Monday, February 18, 2008

Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS— I am in a suite in the Venetian Hotel high above the Las Vegas Strip. I don’t gamble, I don’t drink, and I have trouble staying up until midnight. I am not in this city for most of the reasons that people come to this over-electrified desert locale. I am here for one reason: The Beatles.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Beatles fanatic and a devout disciple in the tabernacle of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I could spend the next several weeks discussing the reasons why I am such a dutiful fan to a collection of rock musicians who stopped performing almost 40 years ago, but this a “mostly food” column, so I’ll stick to mostly food.

At Christmas last year my wife gave me tickets to see Cirque Du Soleil’s production of “The Beatles Love.” I loved it. This year, I brought a few friends here to see the show. They too, loved it.

A word of advice: If you are ever within 120 miles of Las Vegas, make plans to see “The Beatles Love” at the Mirage hotel. It is truly a spiritual experience.

This city that was once full of grind joints and cheap buffets has grown into a world-class restaurant destination. All of the nation’s top chefs have restaurants here: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Alain Ducasse, Nobu Matsuhia, Charlie Palmer, Charlie Trotter, Bobby Flay, Wolfgang Puck, Emeril, Joel Robuchon, Mario Batali, Bradley Ogden, and the lead dog of the culinary world— Thomas Keller.

Keller opened the Las Vegas rendition of his Yountville, CA-based French bistro, Bouchon, in the Venetian Hotel in 2004. When I am in a major restaurant city, I try to make the best of my time and visit as many new restaurant concepts as time allows. There are always exceptions and favorites. I rarely visit Chicago without eating at least one steak at Gene and Georgetti’s, and every trip to New York includes a late-night visit to Balthazar.

When in Vegas, I can’t get away from Bouchon. It draws me in like a Pommes-Frites fueled tractor beam. I had an excellent dinner there last night and a wonderful breakfast this morning. I need to be doing culinary research in other restaurants, but can’t seem to pull away.

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. It always has been. A perfect breakfast doesn’t have to include complicated and overwrought dishes using rare ingredients and complex preparations— to my thinking, the simpler the better.

I once ate breakfast with Julia Child at a culinary event in Aspen. Over orange juice, eggs, and wheat toast, we discussed the simplicity and beauty of a perfectly scrambled egg. I always wished that I could have sat in Julia Child’s kitchen and eaten perfectly scrambled eggs prepared by her hands.

Thomas Keller is a true culinary artisan. He has risen to a level where, even the best in his profession, are humbled by his creativity and technique. He is the man. He is at the top of his game. He has only a few peers, and as luck would have it— he serves breakfast here.

Having Thomas Keller cook your breakfast would be akin to sitting in while Mozart performed a private piano concerto, having Hemingway give a personal reading of “A Farewell to Arms,” or hanging out with John, Paul, George, and Ringo during the Abbey Road recording sessions of “I Am the Walrus.” Masters at work.

Most likely, Thomas Keller wasn’t in the kitchen cooking my breakfast this morning. He is probably in Manhattan or the Napa Valley. But a boy can dream, can’t he? The scrambled eggs were underdone just enough to make Julia proud. The pastries were worthy of any Paris patisserie, and the atmosphere and company were spot on.

When it comes to food, I can’t let what happens in Vegas, stay in Vegas. We enjoyed music by the 20th Century rock-and-roll masters at night, and breakfast by the culinary master the next morning.

I am the Egg Man, goo goo ga joob!

Julia’s Perfect Scrambled Eggs

3 Eggs, large
2 tsp Half & Half
1 Tbl Butter
Salt and pepper to taste.

Crack eggs in a small bowl and stir well with a fork until the yolks and whites have just incorporated. Do not stir too vigorously or air will be added to the eggs. Add cream to eggs and stir well.

In a non-stick skillet over moderately low heat, melt the butter and tilt the pan to coat the entire surface. Add the egg mixture to the skillet. Using a rubber spatula slowly scrape the bottom of the skillet until the eggs begin to coagulate. Continue to carefully stir the eggs until they are “just done”. The eggs should be almost fully cooked and custard-like (Julia Child calls them “custardy lumps”) yet have a slightly wet and shiny sheen to them.

Remove eggs from the skillet immediately and transfer to a plate (the eggs will continue to cook slightly for the next 30-45 seconds so it imperative to remove them just before they are done). Add salt and pepper to taste.

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