With a nod to the health-conscious, chefs make vegetables the star of the plate
By Heidi Knapp Rinella
Las Vegas’ top toques, experts at working with luxe
ingredients such as caviar and foie gras, are increasingly turning to — vegetables.
“I think people are more and more conscious of what they’re eating,” said Frederic Don, chef de cuisine at Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist at the Mandarin Oriental.
To meet those needs, Don recently introduced a vegetarian tasting menu “like you can’t find anywhere.” Available with five or six courses and optional wine pairings, it includes such dishes as the Chef’s Garden, baby vegetables served with lindenwood gelee, lemon sorbet and fromage blanc.
The emphasis is on classics at Bouchon at The Venetian, but chef de cuisine Josh Crain recently started serving a vegan chop, which he learned at the hand of chef/proprietor Thomas Keller’s mentor, Roland Henin.
“It’s a mixture of different grains and mushrooms and kind of forms into a little pork chop,” Crain said.
The chop, which has been well received by Bouchon’s vegan guests, is served with the foods that usually accompany the restaurant’s swordfish — tabbouli, tomatoes, cucumbers, Nicoise olives, tomato water and broth.
At Shawn McClain’s Sage at Aria, chef de cuisine Chris Heisinger said he’s introduced dishes such as a sunchoke tartare, lightly roasted, thinly sliced sunchoke chips with a caper-raisin emulsion and cashew pudding. Heisinger said he hasn’t seen a lot of increased demand for vegetable-based dishes at his restaurant, but he did this summer while traveling in Texas and California.
“There’s a real push right now,” Heisinger said. “I wouldn’t call it vegetarian food, by any means, but vegetable-driven food. The proteins are still involved, but are really taking a back seat.”
“More and more people want to eat a little more healthy,” Don said. “Even in a fancy restaurant.”
chef mark lorusso delivers the finest in mediterranean fare
by marisa finetti
Every evening, diners at Costa di Mare savor dishes made with more than 40 kinds of fish and shellfish flown in from the Italian coast the same morning. Executive chef Mark LoRusso’s seafood savoir faire has earned him many accolades, including an invitation earlier this year to prepare a special meal at New York City’s historic James Beard House for the nation’s top food critics, editors and aficionados.
It was LoRusso’s third time cooking at the landmark Greenwich Village house alongside a handful of other chefs. He prepared multiple courses featuring a sea urchin custard with olive oil and chives, and an array of delicately prepared prawns, amberjack and palomita. LoRusso has now added that special creation to the menu so visitors to the Wynn restaurant can enjoy the same meal.
The same wine selections are also offered, including a white blend called Vinnae, selected for its harmonious pairing with butter-poached imperial langoustines and grilled octopus with olive oil-poached fennel and olives. “We slowly cook the octopus to give it its tender grill marks. There is a nice char on it but not too much, just a light touch,” LoRusso said. “The dish is combined with a little bit of olive vinaigrette, a little bit of rapini, and a pepper-based sauce, all to complement the octopus.”
The flavors take on even more dimension when accompanied by a 2014 Punta Crena Ca da Rena from Liguria (an area known as Italy’s Riviera).
“What brings these two elements together, besides that it is a marriage made in the heavens, is not just the flavor, but the unique texture of the octopus being complemented by the round texture and wild, white floral aromas of the pigato grape grown on old vines, supported by just enough acidity,” said Miklos Katona, Costa di Mare’s wine manager. “All wines chosen were made from grapes you can’t find anywhere else in Italy.”
Also on the tasting menu is risotto Sardo, made with bottarga, a brick-colored, cured fish roe that is a Sardinian favorite. It is served with a single-vineyard vermentino, Jankara Vermentino di Gallura, also from Sardinia.
Line-caught Mediterranean turbot, an exquisitely flaky white fish, was served with butter-poached brussels and Osetra caviar and, Anselmi Capitel Croce, a powerfully fresh white wine from the Veneto region.
A bright limoncello semifreddo concludes the experience, complemented with a passito from Sicily. The wine is made with moscato bianco grapes, which undergo a special drying process, producing a concentrated dessert wine with explosive aromas of exotic and candied citrus. Those enjoying this exceptional culinary journey may be forgiven for feeling as if they had been magically swept away to the Mediterranean coast for a few hours before stepping back into the desert breeze.
Jaleo’s sweeping selection of sherries the best found west of the golden triangle
by jason scavone
Some of the most complex, mysterious and storied fortified wines in the world flow from southwestern Spain’s Sherry Triangle.
Bounded by Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the sherry-making center sits in one of the world’s finest wine regions. (In fact, the word sherry comes from the English pronunciation of “Jerez”).
If you can’t make it to the Sherry Triangle, Jaleo at The Cosmopolitan may be the next best thing. The restaurant offers five sherry flights and dozens of rare sherries. With his expert selections sommelier John Peiser brings you closer to the Mediterranean one sip at a time.
“Sherry is one of the most diverse categories of wine imaginable,” Peiser says of the wines oxidized in barrels and fortified with grape liqueur to increase its alcohol content. “These things are special. They’re very small production. Some of them are bottled once every few years.”
With such variety, a flight is an excellent way to discover which sherry you’ll like best. The manzanilla, aged under sherry’s defining flor yeast, which only grows in three parts of the world — Spain’s Andalucia, the Jura region in eastern France and in parts of South Africa, is often favored by white-wine drinkers. Dulce sherry is thick like syrup, blacker than night deep in a forest and sweeter than a cloying co-worker who needs something from you. The oloroso and amontillado are richer and more complex, more like Scotches and whiskies than wine.
That richness isn’t just in taste, either. The Bodegas Osborne, which dates to 1772, only bottled sherry from 1925 to 2005 by request from the Osborne family or a member of the Spanish royal family. Its Osborne y Ca. Solera India oloroso has a touch of candied fruit with oak and spice.
It’s also only $32 a pour, making it the thinking man’s budget tipple.
The 18th-century designation isn’t just for show. Sherry production uses the solera process, where vintages are fractionally blended over time for the perfect flavor.
“They have a row of barrels at the bottom,” Peiser says. “These are the oldest wines in the solera, and they bottle from that. The law says you shouldn’t take more than two-thirds of a barrel per year so there’s always some left.
“You take some out, and you bottle it. You refill it from the level above, and you refill that from the level above it, and the new one goes in at the very top. There can be between five and 14 levels before you get to the top. It’s literally a blend from the very beginning of the solera to the last vintage.”
Wine pairing dinners at Jaleo usually incorporate at least one sherry, which holds up equally well before or after dinner. But perhaps some of the simplest pairings for sherry are the best: Jamón Ibérico, cured four years and Pasamontes Manchego.
No matter which sherry you share, the salutation is the same: Aclamaciones!
Westgate’s culinary team honored with invitation to prepare dinner at James Beard House
by Marsala Rypka
Julia Child co-founded the James Beard Foundation in 1985 after the food connoisseur, teacher and cookbook author known as the Dean of American Cuisine died. Beard’s legacy lives on through the acclaimed chefs who are invited to come to New York and prepare dinner for the public in his historic 1899 Greenwich Village brownstone.
The seven-person culinary team at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino recently joined the prestigious list of chefs when they prepared an incredible six-course Valentine’s Day dinner, paired with wines from a private collection, at the James Beard House.
Getting there took months of strategic planning and two practice runs. Ninety days out, the team, headed by Westgate vice president of food and beverage Charles Wilson, re-created everything from the day of the event backward, leaving nothing to chance.
Three weeks before, they shipped all nonperishables, including dishes, utensils and cooking equipment. A week before, they shipped 132 bottles of wine.
But some things were out of their control, like a huge snowstorm that hit New York the weekend before Valentine’s Day causing flights to be cancelled and gridlock on the streets.
“We just sent 40 large boxes of Cryovac’d food packed in dry ice and Styrofoam the Friday before. We were terrified it wouldn’t get there in time,” said chef Steve Young.
“We were at the airport on Sunday when we got word everything arrived, and we all breathed a sigh of relief,” said Wilson.
Everyone wanted things to be perfect,” said pastry chef Stephen Sullivan, who carried a sheet pan with 94 fragile tuile cookies on board.
Once we got to New York, the next challenge was having all of us in a kitchen the size of my produce refrigerator at the Westgate preparing six plated appetizers, four main courses and a dessert,” said chef Michael McNeilly, who praised Sullivan for being his support person.
“There was only space to plate 24 dishes at a time, and we had 86 guests, but the energy was electrifying and everything went smoothly,” said Young, who credits sous chef Lynn Breen with being his right hand. Shaun Morales, manager of fine dining at the Westgate, facilitated the front of the house wine service and course timeline of hors d’oeuvres that included salmon belly crudo, porcini mushroom bisque, bone marrow flatbread, Beausoleil oysters, fennel sausage and pepper arancini, and grilled lamb chop peperonata followed by a first course of baby beet salad with pistachio burrata cheese and watercress; a second course of sea scallops with cannellini bean, kale and winter truffle; a third course of sunchoke agnolotti, trumpet royals, Parmesan and micro sorrel; a fourth course of Mishima Reserve strip loin and ribs, potato puree, creamed Swiss chard and bordelaise; and a fifth course duo dessert of chilled winter fruit soup with calamansi sorbet, mandarin tuile and chocolate-covered passion fruit-banana mousse with pecan brittle.
“Nothing prepared me for such a magical experience,” said Morales.
“The staff at the James Beard House praised us for being such a prepared team whose food and execution was flawless,” Wilson said proudly.
“When you say the James Beard House, you think of chefs from Bellagio, Wynn or Caesars,” said TaChelle Lawson, director of food and beverage marketing, “but our chefs at the Westgate have impressive resumes. We are all intent on bringing prestige to our property, and our team just hit a home run.”
Some people are born to cocktails; some have cocktails thrust upon them when they’re a 17-year-old hostess, and the lone bartender at their restaurant calls out, and their boss throws them behind the stick.
In a town outside of San Antonio, Kristen Schaefer got pressed into service despite perfectly reasonable protestations like, “I don’t know how to tend bar” and “My job is as a hostess.”
Her boss reassured her: “This is Texas. Everyone only orders Bud Light or shots of Jack Daniels.”
First order up? An Old-Fashioned.
“I, deer in headlights, am like, “What is that?’” Schaefer said. “I run back to the kitchen, and I look at my boss like, ‘Hey, what happened to Bud Lights and Jack Daniels? What’s an Old-Fashioned?’
“He went into the back; he didn’t say a word. He literally threw at me the little black book of bartending and said, ‘Figure it out.’
“I looked in it, and I don’t know what a muddle is, but I’ll figure that out. It was at that moment I realized that I never wanted to feel dumb again. I just started reading about it. I started learning everything I could learn.”
Learn she did. After working with hospitality consultant Tobin Ellis on a restaurant opening in Poughkeepsie, New York, the Bar Magic traveling speakeasy owner brought her to Las Vegas to help open Luxor’s Tacos & Tequila in 2009. That same year, Schaefer helped launch Rhumbar at The Mirage. Then, in 2010, she moved on to become one of the three property mixologists at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, where she also served as general manager of Bond.
Bond allowed her to crystallize one aspect of her approach to what makes a good drink, but five years later, Schaefer left The Cosmo to become the brand ambassador for Absolut Elyx.
“I hate stuffy mixologists,” she said. “I think they’re boring and annoying. I don’t care if you can tell me everything about every single whisky behind the bar. I can do the same thing. I just want to have fun.
“(At) Bond, when we were doing that cocktail menu, I wanted to take all the cocktails that mixologists make fun of, and I wanted to put them on the Bond menu. I wanted a Sex on the Beach, a kamikaze, chocolate martini, apple martini. We put every one of those drinks on the menu, but we did them really well.”
Before representing Elyx, Schaefer’s first love was rum — and her mojito perfectionism that specifies the exact cut of a lime before muddling should prove it — but adapting to vodka hasn’t slowed her down.
With three easy do-it-yourself tipples (see sidebar), you can spruce up your next cocktail party with something a bit off the beaten path.
In The Continental, Pavan Liqueur de France adds a touch of grape and a hint of citrus to a cocktail that are exceptionally clean and crisp. The degree to which you can drink this like water is directly proportional to the trouble you can get into on a warm spring day.
Ruby Dancing is a grapefruit julep that’s tart and bright. Like any good julep, you get a hearty whiff of mint as you drink, which grounds the big grapefruit pop that hits on the first sip. If sweet whiskey is too much for you on Kentucky Derby Day, this one can stand in as a palate-cleansing alternative.
Down the Rabbit Hole, a punch offering, mixes things way up with carrot juice. Along with a ginger-infused honey, there’s an earthiness here that’s deftly balanced by citrus. The cinnamon adds a baked-goods kick that we couldn’t help but equate to carrot cake (helpless to the power of suggestion as we are). Are we sure we don’t want to try a cream-cheese-frosting rim?
City’s annual Bon Appétit culinary indulgence serves up one tasty extravaganza
It’s a recipe for success. Put together a power lineup of the world’s best celebrity chefs, add a mix of Master Sommeliers and top wines, and you have the perfect ingredients for one of the country’s top food, wine and spirits festivals — the 11th annual Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appétit.
Giada De Laurentiis and “Too Hot Tamales,” Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, will lead the iconic chefs contingent comprising Alain Ducasse, Bobby Flay, Buddy Valastro, Charlie Palmer, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Savoy, José Andrés, Julian Serrano, Shawn McClain, Michael Mina, Michael Chow, Nobu Matsuhisa, Wolfgang Puck and many others.
The four-day culinary extravaganza fires up on April 27–30, and this year promises to be the best yet vows Bon Appétit’s editor in chief Adam Rapoport.
“This is the only weekend of the year when this many renowned chefs come together in one destination to host intimate dinners and allow guests from around the world to indulge in an epicurean experience of a lifetime,” he said. “With tons of new programming this year, the 11th annual Vegas Uncork’d is definitely going to be the most dynamic one yet.”
The event truly puts Las Vegas on the world’s culinary map, as no other city on earth can match the number of culinary kings and queens cooking up their signature-taste treats. Foodies who travel here from all around the world have the unique opportunity of being “up close and personal” with the food stars in a way that can’t be duplicated anywhere else, making it a real dish and tell celebration.
“When people are looking for a one-of-a-kind travel experience, Las Vegas always delivers, and Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appétit is a spectacular event that has secured our destination’s position as a leading culinary hot spot for over a decade,” said Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
“This year, we are excited to welcome additional resorts, restaurants and unique experiences that will provide our guests with unparalleled access to the world’s most sought-after chefs and sommeliers in truly intimate settings,” she added.
One of the events kicking off the first night of Vegas Uncork’d is a dinner at the famed Rao’s restaurant at Caesars Palace celebrating the popular eatery’s 10th anniversary on the Strip — its New York flagship is still the hardest reservation to secure in the world. The final day of the epicurean extravaganza will end at Rao’s, too, with a farewell traditional Italian brunch and nonstop entertainment. And, at both events, guests will have the unique opportunity to get an autographed copy of the Frank Pellegrini family’s newest cookbook, Rao’s Classics, containing its time-honored Italian staples and unique classic dishes.
Although the Vegas Uncork’d schedule is jam-packed with Master Series dinners, chef tastings, brunches and a newcomer that is certain to become a future favorite, the highlight of the weekend is the Grand Tasting on Friday evening. In excess of 2,500 food enthusiasts will enjoy a staggering variety of chef signature dishes in the beautiful 5-acre Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars Palace. More than 50 award-winning chefs, as well as 100-plus of the best wines and spirits from around the world will make it an unforgettable night.
Then, on Saturday, you won’t want to miss the one-on-one verbal combat with “Hell’s Kitchen” firebrand Gordon Ramsay when he brings in his FOX-TV series’ all-star winners whom — much like a ferocious orchestra conductor — he will rule over with a flaming torch instead of a baton while serving the memorable dinner. And, don’t be surprised if he launches into a fiery tirade with any chef on his line who doesn’t measure up to his star status. It’ll be epicurean theater at its finest, and William Shakespeare himself would be proud of the culinary commotion.
Be sure to indulge in a decadent evening with TLC’s “Cake Boss” superstar, Buddy Valastro, too, as you surrender to the sugary side of life with beignets and bon bons around The Palazzo pool. Nobody does dessert better, so make the “Sweet Escape” and take the opportunity to meet the newest female chef star on the Strip, Lorena Garcia, who is opening Chica at The Venetian in May. Garcia, a TV star from Venezuela, is the first female chef in the all-male celebrity chef lineup at The Venetian | The Palazzo, and she’s also the first Latina chef heading up a major restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip. She’s making her debut at this year’s Vegas Uncork’d.
Also on Saturday, Japanese chef master Nobu Matsuhisa will showcase his skills on the traditional teppan grills in his Nobu restaurant at Caesars Palace, which, incidentally, is the first U.S. location to feature these types of grills. He will precede his two teppan grill demonstrations with two early afternoon classes of “The Beauty of Sushi,” where he will talk about the philosophy of sushi-making and provide hands-on action as he creates sashimi and sushi delicacies right before your eyes.
The Park, a new 8-acre outdoor experience located outside of the T-Mobile Arena opposite of the Monte Carlo hotel-casino, will be turned into a giant picnic playground throughout Saturday afternoon and into early evening with Alain Ducasse, Charlie Palmer, Michael Mina, Julian Serrano, Shawn McClain, Roy Ellamar, Akira Back, the Voltaggio Brothers and more.
In addition to food and spirits, the picnic will feature live music and an opportunity to play life-size classic board games. Plus you can embrace your inner child with coloring books and social games, such as foosball, shuffleboard, pingpong and cornhole.
Chefs Feniger and Milliken prove women can still rule the kitchen, and not only with their one-of-a-kind Master Series tapas dinner on Saturday evening. The Too Hot Tamales also will run a Quickfire Challenge, giving guests the opportunity to see what it’s like to be contestants on a cooking challenge program. Participants will divide into teams and compete in a series of quickfire challenges just as if they are alongside the two femmes fatales from Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Both Feniger and Milliken will coach the teams and provide the participants with top-notch advice before they face the judges panel.
Get ready to go on a tough diet before the end of April so you can stuff yourself silly for the 11th spectacular year of Vegas Uncork’d, which will be popping open with what only can be described as “America’s very best dining experience.” Bon appétit, indeed!
Local chef’s passion for sustainability, responsible eating goes far beyond the kitchen
Few figures are as instrumental to the rise in popularity of sustainable seafood as chef Rick Moonen. His restaurant RM Seafood in The Shoppes at Mandalay Place at Mandalay Bay Resort has long stood as the vanguard for modern dining practices in seafood. He himself is part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, Blue Ribbon Task Force, a high honor bestowed to influencers advocating for healthy oceans and responsible eating. His work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s collection of nongovernment organizations and conservationists has put him as somewhat of the figurehead of sustainable seafood.
“It all started when a bunch of us New York chefs were asked to go down to city hall, this is when I was at The Water Club, and a reporter asked me about genetically modified food,” Moonen explained. “I didn’t know I was going to be on the radio that day; reporters calling me up asking to explain genetically modified food! This was before the term ‘GMO’ (genetically modified organism) was even around.
“We found out we could be serving a tomato that had the genes of a flounder spliced into it. We want to know what we’re serving to our customers, what they’re putting into their bodies — that’s our top priority.”
GMOs, especially those modified to survive after absorbing powerful pesticides, are something Moonen avoids in his menus.
As a tireless advocate, the chef keeps up to date with serving only the best seafood in his restaurants, RM Seafood and RX Boiler Room, which also is in The Shoppes at Mandalay Place, only allowing the most environmentally responsible to be on his menu. Even for fish that are currently on the Seafood Watch “Avoid” list, Moonen and his team are able to find sustainable versions.
“Most of the places doing farmed salmon are just terrible for the environment. Aquaculture isn’t always a great thing — not if you don’t do it right. True North Seafood, for example: I’ve worked with them for some time, (and) they are one of the few farming salmon the right way. And it’s so much tastier, too.”
So what does the world need to eat from the sea? Moonen summed it up with a simple rule.
“We need to be eating lower on the food chain. Small fish like sardines, anchovies and herring don’t accumulate the types of pollutants that get into the ocean, and they breed much faster,” he said. “Bigger predator fish — swordfish, bluefin tuna — those types eat tons of the smaller fish, and build up tons of the pollutants and heavy metals in their body.”
Moonen’s advice isn’t difficult to follow for chefs who rely on unsustainable staples.
“It’s our job as chefs to take what we have and make it taste good. Any line cook can throw a sea bass in the pan; it’s almost impossible to mess up,” he said. “American seafood farms have the highest standards by far — farmed shrimp, arctic char, scallops, all of them are great for sustainability.”
“Even tinned fish, like sardines, can be done well so that they are so amazingly delicious. Sardines, lightly fried and packed in oil, can be such an umami bomb and, honestly, can be served much like caviar, with garnishes. People don’t realize how good these can be!”
The harsh truths about our seafood system are something the chef is passionate about bringing to light.
“When I was first starting out, I found the term ‘by-catch.’ For every pound of fish the boats were out looking for, nearly 10 pounds of other sea creatures are inadvertently brought onboard. By the time the catch is sifted through, all the by-catch is tossed back in the ocean, either dead or nearly dead.” In regard to the overfishing of staple fish, decreasing these stocks to near-endangered levels are one of the biggest negative impacts on the world from our food system.
“When I first started going to the fish market, you’d regularly see swordfish that were three- or four-hundred pounds, easy,” Moonen added. “Now a ‘big’ swordfish is about 100 pounds. We’re depleting the stocks so bad that all that’s left are the really young ones.”
Overfishing isn’t the only ecological threat, though.
“There’s this invasive species called lionfish, a big, nasty, spiky predator. They’re native to Southeast Asia, but they got in the Atlantic, and they are wrecking the local populations. They’ve got no natural predators, they’re extremely hard to catch — you have to go down and spear them by hand — so they’re really expensive,” Moonen explained.
He went on to say that he’s working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in helping solve this problem.
“I’m going to go down next week and see this robotic trap; something that can identify when they’ve got a lionfish, and (it) snaps closed on them. If that works, who knows? It might make these fish easier to use in restaurants.”
Moonen doesn’t just preach responsible eating practices, he lives them. He founded Desert Bloom Eco Farm with Stephen and Claudia Andracki. Desert Bloom now supplies his and other restaurants with local, organic produce.
“My friend Stephen brings us whatever’s ready to harvest,” said Moonen. “Sometimes it’s a ton, and you have to figure out how to preserve it. Other times, it’s things you use fresh, like herbs and greens. That’s the way we were meant to eat. You hear about these French chefs that go out to the market, and whatever’s there is what they serve.”
In a world where the way we eat will have ripple effects throughout the entire ecosystem, knowledge is power. With more advocates and experts like Moonen, the right steps to take not only are clear, they are delicious as well.
Christina Tosi is a pastry chef, entrepreneur, star of “Master Chef” on Fox-TV and two-time James Beard Award recipient. But what it all boils down to for the newlywed and mastermind behind Milk Bar is a motto of her company: “Milk Bar is here to make your day a little sweeter.”
Milk Bar opened its outlet at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on Jan. 1. Tosi, who is friendly, natural and very passionate about desserts, spoke with Luxury Las Vegas shortly before Milk Bar’s opening at The Cosmopolitan.
Welcome to Las Vegas.
I’m so excited. Thank you!
Why Las Vegas now?
Las Vegas is the food mecca of the West. Being an East Coaster, we have the New York market down, more or less. New York is our home. It’s where we started Milk Bar. We opened in Washington, D.C., a year ago, and we have a store in Toronto. We just turned 8, (and now) we have nine stores.
I like to bake because I like to feed people; and the more people you can feed as a chef, the happier you are, the more fulfilled you are. So the real question was, “How do we reach more people through Milk Bar?” Well, we have to open more stores.
You want to open a store where people are going to be excited; where people understand food; and where people want to be a part of it, and celebrate it and be wowed. For me, the Las Vegas food scene is absolutely that. And partnering up for this incredible opportunity with The Cosmopolitan has been awesome.
People know you from “Master Chef,” as well. What makes Milk Bar stand out?
When I opened Milk Bar eight years ago, I wanted it to be this fun, quirky place that was super accessible. That was important to me. I worked in fine dining for almost a decade in New York, and I loved the very high-end, precious nature of what that type of refined kitchen environment is like. But I was raised in the Midwest.
Being able to grab a cookie off the table and have that make your day a little brighter, sweeter (and) having access to great food is something that I very much relate to. My own spirit is very casual, so Milk Bar is this quirky place that’s fun and that piques your interest, and is easy to get and be a part of any time of day. It’s a quirky take on a classic American bakery.
There’s nothing at Milk Bar that you have had before, but everything is very relatable; everything has its roots in something very traditional. We don’t sell apple pie, but we have an apple pie layer cake: layers of buttery crumbs, layers of gooey cinnamon apple, layers of brown butter cake and pie crumb frosting.
We don’t have a chocolate chip cookie, but we have a corn flake chocolate marshmallow cookie. We have a compost cookie that has chocolate chips, but it also has pretzels, and potato chips, and coffee grounds, and butterscotch. It makes you giggle, and you get it the second you have it, even though you’ve never had anything quite like it before.
You’ve mentioned quirky and fun, so obviously names like crack pie, compost cookies and cereal milk ice cream make sense, but how did you come up with those names?
A lot of Milk Bar’s items have been on the menu since we opened eight years ago, and a lot of them have been in my repertoire before Milk Bar opened. The names — crack pie, compost cookie — all have a little bit of sense of humor.
I’ve been making crack pie for probably two to three years before Milk Bar opened. It’s sort of a mix between Southern classic chess pie and a pumpkin pie, without the pecans. It’s a dense, buttery, sugary slice of heaven.
What is your go-to or favorite dessert on your Milk Bar menu, or, in general?
I can never choose one — that’s like choosing your favorite child! I will say that in order to fairly distribute my love across the Milk Bar menu, I have a routine every week where I will switch from one cookie to another; one cake truffle to another; one slice of pie to another, so I’m currently on the blueberry and cream cookie kick this week. It is amazing!
It keeps me sharp because I’m constantly revisiting these recipes. Are they right? Are they as good as they possibly can be? Inevitably, that’s part of what being a great chef is — the pursuit of making the best possible bite you can. That’s the difference between a good chef and a great chef.
How do you juggle all of your businesses and opening businesses?
I have a lot of to-do lists. It’s a juggling act, for sure. I realized at a pretty early age that I’m the type of person who likes to be in a little over my head. I’m at my best when I’m really, really challenged. If I’m not struggling to keep it all going, it’s almost boring to me, so I like having a lot of things going on.
I sleep, but I really love what I do. When you love what you do, there is a never-say-die mentality, and you make it work. You find ways to make one thing feed into the other.
This is a change in topic, but how does it feel to be a two-time James Beard Award winner?
(Laughed) You definitely have to pinch me sometimes. There’s no way that happened. First and foremost, being named the first female pastry chef, then being given the award for rising star chef, was just incredible. That was the moment where my mom was, “I am so proud of you.”
I incorporate it into new-hire orientation at Milk Bar because so much of who I am and what I built Milk Bar on is challenging the norm and surprising people, and having that never-say-die mentality. We challenge what food can be and what a great bakery can be. The world is our oyster, and we can go out and get what we want. They are really cool awards that I share with the team, and that I use to motivate myself and the team.
If you weren’t a pastry chef, what would you be?
I had so many other professions planned for myself. I really wanted to be a truck driver. I love to travel. I love to go on road trips. I just got married this summer, and instead of going on a romantic getaway, like to the Caribbean, we went on a two-week road trip through America.
I love speaking foreign languages, so I thought, “Maybe I’ll be a translator. That allows you to travel.” I really love animals, so I also wanted to be a veterinarian. I love what I do. I love dessert — I could eat it all day, I do eat it all day, every day, and I love that years of hard work have paid off.
Any resolutions for 2017?
I try to be the type of person who doesn’t wait until New Year’s to have the resolution list. I’m very much a to-do-list-oriented person. I always try to have that running list for myself year-round. More pleasure reading is on my list. I have a little tab in my inbox that is my to-do list, and at the top, it says, “Get creative.”
I get to be creative on a bunch of different levels from a Milk Bar standpoint. I love to read and think about how to be a better person — and challenge myself even more. I was reading this beautiful article about if you can get yourself to be creative outside your normal space of creativity every single day, it fuels you so much more.
Have you been to Las Vegas very often, and what is on your to-do list here?
Yes, and I definitely have a Las Vegas to-do list — no surprise there (laughed). I come to Las Vegas four to five times a year. I’m excited because I now have an excuse to come here more often because of our store and our kitchen, where we do our baking and soft-serve making on-site, too.
When we are here to open, team-building wise, we are going to go to Vegas Indoor Skydiving because I think that’s awesome and go to the new Taco Bell Cantina because we love the high and the low at Milk Bar. That’s very much who we are as food.
I really want to go to the Neon Boneyard. We have an awesome Las Vegas-inspired Milk Bar sign. I love signs and signage, and the old-school Las Vegas signage. And, inevitably, going to see a lot of the shows and music. Everybody on the team is very excited about the fact that they can literally walk out of work and, five steps later, be somewhere incredible
The first time hair metal left us, it was thanks to the rise of grunge and a general exhaustion with zebra-print hairbands. History, as it so often does, has found a way to repeat itself as the Mötley Crüe-, Poison- and Ratt-centric Bourbon Room at The Venetian Las Vegas has given way to The Dorsey.
Though we’ll never get sick of zebra-print hairbands, The Dorsey is, like its spiritual forbearer, a radical departure from what came before. Conceived by a couple of New York mainstays, David Rabin of Cafe Clover and modern mixology eminence Sam Ross of Milk & Honey — who made his Las Vegas debut with the cocktail menu at Comme Ça, The Dorsey is 4,500 square feet of high-end lounge just begging you to explore its eclectic spirits selection and shockingly deep collection of copper drinkware.
Ross, the native Australian who helped get the cocktail revolution rolling at Milk & Honey, is perhaps best known as the man behind the Penicillin, which is on the short list of all-time pantheon cocktails created in the modern age.
Naturally, it features prominently on The Dorsey’s extensive menu that runs some 30 drinks deep. Building off a base of Scotch, lemon, ginger and honey, it’s a Laphroaig float that makes the Penicillin everything it is. Smoke neatly balanced with citrus, it’s, in the words of bartender Juyoung Kang, “that whisky sour everyone is looking for, with a hint of spice; old-school flavors, with new-school thought.”
The Northern ’75 is borne of that same philosophy. Obviously playing around with the French 75, the Northern is a healthy dose of Plymouth gin, along with lemon and fresh melon juice, before a flute is filled with Champagne. The Plymouth gin carries a certain earthiness into the drink that adds a new dimension to a classic that traditionally serves as a staid summer cooler.
If summer is on your mind, the Jungle Bird steps in neatly. From the grand tradition of Tiki-but-dry that gave us cocktails like the Three Dots and a Dash, the Jungle Bird traces back to Kuala Lumpur in the 1970s. Cruzan Black Strap rum is met with pineapple, lime and Campari for a drink that manages to downplay the latter’s bitterness, and instead uses it to balance out the fruit, leaving the acid in the pineapple and lime to go toe-to-toe with the pitch-dark molasses of the Black Strap. Plus, it comes in a tiki mug. Every cocktail is immediately 40 percent more delicious in a Tiki mug.
The Ginger Rogers is one of four cocktails on the menu to play with coffee flavors — because coffee is quintessentially New York, and New York is very much in The Dorsey; it even sports those “Seinfeld”-staple Greek coffee cups. It’s a mountain of crushed ice that provides architectural support for rum, cream, fresh ginger and coffee liqueur with a grating of fresh nutmeg on top. Ginger, of course, is light on her feet. She doesn’t knock you down with sugar, but she’s plenty robust — and dangerous, as dessert cocktails go. It’s far too easy to toss these back.
The Harajuku officially may not be Japan’s answer to the Boulevardier, but it should be. Japanese whiskey stands in for bourbon or rye, Gran Classico steps in for Campari and Byrrh Grand Quinquina — an aperitif that uses coffee, among other things, in its maceration process — does the job of sweet vermouth. Throw in a dash of chocolate bitters, and you’ve got something that has ocean-deep complexity, an almost amarolike quality and a hint of familiar sweetness before a big, boozy kick at the end. (Add criminally underused chocolate bitters to your regular Manhattan pour and thank us later.) It’s enough to make you even not hate that Gwen Stefani song.
In the great and timeless Pantheon of Sexy Things, Champagne and Scotch inevitably occupy the same rarified strata at the absolute top of the game — along with handcuffs and Bea Arthur. (Wait.)
Thankfully, in this grand month of love, romance, and hastily and cheaply purchased lingerie off Amazon, there’s one place that brings the two together: The Cromwell’s tucked-away gem of a cocktail bar, Bound. (That’s what the handcuffs are for, right?)
Nestled in a corner of The Cromwell floor, Bound is done up in rich black, gold and shades of brown, with sensual materials festooning everything from the cushions to the curtains. The bar is the baby of international man of mixology Salvatore Calabrese, who made his mark at London’s Playboy Club.
It also features a section of the menu devoted strictly to Champagne cocktails, which is, if not guaranteed to rev your date’s engine, at least ups your odds considerably. Worst case scenario: you accrue a little extra James Bond swagger by ordering bubbly — which should help you land a better date next time.
But let’s go back to the sublime meeting of Scotch and Champagne, where Old World sophistication meets even Older World sophistication in some kind of boozy “suavenado” (sweats). Don’t tell Ian Ziering. The Cromwell Fizz puts these two unlikely bedfellows together in one glass, building a base of Macallan 10-year, house-made honey, lemon juice, egg white, a generous topper of Moët & Chandon Imperial, and then carefully dot ting it with three drops of bitters.
The honey and Scotch nod to a Rusty Nail, but the bubbly smooths everything out to a degree that’s surprising. Scotch doesn’t dominate the drink, which is no small order. There’s a bit of a floral touch at the end, courtesy of the fine beekeepers who contributed to this tipple. There aren’t many Scotch drinks that can pass as “delicate,” but the Fizz fits the bill.
“Delicate” is a bit of a through-line here, like in the Bunny Bubbles. Originating, fitfully, from Calabrese’s time at the Playboy Club, the Bunny starts with a raspberry puree, pomegranate juice, then builds up with Bénédictine and another helping of Moët.
The fruit is so fresh, there’s an ethereal quality to the cocktail, like it’s the final evolution of the Wimbledon bubbly-and-strawberries staple. Bénédictine, normally reserved for your grandma’s liquor cabinet (because she has excellent taste and a long memory, naturally), adds a bit of sweetness and a hint of herbaceousness, but not so much it impedes the fruit.
Though in the Velvet Rosa, there’s no way to impede the fruit. Atlantico Platino rum mingles with peach schnapps, cold-pressed cranberry juice, white peach and Veuve Clicquot. There’s no doubt about this being a fruit-first drink, with the peach jumping right to the front of the line. Yes, you could go for a basic brunch-staple Bellini, but the rum adds a little charge here, while giving nothing away in the peach department.
But if you really want to mix it up and make liquor the star of the show, opt for the Big Spender. At $61, the cocktail is aptly named, but it delivers Gran Patrón Platinum tequila, Cointreau, agave nectar, cranberry and Dom Pérignon. It also comes with a Calabrese signed $1 bill tied around the stem of the glass, so you get a rebate.
If your chief complaint was that a margarita didn’t have enough Dom in it, then you’ve come to the right place. The tequila takes charge of the drink like it’s 50 Shades of Patrón. Even though the Dom submits, it’s still secretly the star of the show, just like in plenty of, uh, nontraditional arrangements.
This month, Las Vegas is getting some much-deserved attention from the culinary world, as international foodie consortium the Confrèrie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs holds its “Grand Chapitre” conference here, Oct. 26–29, for the first time. The four-day event typically is held in a variety of gastronomically notable cities in the 80 countries where the group exists, and it brings the upper crust of food and wine aficionados together to celebrate fine dining and the people who make it possible. It is a social high-water mark for our city, as hometown food and beverage giants, Larry Ruvo and Michael Severino, lead the Las Vegas chapter of the Chaîne and were instrumental in bringing the Grand Chapitre to Vegas.
Severino couldn’t be more proud of having this illustrious event here.
“That this prestigious organization is having this here is a great statement on how Las Vegas has become one of the culinary meccas of the world,” he said. “From the choice to include some of our best restaurants, to the decision to have one of the dinners at a Frank Gehry-designed building (the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health), it has the essence of what Las Vegas has evolved into concerning culinary arts, food and beverage, and architecture.”
Attendees can look forward to unforgettable dinners specially crafted by the city’s top chefs and sommeliers, day trips behind the scenes of Vegas’ kitchens and hospitality industry, as well as plenty of thrilling Vegas-style recreation.
The background for this illustrious organization can be traced back to13th-century France and its system of guilds, from which the original Chaîne began as the “Goose Roasters,” who oversaw the preparation of poultry and game. Through the centuries, the group attained a royal charter to cultivate and develop culinary art, and high standards of professionalism and quality befitting the splendor of the Royal Table. When the guild system was disbanded during the French Revolution, the Chaîne continued to exist in one shape or another until resurrected in its modern form in 1950.
The organization has always attracted an eclectic group of countless notables from the worlds of food, politics and the arts. Barron Hilton was one of the early members of the Chaîne in Beverly Hills, as was Julia Child and Robert Mondavi. The current pope is a member of the Chaîne, as is film producer Pablo Cruz.
The group and its Grand Chapitre event have a significant philanthropic component, as money raised from a Grand Auction goes toward the Chaîne Foundation. Its goal and purpose is to provide scholarships to deserving culinary and oenological students. From the time it was re- established, the organization has always been dedicated to the promotion of young chefs and sommeliers. That recently has extended to cicerones, craft beverage makers and food banks.
In the United States, the Chaîne has Harold Small as its national president and Ira Falk as its conseiller gastronomique des Etats-Unis, or gastronomic adviser of the United States. Both see Las Vegas as a natural t for the Grand Chapitre, primarily based on the abilities of Ruvo and Severino to highlight the Las Vegas chapter.
“I have had the distinct honor and pleasure of representing the Chaîne at numerous events organized by Mrs. Ruvo and Severino,” said Falk. “I had the understanding from the first one I ever attended how magnificent their programs are, so when I was put in charge of organizing our Grand Chapitre, I immediately reached out to them to see if they would be interested in helping us host.”
Small sees it as a great opportunity to take a snapshot of the organization’s larger purpose in action.
“Coming to Las Vegas gives us an opportunity to allow our members to see firsthand some of the great things going on there, and the benefits that have accrued in terms of the young people who have gone on to great professional careers in various facets of the culinary arts, the hospitality industry and the oenological areas,” he said.
One of the things the organization will be doing is honoring the Chaîne Foundation’s annual donors with a lunch at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where they will tour the College of Hotel Administration with Dean Rowe Shoemaker. They will be presenting the hotel college with scholarship funds for students. They’ll also be supporting the efforts of the Lou Ruvo Center with a dinner that honors the chapter presidents, where a check for a local food bank will be presented.
“We try to do this at every city where we go, and we distribute scholarship funds literally every day of the year through the foundation, which, as so far, has raised and distributed millions of dollars,” said Falk.
“The Chaîne Foundation has now raised $4 million and distributed it for scholarships at various institutions around the country,” added Small. “That’s in addition to the money raised in the local communities that doesn’t even go through the foundation. That includes the philanthropic efforts of Larry and Michael, and the Las Vegas chapter.”
The Chaîne has held regional and national young chef competitions in Las Vegas. The competition for the best young chef was held in Las Vegas 15 months ago.
“We bring the competitions to various centers of culinary excellence each year,” said Small. “Our Young Sommelier competitor, Martin Sheehan-Stross, won in our competition in Sonoma, California, and just won the international competition, and is now the International Young Sommelier of the Year for the world.”
“Las Vegas is more than just gaming and a city of lights, which is what may come immediately to mind for many,” said Falk. “It has become one of the culinary capitals of the world with a tremendous amount of art and entertainment, and with the addition of the Ruvo Center, it is home to a world-class medical center as well. There is so much more in telling the story of Las Vegas — that’s what makes it so appealing as the perfect venue for our organization.”
It’s a story that now has an official chapter dedicated to the city’s place in the culinary world.
The late Kerry Simon, aka The Rock ’n’ Roll Chef, was always at least as popular among the ladies as he was with the guys. And he loved them back. Nonetheless, his restaurants often possessed a bit of the testosterone-infused swagger that permeates the music he loved. So it’s fitting that his first posthumous eatery, which is also the last business he was involved with planning, serves as both his culinary swan song and an attempt to remedy that gender gap.
Standard & Pour in Henderson is a collaboration between the Simon Hospitality Group, which is now a partnership between his friend and frequent collaborator Cory Harwell, Simon’s family and Titan Brands, which runs Hussong’s Cantina and Slice of Vegas Pizza in Mandalay Place. Titan head Scott Frost befriended Simon around 2001, while the chef was still at Bellagio and long before he’d partnered with Harwell. After Simon had moved to the Hard Rock, the two unsuccessfully attempted to bring three restaurants to an Indian casino in New Mexico. Frost and Harwell, in the meantime, had once discussed bringing Hussong’s to MGM Grand when Harwell worked there. The idea of a three-way collaboration had hung in the air for quite some time. But it wasn’t until they found a location, about two years ago, that it all started to come together, and they decided to target a female audience.
“I liken this business to writing a book,” Harwell explained, “where sometimes you have characters and a story, and other times you have a title and the overall (idea), and you’re kind of putting everything in.
We didn’t have Standard & Pour yet. We didn’t have the characters of this play yet. We came and fell in love with a space, and tried to think what makes the most sense to go up there? What concept? And that’s when we started talking about, what does Henderson need? What’s the void that we can ll?”
Frost, who lives in the area, was the first to wonder if that void might exist for the female market more than for men. So he began asking women he knew where they liked to go out with their friends.
“The answer was all over the map,” Frost said of the replies. “There wasn’t a go-to (place).” And even when they did mention a spot, he said their reason most frequently was, “Because it’s there.”
“There wasn’t anything with personality. There wasn’t anything that catered to that demographic,” Frost added.
So what does catering to that demographic mean? And could a group of guys do it, without coming off as pandering? Harwell said they were very aware of that challenge.
“We set out intentionally to create a concept that I think women could feel comfortable in and attracted to, while not being condescending in our approach to it,” Frost said of their efforts, which they consulted on closely with the women in their lives, as well as some of Simon’s female friends. “So you’re not gonna see a lot of pinks. We’re really trying to play to a different sensibility.”
The result is a restaurant without TVs showing games, video poker at the bar or anything else to distract from conversation with friends. The outdoor balcony, with its gorgeous views of the Strip’s neon, has the feel of a backyard patio where friends gather around the re pit to chat over cocktails. While a full wall of the rear dining room is covered with oral print wallpaper — a recurring pattern found throughout the restaurant and lounge — the white and red flowers, and their deep green stems and leaves are set against a sexy, black background that remains consistent to Simon’s rock ’n’ roll roots. The main dining room and lounge feature a tin ceiling, and a combination of simple, light hardwood and ornate tile flooring, with deep forest green seating against black wood walls. But those blacks are also softened and sexy, thanks to an ancient Japanese process called shou sugi ban that torch- chars the wood until it cracks.
Whether or not this hits the right feminine notes is a question that only can be answered by Standard & Pour’s female customers. But there’s no denying the design team has created a casual space that’s both inviting and chic. And this aesthetic carries through to the menu. All of the dishes are served in small, shareable portions, and presented in gorgeous platings. Crispy fried oysters are served in their shells, topped with bright Sriracha egg salad, and carefully arranged with delicate and bright salmon eggs. Blossoming yellow and green romanesco buds tipped with smoky char peek out from under a bed of red onions dotted with capers and golden raisins. Even dishes one would expect to be daunting and heavy, like escargot and venison tartare, are given an elegant touch. In the former, the snails come wrapped in a rich, golden brown Wellington crust. And the latter comes sprinkled with, among other seasonings, sweet crumbled white chocolate.
In keeping with Simon tradition, the final course is designed to leave a lasting impression. The small dessert section runs the gamut from playful to sophisticated. A light-as-air panna cotta is whimsically dotted with Fruit Loop cereal and gummy candy — a flashback to Simon’s frequent reinvention of childhood favorites — and topped with orange sorbet. The do-it-yourself saffron rice pudding, with hints of rosewater, is a savory and sweet Persian delicacy into which guests mix helpings of pistachios, dates and pomegranate seeds. And the pastry chef pays homage to a grown-up wine and cheese course with a sundae of merlot ice cream and brandied cherries over cheesecake blondies that bring out your inner child.
The team also puts great care into the libations and the setting in which they’re served.
“Scott and I were insistent upon making sure the lounge area, the ‘pour’ side of Standard & Pour, rang as true as the food,” Harwell said. So while the dining rooms take up much of the restaurant, the lounge and patio are designed for extended stays. In fact, in a restaurant landscape cluttered with gastropubs, Standard & Pour describes itself as a gastrolounge, anxious to draw attention to this cultured-but-lazy experience. There are four physical levels of seating scattered throughout, each designed to foster comfort and camaraderie.
Drinks, which bear names like First Date, Man Candy, Handsome Dan and the Pool Boy, come in three formats. You can get a standard hand-crafted cocktail. A drink called the Raspberry Beret, made with citrus vodka, raspberry puree and house lemonade, comes bottled and is available in four-packs for the table. Or opt for the large format offerings delivered in whiskey-style crystal decanters that serve six or more — fewer if you’re particularly thirsty, of course.
Whether all of this hits the right notes with the women of Henderson remains to be seen. But the team seems con dent Simon would approve. His spiritual presence can be felt throughout, and it’s manifested physically by the inclusion of two tables made from the former doors of his Hard Rock restaurant, which later made up the kitchen table in the chef’s home.
“My last conversation with Kerry … literally the last question that he asked was about Standard & Pour,” Harwell shared, obviously touched by the memory. “So to be able to bring this (table) in here, I think really kind of closes that circle.”
Now that summer is behind us we can get down to the serious business of drinking for reasons other than to try to regulate an internal core temperature that rose 30 degrees on the walk from the parking lot to the bar.
Anyone can sip mojitos on a hot day, but your true reward for sticking it out is the best stretch of seasonal cocktails of the year. Unless you’re one of those weirdos who spends the cool months pulling from a pint of Christian Brothers brandy to fend off frostbite on a ice fishing trip in Colorado. You’re on your own.
For the rest of us whose chilly-weather drinking doesn’t involve bait and a drill, there’s a bit of a limbo at the start of the run. The holiday season is spoken for and deep fall has all sorts of richly spiced, apple-packed warmers, but Halloween remains an outlier. You get your abominable attempts at fashioning boozy candy corn, and pumpkin-flavored God-knows-what, with all the appeal of vodka-and-candle wax.
Except at Panevino, where Mark Lopez has been doing the most creative Halloween cocktails in Las Vegas since 2007 — themed offerings on the menu from Oct. 1-31 that are clever, stylish and don’t taste like rejected Oreo flavors.
This year’s menu takes on five scary-flick classics: The Redrum (The Shining), Freddy’s Revenge (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2), Hannibal Nectar (The Silence of the Lambs), Beetlejuice (self-explanatory) and Jaws (turn your TV to any random channel — it’s on right now).
Jaws uses pineapple juice, lime, blue cuaracao and coconut Cîroc to build a straight-ahead tropical cooler, but that’s half the story. A shot of grenadine is poured on top for a slow-drip, blood-in-the-water effect. Robert Shaw would approve. He’d approve because booze is involved in any capacity, but the point still stands.
Other than every scene with Scatman Crothers, the showcase moment in The Shining is the fountain of blood gushing from an elevator. The Redrum commits. Cranberry ice cubes, sloe gin, bright red Aperol, Bacardi Dragonberry and muddled blackberries give you a slightly tart punchlike drink that also looks like bloody murder, forward and backward.
Naming a drink for an Anthony Hopkins character seems like a completely reasonable ploy to get Hopkins to actually show up in your restaurant. Didn’t even take that much to get him to star in Noah. Peach Ciroc and muddled raspberries are shaken with a nice Chianti for a sort of puttanesca take on sangria, dry and sharp. Yes, there are fava beans for garnish. No, they couldn’t serve it in a lotion-filled basket.
The star here is Beetlejuice, which feels appropriate for a libation named for an overly charismatic ghoul. The earthiness of the post-grave set is well-represented with muddled basil, Hendrick’s gin, green Chartreuse and a touch of fruit, added to the drink by a bartender chanting “applejuice, applejuice, applejuice.” It’s herbal, and oral, and savory, with just a little bit of sweet, and it will never muddle along for years at a time in lesser projects only to do Birdman, and remind you how great it can be and how much you missed it.
Finally, the Freddy’s Revenge serves as dessert, with Godiva liqueur, Nocello, Patron XO and a shot of espresso in a raspberry syrup-rimmed glass for a rich, balanced, nutty and lightly sweet drink that kicks with a bit of a Black Forest cake vibe, given the rim. Lopez plans to serve it with a side of NoDoz, lest Freddy Krueger appear at the end of the bar, slicing up limes one-handed.
Fall is such a cozy time — and a time for chefs to get creative with a whole new palette of flavors. Gone are the warm-weather veggies like tomato and corn, and in are the flavors meant to withstand the cold months; squashes, gourds, all manner of things cured, fermented and aged.
At Le Cirque in the Bellagio, the young, rising superstar executive chef, Wilfried Bergerhausen, is taking these cues and traditions, and using them to transport us to a world of flavor.
Bergerhausen has garnered a quick and passionate following of fine-dining lovers, even to the point where his dishes have become instant classics for the Le Cirque menu. His Maryland blue crab salad, served in the carapace, is one of two, and it is opulent for its heavy layer of caviar that blankets a mixture of crabmeat, avocado and brunoise apple. The theatrics of a dry-ice fog floating from underneath only heightens the excitement level, indicating the beautiful meal to come.
His “La Caille” dish, however, is something all together transcendent. It’s possibly the most “Vegas” dish they have, but not for lack of refinement. It’s a quail farci au foie gras — the boneless breast stuffed with fois gras and Burgundy truffle — on a bed of potato mousseline and Alba white truffle in the shape of a tree. The quail itself is wrapped in gold leaf, which exes and pulsates from the heat coming off the dish like it is a living, golden seed from which the beautiful stark white tree is growing. This dish is so elegant, so refined, and so utterly delicious, it is the kind of food that “fit for a king” does not even describe. This is food t for an angel.
The soup course in recent menus has been where Bergerhausen really has been able to come off the rails and experiment, pushing the boundaries of flavor and imagination. There is no disappointment in this fall offering, which draws from his childhood memories of having melted raclette in Valais, Switzerland. This creamy, slightly funky cheese is meant for melting like fondue, and is traditionally paired with pickled or root vegetables. Here the chef starts with a small, warm center of raclette, which he dots with beech mushrooms pickled with herbs and spices, with a dried, aromatic crumble and con t baby potato cooked with garlic. The soup is a creamy sunchoke puree, almost in equal proportions to the addictive melted cheese, together with the potato and mushrooms, making each bite an explosion of wild flavors.
In this season, there is much more excitement and misdirection from the kitchen. The staff is using surprise and tableside presentation to their benefit, with some dishes almost more performance art than plating. Their veal cheek dish is a terrific example of this: servers place a dome-lidded plate in front of you to reveal … nothing but a plain, round spot of potato puree! An empty plate, a shock from the flourish of the reveal, is then plated with a slow-braised veal cheek with a black trumpet mushroom crust. The little succulent lump comes out of a cigar humidor delivered to the table, but not before adorning the potato puree with a shower of freshly shaved Alba white truffle and a pour of savory porcini jus.
Something that years of seeing these elegant, precariously constructed dishes coming from these celebrated kitchens will make one realize: One of the great pleasures of fine dining is the excitement of destroying something beautiful. Something so laborious, so precious, makes it all the more thrilling a luxury to consume and literally make it a part of you.
The Bellagio has been home to amazing exhibits of art; world-class masterpieces regularly make their home in the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. Currently, and until February of next year, the gallery is hosting Town and Country: From Degas to Picasso, juxtaposing 19th- and 20th-century scenes of bustling new metropolises with pastoral halcyon days. Printed with astonishing clarity on a wafer of sugar is Edgar Degas’ 1869 “At the Races in the Countryside,” one of the more prolific pieces of the exhibit. This is plated on a layer of red velvet cake, with mascarpone and frozen cubes of berries, all in an actual, ornate, golden picture frame. Diners can observe and appreciate this beautiful depiction of French rural life — the real priceless version mere yards away — and then shatter the image into pieces with their spoon. The act is cathartic; the cake, delicious.
Le Cirque is a restaurant that always has flourished on choosing the right chef for the right time. Daniel Boulud was chosen in 1986 to head the New York City flagship, where it became one of the highest-rated restaurants in the country, and launched the celebrity-chef career of Boulud. Now, the restaurant has chosen Bergerhausen, and everything is pointing toward a meteoric rise to prominence. Dishes like these, that show such unique luxury, experimentation and creativity, are all things that spell the beginnings of great things to come for the already legendary and exquisite Le Cirque.