Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brodard Chateau (Garden Grove, CA)

Brodard Chateau
9100 Trask Ave, Garden Grove, CA 92844
Sat 01/26/2008, 08:55p-10:00p

By now, almost everyone knows about the original Brodard in Little Saigon, and the nem nuong cuon that it's famous for. If you've ever eaten there, it seems like every table in the restaurant has a plate of the omnipresent spring rolls before them. I'm no exception, and consider myself a fan, so trying out this higher-end (and pricier) version was a no-brainer.

The entrance definitely carries more presence. I'm a bit surprised that they have "Smooth Jazz" Wednesdays though.

Awash in dark wood, the decor is chic yet warm, but with subtle elements that remind you you're in a Vietnamese restaurant. Much improved from Brodard proper.

The menu contains a fairly large assortment of items, many of which can be found on the menu at the original Brodard. However, there are plenty of dishes unique to the Chateau as well. Click for larger versions.

The specials and dessert menus. Click for larger versions.

Blackberry Kir Royal: Sparkling Chandon Riche with a splash of raspberry liqueur finished off with a scrumptious blackberry. Hard to go wrong with this!
Soda Chanh Extreme - Vietnamese Mojito: Dry White Rum, freshly squeezed lime juice, mint, & a dash of soda. I'm not sure what made this a Vietnamese mojito, since the ingredients seemed run of the mill, but it was definitely tarter and more acerbic than I'm accustomed to.

Roasted Pork Spring Rolls – Nem Nuong Cuon & Grilled Shrimp Spring Rolls – Chao Tom Cuon
Roasted pork wrapped in rice paper with a crispy roll, lettuce, mint, carrot & cucumber served with Chef's special sauce. Gilled shrimp cake, wrapped in rice paper with a crispy roll, lettuce, carrot, cucumber & mint served with Chef's special sauce. Both the pork and shrimp rolls were just like what I've had at Brodard, with the meat providing just the perfect crunch and textural element to complement the cool, crisp veggies. But the rolls would be incomplete without the special sauce, which is sweet, salty, sour and anything else you could ask for, all at the same time; it is a harmonizing agent of sorts, and ties together all the flavor elements into one cohesive whole. Fantastic! I must say that the rolls certainly were more expensive here though; at the original, you get one more roll for about the same price. And according to my dining companion, the rolls are bigger there too.

Ahi Spring Rolls – Ca Ahi Cuon
Seared Ahi wrapped up in rice paper with lettuce, fresh mango, avocado, mint & cumber served with a mustard soy sauce and roasted pepper mayonnaise. Now in addition to the two "classic" rolls above, the Chateau also offers several other interesting cuon that are not present at Brodard, such as these ahi tuna rolls. The pairing of tuna and avocado is a classic one, and here it worked relatively well. However, the rolls themselves didn't have much in terms of unique flavor. As such, use of the sauces was almost a prerequisite. The mustard soy and pepper mayo did also pair nicely with the other rolls as well.

Roasted Duck Spring Rolls - Goi Cuon Vit
Tender roasted duck wrapped in rice paper with asparagus, scallion, cilantro accompanied with plum sauce. The duck was prepared in a bold, slightly sweet style, which proved to be a fitting foil to the veggies. The plum sauce was reminiscent of the sauce used for Peking duck, and was a bit too sweet for use with the other rolls.

Soft Shell Crab Spring Rolls - Cua Lot Cuon
Crispy soft shell crab tempura, cucumber, butter lettuce, mint, avocado & fresh mango accompanied with Chef's special crab sauce. Soft shell crab didn't seem like it belonged in a spring roll, but it worked surprisingly well, with the savory deep fried crab tempered by its cucumber and lettuce accoutrements. This was my favorite of the rolls outside of the originals.

Vermicelli & Lemon Grass Beef - Bun Bo Xao Dac Biet
Filet mignon sautéed with lemon grass over vermicelli served with Asian greens & a limed-fish sauce. We weren't quite full by the rolls themselves, so we decided to order something else. I was about to go for the classic bo luc lac, one of my favorites, but I'm glad my dining companion convinced me to try something new. The beef was actually similar to what I'd expect from shaken beef, and was quite flavorful as well as tender. It was very nice to have the contrast between the meat and the cool vermicelli and crisp, refreshing veggies. A lovely dish.

Navan Vanilla Cognac Flan
Caramelized custard perfumed with Navan vanilla cognac served with shaved ice. This was almost like a flan. It had a bit too much ice for my tastes, and wasn't particularly inspiring.

Our Special Strawberry Crepe
A delicate & delicious crepe filled with Nutella chocolate and fresh strawberry garnished with whipped cream and bitter sweet dark chocolate. The crepe was quite tasty, with the flavors of the chocolate, strawberry, and whipped cream all melding nicely. I just wish they put in more Nutella!

Food-wise, Brodard Chateau pretty much offers the same level of quality as Brodard; I couldn't tell the rolls apart. You do get a choice of dishes not found at Brodard however, and much improved ambiance, though you do pay for it. So if you just want your fix of nem nuong, you might be wiser to stay with the original. Otherwise, give Brodard Chateau a shot.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Picasso (Las Vegas, NV)

3600 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Fri 01/25/2008, 06:00p-08:20p

Long before the advent of Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy, Picasso was perhaps one of the first "serious" fine dining restaurants in Las Vegas. The opening of the Bellagio in 1998 ushered in a new era of luxury in Las Vegas, and Julian Serrano's Picasso was the perfect culinary complement to such unbridled opulence.

Picasso is situated along Bellagio's waterfront, across from Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Prime steakhouse. This location provides diners with superb views of the hotel's Fountains of Bellagio show.

The main lobby affords patrons a good view of the restaurant's wine cellar, which holds over 1,000 bottles.

I found Picasso's dining room comfortable but a bit uninspired, though it was livened up by the presence of genuine Picasso paintings dotting the walls.

Picasso offers a four-course prix fix menu, or a five-course degustation (only five? How passé!). Given the minimal difference in the number of courses, we actually went for the prix fix, as it gave us a bit more flexibility. Note the signature of Chef Serrano. Click for larger versions.

Of course, I started with a mojito (good, but nothing to write home about), while one of my dining companions enjoyed a pear martini.

Three types of breads were offered: walnut raisin, black olive, and French baguette. The embossed butter was a nice touch.

Amuse Bouche: Scottish Salmon
With Quail Egg, Caviar, Cucumber Salad, Crème Fraîche & Potato Leek Soup with Onions and Chives. The salmon had a firmer texture than expected, but matched wonderfully with its accompaniments. The egg and crème fraîche provided a mild creaminess that paired beautifully with the crispness of the cucumber and the salty tang of caviar. Meanwhile, the potato leek soup (smooth, savory, rich, and very satisfying) provided a nice temperature contrast.

1a: Poached Oysters
2005 Domaine du Salvard, Cheverny, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Garnished with Osetra Caviar, Sauce Vermouth. The poaching gave the oysters a firm texture that I thought was quite enjoyable, though one of my dining companions would disagree with this point. Compared to a raw preparation, I found the oysters to be milder, creamier, and less acidic. The flavor of the oysters themselves was tempered, allowing the caviar and vermouth to take a larger role. Lovely. The wine was tart, lean, and crisp, with mineral notes and a refreshing finish; it paired wonderfully with the oysters.

1b: Warm Quail Salad
2006 Bodegas Julian Chivité, Gran Feudo Rosado, Navarra, Spain
With Sautéed Artichokes, Pine Nuts. There were two distinct parts of the bird presented here. The sausage-like piece was noticeably fattier, oilier, and richer; my dining companions liked this better. Though both were excellent, I had a slight preference for the other preparation, which was firmer in texture and more complex in flavor, though not quite as succulent. This was my favorite course of the night. The wine here was a rosé, which showed typical acidity and mild tannins, along with hints of berry; it may have been a bit light for the quail however.

2a: Sauteéd Filet of Black Bass
2005 Tablas Creek, Espirit du Beaucastel Blanc, Paso Robles, CA
With Saffron Sauce and Cauliflower Mousseline. The bass had great texture, firm yet flaky, and was complemented nicely by the saffron sauce. I loved the fish's flavorful, crispy skin. The Tablas Creek was a Rhone-style white blend. Sharp and biting, it displayed notes of spice, stone fruit, and citrus. A good complement to the bass.

2b: Boudin of Fresh Lobster, Shrimp, and Scallops
2005 Henschke, Tilly's Vineyard, Barossa Valley, South Australia
With Tomato Coulis. Think of this as a seafood sausage. My first bite of the accompanying shrimp was disappointing, as it was overcooked and a bit tough. The boudin itself, however, was quite tasty, though I thought the dish could've done with less of the tomato coulis, which tended to hide some of the seafood's natural flavors. As for the wine, we had another white blend. The Henscke showed strong citrus flavors, which actually went quite well with the coulis.

3a: Sauteéd Filet of New Zealand Thai Snapper
2004 Oriel, Setena, Terra Alta Blanca, Spain
With Court-Bouillon Sauce and Fresh Herbs. The fish was fresh and well prepared, with good texture, and very delicate in flavor. This mildness allowed the bouillon sauce and other accompaniments to come to the forefront, which paired deliciously with the Oriel. I thought the broccoli was a bit odd of a complement though.

3b: Roasted Pigeon
2003 Marques de Grinon, Syrah, Dominio de Valdepusa, Spain
With Wild Rice Risotto. Given my propensity for squab, I was a bit let down by this pigeon (squab is merely a young pigeon). Texture-wise, the meat was tougher and stringier than I'm accustomed to, while the flavor was muted by comparison. I usually find squab to be immensely succulent and savory, which was not the case here. The bird wasn't helped by the vegetables and risotto, which seemed like afterthoughts. The Syrah was a decent effort, very smoky and meaty, if not a bit overpowering.

A5 Wagyu Beef
2000 Quest, Margaux, France
With Mushrooms, Mashed Potatoes. Prepared medium-rare, the beef was tender and fatty enough, but lacked the texture I prefer; it just didn't cut very well. In addition, the sauce was a bit overwhelming; for me, a good cut of beef should be able to stand on its own. See CUT for my definition of what a Wagyu steak should be. A letdown, especially for $160(!). The Quest was easy drinking and quite lovely, with soft tannins and notes of smoke and raspberry.

For dessert, we had a choice of items for the dessert menu. Disappointingly, the wine pairings did not include dessert wine. But since I had a four-hour drive back to Southern California ahead of me, I decided to forego it in any case. Click for larger versions.

4a: Pineapple Semifreddo
Buttermilk-Pineapple Cake, Coconut Glacé, Pineapple Sorbet. My favorite dessert. A great assortment of textures and nuances, all held together by a common theme of pineapple.

4b: Torta Caprese
Satsuma Mandarins in a Baltos Cinnamon Syrup, Port Butter Ice Cream. The cake portion was rich, dense, and flaky, while the ice cream and satsumas added another layer of substance and flavor. Very nice.

Warm Chocolate Fondant
Espresso Ice Cream with Toffee Bits. Good, but very similar to all the "warm chocolate cakes" I find at restaurants these days. The espresso ice cream and toffee did help mix things up though.

A nice selection of truffles, gelées, et al. A tasty way to end the meal.

Take Away
These were cookies filled with a fruit marmalade-like substance. I thought they were quite good, if not a bit sticky. What really impressed me was the box, which seemed to be quite well made and featured a magnetic closure.

I remember that the last time I was in Vegas (which admittedly was a while ago), Picasso was considered the best restaurant in the city. At a price point of over $100, it was something almost unattainable to me. However, on this most recent trip, it seemed a bit pedestrian, like just any another restaurant, with good, but not spectacular food. Has my palate just evolved so much? Or has the restaurant indeed gone down a notch? To be sure, Picasso has indeed lost some of its luster, having been eclipsed by the likes of Guy Savoy, Joël Robuchon, and even Alex. My question is: will the restaurant adapt and improve, or will it continue to fade?