Daniel Boulud is back in Vegas after a five-year hiatus from Vegas. With that return comes DB Brasserie, his restaurant at the Venetian that features a little slice of everything from his restaurant empire but all served with Boulud's own twist on his own recipes. He brought in David Middleton, who learned French cooking under Alex Stratta, who happened to work under Boulud before helming his own restaurants. A circle of life if you will.
Now two months in, the restaurant has already launched lunch with one of the best prix fixe deals in town. The cocktails here — sublime. The Ex Pat is perhaps the best Maker's Mark drink you will ever have. And then there's Boulud's touch on French fare.
Here, Boulud and Middleton talk about the first two months of the restaurant, Boulud's philosophy on dishes, what he had in mind with the design of the restaurant and more.
How did DB Brasserie come together?
DB: I had DB Brasserie at the Wynn for five years. We felt it would be a natural to maybe call it DB Brasserie. I was happy with it there at the Wynn in a more Parisian and urban way. The previous restaurant was a little more country and it was maybe less classic urban brasserie. It was like a house on the lake or the pond.
The idea here is when I was looking to open DB Brasserie, right after the Wynn, I opened Singapore Sands doing DB Brasserie there. I talked to the Venetian about letting me know when a location became available.
David [Middleton], we worked together side by side at the Wynn.
DM: My new mentor is my mentor's mentor, Alex Stratta.
DB: We keep the element of a dish and we install it here. We don't really copy and paste. There is a certain combination of food I like, the texture. For example, the lobster salad or the fried squid.
DM: The lamb is a perfect example of a dish from DBGB and we fit it in Vegas. We added a lamb chop duo. There's a little more complexity and we extended the flavor palette.
How has it been different in Las Vegas than in New York?
DB: I've been coming to Vegas many years even before opening Wynn. I like Vegas. It was an incredible high when things are shooting. There's a great local community. There's a pool of people working in this town. There's a lot of great quality people.
It's not always about the tourist. I always enjoy catering to that. There are tourists, there are conventions, it's still one of the international magnets. You have South Americans, Asians and Europeans coming here.
My biggest contrasting weekend I ever had there were three conventions in town. You had everything from the cowboy to the porn girl to the tech guy.
DM: It's like the Village People.
DB: Only in Vegas. Vegas has an ability to become a chameleon with the crowd. No one dreads coming to Vegas.
What have you learned in the first two months?
DB: I think what I've been learning is that we're entering the summer most quiet zone in Vegas. We can work out the kinks. It's good for us.
I think I've learned lunch need to be quick, affordable and simple. I don't think there's too many places open for lunch. We have an opportunity to bring something convenient for that. It's more of a resort-style restaurant lunch, especially when it's 110 degrees.
DM: A lot of people want to go to the pool and want something light, easy and quick. When you're creating a new restaurant, there is room for improvement, a reassessment. It's like a growing child.
DB: If you have a chain restaurant, you just apply everything the same. We're making sure we fit with what's expected of us in Vegas.
I know how to make it super fancy if I want to. We want something affordable and delicious and consistent with what we do. It's a very French-American approach to a restaurant. We have some classic dishes and some American.
DM: One of the things attracted me to DB Brasserie is that each restaurant has a personality that works with the area.
What were you thinking about in terms of design of the restaurant?
DB: We looked at the blueprint and decided to resquare the room. The room was sideways. That's why we curved in slightly here. Three frames. Three zones. Those zones were in harmony and the bar all along the front. We decided to put in a little bar and a lounge for the bar crowd.
The idea was to create a dining room that had a classic layout, where the columns were not in the way. The flow worked with that.
We've done a lot of restaurants with Jeffrey Beers — Singapore, DB Bistro, Toronto — so we work well together. It was easy to understand each other. It's definitely designed after a Parisian or Lyonnaise brasserie.
DM: It sill feels like New York though too.
What was the menu testing process like?
DM: They flew me out to New York. We did it in New York in about six weeks.
DB: He spent time at all of our restaurants. It's always a work in progress. Certain dishes like the coq au vin will never change. The burger, the duck confit. Even the dishes we came up with together in February.
The staples remain.
Then the good thing is that David has access to the cloud and the chefs can follow what David does in the restaurant. With the recipes, we can rethink an idea together. We know the palette combination and the flavors we like. We can create dishes that reinvent ourselves. We have a baseline of conversation and we think about new ideas together. But when we're with another chef, we try to keep everybody inspired and motivated. It's part of the crafting process.
Has Vegas embraced the restaurant?
DB: We hope to be embraced by the end of the year. We opened in a month where it's the summer and everybody says it's the more quiet season. We have been through that before.
We're working stronger and better with the community. We wanted to be prepared through the summer to do that.
DM: I think spending the two and a half years off Strip was good too.
DB: We need to communicate a little more that Dave is back on the Strip and that I'm back. We have a lot of loyal customers from Wynn.
What's the must order dish of the moment?
DB: Caesar went down south and met Rosalie. It's a fun take on a Caesars salad. Rosalie is Caesars girlfriend. Rosalie lived in Provence. They started to put pesto in the Caesars with fresh confit tomatoes and fresh anchovy. All this makes it a much sexier than the basic Caesars with a wonderful lobster or shrimp.
The terrine of foie gras is a classic of ours.
The snail is a modern spätzle. It's a classic with our approach but a reinvention of the recipe. Fried calamari always makes sense with the journey.
I started Daniel almost 20 years ago and my executive chefs were Asian. I always loved this journey in my cooking so we that see that at Cafe Boulud. We always divide the menu into La Tradition Classique, La Saison with seasonal, market driven dishes, Le Potager vegetarian dishes and the Le Voyage, a travelogue of dishes inspired by other cuisine. Those four meals I live by and stand by. Then we had Boulud Sud about Mediterranean dishes. DBGB is a world tour of sausage from Korean to Austrian to American.
For the Thai calamari, we do a classic with a light batter then we have this very pungent coconut and kaffir and lemongrass and red curry and it's a very light and very refreshing dish that's spicy and citrusy. That's the kind of contrast I like. I could have done it with a tartar sauce to make more Frenchie. This is tartar that's gone Thai.
When I do a menu I always think of what the lady will eat. You can always feed the guy.
DM: There are some delicate touches on some of the dishes. There's a well thought out story about a lot of dishes. The coq au vin and the duck confit are the most traditional items on the menu.
DB: The seasonal sea scallops with corn are a little spicy and sweet with some mushroom with it and jalapeño It's more of a seasonal dish.
The halibut with the beans. We just started using fava beans, sage and all these sweet spring onions.
We always carry some kind of pasta.
The swordfish is grilled with broccoli rabe and a little spicy dressing with olive oil and grape. There are a lot of herbs inside.
In the beef department, we have steak frites. We do a flat iron that's tasty with a good chew and it works really well with a steak frites.
The bone in ribeye is one of the best steaks I've ever had. We don't want to compete with Cut or Carnevino. We like to be a little everything.
The only dish from the old brasserie [at Wynn] was the onion soup and that's the oxymoron. In Vegas, it's 106 degrees. When it's hot, they like hot soup. It's a French brasserie staple.
What's on tap for the future?
DB: We'll be starting brunch.
We rolled out lunch with maybe the most affordable tasting menu in Vegas. We're trying to figure out how to carve out a six-course tasting menu for an unbeatable price in the spirt of those chef-driven bistros in Paris. Here we do more. There will be a course to share. Where? I don't know. Maybe between the dessert, the cheese course. The idea is that some of the courses are to share and some are to course. It's a little bit easier for the service.
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