When I was a child, my parents admonished me in restaurants not to fill up on bread before our entrées were delivered. Presumably, they didn’t want me to waste half of the food for which they were paying because I’d already satiated my appetite on a giveaway item.
Las Vegas, however, has some of the finest bread services I’ve ever experienced, many of which are as memorable as the restaurant’s entrées. For the sake of this article, I’ll omit the awe-inspiring bread carts of Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon, because when you’re shelling out $500 to $1,000 on dinner, calling anything “free” seems disingenuous. I’m also not including the folks who charge for bread, because while that may fly overseas, it strikes me as somewhat un-American.
But if you want the best freebie loaves, rolls and slices in town, here are my picks.
Pull-Apart Bread with Blue Cheese Butter served with Sweet Chive Oil
(STK, in the Cosmopolitan, 702-698-7990)
Chef Stephen Hopcraft has his bakers arrive at 1 a.m. daily to make the bread for the next evening’s service. It’s a segmented loaf topped with a smattering of blue-cheese butter. The bread pulls apart in your hands and is wonderful. But dipping it into a cup of grape seed oil that’s been infused with blanched chives makes it even better. It’s a sweet, oniony flavor that cuts through the sharpness of the cheese. STK, in the Cosmopolitan, 702-698-7990
Focaccini with Lardo
(Carnevino, in the Palazzo, 702-789-4141)
There are many of reasons I’m glad I wasn’t raised kosher or halal, but Mario Batali’s bread service with lardo is close to the top of the list. This beautifully kneaded pork fat, known as the “Butter of Chianti,” brings a saltiness to the crusty bread. Executive chef Nicole Brisson has plenty of history making this spread, having done it by hand while working in Italy. Given the quantity served at Carnevino, they use machines to create it there. But it retains an elegant simplicity that demonstrates just how wonderful simple peasant food can be.
(BLT Steak, in Bally’s, 702-967-7258)
The oversize popovers that come with your meal at Bally’s steakhouse are light as air, almost defying gravity as they rise from your plate like crusty helium balloons. Peeling them apart has the delightful sensation of digging into a cloud. But the mild bite of Gruyère cheese offers a bit of gravity to ground the dish. If you’re looking for an accompaniment, try the extraordinary char-grilled slabs of bacon.
Assorted Breads with Trio of Butters
(Top of the World, in the Stratosphere, 702-380-7777)
The bread selection at the Strat’s rotating restaurant varies. On one recent visit I got nothing but plain rolls, while on another I got a large selection of house-made delicacies. I’m fine either way, as long as I get all three whipped butters. In addition to a plain unsalted version, the butter comes in a pesto variety as well as an orange-ginger. The former has a bright fresh kick to it, while the other is reminiscent of marmalade. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d go with the orange-ginger. Fortunately, you don’t need to make that choice.