I was underwhelmed as I set out for my reservations on Monday night. I was sans husband, a measly ol party of one and feeling too buttoned up and preppy for the glitzy Vegas scene. I decided to treat myself and my aching feet to a cab ride down to Mandalay Bay, hoping that Hubert Keller would make me feel better.
Imagine West Elm decor minus the halogen lights and mass produced feel. Fleur was dimly lit by a million votive candles and antler pendants, complete with driftwood orb chandelier in the front. I understand it’s recently undergone a transformation, a shift made necessary by a recovering economy and increasing requests for more casual dining options. The price point was totally doable, with small plates ranging from $10-25; ‘cept for maybe the Wagyu burger with foie gras, truffles and champagne for a mere $5000 or the entire-menu tasting for $450.
You know it’s going to be a good night when you see one of your favorite whites on the wine list, that was my first clue. One glass of Guy Saget Sancerre, please. At the recommendation of the waiter, I ordered the tuna tacos to start. Usual suspects – jalapeno, lime and cilantro. Was I kidding myself? How overdone is ahi and how many places have played the fish taco tune. Much to my total surprise (because by now I’ve rethought my choice and was more than cynical about the upcoming plate) I fell in complete and utter love right then and there. There were three tiny hard tacos (maybe two inches big), with the most perfect cut of ahi, the thinnest slice of jalapeno and a cilantro creme sauce that was TDF (to die for). I think I inhaled them? That dish set the refined, refreshing and totally restrained stage for the rest of the night.
Next up, my lovely waiter suggested the crab and avocado spheres. Again I was thinking ‘this is not what I came here for.’ That pairing sounds way too buttery and not packed with enough taste; I was here to push my palette for christ’s sake. But, logic got the best of me and dear waiter has steered me in the right direction before, so go ahead – bring on the spheres. BAM. Again. The perfect combination of restraint and flavor. A crab and diced red pepper mixture that mimicked an unfried crab cake, covered in slices of avocado, topped with French gray sea salt sitting in a bath of watermelon gazpacho. This was seriously vying for contention with the tuna tacos. BTW – it all seems so very California circa 1998, doesn’t it? Seeing these items on the menu got me thinking it would be a very boring night. I love to be wrong, especially about food!
At this point, I’m putty in my waiter’s hands. “Anything you recommend, dear sir, I will try! So what’s next??” He recommended the skirt steak with chimmichurri sauce. Really? It’s that good? Alright, let’s go ahead and get one of those please. WAHOOOO, I hit the jackpot here! This was the most perfectly done skirt steak I’ve ever had, and to top it off, I could cut it with my fork. This isn’t supposed to be happen with skirt steak. To the left was a single fingerling topped with creme fraiche and chives. A lovely restrained play on a baked potato. To the right, a salad of heirloom tomatoes, red onions and oil and vinegar. All together with the steak and chimmichurri, it was the perfect meat and potato dish. I couldn’t believe the good fortune I was having.
[thank goodness for foodmakesmehappy.com which happened to have awesome documentation of this dish!]
To round out the night, I finished with a course of three creme brulees. I am a sucker for anything lavender, so long as it’s not mixed with vanilla and packaged as a body creme. I was in luck as I dove in to this shot-glass trifecta of brulees – honey lavender, Earl Gray and cookie dough. I could have done without the last one, which was a distant third in taste to it’s predecessors.
I was blown away and starting to get very full, despite the small plates. I contemplated ordering another tuna taco dish, oh and maybe another crab sphere but then thought better of it. I’d better leave well enough alone. Fleur went from underwhelming on paper to completely overwhelming on the tastebuds. It was the perfect balance of restraint and powerful defined flavors. and the ambience was dripping with romance and quiet confidence. I must return and I must bring JB.