Vegas Uncork’d 2012: Grand Tasting
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.
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.
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!).
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
Aureole charcoal grilled merguez sausage, mint tabouleh, spicy avocado sauce; assorted petit fours and gelato
Burger Bar spicy lamb burger sliders; 120 min. ipa
Beijing Noodle No. 9 kung pao shrimp skewer, ox trio noodles with beef
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
Rao’s sausage with peppers and onions; passion fruit mousse
Bradley Ogden butterscotch pudding, candied pepitas
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
Francois Payard assorted chocolates and macarons
Nobu rock shrimp tempura, creamy spicy sauce, yuzu juice, lettuce cup; white fish dry miso sashimi
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
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
STK short rib agnolotti, pea tendrils, fava bean, horseradish
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
rm Seafood cobia ceviche, yuzu, grapefruit, avocado
Max Brenner chocolate syringes and cookies
Sushi Roku bigeye tuna, baby heirloom tomatoes, sesame mustard dressing
P.J. Clarke’s prime flat iron ‘shabu style’, market vegetables, mushroom broth
Raku assorted robata skewers
Andre’s Restaurant crispy oxtail canneloni with natural jus
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
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
Jaleo paella de verduras de temporada (seasonal vegetable paella), gazpacho
Patron assorted cocktails (pictured: 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).
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: