I was thrilled to get the chance to cover the 3rd Annual Food & Wine All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, the weekend of October 5th.
We didn’t waste anytime starting to fill our bellies. Right after a very long travel day we went to our room changed and went right down to Aria’s newest restaurant, Javier’s. It’s Mexican food, Baja style. I ordered guacamole and vegetarian enchiladas. The guac was creamy and flavorful. If this was in jars I would have brought some home! The other highlight of this restaurant was the decor. It was gorgeous and there was a wooden wall of skulls that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. I called it the “wall of the dead”, but I’m not sure what the real name is. I heard it was hand-crafted by a chainsaw. That is some unbelievable work. A real work of art!
The next morning we got a chance to meet Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his Steakhouse at Aria. What a pleasure to get a tour from the prestigious Chef himself. He greeted us with refreshing virgin cocktails (it was early). He then showed us around the kitchen where I was very pleased to see a vegetarian and vegan option on the board. Jean-Georges made everyone steak, but since I don’t eat meat he had his chefs whip me up some of the best asparagus I’ve ever had. I dunked it in his unbelievable miso sauce and thought I was in heaven.
I also loved one of the private dining rooms where the light fixture was made up of real silverware. It was fascinating!Can you imagine after hanging out with Jean-Georges we got to watch another master at work? This time it was Chef Masa Takayama at his new restaurant Tetsu (also in Aria). The restaurant is teppan grill style. The Chefs (in this case Chef Masa himself) cook right in front of you.
First up, on my all vegan meal, was the best seaweed salad I’ve ever had. I’m usually not a fan of seaweed salads, but this one was different than any I’ve ever had before. I would order it again for sure. This was followed by a luscious avocado tartar (served with toast), mushroom sashimi and a main course of tofu and zucchini. I really love that they served me a balanced, filling meal. Nothing is an afterthought here and that includes those, like me, who don’t indulge in fish or meat. Oh and the yuzu sorbet was a refreshing end to a truly memorable experience.
While we were, obviously, rather satiated we headed right from Tetsu to Joël Robuchon in MGM Grand. This time it was for afternoon tea with Gail Simmons. Somehow I found room in my belly for a great seasonal pumpkin dessert and a decadent chocolate creation. The most fun part of this event was the petit desserts served to us on tea towers from the restaurant’s mignardises dessert cart. There were about 40 different selections so it was hard to pick. I wanted to try everything! It was beautiful to look at the sweets and even more fun to sample several of them.
That night we dined at my favorite restaurant in Las Vegas.
It’s Shawn McClain’s Sage at Aria. A few years back they made me an unforgettable vegetarian tasting menu. Ever since I’ve been hooked. This time we started with a sampling of some of their creative cocktails. You’ve heard the term mixology, but here they take that term to new heights with unique concoctions like a twist on the Manhattan called the Empire State. This strong drink is made up of barrel-aged Rye Whiskey, Root Liqueur, Aromatic Bitters and Vermouth. Then it’s garnished with a brandied cherry. My husband loved this drink.
Now I am usually not a gin drinker, but I loved their adult pink lemonade. It’s Beefeater gin, Lillet Rouge (red aperitif), fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. This was the most unique drink presentation I’ve ever seen as the mixologist poured the pink drink over crushed ice in an absinthe balancier. It the drips down through a see-saw type device into your glass. Combining fun with liquor? Yes please!
Later in the night they brought their famous absinthe cart around. The recently legalized beverage is served Russian style. My husband, Mike, partook in an absinthe shot that looks like it should be illegal, but that makes it that much more fun. Basically the server lights a shot of absinthe on fire, pours it into a glass then tips it upside down and from there my hubby was told to inhale the fumes thru a straw and then shoot the drink. I’ll admit I was a scaredy-cat, so I skipped it! Mike loved the experience though.
The next morning we headed over to the Grand Patio at the Bellagio for “Four Farms, Three Chefs, Two Brothers, One Table”. The description of the event says it all “an extraordinary luncheon inspired by our farmers and crafted by world-class chefs. Zolo Grill Executive Chef Brett Smith and Sensi Executive Chef Royden Ellamar will lavish your palate with an irresistible menu featuring seasonal ingredients harvested from their favorite farms. Bellagio Director of Wine and Master Sommelier Jason Smith will be offering an array of top wines perfectly paired with these magnificent dishes. Hosted by culinary extraordinaire Gail Simmons, this farm-style lunch will be served on our breathtaking Grand Patio which will be transformed into a farmhouse setting, bringing everything together for this truly authentic culinary experience.” Everything truly tasted farm to table. Tomatoes, beets and purple cauliflower (pickled) were all beyond fresh and yes that makes a huge difference in flavor, in this case, as well!
himself. I’m a big fan of Michael Mina’s restaurant in the Bellagio so it was a pleasure to have him personally show us around his restaurant. For fish lovers I will say he has some of the most innovative cooking styles I’ve ever seen. My husband got to try his branzino baked in sea salt the next night. He loved the presentation and said it was very tender fish.
I paired up a few side dishes and loved every last one! I also got to try wine at the restaurant that bears Michael Mina’s name. Mmmmm mmmm good.Up next was the most entertaining event of the weekend: “A rare opportunity to taste the most exclusive wine on the Las Vegas Strip. Craftsteak’s award winning wine list now boasts the jewel of all California wines. Join Winemaker Todd Anderson as he introduces his extraordinary Ghost Horse Wines. This limited production wine previously only available through the Vineyard, can now also be enjoyed at Craftsteak. Each of these special cabernets will be enjoyed with the impeccable farm to table cuisine that has long been Craftsteak’s signature.” Todd was a real character. We tasted lots of wine from his “secret” stash from a $50 bottle of Cabernet to a $5000 bottle of red. Todd’s stories were priceless as he told us how he went from a career in oil to one in wine-making. He prides himself on the fact that you can’t get his wine unless you know him. Well until now that is because it is now available at Craftsteak. Ha ha! I wore faux leather to the event and fit right in with Todd.
That night we went to the Surfside Soiree at the Mandalay Beach. It was a celeb Chef star-studded affair with Gail Simmons, Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Miliken, Hubert Keller, Michael Mina, Rick Moonen & Vincent Pouessel. We spotted Tom Hanks son, Colin Hanks enjoying food prepared from some of those aforementioned celeb Chefs. I also got a chance to talk one on one with Rick Moonen about his push for sustainable food and for the second time had a lovely conversation with Hubert Keller. He truly is one of the most delightful men I’ve ever met!The last morning we went to the Jasmine Dreams of Dim Sum and Champagne brunch at Bellagio. This was like no brunch I’ve ever been. It was mostly Asian, but then there were things tossed in like Red Velvet waffles and the extraordinary raspberry macaroons. The highlight for me was a Chef making me a vegan noodle dish on the spot, right before my eyes. The plating was perfect too, not something you normally see at buffets.
My husband also loved their spin on brunch cocktails. No typical bloody mary here. Instead his favorite was an avocado, Wasabi mixed drink.
So when all was said and done I gained about five pounds, but each and every pound was worth it. I think it’s safe to say that some of the best food in Las Vegas can be found at Aria and the Bellagio. Luckily a tram connects the two so foodies can easily go back and forth. Oh and if you lose money gambling, you can bet that the food will still help you feel like a winner!