You kind of know what you’re getting into going to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve. Swap Times Square with a closed-off strip, and fill it with a sea of women tottering in stilettos and stuffed like sausages (bratwusts and pepperoni sticks) into skimpy casings. I consider this going-out look to be LA style because it’s certainly not NYC style unless you frequent the meatpacking district.
My criteria were to stay indoors, to avoid restaurants with jacked-up prix fixes and to steer clear of so-called ultra-lounges. Based on Twitter-checking, I could see that the food media was having fun at the newly opened It casino, The Cosmopolitan, but my brief peek on New Year's Day at the glossy complex full of oglers, families (I was more surprised at the number of restaurants and shopping centers/casinos that had No Stroller signs posted than the fact that many parents thought it was good idea to tote infants in the middle of the night through clouds of cigarette smoke and drunken mobs sipping two-foot-tall whalebones. Clearly, I’ve been in Brooklyn too long because babies in bars now seem normal) and the mob roughly lined up to get into Marquee, had me turning right back out the door (besides, I've already eaten at Jaleo in D.C. and we have Blue Ribbon Sushi and Scarpetta here). That’s just Vegas being Vegas, I suppose. I have low glitz tolerance, which is why I prefer the dowdy '90s casinos. I will be happy to return to The Cosmopolitan in 2025 when it will be nicely patinaed.
Fleur, Huber Keller’s freshly retooled (some would say dumbed down) Fleur de Lys, was a welcome antidote even if small plates aren’t the height of fine dining. (Alex at the Wynn just closed this week, so restaurateurs do what they must to stay in business.) The extensive wine collection is still visible behind glass upstairs, but gone is the $145 tasting menu, tablecloths and calm privacy (the open seating provided no buffer from the classic rock cover band blasting from a central pavilion, which I doubt was unique to New Year’s Eve). Now it’s just the flower, no lily and certainly no gilding it…well, for $550 you can order the entire menu and there’s always the $5,000 foie gras, Wagyu, truffle burger served with a bottle of 1995 Petrus.
I was fine with an inexpensive bottle of prosecco and angus sliders (I know, technically mini-burgers) with blue cheese, bacon and pear. The fries were almost superfluous. My favorite dish was the rectangle of steak tartare with dollops of béarnaise vinaigrette and a raw quail egg. Not a forced small plate, just a little delight by design.
The unusually sticky, maple-glazed smoked pork ribs were served with flourish; a dome is lifted at the table and a poof of smoke is released. I wouldn’t say that the theatrics add to the flavor, though the presentation is fun. The filo-wrapped shrimp in a tropical banana curry sauce combined interesting flavors, but were gone in a second. Maybe too fast for their $17 price.
Similar to the tartare, I appreciate a simple fatty terrine. The rustic French dishes excelled over the shrunken American comfort food. This slab paired nicely with the tartly dressed salad full of sliced cornichons. However, our server said it wasn’t very popular and I noticed that it has been removed from the current menu online. The wild mushroom ragout was a concession to the vegetable-deficient meal we had assembled and with the exception of marinated olives, the softened fungus sautéed with thyme and garlic is probably the healthiest, non-meaty dish on offer. They do advertise a $45 “vegetarian indulgence” tasting.
Not that anyone cares about such things in Vegas. In fact, at 9pm, we were practically the only ones at Fleur focused on dining. Cocktails, and a plate or two shared amongst a group, was how Fleur was functioning on New Year’s Eve and how I imagine the newly casual restaurant will be utilized in the future.
I wondered where I’d end up when the clock struck midnight. Who knew it would be at an uncool, no cover bar in the Excalibur, next to a theater advertising Carrot Top, drinking a frozen pina colada from a machine with a shot of rum floating on the surface. I toasted the elderly woman sitting alone (what appeared to be two teenage granddaughters showed up shortly thereafter and I felt better) in a booth next to mine and saw my future.
Fleur * 3950 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV