This past weekend found us in Las Vegas for a friend’s wedding, which included a couple days staying on the Strip prior to heading out to neighboring Henderson, NV for the actual wedding. This was just my third time in Las Vegas, and on the first two visits I am fairly certain my good beer consumption was limited to maybe a Newcastle or two. While there seem to be several intriguing places to visit off of the Strip via car or taxi (Aces & Ales tops the list, by most accounts), spots for good beer located on the Strip are still very limited.
I had Friday night to myself as my wife and her friends went out on the town for the bachelorette party, so I immediately went in search of good beer and food. I scoured the Ratebeer.com place reviews and inquired with the good people of the Twitterverse to find out what the go-to places where. The unanimous choice was the Public House, located in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. While most places on the strip might serve a couple craft beers as an after-thought, Public House puts the focus squarely on their 24 taps of well-chosen beer and over 200 bottles. This gastropub is a laid-back, but still classy, spot to get your good beer fix while on the Strip.
I was impressed right off the bat when I asked for a beer list and the bartender handed me an iPad set up as an interactive beer menu that lets you flip through all of their draft beer and bottles, as well as find more detailed descriptions of each offering. They have several set flights of beer that you can choose from, three cask ales, and a nice selection of local and regional beers that I had never previously tried. After starting off with a pint of Sierra Nevada Tumbler from the cask, I drooled upon noticing the tap of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. Ballast Point does not distribute to Seattle (yet), and Sculpin is a fantastic, full-flavored IPA from San Diego that I don’t pass up when I see it. The bartender noticed my excitement when ordering the Sculpin and also suggested that I try the Nobility Imperial IPA from Noble Ale Works of Anaheim, CA. Dare I say I enjoyed the Nobility even more than the Sculpin? Yeah, I did. This 8.8% brew put the focus on the citrus and tropical hop flavors while matching with a solid, but not overwhelming, bitterness and enough malt to balance. I was impressed with the suggestion, and it’s safe to say the staff knows their beer here as well (they also have a Cicerone on staff).
While the prices are definitely quite expensive compared to anywhere else ($8 to $10 per beer), this is the Vegas Strip. Live with it, or go gamble and get yourself a free Miller Lite. The food menu looked pretty solid, but I had my sights set on the Bouchon Bistro, also located in the Venetian.
Bouchon is a restaurant from Thomas Keller, the mastermind behind The French Laundry in Yountville, CA, which is often celebrated as one of the best restaurants in the world. The original Bouchon is located just down the street from The French Laundry and features moderately priced French bistro fare. The Vegas counterpart opened in 2004 with the same focus on great French food that won’t blow your budget. I started off the meal with a Frisee salad with lardons, a perfectly poached egg, and bacon vinaigrette. Then, it was on to a cup of their Soupe à l’Oignon and a half order of sauteed gnocchi with garden vegetables and a brown butter sauce. Every part of the meal was outstanding, but the full-flavored, beefy goodness of the soup was my highlight (recipe here). I’ve had some great cups of French onion soup in the past, including overseas, and this was definitely one of my most memorable. Even better was that I was able to pair the soup with the outstanding St. Bernardus Abt 12. The rich dark fruit and malt of the beer was a decadent match with the soup. They had several other well-selected Belgian beers and American craft beers on tap, but Head Sommelier Paul Peterson noticed me drinking good beer and poured me some of a bottle St. Bernardus Tripel for my final course. We chatted briefly about beer, and for such a wine-focused restaurant Paul sure did seem to enjoy the rest of that bottle of Tripel as the restaurant was closing down for the night. The combo of great food and beer at Bouchon made this a perfect way to end the night (except for the 3 hours of booze-induced gambling that I did back at The Rio).
A few other beer/food notes from the weekend:
- We had lunch at Holsteins at the beautiful Cosmopolitan hotel one day, and I was pleasantly surprised to also find some solid craft beers on the menu there, including some local brews and Green Flash IPA. The burgers were very good, and the boozy milkshakes shared by my female counterparts were freaking awesome. The hotel itself is definitely worth a visit to just explore.
- Our splurge for the weekend was a memorable meal at the Wynn’s Bartolotta. The food at this Italian restaurant is focused on seafood flown in from the Mediterranean daily paired with house-made pastas and other specialties. The food, service, and atmosphere were all outstanding. For us commoners, the prices here qualify this as an ultra special occasion restaurant, but as this was my wife’s and my only night alone in Vegas we figured it qualified.
- The biggest surprise meal of the weekend was our Sunday brunch at Simon Restaurant & Lounge at The Palms. Chef Kerry Simon’s place may be a bit off the strip and out of the way for some, but it was worth it. Sunday’s feature an all-you-can-eat brunch of very high quality food, including stations of sushi, house-smoked salmon for lox and bagels, paninis, large prawns, a juice bar and more. Also included were any of the dishes you order from the kitchen off the menu. Our table enjoyed french toast crusted with Frosted Flakes, a Philly Benedict with shaved beef and an amazing cheddar sauce, and pigs in a blanket. To give you an idea of the quality, we were staying at the Rio, whose Carnival World Buffet is known as one of the better buffets in Vegas. We ate there for lunch one day, and the quality was extremely underwhelming (that’s being nice) in comparison to Simon. Simon is more expensive, but you pay for what you get. Oh, we also got our buzz on by adding unlimited Bloody Mary’s and champagne drinks to our brunch.
- Our last meal of the weekend was at Lotus of Siam for lunch on Monday right before heading to the airport. We saw this off-the-strip place featured during a Top Chef Masters episode, and it didn’t let us down. We finished a weekend of good meals off with fish cakes with chili sauce and cucumbers, garlic pepper chicken wings, crispy duck with chili, mint and lime, soft shell crab drunken noodles and a Northern Thai Curry. It was a great meal to end the weekend.
Okay, now I need some seriously healthy time this week (um, with the exception of the beer dinner at Ray’s Cafe tonight). We did manage a few workouts to offset the abundance of good food, but I’m feeling the need for lots of vegetables this week. No regrets here though; Vegas is known for good food for a reason.