The Venetian is quite possibly the most ridiculous of Las Vegas’ super resorts. Featuring over 7,000 suites, 120,000 square feet of gambling space and a five acre pool deck, this larger than life paean to the City of Bridges turns history into opulence like an art-loving dictator. After we had parked beneath the superstructure of the miniature city, it took us almost half an hour to wend our way through a shopping mall, a casino, another shopping mall, and the main lobby of the Venetian Hotel. Once there, an elevator ride carried us up the final leg of the longest road to brunch I’ve ever taken.
Stowed into a spacious corner above the Venetian lobby, the illustrious Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro is worth the journey. After wading through a sea of poshlost’ posing as elegance, we stumbled into a restaurant that bathes comfortably in the true essence of the word. The atmosphere is refined and ornate enough to be classy, yet open and bustling enough to feel casual. Tables and booths bask in the sun, and the bar offers New Belgium 1554 on tap.
While I am a champion of breakfast, I’ve become skeptical of the brunch ritual: Overpriced eggs, the perennial lack of grits and the placebo-like worship of an idyllic atmosphere have been the foundation for too many late morning outings to convince me that I should pay more than $6 for anything short of incredible. Fortunately, our parting meal at Bouchon was incredible in all the right ways. This became clear when the first complimentary baguette was laid before us, dressed only with a white cloth napkin. I broke off a piece, adorned it with butter and apricot jam, and greeted the morning with the sweet, hypnotic crunch of perfectly toasted French bread, finally understanding firsthand what an old friend once told me about the joy of eating a fresh baguette with breakfast every morning during his tenure in the city of Lyon. Under other circumstances, I would have happily made a meal of these baguettes, but my appetite had been piqued and the menu was open.
We began with a dish of sugar and cinammon beignets. Delicately crisp and crumbly on the outside, ethereally weightless on the inside, Bouchon’s rendition of this brunch classic was as skillfully executed as its baguette. By hiding its mastery of textures and flavors in an innocently plain morsel of bread, it was as if Bouchon was deliberately highlighting the irony of its own existence behind the inflated facades of the Venetian. Likewise, the breakfast Americaine, complete with fresh squeezed orange juice, French pastry and pomme frites, made no effort to hide the fact that it was in fact nothing more than a well cooked breakfast. All of this grace still wasn’t enough to justify the platter’s $22 price tag, but for a fraction of that cost I did have a taste of its highlight: Bouchon’s country sausage, which was roasted to a level of flavor that dwarfed the peak of the Stratosphere.
My other selection was Bouchon’s bread pudding style French toast. Distinguished immediately by its artful construction, this dish selfishly robbed the rest of our entrees of their humble charms. Each rich, porous, buttery layer concealed near-melted slices of baked apple and thin blankets of custard, all married within a deep ribbon of sweet maple syrup and topped with impeccably shaped cuts of fresh apple and a dash of powdered sugar. Put romantically, it was an ivory tower of brioche peering over a land of indentured breakfast rolls. Of course, every tower of Babel must eventually fall, and I was happy to devour my elaborate edifice of a meal before its fragile folds could collapse of natural causes on my plate. If the Venezia Tower were made of brioche, I’d do the same for it as well.
There are many reasons why I could never live in Las Vegas. The staggering hubris of the Venetian is one of them. The warm weekend brunch at Bouchon is not. Nothing short of a robotic Michael Jackson will convince me to renegotiate these terms. Having affirmed this lesson in understatement, I said farewell to the bookhouse boys and drove off into the midday Nevada sun.
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
The Venetian Resort, Venezia Tower
Las Vegas, NV 89109