Desert Companion

The Dish: Fall for flavor

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Roasted half poussin
Bill Hughes

Roasted half poussin

As the colder months settle in, these notable fall menus give seasonal traditions an unexpected twist

The leaves have turned, frost nips the air, and nature once again enters her snow-dusted hibernation. Well, okay, not here in Vegas, where the high likely won’t dip below 50. While the rest of the country is shoveling driveways and wrapping pipes, we’ll barely need a wool sweater for the worst of it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t indulge in the cozy food traditions of the cold months. True to our city’s spirit of inspired remixing, many fine Las Vegas chefs are tapping traditions both near and far, and incorporating them into some truly inventive dishes.

Roasted half poussin at Andre’s

There’s nothing the French haven’t done with their national mascot, the chicken (the Gallic rooster, to be precise). They’ve brought it to the level of art, and Chef Chris Bulen continues the tradition with a rustic fall favorite. They break down young whole chickens, poach them low, and then pan-roast them until crispy. These are then stuffed with a brioche bread pudding made with “hen of the woods” mushrooms, ground dark meat and duck fat confit chestnuts. This is all topped with an incredibly savory cognac chicken jus drizzled all about the stuffed poussin half, and plated along with wilted mustard greens. Very old-school, but good old-school, not the “oysters in aspic” kind of old school. This is something that takes simple, quality ingredients and gives them the time and love to really shine as a timeless dish. (In the Monte Carlo, 702-798-7151, andrelv.com)

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Velouté de Chataignes aux Champignons de Bois at Le Cirque

Even in French, the dish named above can’t be contained in so few words: A dollop of porcini cream, crusted in crispy hazelnuts, and topped with a “confit” farm egg makes up the center. This is then arranged with tiny beech mushrooms that have been preserved in a winter-spiced vinegar brine, shreds of watercress sponge cake, and surrounded by a lake of rich, creamy chestnut velouté. This dish, sprung from the mind of wunderkind Chef Wilfried Bergerhausen, shakes off all expectations like an earthquake. It is like a wonderful Terry Gilliam-esque acid trip, resplendent with potent flavors, popping in and out of a buttery, nutty, unctuous haze. (In the Bellagio, 702-693-8100, lecirque.com)

Smoked duck breast salad at Sage

Sage definitely has a love affair with the Brussels sprout, and as a traditional winter stock vegetable, there’s no better time to let it shine. Here, they’re chopped fine into a slaw-like consistency, with an orange vinaigrette and halved “Thomcord” grapes, a hybrid of Concord table grapes and Thompson raisin grapes. There are also thin slices of Hakurei turnips, another traditional winter vegetable, and, of course, the star of the show, smoked duck breast. These smoky, almost “duck bacon”-like slices provide a tasty fat to balance with the vinaigrette, and give a very pleasant smoke to the vegetables. (In the Aria at CityCenter, 877-230-2742, aria.com)

 

Salmon

Salmon with fall vegetables and bagna càuda at Ferraro’s

Quite possibly the only spot in Vegas keeping some of the deep cuts of regional Italian cuisine alive, Ferraro’s has been quietly cooking up Italian that puts 90 percent of on-Strip spots to shame. Along with that authenticity comes seasonality, specifically the Piedmontese cold-weather dish bagna càuda. Traditionally, it’s a sort of fondue made with masses of garlic, oil and butter for dipping winter root and bulb vegetables. Executive Chef Francesco Di Caudo switches the presentation around with the bagna càuda used as a sauce for fall baby vegetables and a grilled, wild-caught Scottish salmon. It’s a classic, bone-warming communal dish turned complex with an aromatic sauce. (4480 Paradise Road, 702-364-5300, ferraroslasvegas.com)

Foie gras duo with carrot cakeFoie gras duo with carrot cake at Michael Mina

The best part of Michael Mina’s restaurants is that once a talented, creative chef is put at the helm, the kitchen becomes a culinary lab for him to experiment in. Chef Benjamin Jenkins of Michael Mina in the Bellagio is the main man in that kitchen, and his seasonal preparation of a foie gras duo exemplifies his skill and imagination. Both a seared slice and a terrine of foie — the latter topped with a clarified poached pear gelée — and plated with chunks of the pear, puréed golden raisin, candied pecan, and dense, moist, aromatically spiced chunks of carrot cake. Yes, foie and carrot cake. The result is a very complex, very cozy bite. You could call it almost nostalgic, but it is very unlikely anyone’s childhood included something so creatively decadent. (In the Bellagio, 702-693-8199, michaelmina.net)

Stracciatella with moscato-poached pears at Carnevino

You’d be hard-pressed to find a chef who gets more excited for the seasonal changes in produce than Chef Nicole Brisson. She may make her bones slinging chops, but the creativity really comes out with something like these beautiful, seasonal Bosc pears, a firmer, more complexly flavored varietal. The pears are poached in the floral and sweet Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’Asti and a blend of baking spices. This is plated with a creamy stracciatella and slices of prosciutto di parma, pistachio brittle, a little dressed arugula, and a nice drizzle of a beautiful aged balsamic. A stracciatella dish is almost mandatory for Italian restaurants, but where many are taking lazy shots at it, Chef Brisson’s interpretation is bold and inspired. (In the Venetian, 702-789-4141, carnevino.com)

Grilled venison tenderloin, pumpkin-ginger puree, seasonal vegetable and spiced venison jus at Guy Savoy

With Chef Mathieu Charton’s final menu at Guy Savoy, he is leaving us at the end of the year with some terrific dishes. Before the spring change comes along and his well-trained replacement makes a new menu, he’ll be back in France running the revered family restaurant while people enjoy this venison dish. The venison was finished on a Japanese binchotan grill and plated with a roasted pumpkin and ginger purée, along with a larder-full of winter vegetables: baby leeks, roasted chestnuts, fried Brussels sprouts, celery root, broccoli rabe. Each plays a distinct role in the complex venison jus, made with a winter-spice tea. The result is a playground of naturally bright, beautiful, very alive flavors of fall. Nothing is out of place or overpowering; everything complements and, in turn, is complemented by the venison. This is a masterfully crafted dish. (In Caesars Palace, 702-731-7286, caesars.com) 

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