las Vegas
MGM Grand
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Its no big secret Japanese food is amongst one of us sisters’ favorite cuisines, so while in Vegas, we set our sights on dinner at Raku, a small izakaya off the Strip that comes highly recommended by bloggers and chowhounders.
cute little sake bottles

cute little sake bottles

If not for the internet, we would never have found our way to Raku. The Japanese restaurant is tucked in the corner of a slightly run down strip mall. Except for a sign hanging next to the entrance, there was little indication it existed. In fact, we almost missed Raku because the large store signage above the shop was written in Korean, and most definitely did not spell Raku. The interiors were almost as nondescript as its exterior, a smallish squarish space painted in dark brown/eggplant (lighting issues). Truely, the Totoro-like cartoon sake bottles warming in the water bath were the only design detail worth mentioning. Yet Raku is immensely popular, and it took us an hour long wait before we were given permission to perch ourselves along the bar. Needless to say, the food made the wait endurable.
 
We ordered rather liberally across the expansive menu, calories be damned, starting with fresh, thick slices of bluefin tuna sashimi, the toro meltingly soft. We swooned a little, there and then.
yakitori

yakitori

 Yakitori made up a big part of the menu, and we ordered most skewers and found them largely good. The pig’s ears were unexpectedly satisfying, a contrast of gelatinous and crunch with minimal pork funk. Bacon wrapped anything is always tasty, especially when its thick spears of asparagus.

tsukune
  tsukune

Chicken featured prominently in the skewered and grilled section, so we worked our way through chicken wings, breast, skin and meatballs. Our favorite, the succulent meatballs drenched in slightly sweet barbeque sauce. As we dug our chopsticks to dislodge the minced meat off the skewers, little puffs of smoke brought the smokey scent straight to our noses. Ah.. my favorite type of perfume.

agedashi tofu

agedashi tofu

 Raku makes its own tofu and the difference between homemade and industrial is immediately apparent when we tried it’s Agedashi Tofu. The tofu came shaped in a disc, silken soft and only lightly battered and fried without a trace of oiliness. The sauce was also more refined than regular agedashi tofu, topped with enoki mushroom caps and ikura that provided a savory pop.

shrimp!

shrimp!

 Raku really does a commendable job with deep-fried foods and a dish of fried shrimp was extremely tasty. The skin was so thoroughly fried that the entire shrimp could be eaten, skin and head on, yet the meat was not over-cooked. Bravo.

grilled corn

grilled corn

Grilled corn was the dish that made me think. Its a special piece of grilled corn, and not just because of its bicolored ears and pretty grill marks. No, the corn’s cob has been removed, and the hollow were the cob is had been stuffed with mashed potato. How on earth did they do it? Till now we still can’t figure it out. No matter, we’ll just let Ruoying eat there more often until she digs out the secret!

Raku

5030 Spring Mountain Rd #2

hot pot!

hot pot!

Happy Niu Year! I am spending Chinese New Year in NYC again, but had the great fortune of spending the last few days in Las Vegas with my sisters, hanging out, eating, and watching Wang Li Hong live in concert. Instead of cooking our own reunion meal on the eve of CNY, we opted for hot pot at Champion Gourmet, a Taiwanese restaurant in Las Vega’s Chinatown strip. We had eaten there only 2 days before, dining on Taiwanese street food like a bowl of spicy beef noodles, the broth rich and the meat well-braised and fried oyster omelette, more sticky tapioca gum than egg and covered with a ketchup based sauce. Wonton in spicy sauce was indeed swathed with a piquant, garlicky mixture that brought tears to the eyes.
On the night of Chinese New Year’s eve, my sisters and I sat down to a bubbly pot of clear broth, accompanied by platters upon platters of meat and vegetables. We swished the paper thin slices of beef through the boiling water and our own sauce concoctions, and sampled fishballs stuffed both with meat and fish roe. We sipped the scalding soup and slurped noodles loudly, appreciatively. Halfway through our meal, the proprietors closed shop and sat down to their own reunion dinner with their daughters and granddaughters, also sharing hot pot, the big communal cauldron of broth symbolizing unity. Although our parents were thousands of miles away, it felt like we were eating with family.
Champion Gourmet
5115 Spring Mountain Rd
(702) 388-1168