Plan: Vegas Uncork'd 2011
Posted 10 May 2011 - 07:59 PM
“The Reign of Spain Part I”-The Traditionalist
“Que Viva Espana!” (That I live Spain)-
On Saturday afternoon, Vegas Uncork’d holds private luncheons as part of the “Master Luncheon Series.” Similar to the Thursday night “Master Dinner Series,” these private events give attendees the chance to meet the Chefs and savor their cuisine. The Luncheon series are actually more exclusive than the Dinner series in because these Chefs and their restaurants are not regularly open for lunch. In the case of my choice, “Picasso” restaurant at Bellagio-they have only served lunch on two other occasions over the course of the thirteen years Picasso has been opened, (beginning when the Bellagio opened on October 15, 1998).
Picasso restaurant is named for the famous Cubist artist born in Spain who lived most of his artistic life in France. It is only fitting that Chef Julian Serrano resides in the house of Picasso--a Spaniard whose mastery of French cuisine with Spanish influences has established Picasso as one of the top restaurants in America. The winner of multiple James Beard Awards, Chef Serrano was one of the first to establish Las Vegas as a top dining destination.
Our hosts for lunch were Robert Smith, Master Sommelier at Picasso, (and a 2011 James Beard Award nominee) and Steve Olson, aka the Wine Geek and Bon Appetit Wine and Spirits Contributing Editor.
In keeping with the spirit of Spanish hospitality, lunch opened with glasses of refreshing, fruity Sangria that reportedly took overnight to make including the preparation of a deeply flavored syrup that formed the base of the Sangria. Master Smith encouraged the guests to enjoy the three wines and Sangria throughout lunch—there would be no formal order of wine pairings--each was selected to go with all of the dishes and to be relished throughout the feast.
Morgadio Albarino, Rias-Baixas, 2009
Cune Rosado, Rioja, 2009
Alconte, Ribera del Duero, 2007
Stuffed Piquillo Peppers-Goat Cheese and Mushrooms
Tuna Raspberry Skewer-Ahi Tuna, “Molecular Raspberry,” Wasabi, Sesame Seed
(The only dish that didn’t come together. The tuna was under-seasoned and was overwhelmed by the small block of intense raspberry flavor. But as you see, the style of “molecular” is a part of Serrano’s repertoire).
Lobster Gazpacho-“Traditional” Chilled Spanish Soup, Lobster “Morsels”
(Another nod to the Spanish “Avant-Garde” from the Traditionalist—the “Morsel” was a small frozen ball of Gazpacho enrobing a core of Lobster soup that burst forth on the palate).
Scallops a la “Plancha”-Romseco Sauce
Paella a la “Valenciana”-Chicken, Rabbit, Chorizo, Vegetables, Saffron Rice
(Chef Serrano uses long-grain Spanish rice in his Paella because he prefers the texture and starch content of the long-grains rather than a short-grain, risotto type of rice. The smoked paprika Chorizo is made in house. Chef included what he called the “special parts” of the rabbit, including the liver, heart and kidneys).
Toro Albala, “Don PX” Montilla-Morales, 2007 Sherry
Serrano’s Spanish flavors are spright, fresh, clean and bold. The cooking was unpretentious, the wine and conversation spirited. One could say that Serrano is a Spanish traditionalist-a Chef who became recognized for a style of pure cuisine that had not been overly popular in America at the time. He built the foundation for a taste of Spain, paving the road for many of today's young Chefs who are leading the Spanish Avant-Garde movement—a marriage of tradition with the vivid, technical innovation of the future.
On his last day, April 8, 1973, Picasso was dining with his wife and friends in Mougins, France. It is said that he spoke these final words before passing-“Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink anymore.” A life well lived indeed and a legacy that lives on in Las Vegas.
Posted 12 May 2011 - 03:51 PM
Posted 13 May 2011 - 08:05 PM
“The Reign of Spain Part II”-The Avant-Garde
e’ Jose Andres
It was quite unplanned that I would find myself in the midst of a culinary transformation while I was in Las Vegas for Uncork'd. I knew I would have memorable meals and I would go home with new ideas, but I never expected what would happen on Saturday night. Through a twist of fate, I thank the French for leading me into the land of Oz.
The Grand Gala Banquet, “Tocques off to Bocuse,” had been billed as the Grande Dame Saturday night event at Vegas Uncork’d 2011. Planned as a tribute to the French Master and attended by the honorable Monsieur Jerome Bocuse, every one of the great Chefs of Las Vegas, (and more), were preparing to cook in the style of Lyon. Gagnaire and Savoy would be there, and Ducasse and Robuchon were going to pair together to craft one of the opening courses. Unfortunately, the planners in charge of staging the events at Vegas Uncork’d are unaware of the current economic strife that has befallen the world for well over five years and they saw it proper to list the cost of one ticket at $395.00. Even serious food enthusiasts have a hard time swallowing the price of a $400 banquet-style dinner and the event was abruptly, (and without explanation), cancelled one week before the start of Uncork’d. I wasn’t interested in attending the outdoor barbecue hosted by Charlie Palmer, Rick Moonen and Ducasse at Mandalay Bay, (the “second string” event that was put in when the Bocuse dinner was cancelled), so I chose to go it alone on Saturday night.
David, our waiter at Twist on Wednesday night, asked if I had ever dined with Jose Andres at his recently opened Jaleo restaurant in Las Vegas. No, this was my first trip to Las Vegas since The Cosmopolitan Hotel had opened so I hadn’t tried the dining rooms yet. “Have you been to minibar in Washington,, D.C.,” he inquired. "No, but I am familiar with Andres and his “molecular gastronomy” I told David. “No Mr. Ross, Chef Andres prefers to term his style “Avant-Garde,”-a marriage of tradition with the technical innovations afforded the “modern” kitchen."
After further discussion about my adventures at Vegas Uncork’d, (and my sad tale of the cancellation of the Bocuse event on Saturday evening), David encouraged me to try the experience at e’ by Andres-a private room seating just 8 diners and located in the larger Jaleo restaurant. “It will be hard to get in,” David said. “They only have seatings on Saturdays at 5:30 and 8:00 and they are probably booked.” “My fiancee works there and I know the Manager, I will call them and see if they can accommodate you on Saturday night Mr. Ross. What seating would you prefer.” And so it goes, a charge of Gagnaire booked me the last remaining seat at e’ on Saturday night.
A “Traditionalist” at heart, I have never completely understood why one would want to taste food that has been altered with chemicals and technology. Really, my only adventure into any creative expression outside of traditional circles was some 35 years ago when I did do a term paper on Jackson Pollock while studying art history at Oregon State. I was young and felt at the time that a piece on the crazed, paint-throwing style of the Abstract Expressionist savant would score a higher grade point than a boring treatise on Rembrandt. But in my heart, I was a traditionalist, I truly thought of Pollock as having been influenced by heavy drink and drug which in turn resulted in his penchant for throwing paint on canvas and calling it an inspiration, “art” as it were. (Today, an original work by Pollock is valued in the millions). But ignorance is no excuse for reality, and the chains that bind our tastes can only be released when we experience and savor the art created by those whom we mis-interpret.
One must go through a somewhat lengthy process to be “accepted” at Andres e’ table. You cannot simply call and make a reservation, you can’t book a table online. No, you must first complete an application, listing your personal information and completing a checklist, (notating if you have any food allergies for example), and commit to the rules of the house, (including the fact that no “moving” pictures, cell phones or other electronic devices are allowed). The application is then sent back to the restaurant, and after you have passed the screening process, (and committed $250 per person to your credit card), you receive notification that your reservation has been completed. e’ is obviously the provenance of those who are committed and aware of the experience that awaits.
You enter e’ through a discreet, hidden door located off the end of the bar at Jaleo restaurant, (and just off from what must be the largest indoor “paella pit,” in America). You are transported into a different world--a small room with a mystical atmosphere that is part library, part laboratory, part stage—walls lined with wooden library card boxes, a ladder to nowhere, porcelain dolls, string puppets and sequined shoes, (seemingly out of a “Halloween” movie), garnish the walls. In the center of the room is a small, horsehoe-shaped bar with 8 comfortable stools that border the preparation table. Literally inches away are the artist’s tools-tweezers, tiny eye droppers, glass dishes holding unrecognizable ingredients. At the rear, heavy red curtains open to reveal a small laboratory of glass shelves lined with serving dishes, hand-painted lacquer boxes and clay “hands” apparently taken off mannequins. To the right, the “stage” door through which 3 Chefs enter, followed by 2 servers who will choreograph the service. (The head Chef, a young man from Puerto Rico, is one of only 3 Chefs at Jaleo Las Vegas who has been selected and trained by Andres to perform the e’ experience).
I had packed my requisite little black book and small Canon digital camera having every intent of taking photos, (still photos are discreetly allowed), and recording every detail of the meal so that I could report back to my friends at eGullet. I wanted to present the intricate details of the preparations-the minutiae at the hands of the technicians-so that I could prove, (in my mind), that a Traditionalist could be converted. As I settled in with a glass of Spanish Cava, I sensed that in order to experience that truth of the evening I would have to place the book and camera to the side.
Our group of 8 diners included a couple from San Diego, two gentlemen college friends, (one from New York, one from San Francisco), myself, and a family of three from Japan. As we settled in with glasses of Spanish Cava and waited for the show to begin, I learned that two of the diners have ordered Nathan’s “Modernist Cuisine,” and are avid followers of the movement.
“Gin and Tonic”
(“Carnation” of Iberico Ham)
Caramelized Pork Rinds
Apple “Brazo de Gitano”
Crispy Chicen Skin in Escabeche
& Artichoke with Caviar
Bocata de “Calamares”
Maine Lobster with Citrus and Jasmine
Chickpea Stew with Iberico Ham
“Catch” of the Day
Rosemary Wild Mushrooms en Papilotte
Secreto of Iberico Pork
Orange Pith Puree
Frozen Apricot Coulant
Apples and Red Wine
25 Second Bizcocho
Tiny little “apples” were created in front of us, applauding the work of the great Swiss Chef Fredy Giradet while crafting the fruit using a technique I had never witnessed. Globes of “caviar” jelly and emulsions from citrus pith (the lowly part of the peel that is usually relegated to the trash bin), appeared without effort. The Iberico pig blessed us with paper-thin, crispy ham, succulent, smoked belly and lush, roasted shoulder. Every dish was a revelation, the flavors clean, fresh and pure. The "cocktails," wines and beer served with each course were perfect partners to the flavors in the dishes.
Chef Andres was in Las Vegas that night, yet he was busy attending to other work and not in the house of e'. (He would receive the James Beard Award a mere two days later in New York). However, his cast of artists clearly believe his mission and they performed without a flaw. Through circumstances I hadn’t imagined when I arrived in Las Vegas, I found a seat at the table at e’. My tastes had been enlightened through the technology of modern science in the creative hands of the Avant-Garde. Culinary ephiphanies are life-changing moments--an awakening really. And I know now that while my “Traditions” live on, the artistry and technology of “Modern” cuisine will carry me forward.
Posted 14 May 2011 - 04:49 PM
Mother’s Day Sparkling Brunch, Guy Savoy, Caesar’s Palace-
New to the Uncork’d line-up this year was a sparkling champagne brunch at hosted by Hugh Garvey, Bon Appetit Features Editor and Chef Guy Savoy. (Last year the only Sunday event was a brunch with Robuchon at L’Atelier, which wasn’t staged this year). Another brunch was held by the “Two Hot Tamales” at Border Grill at Mandalay Bay.
I was hoping for an exceptional experience at the Savoy Brunch—how often does one even have the opportunity to have brunch with a Michelin-Star French Chef? Unfortunately, lapses in service and a limited menu didn’t deliver on those expectations. I left Guy Savoy wondering why a restaurant of this caliber can’t deliver on basic customer service courtesies and a sense that this Sunday “Sparkling” Brunch didn’t sparkle. (See my report of dinner at Guy Savoy during last year’s “Vegas Uncork’d” here for a similar review of the lapses at this esteemed restaurant).
I was curious about what type of brunch menu Chef Savoy would offer. I certainly didn’t expect a groaning board of hundreds of items ala the Las Vegas Buffet, and I knew Chef would serve some of his signature dishes, (Peas All Around and Artichoke Soup with Black Truffles and Brioche). But would we have a Michelin-Star dish of eggs? Would there be both breakfast and luncheon dishes? Would the magical Savoy dessert cart make an entrance into the dining room?
My curiousness soon was tamed with the reality that there would be a limited selection of dishes, so limited that in fact they ran out of one of the main courses, (only to half-heartedly rescue more scraps from the kitchen when the diners complained).
The service was far below the typically high standards of the Savoy team. Tables for 4 were crammed with 2 additional seats while a large table seating 12 sat empty at one end of the room. There was barely room to reach for bread without hitting the woman to my right. And then there was the service.
After we sat down, our table of five waited, and waited, for a server to introduce themselves and set the stage for brunch. Not knowing if the food would be plated and served tableside or if we were supposed to go through the typical brunch routine of walking down the “line,” we flagged someone down who then instructed us to help ourselves. Had this been the buffet at Palace Station we would have known the drill, yet at Guy Savoy we expected the decorum and service to be more formal, not happenstance.
Billed as a “Sparkling” brunch, the servers were the stingiest in Las Vegas-limiting us to a mere one glass of champagne before we sat down at the table. (And the bubbly didn’t flow once we were seated). I had to ask for a second glass of white wine twice, only to have the wine poured when a wine steward passed by, (seemingly unaware that I had asked someone, anyone, for another glass of wine). In a Michelin-recognized restaurant, utensils are quietly replaced at the end of each course, yet on this Sunday, forks, spoons and knives weren’t replaced unless one asked or if our server happened to be at the table when our plate was cleared. (After the clean fork I requested didn’t arrive, I ate the Veal dish with a spoon. In a five-star restaurant!).
The craftsmanship of the dishes at Savoy are always perfect, the flavors pure yet understated. Savoy is a steady ship as it were. You won’t taste the influence of Asian flavors like you will when dining at Robuchon. And there isn’t the great pleasure of an exceptional dish followed by an acrid mess that you may encounter with Gagnaire.
Tout Petis Pois
“Peas All Around”
(a signature dish)
Fromage de Tete
(A rare menu offering anywhere, and one of the best dishes of the Brunch)
Country Style Pate
Spanish Iberico de Bellota Ham
(not nearly as ethereal as the Iberico pork served in three different treatments at Andres e’)
Huitres en Nage Glacee
Oysters in Ice Gelee
(While not labeled, the little gems were either Belon oysters from France or the tiniest Kumamotos from the Pacific)
Brouillade de Champignons Sauvages
Wild Mushroom Brouillade
Soupe d’Artichaut a la Truffe Noire,
Brioche Feuillette aux Champignons et Truffes
Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup, Toasted Mushroom Brioche,
Black Truffle Butter
(A Savoy signature and rightly so, no other “soup and sandwich” combination will ever compare to this rich, buttery, truffled creation)
Selection de Fromages Affines
Selection of Cheeses-
(I suppose three cheeses, including a very good, creamy bleu, amounts to a “selection,” but we were expecting a few more choices)
Poitrine de Veau Braisee, Legumes de Saison
Braised Loin of Veal, Seasonal Vegetables
(The biggest disappointment of the meal-the “veal eaten with a spoon.” On our first trip through the service line, we spotted a regal, golden loin of veal sitting on the carving board, a Chef slicing thick slices of the meat for each customer. Alas, we were on our first trip to the Cold Appetizer display and would return for the veal. And when we did return, “sorry, we’re out of veal.” What? A restaurant of this level, with a mere 50 customers for brunch and you didn’t plan for the veal? As the number of complaints started to go toward the kitchen, a Chef appeared with more veal. Yet it wasn’t the kingly roast and it wouldn’t be carved per order. It was scraps off the trimming of the loin, perfectly good meat indeed, it just wasn’t what should have been offered. Served in a copper sauté pan with the delicious braising liquor, it was tender enough to “eat with a spoon.”)
Volaille de Bresse, Confite et Laquee, Chou Juste Poele, Jus aux Vinaigres
Farm-Raised Chicken Laquee, Cabbage Ragout, Vinegar Jus
(The potato puree served as an accompaniment to the Entrees was in fact, better than Robuchon’s famed potato dish. Savoy is less generous with the butter, resulting in a puree with a more true potato flavor).
Salmon Toutes Saveurs
Lightly Cooked Salmon with Herbs
(While intricately prepared and delicious, the dessert offerings were tiny and the selection somewhat sparse given the occasion)
Clafoutis aux Fraises
(Strangely missing yet replaced with little jars of custard and caramel)
Fondant au Chocolat
(Another absent dessert offering, apparently replaced with a second chocolate item)
One expects an exceptional, memorable experience when dining with Guy Savoy, especially when Chef is in the restaurant. After this private Sunday brunch in 2011 and the private Master Series Dinner in 2010, I’ve been less than impressed, underwhelmed is a more appropriate term. These events cater to serious diners-people who know cuisine and service. It can only be an indication of the lapses, however minor, that must go on every evening. The staff at Savoy needs to be more attentive to the details lest they be passed over in the challenging market of Las Vegas.
Posted 15 May 2011 - 06:51 PM
The 5th Year of Uncork'd proved to be the most memorable for me personally. In the five years that I've attended Uncork'd, I've made a number of personal acqaintances, many of whom returned this year so it was fun to join them again in the fabulous food events at Uncork'd.
The Master Series Dinner at Payard on Thursday was exceptional, probably the best one of these dinners I've attended in five years. Two of the highlights were the instructional classes I attended at Bellagio on Friday, the Chef Showdown with Akira Back and Martin Heirling and the Shabu-Shabu demonstration with Edmund Wong and Philip Lo. We learned techniques, flavor pairings and dishes from professionals that we'll take home and cook in our kitchens and serve to our families.
The Grand Tasting on Friday night was not up to par this year, (it's never been my favorite event). Yes, there were the gourmet food booths and the Celebrity Chefs in attendance, (where else can you eat a foie gras burger slider from Robuchon and see Gordon Ramsay prancing through with his groupies). But the attendance seemed down, due I am sure in large part to the increase in the ticket price to $200 per person. The Grand Tasting is traditionally an event well-attended by the locals. Without a doubt, in one of the most depressed counties in America, $200 dollars is a steep tariff to pay for a few nibbles of this and a sip of tha. Somehow, someday, one can only hope that the planners will find a way to disperse the booths nearest to the pool in a more reasonable way so that there isn't the yearly conflagration in front of the most popular
A new, (and welcome), feature was the Eating Las Vegas discussion on Saturday with local Food Journalists John Curtas, Max Jacobson and Al Mancini. Never before had Uncork'd staged an event with local Food Writers who shared their inside knowledge about the Las Vegas dining scene with customers who specifically travel to Las Vegas to eat-not gamble-to eat. It certainly was far more insightful than any guidebook would ever be able to provide.
The Sparkling brunch at Savoy on Sunday was a dissapointment as noted in my reports. Terribly disappointing since it was my last event at Uncork'd 2011. The last memory is often the "lasting" memory. Marginal service, a sparse menu and the case of the missing veal shouldn't be tolerated at a restaurant whose namesake Chef has been awarded 3 Michelin Stars. It will go down as the brunch where "I ate my veal with a spoon."
I've purposely gone out of order in my conclusions on the events I attended during Vegas Uncork'd, leaving a final comment on Saturday until now. It was an unexpected twist of fate that I found myself having two memorable meals on Saturday. One at the hands of a Spanish Traditionalist at an event that was part of Uncork'd. The other, an ethereal experience presented by the School of the Spanish Avant-Garde. I would never have had the opportunity to dine at e' by Jose Andres had I not been in town for Uncork'd. It was a case of simple circumstance that I discovered a new path in my culinary journey through
life--a path entwined with the Modernist Movement that we celebrate in our anniversary year at eGullet. Yes, Uncork'd was an incredible experience. "Magnifico efecto."
Posted 01 January 2012 - 02:51 PM
Posted 01 January 2012 - 07:01 PM
Uncork'd is one of the great culinary gatherings every year. Stay tuned for my topic on the 2012 event.
Thank you, David! I'm making plans to go this coming year. The tickets go on sale 2/1! VERY excited!
Posted 04 March 2012 - 04:08 AM
I'm curious how you kept yourself occupied in between meals. If I were to go to Spain instead, I know I could keep myself well occupied in between meals. I have no interest in gambling.
Posted 04 March 2012 - 07:49 PM
Admittedly the instructional events are not of great value to me as I don't really cook that ambitiously anymore. For me, the top priority is just eating.
Thanks in advance. Your comments will help me decide my travel plans.
Posted 04 March 2012 - 08:23 PM
The difference is that you are dining with Chef Savoy in the kitchen--something that he only does about 3 or 4 times a year. And you are exposed to all the other great Chefs at Uncork'd. They rarely come to Las Vegas at all let alone in one setting. And although the meals are expensive, you are dining on the finest products executed perfectly, the service is A+ and you are drinking vintage wines that if you bought the bottles yourself would cost as much as a fleet of Mercedes.
Something has come up and I may go this year. But in reading your report I'm wondering what makes Uncork'd special, versus just going to Vegas any other time of the year. Instead of paying $300 for the Master Series Dinner with Guy Savoy, why not just book at his restaurant some other time?
Admittedly the instructional events are not of great value to me as I don't really cook that ambitiously anymore. For me, the top priority is just eating.
Thanks in advance. Your comments will help me decide my travel plans.
In terms of how I pace myself, as you can read from my previous reports I take a lot of naps and drink gallons of water. That helps me take on the gluttonous feasts each night that stretch into the next day. I've done all the shopping and tourist things, so during the day I'm perfectly satisfied to lay out by the pool with a newspaper and dream about the food I'll be eating that evening.