Dinner last night was very nice but not exceptional. We ate at Postria. I don't expect much from Wolfgang Puck. Maybe in the 80's the mystique of Spago was validated by his cooking; but his chef de cuisine in Vegas lacks anything resembling magic. However, someone else paid for dinner so that makes it quite superb. And it was a chance to spend time with colleagues I normally don't get to spend time with so that was quite excellent.
I conned breakfast with another colleague this morning. Sadly, I had to depart at noon on the dot to make my plane, which will redeposit me in Atlanta at 10:30 tonight. This puts me home at 12:30 am. And there will be no food in between because I refuse to pay $9 for a sandwich on Delta. Greg told me to go to the Star Trek Café, a 24/7 Star Trek convention refugee camp, but I didn't have any real urges to eat rokeg blood pie or Brak't or gagh (you think I'm making this up, don't you?). Naturally I selected Bouchon (again), this time to test their pain au chocolat.
Pain au chocolat translates literally to "chocolate bread." Our bastardized version is called "Chocolate Croissant." Try ordering that in Paris, as I did, when I was 16, and have the baker stare at you like you're a freak -- the French do haughty really well. "Croissant au chocolat," I kept saying. He kept staring and inquiring, "Quoi? Quoi?" ("What? What?"). Pointing is universal in all languages. His supercilious brow rose as he put one of the desired pastries into a paper wrap. He handed it to me and said in that snotty tone that only a French accent is able to produce: "PAIN au chocolat."
Okay, PAIN au chocolat you TROU DU CUL. (That translates to exactly what you think it sounds like.)
Anyway, the hallmark of a superb pain au chocolat is the leavened puff pastry-like dough which crisps on the outside and puffs sweetly inside from steam, and the fact that there are NO CHOCOLATE CHIPS. There are one or two STRIPS of bittersweet at least 55% cocoa chocolate (you'll notice I have an obsession with high quality chocolate but if you're gonna ingest calories, it needs to be worth every single bite), NOT chocholate chips. Let me repeat -- there are NO CHOCOLATE CHIPS in a pain au chocolat! That's an aberration of nature!
Puff pastry is also known as mille feuille pastry. Puff pastry is made by folding the dough and butter in thirds, rolling out and folding in thirds repeatedly for six turns. This actually results in 729 layers of butter sandwiched between 730 layers of dough so "mille feuille" (French for "thousand leaves) is a slight exaggeration. Pain au chocolat should not crumble in your mouth; it should flake but the interior should be sweet and moist -- layers are individually steamed opened; and the strip of chocolate should be soft but not melted.
My favorite "cheating" method to make mini pain au chocolat:
1 box of puff pastry, thawed
1 bar of Valrhona chocolate
Cut puff pastry into 2 inch squares; wrap around 1 inch strips of chocolate. Brush puff pastry with egg wash (1 egg beaten + 2 T water). Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes, or until puff pastry is golden. Don't overbake. Serve with coffee. I'm partial to tea with it. Of course, I'm partial to tea for anything.
Bouchon's pastry chef is also the chef of operations, the guy who took me on the tour the other night. Since he and I had a ten minute discussion about the proper way to make croissant, I knew the pain au chocolat would be exceptional. But I wanted their maple almond granola and homemade vanilla yogurt instead -- perfect breakfast food. Reminds me I need to start making my own yogurt. In any case, because they love me, I now have a fresh baguette, strawberry jam, and a pain au chocolat for the trip back.
Tomorrow morning there will be self-flagellation at the gym. If I can find a hairshirt, penance will be complete on the treadmill.
I'm rather sad to be leaving Vegas. I always associated the tacky with Vegas. Who knew it was also a central depository for four star cooking and high end shopping (which I had to forgo in my pursuit of stomach happiness)? For the food I've eaten here, I'd happily put up with homicidal cabbies and neon ostentation.