Staying the courses at Raku, seeing the light at Payard and a bistro changes hands

Kaiseki is a multi-course Japanese dinner, and no one does it better than chef Mitsuo Endo of Raku (5030 Spring Mountain Road, Suite 2, 367-3511). I recently had the chance to experience one. The chef prepared 15 courses, which, at $150 per person, may seem pricey, but it’s a bargain if one considers the food costs, labor and sheer artistry. I haven’t had a better dinner this year.

One course, renko dai shiogama, is similar to the salt-crusted fish at Bartolotta, but considerably smaller. It is sea bream wrapped in kelp, baked in a dome of salt. I’ve simply never had a moister piece of fish. Stewed duck, foie gras custard in an eggshell, and Kobe beef flamed on a hot stone were also part of the menu, which took almost three hours to consume. You’d spend twice as much at Jöel Robuchon at the Mansion for a tasting of comparable quality. A minimum three-day notice is required, and menus change weekly and seasonally.

Another genius, François Payard, has written a new dinner menu for his Caesars Palace chocolate shop/restaurant. It’s incredible how his executive chef, Adil Slassi, can produce such sophisticated cooking in what must be the tiniest kitchen on the Strip.

Quenelles de poisson Lyonnaise are basically fish dumplings served in lobster bisque. In France, they are made with pike, but in this country, whitefish. The dumplings are a miracle of physics, so impossibly light you’d swear they might float up to the ceiling.

Payard cheese soufflé is almost as light—served as an appetizer, with a light sprinkling of truffle oil and Parmesan. Entrées not to miss include braised lamb shank, braised short ribs in red wine sauce and whatever fish of the day is fresh, served on a Yukon Gold potato puree. Mine was a glorious piece of turbot. For $42, you get a choice of appetizer, entrée and a dessert, which are known to be the best in Las Vegas. Call 731-7110 for tables.

Finally, the charming Gina Linzi has turned over the reins at her South Durango neighborhood bistro, Gina’s (4226 S. Durango Dr., 341-1800), to countrywoman Rosa Sorrentino. But it remains one of the city’s most fetching Italian cafés, even without her.

This cozy, white-tablecloth dining room does a number of dishes well. Pastas such as fettuccine alla Bolognese and veal tortelloni are delicious, as is the scallop and asparagus risotto. For your main course, bracioli, a stuffed beef roll, is an interesting choice and hard to find elsewhere.

Hungry yet?

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Grilled Filone with Duck Egg at DOCG

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Grilled Filone with Duck Egg at DOCG

Don’t let the low price fool you—with a nice glass of wine, this hearty appetizer could easily be a meal unto itself! Still, meant to be shared is this heaping plate of ciabbata bread, sliced thick, brushed with olive oil and deeply grilled. All that’s left is to dip in the fonduta (melted semi-soft fontina cheese with chopped, preserved black truffles and truffle oil) and a delicately poached quail egg topped with another drizzle of olive oil and just a pinch of Moldon sea salt. It’s enough to make you wanna do the Truffle Shuffle.

DTLV

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