Mon Ami Kenney

Mon Ami Gabi is a replica restaurant in a replica locale, the vendue de fer straddled Las Vegas mid-tier casino resort Paris. Mon Ami is owned by the holding group Lettuce Entertain You, itself a player in the corporate kitchen scene; you know, restaurants that can have billboards. Lettuce brings in annual revenues north of $400 million. Mon Ami – itself one of five duplicates – probably does around $30 million of that. It should do so well: the Lettuce group doesn’t just have a full roster of upper-tier chains, it offers consulting for even bigger whales in the business – LEY is good in the kitchen and the boardroom.

It only gets better for notre ami aux multiples facettes. The Paris casino itself is in the heart of South Las Vegas Boulevard, aka The Strip, so it’s an easy stroll to most of the classics of the tourist zone, including City Centre, The Forum Shoppesth, the still pink, short-skirted Cosmo, and all of the other, more pancaked high-end hotels, complete with balloons and candy gardens and all that one-eyed jack’s glass. In fact, with Mon Ami, you get to dine to a view of the Bellagio fountains without having to be in their stuffy home – surely one of the very best ways to see the famous Celine Dione-weeping waterworks.

On the patio, Mon Ami Gabi has pseudo copper and iron for the grating and lighting, pre-patina’d to appear both timeless and, I guess, chic nineteenth-century, which is to say industrial modern – probably important in the desert and makes a nice unconscious connection to American steampunk, thus explaining how the croissant aux amandes is somehow relevant in a sci-fi world. There are the signature Parisian red umbrellas of love and bread over the tables. Inside, the designer took the patina simulation to its extreme, painting the window frames the color of copper patina, aiming for contemporary symmetry perhaps but thus smuggling in an old coastal theme, awash in sun and salt and tears and Huguenots and Dunkirk: this cooling atmosphere could easily become a little chilly, but no one really notices. That’s because with four-hundred tables, getting seated is easy and the crowd is ready to be happy. That makes sense: Mon Ami is an imitation not of the quaint bistro tradition, but of the brasserie – the large, more expensive, festive French dining atmosphere, minus the brewery. It’s the table where you meet the fiancé’s family, not your Gestapo lover.

Still, I haven’t forgotten the main point (is it the main point?): the fare. To start, Mon Ami Gabi’s wine list is doubtless formidable. Pretending to know all those appellations and grapes and Terres is a daunting task but I’m sure we’d find some all-stars, even in our ignorance. The Gamays (literally the preferred grape at a connoisseur’s haunt) look unimaginative and suspiciously cheap but look at those Rhones, if you need a clue. The menu itself is friendly but with enough sophistication to intrigue: Steak but also Skate, Caesar but also Arugula. Epic classics like coq au vin and duck a l’orange shore up the beachhead. The crown jewel, a bit cart and horse but okay, is apparently the fortifying soup au gratin, a classic with deep roots in royalty and Rome. There are other tourist twists I missed, apparently, including a Rose-specializing wine bar for your horny aunt.

So, a lot going on and plenty to look forward to. The problem is, Mon Ami Gabi, and dozens of Las Vegas restaurants in its spirit, just isn’t very good.

Let’s focus on one essential rather than get lost in opinions: the frite, as in the fried potato things that go on the steak that you later came to love in America as the fry, or as Thomas Jefferson noticed it, “potato in the French fashion.” One of the classics of the French menu, a work horse, so to speak, is its steak frites; there is no getting around the fact that the humble fry and its cousins are deeply important to its food culture. So important Belgium, which also claims credit for the origin of the fry, would probably go to war over it, if the EU didn’t exist. The fry is both a symbol of and the physical incarnation of an essential culinary idea – maybe the culinary idea – taking an inexpensive thing and making it delicious.

Now, never mind my limited expertise: the number of people complaining about being served cold, soft fries at Mon Ami is disqualifying. Here are some comments on the frites, and beyond, collected from various reviews. Note that all of these are not anonymous complainers, but from “elite 2022” Yelp-approved, certified independent, attention-seeking experts:

The fries were soggy.

I also had to send back the fries since they were ice cold.

To begin, the steak itself was ok for the Steak Au Poivre, which was ordered as a medium rare.

Now the Steak Classique was ordered as a medium well, but was definitely over cooked. It was pretty dry and hard to eat. There was nothing really special about the fries.

The theme of things being cold or warm, undercooked or overcooked is overwhelming

The times I’ve ordered eggs, I’ve noticed they’ve either been overcooked or undercooked, being way too runny or not at all. I don’t necessarily blame them for this, as they are definitely one of the busier restaurants on the Strip during dining hours, but it’s unfortunate that I can predict with a degree of accuracy that something will be amiss.

Sometimes it flips:

Except for the frites, my wife’s steak and my cavatelli pasta with shrimp were room temperature at best…. I know we should have said something to the manager, who did make things right with our neighboring table. However, this was an anomaly and we believe will probably never happen again.

Some of this is really damning:

The dishes we ordered for lunch was meh. Nothing really stood out to me and everything was bland. I actually had to add salt due to the lack of flavor which I rarely do any time I go out to eat.

This guy has some ideas:

It arrived completely cold. On top was a big slab of cold, hard herb butter – still in its molded scoop form- that wouldn’t melt because the steak was so room temperature. The steak was stiff and dry (I ordered medium rare) with a cold slab of herb butter dumped on top. How SHOULD it be? We’ll the steak should be cooked so that, as it’s finishing, herbs and butter are sautéed together and the mixture poured over the top of the hot steak, then immediately served, steaming hot.

Overall, just lots of this:

They arrived room temperature, stiff and flavorless.

That’s what she said. Now, of course, there are 10,000 reviews on Mon Ami Gabi, and a great number are positive, maybe not as nifty as this one:

Frites (Fries):  Legit… legit… LEGITIMATE.  These little thigh growers were amazing.

But the point should be made, and this one hits upon the nature of the beast when he summons the word hype:

I really don’t understand the hype of this place. I wanted to try it since I kept hearing about it. Frequent Vegas often and haven’t been to this restaurant and decided to give it a try. We got sat in the corner in the inside which was totally fine with but then a little after they sat another couple directly in front of us (they were about 6 inches away) which was pretty awkward, the restaurant still had plenty of seating. I understand if the restaurant was packed and busy, but not if empty. (This was breakfast time) The food was good but nothing to write home about, it all was Luke warm when served

I can’t make, to those of you who don’t trust me, a good faith argument, not easily, if I rely on my sense of taste. However, some things really are objectively measurable: fries should be warm, if not thrillingly hot, if not scar-kissed by furious fat and wounded by noticeable and crunchy salt. (Yes, even our fries, really, should be hunted down and bled out, because we are all killers at heart and because food and all things really can be good.) Good examples, I have been told, are often double fried to achieve their ideal, indemnified state: tell that to their lawyer. Thomas Keller apparently orders his well-done to make sure they get it right.

Now, I like a lot more than fries, as do we all. My personal favorites are rare and raw things, as I am a bit of an extremist and have a memory of health. I am a fan of organ meats and barely cooked vegetables. So I am going to hit your restaurant’s steak tartare or whatever carpaccio or crudo you offer. I’m also going to want the wine to be simple and natural. What I can tell you, is at Mon Ami Gabi, you get one of the most unexceptional tartares I’ve been offered here or anywhere (admittedly the competition is tough, usually it’s not made as an afterthought). My twenty dollar glass of house wine to go with it? Awful. I don’t remember the rest, like a poker hand I discarded pre. I do remember being handed one of the biggest bills I’ve seen in a while.  (However, does any of that matter, if the simulation of that expense, the humble fry, isn’t good? Can we rip an animal’s heart out and serve it well if we can’t do the same with a potato?)

What’s happening in this little preview is that the restaurant is too big, too rich, too successful to even bother pleasing many of its customers. Management, in thrall to their own machine, to their landlords and Lettuce lords, no longer tracks its cooks or its servers but watches only the numbers instead. Cold plates become okay because no one has time to check on fundamental service. Soon, no one tests the food, since they don’t test the plates – all of it is too much effort, which now leads to cold fries on cold plates. System errors proliferate. Once delivered, problems redouble: soon it’s an exasperated service for long faces, one that hustles to avoid explaining what has become overpriced and wrong, rather than sweating to impress.

The Mon Ami Gabi rule: the simulation started when you stopped paying attention.

I’ve had to think a lot about the fake and the real since arriving in hell, Nevada. The variations on and in our game, sure, and food, lots of food interaction, but also the counterfeits we find in love, friendship and family. Hard things, things that matter. Darker, unspoken things, too: the reality of ourselves that we grow not into, like some robust, wizened cheese I childishly predicated myself upon so long ago, but more horrifyingly, out of.

Fortunately, the simulation can also be comical. In the midst of the real struggle, I’ve even been forced to contemplate more than once the Occam’s Steak-um thought that the struggle itself is a fantasy of some dubious power, a “matrix” imposed upon us. It’s a contemporary if not timely distraction, a leap to dodge gravity, the desert sun at rush hour, a drunk’s reformulation of Descartes. It’s also too convenient: if we were working on the original dame de fer, my soot-faced work buddies would tell me hoarsely over the nightly rouge, that everything was a seething network of train tracks and coal, and that one day, iron men would take our jobs. Mind blown, pass the fries.

Yet the least important question is often the hardest. The idea that we could be trapped in a perfect emulation, not even the more crack-of-light simulation, is an unanswerable, prove-a-negative proposition for those avoiding the terrifyingly real questions that never change for any man or woman, by the year, day, second  – what are we doing, where are we going, why must this happen. Still, it is not an entirely unrewarding meditation, once the impossibility is accepted. (Please talk to your shaman to see if the green gift is right for you.)

First, only the most ridiculous scenario involves the simulation being perfect, the thousandth of a thousandth universal bad beat. More likely, it would start off normally, friendly. The fries would be hot. Life would be what you expected, what you desired, but then some things would change, because service expands and gets sloppy. Iterations. There would be moments of exposure that became moments of blindness; yet exposure is blindness, and so seeing soon becomes not seeing, living that is not life. Some would cut at themselves and others enough and only find slightly grainy, steamless tuber. Simulation: terminus.

Ok computer. We’ll start over, cover ground we’ve been through, but better. In general, I’ve had to think, hear, and live an awful lot of the counterfeit life since I moved to Las Vegas. There are many types of simulations that weigh on both the city and on me. Of primary importance to all, the simulation of a social life, with Vegas’ notoriously difficult dating scene is a primary one. Our beleaguered supply chain, for instance, doesn’t seem to have had much effect on the store supply of whores, frauds, pimps, and fakes in Las Vegas, even as important liquors and ingredients waned under the Covid protocols. Where we once saw openings, we now find exits. Behind me, a man sends his woman, too loosely dressed to be loved, her top impossibly pried open like a rib spreader, for a drink. They revel in her exposure, her lack of protection, as she stumbles to the bar like a puppet missing a string. Her heels threaten to crack and splinter, he looks on, approvingly. He is a watcher who wants to be watched while she watches those who watch her; they are matching pair of mirrors which produce no light, twin encrusted moons for a desert planet. Relationship: terminus.

So start over. Openings, iterations, never mind important needs. Yes, even finding simple places to sit and not be pushed along is particularly hard in Las Vegas. Whether indoors or outdoors, there are few places where one is not paying an arm to sit down for fifteen and a leg for another thirty. Everything is unfriendly when the resort radio decays into the casino. The simulation, it turns out, is also circulation, and when it stops, terminus. The underdressed woman and shallow man is gone, replaced by extra large t-shirt models: terminus.

I turn back to my computer and wake up at the Mandalay. I plug myself into the universal service bus. I tried to help out a bit in exchange for having a nice home game atmosphere to look forward to, to spread word of the Lounge Lizard’s restaurant skills, and make a bit of life happen in general. Terminus. Try the Westgate. Terminus.

No problem, my eyes open. I am in a game at the Sahara, a game I have created to have a home atmosphere… something flickers.  I blink and am at the bar with the players. We can’t talk or hear ourselves: the pop music is not just loud, it is deafening, stultifying: it must have some other purpose. They’re circulating me here? Damn. Override: I try to access my sign language file to combat the code and communicate. Management, which hates the clientele, especially likes absolutely blasting music in the most infelicitous ways, trying to summon and enforce laughter and atmosphere. Deja vue, Mon Ami. They especially tried hard to do this in the nineteenth century for the first time as the middle, bourgeois class emerged. They filled the shitty operas, the kappellmeistermusik, with hooting and laughter. Laugh, you!  We need their money, make them laugh, make this cool, turn up the bass, pump the jam, the simulation has never changed. You might remember that the Sahara was one of the early modern lounging resorts of Las Vegas, home to the Rat Pack and cool-ish American culture. Yet Frank would never, ever tolerate the sweaty Casbar management, who don’t want you to have a conversation and relax. All the heat, and that spoiled dork JFK skulking around? Damn it, man, you want to take a load off! The photo proof is right there in the lobby. Did they mount the photos there to laugh at you? Override fail: terminus.

I awake in the Tangiers bar, delirious. What was that sound, a ribbet? I’m writing. A crowd moves past, not like the fat and retired and pastel in the heavenly coffin-crack light at the end of Casino, but a second wave, a cafeteria crowd of new Vegas: the sagging, lagging old people are sharing t-shirts yes, but also mismatched, misshaped women branded with lugubrious tattoos then pushed and pulled into sacrificial prom dresses and bridesmaid’s cast-offs, costumes for bad opera and hooting. They are send-ups of contemporary desirability, deformed and promising ill, like amoebas sparkling in the well water. They overflow the lobby and the slot area, shrieking, mimicking, circulating. The director waves his baton furiously and uselessly, he can’t control them. Security guards, young apes with empty eyes, resting their hands on their utility belts of death, look on, some grin stupidly. They are ogling, yes, but mostly for anyone who might be sitting down inappropriately or even leaning against the iron gates. Is that patina smudging? Well no wonder. Terminus.

My eyes open. This time, I’ve found the lever: I lift my glass and the music stops. Sympathy reperfumes the hotel and security is alerted. The agents struggle with the virus, hoping that the simulation has at least worn us out with its ironies and cold plates until control is maintained. No sitting. Please try the fries. Keep moving. Unnoticed in the crowd, I look this way and that, wanting, needing a guide.

See, the problem with bad faith, poor effort, short cuts, bad business, poor policies, cheating – whatever it is you are doing to extract more than you’ve earned – is not that it merely deprives you of something that was in potensia someone else’s. It’s that cheating and lying upend the reality of the victim. You are gaslit, as they cleverly say; you thought you understood, but you are in fact the fool. It’s not only that someone gets the best of you, no, that is in the nature of the game. What is worse is that cheaters insult you. You sit down to be merry but they yell at you to be merry. Enjoy these cold fries sir, here is your exorbitant bill.; will your tip be twenty five or thirty percent? You bring them a game and they send you away. The copper patina is all over your prom dress.

That’s why I’ve decided I need a guide. A friend. An agent of the system who has mastered all sides of the simulation. Someone in poker who has won it all and done it all, and I know exactly who to seek: Bryn K., legend of poker.

Bryn Kenney, one of the greatest ever, with over fifty million dollars in certifiable winnings, will be my lantern in the dark age of poker. When everything is fake and unknown, when a resort is not a resort, when the crisps are cold and the tartare is warm, when the game is over and solved but we are told to play anyway, when you’re battling with four Paul Schindlers and two Ali Imsirovics, Bryn is my Virgil through hell.

Bryn knows I don’t deserve any of the poker pool money and will show me all the ways they will take it from me. Bryn is wise, happy, and inspires confidence. Bryn gives a fuck. Life is good and he wants to share it. He tells us how kind and generous he is, and so if the fries are supposed to be cold, he must be right. I saw him feed the fries to Sarah, and she ate all of them! They must be good.

In fact, I’m grateful for my cold fries, because I try not to have ambitions, like I’m told, I’m supposed to enjoy the game, so I just want to have a good experience, I need to be part of a boom, that I need to make the games good, that I need to pay 1.3, that the hyenas and frogs need feeding. I shouldn’t rely on a square game and a hot plate, instead I should have a “poker dream” and be on a “poker journey.” I need to watch a thousand hours of vlogs so I can master strategy. I need a code for discounts and a discord link for some friendly uncapped rake games. I want to fly to the desert to sit by the water, to fall asleep on the iron and summon the cries of the tortured anti-Catholics underneath the patina and the living dead in Asovtal and on their way across the channel to Angleterre. Terminus.

Stop, I’m awake! I’m awake, damn it. (Bryn doesn’t shout at you unless you deserve it.)

Bryn doesn’t just shake you out of nightmares, he watches out for your health and well being, too. He doesn’t push coin in the morning, he waits until the afternoon. He’s a gentleman and a politely yawning Ape. Really, he’s a problem solver. He’s figured out we need to punt more and gamble and keep the rake alive. After a little lick of the green pick-me-up, I see him more clearly, in all four dimensions. He is more than my Virgil, he is my Guild Navigator: the Rake must flow. We just need more recs to solve the problem. Yes, more people playing, more recs, always more recs and more rake! He floats above me: My Zoom, My Team Viewer, My Arakeis.

Bryn, float down and let’s meet up, they have a wonderful kitchen here. I have some ideas for rake and recs you’re going to like. Let’s get more women to play! Your friend Lauren can help. Convene the circle of bros to explain to them. I know the perfect restaurant, the perfect place to fly in to discuss rake and recs and cheating and climate change and all the current things. Yes, we’ll fly first class into the desert and solve everything right in the middle of the strip. We can Uber to Bally’s and really add a lot of value to the world through our kindness and generosity and positivity.

Bryn winks reassuringly and neatly forces the dull fry through the steak au poivre. When people threw negativity at him, he only embraced their concerns. Bryn shows love.   He has main event opera tickets for you. He eats the fries so you know you can eat them too.

Don’t be an ass, you: enjoy the things that are given to you. Practice gratitude. When I see Mon Ami Kenney at the Rose Bar, he will have none of my complaints, he waves them away with a smile. As he told Remko, “Usually so tired after winning, so I’ll have a bomb meal, some drinks, maybe a smoke and relax because I’m always drained after a long tournament… Assunta Madre in Barcelona, Sen of Japan in Vegas and Nobu in Bahamas.  I like relaxed places mostly that can dress comfortable and have amazing food.”

That’s reassuring. You can definitely trust people who are very relaxed and just like to chill with a bomb meal. In fact, let’s move on, start the world series and forget everything. Just look at these reviews of the current poker scene:

I ordered the STEAK CLASSIQUE frite medium. I loved every bite of it. Very soft and juicy. I recommend their Prime Steak Frites. I love the atmosphere, very vintage French flair.

First off this place is an excellent location, you seriously cannot beat it on the strip. Next the food and drinks are incredibly good for very decent prices. I was honestly blown away.

Everything tasted great, service was excellent, and I would love to return for lunch or dinner to try some French classics like steak frites

The food here is spectacular; it is fresh and served in heavenly perfection.

The steak came with their signature hand cut frites.  Those were some of the best French fries I’ve ever had!

Now who was complaining again? Complete retraction. Look at these genuine Elite Yelp reviews!  This is the best I’ve ever had! I’m ready to laugh and laugh and laugh!

Shuffle up and deal, Mr. Eiffel.

The Mon Ami Kenney rule: if the simulation didn’t exist, we’d invent it.

3 thoughts on “Mon Ami Kenney

  1. When a rec felts Kenney or one of his horses at a tournament table, what does that feel like? Is it like happening to get a well-made portion at a pretentious, tourist-trappy restaurant? Or perhaps getting comped for the meal but still receiving it bad with cold fries. I don’t know.

    And what’s the thing about fries anyway? The Belgians take pride over them? They’re really just sometimes-tasty sugar bombs. As a kid, I used to cut potatoes for my Mom who would drop and fry them in the pan — now those were real fries!

    You’ve pretty much encapsulated the Vegas Zeitgeist in this article. For the tourist, a make-believe overpriced “fun” city where you can indulge in your worst impulses and keep them in Vegas. For the resident, a hot desert city with a high crime rate and grifters at every turn. Plus all those lizards, scorpions and snakes. I for one, don’t think I’ll ever make this my permanent abode. But I’ll still keep coming for the poker and try to evade the traps!

    1. Right, an underlying theme is everything here in LV and in poker is on a sort of spectrum of the false and devious, and that is enough a lot of the time. Poker is a slippery community that produces very little, no matter how many times the talking heads refer to our “industry.” Entertainment is a simulation and we overconsume it, leading to not even getting simple things like fries right, or even start not to care. Hence our guides in poker are often the worst actors. I guess i would have to write an entire article explaining this piece, in some respects. Thanks for reading, as always, Mannes.

      1. I look forward to every one of these posts, it’s not easy to come by insightful and well-written pieces these days… unless you pay a $25/mth Bloomberg, Atlantic (or similar) subscription and even then most of the content is hacked out by cheap suits for hire or burnt-out intellectuals with an axe to grind or “novel” opinion to share.

        I’ll be in town the week of 7/3-7/10 to try and slay one or two WSOP dragons. Not that I’m good or anything, but the poker gods beckon. Will try to see if we can meet up then.

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