Vegas Uncork'd
May 8 - 11, 2008

Its full name is Vegas Uncork'd: A Bon Appétit Epicurean Experience, and it's hosted by Bon Appétit Magazine. To quote from the website:
"Bon Appétit recently named Las Vegas one of the top five restaurant destinations in the country...Las Vegas now hosts some of the finest and most interesting dining venues in the world...the second annual Vegas Uncork'd [provides] access to world-class chefs, sommeliers, great restaurant design, and Bon Appétit editors and contributors."

WARNING: I'm about to go into lots of tedious detail about the event. If all you really want to do is read about the meals I ate, you can skip over the boring stuff by clicking here.

The schedule - four days of gluttony, er, I mean, fine dining:

Vegas Uncork'd Schedule

Some of the items listed required that one choose from a list of meals. For example, the Masters' Series Dinners referred to five different dinners, cooked by the following chefs (the location where each cooked is in parentheses):
Guy Savoy (Guy Savoy);
François Payard (Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro);
Carla and Frank Pellegrino (Rao’s);
Bradley and Bryan Ogden (Bradley Ogden);
Cat Cora and Steve Olson (Mesa Grill).

There were celebrity chefs galore. To name a few:
Wolfgang Puck
Cat Cora
Guy Savoy
Julian Serrano
Alex Stratta
Kerry Simon
Paul Bartolotta
Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Daniel Boulud
Jean-Philippe Maury
Hubert Keller
Michael Mina
Bradley Ogden
François Payard

The Good Stuff: The Events I Attended

I chose four of the events:
Masters' Series Dinner - cooked by Guy Savoy;
Grand Tasting, Shop, Sip & Stroll;
Star Chef Luncheon Series - cooked by Alex Stratta;
Cocktail Smackdown.

Masters' Series Dinner: Guy Savoy
Restaurant Guy Savoy is one of the top restaurants in town. Managed by Guy's son Franck, it garnered two stars in Michelin's first ever review of Las Vegas. However, Guy Savoy is rarely in attendance. Tonight would be an exception. The description of the event read "Enjoy dinner with chef and restaurateur Guy Savoy and Bon Appétit Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild." Here's the menu:

On arrival, guests were greeted at the Bubbles Bar, where we sipped champagne while waiting to be seated. Service at Guy Savoy tends to be very personal, and dining times were slightly staggered in order to lessen choke points when everyone was in need of the same service at the same time.

For a detailed description of the restaurant, see my regular review. The only difference this time was the diners. Chowhounds all, it was fun discussing our experiences, both in the past and with respect to the meal we were eating.

Before the meal proper, there were several rounds of amuses bouche, including a thumbnail sized hamburger, an equally small portion of foie gras on toast, mussel soup with saffron dust, and a crab sandwich.

Now, on to the mail meal. See the menu, above, for full names of the courses. Being a wine cretin, I won't review the wines.
Tuna with caviar. Served two ways: seared blue fin tuna with caviar was good but nothing out of the ordinary; chopped tuna belly was very good.
Vegetable potée. The presentation was complex: baby beets; beet chips; baby carrot; carrot puree; quail egg; broth. Interesting, but not outstanding; there were no strong flavors.
Turbot. The fish was firm but moist. The morels were of course delicious. There was a rich, flavorful sauce, and shaved purple asparagus on top. A good contrast of flavors and textures; very good to excellent.
Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup. This is a signature dish, and it deserves its reputation. The soup was rich and creamy, but the artichoke flavor came through. There were generously thick slices of truffle on top, and the mushroom brioche was an excellent accompaniment.
Roasted Poussin. A simple dish, but well executed. The chicken was very rich, very tender, and very flavorful. Accompanying the bird was potato puree. It was very good, but not in the same league as the heavenly version served at Joël Robuchon.
Strawberries and Rhubarb. This dish included both sorbet and compote. I like rhubarb, and this version was good enough, but no different than that commonly available.
Chocolate Fondant. I'm a sucker for this kind of dessert. Hazelnut paste and chocolate ganache make a great combination, and this ganache was dark, dense, and not too sweet.

Next came the post-meal mignardises. A white chocolate with hibiscus sounded interesting but lacked any defining character. On the other hand, grapefruit sorbet was wonderful: very sour, bitter with grapefruit oil, and only slightly sweet.

Overall, the meal was disappointing in some ways. In part, it was because of my sky high expectations, versus the realities of a meal served to a large (for Guy Savoy) group of people. The menu highlighted some of the restaurant's specialties, but I had eaten many of them before, so the novelty was gone. Also, I've previously mentioned that service at Guy Savoy is highly personalized. A bread cart comes around to the table as each course is served, offering the appropriate bread; a champagne cart comes around offering different champagnes by the glass; a cheese cart offers cheeses; at the end of the meal, a dessert cart offers 
mignardises. With a large group, each of these becomes a bottleneck. As a result, breads were sometimes missed, and there was a long wait for the dessert cart. Even so, it was an excellent meal - perhaps a one star experience instead of two or three star.

Cost: $275.

Grand Tasting, Shop, Sip & Stroll
I've been to so called grand tastings before, such as the famous one in Miami Beach that attracts over 20,000 people. They promise a lot, but Vegas Uncork'd was the first one that delivered a truly gourmet experience. Fifty two restaurants, and a number of vineyards, were represented. They included many of the top restaurants in town, include Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy and many others. I didn't meet my goal of trying every one, but I came closer than I should have, and in some cases sampled multiple offerings from a single booth. And yes, I even wrote down short descriptions of most of the things I ate, along with a crude grading system from F (fair) to G (good) to VG (very good) to E (excellent)...and keep in mind that "G" truly means good; I wasn't an easy grader. Here goes...listed pretty much in chronological order:
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Lemon gelée with anisette cream mousse; G.
Joël Robuchon. Lobster and sour turnip ravioli; VG.
Craftsteak. Beef short rib with creamy polenta; VG-E. Vanilla bean cheesecake; G-VG.
rm Seafood. Thai catfish wrap.
Aureole. Heirloom tomato gazpacho. Served with a scallop; too acidic; F-G.
Fleur de Lys. All sorts of desserts, including: mini chocolate ice cream cone (VG); sweet avocado cream, grape
gelée and honeydew melon (sweet, sour, creamy; VG-E).
Guy Savoy. Peas all around with a poached egg; crunchy, sweet, flavorful, rich; VG-E. Crispy sole and delicate spices; rich, moist; VG-E.
Payard Pâtisserie. I had several desserts, including: an interpretation of tiramisu (VG-E); passion fruit pina colada (sour, sweet and strong; E).
Bradley Ogden. Chilled English soup with lobster, pea foam, peas and mint. Interesting combination; VG.
Carnevino. Pavlova with rhubarb conserve; very interesting, crunchy, but a little too sweet; G-VG.
B&B. House made mortadella three ways. Described by the server as "fancy bologna." The three preparations were: fried (VG-E); cold cube (G-VG); ravioli (VG-E).
Bouchon. Extra virgin olive oil cured Spanish mackerel; G. Rice Crispy treat, consisting of three layers - vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry; interesting, better than the standard version; G.
David Burke. Cheesecake lollipop; cold chocolate surrounding a cheesecake ball; G-VG. Lobster flan with asparagus, morels and tomato served in a small hen's egg shell; interesting but bland; F-G.
Alize. Grilled rock shrimp, apricot and brioche parfait; ambitious, but the flavors didn't go well together; F.
Wing Lei. Braised pork belly wrapped in dough (like steamed dumplings) with sweet sauce; a very good rendition; VG-E.
Daniel Boulud. Quail, foie gras and morel ballantine en croute VG-E. Spring salad with baby fiddle head ferns; G.
Vintner Grill. Grilled lamb slider; VG.
Wynn Desserts by Frederic Robert. Chocolate bombolone with vanilla sauce (chocolate ganache wrapped in thin dough and fried); delicious; E.
The Country Club. Kobe beef tartare; VG-E.
Okada. Yellowtail tartare in a crispy taro taco; interesting; G.
Table 10. Blue crab meat and hearts of palm salad with black truffle vinaigrette; G-VG.
Restaurant Charlie. Prawn with curry and coconut kaffir; good flavor combination with good but standard shrimp; VG.
Marssa. Osaka style pressed sushi (pressed layers of tuna, crab salad and something else, with wasabi on top); VG.
Burger Bar. Black Angus slider with apple wood smoked bacon; G.
Rosemary's. Vanilla panna cotta with strawberries Romanov; super-rich, very good flavor; VG-E.
Border Grill. Smoked chicken tamale; incredibly sour; poor-fair.
Fiamma. Prime beef carpaccio with arugula, traviso, Parmesan, finished with black truffle vinaigrette; pretty good, but a little bland;G.
Red, White and Blue. Various desserts, including a good but rather standard fruit tartlet; G.

Cost: $150.

Star Chef Lunch: Alex Stratta
Alex Stratta is the head chef of Wynn Las Vegas' eponymous Alex. This restaurant is another of Las Vegas' new class of fine dining venues. I've eaten there twice before, and both times were delights. However, the restaurant is only open for dinner - normally, that is. For Vegas Uncork'd, Alex was offering a lunch menu... and what a menu:

Prior to the meal, there was a cocktail hour, with numerous hors d'oeuvres whose descriptions I failed to write down. It turns out that Alex has a small courtyard outdoors; I don't know if it's normally open, but it was this time.

Without further ado, on to the meal.
See the menu, above, for full names of the courses. As for Guy Savoy, I won't review the wines.
Ravioli with Sweetbreads.  The sweetbreads were very good - firm with a slight crust, and flavorful - but the ravioli was the star. It had a a strong, rich flavor, and tasted great. An excellent start to the meal.
Salad of Duck Confit and Foie Gras.  Too often "duck confit" turns out to be bland pieces of duck meat. Not this time. The duck skin was crisp; the duck meat was dark, rich and moist. Foie gras came in two forms. The first was a pâté with a strong, pleasing liver flavor, accompanied by cherries, on Melba toast; it was very good. Even better was a foie gras steak. Wow!
Crispy Roasted Salmon.  This dish was perfectly fine - but that's it. Nicely prepared salmon, but not a wow.
Wagyu Beef.  Excellent beef and excellent preparation. So tender; so rich; so good.
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.  I'm a sucker for chocolate desserts, so take this with a grain of salt, but...tremendous! It was the richest dessert in memory, and one of the best. The name of the dessert referred to three preparations. The first was a dark, dark, dark chocolate sorbet on a bed of chocolate ganache. It was both rich and clean tasting at the same time; excellent. Next came milk chocolate ice cream on a ganache bed; it was the worst of the trio, being only very good. Last came a hard chocolate cylinder that was barely sweetened. I suspect it was decorative, perhaps even with a little wax, but that didn't stop me from eating and enjoying it. Inside the shell was something like a hard chocolate cake, with very thick chocolate syrup and light chocolate ganache. It's difficult to describe, but it was almost as good as the chocolate sorbet.
A final treat: mini madelaines. Still warm from the oven, this is a signature item from Alex.

This was my favorite of the Vegas Uncork'd meals. While technically lunch, it could easily have passed for dinner. By chance, I hadn't previously tried the offerings on the menu, so it was a lot of fun.
Alex Stratta also did an excellent job of orchestrating service to a large group - although a part of this was due to the fact that, compared to Guy Savoy, Alex has fewer situations where there's a specialized server who stops at one's table.

Cost: $125.

Cocktail Smackdown

If you've read many of my reviews, you know that I'm a cheap drunk. So why on earth did I choose this event? I have no idea, but nonetheless it was fun.

The 4 pm smackdown was held at Blush, Wynn's latest incarnation of an ultra lounge. It's a small, simply appointed room. The ceiling is matte black, but covered with white cloth lamps of varying shapes. Lots of brown cushioned sofas dot the floor - which is some sort of translucent stone-like material. A long bar covers one wall. There's a small outdoor area surrounded by a tall hedge.

Two bartenders (or should I say mixologists), offered original recipes for each of three spirits: gin, tequila and rum. And yes, each of the six drinks was served to everyone in the audience. I was careful to drink just a portion of each, but details are still a bit fuzzy. I vaguely remember liking some of the drinks, but taking notes was out of the question!

Cost: $75

I was incredibly lucky that Vegas Uncork'd was held during my trip. If you ever get the chance, make sure to attend. I've already decided to time next spring's trip to coincide with this event.

Index of Restaurants