Raku (Las Vegas, NV) (2)

Raku
5030 Spring Mountain Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89146
Dining date: 5/10/12 

raku signage

One of my (and my family’s) favorites in Las Vegas is Raku. It’s an off-strip spot located in a Chinatown plaza which was probably a hidden gem for some time. Not anymore though; it’s become very well-known for its homey, comforting Japanese food and robata grill, even making an appearance along with high-end Strip restaurants at the recent Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting. Chef Mitsuo Endo was even a semifinalist for a James Beard award both in 2011 and 2012.

I had a delayed flight that arrived just after 11pm in Las Vegas, but a meal was still in order. Being open very late (3am), Raku was perfect for a late-night meal. Although my parents came just a few days earlier, they were still eager to visit again. It would be the first visit for my cousins, aunt and grandmother whom arrived earlier that afternoon.

Although located off-Strip in Chinatown, I wouldn’t really call Raku cheap. However, I think you really get what you pay for (quality), and there’s definitely more value here something on the Strip.  The menu is pretty varied, split up into salads, cold plates, hot plates, oden, rice/noodles, and robata. Daily specials are written up on a chalkboard as well (highly recommended!). We ordered a bunch of items between the 7 of us; some I tried, some repeats that I didn’t (I wasn’t that hungry).

daily specials

Yellowtail Carpaccio

Yellowtail Carpaccio

Beautiful presentation. The fish was excellent and even better with the yuzu kosho condiment.

Bluefin Tuna

Bluefin Tuna

This was a favorite during my last trip and still is. My parents said their bluefin earlier in the week was a deep red; this time we lucked out and got some pieces of toro/chutoro (the fatty gradient can be seen on the left). Tender, rich and fatty, these were great pieces of sashimi. A little bit of microgreens helped to lighten up the bites.

Kobe Beef Tongue Tataki

beef tongue tataki

Seeing this on the daily specials, I had to order it. Slightly chewy with good flavor, these were good bites as well. Yuzu kosho and togarashi spice provided some extra depth of flavor (and heat!).

Steamed Foie Gras Egg Custard

foie gras custard soup

This has been a favorite as well in the past. My cousin ordered this one and loved it, though it gets very rich after a lot of bites. Ideal for sharing.

Udon Noodle with Foie Gras Egg Custard Soup

udon

steamed foie gras custard

I went for a similar dish where the custard was the centerpiece of a rich dashi soup. Thin udon noodles (iced down to keep their integrity) were dipped into the soup to make some pretty tasty mouthfuls. The buttery, foie-flavored custard at the bottom was just as good as I remembered.

Crispy Asparagus Okaki

asparagus okaki

Nutty and crispy, though not one of my favorites. Maybe it’s too healthy.

Juicy Deep Fried Chicken

raku fried chicken

This was better than I remembered – exceedingly juicy and flavorful (fatty), these were good eats.

Crispy Fried Shrimp

crispy shrimp

These are eaten whole. I haven’t really gotten into the whole ‘eating the shell’ thing, but the body of the shrimp was quite juicy and flavorful.

Agedashi Tofu

agedashi tofu

A favorite here and one that my mother always has to have, the house-made tofu is silky soft with a delicately crispy shell. There’s a rich soy flavor to the tofu that just isn’t in the storebought stuff. An umami-filled broth provided much of the savory depth of flavor. Delicious.

Raku also offers an array of robata items grilled over charcoal. I haven’t had a whole lot to compare to in LA, but Raku seems to really do it right with the combination of the charred exterior and imbued smoky flavor.

Kobe Beef Filet with Wasabi

filet with wasabi

Very tender and juicy (especially for tenderloin) with just a little bit of wasabi complement.

Kobe Beef Outside Skirt with Garlic

outside skirt robata

This might be my favorite; it’s much more flavorful than the filet. However, it was a bit chewier than I remembered on this visit.

Kobe Beef Tendon

beef tendon

My aunt ordered this gelatinous skewer.

Asparagus

asparagus robata

Apple Marinated Lamb Chop

lamb chops

My cousins swooned over the juicy, sweet lamb chops.

Butter Sauteed Scallop with Soy Sauce

scallop

I feel like I’ve been here a bunch of times but this was only my second visit. It won’t be my last. Raku offers a pretty wide array of Japanese dishes that have been well-executed and darn delicious. I need to try the kaiseki menu at some point, but it’s just so hard to deviate from some of my favorites, particularly since this isn’t a restaurant I can visit frequently.

Mo-Chica (Los Angeles, CA)

Mo-Chica
514 W. 7th Street
Los Angeles, 90014
Dining date: 5/27/12

mo-chica exterior

Mo-Chica was chef Ricardo Zarate’s first restaurant in 2009, located in the Mercado la Paloma near USC. A lot has changed since then with Zarate being named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2011 and having one of the bigger restaurant openings last year with Picca. With all of his success, Zarate’s been able to relocate his first restaurant to a much larger location and kitchen (and thus, menu). The new digs are in the heart of downtown at 7th & Grand, steps from the ever-popular Bottega Louie. The grand opening is on the 30th, however I dropped in on one of the soft-opening nights this past weekend.

Since I live and work in downtown, I’ve been eagerly anticipating this opening. Like the former Mo-Chica and Picca, Zarate brings food from his Peruvian homeland, something that still seems to be unique in the already-diverse LA food scene. Also similar to the sister restaurants, an open kitchen offers a view of much of the cooking and preparation – always fun to see.

kitchen

Brian Summers and Deysi Alvarez are in charge of the cocktails here (not usual suspect Julian Cox), and we tried a few (from left to right).

mo-chica bar

OAXACALIFORNIA LOVE mezcal, tequila, lime juice, pineapple rocoto gomme
PAPA DON’T PEACH banks rum, fresh peaches infused with calvados, peach bitters, simple syrup, lemon juice
THA DOGGFATHER aka PISCO SOUR pisco porton, egg white, lime juice, lemon juice, cane syrup sugar, angostura bitters
TEA-NAGE DREAM oro quebranta pisco, pitta & brendan’s tea

mo-chica cocktails

Smoky mezcal cocktails seem to be all the rage right now and I’m still on that bandwagon. The Oaxacalifornia Love was my favorite of the four with its lingering smokiness countered by sweet pineapple and lime flavors.

arroz con mariscos peruvian seafood paella, salsa criolla

arroz con mariscos peruvian seafood paella, salsa criolla

This is a similar dish to what I’ve had at Picca and the previous Mo-Chica, and found this version to be a strong one. Squid, shrimp and mussels were all cooked well, as was the rice with just a little bit of texture. A creamy sauce brought it all together. The crisp red onions were a theme throughout the evening, adding a bright freshness to the dish.

estofado de alpaca alpaca stew estofado, tagliatelle, aji amarillo sauce, fried organic fertile egg

estofado de alpaca alpaca stew estofado, tagliatelle, aji amarillo sauce, fried organic fertile egg

I think this was my first time having alpaca; it reminded me of lamb but much less gamey. This dish presented a tender chunk of the meat to go along with fresh tagliatelle and a buttery aji amarillo sauce. A fried egg added some extra richness to the dish.

seco de cordero lamb shank, canario beans, cilantro beer sauce

seco de cordero lamb shank, canario beans, cilantro beer sauce

We found this to be a generous portion – a sizable lamb shank was slowly braised, leaving tender and gamey meat. The red onions and tomatoes on top did a good job of adding some freshness to cut through the rich meat while the beans and peas were a nice way to sop up much of the residual braising liquid.

choritos a la chalaca grilled chopped mussels, prawns, squid, tomato choclo salsa

choritos a la chalaca grilled chopped mussels, prawns, squid, tomato choclo salsa

When ordering this dish, we had Picca’s steamed mussels with pancetta and aji amarillo in mind. This was a much different plate where chopped mussels, prawns and squid were placed back into a mussel shell with a citrusy sauce. I found this to be a cool and refreshing dish, though I was still longing for Picca’s mussels.

colita de rez oxtail, trigo de mote, huancaina salsa criolla

colita de rez oxtail, trigo de mote, huancaina salsa criolla

The portion of this oxtail seemed small compared to the lamb shank. However, the meat was deliciously tender and rich, and I really enjoyed the barley risotto which reminded me of one of my favorite dishes at the old Mo-Chica. Some corn nut-like popped corn added texture.

carapulcra peruvian sun dried potato stew, crispy pork belly, chimichurri

carapulcra peruvian sun dried potato stew, crispy pork belly, chimichurri

A hearty potato stew was topped with chunks of pork belly. I liked that the pork wasn’t overly fatty, it still seemed somewhat lean yet tender and flavorful. I wished the skin was crispier though as it seemed a little limp. A chimichurri provided a bright accompaniment to the pork.

tiradito de jurel spanish mackerel tiradito, ginger amarillo sauce, garlic chips, sesame oil

tiradito de jurel spanish mackerel tiradito, ginger amarillo sauce, garlic chips, sesame oil

Tender slices of Spanish mackerel were complemented by citrus and ginger flavors, as well as crispy garlic chips. The addition of sesame oil added some earthy depth; a lot of components here, but I thought they were pretty well-balanced.

paiche amazonian fish from peru, ajiaco de arroz, cherry tomato escabeche

paiche amazonian fish from peru, ajiaco de arroz, cherry tomato escabeche

This might have been my favorite plate of the evening. The white fish was moist and went well with the juicy cherry tomatoes; a spicy risotto-like rice base completed the dish.

As expected, our dinner at Mo-Chica was a strong one full of delicious and hearty Peruvian fare; this move adds another good restaurant to the ever-expanding downtown scene. The food, atmosphere and pricing all closely resemble Picca more than the old Mo-Chica, with a number of the old favorites to remind us of the restaurant’s roots. While I’ll miss the seemingly bargain-basement prices of the old restaurant, I’m sure I’ll find myself here more often due to the location and the more complete food and alcohol offerings. It’s open for lunch too, so I’ll have to add this to the lunch rotation.

rm seafood (Las Vegas, NV)

rm seafood
Mandalay Bay
3930 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Dining date:  5/11/12

rm exterior

When my family was looking for the ideal lunch spot before the Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting, rm seafood seemed to fit the bill. None of us had been before (harder than it sounds), and the seafood-centric menu promised some lighter fare ahead of the binge eating that would happen at night.

Rick Moonen made a name for himself on the East Coast before opening this two-story restaurant at Mandalay Bay in 2005. The top floor is more of a fine dining dinner-only establishment, while the downstairs offers a more casual atmosphere and lunch service. Moonen may be best known for two stints on Top Chef Masters, including a memorable second season in which he was a runner-up behind winner Marcus Samuelsson. For some time now, I’ve been eager to try his food; this lunch would be my first time.

A display of fresh seafood greets everyone at the entrance, as well as a large fully-stocked bar; a must in Las Vegas it seems.

rm seafood display

rm bar

Between the seven of us, we ordered a number of appetizers and entrees.

rick’s white clam chowder potatoes, littleneck clams, bacon

rick's white clam chowder potatoes, littleneck clams, bacon

The chowder was milky with a strong smoky flavor, presumably from the bacon. Almost overpowering. Delicious plump clams filled the soup, really making the dish.

jumbo lump crab cake fresh blue crab, carrot salad, chipotle aioli

jumbo lump crab cake fresh blue crab, carrot salad, chipotle aioli

A large crab cake was seared to a crisp and filled with chunks of crab, pretty well done. Lightly pickled vegetables added some cool acidity to pair with the crab cake.

clams casino baked littleneck clams, bell peppers, bacon

clams casino baked littleneck clams, bell peppers, bacon

Next came the appetizer I ordered: clams casino. Plump littleneck clams were complemented by the texture of the crisp bacon and breadcrumbs; again, the bacon provided a very strong smoky flavor.

maine lobster rolls 1/2 pound lobster “new england style”

maine lobster rolls 1/2 pound lobster "new england style"

A generous portion of two lobster rolls were my entree. Finely chopped red onions and celery accompanied the lobster as well as a heavy-handed helping of mayo. I thought these were pretty good rolls, but they could’ve used less of the mayo, which never seemed to stop dripping out of the bottom. Many of the potato chips were so oily I was surprised they were served.

tuna flowers

tuna flowers

This off-menu dish came highly recommended from the server. A rice-less roll of sushi had a tuna base and what I thought was spicy scallop, topped with eel sauce and puffed rice. The eel sauce provided nice savory depth while the puffed rice added some textural contrast.

fish tacos pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, chipotle cream

fish tacos pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, chipotle cream

My cousin opted for fish tacos.

grilled chicken wrap tabooley, tzatziki, spicy pickled vegetables

grilled chicken wrap tabooley, tzatziki, spicy pickled vegetables

My mom went with the chicken wrap – she liked the chicken but found the wrap to be disappointingly stiff and bready.

We were debating passing on dessert in anticipation of dinner that night, but this dessert caught my dad’s eye. It would be a perfect dessert to share between the seven of us too.

rick’s tasting game 16 flavors of ice cream and sorbet served blind

DSC_0182

rick's tasting game 16 flavors of ice cream and sorbet served blind

One of the more fun desserts I’ve seen in some time, 16 scoops of ice cream came out with a blank sheet of paper. There isn’t a prize involved (just bragging rights), but you make a guess for each flavor and the answers are shared at the end.

rick's tasting game 16 flavors of ice cream and sorbet served blind

I thought we did OK with the guessing. It was kind of tricky since most of the ice creams were a combination of 2+ flavors.

Our lunch at rm seafood was one I’d say was “just okay.” Nothing was particularly impressive, though nothing was really disappointing. With all of the options in Las Vegas dining, I can’t say it was enough for a return visit for dinner.

Baco Mercat (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

Baco Mercat
408 S Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 5/6/12

baco menu

I first visited Baco Mercat a few months ago and left underwhelmed. It may have been partly due to the hype surrounding the restaurant and its namesake baco sandwiches, but I just didn’t understand what was so special about them. I’ve returned a few times for lunch and slowly warmed up to the place. This latest visit for brunch, my fourth, was maybe my best meal yet here.

Baco Mercat has been open for brunch on Saturdays for some time, but this happened to be the first Sunday they were open. To distinguish Sunday brunch service, the restaurant is serving something they’re calling ‘crawfish and beers.’ A large platter of crawfish (sold by the pound) is served with focaccia. The recommended beer pairing is Corona, but I’d really recommend one of the selections from their modest craft beer list. Since there were only two of us dining, and since I kind of hate peeling these little guys, we opted to pass on the crawfish and dine on the smaller plates, many of them unique to brunch.

Bloody Maria

bloody mary

“migas” eggs, tortilla scallion

migas

Fried crispy tortillas were topped with delicate, soft scrambled eggs and a spicy sauce (aioli?). Some fresh scallions did a nice job of cutting through some of the richness; these were some nice well-balanced bites.

breakfast baco egg, chorizo

breakfast baco

breakfast baco2

This was a must-try; the signature sandwiches incorporated the classic breakfast burrito in what sounded like a sure hit. And, I’m happy I say it was, with the savory chorizo and eggs being the strong tandem I expected. The arugula was a difference-maker, adding its distinctive peppery bite to help balance out the flavors of this gourmet breakfast burrito. I would’ve loved to see some hash browns in here though.

the toron oxtail hash, pickle, cheddar, tater

toron baco

toron

Named as the best sandwich in Los Angeles in one LA Weekly article, this may be the most famous baco. With oxtail hash at the center of the sandwich, it’s not hard to see why. Meaty oxtail and crispy potatoes are combined with some leafy greens and arugula, packed with savory flavor. My friend found it a bit heavy-handed on the salt in some bites; it didn’t bother me so much, but I could see some having an issue with that.

roasted romaneso garlic, lemon, radichio

romanesco

Baco Mercat’s most notable dishes are heavy and rich, but there are lighter options. This is one of them. Romanesco was roasted with radicchio, topped with a drizzle of oil and lemon juice. Simple yet satisfying.

banana cream pie brandied butterscotch, cocoa powder

banana cream pie

Jonathan Gold raved about this dessert saying it may be the best banana cream pie in the city. I haven’t tried nearly enough to make any sort of proclamation, but I thought this was a strong effort. It was a pretty light dessert (or as light as a banana cream pie can be), with a smooth and creamy banana custard at the base of a tart with a lot of whipped cream on top. The butterscotch at the bottom of the tart was probably my favorite flavor profile, reminding me of the rice pudding at Lazy Ox Canteen (Centeno’s old haunt) which is one of my favorite desserts in the city.

Over the course of my four visits, I’ve been able to try much of the menu. For some reason, I feel like the individual baco have become more distinct and varied in their flavors. I think the original is my favorite (over the Toron), with its crispy fried beef and pork carnitas being quite the tandem. I don’t think the flatbreads are worthwhile given limited stomach space – I’ve found the the small plates to be much more satisfying (they tend to strongly resemble the small plates at Lazy Ox Canteen).

C.H.E.F.S. Dinner @ The Royce (Pasadena, CA)

C.H.E.F.S. Benefit
The Royce

The Langham Hotel
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
Dining date: 5/14/12

langham

Foie gras dinners seem to be all the rage in California right now. For the most part, it seems restaurants want to celebrate (and serve) the ingredient while they still can, while bringing awareness to the ban and the issues at hand. Also, I’m sure some restaurants are using the impending ban to drum up business and charge top dollar for some high-profile dinners. On Monday, 4 LA restaurants held foie gras dinners that I think firmly fell into bucket #1.

Melisse, Lemon Moon, Animal and The Royce held foie gras dinners on the same night, each having a different NorCal vs. SoCal “battle.” Tickets were purchased in advance, with $100 going to food, wine, tax and gratuity; the other $100 went straight to the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (C.H.E.F.S.), a nonprofit aiming to promote humane and ethical farming standards (ie. repeal the ban).

Each restaurant featured an all-star lineup of chefs from Northern and Southern California; I opted for dinner at The Royce (my first time since the remodel from The Dining Room). An impressive 5 Michelin stars were shared between the 6 chefs: Douglas Keane, Cyrus (Healdsburg); Peter Armellino, Plumed Horse (Saratoga); Micah Wexler, Mezze (Los Angeles); Michael Cimarusti, Providence (Los Angeles); Victor Scargle, Lucy at Bardessono (Yountville), and David Féau, The Royce (Pasadena).

royce doors

royce interior

Foie Gras and Cherry Blossom Parfait, Barley, Sea Beans and Shiso
Douglas Keane, Cyrus, Healdsburg
Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV

Foie Gras and Cherry Blossom Parfait, Barley, Sea Beans and Shiso

mumm

We started with this parfait served in a martini glass. The rich foie, with the texture of a cold mousse, was complemented by earthy barley and the bright flavor of shiso. It was definitely on the heavier side for a first course though.

Artisan Foie Gras Torchon and Bigeye Tuna with Mustard Fruit and Saba
Peter Armellino, Plumed Horse, Saratoga
Testarossa Winery “Plumed Blanc” 2010 Arroyo Seco

Artisan Foie Gras Torchon and Bigeye Tuna with Mustard Fruit and Saba

plumed blanc

I liked the presentation of this one, with a tube of foie torchon pressed through the interior of the tuna. The creamy foie and meaty, smoky tuna were a nice pairing, and I thought the mustard fruit brought a welcome sweetness as well. A crispy tuile provided delicate texture.

Foie Gras Custard, Spring Vegetables, Smoked Sturgeon, Rye
Micah Wexler, Mezze, Los Angeles
Cornerstone “Stepping Stone Corallina Rose” Syrah 2011

Foie Gras Custard, Spring Vegetables, Smoked Sturgeon, Rye

syrah

This was one of the strongest dishes of the evening, centered around a light foie gras custard. Delicious on its own, I thought the smoked sturgeon (which kind of tasted like bacon), spring vegetables and crispy rye breadcrumbs really added complexity and more rounded flavors. Loved the colors too. Yum!

Foie Gras Sauté with Grilled and Partial Dehydrated Strawberries
Michael Cimarusti, Providence, Los Angeles
Hill Family Estate Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Napa

Foie Gras Sauté with Grilled and Partial Dehydrated Strawberries

Foie Gras Sauté with Grilled and Partial Dehydrated Strawberries

sauvignon blanc

Another of the stronger dishes, we were told this was the staff favorite during their tasting. A generous lobe of foie gras was seared perfectly, leaving a creamy, luscious interior. I liked the strawberries to go along with the liver, as well as the textures from two dehydrated crumbles, foie gras (the white) and black sesame (the black). A sweet sauvignon blanc pairing was a nice accompaniment.

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Forbidden Rice and Foie Gras “Risotto,” Pickled Ramps, Duck Confit, Cherry Jus
Victor Scargle, Lucy at Bardessono, Yountville
Arkenstone “Obsidian” Howell Mountain 2007 Napa

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Forbidden Rice and Foie Gras “Risotto," Pickled Ramps, Duck Confit, Cherry Jus

obsidian

The duck breast came out medium-rare, though sort of lukewarm in temperature. It was good duck but not particularly special. I liked the forbidden rice risotto, which added a strong earthy flavor…though that may have overshadowed the flavor of the foie. Of all of the courses, the liver was most subtle in this one, but I didn’t really mind it at this point.

Dry-aged Beef “Boullion,” Foir Gras Fondue, Tarragon Printed Pasta, Crimini Mushroom
David Féau, The Royce, Pasadena
Ackerman Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Napa

Dry-aged Beef

Dry-aged Beef "Boullion," Foir Gras Fondue, Tarragon Printed Pasta, Crimini Mushroom

cabernet

The last savory course was another seared lobe topped with what was like a foie gras snow. Interesting. It was cold and melted easily, making for a pretty unique vehicle of foie flavor. The bouillon was warm, rich and comforting and I really liked the tarragon printed pasta too. Cooked to an al dente texture, it definitely exuded the tarragon flavor as well.

Strawberry Coconut Sorbet, Petit Fours

strawberry coconut sorbet, petit fours

strawberry coconut sorbet, petit fours

Next up came a palate cleanser. The strawberry and coconut sorbet was well-balanced and refreshing, while the accompanying sweets were a nice treat.

Pacific Rose Apple Tart “roti,” Vanilla-Calvados Ice Cream, Roquefort Papillon
Charles Hours “Urolat” Jurançon 2010 France

Pacific Rose Apple Tart "roti," Vanilla-Calvados Ice Cream, Roquefort Papillon

Charles Hours "Urolat" Jurançon 2010 France

I was expecting to see some type of foie gras component in the dessert, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, a warm apple tart, folded over like a roti, was topped with a vanilla ice cream that carried a hint of alcohol undertone. Thin and crispy sheets of roquefort provided the texture, as well as a bit of funk.

We finished with a few chocolates – white (with Piment d’Espelette), milk (with espresso) and dark.

royce chocolates

I thought this was a good meal and kind of a bargain considering $100 of the price tag went straight to charity. It was definitely a heavy meal, seemingly moreso than the foie gras dinner by Ludo a month ago. While advertised as a competition/battle it actually wasn’t at all. If I had to pick a winner though, I’d say SoCal won given my favorite dishes were from Cimarusti and Wexler. However, none of the dishes were individually letdowns.

I was disappointed that none of the chefs (other than Féau) came out of the kitchen to stay hi to diners. Not a make-or-break at all, but I do enjoy that interaction in these types of special event dinners.

Vegas Uncork’d 2012: Grand Tasting (Las Vegas, NV)

Vegas Uncork’d 2012: Grand Tasting
Caesar’s Palace
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/11/12

Las Vegas seems to have something to offer any tourist, whether it’s browsing the large resorts, the gambling, the shopping, the hot weather and pool parties, or the nightlife. It’s really become a food destination as well, with every big-name chef seemingly having a presence in the city. Michelin three-star chefs Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Masa Takayama, Pierre Gagnaire, and Gordon Ramsay (and Daniel Boulud until 2010) all have restaurants here, along with plenty more notable chefs from every cuisine. Because of this, it’s an ideal location to have one of the nation’s largest food festivals.

Enter Bon Appetit’s Vegas Uncork’d. Now in its sixth year, the event is made up of about 25 individual events, spanning 4 days and 4 resorts. It’s hard to choose which events to go to, but the one that offers the most variety and access to chefs has to be the Grand Tasting with over 50 restaurants and dozens of wineries and spirits represented. It’s all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink at $200 a person.

venue1

venue2

I’d been to the Grand Tasting a number of years ago (I think it was the inaugural one), but the fact that it’s on a Friday has kept me from coming back as soon as I would’ve liked. However, my parents (and varying other family members) have attended every single year, becoming the family’s most anticipated food event of the year (replacing the now-defunct American Wine & Food Festival). This year, my parents were joined by my aunt, grandmother and a couple of my cousins.

The event was held at Caesar’s Palace’s Garden of the Gods – its pool area. Given daily highs in the mid-90s, it was still pretty warm in the evenings. Not the ideal weather for a food event, but I didn’t think the heat played as much of a factor as I thought it would. Of course, plenty of water would be key. Chugging bottles of Acqua Panna is truly something I don’t get to do everyday…and that’s just the water.

water

Restaurants were scattered all around the pool area, along with various spirits and wineries. The event, held between 7:30 and 10pm was actually a fairly short amount of time for an event like this, but I think I was able to visit just about every restaurant (careful examination of the map beforehand was critical!).

map

What follows is much, but definitely not all, of the food served.

Mix Restaurant & Lounge green mango and papaya salad, prime strip loin beef and thai dressing; pina colada, pineapple jelly and coconut parfait

Mix Restaurant & Lounge green mango and papaya salad, prime strip loin beef and thai dressing; pina colada, pineapple jelly and coconut parfait

Mix Restaurant & Lounge green mango and papaya salad, prime strip loin beef and thai dressing; pina colada, pineapple jelly and coconut parfait

Aureole charcoal grilled merguez sausage, mint tabouleh, spicy avocado sauce; assorted petit fours and gelato

Aureole charcoal grilled merguez sausage, mint tabouleh, spicy avocado sauce; assorted petit fours and gelato

Aureole charcoal grilled merguez sausage, mint tabouleh, spicy avocado sauce; assorted petit fours and gelato

Aureole charcoal grilled merguez sausage, mint tabouleh, spicy avocado sauce; assorted petit fours and gelato

Burger Bar spicy lamb burger sliders; 120 min. ipa

Burger Bar spicy lamb burger sliders; 120 min. ipa

Burger Bar spicy lamb burger sliders; 120 min. ipa

Beijing Noodle No. 9 kung pao shrimp skewer, ox trio noodles with beef

Beijing Noodle No. 9 kung pao shrimp skewer, ox trio noodles with beef

Beijing Noodle No. 9 kung pao shrimp skewer, ox trio noodles with beef

Beijing Noodle No. 9

Mesa Grill shrimp and grouper ceviche, mango habanero and pickled red onions

Mesa Grill shrimp and grouper ceviche, mango habanero and pickled red onions

Mesa Grill shrimp and grouper ceviche, mango habanero and pickled red onions

Gordon Ramsay Steak filet of beef wellington, potato puree, buttered glazed root vegetables, guinness demi

Gordon Ramsay Steak filet of beef wellington, potato puree, buttered glazed root vegetables, guinness demi

Rao’s sausage with peppers and onions; passion fruit mousse

Rao's sausage with peppers and onions; passion fruit mousse

Rao's sausage with peppers and onions; passion fruit mousse

Bradley Ogden butterscotch pudding, candied pepitas

Bradley Ogden butterscotch pudding, candied pepitas

Guy Savoy peas all around, artichoke and black truffle soup, toasted mushroom brioche and black truffle butter

Guy Savoy peas all around, artichoke and black truffle soup, toasted mushroom brioche and black truffle butter

Central Michel Richard braised short rib and creamy polenta; michel’s famous fried chicken, chilled dijon sauce

Central Michel Richard braised short rib and creamy polenta; michel's famous fried chicken, chilled dijon sauce

Central Michel Richard braised short rib and creamy polenta; michel's famous fried chicken, chilled dijon sauce

Francois Payard assorted chocolates and macarons

Francois Payard assorted chocolates and macarons

Francois Payard assorted chocolates and macarons

Nobu rock shrimp tempura, creamy spicy sauce, yuzu juice, lettuce cup; white fish dry miso sashimi

Nobu rock shrimp tempura, creamy spicy sauce, yuzu juice, lettuce cup; white fish dry miso sashimi

Nobu rock shrimp tempura, creamy spicy sauce, yuzu juice, lettuce cup; white fish dry miso sashimi

Old Homestead Steakhouse steak with house tater tots

Old Homestead Steakhouse steak with house tater tots

Holstein’s crispy pork belly slider, pea shoot slaw, chili mayo; truffled lobster mac & cheese fried crispy with truffle aioli

Holstein's crispy pork belly slider, pea shoot slaw, chili mayo; truffled lobster mac & cheese fried crispy with truffle aioli

Estiatorio Milos line caught wild sea bass in sea salt crust, capers, parsley, lemon olive oil dressing; tomato salad, english cucumber, red onion, green peppers, olive oil, oregano, santorini capers, barrel aged feta cheese

Estiatorio Milos line caught wild sea bass in sea salt crust, capers, parsley, lemon olive oil dressing; tomato salad, english cucumber, red onion, green peppers, olive oil, oregano, santorini capers, barrel aged feta cheese

Estiatorio Milos line caught wild sea bass in sea salt crust, capers, parsley, lemon olive oil dressing; tomato salad, english cucumber, red onion, green peppers, olive oil, oregano, santorini capers, barrel aged feta cheese

Estiatorio Milos line caught wild sea bass in sea salt crust, capers, parsley, lemon olive oil dressing; tomato salad, english cucumber, red onion, green peppers, olive oil, oregano, santorini capers, barrel aged feta cheese

Estiatorio Milos line caught wild sea bass in sea salt crust, capers, parsley, lemon olive oil dressing; tomato salad, english cucumber, red onion, green peppers, olive oil, oregano, santorini capers, barrel aged feta cheese

Scarpetta creamy polenta with fricassee of truffled mushrooms

Scarpetta creamy polenta with fricassee of truffled mushrooms

STK short rib agnolotti, pea tendrils, fava bean, horseradish

STK short rib agnolotti, pea tendrils, fava bean, horseradish

Wicked Spoon colorado lamb loin, spring peas, morel mushroom, cherry jus

Wicked Spoon colorado lamb loin, spring peas, morel mushroom, cherry jus

Border Grill pork belly tacos, spicy cabbage slaw, habanero-glazed pork belly, spicy pumpkin seeds, pomegranate seeds

Border Grill pork belly tacos, spicy cabbage slaw, habanero-glazed pork belly, spicy pumpkin seeds, pomegranate seeds

rm Seafood cobia ceviche, yuzu, grapefruit, avocado

rm Seafood cobia ceviche, yuzu, grapefruit, avocado

Max Brenner chocolate syringes and cookies

Max Brenner chocolate syringes and cookies

brenner syringe

Sushi Roku bigeye tuna, baby heirloom tomatoes, sesame mustard dressing

Sushi Roku bigeye tuna

P.J. Clarke’s prime flat iron ‘shabu style’, market vegetables, mushroom broth

P.J. Clarke's prime flat iron 'shabu style', market vegetables, mushroom broth

Raku assorted robata skewers

Raku assorted robata skewers

Raku assorted robata skewers

Andre’s Restaurant crispy oxtail canneloni with natural jus

Andre's Restaurant crispy oxtail canneloni with natural jus

Carnevino/B&B/Pizzeria Otto crispy pork trotter, fennel salad, apricot vinaigrette

Carnevino/B&B/Pizzeria Otto crispy pork trotter, fennel salad, apricot vinaigrette

Shibuya fruit pearls and yuzu float, lychee passion pearls, yuzu sorbet, sparkling sake

Shibuya fruit pearls and yuzu float, lychee passion pearls, yuzu sorbet, sparkling sake

Eiffel Tower Restaurant foie gras, rhubarb compote, crispy alsace spice cake

Eiffel Tower Restaurant foie gras, rhubarb compote, crispy alsace spice cake

Blue Ribbon Sushi spicy blue crab roll; smoked pork belly kushi yaki, pickled onions, black vinegar glaze

Blue Ribbon Sushi spicy blue crab roll; smoked pork belly kushi yaki, pickled onions, black vinegar glaze

Jaleo paella de verduras de temporada (seasonal vegetable paella), gazpacho

Jaleo paella de verduras de temporada (seasonal vegetable paella), gazpacho

Jaleo paella de verduras de temporada (seasonal vegetable paella), gazpacho

Jaleo paella de verduras de temporada (seasonal vegetable paella), gazpacho

Patron assorted cocktails (pictured: tequila sunrise)

patron

tequila sunrise

There was certainly a ton of food at the event, but the drinks were a big part of the night as well. Even with a bunch of wineries and spirits like Patron pouring out made-to-order cocktails (like the above Tequila Sunrise), I found myself coming back over and over to the Burger Bar booth for the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA. I must’ve had over a dozen pours of the stuff.

As for the food, my favorite dish of the night was the beef wellington from Gordon Ramsay. Coincidentally (or not?), this was also the grand opening night of his new restaurant (and first foray into LV), Gordon Ramsay Steakhouse. The beef wellington featured exceedingly tender tenderloin with the bulk of the flavor coming from the mushrooms (roasted with the meat) and rich demi-glace. A crispy puff pastry, glazed vegetables and potato puree completed the dish.

Estiatorio Milos also had a memorable dish with its whole-roasted sea bass baked in salt. We were lucky enough to catch the restaurant just as the fish were coming out of the oven, and watched in wonder as the salt crust was broken, the skin removed, and delicate moist fish plated with salty capers and a citrus olive oil. I was happy to see off-strip Raku have one of the longest lines, where they were serving their well-known robata (kobe filet, chicken, chicken meatballs, and pork cheek). I loved the presentation of Mesa Grill’s ceviche in a coconut shell, and the dish displayed the bold flavors Bobby Flay is so well known for. Mario Batali’s Carnevino/B&B/Otto brought a nice crispy pork trotter, balanced by a cool arugula and fennel salad. I also found Blue Ribbon Sushi’s smoked pork belly to be very tender (yet seemingly fairly lean), smoky and addicting. As for the sweets, Francois Payard’s black truffle macaron was about as good as it sounded. Other strong dishes I heard about but missed were Todd English P.U.B.’s lobster roll and Spago’s truffled agnolotti.

Getting to see and interact with the chefs themselves was a unique part of the experience as well; chefs I saw in person included Scott Conant, Todd English, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Savoy, David Meyers, Nobu Matsuhisa, Michael Mina, Hubert Keller, Michel Richard, Francois Payard, Bradley Ogden, Charlie Palmer, and Rick Moonen (I’m sure I missed many others).

chefs walk ingordon ramsayminarichard

I thought this was a great event and worth the price of admission. I would say the quality of food served was on par with some of the better LA festivals; what made it more unique was the ability to sample all of these chefs’ restaurants, many of which don’t have a presence in LA. Again, given Las Vegas’ penchant for bringing in the big-name chef, it was a unique opportunity to try their food and even chat/take a picture with some of them. This has to be one of the best chef lineups in the country for this type of event.

Miscellaneous shots of the venue:

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venue6

venue8

venue8