Plan: Vegas Uncork'd 2011
Posted 01 April 2011 - 04:12 PM
Vegas Uncork’d-A Bon Appetit Epicurean Experience
Klatsch: Popping the Cork in Las Vegas
Vegas Uncork’d 2010-Big Flavors and the Bright Lights of Las Vegas
The Press Release for Vegas Uncork’d 2011 promises that “The four-day extravaganza, held each Mother‘s Day weekend, draws the world‘s culinary superstars while celebrating Las Vegas as a global culinary destination with truly international appeal.” Not to be outdone by other foodie festivals in America, the highlight of this year’s Vegas Uncork’d fete will be the Saturday gala “Toques off to Paul Bocuse” dinner at the MGM. The “Four French Masters”-Robuchon, Savoy, Ducasse and Gagnaire will lead a team of noted Las Vegas Chefs in creating a sumptuous French feast in honor of Chef Bocuse and his contributions to “Le Grande Cuisine.”
One noticeable personality that will be absent this year is Barbara Fairchild, former Editor-In-Chief at Bon Appetit magazine, a major sponsor of Vegas Uncork’d. Barbara was the star of the Uncork’d show so to speak, taking on the lead role from the birth of Vegas Uncork’d up to her departure from the magazine in 2010. Ms. Fairchild’s exit stage left over the past year caused some to call into question whether or not the annual event would survive. You can read our topic on the changes at Bon Appetit
Adam Rapoport, Ms. Fairchild’s replacement as Editor-in-Chief at Bon Appetit, will take over top billing at this year’s festivities representing the interests of the magazine and the Conde Nast empire. In his new role, Mr. Rapoport commented on Uncork’d by saying “There‘s a reason why the world‘s elite chefs and enthusiastic food lovers look forward to this event every year. Through their visionary culinary programs, Las Vegas resorts not only elevate the standard for hotel dining everywhere, but also inject a singular kind of excitement into the global culinary scene.”
As is our wont, we shall once again tempt you through reports and delicious photos as to the treats and some of the new restaurants that await you should you trek to the desert Southwest. Since packing our bags and leaving Las Vegas in May of 2010, the Cosmopolitan Hotel opened with literally a stable of cutting-edge restaurants never before assembled under one roof in Las Vegas, including China Poblano and Jaleo by Chef Jose Andres, Scarpetta and DOCG by Chef Scott Conant, Estiatorio Milos by Chef Costas Spiliadis and Comme Ca with Chef David Myers. If our schedule allows, we’ll dine at some of the establishments in the Cosmopolitan and let you know if Comme Ca has mastered the technique of a proper Cassoulet and if the Mediterranean seafood grilled at Milos rivals the fresh crustaceans served by Paul Bartolotta at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at Wynn.
The trend in dining in Las Vegas in 2011 is moving away from the haute French formality and cuisine of Robuchon to the less-formal conviviality and deep flavors of cuisines like the Spanish Paella dishes that Joe Andres prepares over an open-flame pit at Jaleo in the Cosmopolitan. And later this year, Chef Michel Richard will open Central at Caesar’s Palace, a sister restaurant to his highly successful French Bistro in Washington, D.C.
You can access the 2011 Vegas Uncork’d website here.
Click here for the terms under which this event is listed in eG Forums.
Posted 01 April 2011 - 04:29 PM
Posted 01 April 2011 - 06:20 PM
Not any specific eGullet activity at Uncork'd, but it is more than a worthy treat for the Mother's Day Weekend.
So is there going to be any egullet group-type activity going on here? Because I see a shameless Mother's Day gift ploy in the works...
Posted 13 April 2011 - 08:46 PM
Posted 22 April 2011 - 02:23 PM
I just signed up for 8 events. The Vegas food I had 2 months ago was better than I considered possible. Having the actual chefs cook, instead of their minions, may or may not open a new ceiling. Worth checking out.
Wow... Eight events! you are going to be one busy man. Do you mind sharing WHICH events you'll be doing ?
Posted 22 April 2011 - 06:39 PM
Posted 23 April 2011 - 04:44 PM
Posted 23 April 2011 - 06:24 PM
Posted 23 April 2011 - 06:38 PM
Introduce yourself to the Staff at Valentino and ask if they have any game on the menu. It's off-season for wild game, but if Chef Pellegrini has quail on the menu, order it. He's known for his abilities with game birds. Delicious.
On Thursday, Locavore's Delight with Bradley Ogden and After Hours at Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak. Friday, Chef Showdown Luncheon at 11:30 and The Grand Tasting at &:30. Saturday Eating Las Vegas in the morning, Viva Las Vegan at noon, Toques off to Paul Bocuse at 7 and then Better By the Bay with Alain Ducasse at 830. I also have reservations for both Twist (early dinner) and Mix on Wed and Valentinos on Sunday evening. Also want to go back to Fleur and have another of their great liquid nitrogen coffees, probably Sunday afternoon.
Posted 23 April 2011 - 08:18 PM
I'll certainly post about the interactive lunch. I went to Wynn for his vegan lunch menu in Feb and had some very good stuffed inari skins. Up until my Feb Vegas trip, the best food I've ever eaten was vegan: an heirloom tomato dish and a morel dish at Charlie Trotters in Chicago. I actually saw Steve Wynn walking down an aisle in his hotel and I would have asked him if he ever ate those dishes at Trotters, but he looked to be in a bad mood, and I figured it was better he was angry at something else instead of me.
Posted 01 May 2011 - 06:55 PM
Posted 02 May 2011 - 04:40 PM
Thursday, May 5-
Bellagio, Champagne/Saber Kick-off with Chefs of Uncork'd
Master Series Dinner, Payard Patisserie & Bistro, Caesar's Palace
Chef Francois Payard
(Let's hope the controversial Chilean Sea Bass isn't on the menu this year as it was at the 2010 event).
After Hours at Craftsteak, MGM
Chef Tom Colicchio
Friday, May 6-
Chef Showdown, Bellagio
Chef Martin Heirling, Sensi Restaurant vs. Akira Back, Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant
Shabu, Shabu, Bellagio
Chef Phillip Lo, Jasmine Restaurant vs. Edmond Wong, Bellagio Executive Chef
Grand Tasting, Caesar's Palace
(One can only hope that no one falls into the pool this year. It hasn't happened--yet).
Saturday, May 7-
Eating Las Vegas-The Essential Restaurant Guide, John Curtas, Al Mancini, Max Jacobsen
Master Series Lunch, Picasso, Bellagio
Chef Julian Serrano
Dinner ??? (Sadly the Bocuse event was cancelled).
Sunday, May 8-
Mother's Day Brunch, Guy Savoy, Caesar's Palace
Chef Guy Savoy
(Brunch with a Michelin-Star Chef)
Posted 04 May 2011 - 10:18 AM
Tuesday, May 3-
The first stop, Holstein's burger Restaurant at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
The restaurant website bills Holstein's as "Our cows have attitude and they've left their mark. No we don't mean the grafitti decor. We mean the uniquely crafted bad-ass burgers and milkshakes you won't be able to find anywhere else in Las Vegas." Las Vegas is rife with upscale burger restaurants, many of them operated by well-known Chefs. Yet aside from marketing schtick, the concepts are all pretty much the same-quality beef with all manner of garnishes (including lobster, truffles and foie gras), trendy little appetizers (aka, fried dill pickles), and boozy milkshakes. Really, the only difference between all these places is the decor and the service. The menus are, for the most part, the same. And while I've had my fair tastes of the upscale burgers in Las Vegas, to my dying days I will always claim the burger I properly make at home outshines them all.
The first sign that there may be trouble in the cow pasture was the moment I entered the restaurant. The Hostess gave me that dreaded "uh-oh a single diner is coming my way," look. She proceeded to physically point to the bar and repeatedly said, "you want to sit in the bar, right?" No. "Did you say you wanted a seat at the bar." No. "You want to eat in the restaurant?" Yes. After it was made clear that the customer preferred a more comfortable seat in the quiet, near-empty restaurant, I was seated in one of the small rooms that makes up the main dining area. (And seated with other single diners who had also passed the muster of the grumpy Hostess).
The burger menu runs the gamut from the "New Delhi Chicken," marinated in tandoori spices, with frisee, apricot date chutney and tomato cucumber raita to the top-selling, (according to the waitress), "Longhorn" burger topped with smoked brisket, whiskey bbq sauce, creamy cole slaw and dill pickle. I chose the most boring burger, (but always the true measure of a burger joint), the "Classic," with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and mayonnaise at $13.50. Cheese was an extra $2.00. The burgers all come with a choice of skinny or steak fries. I supplemented the burger with a side of onion rings.
The waitstaff was a bit off the mark. The standard uniform was casual shirts will rolled-up sleeves, low hanging jeans and tennis shoes. Yet there was one overly embelished waitress in a too-tight red dress, (that she kept pulling down only to have the Manager whisper, "it's o.k."), and knee-high black patent leather boots. Only in Las Vegas.
I was pleasantly suprised when the waitress asked me how I would like the burger cooked. Most burger places are too scared these days to ask such a burning question for fear that if the burgers, (Five Guys), aren't scorched through they will send a customer home with ecoli. I asked for the burger medium-rare with cheddar cheese.
The onion rings are cut thick and are cloaked in a buttery-crisp coating of panko breadcrumbs. Delicious.
The skinny fries that accompanied the burger were properly crisp and salty. Burger appearances can be deceiving and while this "Classic" looked like a beauty, after the first bite I changed my opinion. Once again I had become the victim of the un-toasted bun, (the crime happened a few months back at Hubert Keller's Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay). How much extra care and attention does it take to butter and toast a decent brioche bun? Failing to do so results in a bread sponge that disintegrates when faced with a juicy burger and condiments. A toasted bun acts as a sort of safe-barrier so that the burger stands up through each bite.
The cheese was Swiss not cheddar, and apparently "medium-rare" is a term for debate between customer and cook. Holstein's considers medium-rare to actually be rare. I wasn't going to be persnickety and send the burger back, it was charred and cripsy on the edges and the quality of the meat at least made the rare interior palatable. When I told the waitress the burger had a really good, beefy flavor she said it was because they "grind their own meat twice a day-in the morning and then late at night." Admirable to grind your own choice meat, but do they really have a guy on the late, overnight shift grinding beef? Maybe.
Buyer beware when you venture into any of the upscale burger houses in Las Vegas. The cost for my lunch of iced tea, burger that came with fries and a side order of onion rings came to $31.43 including tax and tip.
I'm glad I tried Holstein's. I'd give the experience a solid B+ grade. The initial service experience was poor, the soggy bun, wrong type of cheese and under-cooked burger were aggravations but not show-stoppers. I'll wait to have a great burger when I get home.
Posted 04 May 2011 - 04:46 PM
Las Vegas is known in some food circles for having more world-class Pastry Chefs than any other city outside of the great pastry cities in continental Europe. I never make a trip to Las Vegas without doing a bit of shopping at the shop I consider the best-Jean Phillipe Patisserie. Jean Phillipe Maury holds many pastry awards, including the title of "Meilleur Ouvrier de France," the Top French Pastry Chef. In 2002, Chef Maury stunned the Pastry World and his French brethren when he led Team USA to the World Team Pastry Championship.
Jean Phillipe has two Patisseries in Las Vegas-the original outpost in Bellagio with the chocolate fountain and the newer, larger location in Aria Resort at City Center.
The current display at the Bellagio Patisserie is a train locomotive crafted out of bright, spring-colored marshmallows.
The pastry cases are neatly lined with all manner of little French treats.
My two selections, "Tutti Frutti"-layers of nutty cakes sandwiched between layers of silken fruit mousse, topped with strawberries and a white chocolate frill.
"Nutella Millefeuille"-chocolate mousse, praline crisp and nutella wafers.
Posted 04 May 2011 - 05:38 PM
I never realized this event was so substantial--I always sort of assumed it was second-rate because of its associatoin with Bon Apetit, of which I am not a fan. Bad bias, I guess. I may have to go next year. I am moving to Tucson and Vegas is not that far...
Posted 04 May 2011 - 06:24 PM
Posted 05 May 2011 - 08:26 AM
Wicked Spoon Buffet, Cosmopolitan Hotel
I love a good buffet. (Almost sounds like it could be a Barry Manilow hit). Station after station of food where I can pick and choose what to eat and how much I can handle. Imagine, all this food just for me. For one price.
It's been years since Las Vegas shrugged off the old image of $3.99 buffets where patrons slogged down a line with a tray ala the cafeteria-style that was popular up until the late 1980's. With the development of the mega-resorts, the buffets on the Strip were upgraded both in terms of the variety of the food offerings and the cost of a buffet meal.
The latest innovation in buffet design and cuisine can be found at the Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan. The Wicked Spoon is a departure from the other high-end buffets on the Strip both in design and the presentation of the food. The modern, sleek design, dark woods and chandeliers echo the style of a steakhouse more than a buffet feeding the hoards of Las Vegas. There are booths, tables and eating bars situated around the dining room giving families, couples and singles plenty of seating options.
According to my friendly waiter, the Executive Staff at the Cosmopolitan travelled around Europe sampling various buffets. Apparently the concept of the Wicked Spoon is based in part on their findings-rather than put the food out in the traditional soggy, steam-tray style of American buffets, the offerings would be individually plated, giving customers fresher, hotter, higher quality servings. (I don't know if in fact the waiter's description of the background of the Wicked Spoon is accurate. It sounds more like a basic Swedish Smorgasboard to me).
After describing the buffet platform, the waiter told me that the water glasses were crafted in France. If the precious little glass globes are imported from France, the Cosmopolitan is wasting money. I asked the waiter for a larger glass, "like the size of glass that guy has for his iced tea," (a reference to the gentleman at the next table. The waiter said, "yeah, a lot of people ask for a bigger water glass."
I've only captured a fraction of all the dishes on offer, but the photos will provide you with a snapshot of what you might experience should you choose the Wicked Spoon-
First Plate-Melon Gazpacho, (watery and weak in flavor), Pork Rillette, Marinated Olives, Pretzel Roll, Air-Dried Beef, Salami, Prosciutto-
Unique Asian Soup Bar-
Rice Noodle with Dashi Broth, General Tso Chicken, Salt and Pepper Prawns, Black Pepper Lamb Ribs, (too heavy on the black pepper and the numbing Szechuan black peppercorns)-
Little crocks of Crab Leg Cocktail-
Crab Cocktail, Shrimp Cocktail, Ceasar Salad, (watered-down dressing that needed a shot of lemon and Worcestershire), Grilled Asparagus, (is there a salt and pepper shaker in the house?)-
Skirt Steak Salad with Apple and Almond Slaw, (in the background, little deep-fry baskets of Chicken and Waffles)-
Blackened Haddock with Crawfish Hollandaise, (Sadly, raw fish that is supposed to be cooked through isn't appetizing)-
Roasted Bone Marrow, (have you ever seen that on a buffet?), Truffled Potatoes, Leg of Lamb with Chimmichurri Sauce, (applause for leaving the bottled mint sauce in the pantry)-
With tax and tip, the Wicked Spoon will cost you about $35.00. Add a cocktail, beer or glass of wine and expect the bill to be another $10 bucks. Taxi cabs are available at an additional cost should you be too heavy to walk back to your hotel.
Posted 05 May 2011 - 08:37 AM
Pink's Hot Dogs at Planet Hollywood.
As a wise friend from Brooklyn would say, "eh, what's all the talk about?" Throw away the bun. Hold the raw onions and yellow mustard. You are left with a good hot dog and decent chili.
Posted 05 May 2011 - 01:25 PM
Twist, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Chef Pierre Gagnaire.
As I mentioned in my report on Vegas Uncork'd 2010 here, the four "French Masters" as I call them, Ducasse, Robuchon, Savoy and Gagnaire couldn't be more different. Defining each Chef by simply saying they cook "French" food would be denying them the creativity defines their style. It would be akin to saying that the brushstrokes of Monet and Renoir were the same simply because they belonged to the group of French Impressionists.
Some describe Savoy as the quiet, traditionalist of Paris, Robuchon the technical, precise showman who infuses the flavors of Asia into his cuisine. Ducasse favors the pure, sunwashed flavors of the Mediterreanean intermingled into his French classics. And then there is Pierre. Gagnaire is often referred to as the "genie," (genius), of French cuisine-leading the French Modernist movement against the Spanish Armada in a rush to establish French cuisine in the 21st Century. Gagnaire describes his style as "tourné vers demain mais soucieux d'hier," (facing tommorrow but respectful of yesterday). On page 88 of his book, "Reflections on Culinary Artistry," Gagnaire describes a sweet of "Sorbet of Spanish Carva 'Cloud,' with Muscat Grapes in Gelee." As controversial French artists found centuries ago, changing the tastes of the old-guard can involve great risk. Gagnaire has been known to deliver both exceptional culinary feats to his customers, while at the same time teetering on the precipice of a spiraling fall with dishes that include too many competing flavors.
Chef Gagnaire was in the restaurant last night, dividing his time between the kitchen and visiting the customers in the dining room. He told me that he comes to Las Vegas about four times a year when his schedule allows, and he makes a special effort to be in town during the events related to Vegas Uncork'd. I selected the 6-course Tasting Menu, ($189), and the wine pairing, ($90). There is an additional surcharge for the "premium wine pairing."
There isn't considerable light in the dining room, so there wasn't an opportunity to photograph most of the dishes and portray them in the beautiful setting in which they were presented. Alas, I can only provide a description of the menu and a few comments.
PIERRE GAGNAIRE’S SPIRIT
* ANTARCTIC BUTTERFISH
Cuttlefish Carpaccio, Carrot Cream, Cumin Seeds, Celeriac Cubes & Puree, Red Currant Argenteuil Broth, Asparagus Gelée & Tips, Shaved Parmesan
* SANTA MONICA PRAWNSPears
Chicory & Orange Stew Prawn Essence, Sarawak Black Pepper Scented
* FOIE GRAS DEGUSTATION
Parfait, Salted Prune Paste,
Torrefied Almonds, Crispy Biscuits Custard,
Water Cress Salad Shaved, Radicchio, Thai Grapefruit (The least favorite of the trio. The tang of the grapefruit totally overwhelmed the delicate shavings of foie gras and compromised the last few sips of wine).
Preserved, Iced Californian Meyer Lemon, Fresh Toasted Coconut, Green Pepper Sticks
(The only dish where Gagnaire did in fact, get so close to the edge the flavors fell apart--so tart and incredibly peppered the dish was inedible).
* ROCKY MOUNTAIN & AUSTRALIAN NEVER-NEVER LAMB
Lamb Chop Milanese Style, Stiletto Eggplant Zucchini Cream, Colombo Curry Perfumed, Baby Onions Sautéed Lamb Leg, Ras el Hanout Spice Mix, Crispy Garlic Croquette
GRAND DESSERT PIERRE GAGNAIRE
FIVE DESSERTS INSPIRED BY FRENCH TRADITIONAL PATISSIERIES
Strawberries & Saffron, Red Pepper Confit and Syrup Saffron flavored, Fresh Strawberries, Ginger White Chocolate, White Chocolate Mousse & Fondue, Ginger Sorbet, Passion Fruit Melon Melange, Almond Milk, Coconut Tapioca, Midori Honeydew, Cantaloupe Orange Sanguine, Biscuit Jaconde, Crème Mousseline, Orange Confit , Blood Orange Rum Spring Chocolate, Genoise, Café Mousse, Parfait Café Pistachio, Amarena Cherries
The food, setting and service were as memorable as you would expect from a Michelin-Star Chef. Gagnaire visited the table at least three times and is a gracious and inviting host. The only minor quibbles were the strong grapefuit in the salad paired with foie gras shavings and the terrible "intermezzo." Gagnaire was the last of the four "French Masters" I had yet dined with. I'm glad that I did.
Posted 05 May 2011 - 05:03 PM
Vegas Uncork'd officially kicked off today with the traditional saber opening of champagne. This year the event moved outdoors to Las Vegas Blvd., in front of the Bellagio. The only event that could close off foot traffic on Las Vegas Blvd. would be an assembly of the world's great Chefs, including Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire, Jean Joho, Francois Payard, Scott Conant, Tom Colicchio, Rick Moonen and Jose Andres to name a few.
The ceremony was delayed as we waited in 90+ heat for the only thing that could delay the saber opening of the champagne-the delivery of a gin martini from the Petrossian Bar at Bellagio. Yes, Oscar Goodman, honorary attendee of the festivities, could not make his Mayoral address to the crowd until his dry martini was delivered to Las Vegas Blvd.
Chef Julian Serrano, Piscasso, cutting the bottle with the saber
Robuchon team Las Vegas-
Posted 06 May 2011 - 05:09 PM
Thursday evening is the official launch of Vegas Uncork’d events. Private “Master Series” Dinners were held at the signature restaurants at Caesar’s Palace, including Bradley Ogden, Guy Savoy, Rao’s, and Payard Patisserie and Bistro. Another Master Series dinner was held at Sinatra restaurant at Wynn/Encore. Guests are given the exclusive opportunity to have a private dinner prepared by the Chef served with vintage wines from the deep cellars of Las Vegas.
Tonight I would be dining at Payard Bistro and Patisserie in Caesar’s Palace. The last time I dined at Payard was at the 2009 Uncork’d Event—and the dinner caused somewhat of a stir among the Members when I reported on the Fish Course at that dinner. You can read the 2009 report, “Klatsch: Popping the Cork in Las Vegas," here.
The dish that became the cause for a spirited debate was the “Chilean Sea Bass with Baby Bok Choy and Oakwood Shiitake, Soy-Honey Balsamic Glaze." It was controversial to choose an unsustainable, over-fished species to present at a private affair of food aficianados. Yet that was in the past so I was looking forward to another special French bistro inspired menu from Chef Payard.
Born in Nice in 1966, Francois Payard learned the craft and artistry of pastry while working at his Grandfather’s shop, Au Nid des Friandises, (nest of treats). Payard arrived in New York in 1990 in the pastry kitchen at Le Bernadin then moving on to Daniel. Today, Chef Payard operates Patisserie’s and Bistro’s in New York, Brazil, Japan and Las Vegas.
The evening began with Chef introducing the small staff of 3 Chefs and 2 Managers along with his small crew of servers. The main focus is the Patisserie, but he intentionally designed the Bistro to be an intimate, 42-seat dining room where he could serve French bistro fare at an affordable price. A round room with a kitchen in the center, Payard Bistro serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They currently have a lunch special of 3 select courses for under $25.00.
The table settings included a box of Payard’s hand-crafted chocolates-
Because the restaurant is so small it's not designed to hold the deep vintages of the more visible restaurants at Caesar's Palace like Guy Savoy, but the wines offered paired reasonably well with each dish.
Cheese and Cream Reduction, White Truffle Oil, Summer Truffle
Domaine Carneros 2006 Brut Champagne, California
Seared Scallop, Cauliflower Veloute, Aigre Doux Sweet Onion
Craggy Range Te Muna Road, 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand
Filet of Halibut
Pan Seared, Eggplant Caviar, Tomato Consomme, Beans
ZD Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay, California
Duo de Boeuf-
Petite Filet Mignon & Braised Short Rib
Gratin Dauphinois, Merlot Reduction
Matanzas Creek Winery, 2006 Merlot, California
Hot and Cold Pina Colada
Chocolate Palet d'Or
Undoubtedly, the French show their skill as the Masters of Pastry in Las Vegas.
Posted 07 May 2011 - 09:47 AM
-Chef Showdown at Bellagio
Chef Akira Back, Yellowtail Sushi
Chef Martin Heirling, Sensi
-Shabu, Shabu at Bellagio
Chef Edmund Wong
Chef Philip Lo
-Grand Tasting, Pools at Caesar's Palace
But I thought I might tempt you this morning with a very special seat I have at a table for only 8 diners tonight.
In this, our tenth year when we celebrate the Modernist movement, I'll be reporting on a dinner tonight, (not part of the official Uncork'd activities), that will be presented by one of the leaders of what he calls the Spanish "Avant-Garde," brigade. A well-known Chef who has taken the dining community of Las Vegas by storm. I think it will be a report that speaks perfectly to our place in the Modernist movement.
Posted 07 May 2011 - 06:28 PM
The Chef Showdown was held at the Tuscany Kitchen at Bellagio. The Executives at Bellagio made a wise decision when they built the large display kitchen. It's the only large-scale teaching kitchen and classroom on the Strip-a perfect setting for staging classes by world-class Chefs. Located in the convention room wing of the hotel, the Tuscany Kitchen is large enough to accomodate 2-4 Chefs in the cooking area while seating up to 100 guests at tables or in a conventional classroom setting. The room is outfitted with electronics and high-definition televisions so that guests have full access to see and hear the cooking in the kitchen up front.
The Chef Showdown was billed as a sort of mini-Iron Chef competition, but it was really just an opportunity to watch two of Bellagio's young Chefs--Akira Back of Yellowtail Sushi and Martin Heirling, Sensi--cook side-by-side using the same ingredients, (with very, very loose time constraints). The audience had had the opportunity to ask the Chefs questions about the ingredients and their preparations as they came together, and the Director of Wines at Bellagio answered questions about the wine pairings that went with each dish.
One interesting note for wine enthusiasts-currently there are 111 Master Sommeliers in America. 15 of those Master Sommeliers reside in Las Vegas, and 3 of them work within the Bellagio. There are 5 "Advanced Sommeliers" at Bellagio who are currently studying through the process of becoming a Master Sommlier. As one can see, there is a serious focus on wines, (and beer and spirits too), not only at Bellagio but throughout Las Vegas. The Bellagio serves approximately 2,000 bottles a day and the cellars currently hold over $10 million dollars of wine.
Our Host for the cook-off was Andrew Knowlton, the Restaurant and Drinks Editor of Bon Appetit. Mr. Knowlton is one of only two staff members at Bon Appetit to have survived the change in Editor the past year, and one of only two employees who has been a regular host at Uncork'd throughout its five-year history. Known in part for his appearances as a Judge on Iron Chef America, Knowlton has a deep knowledge of not only cooking and ingredients, but the experience of dining in Las Vegas-and trends in dining throughout America-allowing him the ability to add an informed commentary linking the work of the Chefs with the audience Members.
The Chefs were charged with preparing two dishes using two secret ingredients-one per dish. (The ingredients weren't really "secret"-the Chefs had already prepared 90 serving dishes using the secret ingredient that would be served to the attendees). And the not-so-secret ingredients:
Scallops, (including bay scallops, Diver scallops, smoked and dried scallops)-
Mushrooms, (including morels, summer truffles, oyster, portabello, shitake and enoki)-
Round One, The Appetizer-
Chef Back chose a simple preparation using his style of combining modern style with Asian accents.
Scallop "Pizza," with Diver Scallop Carpaccio, "Kewpie" Mayonnaise and Truffle on Grilled Tortilla-
Chef Heirling preapred an intricate dish using his strong technical skills combined with his penchant for the flavors of Southeast Asia.
Seared Sea Scallop coated in Fermented Rice Flakes, sauce of Tamarind, Ginger, Cilantro, Lime and Compressed Pineapple-
Round Two, The Entree-
Chef Back presented a vegetarian tasting of 5 different mushrooms, including Oyster, Morel, Shimenji, Porcini and Portabella.
Tasting of Five-Mushrooms-
Chef Heirling crafted an intricate dish of rabbit wrapped with bacon and small, "Parisian-style" gnocchi braised in mushroom stock and garnished with Spring Vegetables, including fava beans, peas and ramps. The mushroom included morels, shitake and truffle.
Bacon-Wrapped Rabbit Loin with Parisian Gnocchi and Mushrooms-
We, (the attendees), acted as the Judging Panel and there was some debate about who would be crowned the overall winner. Chef Heirling's Scallop dish was the preferred favorite of the two appetizer dishes. The fermented rice flakes added a crispy, sweet, hint of rice flavor that didn't overpower the buttery scallop, and the sauce, oh that sauce. Sweet, (from the compressed pineapple), herbal (cilantro), yet sour (lime). It was a unique treatment of Scallops you won't find on any other menu.
However, the diners preferred Chef Back's mushroom dish. Chef Heirling's dish had two visible faults-the smoked bacon overwhelmed the delicate sweet meat of the rabbit and the mushroom was barely apparent-a small scattering of mushrooms as a garnish yet no deep mushroom flavor imbued into the dish.
The most stunning dish in Chef Back's line of five mushroom treatments was the little oyster mushroom dumpling. Aside from the fact the dumpling wrapper was tough and dry, (probably the result of sitting to long on the serving line in back), the oyster stuffing was intense. Chef Back explained that he braised the mushrooms in a delicate mixture of soy, cream and mushroom broth, then garnished the mixture with a boost from yuzu and cilantro.
You can never leave the table in Las Vegas without having pastry, (compliments of the Bellagio pastry kitchen)-
For the serious home cook and the informed diner, experiences like the Chef Showdown provide us with the opportunity to see these gifted Chefs at work while at the same time delivering lessons on how they bring flavors together. Who knew, (I didn't), that there were three styles of Gnocchi, including the "Parisian" style. We learn flavor combinations that we may not have thought about before, (fermented rice flakes, tamarind, pineapple and lime), and how we can employ professional, yet simple techniques in our home kitchens, (pineapple compressed in a vacuum bag to intensify the flavors).
Posted 07 May 2011 - 07:18 PM
Posted 07 May 2011 - 07:39 PM
Thank you. The plated food at The Wicked Spoon was much better than the typical trays of food at most of the other buffets. Some people have commented on other sites that the pre-plated food is an attempt to avoid waste-i.e. it's cheaper to put out little crocks of crab legs and only replace them as needed as opposed to a groaning tray of boiled crab legs that may go uneaten. I think it's a combination of two things-only putting out food as it is taken (and thus controlling waste and cost), but more importantly, it's a matter of giving the kitchen more latitude in the types of offerings on the buffet and presents the customer with a more contemporary style of dining.
Thank you, David. I love the idea of the plated buffet. It sounds as if the food looked better than it tasted, but I think I would go just for the little fryer baskets of chicken and waffles. And the price seems right. Wish I had been at Payard with you. Nice traditional menu.
Payard is one of my favorites in Las Vegas. While I enjoy the high-end French rooms of Savoy and Gagnaire, I prefer the small-Bistro feel and traditional dishes at Payard. And who can not like Francois? A Chef with a glass of red wine or cognac in his hand is a wonderful Host.
Posted 08 May 2011 - 08:00 AM
"Culinary Revelations, Shabu-Shabu" Jasmine Restaurant Bellagio.
One of the most popular series of events at Uncork'd are the "Culinary Revelations" where guests have the opportunity to cook interactively with the Chefs and then have a taste of their creations. (Remember Ross and Meeker cooking whole fish in a salt crust at Wynn last year? Read about it here). I've never cooked a Chinese "Hotpot" so I was intrigued to try my skill at the art of "swish-swish."
Hotpot (Chinese) is an ancient dish that become popular in China during the Tang Dynasty AD 618-906. Meaning "swish swish," Shabu-Shabu (Japanese), or Hotpot, is a hearty, warming dish composed of hot broth placed in the center of a communal table and accompanied by meats, seafood, vegetables and noodles (China), or rice (Japan). Diners simply dip the garnishes into the hot broth and "swish" it around until it is done. A variety of different types of broths may be used, and the flavor of the broth develops and deepens as the meats, seafood, vegetables and then noodles are added. At the end of the meal the broth turns into a flavorful, rich soup.
The table setting for Shabu-Shabu-
Chef Philip Lo of Jasmine and Bellagio Executive Chef Edmund Wong were our instructors, and they started with an opener of Avocado Stuffed with Crab, Preserved Lemon, Compressed Watermelon and Bonito Gelee. This week I've found a number of "Modernist" techniques employed by Chefs at restaurants throughout Las Vegas. Chef Wong explained that the watermelon is compressed in cry-o-vac with sugar and sweet soy. Incredibly the watermelon retained its texture through the process and it had an intense, sweet flavor.
The table setting showing the basket we would use to dip the garnished in the bubbling broth and three dipping sauces, including Satay Sauce, Sesame Seed Vinegar, (toasted sesame seeds ground to a paste and then mixed with oil and vinegar), and Soy Sauce with Fresh Chili-
To accompany the Shabu-Shabu, the Beer and Spirits Sommelier selected two beers-A 2010 "Vintage" Hitachino Nest Commerative Ale and a dark Asahi Black Kuronama Lager. The Hitachino Nest Ale is crafted from 5 different malts, 3 hops, and 5 spices including vanilla, coriander, orange peel, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Chef Lo explained that due to the cold weather found in Northern China, the traditional Mongolian Hotpot is made with a funnel on top of the pot so that the steam from the boiling broth takes longer to dissapate. In Japan where most Shabu-Shabu is served indoors, the traditional pot is crafted of clay and the lid is left off the pot during cooking.
Boiling Chicken Broth in the pot. (The Bellagio makes 200 gallons of fresh chicken stock each day!)
The accompaniments-Sliced Kobe Beef, Diver Scallops, Shitake and Enoki Mushrooms, Napa Cabbage, Spinach, Glass Noodles and Tomato-
The first "Swish-Swish,"-Mushrooms stirred into the broth-
Mushrooms and Kobe Beef in the soup bowl-
With glass noodles-
With tomato, the final, deep, rich, fragant broth-
We started with 12 tables all with the same broth in the pot. In the end, we had 12 different broths based on the composition of the ingredients that had been added to each pot. In homes, the final broth is typically kept and served the next day as a soup. Chef Lo recommends saving the broth and using it for boiling noodles or rice the next day.
"Swish-Swish in the Hot Pot," was a fun event and I've learned a new, (and easy) technique for serving a delicious communal meal.
Posted 08 May 2011 - 09:15 AM
The Grand Tasting, The Pools at Caesar’s Palace-
This year, the Grand Tasting became the marquee even of Vegas Uncork’d when the tribute dinner to Paul Bocuse on Saturday night was abruptly and unceremoniously cancelled. This year the Grand Tasting was spread out a little more due to finished construction in the pool areas so I was hoping that the extra room would accommodate the hungry throngs. But as the evening went on, I had a sense that attendance was down-owing in part to the fact that the cost of a ticket went up to $200 this year which is never a good sign in a depressed Las Vegas economy. Locals make up a large contingent of the folks who attend the Grand Tasting and it may have been a bit much to ask of them to support Uncork’d at that price.
The Grand Tasting features over 50 restaurants (primarily from the large Strip resorts), and many of the Chef’s whose names grace the doors of their signature restaurants are in attendance. It’s a wonderful venue for the general public to sample little bites from the restaurants. There are also booths featuring wines, spirits, and beers.
One Celebrity Chef wasn’t in the house this year, (and no one seemed to notice). Apparently Bobby Flay had a previous engagement at the Kentucky Derby. Another Celebrity Chef made his first prance into the Grand Tasting this year. Surrounded by security and a trail of mignons, Gordon Ramsay paraded through the event waving off the curious autograph seekers, (none of which he obliged with a signature as far as I could see). Ramsay’s presence is sure to fuel continued rumors of the opening of a signature restaurant at Caesar’s Palace.
Bar Masa, Aria Hotel, Chef Masa Takayama-
Chef Guy Savoy and Jean Joho, (Eiffel Tower Restaurant), checking out the Big Green Egg at a barbecue booth-
China Poblano by Jose Andres, Cosmopolitan Hotel-
Scallop with Grilled Lime-
Rao's, Caesar's Palace-
Nobu, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Hard Rock Hotel-
Miso-Marinated Black Cod-
Foie Gras Burger on Brioche-Robuchon, MGM Grand Hotel, (the most popular booth every year)-
The line behind the booth. Cooking burgers, sauteeing foie gras, reducing the demi-glace-
The foie gras at a little outdoor party-
Properly toasting the buns-
Posted 08 May 2011 - 04:58 PM
Saturday morning began with the "Culinary Conversations," series hosted by Bon Appetit Restaurant and Drinks Editor Andrew Knowlton. The panel was composed of the inimitable trio of Las Vegas's most celebrated culinary journalists, John Curtas, Max Jacobson and Al Mancini, authors of "Eating Las Vegas 2011, The 50 Essential Restaurants." The book has been recognized for its uniqure style, format, humor and sometimes rancourous debate about the restaurants that made the final cut. It was the first book to be written by three informed food journalists, running miles ahead of the local newspaper and tourist guidebooks as a reference for dining in Las Vegas. As opposed to other “guidebooks” which rely in large part on collecting press releases from hotels and restaurants, “Eating Las Vegas” has set a new standard because of its unique style, format, humor and rancourous debate among the authors over who made the final cut.
The power of three ruled in the writing of the book—two of the authors could out vote the third. However, a sidebar to the rule was that each had absolute veto power. As such, it was rumored that the three musketeers nearly came to blows when two voiced support of a restaurant only to have the third express his utter frustration, horror and distaste for including a wretched restaurant that can’t make a meatball in the book. (The “veto” section of the book is one of the more intriguing chapters).
While the most popular part of the book may be who made the Top 10 list, in my view this isn’t a tome to the “best” restaurants in Las Vegas. As noted in the title, it’s a guide to the “Essential” restaurants one should consider when dining in Las Vegas.
We started off the morning with a Bloody Mary Bar with a vast menu of selections to customize one's cocktail-
Spanish Green Olives
House Pickled Asparagus
Windy City Wasabeans
Cholula Hot Sauce
Siracha Red Chili Paste
A1 Steak Sauce
Maldon Sea Salt
Smoked Sea Salt
Old Bay Seasoning
Ancho Chili Powder
Cracked Black Pepper
Belvedere Bloody Mary
House Cucumber-Infused Absolut
Much was discussed about the changes that will take place in the "Top Ten" list as the Authors begin their work on the next edition. This is the Top Ten list that currently appear in the book, (with some commentary on the changes we could see in 2012)-
-Alex (Wynn)-CLOSED, (no rational answer has ever been released by Wynn as to why the restaurant was suddenly shuddered).
-Bartolotta Ristorante Di Mare (Wynn)-(could lose the spot as the top seafood restaurant in Las Vegas to the contemporary Greek "Milos" at the newly opened Cosmopolitan).
-Bar Masa (Aria at CityCenter)
-Guy Savoy (Caesar’s Palace)
-Joel Robuchon (MGM Grand)
-L’Atelier (MGM Grand)
-RM Seafood (Mandalay Place)-(will the turnover of Sous Chefs topple RM from the list?)
-Twist (Mandarin Oriental)
Left to Right: Knowlton, Curtas, Jacobson and Mancini
The discussion also turned to the place that traditional food writing, (i.e., print Magazines like Bon Appetit), has in today's contemporary and electronic world of food and dining reporting. (The consensus was that we will see less and less of the traditional food writer/writing and the growth of food "bloggers" will continue). Finally, there was a discussion of the issue of the "anonymous" critic, (which doesn't happen with these three visible Vegas figures), and whether or not a comp meal is both ethical and fair game for a review. (The panel all agreed that comps are not expected but accepted. Curtas upholds his commitment to be truthful in a review whether the meal is comped or not. Jacobson and Mancini don't review a meal that is comped, labeling it "somewhat disingenuous. I wasn't given a voice or vote on the subject).
"Eating Las Vegas 2011, The 50 Essential Restaurants," can be purchased through the "We Care.com" site here. Purchases through the site help the Society in our advancement of the Culinary Arts.
Posted 08 May 2011 - 05:43 PM
Saturday afternoon would prove to be a revelation to me in terms of my preferences, (and ignorance of), the traditions and future of cuisine. I call it the "Reign of Spain"-a combination of two defining events-one associated with Vegas Uncork'd and hosted by a Spanish Traditionalist who resides in the house of Picasso. The other-3 Chefs, 2 Servers, 8 patrons in a private library classroom experiencing the cuisine of a Member of the Spanish "Avant-Garde" movement, (and the relation to Modernist Cuisine).