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Executive Chef Eric Bauer

Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro

    Oysters Du Jour

TravelsinTaste.com recently had the pleasure of dining with Chef Eric Bauer at Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro. Situated inside the newly opened $1.8 billion Palazzo -- a Las Vegas hotel-casino-resort like no other -- Morels is the first of 14 restaurants to open in the resort, and it certainly doesn't disappoint. With Chef Bauer at its helm, how could it? After all, for the past nine years he has been a presence at several of the Four Seasons Resorts. Over dinner, he told us about his vision for Morels and shared some of the secrets behind his spectacular cuisine.

Chef Bauer's path to Vegas is a surprising one. A purveyor of his in California introduced him to the owners of Morels, which had a Los Angeles outpost in The Grove. He met them, did tastings for them and soon found himself unexpectedly bound for the desert. "I never thought I'd move to Vegas," he said, "but Vegas is the new culinary Mecca, so after I had seen the space it was a no-brainer. It was a beautiful space in the newest high-end hotel on the Strip." Thus the story begins.

For his menu, Chef Bauer sought inspiration within the restaurant's existing concept, which was and continues to be that of a French steakhouse and bistro. This was very important to him, as a lot of his menu is driven by the seasons. "I find it very important as a chef to use the ingredients in the season," Chef Bauer said. "On the other side, we want to be very approachable to people as far as price and quality. We have the same quality and consistency as the other chefs here. Everyone here does fantastic food. Our food is not different, but our price point is quite a bit different. We're a bit more approachable to the normal person."

Chef’s Mac & Cheese

Morels has several unusual features. In addition to its seafood bar -- which is unusual in and of itself -- the restaurant also serves a wide variety cheeses and a charcuterie. "Our seafood bar's uniqueness comes from what I try to bring into it," Chef Bauer said, embellishing on the restaurant's differentiating features. "Seafood bars are all over the world. I try to have at least five different oysters at all times from both the east and west coasts of the United States. In season, I get live sea urchin from Santa Barbara, Calif., and I'm also in the process of getting some fresh live Australian black-tipped king crab, as well as Virginia farm-raised conch. This is not just your typical lobster, crab and shrimp seafood bar. I try to get quite a bit more. For example, oysters are really a passion of mine and I try to get in oysters that you don't see anywhere else.

"It's also pretty hard to compete with us on cheeses; we have probably the largest cheese menu in Las Vegas. We have 35 small artisan farmhouse cheeses from all over the world and I am looking to up that number to at least 55 to 60, come summer time.

"In terms of the charcuterie, we have the house-made duck rillettes, we get hard salamis from Europe and from Italy, we get Prosciutto di Parma and we have a company called Molinari in San Francisco that makes fantastic sausages."

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