Heirloom tomato salad

 Once upon a time in Las Vegas, big name chefs like Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck and Joel Robuchon were M.I.A. Sin City was more closely associated with the $9.95 prime rib buffet than with haute cuisine.

And then something happened. Six years ago, The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse invited him to the tail end of a business meeting in Las Vegas. “We’ve got the room free, and we can have a nice al fresco dinner by the canals at The Venetian,” he said. (It clearly wouldn’t be real, but gondoliers ferrying couples through a skinny swimming pool in a casino/shopping mall was surprising. Ah, the romance of Venice.)

The restaurant in question was Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio and the meal was quite good. In the years since, other big name chefs have set up shop. That explains how, on a recent trip, we found ourselves at Le’Atelier Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand Casino.

We’d sampled his work once before at the critically acclaimed L’Atelier de Joel Rubochon in Paris. The meal is a distant memory from pre-weight-loss days, but it was sumptuous in every respect and served at a high counter top where every diner faced the open kitchen. It was our first experience with dinner as theater. Why pay attention to your spouse when you can watch the Cirque du Soliel of food prep?

Once again, we were figuratively face-to-face with the man dubbed “chef of the century.” (Figuratively, because he was somewhere in Paris, I suppose, while Vegas had slew of talented Yank stand-ins.)

Given his acclaim, was there really any other choice but to order the $155-a-person, Menu Decouverte de Saison (Seasonal Discovery Menu)? Nine courses, including two that were dessert?

That can easily ruin a diet. But as I’ve noted before, high-end cooking often relies on expensive herbs and ingredients to satiate customers, not the huge portions seasoned with sugar, fat and salt found at an Applebee’s restaurant.

We ordered thinking there was at least a chance I’d be safe. Wrong.

The saboteur was the bread basket: hard-crusted mini-baguette with deeply browned tips; a flaky croissant and a chewy roll. These are any carb-loving dieter’s real enemy, because of how the body processes  high-glycemic foods. They convert quickly to sugar in your bloodstream and dissipate just as fast. Your body wants more and soon enough, it’s off to the races.

I fell immediately. My share of the bread was gone before the amuse bouche and the server brought more.

Fortunately, what immediately followed was a parade of more diet friendly courses: an architectural and fresh salad of multicolored heirloom tomatoes finished with touch of basil oil and sea salt and a langoustine carpaccio splashed with a dab of lemon oil and studded with, micro chives, chile pepper and toasted poppy seed.

A tiny section of crab leg came topped with julienned bell pepper and carrot that had been softened in a lemongrass oil. But the crab itself was so tender and sweet it was easy to push the garnish aside.

Most stunning was an asparagus kebab topped with a tiny quail egg, swimming in a deep, woodsy mushroom foam and topped with sewing-needle-sized bits of Iberico ham. A slightly larger portion could have made an excellent vegetarian entree and — with careful rationing of the mushroom foam — a healthful diet dish.

But thanks to the bread, I’d thrown caution over, eaten two more savory courses (a turbot with a buttery shellfish sauce and a lamb shoulder confit) and both desserts.

The baguette that kills diets

Let me repeat that. Both. Desserts. Completely.

The first was strawberries with a moscato gelee and lemon sorbet, buried beneath white chocolate shell. The second was a warm apricot tart with almond cream, thyme foam and ginger ice cream. The subtle thyme accent complimented the sweetness of the tart and ice cream perfectly.

Consider this a post from The Failed Restaurant Dieter. Exceptional bread does it to me every time.