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Vegas Uncork'd

Last Friday night, we had a chance to experience what has become one of the preeminent foodie events in the country, the Bon Appétit Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting held at the pools at Caesars Palace. 52 restaurants and James Beard winning chefs gathered to strut their culinary stuff to 2,500 guests visiting Sin City. Restaurant’s tables were strategically placed around the multitude of pools, along with collections of wineries offering up samples of their latest vintages. Earlier in the day, temperatures were in the mid-90s, but the evening turned gorgeous with a constant cooling breeze and moderate weather. Guests were in celebratory spirits – I mean, wouldn’t you be too if you could enjoy delicious food and wines by a pool? Walking outside to the event we immediately ran into some of our favorite foodie friends who were already breaking down the best dishes that the restaurants were putting out. This, while being hysterical, was great information for us to start and plot our walkabout.

Fortunately, we had two great guides for the evening – Franck Savoy (Director of Food & Beverage at Caesars) and his fiancé Leigh, making suggestions of which restaurants to see and escorting us around the event. One of the first tastes I was able to enjoy was the miniature roasted beet salad created by Sage Restaurant and Chef Shawn McClain. Chef McClain’s deft touch was on exhibition and the flavors were in great harmony. One of my favorite tastes of the night was next from Bar Masa, an Australian Kobe Carpaccio with citrus and sea salt – this was rich and opulent but also light and perfectly seasoned.

Moving on, we made our way to Vintner Grill’s booth, where they were producing modern American Carnitas tacos with fig jam, caramelized onions and pea sprouts. It was a delicious take on a Mexican staple and they pulled it off with style. As we continued, tasting some Chocolate from Green & Blacks (very good but too warm unfortunately), we stopped up to the American Spirit Lounge overlooking the pools complex. This was held at the new high roller/VIP pools, which were absolutely gorgeous and serene despite all of the guests down below.

Continuing, we saw our buddy Ben Dayag, the Executive Chef of Social House who had created a delectable Pork Belly dish on edamame puree and topped with pickled onion. This Pan-Asian restaurant is a great choice for sushi, but also their composed dishes never disappoint. We popped over to the B&B table where they were offering some of their house-cured meats – good in concept, but the roll that some of them were served on was dry and a weak complement. We were very fortunate to see an old friend and extremely talented chef, David Varley, who has moved on from Vegas working for Michael Mina where he has become their Corporate Chef based in San Francisco but traveling the country opening restaurants. He was kind enough to introduce us to Brady Lowe, founder of Cochon 555 which Chef Varley had participated in. Brady was in Vegas checking out the experience of Bon Appetit before the All-Star Cochon to be held on July 24th at the Cosmopolitan – can’t wait for that event!

And funny enough, our next move took us to the restaurants of the Cosmopolitan, where we started to run into even more friends in the PR and foodie world, all excited about the restaurants in front of us. Always great to see Gil Lempert-Schwarz, wine writer extraordinaire and his wife Christine, then Al Mancini and his wife Sue, one of my favorite foodies and food writers. From the Kobe Sliders by STK (Delicious!) to the chilled Asparagus soup and Maki Rolls by Blue Ribbon Sushi (personal favorite), the hotel’s restaurants were out of this world. I love going to that hotel to just enjoy the creativity and different vibe compared to the rest of Vegas. Here we ran smack into Robin Leach (with another STUNNING blonde on his arm) and Norm Clarke of the Las Vegas Review-Journal with his lovely Cara – I’m sure they were getting all of the great gossip from the evening!

Then, I had a chance to see an old friend and co-worker, Anthony Fusco, who is the much lauded Chef de Cuisine for Rick Moonen at rm seafood who was co-hosting his booth with Ralph Pagano the chef of STK Miami. These guys were basically running a comedy routine and by far having the most fun out of anyone at the event. Moving on we saw old friends from Mesa Grill (sans Bobby), Eric Klein, Executive Chef of Spago who’s as personable as he is talented in the kitchen and hob-nobbing with Susan Feniger, one of the ‘Two Hot Tamales’ of Border Grill fame – she’s an absolute sweetheart too!

As the event wound down, we didn’t know where the last 2 ½ hours had gone! It was an amazing experience being able to talk to so many chefs, hang out with fellow foodies and enjoy the culinary adventure. I’m looking forward to Vegas Uncork’d coming back next year and being able to eat and drink so more!