La Cave (Las Vegas, NV)

La Cave
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/12/12

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After a heavy lunch at Holsteins, my parents and I were looking for somewhere to grab a very early dinner before our flights out of town. There aren’t a ton of options open in the 4-4:30 range, but we settled upon this casual dining restaurant at the Wynn. The place is a sort of blend between wine bar and small plates restaurant, and is one of the newer entrants to the Wynn lineup (opened at the end of 2010).

The menu is pretty varied, with sections broken out into items from the sea, the farm, the oven, the garden, the grill, the butcher (charcuterie), and the cow/sheep/goat (cheeses). Given neither of us were very hungry, so we stuck to some of the lighter fare.

Jumbo Lump Crab Lettuce Cups, Citrus Segments

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I thought this was nicely done. Sweet cool chunks of fresh crab sat in a crisp lettuce cup; a little bit of citrus went a long way too. Tasty and refreshing.

Three Bean Salad, Roasted Artichokes, Ice Wine Vinaigrette

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This dish caught my mother’s eye. Creamy cannellini, waxy green and crunchy fried garbanzo beans were tossed in a light vinaigrette. I thought the roasted artichokes provided a nice sweetness to the dish, while the textures kept things interesting. Another in the cool and refreshing category.

Ahi Tuna, Pomegranate, Basil Oil

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This seared ahi tuna rounded out our cold small plates. It was typical but solid, with the sweet pomegranate and basil oil complementing the tuna pretty well.

Diver Sea Scallops, Polenta Cake, Shrimp Sauce

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I found the scallops to be nicely seared and cooked to a rare temperature in the interior. I couldn’t ask for more from them, but I wanted more flavor out of the polenta cake, which I found to be rather dense and bland.

Roasted Salmon, Vegetable Pasta, Yellow Tomato Broth

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The salmon was a little bit overcooked and had a fishy flavor. Not good. The vegetable pasta was a fun element, with small pearls of various vegetables making a bed for the salmon. I found them to be a bit soft though, and could have used some textural crunch from some of the vegetables.

Our meal at La Cave was okay. The restaurant isn’t particularly ambitious, seeking out to prepare approachable flavors at (relatively) reasonable prices. I suppose it does achieve this, there just wasn’t really anything memorable about it. Of course, it didn’t help that we weren’t that hungry at the time either.

Holsteins (Las Vegas, NV)

Holsteins
Cosmopolitan Hotel
3708 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/12/11

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While looking for a lunch option after the Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting, I brought up Holsteins, something that would be casual and satisfying. I’ve heard consistently good things about the restaurant, a burger joint inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel. My cousins, aunt and grandmother had yet to check out the new hotel, so a visit here would serve a dual purpose.

While there are a number of non-burger smaller plates and a few salads, the crux of the menu is definitely the burger. With about 15 different full-size options and 8 more slider-size options, the menu is quite varied. Some of them are pretty interesting. There’s even an option to add toppings such as lobster and BBQ beef brisket. Nice. A strong craft beer list and almost 20 milkshakes (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) boost the drinks menu, as if a burger and fries weren’t enough calories.

We tried a couple of the appetizers and each ordered a burger.

IPSWICH CLAMS Fried Crispy, Green Goddess Sauce

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The clams were slight chewy and bready but definitely meaty and kinda juicy. Some of them were a little sandy though, which put me off.

TRUFFLE LOBSTER ‘MAC N CHEESE’ Creamy Tallegio-Mascarpone Sauce With Maine Lobster And Black Truffle

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This sounded so decadent and I’d heard so much about it; it was a must order. The macaroni had a nice chewy texture with small chunks of lobster in a creamy cheese sauce. Not too rich – pretty good. I thought the truffle flavor was lost, however.

NOM NOM BURGER Kobe Beef, Cheddar Cheese, Potato Chips, 1000 Island Dressing

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My cousin went for this burger but I didn’t try it. I did, however, sample some of the potato wedges/steak-cut fries and found them to be very good. Crispy on the outside and hot and fluffy on the inside. Mmm.

‘BIG FAT GREEK’ Greek Spiced Lamb With Feta Cream, Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion & Olive Relish, Tzatziki Sauce

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My grandmother opted for this lamb burger. I found it kind of overcooked though I enjoyed the flavors of the lamb with Greek spices.

‘THE RISING SUN’ Kobe Beef, Teriyaki Glaze, Nori Furikake, Crispy Yam, Spicy Mayo & Tempura Avocado

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This was my favorite of the burgers and a damn good one. The teriyaki glaze provided a savory sweetness, while tempura avocado was crispy and creamy at the same time. Spicy mayo and nori furikake added some extra punch; there were a lot of flavors going on but I found them to be well-balanced. Excellent.

Shoestring fries were good too, though my personal preference was with the thicker cut variety.

MEAT BALL GRINDER Italian Style w/Marinara, Provolone & Pesto

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I had early dinner plans and wanted to try something a little bit different so I went with these meatball sliders. Each of the flavors were pretty distinct between the meat, provolone, peso and tomatoes; the sliders were good but nothing special altogether. I probably should’ve ordered something more exciting.

My cousin and I also tried a couple of milkshakes.

FROZEN GRASSHOPPER Peppermint, Chocolate, Crème De Menthe, Van Gogh Chocolate Vodka

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OREO Oreo Cookies, Bailey’s Irish Cream

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I thought these were both strong with my favorite being the frozen grasshopper. Like mint chip ice cream in a glass with a touch of alcohol. These were pretty generously sized (the glass was only 2/3 of it, with the rest in another cup) so definitely best for sharing…especially with a whole burger.

I found Holsteins to be somewhat of an up-and-down meal. Strong points were definitely the Rising Sun burger, both french fry varieties and the milkshakes. The two smaller plates/appetizers we ordered weren’t bad but both fell slightly short. My main qualm was with the temperature of the burgers – we had at least one that was definitely overcooked here and a couple of burgers we ordered to-go on another visit (just two days ago) were clearly overcooked too (my Rising Sun, ordered medium-rare, showed no pink at all).  For a burger place, I found a pervasive issue like this to be rather inexcusable.

The restaurant mascot, a pig dressed as a cow, makes an appearance all over the place.

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Raku (Las Vegas, NV) (2)

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

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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).

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Yellowtail Carpaccio

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

Bluefin Tuna

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

Juicy Deep Fried Chicken

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

Crispy Fried Shrimp

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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

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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

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

Kobe Beef Outside Skirt with Garlic

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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

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My aunt ordered this gelatinous skewer.

Asparagus

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Apple Marinated Lamb Chop

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My cousins swooned over the juicy, sweet lamb chops.

Butter Sauteed Scallop with Soy Sauce

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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.

rm seafood (Las Vegas, NV)

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

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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.

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

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

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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

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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

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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”

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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

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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

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My cousin opted for fish tacos.

grilled chicken wrap tabooley, tzatziki, spicy pickled vegetables

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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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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!).

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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

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

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Burger Bar spicy lamb burger sliders; 120 min. ipa

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

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

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

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

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Bradley Ogden butterscotch pudding, candied pepitas

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

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

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Francois Payard assorted chocolates and macarons

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

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Old Homestead Steakhouse steak with house tater tots

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

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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

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Scarpetta creamy polenta with fricassee of truffled mushrooms

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

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

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

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rm Seafood cobia ceviche, yuzu, grapefruit, avocado

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Max Brenner chocolate syringes and cookies

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

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

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Raku assorted robata skewers

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Andre’s Restaurant crispy oxtail canneloni with natural jus

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

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

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

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

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

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Patron assorted cocktails (pictured: tequila sunrise)

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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).

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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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Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

Jean Philippe Patisserie
Aria Resort and Casino
3730 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89115
Dining date: 3/28/11

exterior5 500x335 Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

I first tried Jean Philippe many years ago when the Bellagio was brand new. I remembered the decadent chocolate desserts, made-to-order crepes and great gelato. Oh, and of course the chocolate fountain – the largest in the world. Instantly, it became one of my favorite places for sweets. I don’t have a sweet tooth and rarely crave sweet things. However, whenever I’m in town, I have to stop by here.

Another much larger location opened up in Aria early last year, sans-chocolate fountain.

gelato 500x335 Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

chocolates1 500x335 Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

chocolates2 500x335 Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

sweets1 500x335 Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

sweets2 500x335 Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

It’s always difficult trying to figure out what I want. Do I want a crepe or a pastry? Gelato or some chocolates? I opted for a nutella crepe.

Nutella Crepe

crepe making 500x335 Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

nutella crepe 500x335 Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

My whipped cream melted way too quickly, so I think the cream wasn’t chilled enough. However, I appreciated the light cream in tandem with the rich, warm chocolaty nutella. The crepe was soft and warm with just a little bit of chew to it. Very nice.

There’s a ton of chocolate treats too, and I had to try one.

Triple Chocolate chocolate sponge cake, dark chocolate mousse, milk chocolate mousse, white chocolate mousse

triple chocolate 500x335 Jean Philippe Patisserie (Las Vegas, NV)

Beautiful. Layers of three different types of chocolate mousse (white, dark, milk) were topped with a chocolate macaron. Seriously, how could I not? Rich and decadent, this was really good. I thought the layers of dark chocolate helped to keep the sweetness in check, while a cookie at the base provided the texture.

I never leave Jean Philippe dissatisfied. Well, except the time I got there as they were closing and they didn’t let me in. But whenever they’re open, I always tend to leave wishing I could try something more. In this case, I couldn’t eat too much; I had to save room for Joel Robuchon.