Early Fleur

Waiting for Hubert Keller’s new bloom

Photo by Anthony MairPineapple Carpaccio

Photo by Anthony MairMussels

Hubert Keller is a star, a fan of rock music and a Mr. Nice Guy. He launched the upscale burger phenomenon in Las Vegas with Burger Bar in 2004, has his own PBS show, Secrets of a Chef, and owns a successful San Francisco restaurant, Fleur de Lys.

He recently transformed the Vegas version of that restaurant, which opened in 2004 at Mandalay Bay, into Fleur, serving small plates, cocktails made with liquid nitrogen and innovative desserts. The once-formal space, formerly anchored by a living flower sculpture, has retained its mezzanine wine room and a brace of intimate tables set into cozy alcoves. It is fronted by a patio that extends out onto the casino floor, and now offers stripped-down, amorphous decor. The sparse new design elements include anemone-like lamps and a few odd accoutrements suspended from the ceiling.

Keller clearly intends his new incarnation to be fun, and most of this food certainly is. But when you’re sitting inside this vast, undefined dining room, the buzz is that of a mixed metaphor.

Keller has a ponytail and DJs a number of his own events, so it’s no surprise he was hip enough to realize that his fine-dining concept at the Mandalay Bay had run its course.

Now, the menu is composed of dishes such as Parmesan paprika popcorn ($3!); spicy, salty Thai chicken wings; brik dough-wrapped prawns with tropical fruit (a wacky marriage of Tunisia and Hawaii); and finally the FleurBurger 5000—Wagyu beef, foie gras and black truffle, served with a bottle of ’95 Petrus. The number refers to the price. Yep, it’s five large. For a hamburger.

Don’t call 911 yet. Most dishes hover on either side of the $10 mark. I love the little Staub cast-iron pot filled with Prince Edward Island mussels in a basil and Parmesan emulsion, and the maple-glazed pork ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender.

Keller’s version of tarte flambée—a white cheese and bacon flatbread from his native Alsace in eastern France—leaves me flat. The bacon is almost undetectable, and he’s gussied it up with one of my bêtes noir: truffle oil. “An act of hate,” as one famous French chef once described a microwave.

I only stumbled across one other dud. Merguez, a Moroccan-style lamb sausage made in the kitchen, was limp and undersized, with couscous unpleasantly redolent of saffron.

Beyond that, though, the dishes at Fleur, prepared by Keller’s chef de cuisine, American Steven Wolf, are solid, colorful and a good value. I love the menu’s vegetarian section and dishes such as ceci frito, fried chickpeas enlivened with preserved lemon. And large plates—platters, really—are great across the board. The Prime tomahawk rib-eye, a 40-ounce giant with a shallot jus, wild mushroom ragout and perfect potato puree, is a masterpiece large enough for three wild-eyed carnivores.

Don’t feel guilty at how labor-intensive it is for the service captains to mix the passion fruit caipirinha at your table using liquid nitrogen or you’ll miss my favorite dessert here, affogato a la LN2, made with Baileys Irish Cream. The crème brûlée trio and coconut soup are other attractive possibilities.

Fleur isn’t a transformative experience yet, but give M. Keller some time.

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