(Las Vegas, NV) Over the last few years, we've steadily acquired a taste for other cuisine and our combined culinary gravitational pull has always led us back to French food. Buttery, complex, rich and whimsical, French dishes often skirt traditional notions of what sustenance should be. Thanks to the modern marvel that is OpenTable.com, we made reservations at Pinot Brasserie for lunch weeks in advance. A preview of the menu showed the typical seafood offerings, but our interest was piqued by other creations featuring various cheeses and meats...
We're not huge fans of the Venetian. Having been to Bellagio, it seemed more of the same...gondola rides notwithstanding. It feels like so much walking around shops that contain products you can't quite afford or fit into. So, with some trepidation, I made lunch reservations at Pinot Brasserie in the Venetian, courtesy OpenTable.com, in the vain hope this little French bistro would renew my faith in the property.
Arriving early, we were shown to a quiet table in a well-furnished room completely devoid of other diners. Deep, polished wood surrounded us; crystal wine glasses glittered from cupboards; Parisian pencil drawings of nudes hung on the wall; and in the other room a bartender patiently polished his barware. People passed outside the window, oblivious to our private meal.
It began dubiously when the waiter (who was clearly not French) announced there was no soup du jour. They were also out of the Caprese salad because of seasonality. We began with sparkling water and a glass of champagne each, then ordered a field greens salad and Charcuterie to split. Juliet ate more of the salad than I did, but the few bites I had were delicious. The Charcuterie is a plate of sliced meats and pate, plus some marinated pearl onions and giant capers. After a few bites, I decide to wrap the pearl onions in a disc of salami or ham and wolf it down that way. The sausages and balogna are savory, spicy and melt on the tongue.
Ever since downloading the menu, I already know what I'm getting: the PB Burger, with Roquefort cheese and balsamic-carmelized red onions. It arrives on a buttered, toasted fresh-baked bun that soaks up the medium-rare juices. The lettuce is almost in the way, but does not detract from the lean burger, pungent cheese or sweet onions. By necessity, I almost always find myself eating burgers way too quickly, eager to do away with the remains of my crime before the tenuously-constructed meal falls apart, literally, in my hands. In the strange case of the PB burger, the speed with which I dispatched lunch was directly proportional to its deliciousness. A glass of Bordeaux blend—nose smoky, leathery, and full of blackberry currants—paired nicely.
If I thought my burger was the best thing on the menu, I was sadly mistaken. Juliet's Croque monsieur, filled with ham, Gruyère cheese and crème fraîche, stunned me. A grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with cheese on the outside and broiled until crispy? Yes, yes and yes! All thoughts of missing soup du jour were forever forgotten and forgiven.
We slept in late and skipped breakfast, so we were famished by the time we arrived at Pinot Brasserie in the Venetian. The restaurant was surprisingly empty at lunchtime and we were seated immediately at a little table with a good view of people watching. The interior of the restaurant feels as I would imagine a French bistro would look: rustic, charming and hospitable. Though never having been to Paris, I’m just guessing!
Our server sheepishly explained there was no soup of the day, which seemed a bit odd. There were so many things on the menu that sounded delicious it took me some serious time to choose. We decided to share a salad of mixed field greens with carmelized pears and bleu cheese and a platter of charcuterie paired with a glass of French champagne. Our choices did not disappoint and I believe we eagerly began eating before we remembered to take photos of the food to share. (We’ll get better at this, I promise.)
One down note: I was disappointed our server did not explain what was on the charcuterie plate. It would have been nice to know what the various sliced meats and one country-style pate actually were. But it didn’t quelch our enthusiasm and we ate every last bit.
After agonizing between the Lake Superior whitefish, the salmon or just getting a few sides (French green beans, roasted asparagus and potatoes moussiline were on my short list), I decided on the croque monsieur and a glass of bordeaux. The only croque monsieurs I’d ever had before were dredged and fried, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with jam for dipping, which I’ve been told is not how they’re really served in France. I wanted to see how Chef Joachim Splichal’s translation compared to the bastardized American versions I’d experienced.
Pinot Brasserie’s croque monsieur blew away every other version and every single grilled cheese I’ve ever had. Ham and gruyere were sandwiched between two slices of rich eggy bread and quickly grilled. More cheese was layered on top of the sandwich which was then quickly broiled to a warm melted goodness. No deep frying, no powdered sugar and no jam needed. It was amazing and I was compelled to share a quarter of it with Jeremy, who was quickly jealous even with his beautiful bleu cheese burger.
This restaurant proves my theory that the best food is prepared using the simplest of ingredients. No need for odd costumes, bizarre décor or a contrived menu. Pinot Brasserie is wonderful as-is.
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