Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Vegas Uncork'd: Conclusion

(Also at TWHT/RateVegas)

On Sunday, I suddenly had to resume my "normal life". No more being waited upon hand and foot. No more "beach" pools. No more celebrity chefs cooking for me. Nope, it was back to "normal living" in the very "un-Vegas-y" (that's how my State Senator, Joyce Woodhouse, describes it) town of Henderson.

But as I sit here in "un-Vegas-y" territory, I just want to reflect upon the amazing weekend of delicious activities I just experienced.

(Day 1 of Vegas Uncork'd)

This was really a chance for us to explore a different side of Las Vegas. Not that long ago, "eating out" mostly consisted of generic steakhouses, dull diners/coffee shops, and cheap buffets. The buffets were especially "legendary" (or should I say notorious?) for "food" that may not have been fit for serving in school cafeterias, and the diners and steakhouses weren't all that better.

But about twenty years ago, it all started to change. When Steve Wynn built The Mirage, he was looking for restaurants worthy of a world-class resort. When Caesars Palace built The Forum Shops, they invited Wolfgang Puck to open a Las Vegas branch of the famed LA hotspot Spago... And ignited the first of many "waves" of "celebrity chef invasions" to come. In the late 1990s, new resorts like Bellagio, Paris, Venetian, and Mandalay Bay looked to New York and Chicago to bring even more culinary star power to town. And just in the last five years, "The Great French Invasion" has brought international superstars like Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, and Pierre Gagnaire to Las Vegas to give us even more foodie clout and Michelin Stars than ever before.

Meanwhile, Vegas has also seen the rise of "homegrown talent". Rick Moonen left the hubbub of New York to open RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay and stay here to run it. Kerry Simon actually became a "celebrity chef" here in Vegas, and has since opened a branch of Simon in LA. Signs of life have even appeared out here in the suburbs, as real Neapolitan style pizzerias, funky sushi houses, classy French bistros, and cool gastropubs have popped up from Summerlin to Henderson.

So with Vegas Uncork'd here for its fourth year, it really feels like we were celebrating something quite special. Las Vegas truly has arrived as a sophisticated culinary destination.

(Day 2 of Vegas Uncork'd)

Think about it. The world's best and finest chefs were just here in Las Vegas. They were here to feed us. They gave us cooking classes. They served us lunch. They pulled out all the stops for elegant multi-course dinners. They all gathered at Caesars Palace's new pool complex to let us sample their offerings. Hell, they even threw us a big barbeque at Mandalay Bay's beach!

It's incredibly difficult for me to pick a favorite moment from last weekend, since there were so many. There was Charlie Palmer serving me pork hot off the BBQ. There was Cat Cora personally offering me a lamb burger from her booth. There was Joel Robuchon doing a champagne toast with me, silly lil' moi!

And after all these great meals, I'm ready for more. The Grand Tasting gave me a chance to sample some great restaurants that I know I'll need to visit (or try again) soon. Sage tasted very promising. Nobu (as usual) had great sushi offerings. I must admit, even Bobby Flay's seafood at Mesa Grill tasted good. (Last time I was at Mesa, my meal was on the underwhelming side.)

Meanwhile, the full sit-down meals confirmed to me some of my favorite restaurants that I know I will be visiting time and again. Bradley Ogden is a real "hidden treasure" at Caesars Palace. Joel Robuchon is a breathtaking experience never worth missing at MGM Grand. And over ten years later, Aureole is still dazzling us at Mandalay Bay.

(Day 3 of Vegas Uncork'd)

Vegas Uncork'd was the perfect opportunity to explore more of what Las Vegas has to offer, especially the great restaurants serving phenomenal food and drinks here. But even if you couldn't make it here last weekend, fear not. There is always something good cooking here.

Just give me a call, and we'll do dinner. Trust me, you'll have fun eating here. :-)

(OK, just one more thing: I need to thank some very important people who made this all happen. Much thanks to Bon Appetit Magazine for hosting Uncork'd and making it yet another fabulous success! I also need to thank Hunter again for giving me the opportunity to be your eyes and ears at Uncork'd. Thanks to my "table partners" at Bradley Ogden on Thursday, including Bon Appetit Executive Ediotr Victoria Von Biel, for the enlightening conversation and great company. Thanks to my new friends from Seattle, jsmeeker, and David Ross for guiding me through The Grand Tasting. Thanks to THEhotel at Mandalay Bay for such an enjoyable stay last weekend. Oh, and thanks to YOU for bearing with me these last few days. I hope to keep seeing you here!)

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