When TV chef and icon Hubert Keller first opened a branch of Fleur de Lys, his San Francisco French restaurant, at Mandalay Bay, most of us who know and esteem French cuisine were quite happy.
But Keller, a counter-culture fellow with a pony tail, whose passion is being a Deejay, saw his concept here differently from what he wanted to do in his original restaurant, an elegant, tented dining room.
So he relied on novel dishes and little visual tricks, such as a dish that I thought absurd that he called his “Blackjack of Smoked Salmon”, and other such fare. Eventually, though, he decided to change the concept, and the restaurant morphed into Fleur, serving small plates, molecular dishes and drinks made with liquid nitro.
I was dissatisfied with Fleur for a long time, but now, the restaurant has regained its mojo. Keller spends a lot of time in Vegas compared to his celebrity peers, and it shows. And now, he’s brought back what may be his strongest chef, Frenchman Laurent Pillard, assisted by his Chef de Cuisine, Ryan Duqui. The result: A first-rate dining experience.
Keller has more than a dozen new dishes on Fleur’s summer menu, the strongest menu I’ve experienced since he opened here. Foie gras taco with fig and summer truffle has the right amount of crunch and heft.
Monkfish torchon, French for rag, (cloth used to wrap foie gras), is what the Japanese call ankimo, or monkfish liver, a creamy, rich dish the chefs embellish with crunchy nuggets of rice, soy and a Hawaiian sea salt.
I’m not normally a fan of gazpacho; I find it overly acidic. But this is a mild form made from Heirloom tomatoes with a melon tartare garnish, basil crystal, and the weird, but never boring addition of Pop Rocks.
If you desire something more substantial, Fleur’s steak tartare is topped with mountain caviar, cypress seed, or tonburi in Japanese, a black shrub that looks like caviar, and pops when you eat it. Espresso aioli and watercress add dimension to this dish, which is intriguing, to say the least.
My favorite of these new dishes is Diver scallops smoked “a la minute” with cabbage and bacon in a bonito mushroom broth. And I’m guessing that it is the dish closest to Keller’s heart because it tastes Alsatian to the core, and Keller hails from Alsace in Eastern France.
Also delicious is a crispy duck confit served with a little ampoule of truffle essence that you inject into the confit. Shades of Marc Veyrat, the creative French master at Auberge de l’Eridan, near Lac Annecy.
I confess I didn’t care for the braised Wagyu beef cheek, absurdly rich and reduced, a nice hunk of meat, because of its flavorings, Kaffir leaf, orange and white asparagus, all of which obscure its natural beefiness and linger, unpleasantly, on the palate.
But my palate was reanimated by a delicious, refreshing pineapple carpaccio with lime sorbet, and a spiced streusel topped cheesecake scented with fresh vanilla is impossible to stop eating.
Fleur has suddenly vaulted, from obscurity, into the top echelon of Strip restaurants.
At Mandalay Bay, 632-7777.
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