Las Vegas has been good to Michael Mina, and he has returned the favor. His eponymous restaurant at Bellagio—named Aqua when Mina first arrived on the Strip more than 15 years ago—remains one of the city’s fine-dining standards, and he’s proven more than capable of executing a multitude of culinary concepts as his business has grown in Vegas and across the country.
But maybe there’s been a little less excitement surrounding Mina’s restaurants here, especially compared to his celebrity-chef peers. When we heard he was converting Aria’s American Fish into a classic French brasserie, we were definitely interested, but we didn’t freak out.
We should have. Just walking into the place shocks the system, starting with a gleaming-gold brass bar and then a sexy, dark, energetic dining room with burgundy booths and bistro tables layered over a marble floor that has been raised a few feet from the sunken space of American Fish. It’s a lightning strike of a makeover. The place feels like Champagne, so have some. (Weekend brunch offers $20 bottomless rosé.)
The food is majestic. Team Mina’s process in developing Bardot’s menu—the most beautiful roasted chicken ($29), the most buttery escargot in puff pastry ($17)—involved gathering classic French recipes and executing each version faithfully, then choosing favorite parts of each one and creating a new, best version. That chicken skin. That juiciness factor. That white wine sauce. The results are ideal.
Gruyère-covered onion soup ($14) reaches for new levels of richness, especially if you add black truffle, oxtail and soft poached egg ($25). Sautéed skate wing ($29) tastes like a fish that has lived a life in brown butter and lemon. Gnocchi ($23) are meltingly fluffy with a barely crisp exterior, mingling with wild mushrooms and goat cheese.
The menu is easily managed, just a few options in categories from chilled shellfish to salads, appetizers to entrées. There are four big plates for twosomes, including lobster Thermidor ($43 per person) and a whole roasted loup de mer ($29 pp). Steak frites can be flat iron, ribeye or filet, each bit of tender beef imbued with special smokiness from a mighty wood-fired grill. Side dishes are divine, particularly a mushroom and leek bread pudding ($9) that I would eat any time of every day.
Mina’s restaurants, maybe more than those of the other celeb chefs, allow the executive chef room to shine, and the talented Josh Smith gets a lot of credit for Bardot’s excellence. But it’s always a collaboration, especially when it comes to creating the superb non-classic dishes, such as the wood-grilled, confit duck à l’orange wings ($13) that haunt my dreams, or the roasted eggplant dip with basil pesto into which you’ll plunge chickpea frites ($12). Bardot has just the right amount of surprise blended into its familiar favorites.
It’s only February, but it’s hard to believe Las Vegas will see a better new restaurant this year.
Bardot Brasserie Aria, 702-590-8638. Monday-Friday, 5-10:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, brunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner 5-10:30 p.m.