It is my great privilege to be writing this week’s notebook from Basque country in the south of France, where I am continuously enthralled by the local cuisine and products, the blue of the Atlantic and the friendliness of the Basque people.
We have great French cooking in Vegas, at places such as Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist. But just as a lobster roll tastes better in Maine than anywhere else, so does a Garrotxa sheep’s milk cheese, which I wrote about in a review of Morels at the Venetian last issue, which is far better here.
Last night I had an extraordinary dinner prepared by a young chef named Fabrice Idiart at Restaurant Ilura at the La Réserve in St. Jean de Luz: new potatoes with cheese, cumin and mustard, sea bass with green herb sauce and caramelized walnuts, and wonderful strawberries with a flavor that would make Kerry Clasby, the Intuitive Forager of our Downtown 3rd Farmers Market, jump for joy.
The previous two evenings were spent in Normandy, where American flags still hang from rustic village outposts. Anyone who thinks the French don’t remember how we liberated them in World War II has never been to this part of France, the home of Isigny butter, Pont l’Eveque cheese and the distilled spirit calvados, the best spirit of them all in my opinion.
In Deauville, where an international film festival is held every year, headshots of Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep line the walls at bistros such as Chez Miocque, where the specialties are mussels a la creme and local scallops. I dined on grilled mackerel with anchovy butter and quaffed a pint of cider, brewed naturally, and about as alcoholic as American lager.
There is lots happening locally, of course. Peripatetic über-chef Wolfgang Puck launched a free app for the iPhone and iPod Touch (“Wolfgang Puck—Live Love Eat!”) has new recipes, cooking tips, cooking videos, and strategies for event planning. Part of the chef’s enduring success is, I think, because of his uncanny ability to remain one step ahead of the curve. It’s available at WolfgangPuck.com.
Another local creator, Anthony Meidenbauer of Public House (407-5310) in the Venetian, has developed a slew of new spring dishes, all of which show off a relentless imagination. Small plates include Scotch egg—a whole egg wrapped in barley-wine sausage—and entrees such as pork loin with polenta. Serrano ham-wrapped asparagus will dazzle you. For dessert, don’t miss the strawberry-rhubarb sundae with vanilla crème frâiche.