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David Ross

Vegas Uncork'd: A Bon Appetit Epicurean Experience

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There is clearly no shortage of talent or quality in Las Vegas dining. My biggest issue with it is that with the exception of a few restaurants the landscape is dotted with clones rather than originals. Of course, that doesn't mean that the clones are not necessarily excellent in their own right nor that I don't enjoy the city or dining there, however, that aspect leaves a little something lacking for me in the end.

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David, I'm sorry if I am raining on what I am sure is and will be an incredible time. I don't mean to. My last visit to Vegas was great. I am simply bemoaning the trend towrds globalization of high end restaurant franchises that is best represented in Las Vegas. L'Atelier, for example was a great experience, but lacked a little something extra for me just knowing that I could find nearly the same thing in other parts of the globe. Wing Lei, OTOH, was a novel experience for me and Michael Mina at the Bellagio, back when it was Aqua was preferable to me over the original in San Francisco. I am not questioning the quality or the talent, just the soul.

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None of this keeps me from being very jealous of what you have experienced there, are experiencing and will experience this week and probably in the future :smile:

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There is clearly no shortage of talent or quality in Las Vegas dining. My biggest issue with it is that with the exception of a few restaurants the landscape is dotted with clones rather than originals. Of course, that doesn't mean that the clones are not necessarily excellent in their own right nor that I don't enjoy the city or dining there, however, that aspect leaves a little something lacking for me in the end.

Doc-you are so right, there are many outposts of original "celebrity chef" restaurants that lack something more than the basic character of the flagship enterprise at home. And while the clones as you say have talented chefs working in their kitchens, in and of itself, is that enough to elevate these restaurants to more than an outpost? In some cases yes, but those are often restaurants where the efforts are sometimes lost on the tourists.

One element that I think would set some of these restaurants apart-like bringing in hand-crafted butter from a local dairy rather than flying it in from thousands of miles away-(yes, there are dairies in Nevada)-may not be allowed by the purchasing department of the mega-resort. That certainly is a factor that often constrains the Chef's creativity in Las Vegas. The conventioneers may not notice the difference between artisan butter over the stuff in gold foil packets-but we certainly do.

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David, I'm sorry if I am raining on what I am sure is and will be an incredible time. I don't mean to. My last visit to Vegas was great. I am simply bemoaning the trend towrds globalization of high end restaurant franchises that is best represented in Las Vegas. L'Atelier, for example was a great experience, but lacked a little something extra for me just knowing that I could find nearly the same thing in other parts of the globe. Wing Lei, OTOH, was a novel experience for me and Michael Mina at the Bellagio, back when it was Aqua was preferable to me over the original in San Francisco. I am not questioning the quality or the talent, just the soul.

No offense taken as I agree with you. The technical talent of the Chefs at the high-end restaurants doesn't seem to be the primary question. But the ability of these Chefs to express their creativity, their "soul" if you will, is often constrained by corporate forces that are unique to Las Vegas-something I'll be speaking about as this topic develops.

However, as the city grows and looks toward the opening of restaurants at Encore at The Wynn and MGM's City Center, we'll undoubtedly see more well-known Chefs open dining rooms based on models from other cities. The challenge is for the Chefs to distinguish themselves within the confines of the corporate structure of the resorts to give us the cuisine with "soul" that both you and I are looking for. Of course it can be done, but it's a daunting task for sure. The movement is already underway, and I'm hopeful we'll see it gather steam as we go forward. The opportunity is here for someone to take it.

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David, I'm sorry if I am raining on what I am sure is and will be an incredible time. I don't mean to. My last visit to Vegas was great. I am simply bemoaning the trend towrds globalization of high end restaurant franchises that is best represented in Las Vegas. L'Atelier, for example was a great experience, but lacked a little something extra for me just knowing that I could find nearly the same thing in other parts of the globe. Wing Lei, OTOH, was a novel experience for me and Michael Mina at the Bellagio, back when it was Aqua was preferable to me over the original in San Francisco. I am not questioning the quality or the talent, just the soul.

No offense taken as I agree with you. The technical talent of the Chefs at the high-end restaurants doesn't seem to be the primary question. But the ability of these Chefs to express their creativity, their "soul" if you will, is often constrained by corporate forces that are unique to Las Vegas-something I'll be speaking about as this topic develops.

However, as the city grows and looks toward the opening of restaurants at Encore at The Wynn and MGM's City Center, we'll undoubtedly see more well-known Chefs open dining rooms based on models from other cities. The challenge is for the Chefs to distinguish themselves within the confines of the corporate structure of the resorts to give us the cuisine with "soul" that both you and I are looking for. Of course it can be done, but it's a daunting task for sure. The movement is already underway, and I'm hopeful we'll see it gather steam as we go forward. The opportunity is here for someone to take it.

Soul? I just know that I have fantastic meals in Vegas as good as anything I've had in Chicago, San Francisco or New York, and that I will likely never be able to go to every restaurant in Vegas that I'm 'itching' to go to as I don't get there as often as I'd like and a bunch more open inbetween every trip for me.

I think Vegas is the best food city there is. I have said this before, but I love being able to walk out of a restaurant and see the Canals of Venice or the Conservatory or Fountains of Bellagio or the whatever you'd call it in Mandalay Bay. A great restaurant may have great cool, modern ambience, but in most locales, that thrilling ambience is gone when you walk out the door. But not in Vegas. With the introduction of restaurants like Robuchon, Guy Savoy, and Alex, Vegas dining has been 'kicked up a notch.' I'm hoping(should I win the weight loss challenge) to be back in Vegas in July and I will have a difficult time deciding which places to eat at. Whereas next time I go to New York I know I'm going to go to Jean-Georges and Babbo. Don't even have to think about it.


Edited by Elrushbo (log)

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You pretty much made my point. Yes, the food is good, but the decor inside and out is much like the restaurants, clones of other places. Las Vegas is Disneyland for adults. It is good and it is fun, but I prefer the originals when I can. I'd rather goto the real Venice than the canal in the Venetian. There is a little more magic. However, Vegas is fun in its own right and on its own terms when one accepts it for what it is. I like it, but it still does lack "soul."

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You pretty much made my point. Yes, the food is good, but the decor inside and out is much like the restaurants, clones of other places. Las Vegas is Disneyland for adults. It is good and it is fun, but I prefer the originals when I can. I'd rather goto the real Venice than the canal in the Venetian. There is a little more magic. However, Vegas is fun in its own right and on its own terms when one accepts it for what it is. I like it, but it still does lack "soul."

I think Vegas has its' own soul. It is Disneyland for adults, and that is what makes it so great. The Strip fun, it's electric, it's safe, it doesn't smell, there aren't snooty locals who dislike Americans, and the weather is good. It's affordable...to go see the real Venice, I'd have to shell out 4 times as much as a trip to Vegas costs. And there is spectacular nature close by. Red Rock Canyon, Mt Charleston and the Valley of Fire are amazing places with stunning natural beauty, and the Grand Canyon is a short hop by helicopter. There is more to Vegas than the Strip.

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I think Vegas has its' own soul. It is Disneyland for adults, and that is what makes it so great. The Strip fun, it's electric, it's safe, it doesn't smell, there aren't snooty locals who dislike Americans, and the weather is good. It's affordable...to go see the real Venice, I'd have to shell out 4 times as much as a trip to Vegas costs. And there is spectacular nature close by. Red Rock Canyon, Mt Charleston and the Valley of Fire are amazing places with stunning natural beauty, and the Grand Canyon is a short hop by helicopter. There is more to Vegas than the Strip.

I'm not saying that Vegas is not fun, a good vacation or doesn't have some inherently interesting things that originate in Vegas, but to say that it has soul and by "it", I mean the strip where most, though not all, of LV's top restaurants lie, is to say that corporations have soul. BTW, Disneyland has no soul either. Something doesn't have to have "soul" to be fun or worthwhile, but it does need that extra something to make it truly great.

The problem with your argument about Venice is that in Las Vegas you have seen a poor facsimile of Venice, but seem to have the impression that it is an acceptable substitute for the real thing such as if one has been to the Venetian, why bother going to Venice since it is so expensive? Taken on its own terms, the Grand Canal at the Venetian is campy and fun, but in no way is it a substitute for the real thing. The same is true about Vegas' corporate restaurants serving food that originated anywhere but Las Vegas. Outside of the natural beauty, there is very little in Las Vegas that is truly of itself. The whole makes for an interesting, original and unique entity, but each individual part, especially those restaurants that aren't one-offs leave something to be desired.

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I think once you all read the blog as it develops, I'll have given you more insight into this question about the soul of culinary Las Vegas. In short, I have found that there is a soul behind many of the kitchens-and my list may surprise some as it will include restaurants at the mega-resort hotels.

Certainly, Las Vegas has many restaurants in town that are merely clones of restaurants found elsewhere-and they lack any type of distinctive flavor. But I'm finding that the number of imitation places is less than what I anticipated.

I will also be sharing more thoughts about the personality of the Strip and what sets the atmosphere of Las Vegas apart. In other words, while Las Vegas may not have the authentic aura of strolling down cobblestone streets in a village outside of Marseilles, there is a different vibe here that gives people a sense of excitement when they dine out. That's a vibe that you may not feel in the South of France. Nothing is really original here, but there is something special and exciting in Las Vegas that you don't find back home.

You will never discover the answers to these questions for yourself unless you have the opportunity to seek out and meet directly with some of the Chefs. So far this week I've had the chance to meet and visit with Chef Anthony Amoroso-Michael Mina at Bellagio, Chef Louis Osteen and Carlos Guia (formerly at Commander's Palace)-Louis's Fish Camp, Bradley and Bryan Ogden-Bradley Ogden at Caessar's Palace, Martin Heirling-Sensi at Bellagio and Hubert Keller-Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay.

Each of these Chefs have created something unique in Las Vegas. And in my opinion, they've created something extra that is in some cases, lacking in their original restaurants back home. But I'll go into that next week.

I'll be speaking about the elements of creativity, product selection/purchasing influences, the impact of unions, "Celebrity Chef's" and their contracts with the resorts and the influence of the marketing departments on the restaurants in Las Vegas. All of these aspects play a part in our discussion of whether or not there is a soul behind the kitchens of Las Vegas.

I think you may find that in some ways both Docsconz and Elrushbo are right on different levels. Such is part of the quandary of Las Vegas-it offers something for everyone on many different levels.

This moring I am off on a private tour of the kitchens at The Wynn. Our agenda reads:

"Wynn’s president Andrew Pascal has cooked up a fabulous idea that we just have to share with you. On Saturday morning, Andrew would like to host a special, behind-the-scenes ‘Discover Wynn’ tour exclusively for the guests of the Uncork'd weekend. During this property walk, the group will taste from the 80 varieties of bread baked daily by Wynn’s bakery chef Boris Villatte; experience the sinful confections created by James Beard Award-honored pastry chef Frederic Robert; sip and savor wines with Wynn’s wine director Danielle Price; learn how exquisite flowers are selected and cultivated for Wynn’s tabletops; get up close and personal with chef Paul Bartolotta and his Mediterranean seafood; and hear from Andrew how Wynn’s exclusive “chefs in residence” program comes to life each day. At the conclusion of the walk a very special surprise is in store!"

It should be fun and insightful-I'm not really too excited about what the "special surprise" may be-but I'll wait and see what kind of surprise it is.

Now to leave you with an incredible photo of two giants. It's a photo of two Chefs who were at a Grand Tasting Event at Caesar's Palace last night. It is rare to ever see these two Chefs together. Even more rare when you consider that steps away was another French Chef-Guy Savoy.

As I walked out of the event, I spotted Daniel Boulud and Joel Robuchon being interviewed by French television.

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If you are interested in Celebrity Chef sightings and gossip as it relates to “Vegas Uncork’d,” you won’t find much of it in this report. There are some other blogs out there in the land of the Internet that will give you the gossippy, “People” magazine treatment of the events.

Yes, I did meet and shake hands with Chefs who carry the “celebrity” moniker-but the intent of my trip wasn’t merely to give you a report, aka “Entertainment Tonight.” If I do mention the name of a Celebrity Chef, it’s hopefully within the context of a discussion about food and cuisine in Las Vegas. I tend to be more interested in the substance behind the façade if you will.

I’m going to divide my report about “Vegas Uncork’d” into two distinct sections. First, I’ll be sharing details about some of the delicious meals I ate in Las Vegas over the course of the week I was in town. In addition to the meals and special events I attended in conjunction with “Vegas Uncork’d,” I also devoted time to dining at some restaurants in Las Vegas that weren’t directly involved in the week’s festivities.

I had the unique honor of speaking directly with each Chef whose restaurant I dined at. It was more than the usual “meet and greet” where one gets a few seconds to shake the hand of the Chef and get a quick photo. Sure, I had some of those moments—but what was most satisfying for me was having the opportunity to spend some quality time speaking to each Chef, and having an intelligent conversation about what they think makes Las Vegas one of the top dining destinations in the country.

I’ll then conclude the report with my thoughts on the question I first posed when developing this topic-a mission to discover the “truth” behind the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas dining scene. (And I’ll be adding more thought to our earlier discussion about the “soul” of the restaurant culture in Las Vegas).

Of course, the scope and number of fine restaurants in Las Vegas is far too great for me to definitively answer these questions with my simple report. But I think you’ll find that the small sampling of restaurants that I dined at during my visit to Las Vegas will give you a little more insight into this exciting, ever-changing, dining destination.

I hope you don’t find the words too descriptive, the number of pages too long, or the personal anecdote’s boring. It’s part of my way of sharing what I think is the truth of Las Vegas dining.

As we go along, please ask me any questions you might have. Whether it’s a question about a hotel, a specific restaurant, a particular dish I had, or a question related to the events, I’ll do my best to oblige. Hope you enjoy the food, the fun, and the photos of Las Vegas.

Tuesday, May 6, Dinner at Michael Mina at Bellagio-

Michael Mina Restaurant is located in the Conservatory at Bellagio-an immense, glass enclosed “greenhouse” if you will. The flower arrangements and theme of the Conservatory are changed seasonally, and since this trip was the first week of May, the theme was Spring:

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The marble and stone entrance to the restaurant is somewhat imposing and formal-one isn’t really sure what awaits after you step through the door. But once inside, the dining room is light and airy with light earth tones the dominant colors. The tables are comfortably spaced allowing for personal conversations, and there isn’t the blaring, off-putting soundtracks piped into so many Las Vegas restaurants.

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Chef Anthony Amoroso spent over ten years honing his skills in the kitchens of Chef Rick Moonen in New York, and Chef Michael White at Fiamma Trattoria at the MGM in Las Vegas before moving into his current position as the Executive Chef at Michael Mina’s seafood temple at Bellagio.

I had the great pleasure to dine with my friends John Curtas and his lovely girlfriend Alexandra. As some of you know, John is quite the “bon vivant” when it comes to Las Vegas dining. Not only is he a studied palate and wine connoisseur, John is without a doubt the most well-rounded restaurant critic in town-he does a weekly commentary on KNPR Radio, appears on KLAS-CBS weekly, and just launched his blog, www.eatinglv.com. Oh yes, he also represents the James Beard Foundation in Las Vegas and writes for too many publications to name.

We were given a bit of the Las Vegas VIP treatment-we were seated at a semi-private table next to a large picture window overlooking the lush gardens surrounding the pool at Bellagio. Part of the excitement and fun of dining in Las Vegas, regardless of your VIP status, is the bevy of staff that fawn over your every need. No crumb goes without being whisked away, no water glass goes unfilled. (More on the ruse of water in Las Vegas restaurants when we get to day number two).

Chef Amoroso introduced himself to our table and asked if we had any restrictions. I think he was pleased to know that the only challenge we tasked him with was to show us his creativity. While Chef had a general idea of what he would prepare for us, there was an element of surprise and improvisation added to the menu once he met us and realized there would be no restraints placed upon the kitchen. (And now you are starting to read about the “soul” behind the creativity and the food in Las Vegas).

Michael Mina is known for presenting dishes as ‘trios’-an example off the printed menu is the trio of “Seared Diver Scallops Ceviche”-one with Meyer Lemon and Caviar, the second with Sweet Corn and Black Truffle and the third with Scarlet Beets and Maine Lobster.

Chef Amoroso took the concept of “trios” to a higher level with our table, serving us seven courses of “trios.” Yes, if you do the math correctly that is twenty-one dishes for the three of us.

Now the bane of the food blogger is when his little digital camera decides to take a break during dinner-when he is writing what he hopes is one of the better blogs on Las Vegas dining and the Bon Appetit events.

After the first few photos, my battery went dead and I had no backup with me, so you’ll have to imagine what the dishes at Mina looked like based on my descriptions.

I will note that the exceptional service provided by the dining room staff didn’t simply stop with the service at the table. When one of the waiters overheard my disappointment with the camera, he actually offered to recharge the battery for me! Can you imagine? Had I been smart enough to bring the battery recharger with me I would have obliged his gracious offer. Now that is customer service.

I did get a photo of the beverage I always start with at a fine dining restaurant, a perfectly made Champagne Cocktail. (As you can see, there are a number of other crystal stemware pieces waiting for our special wine service).

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The first course was one of Michael Mina’s “Signature” dishes-the much-loved “Caviar Parfait,” served with Chef Mina’s own branded French Champagne.

The dish begins with a base of crispy potato cake, followed by a layer of finely diced egg, then crème fraiche, alder-smoked salmon and a generous dollop of Wild Missouri Sturgeon Caviar. One taste of this fresh and salty American Caviar and you won’t miss the banned Caviar from the Caspian Sea.

The adventure of the cooking began with the next course, “Fluke, Coconut Foam, Sweet Potato,” served with a “Schoss, 2005 Cabinet Riesling.”

I was a bit apprehensive when I heard that a strong flavor like sweet potato was going to be paired with slices of raw, delicate fluke. The sweet potato was cut into the tiniest little cubes you can imagine-an ingenious technique that gave us a sweet little nugget of potato with a taste of tender fluke. Had the cubes of sweet potato been any larger, it would have certainly interfered with the flavor of the fish. The coconut foam was pretty, as foams tend to be, but also added another sweet note and exotic scent to the dish.

The main fish course was simply described as “Crispy Black Bass with Maitake Mushrooms” served with “Dujac Fils and Pere, 2004 Puligny-Montrachet.”

I probably gave away my cards at the table-true lovers of black bass eat the crispy skin-and it was delicious. I so love black bass-creamy, solid and oily all at the same moment.

The maitake, a somewhat rare and expensive mushroom that I’ve only had in a few Asian dishes, was prepared two ways-fried in a tempura batter and braised. The flavors were balanced while still being distinct in their own right.

We moved on to the meat dishes next, and a spirited debate about the merits of Wagyu, Kobe and “regular” beef followed.

The first of the meats was a dish of “Olive Oil Poached Lamb, Taboulleh Salad with Red Pepper Puree Reduction” paired with “Chateau de Pez, 2004 Saint-Estephe Bordeaux.”

Chef Amoroso started the lamb by poaching it in olive oil and then finishing it with a quick, hot sear and roast. Poaching meat in oil can be a snare waiting to trap a cook-if the temperature of the oil isn’t right the meat will soak it up like a sponge. This wasn’t fortunately the case; the olive oil gave the lamb a silky, soft feel along with a hint of olive flavor.

The fresh, clean Taboulleh salad was studded with bits of tomato, mint and onion, and the red pepper puree accented the Mediterranean flavors of the dish.

The only small, very small, criticism that we had with the lamb is that it didn’t have the bold lamb flavor that John and I personally prefer. I got an agreeable response and chuckle when I mentioned to the Chef that I would have been quite happy with a little serving of “Mutton Stew.”

Such is the argument we often face when discussing lamb today. I won’t bore you too much, other than to direct you to the discussions you’ll find on eGullet about the issue of the “flavor” of lamb today. Basically, much of the “Spring Lamb” one finds in the supermarket and on restaurants menus today has the flavor of mild beef.

The second meat dish was the beef course-“Kobe” Rib Cap, Bordelaise Sauce, Mushroom,” served with “d’Arenberg (McLaren Vale, Australia), Dead Arm Shiraz, 2005.”

I am certainly not an expert on the inner-workings of the “Kobe” beef classifications, nor am I studied in the methods of how these precious Japanese cattle are raised.

What I can say is that the Chef took a somewhat unusual cut, the “cap” off the rib, to create a solid beef dish. The meat of course was incredibly tender. One would not want to gussy-up such an expensive cut of beef with anything more than a perfectly executed red wine sauce accompanied by earthy wild mushrooms.

Our table agreed that this was a quite good beef dish. But we also agreed that there should be an open debate as to the merits of the current fad with Kobe and Wagyu beef.

I am not the biggest fan of “Kobe” or “Wagyu” beef because I can’t say that it honestly tastes “beefy.” Understand that my family history in cattle ranching goes back over 150 years long before restaurants and distributors began selling “boutique” cuts of meat.

My judgment must be clouded, because I don’t feel that it takes a beer-fed, spa-treated cow to give me a good steak. If Mr. Hereford has grazed in open meadows of alfalfa in the high-country of Eastern Oregon and then had the pleasure of fattening up on good grain and corn, he’ll give me a good Strip Steak.

Las Vegas is a city of excess in many ways-beef being one of the excesses. There are some steakhouses in town that are currently selling “tasting” plates of “Kobe Done Three Ways” that will set you back $150 bucks for about 8 ounces of meat. But does it really “taste” like “beef?” Is it “worth” the price? It’s a discussion that could go on over many bottles of fine red wine, but in Las Vegas, the beef traditionalists probably won’t win the argument.

Remember-people are in town to enjoy themselves-and taste foods and spend money-in a way they wouldn’t dream of doing back home. If the Kobe beef is expensive, it must be good.

My special request was rewarded when Chef presented us with a delicious trio of cheeses, served with “Jean-Marc Brocard, 2005 Chablis.”

I was served the most adventuresome cheese of the three-an unpasteurized ewe’s milk cheese from Portugal garnished with “caramelized chorizo.”

I anticipated the ewe’s milk cheese having a strong aroma and bitter flavor, but it was actually mild in flavor with a wonderful, creamy texture. The caramelized chorizo was too bitter and strong to be paired with the cheese, and we agreed a simple caramel sauce drizzled over the cheese would have been a more appropriate garnish.

My dessert was a small tube of chocolate cake filled with a chocolate mousse and served with candied apricot. It was served with a sweet and delicious “2006 Kracher Beerenauslese Cuvee” from Austria.

Recognition must be given to the entire staff-from the Receptionist who allowed me to use her cell phone, to the Manager’s, the Wait staff and the Wine Staff. The wine pairings took thought and discussion with the kitchen to insure that they progressed with the food courses and that they accented Chef’s delicious cuisine. Bellagio is fortunate to have Chef Amoroso and the staff at Michael Mina in their hotel.

Keep note of the name Chef Anthony Amoroso. To use a cliche-Chef Amoroso is a rising-star on the Las Vegas dining scene. He has a lot of creativity and talent to share and no doubt will continue to grace Las Vegas with his cuisine.

Next up-Wednesday, May 7, and lunch at "Louis's Fish Camp" and a chat with Chefs Louis Osteen and Carlos Guia-and a meeting with friends who like a good fried oyster-including Alan Richman.

Dinner will be at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the MGM-a food experience in Las Vegas on a very high level.

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Let me quickly interject that Barbara Fairchild and her staff at Bon Appetit worked tirelessly to put together a slate of events that catered to a variety of tastes-from the more serious diner who wanted the intimacy of private dinners and luncheons to the competitive cook-offs and grand tasting events at Vegas Uncork'd. Bon Appetit should be recognized for working with the Chefs and restaurants in Las Vegas to promote the city's dining scene, as they do to promote dining across America.

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Outstanding report, David. Thanks.

The passage extracted below from your post illustrates my point about Las Vegas. Clearly there is a lot of talent and creative spark there. I do enjoy it for that, however, I also find that so much of what is presented there is dependent on its "luxe quotient." That is to say that the more exotic and expensive something is, the better it must be, seems to pervade the thinking of restauranteurs and diners alike in Las Vegas. Obviously, I am generalizing and there are certainly exceptions to that, but the approach to wagyu and Kobe beef is certainly illustrative of that feeling. My point is not that dining in LV is not and cannot be wonderful - it most certainly can be and often is - but that at the bottom of it, it is still lacking in something, ironically, possibly due to the excess that you so well describe.

Las Vegas is a city of excess in many ways-beef being one of the excesses.  There are some steakhouses in town that are currently selling “tasting” plates of “Kobe Done Three Ways” that will set you back $150 bucks for about 8 ounces of meat.  But does it really “taste” like “beef?”  Is it “worth” the price?  It’s a discussion that could go on over many bottles of fine red wine, but in Las Vegas, the beef traditionalists probably won’t win the argument. 

Remember-people are in town to enjoy themselves-and taste foods and spend money-in a way they wouldn’t dream of doing back home.  If the Kobe beef is expensive, it must be good.


Edited by docsconz (log)

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Outstanding report, David. Thanks.

The passage extracted below from your post illustrates my point about Las Vegas. Clearly there is a lot of talent and creative spark there. I do enjoy it for that, however, I also find that so much of what is presented there is dependent on its "luxe quotient." That is to say that the more exotic and expensive something is, the better it must be, seems to pervade the thinking of restauranteurs and diners alike in Las Vegas. Obviously, I am generalizing and there are certainly exceptions to that, but the approach to wagyu and Kobe beef is certainly illustrative of that feeling. My point is not that dining in LV is not and cannot be wonderful - it most certainly can be and often is - but that at the bottom of it, it is still lacking in something, ironically, possibly due to the excess that you so well describe.

Las Vegas is a city of excess in many ways-beef being one of the excesses.  There are some steakhouses in town that are currently selling “tasting” plates of “Kobe Done Three Ways” that will set you back $150 bucks for about 8 ounces of meat.  But does it really “taste” like “beef?”  Is it “worth” the price?  It’s a discussion that could go on over many bottles of fine red wine, but in Las Vegas, the beef traditionalists probably won’t win the argument. 

Remember-people are in town to enjoy themselves-and taste foods and spend money-in a way they wouldn’t dream of doing back home.  If the Kobe beef is expensive, it must be good.

Doc-you are quite right in your perception-and I quietly put in the examples to sort of ease us further into this discussion. One of the challenges I found was to sift through some of the inherent excesses built into dining in Las Vegas to see what I would uncover. The "soul" if you will, is in fact there, but it took some digging on my part to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I could have gone on a trip to Las Vegas on my own to report back on the dining scene, but I wouldn't have had the access to the Chefs and the "behind the scenes" opportunities that were afforded me by attending the Bon Appetit Events. As a result, I would not have been able to give you a clearer picture of what I found. For that I am again thankful to Bon Appetit.

As we know, "excess" isn't always "success." And while one may think that "restraint" isn't part of one's vocabulary when in Las Vegas--those who demonstrate "restraint"-in this case restraint in what is presented at the dinner table-can ultimately create the most intoxicating, alluring, sexy dish in town. Imagine that, being recognized for doing something simply and beautifully in a city where more is often associated with better.

Remember, those who show their cards often lose the bet. An analogy that we can apply to dining. The key is to be bold and to differentiate oneself by showing that restraint can in fact be the ultimate demonstration of success in Las Vegas.

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Before I move on to the reports on lunch and dinner on Wednesday, May 7, I wanted to share another viewpoint that is important to remember when we're discussing dining in Las Vegas. We don’t have to agree with the point, but we do have to admit it is part of the conversation.

Those of us who frequent the pages of eGullet often fit within the confines of a very narrow demographic-people that are intensely serious about food and dining. I count myself lucky to be a member of the club-(I often define myself as a “Traditionalist”)-and my report on Las Vegas primarily speaks to our audience. We’re the folk who will sit on a stuffy, crowded plane for 19 hours to fly to Hanoi to try Vietnamese street food.

Knowing my eGullet friends, I am quite sure we could start a topic and have a spirited conversation about the state of butter today. I can't tell you how many Chefs I spoke to in Las Vegas about the intricacies of the butter they use in their restaurants. But it's highly doubtful that most people staying at a big resort hotel on the strip care whether their butter is salted, unsalted, hand-churned, French, Irish or American. Does it matter? Yes, it does, and we'll talk about the details of why butter matters in Las Vegas later in this post.

But we can't forget that the larger demographic of diners on the Las Vegas Strip are a mix of vacation travelers and business/convention travelers-and they probably couldn’t care less about the butter as long as it’s on the bread plate.

We have to keep in mind that most of these people will never have the means or the opportunity to fly to France, take a cab to 18 rue Troyon in Paris and have dinner at Guy Savoy. But they can have dinner at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas.

They may not be interested in whether or not they are dining at the "original" French Flagship restaurant-but they are expecting to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they will never have back home in Spokane.

That's part of what I think is wonderful and exciting for most people when they dine in Las Vegas-it affords them the opportunity to dine at restaurants that they would not normally consider ever going to. And more than likely, they don’t have a Guy Savoy in their hometown. (These folk are probably not going to join our roundtable discussion about the “soul” behind the cooking in Las Vegas).

Previously, we talked about excess and the issue of the popularity of Kobe and Waygu Beef in Las Vegas. While I may have my doubts over the merits of Waygu-I’m the exception. I personally think it’s fabulous, exciting and just plain fun that people who are in Las Vegas want to enjoy themselves, often to excess, and try new dishes they’ve never tasted.

While I’m quietly savoring the “Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras and served with Delicate White Spring Asparagus,” the table next door is having quite the party with the “Shellfish Tower” and “Kobe Beef Tenderloin.” I think that’s just fabulous.

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Hello David. I'm appreciate your insights about high end dining in Vegas and while I also appreciate great food, unless I get real lucky when I hit the town, the chances are that I'm not going to be shelling out $150 for 8 ounces of beef any time soon. What's new on the scene for the budget conscious "gourmet?"

Will you also be sharing any experiences with "home grown" mom and pop type establishments? Lotus of Siam has already been mentioned but is there a strong presence of, for want of a better way of saying it, ethnic cuisine represented by recent emigres? Also, are there any good representations of American Indian cuisine?

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Hello David. I'm appreciate your insights about high end dining in Vegas and while I also appreciate great food, unless I get real lucky when I hit the town, the chances are that I'm not going to be shelling out $150 for 8 ounces of beef any time soon. What's new on the scene for the budget conscious "gourmet?"

Will you also be sharing any experiences with "home grown" mom and pop type establishments? Lotus of Siam has already been mentioned but is there a strong presence of, for want of a better way of saying it, ethnic cuisine represented by recent emigres? Also, are there any good representations of American Indian cuisine?

There are some good deals for the more budget minded. Daniel Boulud Brasserie at Wynn does offer an early special of three courses for under $50. It used to be served up to 7pm. Another option, which I haven't tried myself, is Firefly Tapas Bar. You could order a number of small plates and some glasses of wine and have a satisfying meal without all the pomp, circumstance and cost of the high-end places on the strip. Check out their menu on their website.

Standby for my review of "Louis's Fish Camp." It's in the category of what you described as more of a home-grown restaurant. It's authentic Southern, Lowland Cuisine imported from South Carolina-just the type of regional cuisine that Las Vegas needs. The Chef, Louis Osteen, is highly recognized. Chef Carlos Guia is also in the house, the former Chef at Commander's Palace at the now-closed Alladin. The food is wonderful and authentic--and the restaurant is not on the Strip--another welcoming asset.

I've not come across any American Indian restaurants in Las Vegas, but I'm always searching and will let you know if I ever find anything.

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Thanks David. I'm especially excited about Louis' Fish Camp being that I'm half South Carolinian (on my mom's side) and having been raised on delicious, cooked-from-scratch Carolina farm girl cooking that sounds like something quite special indeed. And it also sounds like it's probably going to have a lot of "soul" as well.

BTW, I'm not adverse to someone else taking me out for one of those $150.00 dinners. :cool:

Edited to correct grammar.


Edited by divalasvegas (log)

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But we can't forget that the larger demographic of diners on the Las Vegas Strip are a mix of vacation travelers and business/convention travelers-and they probably couldn’t care less about the butter as long as it’s on the bread plate.

We have to keep in mind that most of these people will never have the means or the opportunity to fly to France, take a cab to 18 rue Troyon in Paris and have dinner at Guy Savoy.  But they can have dinner at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas. 

They may not be interested in whether or not they are dining at the "original" French Flagship restaurant-but they are expecting to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they will never have back home in Spokane. 

That's part of what I think is wonderful and exciting for most people when they dine in Las Vegas-it affords them the opportunity to dine at restaurants that they would not normally consider ever going to.  And more than likely, they don’t have a Guy Savoy in their hometown.  (These folk are probably not going to join our roundtable discussion about the “soul” behind the cooking in Las Vegas).

David, I sincerely appreciate your insights and views on LV dining, which despite my criticisms, I do enjoy. Las Vegas is a fun town and I am happy that there are excellent dining opportunities there of varying economic and stylistic levels. However, I highly doubt that there are very many people who dine at Guy Savoy or the other ultra-high end restaurants who would not otherwise afford a trip to Paris. Getting to Paris is actually not that much more expensive. One thing Las Vegas isn't anymore is cheap unless one is a high roller, but then they can afford those Paris trips if they wanted.

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My criticisms of Las Vegas are just that. They are certainly not criticism of your experience there, of which I am extremely envious. :smile:

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My criticisms of Las Vegas are just that. They are certainly not criticism of your experience there, of which I am extremely envious. :smile:

And of course, it goes without saying that next time you make your way West to Las Vegas--let me know--we'll join up in search of some fine dining. :smile:

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Wednesday, May 7, “Two Patisseries”-

One of the hidden assets of the Las Vegas dining scene that is often overlooked is the group of incredibly talented, world-class Pastry Chefs that craft their art in the city. I can tell you from experience that we don't have bakeries at this level where I come from.

Two very good examples of the French art of pastry at it’s highest levels can be found literally next door to one another at Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace.

Jean-Phillipe Maury is probably most recognized for winning gold medals at the World Pastry Championships and his many appearances displaying his art on television. In addition to his extensive background and numerous awards, Chef Maury is the Executive Pastry Chef at Bellagio.

Just off to the right of the Conservatory of the Bellagio you will find the “Jean-Phillipe Patisserie” where you can buy crepes, ice creams, candies, pastries and sandwiches crafted by Chef Maury and his staff.

Before leaving the shop, take a photo of the grand wedding cakes, sugar sculptures and the decadent “chocolate fountain” where milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate cascades down from the ceiling through glass bowls.

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Far be it from a humble blogger like me to write a resume for Francois Payard-a pastry chef at Michelin 3-star restaurants in France. Suffice it to say that his biography includes positions as the Pastry Chef at La Tour d’Argent and Lucas Carton in Paris.

In 2007 the Payard Patisserie and Bistro opened at Caesar’s Palace. Located across from Rao’s Italian restaurant, Payard is similar to Jean-Phillipe in terms of its extensive array of pastries, ice creams and sandwiches. But what sets Payard apart is the Bistro next door to the pastry shop. One can dine for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a special “Pastry Tasting Menu” at Payard Bistro.

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I decided to have a sort of French “picnic” lunch on Wednesday. A novel idea in Las Vegas to be sure.

My picnic hamper was composed of a sandwich and a pastry from Jean-Phillipe Patisserie at Bellagio, and a sandwich and pastry from Payard Patisserie and Bistro at Caesar’s.

I’m not going to do a “taste-test” or rating of the picnic lunch. I’ll let the photos speak to the beauty of these two shops.

Jean-Phillipe Patisserie

Smoked Salmon, Egg, Red Onion, Caper and Arugula on Baby Baguette

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Carrot Cake, (not your usual carrot cake!)

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Payard Patisserie and Bistro

Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato, Basil Pesto

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Beaux Arts-Passion Fruit Cream, Sable Breton, Raspberry, Macaroons

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I always new that Vegas was decadent, but this takes the cake! :cool:

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I always new that Vegas was decadent, but this takes the cake! :cool:

The Carrot Cake was interesting-not at all like our homemade versions lathered with thick cream cheese frosting. The "orange" frosting layer almost tasted like fresh marshmallow. And the actual "cake" inside was a round little ball of intense carrot cake that was almost the consistenty of a hard pudding. Very unique.

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Wednesday, May 7, Dinner at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand-

I had originally put L’Atelier on my “short-list” of choices for dinner on Wednesday night, but had decided to go with Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesar’s. I wanted to taste the cuisine of Chef Eric Klein who is new to the kitchen at Spago after stints at SW Steakhouse at Wynn and at Fix at Bellagio. But a friend of mine who resides in Las Vegas suggested I cancel the reservation at Spago and try L’Atelier.

Owing to the fact that I respect my friend’s advice when it comes to Las Vegas dining, I took the bet and made a reservation at L’Atelier for 8:15 p.m-one of the last seats available on a busy Wednesday night.

I got the sense from listening to the conversations of the diners to my left, that some of the customers were apprehensive about ordering the lavish “Menu Decouverte” and so they were settling on ordering separate dishes off the “Carte” side of the menu. I should have introduced myself and encouraged them to take a culinary adventure and order the Menu Decouverte. It’s currently priced at $135 for 9 courses plus coffee or espresso-literally a bargain when you consider that the price of an entrée ordered ala carte is in the $60 and up price range. The Discovery Menu allows one to be introduced into the Robuchon world by tasting the creativity of the Chef and the skills of his Las Vegas staff.

The only minor criticism I had with our dinner was the opening bread service. Only one choice of bread was offered. The three small baguette’s served with a delicious French butter were wonderful, but I would have liked to have had other choices. While I didn’t expect to be graced with the extraordinary “bread cart” that is served to diners next door at Robuchon, it would have been nice to have a few of the selections from the formal restaurant added to our little bread basket.

I won’t dwell long talking about our meal at L’Atelier-it was of course fabulous. The flavors were clean, crisp and the essence of the ingredients-exactly what we would expect from a Robuchon restaurant.

Our view of the kitchen from our counter seats. Note the "Chef" in whites tutoring to the assistant in black.

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“Le Citron”-

“Lemon Gelee Topped with Fennel Cream”

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“Le Thon Rouge”-

“Big Eye Tuna with Tomato Infused Olive Oil”

The little trail of Espelette Pepper to the left gave a scent of spice and heat to the Tuna.

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“Le Homard”-

“Maine Lobster in a Gelee of Vegetables Topped with Chilled Leek Soup”

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“L’Asperge Verte”-

“Cappucino of Green Asparagus with Parmesan”

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“L’Oeuf”-

“Fried Egg with Sweet Onion Cream and Smoked Salmon”

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This was my favorite dish of the evening. I didn’t ask the server how the egg was prepared, so if anyone knows, please respond. I assume the egg was poached first before being coated with panko and then deep-fried. How delicious and intriguing was this little egg-the runny yolk poured out of the crispy, panko-coated “shell” as it was cracked open.

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“La Sole”-

“Dover Sole Filet with Zucchini and “Royale” Mushrooms”

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“La Caille”-

“Free-Range Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras, Truffled-Mashed Potatoes”

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Our server explained that they begin the dish a day in advance by making a foie gras mousse and then chilling it. The chilled mousse is cut into a small “log” and then stuffed inside the boned quail. The result is a silky mousse with a hint of foie gras that doesn’t dominate the flavor of the quail.

“Le The’ Glace’ Vanille”-

“Lemongrass Mousse, Vanilla Tea Flavored Sorbet,

Crunchy Caramel Tuille”

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“La Mangue”-

“Hazelnut Cremeux, Fresh Mango, Coffee-Caramel Streusel”

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"Gold-Dusted Chocolate with Coffee Service"-

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Another view of the kitchen-

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The meal at L’Atelier was on a different level, a higher plane if you will, than most of my other dining experiences in Las Vegas. The food and the technique displayed at L’Atelier are of course nearly unmatched. But as my learned friend docsconz has so intelligently presented his argument on these pages-does merely planting an outpost of a famous restaurant in Las Vegas give it the “soul” that is alive at the flagship restaurant? In this case, I am not so sure.

I never had the pleasure of dining at Robuchon’s Jamin when it was open in Paris. Nor have I tasted Robuchon’s cuisine in his native France. Only time will give me the chance to make the trip so I can fully answer the question for myself.

I do think it is fabulous to have L’Atelier and the more formal Joel Robuchon restaurant next door, (one of the current tasting menus is priced at $375.00), at the MGM Grand. It affords people who come to Las Vegas to have access to world-class French dining.

But our culinary journey through Las Vegas at the "Vegas Uncork'd" Bon Appetit events hasn't even started yet! We've got one more "preliminary" lunch to go before we dive into the exciting events that I attended later in the week.

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