In a nutshell: Thomas Keller’s bistro outpost in a tower of Las Vegas’ Venetian epitomizes classic French fare and comfortable luxury.
I still remember the anticipation that filled me when I approached Las Vegas’ branch of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon for the first time. He and his brother Joseph opened the first location of Bouchon in Yountville in 1998, subsequently opening the Las Vegas location (tucked away on the 10th floor of the Venetian Resort, Hotel, and Casino) in 2004 (happy ten year anniversary!) and the Beverly Hills location in 2009.
Bouchon is based on Keller’s “memories of the amazing bistros [he] would frequent while traveling in France, such as Chez Paul and Hugon, where they serve meals almost family-style in very small dining rooms. Oftentimes the husband cooks and the wife greets and serves. First courses, headcheese, or a charcuterie plate may be passed from table to table. These neighborhood places serving simple, traditional dishes in a home-like atmosphere provided the model for what [he] hoped to create in Yountville.”
The term “bouchon” describes a type of restaurant found in Lyon, France, known for serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Dishes are heavily oriented around meat and quite unctuous in nature. While Keller certainly spotlights these types of dishes, his primary goal was to showcase his favorite French bistro food at a restaurant more casual than The French Laundry, where he could “explore and deepen the culinary heritage that [he] admires so much.”
On the fold-out menu, the Plats Principaux–main courses–take center stage. Other categories such as Fruits de Mer, Fromages, and Hors D’oeuvres flank on either side.
Meals often begin with bread and butter, and Bouchon is no different: its version is exceptional. Properly crusty on the outside, ethereally light and chewy inside, the epi bread’s leaves are toasty to the touch and easy to peel off and consume. The creamy butter is the perfect accompaniment with a richness that makes it taste as though it was churned just moments prior. Nut-lovers, take note: a ramekin of warm pistachios also arrives (a superb way to serve them).
The Dungeness crab salad, occasionally appearing as a daily special during prime crabbing season (winter through spring), is one of my favorite appetizers. The plump and meaty crab is dressed simply with crème fraiche and chives and topped with a smooth avocado puree, further accompanied by roasted tomatoes and toasted brioche. With the toast points as a baseline, the crab offers straight-from-the-sea sweetness, the avocado provides creamy depth, and the tomatoes leave a smoky, acidic punch.
When these fritters arrived at the table, I nearly expected a dim sum cart to roll up right behind the waiter: they looked so reminiscent of the fried shrimp dumplings my family often orders for Sunday morning dim sum. Brandade is poached salt cod mixed into a paste with olive oil, milk, and potatoes; Bouchon salts its own cod, a process that can take between six days and two months with varying degrees of added character. While often served as a spread or sautéed as a fish cake, the version at Bouchon is coated in a beer batter and deep fried, then piled atop a tangy tartar sauce and visually complemented by curly frisée. The beer makes an excellent base for the batter, resulting in the crust’s lacy, crisp texture and perfectly simmered filling.
Bouchon infuses Maine bouchot mussels with bountiful flavor by steaming the bivalves with white wine, Dijon mustard, and saffron. It takes serious self-control to not grasp the bucket with both hands and slurp up the fragrant broth. The mussels themselves are tender and briny-sweet. A heaping cone of frites comes with; the fries are thinly cut and salted just enough to draw out the potato’s natural flavor.
Classic French bistro fare comes in the form of steak-frites. Nine ounces of pan-seared herb-roasted flatiron are impressively dwarfed by an even more substantial pile of French fries. The steak is topped with caramelized shallots and a thick round pat of maître d’hôtel butter (you can also elect for Béarnaise sauce as an alternative). The juicy, tender beef–cooked to your liking, so rare in our case… the only way to have a steak–sliced easily and satisfied any carnivorous cravings we had.
For seafood lovers out there, the sautéed Scottish salmon is a good bet. The oh-so-pink filet is seared for a nice crust, then placed on a bed comprised of Brentwood sweet corn, new crop potatoes, bacon lardons, corn pudding, and a few manila clams. The layers of sweet and salty complement the fish’s delicate flavor.
Roast chicken, simply dressed with salt and pepper, is one of those standard dishes that every chef needs to have in his/her repertoire. Unfortunately, the version here failed to impress. I was disappointed that my chicken was dry the time I went, so there was much spontaneous marinating of chicken meat in the chicken jus. The grilled romaine, roasted heirloom tomatoes, olivade (a paste made of olives, olive oil, and various herbs and spices), and crispy polenta didn’t do much in terms of perking up the dish. With such a multi-option menu, Bouchon has more exciting plates to sample.
The thick slices of roasted leg of lamb on this plate half-reminded me of the brontosaurus ribs served in the intro of “The Flintstones.” The richness of the lamb found a balance with palate-refreshing summer bean cassoulet, spicy merguez sausage, and persillade (read: mixture of parsley, garlic, herbs, oil, and vinegar) bread crumbs. A pool of thyme-scented lamb jus was perfect for sopping up.
Bouchon also offers daily entree specials, like this skirt steak served with English peas, turnips, eggplant frites, and cheese fondue. The richly succulent meat sliced as easily as butter and imbued the other components of the plate with its beefy juices. The mild-in-taste frites were somewhat enhanced by the velvety cheese fondue, although the dip was too thin and did not adhere very well.
The Crème Brûlée was as classic as it gets. A firm tap of the spoon broke through the layer of caramelized sugar, giving way to a creamy custard base. The menu also includes sweet offerings like Marquise au Chocolat (dark chocolate mousse with burnt orange cream), Ile Flottante (meringue with vanilla crème anglaise, almond, and caramel), and Profiteroles (filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce).
For those who can’t save room for dessert, wander over to the Bouchon Bakery kiosk downstairs, which serves up breakfast treats, lunch offerings, and after-meal treats. The Nutter Butters (smooth peanut butter-based filling sandwiched between two giant peanut butter cookies) and intensely dark chocolate bouchons are our go-to bites.
Overall, my Bouchon experiences are always unforgettable. From the refined brasserie interior to the impeccable service to the exquisite food, this special place is worthy of its acclaimed recognition.
A version of this article originally appeared in Penn Appétit.
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV