You may not recognize the name Laurent Tourondel, but he was once, and is again, a star chef here in Vegas. He cooked at Caesars Palace in the ’90s before going off on his own to launch a restaurant empire in New York City, opening places like BLT Steak, BLT Fish and other Manhattan eateries.
Last year, he decided to get on the upscale-burger-joint bandwagon, launching his new concept BLT Burger at the Mirage. Yes, some of what you eat here is derivative, but no one doing this has gotten more creative. Laurent, my chapeau is off to you.
Perhaps you just have to be French, like this chef, to get this wacky with burgers. Asian banh mi, for instance, is a spin-off of the Vietnamese sandwich of the same name—pork and shrimp mingling in a patty, slathered with pickled radish and carrot, cucumber and an unusual mayo made with sriracha chili sauce.
Veggie falafel, so dense my militant vegetarian friend thought it too much like meat, is stuffed inside a whole-wheat bun springier than a trampoline. Lamb tandoori gets a royal bath of mint, cilantro and yogurt—a dish you wouldn’t be surprised to find at a fast-food stand in India. And then there are the seemingly unlimited takes on actual beef burgers, to the point where calculating the possibilities will probably make most people tired.
Am I alone in finding the design here odd? Both floor and ceiling are dappled panels of oak, but the effect is like sitting inside a wooden box. The kitchen is on a raised stage that looks, from the casino-floor level (where most of the seating is located), like a mezzanine. On it is a huge grill with a steamy red hood framed by a semicircle of red tile. The food you eat is cooked up there and brought to the table by runners.
Seating is tight, at beige leatherette booths lit by bare bulbs suspended from the ceiling or at tables flanked by black wooden chairs. Tables are set simply, with paper place mats, a bottle of Heinz ketchup and shakers holding salt and pepper.
You won’t need the latter, especially if you start with fried dill pickles, salty and peppery inside their puffy, fried-dough wrappers. Served hot in a paper basket, the pickles are accompanied by a delicious dipping sauce made from ranch dressing jazzed up with chili and paprika. If you can’t handle the heat, the Kobe slider trio is a good alternative. These mini-burgers come topped with BLT, barbecued onion and blue cheese, respectively.
One dish I can’t recommend here is the 5 Spice “Chinese” Chicken Salad. I was hoping for the five-spice taste you get on chicken in a Chinese or Vietnamese restaurant—the five-spice referring to a powdered condiment redolent of star anise and ginger. Instead, what I tasted was tarragon. Pardon, monsieur, your French palate is showing.
Now, about the more conventional burgers. The Classic is a seven-ounce Angus patty, and it’s a beaut. Furthermore, the kitchen will comply with your temperature wish, so don’t worry about it being over- or undercooked. For four dollars more, you can do American Kobe, fattier and, in my opinion, tastier, than the standard.
Toppings, including cheeses, cost extra; the best include Vermont cheddar and a fried egg, if you like your burger Paris-style. Fries come in three flavors: skinny, fat and waffle (the best choice, as far as I am concerned. Brother, do they soak up ketchup).
And there are a number of indulgent desserts, such as a valrhona praline chocolate cake, which turns out to be a multilayer brownie of sorts, and the “krispy kreme” bread pudding, topped with rum-raisin ice cream. Order this last dessert at your peril. It just might be the most potent sugar bomb in the city, so sweet it will make your teeth ache.
Spiked Milkshakes are another indulgence, for adults only. Picture a tall parfait glass topped with six inches of whipped cream. Malibu Barbie, for coconut lovers with a death wish, must pack 1,500 calories. Night Rider, combining Kahlua, Oreo cookies and chocolate ice cream, can’t be far behind.