Bouchon (named for a style of café from the Province of Lyon) is vast, a 7,000-square-foot room in the spirit of Paris' Left Bank, but with the light and space of an American restaurant that a classic Paris bistro like Aux Deux Magots or Bofinger cannot match. The main dining room looks out onto an esplanade facing the casino's new tower. The best tables are by the patio windows or out on the patio itself, staring up at huge steel and glass structures, a veritable urban jungle without the noise and haste.
Chef Thomas Keller's commitment to boutique producers goes a long way toward making a meal at Bouchon memorable. Mushrooms are trucked in from the Northwest, fish flown in from Florida and New York, lamb purveyed from his favorite farm in northern Pennsylvania. The menu is stocked with artisan products such as boudin noir, or blood sausage, made exclusively for him, as well as mussels from Maine and oysters from Puget Sound.
Keller, who readily admits he is a perfectionist in the extreme, knows how to bring the best out of top-quality ingredients. Here, he has tried to recreate a classic genre, all the while paying homage to his French training. Take Bouchon's grand plateau of fruits de mer, bistro Valhalla for devotees of the genre. The plateau consists of a whole lobster, 16 oysters, eight shrimp, eight clams, nine mussels and seasonal crab, all ocean fresh and served with a number of sauces. Although Vegas is a place where anything goes, don't try this dish alone.
Meat-and-potatoes types can have what French chefs eat on their days off: steak frites, here a pan-seared flatiron topped with maitre d'hotel butter (butter mingled with lemon juice, Italian parsley, and salt and pepper) and flanked by a pile of superior French fries, which can also be had in a paper cone as a side dish. It's hard to get good roast chicken in an American restaurant, but the search ends here. Bouchon does poulet rôti like no one else, perched on a bed of Swiss chard and sweet cipollini onions.
There are properly ripe and strongly scented French cheeses for dessert, as well as a supremely tart tarte -- of lemon, that is -- and wonderful profiteroles, little pastry puffs filled with vanilla ice cream and doused with Valrhona chocolate sauce so rich and seductive, it is bound to evince vague feelings of guilt.