I don’t presume to know what Hubert Keller is like in real life, but if his guest judging stints on Top Chef season 1 and his own performance in the first episode of Top Chef Masters are any indication, I think he would have been disappointed to know how much Josh and I disliked the meal we had at his Fleur de Lys restaurant in Mandalay Bay. From beginning to end, it was one misstep after another. Granted, we had very high hopes for this dinner and perhaps our own hype brought greater disappointment.
We arrived at Fleur de Lys promptly at 7 pm for our reservation, which Josh made on Open Table. We were dressed nicely, as the confirmation email Josh received stated that jackets are optional, therefore indicating that jackets are preferred, but not required, and implying that the dress code is more formal than casual. When we walked in, we were surprised to see people wearing jeans and tank tops and t-shirts, but we shrugged that off. So why, then, were we led to the furthest table in the back of the room, behind the wine service station and the server prep station? We were the only party seated back there, banished in Siberia where if they had drawn the curtain dividing the area we were in from the main dining room, we would be totally separated from everyone else. The kicker was that the main part of the dining room remained almost empty throughout our meal, only filling up toward the end of our four-course dinner. There were certainly more than enough empty two-tops to accommodate us, but somehow we were deemed unworthy to sit with everyone else.
Alas, I’m not one to make a scene so we chose to ignore the slight and accepted our seats without a peep. I tried to look at the bright side, literally, as the lighting in the back area was much brighter than in the main dining room so I could take pictures of our food more easily. And we were here for the food, after all. Surely the meal could only get better from this point on, right? Oh no.
Our waiter dropped off several different menus, including the wine list, and gave us approximately two minutes to look everything through before he was upon us to take our order. There was an entire menu that I hadn’t even gotten to yet, so I have no idea what was listed in it. We asked for a bit more time, as we were debating ordering a la carte or partaking in the four-course Elegance menu, and he generously gave us an extra minute before coming back again. He stood there listening as Josh and I tried to discuss our options, finally deciding on the $89 Elegance menu and the accompanying wine pairings. Except for the second course, which had three choices, all the courses in the Elegance menu only had two options, so we asked for one of each. For the second course, we asked his opinion about which two to order, and he kind of mumbled and hedged before recommending the salmon and the veal and potato raviolis, but without really providing a reason why. He didn’t seem too familiar with the menu and had to read over my shoulder to see the descriptions.
He then tried to dissuade us from ordering the wine pairings, his reason being that we had ordered different things from the Elegance menu so we would each be receiving different wines. Isn’t that the point of a wine pairing? To match specifically with what you ordered? He suggested we simply order a bottle of wine, but since our meal ran the gamut from fish to red meat, one bottle of wine to cover all the courses didn’t seem sensible to us. We pressed on, saying that we intended to swap plates during each course and would swap wines as well. Looking back, perhaps he knew that the pairing simply wasn’t very good, but the reasoning he gave us for why we shouldn’t do the pairing made absolutely no sense. If the pairings were no good, he should have been honest about it, rather than trying to offer a flimsy explanation. And what is a restaurant like Fleur de Lys doing offering bad wine pairings that don’t actually match the food? The pairings weren’t cheap either, at $60 a person. It was very disappointing, and I couldn’t help but feel ripped off.
First out was our amuse bouche, a piece of halibut tempura on top of potato salad, with a sauce of cayenne crème fraiche on the side. This was actually really delicious – crispy and creamy and spicy all at the same time. My mood lifted, if just for a second, thinking that we were in for a good meal.
Halibut tempura amuse bouche served on potato salad with cayenne creme fraiche
My hopes crashed with the breads, our personal indicators of a restaurant. We were offered a choice of onion focaccia, pretzel bread, challah, and whole wheat, so we opted to try all of them. I am, after all, a self proclaimed carb fiend and can never get enough bread. Well, I didn’t even finish any of the bread on my plate. They were all cold. And not just sitting out for a while room temperature cold, these were refrigerator cold. So cold that the accompanying butter was actually noticeably warmer than the bread. They also had no crusts to speak of, and were tough and rubbery to chew. I’ve had better bread on airplanes, which is just sad. What a waste.
Disappointingly bad bread
Moving on to the first course, we had the truffled onion soup and the tuna tartare. The soup had a tiny pulled duck dumpling in it, topped with a tiny bit of black truffles. This one bite was delicious but the rest of the soup was too bland in my opinion. It was very creamy and lacked enough seasoning. There were a few drizzles of truffle oil on top, but the truffle flavor was very mild. However, this was the only dish that paired well with its wine, an extremely dry chardonnay that was tempered by the creaminess of the soup.
Truffled onion soup
The tuna tartare was beautifully presented, with large chunks of hand cut tuna on top of a fennel salad and ginger ponzu sauce. Flavor-wise, however, it was just ok. Tuna tartare is hard to mess up if you start with quality tuna, which this was. But there was nothing special about the dish that set it apart from other tuna tartares, and the sauce was not as good as the ginger marinade we had at the Terrace at Jean Georges on my birthday.
Tuna tartare on top of fennel salad with ginger ponzu sauce
For the second course, we had the Alaskan king salmon and the veal and potato ravioli. The fatter half the salmon was cooked perfectly, still tender and just flaky enough but not mushy. The thinner end was a bit overdone but I guess that couldn’t be helped. The julienned vegetables on top provided a bit of a crunch, and the rosemary apple puree and horseradish chive bouillon underneath made a delicious sauce for the fish. This was my favorite dish of the night.
Alaskan king salmon with rosemary apple puree and horseradish chive bouillon
The veal and potato raviolis were tiny but packed a lot of flavor. They were surprisingly beefy tasting for veal, and the peas on top provided a nice freshness to the dish.
Braised veal and yukon gold potato ravioli
I might have started to relax and enjoy the meal, if it weren’t for two separate servers coming by within a minute of each other trying to take my plate away before I had finished with the raviolis. All night long, we felt very rushed by the service. There were absolutely no breaks between courses, and if I let go of my fork for one second I feared having my plate removed prematurely. We got through three courses in less than an hour; this was not the way to enjoy a supposedly “elegant” meal.
Our main courses were a beef tenderloin and a beef short rib. It was kind of disappointing that they would offer two beef choices in the same course, but I do love beef so I didn’t mind too much. The tenderloin arrived looking absolutely gorgeous. We ordered it rare and it was ruby red on top, and the colors on the plate were just stunning.
Beautifully presented but deceivingly "rare" filet mignon
However, when the server placed the dish in front of Josh, I was looking at it from the side and noticed that the cut of tenderloin greatly tapered inward at the bottom. Based on the cut, it was clear that they cooked the beef as a whole loin, and then sliced pieces from it. The piece we received looked suspiciously like the end piece, with just the very tip cut off. When Josh turned it over, my suspicions proved to be correct. The underside was totally cooked through and gray. Oy. Why would they do that? I kind of felt like they were cheating, giving us half a rare piece and trying to hide the fact that the other half was well done. If we specifically ordered rare, they should have given us a completely rare piece closer to the middle of the loin. As a result of the mishmash of doneness, the meat had a really weird texture and not a whole lot of flavor. It was still tender, but in a mushy way. I liked the accompanying spinach and mushrooms, and the red wine sauce was tasty, but I couldn’t get over the piece of filet we were given.
The beef short ribs were braised in stout, which made for a delicious sauce. There was also Guinness foam on top of the meat but it tasted like nothing and was just a weird addition. There was also a thick layer of whole grain mustard spread across the top, which totally overpowered everything. I ended up scraping most of it off but the little mustard grains clung to the meat and I could still taste it in every bite. I wish they had just left it with the original sauce, as all the additional toppings did nothing but detract from the flavor of the dish. There were also some texture issues with the short ribs. The meat could be easily shred with a fork but somehow the pieces were still tough and chewy. Again I enjoyed the accompanying sides of melted leeks and potato puree more than I enjoyed the beef.
Stout braised beef short rib
There was only one choice for dessert, unless you went with a soufflé for an extra $6, which is what we decided to do. We chose the chocolate soufflé over the grand marnier soufflé, which may have been a bad decision since the dessert that came with the meal was also chocolate based. Josh loves chocolate soufflé though, and is quite proficient in making it at home, so he likes to compare his version with a restaurant’s version. The soufflé itself was fine, if a bit chewier than airy in texture (which I kind of like, since it was a bit “QQ”, especially around the edges), but what I didn’t understand was why they poured chocolate ganache over it rather than a crème anglaise. The chocolate on chocolate was just way too much, and too reminiscent of the chocolate cake that came as part of the Elegance menu. If I had known about the ganache, I would have gone with the grand marnier soufflé and not the chocolate. The soufflé did come with a scoop of mocha ice cream, but at this point, I was sick of all the chocolate.
Chocolate souffle with chocolate ganache and mocha ice cream
The dessert that was included in the meal was chocolate banana cake served with a peanut butter shake, Bailey’s ice cream, and caramel sauce. The chocolate cake had a molten center, but I couldn’t taste banana at all. It tasted just like a regular molten chocolate cake. There might have been a hint of banana in one bite just under the top crust of the cake but it was so faint that I thought maybe I was imagining it. I didn’t taste banana again after that. I did enjoy the peanut butter shake though, and sucked every bit out of the small shot glass. You could definitely taste the peanut butter in this dessert, and it was cold and creamy and frothy all at the same time. The Bailey’s ice cream helped cut through the richness of the chocolate cake, and I preferred that over the mocha ice cream.
Peanut butter shake, chocolate banana cake, Bailey's ice cream
The meal overall wasn’t absolutely terrible, but it was far from great. It’s kind of sad that my favorite part was the dinnerware, which is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s specially made for the restaurant. I want a set! While everything was presented beautifully, feasting with your eyes can only get you so far; I’d forgive sloppy presentation before I forgave lackluster food. The service only made matters worse, and I left the restaurant feeling very dissatisfied with the whole experience. I don’t think it was the Elegance menu that was the problem; many things on the menu are what I would have chosen had we gone a la carte instead. The wine pairings were also very disappointing. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be coming back here, though if I were ever in San Francisco I might give the original Fleur de Lys a shot. I like Hubert Keller a lot, based on what I’ve seen of him, and I hate that I was disappointed with his restaurant on so many levels. I honestly don’t think it was worth the money we spent on the meal, and that’s not a good feeling to walk away with. Our evening was only salvaged by the spectacular Cirque du Soleil show “O”, which we saw after dinner. But every time I think about Fleur de Lys, I can’t help but feel a pang of regret.
Fleur de Lys
At Mandalay Bay
Las Vegas, NV