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David Ross

Vegas Uncork'd 2010

30 posts in this topic

Tommorrow I leave for the annual "Vegas Uncork'd" events sponsored by Bon Appetit Magazine. jsmeeker will be joining me in Las Vegas, and together we'll be posting reports on some of the events, people and the food we taste at Uncork'd.

Let me serve you an Amuse-bouche of just some of the Chefs, restaurants and people who I plan to dine with during my adventures at "Uncork'd"-Tony Abou-Ganim, "The Modern Mixologist," Mandarin Bar/Mandarian Oriental Hotel, MOzen Bistro/Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Country Club Grill/Wynn, Chef Shawn McClain-Sage/Aria Hotel, Chef Alain Ducasse-mIX/THEhotel, Chef Guy Savoy-Caesar's Palace, Chef Julian Serrano-Serrano/Aria Hotel, the Chefs of Wynn, Joe Bastianich, Chef Joel Robuchon-L'Atelier/MGM Grand, John Curtas-Eatinglv.com and KNPR. I suppose there might be a few other dishes on the menu.

Vegas Uncork'd kicks-off on Thursday with a series of private dinners at Caesar's Palace. Look forward to the reports and Tweets beginning later this week.

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Over the past few years, I've read the posts about Vegas Uncork'd. My mouth watered. My thoughts leaned towards a bit of jealousy. It looked like such a great time. Good food. Good drink. All in a city I am totally in love with. And now, in 2010, I get to experience it first hand! I've been looking forward to this for months. And it's almost here.

As David mentioned, there will be a lot on the agenda. I'm keeping my schedule of "official" events pretty light, but the ones I have planned should be great. The Grand Tasting at the pools of Caesars Palace ought to be THE event to be at. About 50 chefs from Las Vegas will be there turning out little bites of food from their restaurants up and down the Strip (with a few NOT from the Strip, or even from a big casino resort). I don't think I'll be able to get something from all of them, but I'll do the best I can. The other official event I have planned is an "Interactive Lunch" at the Wynn/Encore resort. What better place to do something like this than Wynn? When Steve Wynn opened the Bellagio opened up in 1998, he really stepped up the dining scene on the Strip. That played a major role in shaping the Las Vegas dining scene as we know it today. I'll have the opportunity cook with some of Wynn's top touques. Alex Stratta. Paul Bartolotta (he won the James Beard Best Chef Southwest award in 2009). Should be a great time. Sure, it's vacation in Las Vegas, but I think I will actually enjoy cooking in the desert.

Of course, the fun doesn't sop there. There will be more eating. I am looking forward to hitting up Julian Serrano's tapas place in the newly opened Aria resort and casino. And there will be a dinner at "Top Chef Masters" contestant Rick Moonen's RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay. And we'll see what kind of food one can get delivered to a pool side cabana at the Encore resort.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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Tuesday, May 4-

Mandarin Bar, Mandarin Oriental Hotel-

Book Signing for Tony Abou-Ganim, “The Modern Mixologist, Contemporary Classic Cocktails.”

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is located within the MGM’s new signature “City Center” complex that includes the Aria Hotel and Casino, Vdara Hotel, Harmon Hotel and Condos, Veer Tower Condos and the Crystals shopping mall. The Mandarin luxury brand of 5-star hotels is known throughout the world from Jarkata to Barcelona and now Las Vegas.

The Mandarin Bar is located on a corner of the 23rd floor of the hotel. The bar fronts a glass wall of bottles of liquors, cordials and liquers. On either side are floor to ceiling glass walls, giving customers sweeping views of the Strip—a stunning setting to sip one of Tony’s classic “Cable Car” cocktails. (unfortunately, the photos from my dismal little camera didn't survive).

Some of you may recognize Tony Abou-Ganim for his appearance aside Mario Batali on “Iron Chef America-Battle Mango” (Batali cooked, Tony mixed the cocktails). Yet his skills in mixology go back over 30 years. Tony first learned the art of mixing cocktails from his cousin Helen, who helmed the bar of the Brass Rail in Port Huron, Michigan for many decades-she was a pioneer in a trade where men typically kept the bar.

I had a chance to get a few moments to visit with Tony after the book signing. The book is filled with historical anecdotes on the history of the cocktail, many of those bits of intrigue accompany photos and recipes that for cocktails that I know I'll find interesting.

Another point behind the book is that part of the proceeds of the sales go to the Bartender’s Relief Fund in memory of Helen and another woman, Neva, both of whom had an influence on the Bartender’s craft. The fund helps retired Bartender’s after they have left the trade, many of whom worked for decades without adequate health care or retirement plans. An admirable effort indeed.

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Tuesday, May 4-

MOzen Bistro, Mandarin Oriental Hotel-Dinner

The Mandarian Oriental is a non-gaming hotel and has a sense of peace and calm that is unusual for a property that faces the center of the Strip. That sense of calmness enters into the restaurants on the 23rd floor, MOzen Bistro and Twist by Chef Pierre Gagnaire. Many of the restaurants in the large hotels face the open throngs of casinos, bringing noise into the dining room while you’re trying to have a nice experience.

After the book signing event, a small group of 15 went to dinner at MOzen Bistro for dinner. The cuisine at MOzen is described as Asian, with dishes ranging as vast as the term implies-sushi from Japan, Thai salads, Masala, Chai, Tandoori, Curry and Naan breads from India, (and venturing into Europe with rich chocolate dishes to finish).

The Chefs had created a special tasting menu for us that started with towers of Amuse-bouche being placed on the table-

-Spicy Crab Salad on Rice Crisps

-Smoked Duck on Vegetables

-Watermelon ‘Sushi’ wrapped with Cucumber

-Spicy Chicken Curry on Crackers

The rice crisps take up to three days to prepare starting with cooking the rice and letting it cool overnight. On the second day the rice is pressed to squeeze out additional moisture and rolled out thin and chilled overnight again. On day three the rice ‘sheets’ are then cut and fried to make the crisps for the crab salad. That’s a lot of work for one amuse-bouche.

My favorite was the simplest and the cleanest-tiny sticks of cool watermelon folded with cilantro and pea shoot and wrapped with a thin layer of crisp cucumber.

The menu-

Tasting of Toro-

Nigiri, Tataki, Poki

Served with Louis Roderer, Brut Premier Champagne

Seared Wagyu Strip Loin-

Thai Beef Salad

Served with Langwerth Von Simmern, Kabinett Riesling

(sorry, my only photo due to poor lighting in the room)

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Intermezzo-

Masala Chai Granita

The presentation was intriguing-the ‘granita’ was presented in a glass cup on top of chai spices-cardamom, cinnamon stick, star anise, peppercorn and bay leaf. In the glass cup was a base of chai tea chunks (thus the chai concept made into ‘granita’). The ‘chai granita’ was topped with whipped cream-a sort of frozen chai granita latte I think. Unfortunately the ‘chai’ didn’t freeze before it was made into the ‘granita’ so it was sort of a chai ‘granola’ with whipped cream. I wondered what happened to those wondrous spices after the dishes returned to the kitchen. It would have been nice if the spices were heated just a bit before service to create a wiff of smoke to give one the exotic scent of the spices over the chilled 'granita.'

Indian Discovery-

Murgh Mukhani and Marinated Prawns Roasted in the tandoori, served with traditional accompaniments

Served with Laetitia Pinot Noir

The best dish, or should I say set of dishes, on the menu. I tend to like the garnishes and find pleasure in the details—like the house-made garlic naan and the fresh, sweet, mango chutney made with green mangoes and served in a little ceramic side dish.

Delice Chocolate-

Passion Fruit Cremeux, Gianduja Crisp, Ivorie Gelato

Served with Sandeman’s 10-year Tawny Port

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Wednesday, May 5-

Sage, Aria Hotel-

Chef Shawn McClain, has brought his Midwestern philosophy of using fresh, seasonal, American products with a touch of creativity to a Las Vegas restaurant scene that is over-crowded with Kobe, Wagyu, pasta and confusing ‘fusion cuisine.’ Chicago and Chef McClain have reminded us how pleasurable simple, yet refined and creative American cuisine can be.

At first we considered ordering off the regular menu, but our waiter told us that a tasting menu was available. (The tasting menu was not printed or offered to guests as they were seated). We decided on the tasting menu and asked the waiter if he could arrange for appropriate wine pairings. The sommelier was more than happy to oblige and what followed were six courses (plus and amuse-bouche and a sorbet). Mind you, we are still at the “pre-Uncork’d” stage of our adventures in Las Vegas—the formal events don’t start until this evening with the private dinners at Caesar’s Palace.

The menu-

Amuse-Bouche-

Vancouver Island Kusshi Oyster

Piquillo Pepper, Tabasco Sorbet, Tequila Mignonette

Served with Lucien Albrecht Brut Rose

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Breads-

Sourdough Baguette

Bacon Roll

Butter and Australian Sea Salt

First Course-

Tuna, Anchovy, Quail Egg

Fava Beans, Artichoke and Black Olive Sauce

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Second Course-

Foie Gras Custard ‘Brulee’

Black Mission Figs, Cocoa Nibs, Shaved Foie Gras

Salted Brioche

Served with Sauternes, (France)

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Third Course-

Gnocchi with Lobster, White Asparagus and Tangerine

Mint, Peas, Fava Beans and Green Garbanzos

Served with ‘High on the Hog,’ (Paso Robles), White Blend

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Interesting note that some green garbanzo beans today come not far from where I live in Spokane, WA. One of the great lentil growing regions in America is on what we call the vast fields of the ‘Palouse’ in Eastern, Washington centered around the towns of Pullman, WA and Moscow, ID. As the markets for dried lentils have changed recently, farmers have found a new market for fresh, green garbanzo beans. Imagine my surprise to find them in this little copper skillet that arrived on my dinner table in Las Vegas.

Fourth Course-

Scallops with Oxtail Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, Hawaiian Blue Prawn

Served with a North Valley, (Oregon), 2007 Pinot Noir

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Fifth Course-

NY Strip, Fried Artichoke, Potato LaRatte Potato, Red Wine Reduction

Served with Scouts Honor Red, Napa Valley

Pineapple Sorbet, Candied Orange Peel-

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Sixth Course-

Canele de Bordeaux, White Chocolate Sorbet, Rum Sabayon,

Dried Black Grapes

Served with Rheinhessen Ice Wine

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R&M, I'm loving the words and pictures. More, please.


Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Great report and photos at Sage. Will definitely add it to my list of restaurants to try when I return to LV.

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I ate at Sage a few months ago and loved it. The foie gras custard brulee is over the top good. Highly recommended.

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I ate at Sage a few months ago and loved it. The foie gras custard brulee is over the top good. Highly recommended.

We felt the same way-so good you just almost wanted to melt into your seat when you brushed the custard on the brioche-silky beyond belief. Chef told us that he actually created the dish many years ago when we was working at Trio in Chicago. Unfortunately, due to the recent dust-ups over the issue of Foie Gras in Chicago, he doesn't put this wondrous dish on his menus in the windy city.

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Thursday, May 6-

Silk Road, Vdara Hotel-

Chef Martin Heirerling is well-known for his cuisine at Sensi restaurant at Bellagio. He took on the additional responsibilities of the kitchen at Silk Road, the restaurant at the Vdara Hotel at MGM’s new City Center Complex.

Originally planned as a non-gaming hotel and condo tower, Vdara is currently an all-suite hotel. Silk Road was originally opened for three meals a day but is currently closed for dinner, offering only breakfast and lunch. (The closing of the restaurant at dinner and the delay of condo sales at Vdara are just two indications of the continued economic woes in Las Vegas).

When I first dined at Sensi I marveled at Chef Heirerling’s housemade Ginger Ale-a simple refreshment yet one that the Chef has made into a refreshingly spicy, sparkling, cool drink that is as good without spirits as it is with a jigger of rum.

According to two of my friends who live in Las Vegas, Silk Road has over-taken Bouchon at The Venetian as the best breakfast spot in town. I suppose the point is debatable. The setting at Bouchon is remarkable-a quiet, almost private bistro open to a small park-like garden, the perfect spot for a French inspired breakfast menu.

The décor of Silk Road is in stark contrast to Bouchon-bright reds, pinks, yellows and modern, sleek furniture and chrome. You will not sip your French press coffee while the birds chirp in the gardens at Silk Road.

The food, on the other hand, is a matter of taste so to speak. I would have to give the nod to Chef Heirerling over that of Chef Thomas Keller. I’ve found the menu and techniques at Bouchon wanting in recent years when I’ve gone there for breakfast. It seems the master hasn’t kept the line cooks in order when it comes to coddling the eggs.

At Silk Road, Chef Heirerling has brought his sense of creativity, presentation technique to the staff at the Vdara restaurant.

I decided to take my two friends to breakfast at Silk Road and see if in fact this was the best breakfast in Las Vegas. Two of us ordered the “Eggs, Eggs, Eggs,” dish, (Chef Heirerling’s best-seller), and one ordered the “Blueberry and Ricotta Pancakes,” served with Honeycomb Butter, Candied Rose Petal and Orange Blossom Syrup.

The “Eggs, Eggs, Eggs,” are served three ways, from left to right we have a traditional poached egg benedict garnished with tomato. Instead of the egg on top of Canadian bacon it was sitting on corned beef hash. In the center was a fried quail egg on top of Nueske applewood smoked bacon, sitting atop little potato croquettes. Then the third egg style was scrambled and placed back in the egg shell and topped with a light truffle foam. The egg shell is placed atop blanched spinach.

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I would encourage you to try this dish and push away from the breakfast buffet next time you are in Las Vegas.

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Thursday, May 6-

“Vegas Uncork’d” Kick-off Event, miX at THEhotel, Mandalay Bay-

On Thursday afternoon I got invited to the official kick-off event for Vegas Uncork’d at Alain Ducasse’s miX restaurant at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay.

The hotel is at the South end of the strip. The restaurant and lounge sit on the 64th floor and look North over the entire Strip and the Las Vegas Valley. (I’m told the view is breathtaking at night, but the event started at 4pm so I wasn’t able to catch the view of the city lights).

When you enter into the dining room you look up and see curtains of huge glass champagne bubbles cascading down from the sky.

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Nearly all of the Uncork’d Chefs were in attendance and the unofficial start of Vegas Uncork’d began with Mayor Oscar Goodman giving one of his convivial martini toasts, (yes, it’s real gin and yes, he drinks it). The official, ceremonial start of Vegas Uncork’d began with a traditional sabre opening of a champagne bottle by Chef Ducasse.

Pictured here, from left to right in the front row-

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2nd from left, Joel Robuchon, Cat Cora, Mayor Goodman, Barbara Fairchild-Editor of Bon Appetit, Alain Ducasse, Kerry Simon, Pierre Gagnaire, Jean Joho, Alex Stratta. Somewhere in the back was Guy Savoy. Yes, this week in Las Vegas the four French Masters are all in town, Savoy, Gagnaire, Ducasse and Robuchon.

For a complete list of all the Uncork’d events go here.

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David is doing a great job keeping up with things. I don't have a lap top with me on the trip so it's hard for me to do the same.

Grand Tasting last night was truly Grand. I'll be doing the interactive lunch with David later today. When I eventually get home I'll be able to write up more proper reports.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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Later today I'll be posting an interesting comparison between the French cooking styles of two Masters, Savoy and Ducasse. I attended a private dinner at Guy Savoy's restaurant on Thursday night as one of the Uncork'd events and then had lunch with Ducasse at his miX restaurant at THEhotel yesterday, another Uncork'd event.

As I mentioned earlier, all four French Masters are in Las Vegas this week-Robuchon, Gagnaire, Ducasse and Savoy-and like some of the French Masters of the fine arts, these Michelin Star chefs couldn't be more different in style. As you'll see in my report, Savoy is somewhat restrained with his craft, very traditional and understated. The cuisine of Ducasse that we tasted is not what you might be anticipating-we did not go to Paris or the dining rooms in Monte Carlo-he treated us to the cuisine of his childhood in Southwestern France. The styles of Savoy and Ducasse couldn't be more different. Stay tuned............

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I am having dinner at Pierre Gagnaire's new restaurant twist tonight in the Mandarin Oriental hotel will let you know how it goes.

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Thursday, May 6-

“Master Series Dinners” Guy Savoy, Caesar’s Palace-

The official Uncork’d events began on Thursday night with the Master Series Dinners at Caesar’s Palace. The dinners are held at Bradley Ogden hosted by Chef Ogden, Mesa Grill hosted by Bobby Flay, Guy Savoy hosted by Chef Savoy and Rao’s hosted by the Pellegrino and Straci Families.

The setting at Guy Savoy is what I would describe as minimalist in terms of decor and design-earth tones and understated with very little art on the walls. This is the complete opposite of the opulence of Robuchon's dining room at the MGM. You enter through large wood doors into a small, rectangular-shaped dining room that seats about 65. There is a smaller dining room at one end that seats another 15 or so. I’ve often thought the design was intentionally kept muted so that the diner would be focused on the food. The food is, of course, the focus at Savoy and for the most part you are not disappointed.

Amuse-Bouche-

We started with two little Amuse to accompany our flutes of champagne-

Parmesan Waffle and Foie Gras Burger with Country Pate

The next Amuse was a carrot soup. Now don’t let that simple description fool you. The dish arrived with diced vegetables on one side of the dish and on the cap of the right side of the dish was a small sprinkling of star anise powder. The waiter poured in a chilled carrot soup that was accented by the scent of star anise. I wasn’t able to find out what variety of carrot the Chef used, but the soup was yellow, sweet and the hint of star anise gave it a slight licorice flavor and exotic scent.

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Once you were finished with the soup you then removed the cap to reveal a small spoon of tuna on top of radish and a garnish of asparagus.

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First Course-

Tout Petits Pois

Peas All Around

Served with Pascal and Nicolas Reverdy, Les Coutes, Sancerre, 2007

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This is one of Chef Savoy’s signature dishes. The base is a pea gelee then you have pea jus, fresh Spring peas, pea shoots and a poached egg. The waiter cuts though the soft yolk once the dish is placed at the table. The bread for this course was a toasted country bread with chive oil. The taste is the essence of a garden of peas. Everyone at the table used the toast to soak up the pea and soft egg. Delicious.

Second Course-

Saint Pierre Roti, Asperges Vertes et Sabayons aux Agrumes et Poivre Noire

Roasted John Dory, Asparagus, Citrus and Black Pepper Sabayons

Served with Hestan Chardonnay, California 2006

The John Dory was brought whole to the table on a gleaming silver platter and then taken back to the kitchen and properly skinned, boned and filleted. The two sauces, delicate and with hints of citrus and pepper, were drawn on the plate by the waiter.

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Third Course-

Soupe d’Artichaut a la Truffe Noire, Brioche Feuilletee aux Champignons et Truffes

Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup, Toasted Mushroom Brioche and Black Truffle Butter

Served with Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley, Les Reversees, Beaune, 2005

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This is undoubtedly Savoy’s signature dish. The soup alone is not what makes the pairing work in this dish-it is the buttery, delicate yet crisp brioche, layered with bits of truffle that take the soup to a level beyond. One must dip the brioche into the soup and then taste the two, the bread and the artichoke, to realize the full tasting experience.

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Fourth Course-

Pintade Pochee, Riz Basmati et Jus Albufera

Poached Guinea Hen, Basmati Rice and Albufera Jus

Served with Chateau Beauregard, Pomerol, 1999

The waiter presented the whole Guinea Hen in the stewpot to the table. The Hen was simply poached in a court bouillon. The bird was then taken back to the kitchen to be carved, plated and sauced in the kitchen and then served at the table. The Albufera jus was a lighter version of the traditional sauce based on a veloute. In this rendition Savoy had added some of the poaching stock and created a light jus type of foam to dress the Guinea Hen.

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Fifth Course, First Dessert-

La Fraise

Strawberry

Served with Clarendelle, Amberwine, Monbazillac, 2003

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The strawberries were served a number of ways-one small wild strawberry, poached strawberries, strawberry sorbet and strawberry gelee garnished with tiny little basil flowers and a small dollop of basil foam to the side. The herbal scent of the basil added to the sense one was eating fresh, sweet strawberries in the field.

Sixth Course, Second Dessert-

Chocolat

Chocolate

Served with Domaine Pietri-Geraud, Cuvee Mediterranee. Banyls, 1998

The chocolate was served as a mousse, cake and sorbet. The little cup on the top of the dish holds a bitter orange granite.

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With Chef Savoy in the kitchen, one expects an exceptional dining experience, both in terms of the food and the overall service. While there were many specific dishes that were exceptional and the service was quite good, there were also some lapses that you wouldn’t expect at a restaurant at this level-overly salty asparagus spears that accompanied the John Dory fish course, (two people at our table pushed the asparagus to the side it was so salty) and the grains of rice that accompanied the Guinea Hen at our table weren’t fully cooked.

Instead of the famous bread cart service, this year we were promised a separate bread with each course-they missed two of the bread courses. The sumptuous dessert cart we dream about at Savoy and have had the pleasure of selecting from at the private dinner in years past was missing tonight, and while the two dessert courses were fabulous, no petit fours or coffee or teas were offered at the end of service.

Service lapses at lesser rooms would go unnoticed, but details at this level are usually quite obvious, especially given the audience at a private dinner. I suppose these are minor points to some, but are points of importance none the less. In the end, it was an exceptional experience as it always is when dining at Guy Savoy, especially with the Chef is in the restaurant.

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Friday, May 7-

“Chef’s Table with Alain Ducasse,” miX at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay-

Last year at Uncork’d I attended the “French Connection Culinary Conversation” panel about the impact of French Chefs and the cuisine and and restaurants they’ve brought to Las Vegas. You can find the report here.

Little did I know at the time that a lunch after that panel would create the idea for hosting an event this year where the public could have the opportunity to have lunch with Chef Alain Ducasse.

Barbara Fairchild, Editor of Bon Appetit, explained that after the panel discussion last year Ducasse hosted a private lunch at his restaurant for members of the panel. During lunch, Chef Ducasse suggested placing a lunch open to the public on the list of events for 2010. Thus, a new event was put on this year’s schedule.

When it first came up, the website said to “keep checking back for ticket details.” I kept checking and checking, knowing that when the ticket sales opened they would sell-out fast. I imagined they would sell about 35-50 seats and hold the event in the main dining room at miX, so I figured I had a good chance to grab one of the seats. Little did I know that I would be one of only 16 guests to secure a seat at the table with Ducasse.

A few weeks before Uncork’d, I was listening to “Food Talk” on KNPR, the local NPR radio station in Las Vegas. Hosts John Curtas and Max Jacobsen were interviewing Barbara Fairchild and they were talking about the most exclusive event at Uncork’d-lunch with Alain Ducasse at the private table at miX overlooking the Strip-a table for just 16 lucky people.

miX is located on the 64th floor of THEhotel which is part of the Mandalay Bay complex. Apart from the restaurants, a large draw to miX is the bar and lounge which offers spectacular views of the Strip and the lights of Las Vegas at night.

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The private dining table where we were seated is surrounded by glass, fronting the Strip to the North and open to the kitchens in the rear.

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Ducasse and kitchen crew-

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As we go through the photos of lunch, you will start to see the stylistic differences between Chefs Savoy and Ducasse, an interesting comparison to consider. On Sunday, I'll be having brunch at L'Atelier with Robuchon and then we'll compare three of the great French Masters.

I heard Ducasse would be in the kitchen and then would be serving us each dish, but as we sat down at the table, I realized the title of the event was actually ringing true, “Chef’s Table with Alain Ducasse.” Chef would be sitting down with us, drinking wine, talking about food, the dishes for lunch and his work in bringing his cuisine to Las Vegas. The lunch was hosted by Barbara Fairchild, Editor of Bon Appetit. Sitting across the table from Chef Ducasse was his interpreter, Sonja.

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Wine Service-

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Ducasse private label champagne-

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This was the Ducasse few see, for most think of the Michelin stars, the Haute French Cuisine and service of Louis XV in Monte Carlo or the Plaza Athenee in Paris. Chef Ducasse said that the dishes for lunch would reflect his childhood growing up on a farm in Castel-Sarrazin in the Landes region in Aquitaine in Southwest France and the essence of Spring. The dishes were full of flavorful vegetables and the presentations were clean and unpretentious.

The Amuse-Bouche-

Tender Fish, Wrapped with Radish, Mango

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First Course-

Soupe Au Pistou, Lobster Essence

Served with Guigal 2006, Condrieu

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Second Course-

Ravioles Au Vert, Arugula, Spinach, Ricotta And Olive Oil

Served with Domaine Weinbach 2003, Riesling,

Grand Cru Schlossberg

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Third Course-

CookPot, Spring Vegetables and Morels, (Oregon)

Served with Aile d'Argent 2003, Bordeaux by Mouton Rothschild

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The Morels in the CookPot came from Oregon. Chef Ducasse said that he always puts at least seven fresh vegetables in this dish. For the Las Vegas restaurant most of the produce comes from the Santa Monica farmer's market in Los Angeles. In this dish, the vegetables simply braise at low heat in vegetable stock.

Fourth Course-

Crusted Braised Halibut, Eggplant Caviar, Olives, Brown Butter

Served with Jean-Louis Chave 2001, Hermitage

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Fifth Course-

Rack of Colorado Lamb, Tomato, Zucchini, Onion and Baby Red Pepper

"Petits Farcis"

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And the vegetable "Petits Farcis" open. The onion was stuffed with diced onion

and baby lamb sausage-

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Desserts-

Served with Jo Pithon Coteaux du Layon 2001, Saint Lambert

Poached Rhubarb-

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Profiteroles-

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And dipped in warm chocolat-

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Pizzas-

Raspberry, Rose and Marshmallow-

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Apple and Caramel-

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And of course, when lunching with Ducasse, one can't leave without some warm Madelines, served warm just out of the oven and still in their pan-

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With warm Nutella-

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Lunch was truly a “Chef’s table with Alain Ducasse.” We talked about Oregon morels in the “Cookpot dish,” (and Chef noted the good Pinot Noir’s coming from Oregon). We talked about braising the halibut, then taking it out of the oven and patting it with a delicate mixture of fine brioche crumbs and orange and lemon peel and running the fish under the salamander until the crust was just crisp and golden brown.

We talked about the sweetness of rhubarb in Spring and the “very good wine pairing” of the Jo Pithon Coteaux De Layon 2001. The wine’s were superb and accented every dish perfectly, the glasses were never empty and the laughter and conversation was delightful. Lunch with Ducasse was quite special indeed.

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Friday, May 7-

The Grand Tasting, Caesar’s Palace Pools-

The Grand Tasting is billed as one of the main events every year at Vegas Uncork’d. The Grand Tasting features over 50 restaurants and many of the Chef’s whose names grace the doors of their signature restaurants. There are booths featuring wines, spirits, beers and water. There was a separate book signing area where people could have newly released cookbooks signed by the authors and the requisite Las Vegas Red Carpet for Celebrity Chefs and Entertainers to have their photo taken in front of the Vegas Uncork’d background. I tend to stick to the food booths. (Later in the evening, we had the occasion to chat with Olympic Figure Skater Johnny Weir who agreed with us that the Pea Shoot at the Guy Savoy booth was delicious).

While the main focus of the Grand Tasting is on booths representing the major dining rooms in the Strip resort hotels, it was quite welcome to see local restaurants represented including Rosemary’s, Vintner Grill and Lotus of Siam.

The setting for the Grand Tasting is at the pool gardens at Caesar’s Palace. Thankfully, this year Caesar’s completed the construction we suffered through last year, expanding the area for the Grand Tasting by about half the size.

The Grand Tasting is not for people who prefer to avoid the throngs of rushing hungry crowds thirsty for alcohol and premium bits of food. I heard that 2,500 tickets were sold and that’s in addition to all of the Chefs, Cooks, Waiters and associated people working the booths. That’s plenty of people packing into the Caesar’s pool areas.

Chefs working to put food out and keep up with demand-

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Chef Cat Cora serving her Lamb Slider Burgers. They were delicious by the way. Whether she was behind the booth grilling the burgers or merely out front serving them I wasn’t able to verify-

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Chefs at Laurent Tourendel's BLT Burger Bar Booth frying up the Bacon for the Barbecued Mini-Burgers. Delicious-

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Somewhere in the background, high atop one of the cement pedestals, is the featured “DJ” of the evening, one Chef Hubert Keller, aka “Top Chef Masters,” Fleur de Lys, Burger Bar, PBS Television et. al. Who knew the French actually yearn to spin records after they leave the kitchen?

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While I make light of the Grand Tasting, it is the best venue for the general public to sample delicious bites of signature dishes from the finest restaurants in Las Vegas. It’s an opportunity to see Bobby Flay and have him serve you a small bite from the Mesa Grill booth and to have Rick Moonen sign a cookbook. Great fun, a bit of celebrity watching, (we caught Rita Rudner eating one of Valentino’s gelato cones), good Patron cocktails and the atmosphere of a Las Vegas pool party.

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Well, we've returned the Northwest and Southwest, but the best is yet come-three more reports on Vegas Uncork'd-the Interactive Lunch where Jeff threw down a delicious Spring Pea Risotto, a dinner at RM Seafood and a review that will surprise you and brunch with the third French Master, Chef Joel Robuchon.

The activities at Vegas Uncork'd are fast and furious so it's virtually impossible for us to report live in the moment-if we did we wouldn't be able to give you the photos and quality reporting that you appreciate. Thus, the reports may be stretch into this week, but the details will be there and wait till you see Jeff stir that Risotto and Mr. Ross bake a Whole Fish in a Salt Crust accented with Star Anise and Citrus...............

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Saturday, May 8-

All-Star Interactive Lunch with the Chefs of Wynn and Encore-

The great joy of attending Vegas Uncork’d is that it gives one the opportunity to experience so many events on different levels-from the intimate setting of having a leisurely lunch with Ducasse and discussing his childhood in Southwestern France while sipping White Bordeaux. Some tend to prefer the classroom to learn the fine art of slicing sushi and pairing it with sake or crafting fine artisan chocolates and pairing them with teas. Others go for the boisterous party with 2,500 of their closest friends amidst the legendary pools at Caesar’s and watch Hubert Keller scratch at the DJ table. Those silly French. I happen to like to end my Uncork'd weeked with brunch served by a fellow named Robuchon. Yes, Vegas Uncork’d is an experience like no other.

Speaking for myself, (but I think Jeff will agree), one of the funnest events we attended at Uncork’d was the All-Star Interactive Lunch at Encore where we had the opportunity to cook with the Chefs of Wynn and Encore.

The lucky attendees, (another sold-out Uncork’d event), had the opportunity to cook alongside a Chef while another Chef was on stage giving instruction, (which was also projected on two large video screens). It was great fun and the champagne and wine flowed as we prepared a delicious three-course lunch.

The main demonstration stage-

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Beautiful, fresh flowers are always in abundance at Wynn-

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Mise en place for our first course-

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Prime Grade Tenderloin, (hmm, what are we preparing?)-

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Each table seated ten guests and had a Chef. Our table included 4 from Las Vegas, the honorable Ross and Meeker, a couple from Tennessee and two ladies representing the Japanese press.

Chef David Walzog, SW Steakhouse, giving the instructions to begin prep, (Barbara Fairchild, Bon Appetit Editor, sitting at the table with members of the Wynn family)-

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Our Chef was Mr. Carl Bastian-Giesecke who works with Paul Bartolotta at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare. Chef Giesecke is from Sweden and has worked all over Europe, including time with Chef Roger Verge—and now Ross and Meeker shall be his Sous Chefs for the second and third course! (May the culinary world first take a deep breath on this day).

One of the ladies from Las Vegas who will assist Chef Giesecke with the First Course-

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Dicing the tenderloin-

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And the opening dish of our “Interactive Lunch”-

Steak Tartare with Aleppo Pepper, Black Onion Seeds and Garlic Chips-

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Now course number two will be presented tommorrow, but I should forewarn you, Meeker is a mean stirrer, of Risotto that is. He stirs and stirs and stirs. Butter, whipped cream and pea puree is involved. He is stirs and stirs and stirs. And in the end..............

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I finally made it back home after a 5 night trip to Las Vegas. I'll start to work on my write up of the interactive lunch held at Encore at Wynn Las Vegas. But first, I wanted to make a few comments about things David has already commented on.

Sage at Aria (Wednesday Dinner)

If you couldn't already tell by David's write up, this was a really fantastic meal. The foie gras "creme brulee" was totally decadent. Not sure if it's too cliché to pair foie gras with brioche and Sauternes, but it done for good reason. It just works so well. We were served a tasting portion of this and just could not imagine having the full sized portion off of the regular menu. I think an even smaller portion would be good. Maybe as secondary amuse. None of the dishes were clunkers here. If there was one that was "weak", it would have been the beef course. But even that was still nice, especially the fried artichoke hearts. At the end of the meal, Chef Shawn McLain came over to our table and chatted with us for a good while. Nice guy. Seemed to be very happy with the reception he has been getting in Las Vegas. I hope this place continues to do well. I was impressed for the size of the crowd in the dining room for a Wednesday night. I hope it's a sign the economy is improving and that the city and the visitors to it will support a restaurant like this one.. There really aren't many like it on the Las Vegas strip.

Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace (Thursday evening Uncork'd Event)

As I mentioned previously, this was my first time to be in Las Vegas for the Uncork'd weekend, and this was my first event to attend. The setup here was pretty nice. There were certain areas that got really crowded when the crowds were at their peak and other areas that were totally underutilized. But if you can deal with big crowds, there was a lot to like about this event. Many tasty things to eat and the chance to actually interact with the big name chefs in a fun, casual environment.

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I didn't take notes like I should have. It would have been tricky while balancing plates of food and holding a wine glass or some other beverage. Would have been nice if they had printed up little "business cards" that detailed everything that was being offered up. Many dishes stood out, and in my mind, one chef in particular really out did himself with the interacting part. Just off of the top of my head, I'll list a few of them. An artichoke soup from Guy Savoy. Really fantastic. A braised lamb dish from Vintner Grill, an off strip, local, not in a casino restaurant (a really fantastic one that is worth any effort it may take to get there). A pasta dish with mini veal meatballs from Valentino. The oysters from Sage (very much like what we had on Wednesday night in the restaurant). An excellent combo of yellow tail sashimi and a tempura fried black cod from Nobu. Terrific french fries from BLT Burger. (Yeah, not "haute cuisine", but they really were good). Tasty little tacos from Isla. A few cocktails from the "Patron Lounge". Really, too many to mention.. And I didn't come close to hitting every place. Probably not even half of them.

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As far as meeting the chefs, it was pretty good. Met many. Even managed to say hello to Alain Ducasse and shake his hand. One chef in particular gets serious props from me for what he was doing. That was Luciano Pellegrini of 'Valentino'. He was up at the front of his booth, cooking and plating every little place of that pasta with veal meatballs. He must have been there the entire night. Also had a nice, extended chat with Claude Le Tohic, the chef that runs Joel Robuchon day to day. The guy is fresh off winning a James Beard award for Best Chef Southwest.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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All Star Interactive Lunch at Encore (Hosted by Barbara Fairchild, editor of Bon Appetit magazine)

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This was an event I was really looking forward to. Sure, to some it may sound silly to pay good money to actually cook while on vacation in Las Vegas. But for me, this would be a real treat.

The format of this event is essentially a hands on cooking school. But instead of being held in a kitchen, it's held in one of the beautiful ballrooms at the Encore at Wynn Las Vegas resort/casino. The setup in the ballroom consisted of about a dozen round tables that seated 10 with a long rectangular table at one end that would serve as our "kitchen" for the table.

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At the front of the room was a long stage with a cooking station. Each end of the stage was flanked by a large video screen to allow everyone to see what was going on.

The marquee chefs at this event (all work for Wynn) were David Walzog of SW Steakhouse, Alessandro Stratta of Alex and Stratta, Paul Bartalotta of Ristorante di Mare, and Frédéric Robert, executive pastry chef of Wynn/Encore. David, Alex, and Paul would all demo one course each while each table followed along and actually prepared that dish. Fred (thats how he signed the special aprons everyone received) would simply present the dessert course.

First Course

Steak Tartare

Presented by David Walzog

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The tables were all setup for this course when we walked into the ballroom. As you can see from David's pictures, the mise en place was almost entirely done. The only real work here for the table participant was to make a fine dice with the filet, then mix everything together and plate it up.

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This was pretty good. Had a nice peppery kick to it. It accompanied with Tattinger, Cuvée Prestige Brut, Reims NV

Second Course

Sweet Pea Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

Presented by Alessandro Stratta

This is where I got int the action and did some cooking. All the mise en place was done in advance for the tables. There was a pea puree that Alex demoed, but we had it already made. The mushrooms were already cooked, too. But we still had raw onions. And raw rice. There was a sauce pan with chicken stock simmering away on one burner. A second burner had the saute pan to actually cook the risotto. I won't go into the details of how to make a risotto because there was nothing unusual about the method. But it was nice to have some pro guidance from our table's chef to give you little pointers and tips. One of the better tips was to be careful not too over salt as you go. I think this may be something I am guilty of doing my self. One thing I've never done with my risotto was to fold in whipped cream to finish. I guess that's a ultra luxurious restaurant thing. But I would certainly make up a pea puree and stir that into a risotto I would make. I really enjoyed doing the cooking here. David will have the photos of me in action! I can't wait to see them.

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This was delicious. Very rich and flavorful. But still had a great spring flavor. Peas work really nicely in a risotto. This was served with a Hirsch Vineyards, "Bohan Dillon" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley 2008

Third Course

Whole Fish Cooked in Aromatic Sea Salt Crust

Presented by Paul Bartalotta

Chef Bartalotta's restaurant, 'Ristorante di Mare' in the shops of the Wynn esplanade is known for one thing. And that thing is Mediterranean seafood. Chef doesn't fool around when it comes to obtaining the all the various sea creatures that can be featured any given night in the restaurant. He told us it even took a bit of work to convince Steve Wynn to spend the money to do it. Shipments several times per week. Everything tracked by placing a special chip on one fish in each case. Some sort of marine biologist on staff at the hotel to keep a lot of these creatures alive in kicking in storage tanks until they are ready to be cooked. Just take a look at what was on display. Considering where we were and where it came from, it was remarkably fresh. Smelling of just sea. Eyes clear. Just what you want in fish.

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The goal here was to take away the fear of cooking whole fish. And we would do that by encasing the whole fish in a whole lot of salt seasoned with spices and citrus zest, bound together with egg whites. Paul was very animated up on stage. Wanted to make sure every table was following along and keeping up.

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After the fish were covered with sea salt, they were all taken away to bake in the oven. Meanwhile, worked started on prepping some pan sauteed zucchini that would go with the fish and a simple vinaigrette that would go with it and be drizzled on the fish to finish

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After a brief amount of time, our fish came back. And something magical happened. They got BIGGER! Actually, they were different fish. It's like TV cooking. Just not enough time to cook the whole fish. So, we prepped small ones, and Wynn staff cooked much lager ones that would feed each table. Another interesting thing is not every table had the same fish. One thing Chef told us that they learned that they needed to keep the heads of the fish uncovered with salt. If they didn't do this in the restaurant, it would be difficult to tell which fish was fish since on any given night, they can have many varieties available. Next came the task of removing the salt dome, taking the skin off the fish, then removing the flesh from the bones. Certainly, this can be a daunting task for someone inexperienced. But if you are careful, it can be done. Just watch out for the bones.

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This was my favorite course of the day. Good thing we had such large fish, because I had a second helping of this. I gotta try this at home someday with a small fish. Served with a Tenuta di Trinoro "Passopisciaro", Sicily 2008

Fourth Course

Desserts presented by Frédéric Robert

There was no demo here. No work to do for any of the participants. "Fred" was introduced and he came up on the stage and simply told us what we were getting. That's fine. The event lasts only so long and there just isn't time to prepare elaborate desserts. All we had to do was eat. What was delivered to us was Wild raspberries in a Sundries Trifle with Lemon Yogurt Sherbert, accompanied by Glazed Pastry Sticks. There was also a Candy Bar Assortment of Crunchy, Creamy, and Rich Chocolate. No wine here. But there was a nice coffee service to go with dessert

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Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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"Unofficial" Uncork'd Food and Drink

David has already shared some information about various meals that weren't part of the official Uncork'd events and I will do the same. Really, it's appropriate because it IS about food and drink while we were in Las Vegas for the Uncork'd festivities.

Wednesday Lunch

Country Club at Wynn

David and I planned to meet up at Encore right after I arrived to have lunch. The timing was perfect. David met up with me as I was checking in at the front desk. With that taken care of and my bag stored with the bell desk, we walked through the Encore and Wynn meeting spaces to the County Club restaurant. Situated at the back of the Wynn resort, this restaurant has a expansive view of the golf course that is actually part of the resort. We knew we would be having dinner later at Sage, so we didn't order too much. But there was a three course fixed price menu that was pretty tempting. Seemed like a decent deal, relatively speaking.

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Duo of ceviche. The one on the right was crab with mango and coconut. I can't recall what the one on the left was. It was OK. I did enjoy the crab one more than the other.

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Turkey club sandwich. This is what David ordered. I liked how the skewers had a golf tea on top. A nice and appropriate touch given the setting. This was served with some very good hose made potato chips.

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I have a major sweet tooth, so I had to get some sort of dessert. I decided to get some ice cream and sorbets Chocolate ice cream, mango sorbet, cherry sorbet. The chocolate ice cream was great. Mango sorbet very good, too.

Friday Breakfast

Society Cafe at Encore

A friend of mine wanted breakfast Friday morning. I knew I was going to be eating a somewhat early lunch at Julian Serrano, but I went anyway with the intent of maybe just having some coffee and orange juice. I got that, plus something to eat. A simple bowl of yogurt, fruit, and granola. Really, pretty nice. I actually wind up ordering something like this pretty regularly when eating breakfast out

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Friday Lunch

Julian Serrano at Aria

The Aria resort/casino is new. It opened up in December, just a few days after I left Las Vegas on my previous visit. They have a vast line up of restaurants, and a few of them had caught my eye. One of them was Sage, where I had dinner Wednesday night. Julian Serrano was another. Fortunately, they are actually open for lunch. I went here with a group of my friends (4 of us in total) We each ordered 3 or 4 different small plates. There were a few duplicates, but I still think we got a good variety of things. One again, I failed to take proper notes. But I have some pictures of some of the dishes. Everything came to the table very quickly after we ordered. I suppose we should have asked them them to space it out a bit for us. But we managed to handle it OK

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Cocktails at Wynn/Encore

I had a couple of nice cocktails at Wynn/Encore.

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This was at the Parasol Down bar at Wynn. This is one of my most favorite places in all of Las Vegas to have a cocktail. The drink pictured above is called Cucumber and Ginger cooler. It's made with Hendrick's Gin, Canton Ginger Liqueur, muddled cucumber, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and club soda. Very good, if a bit sweet. But something like that is easily adjustable.

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This was the Hibiscus-Raspberry Brut I had at the Eastside Lounge at Encore. It's a champagne cocktail made with hibiscus syrup and some sort of raspberry liqueur. Another winner from the mixologists at Wynn/Encore.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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Saturday, May 8-(continued)

All-Star Interactive Lunch with the Chefs of Wynn and Encore-

Let me go back to Saturday and the Interactive Lunch at Wynn. Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Jeff has been far too modest with you in terms of his abilities as a risotto cook as the following photos will portray.

As Jeff mentioned, the opportunity to get personal instruction from Chef Stratta and cook alongside Chef Giesecke was wonderful. I learned how professionals draw the maximum flavor out of a risotto--tips that I found invaluable for this simple home cook who always seems to struggle with this most basic of dishes. You could read volumes of cookbooks from Lidia Bastianich and Marcella Hazen without ever gaining the insight of a personal tutorial.

Chef Stratta at the ready-

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Here are some valuable tips for the Spring Pea Risotto with Wild Mushrooms adapted from Alex restaurant-

-Chef Stratta uses Vialone Nano rice rather than the more well-known Arborio rice for his risotto because he prefers the structure of the grains.

-Chef Stratta keeps the stock boiling throughout the cooking process, (not just warm), as he adds it to the risotto. He says boiling stock is absorbed better by the rice. (I always kept my stock at a simmer).

-Pea puree is added to the rice to deepen the pea flavor. (I always just settled for peas, no puree. This same method works well for asparagus risotto-add asparagus puree in addition to asparagus spears).

-Instead of adding cream, Chef Stratta whips the cream before adding it to the risotto, giving the final dish both a creamy and lofty texture.

-To accent the flavor, texture and name of the dish, the final garnish is fresh pea shoots.

Now on to the cooking.

Here is Jeff’s team-a member of the Japanese press, Jeff and Chef Bastian-Giesecke-

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Mise en place-

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And the stirring begins, Jeff and his Sous Chef. Chef Giesecke stood to the side, not wanting to interfere with his talented kitchen staff-

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Stir Jeff, stir, stir-

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“On the line” plating the risotto, Jeff intensely garnishing the plates-

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Now can you think of a more beautiful spring dish? I present you with Jeff’s masterpiece-

Second Course

Sweet Pea Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

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Saturday, May 8-(continued)

All-Star Interactive Lunch with the Chefs of Wynn and Encore-

Saturday, May 8, continued

As Jeff mentioned, Chef Paul Bartolotta is intense about the quality of the seafood he imports from the Mediterranean. Jeff asked Chef Bastian-Giesecke if the recent rumblings of the volcano in Iceland had any effects on their seafood shipments. Normally the seafood comes via Heathrow in London, but during the volcano disruptions, they made arrangements to have their products shipped from Rome via North Africa, eventually making way to Las Vegas. Now that’s a focus on quality for the customer virtually unheard of, (even when Mother Nature gets a bit testy).

Another shot of some of the beautiful bounty of the Mediterranean-

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For the main fish course I was paired with Denise Valdez, KLAS-CBS anchor. I was lucky, Denise knows about food and cooking. She hosts the regular “Dining and Dishing” feature on KLAS with none other than our fellow eGullet Member, Mr. ELV himself, (better known as eatinglv.com), Mr. John Curtas-the bon vivant of Las Vegas.

The task before us—to pack a whole fish (other tables had other types of fin fish that Chef Bartolotta had procured for the event), into a crypt of salt enhanced with a mound of crushed star anise, wild fennel pollen, lemon zest, orange zest and egg white. Once the fish was packed in the salt it would be whisked back to the ovens and baked.

The ingredients for our fish course-

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Wouldn’t it be nice to have labels on all your ingredients at home?-

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While the fish was baking, I would prepare a vinaigrette to dress the fish while Denise prepared an accompaniment of zuchinni. The ingredients for the vinaigrette included orange juice, lemon juice, orange zest, lemon zest, olive oil, mint leaves, basil leaves and salt. That’s it, everything simply muddled together and then strained. Some of the tables added a bit of the vinaigrette to the sauté pan with the zuchinni but we kept things simple, sautéing the zuchinni in olive oil and then seasoning it with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Back in the massive Wynn kitchens, our little 1 pound display fishy had been replaced by the giant ocean beast that Jeff showed us above in his post. Although we had used a good amount of spices and aromatics in the salt crust, it only gave a whisper of exotic scent to the fish-it wasn’t overpowering at all.

This is a photo of Chef Stratta’s “family plate” of the fish filleted and boned and served on a platter with a separate platter of the zuchinni. Magnifique.

Third Course,

Pesce in Crostate Di Sale Profumato-

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