“The noble Brutus hath said that Caesar was ambitious. If so, it was a grievous fault. And grievously hath Caesar answered it.” Shakespeare.
Brian Howard might be the most ambitious chef on the Strip. It seems like he’s constantly pushing the envelope, creating new dishes, and an ever changing array of specials. He certainly has talent.
But not everything works that well. He’s doing several new dishes he’s dubbed Bistronomy and he trotted them out for an assemblage of local food writers, including Yours Truly, this week. The dishes were hit and miss, although the wine pairings were mostly terrific.
The dinner started strong, with three items shared by everyone at the table. Howard makes his own charcuterie, and the quality is first rate, smooth pate to excellent salami and porchetta. A ring shaped epi and fine house brined pickles accompanied them.
There was also the restaurant’s delicious steak tartare, presented in a glass jar with confit of egg yolk, and escargot in a rectangular brioche, more like a pain de mie, really, that I thought was a clever idea.
I’d also give high marks to the Thyme for Bourbon cocktail, although that wasn’t good enough for a colleague, who insisted on ordering the Penicillin, Comme Ca’s world famous Scotch based cocktail. I imbibed on the wine, a good Pinot Gris from Alsace, Domaine Schlumberger.
But then the dinner took a turn for the bizarre. The First Course was a Beef Stew Gelee, brown on top and green underneath, which reminded me of a Buster Brown shoe. The green part, a celery mousse, tasted all right, and I liked its celery leaf and shaved foie gras garnish, but found the colors unappetizing. An weak Beaujolais by Domaine de la Madone didn’t help matters.
A perfectly acceptable venison carpaccio with crispy sweetbreads arrived next, followed by my favorite dish that night, bacon wrapped swordfish, a moist, flavorful chunk of fish, offset by a panisse, a fritter made from garbanzo bean flour. I wish they’d do panisse as a side dish or appetizer in this restaurant. They are addictively good.
I liked both wines here. The carpaccio came with an ’08 Miura Pinot Noir from Monterey County that I wanted more of, while the swordfish got a nice French Vouvray, the ’10 Domaine Aubusieries “Cuvee Silex”.
I ate little Offal Stew, the subsequent course. Picture a classic coq au vin with pearl onion and mushroom, but substitute tongue, tripe, Rocky Mountain oysters and sweetbreads for an old rooster. The ’09 Corbiers from Gerard Bertrand was almost compensatory.
Everyone oohed and aahed when Howard’s impossibly rich lobster Thermidor was presented, the meat in the shell in an unctuous sauce laced with Cognac, cream and cheese. And rightly so, although no one could eat more than a few bites. Cutting the richness was a Rully, the ’08 Vincent Girardin “Vieilles Vignes”, a white wine with great acidity, the perfect foil for the lobster’s elegance.
By the time the dessert came, a perfectly executed lemon tart, we had had enough. I had just enough stamina to wash it down with Jurancon, a dessert wine from the southwest of France.
I’m still in the process of deciding the relative merits of a dinner that I admired more than I liked. But I can say one thing with certainty. Chef Howard, and the restaurant’s owner, Chef David Myers, might consider concentrating on perfecting what they already do, rather than confuse the issue with a spate of new dishes no one understands.
Since its opening, Comme Ca has changed course a few times. Here’s hoping it doesn’t stray too far from the right one.
At Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. 698-7000.
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