Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro Turns 10
by catherine de orio
The Las Vegas outpost of Chef Thomas Keller’s world-renowned Bouchon Bistro is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Keller (right) with chef de cuisine Joshua Crain.
“It’s humbling to celebrate a decade in this town,” says Michelin-starred and multi-award-winning chef Thomas Keller. “I am proud to be in the company of so many great chefs and great restaurants.” Dining establishments in Las Vegas come and go as quickly as fortunes on the casino floor, yet even 10 years after it opened, Bouchon Bistro still draws crowds eager to indulge in Keller’s acclaimed renditions of French bistro classics. “The Las Vegas food culture has matured in such a way,” he says, “that it’s now a serious dining destination that attracts sophisticated diners.” Bouchon’s enduring popularity serves as testament to that, as well as proof that tradition never gets tiresome.
Adam Tihany, the designer of the restaurant’s original Yountville, California, location, was given a blank canvas here and a whole lot of space with which to work. But even scaled to Vegas proportions, Bouchon manages to capture the charm of a traditional bistro, with antique sconces, a Paulin Paris mural, colorful mosaic tiled floors, a gorgeous pewter bar where towers of fruits de mer tempt hungry patrons, and Palladian windows that look out onto a delightful courtyard and a stunning pool. It was this enchanting view and the unique site in Venetian’s Venezia Tower, far from the chaos of the casino, that finally convinced Keller to open in Las Vegas. “The location has allowed us to take a restaurant space and transform it into an oasis in the desert,” he says.
Only in Vegas could a French bistro like Bouchon, serving dishes by esteemed chef Thomas Keller, open onto a Venetian courtyard.
The tranquil outdoor seating area and its remote setting may transport you to Provence, but once you’re inside, this bistro has the bustling atmosphere and lively chatter more associated with a Parisian brasserie. Local power players dine on grand plates of the freshest seafood paired with crisp Sancerre, while visiting families with pommes frites–munching tots find something for everyone on the approachable menu. Eschewing tweezer-placed elements for a refined rustic presentation, the plating isn’t precious. The preparation, however, is executed with absolute precision. “Bouchon is about maintaining classic traditions and techniques of French comfort food,” Keller explains. “The core of our menu never changes.”
Fittingly, classics like steak frites (a flat iron steak seared to perfection and topped with maître-d’ butter, plus caramelized shallots and a hefty pile of golden fries), a bubbling bowl of fragrant French onion soup, and poulet rôti (roasted Shelton Farm chicken, Keller’s personal favorite) are best sellers. Since California banned foie gras, the silky, rich liver has become one of the most popular items at Bouchon in Vegas—in a pan-seared variety or terrines of two sizes. “All the people visiting from California come here to get their fill,” says chef de cuisine Joshua Crain.
The poulet rôti is served with poached pears and cavolo nero (black kale) in a brown-butter jus.
Traditional dishes may be the menu’s backbone, but a chalkboard of daily specials allows the kitchen to utilize the season’s bounty. The specials highlight seasonal ingredients, Crain explains, with spring and summer, for example, perhaps bringing a classic pan-roasted salmon with peas, morels, and sauce beurre blanc. To top off the meal, traditional airy profiteroles drizzled in Valrhona dark chocolate and a tangy lemon tart provide a refreshing contrast to the robust, savory fare.
No meal in France is complete without wine, and Bouchon offers a list evenly divided between American and French selections, as well as a reserve list boasting great French producers such as Roumier, Rousseau, Selosse, and Pol Roger, plus a number of classified growths from Bordeaux.
Pastry chef Scott Wheatfill plates chocolate bouchons.
Providing diners with an emotional connection to food is what Bouchon is all about. “It’s not about specialized ingredients,” says Crain. “It’s about precision in technique applied to ordinary ingredients and the love of French comfort food.” Adds Keller, “One thing about a bistro is that you want to count on its predictability.” As Bouchon pushes forward into the next decade, Keller says it will continue to strive to offer food, service, and atmosphere like those one would find at a traditional bistro in France. “There is something to be said for maintaining and never wavering from that level of excellence.”
“It’s hard to believe we opened here 10 years ago,” he continues. “The beauty of Bouchon is that it is timeless. Our food, our service, and the atmosphere will remain relevant for the next 10 years and many more to come.” Venetian, 702-414-6200
Photography by Sabin Orr