Vegas Uncork’d 2015: Grand Tasting (Las Vegas, NV)

Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting
Caesar’s Palace: Garden of the Gods
3570 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 4/24/15

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This past weekend was Bon Appetit’s ninth annual Vegas Uncork’d. 23 separate events made up Uncork’d this year with chefs, mixologists and sommeliers coming from around the nation to Las Vegas to take part. There was plenty of variety spanning the festivities including fancy lunches and dinners, cooking demonstrations and seminars. The event I’ve gone to the past four years is the Grand Tasting, where dozens of chefs/restaurants serve up tastes of their food along with plenty more wine and other alcoholic options.

Each chef/restaurant had their own booth at Caesar’s Garden of the Gods pool area. All food and drink was included, unlimited, for the $225 price of admission.

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Republique (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

Republique
624 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 4/16/15

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I first dined at Republique soon after it opened at the end of 2013. That meal had its ups-and-downs but was generally a little disappointing. Since then, the restaurant has been one of the most oft-praised and highly acclaimed restaurants in town over the past 18 months. I was due for a return to the restaurant hoping the kitchen and service had worked out any kinks.

The menu’s changed a fair amount since I was last here, though there are a few menu mainstays. On this visit, the focus was on new dishes getting a sampling of appetizers, a couple of main courses and a dessert (we skipped dessert last time).

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Son of a Gun (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

Son of a Gun
8370 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 3/29/15

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Son of a Gun’s been open just over 4 years; this is my third time visiting the restaurant, but really my first time having a full ‘regular’ meal here. My first trip in 2011 was a ‘second dinner’ after a Cafe Boulud pop-up meal at Animal, while my second visit in 2013 was for a Graham Elliot dinner. After quite some time, I was excited for a return to try some of the favorite menu mainstays as well as some new dishes.

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The maritime decor reflects the fact that this is a seafood-focused restaurant, though its most famous dish has become its fried chicken sandwich.

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Chi Spacca (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

Chi Spacca
6610 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 3/27/15

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I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to Chi Spacca. Being a bit of a carnivore, the restaurant is right up my alley and a return trip was definitely in order. Plus, they were out of the beef and bone marrow pie last time…and I had to try it! We returned as a party of four to introduce two others who were new to the restaurant.

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Aaron Franklin & Adam Perry Lang @ Nick’s Cafe (Los Angeles, CA)

Franklin BBQ and Adam Perry Lang Collaboration
Nick’s Cafe
1300 N Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 4/10/15

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I was super excited to take part in this recent collaboration between Adam Perry Lang (cookbook author, restaurateur and overall BBQ/meat expert) and Aaron Franklin, one of the most well-known BBQ personalities in the nation. Franklin’s namesake restaurant opened in 2009 and has quickly risen to generally be regarded as one of the best BBQ restaurants in the country, most notably for its Texas brisket. The line to get into Austin’s Franklin Barbecue is multiple hours long. Every single day. Rave reviews have come from all over the country; even President Obama visited last year (supposedly the first to ever cut the line). This year, Franklin has been named one of the James Beard Award finalists for Best Chef: Southwest, the first “barbecue chef” to have this distinction.

Given only 80 orders were going to be served at 6pm this evening, I figured my chances of getting in were very slim. Surely people were gonna wait all day for this, I thought. However, when I heard the line at 3pm was only about 10 people deep, I decided to go for it. Arriving at 3:45, I was able to get a ticket! Shockingly, the 80 ticket quota wasn’t reached until sometime after 5:00.

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Playground (Santa Ana, CA)

Playground
220 E 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Dining date: 3/7/15

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I don’t often come to Orange County too often to dine, but Playground has been on my radar for some time. It was probably the OC restaurant I’ve most wanted to try and I finally got the chance when it was chosen for a birthday dinner.

Jason Quinn, probably best known for being a member of The Great Food Truck Race winning The Lime Truck, helms Playground. It’s gotten rave reviews since opening, even leading to the opening of a bakery and a lunch spot just around the corner. The menu changes often, and there’s a sort of attitude about the place. The restaurant encourages trying new things and being adventurous, disclosing on the menu that they will not charge you if you don’t love it (in fact, I observed it in practice on a neighboring table). Perhaps this is the way they’ve been able to get more conservative OC palates to try some of their more forward-thinking creations?

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