Vegas 10/2012, 4×2013, 2×2014, 8/2015

Wynn/Encore, MGM Grand, and Bellagio (Picasso) 10/2012

My first time ever in Vegas wasn’t until my late 20’s for a work conference at The Wynn. Within just over a year, I had been back another 4 times… On recommendation of my boss, I booked a room at The Encore to keep a small buffer between me and the core conference craziness.

  • RA Sushi Bar Restaurant at Fashion Show Mall – Sushi was ok, but really I was just going for a place within a short walk of the hotel equipped with a patio that had views of the strip for my first night in Vegas. Nothing memorable beyond that.
  • Wazuzu at Wynn – More sushi, and sadly I was disappointed here, too. But when the company is paying for Vegas, you can’t complain.
  • Bartolotta at Wynn – They brought in quite the spread of food for our reception. Lots of delicious hors d’oeuvres and I recall them fileting the skate tableside. First time I had skate and while it looked a bit intimidating whole, it was actually quite delicious.
  • Pearl (closed) at MGM Grand – A friend joined me for the weekend and we moved to the more reasonably priced MGM Grand, which was her favorite place to stay. We ended up here for dinner. It was decent Chinese food, but they tried to play it up as high end fare, which was a bit overstating things. Not surprised they closed.
  • Wichcraft (closed) at MGM Grand –Also had to stop at her favorite sandwich shop, which is sadly now closed. The sandwich was a nice break from the grandeur of the other Vegas fare.
  • Picasso at Bellagio – This was the real purpose for us staying the weekend. This was my first venture into Michelin star restaurants (Picasso has 2). Also, we had views of the Bellagio fountain show all through the meal. We went with the tasting menu and wine pairings, because you might as well go all out at a place like this, and I had my first taste of foie gras here. While now I know that I prefer it in cold preparations, this one was a hot preparation, seared and separated into its layers. Still delicious meat butter. I felt guilty snapping photos, so limited it to a couple courses.

Cosmopolitan (STK) 1/2013 During a ~12hr Vegas Whirlwind

My brother and I stopped here to meet with some of his work friends “on the way” to visit our parents on a whim. We didn’t even book a hotel, since we thought we could last the whole night, but then thought better of it and got at least a couple hours of sleep and cleaned up a bit before heading on our way. Our only meal that we were present for was dinner, which we had at STK in the Cosmopolitan. This was a build-your-own steak sort of place. You chose your meat, toppings, and sides separately. It was a situation where we were splitting the bill, so you might as well get whatever craziness you wanted, like the foie butter toppings or surf and turf. We were pleased with our meal, so you can add this one onto the long list of solid steak places in Vegas.


For the next round in Vegas, it was a much more concerted effort. We stayed at the Bellagio, rented a Ducati for a joy ride to Hoover Dam, and enjoyed some ridiculous food. In addition to the places below, we also visited Yellowtail (good cocktails, ok sushi) and SHe by Mortons at Crystals (since closed). 

Friday 3/15/2013, Lunch at BurGR by Gordon Ramsay (Planet Hollywood)

Via the wonders of Facebook, I found out it was restaurant week during our stay. I selected BurGR from the long list. You could choose a burger and side, and the dessert was included. I chose the Chanterelle Burger – chanterelle mushrooms, arugula, figgy-onion jam with Truffle Parmesan Fries. We also opted to order Shake #3: butterscotch pudding + banana shake + snicker-doodle cookie. This place definitely took its burgers and hot dogs way more seriously than any other place I’d been. It was delicious burger at a reasonable price. Below were the restaurant week options:

  • First Course: Choice of Burger. Blue, American, Hell’s Kitchen, Uber Cheese, Euro, Chanterelle, Britannia, or Earth Burgers
  • Second Course: Choice of Fries or Rings. Just Fries, Truffle Parmesan Fries, Sweet Potato Fries, or Beer-Battered Maui Onion Rings
  • Third Course: Sticky Toffee Pudding Push Pop

Saturday 3/16/2013, Dinner at The Mansion by Joël Robuchon

This was the main point of the trip, fitting for it to be the only 3 Michelin Star restaurant (Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey) in Vegas. We started with a sparkling rosé before starting into the Grand Tasting Menu. While the food flavor/presentation and service were top notch among the Michelin star restaurants we’ve been to, and we enjoyed the decadence of eating an abundance of gold leaf, it was actually the bread cart that we remember the most. You can have as much as you want of any of the multitude of selections and the server will kindly take it in back to warm in the oven for you. Saffron, bacon-wrapped, focaccia, French baguette, whatever your heart desires. They will also carefully carve off a perfect curl of butter for you to accompany your carbo-load.

Dîner du samedi 16 mars 2013 L’Hiver Menu Degustation $435 Imaginé per Joël Robuchon

  • La Fraise – Spiced strawberry gazpacho with burrata and extra virgin olive oil
  • Le Foie Gras – Carpaccio of foie gras and potatoes covered with black truffle shavings
  • Le Caviar – Red turnip and carrots leaves with yellowtail carpaccio, delicate veloute of corn, salmon tartar with shiso sprouts
  • La Saint-Jacques – Sea scallop à la plancha with kumquat condiment
  • La Symphonie de Champignons – Crispy truffle tart with onion confit and smoked bacon, morel royale with white asparagus emulsion, vegetable and Arbols Vin Jaune broth with foie gras
  • Le Homard – Roasted lobster with Victoria pineapple, lemongrass emulsion
  • Le Chou-Fleur – Light cauliflower cream flavored with Madras curry finished with sea urchin
  • Le Bar – Grilled seabass with spinach and black Malabar pepper
  • Le Veau – Sauteed veal chop with natural jus and vegetable taglierinis flavored with pesto
  • L’Epeautre – Sault farrow prepared risotto style, gold leaf
  • Le Rubis – Raspberry dome on mascarpone with black fruits coulis and Calpico jelly
  • Le Chocolat – Manjari chocolate mousse with a hibiscus Fuji apple compote
  • Le Moka-Le Thé – Seductive sweets

 

Bachelorette Party at Palazzo 8/2013

 

A quick summary of restaurants from a Vegas bachelorette weekend:

  • Café Lux at Palazzo – Super convenient, not too pricy, and lots of variety. Great for a group of girls setting a base for drinking or recovering from a hangover.
  • I ❤ Burgers at Palazzo – Waited far too long in a nearly empty restaurant for my burger to go. Nice big juicy burger; terrible service.
  • Grimaldi’s Pizzeria at Palazzo – Ordered a pizza for take-out and it was delicious. Definitely order ahead on a busy night. Solid coal-fired brick oven pizza.
  • Mix at Delano (Closed) – We were sadly all far too sick to enjoy this place for what it’s worth (1 Michelin star). I really enjoyed my mac’n’cheese, but most people were barely able to get down a few bites. Sadly the place is now closed, so no chance for a redeeming visit.
  • Sugar Factory (Closed) – One of the girls really wanted to go here after walking past the gaudy drinks on a previous visit. The drinks were all show – dry ice and big candies. The drinks were true to the namesake, though. All far too sweet for my taste. I skipped the drinks and got a burger instead that I was actually pleased with – Blue Cheese Bacon Burger (Crispy Applewood Bacon, Blue Cheese Crumbles, Sautéed Mushrooms, Crispy Onions and Sugar Factory’s Special Sauce on a Brioche Bun). Quite the gimmicky place and not too sad they have shut down their Vegas location.

Wynn/Encore Take 2 10/2013

On my second round at the same conference that started it all, I mostly stayed on the resort grounds. There was another reception at Bartolotta, which was very nice again, but probably only worth the visit because the company was paying.

  • Wing Lei at Wynn – Showing up in my casual travel clothes probably wasn’t the kind of customer this Michelin starred restaurant was going for. At least I showed up at opening to grab a small dinner. I got the Vegetable Hot & Sour Soup (wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, egg) and Kung Pao Chicken (roasted peanuts, heirloom bell peppers, scallions, jicama, garlic-chili sauce). I think Chinese food is better served out of some hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown than upscale. Nonetheless, this was a nice way to get a taste of fancy Chinese without breaking the bank.
  • Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesar’s Palace – Some of my colleagues had their heart set on this place. While I generally try to avoid Caesar’s Palace as much as possible, I thought it best to get in some networking time. Fish & chips and burgers were ordered by most of the table. Good food but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way for it unless I was staying at Caesar’s Palace or one of the neighboring resorts.
  • Andrea’s at Wynn – This place was new since I had been to Wynn/Encore the year before but easily stole the show. I was nominated by my fellow diners (the company VPs) to select the food, while my boss chose the wine. The “smoked” tataki (ponzu, ginger, green onion) was a highlight, and was a nice boost to my foodie credibility. It came out with a glass chimney filled with smoke, which slowly cleared when lifted to reveal the beautiful seared wagyu underneath. Really though, everything here was delightful, and I would strongly recommend this to anyone staying at this resort.

By this time, I was a seasons Vegas visitor. My friend (who was also experienced in the ways) and I decided to take our friend who had never been to Vegas for a weekend of trouble.

Friday 8/1/2014, Dinner at Jaleo by José Andrés

I was turned onto José Andrés through the Harvard Science of Cooking lecture series on iTunesU. When I heard he had opened a tapas restaurant in Vegas, it went straight to the top of my list. While we didn’t get into the exclusive e bar, we were able to make reservations in the main Jaleo dining room. With the help of our food runner, John, (and with poor help from our actual server), we ordered a wide array of tapas from this lovely restaurant.

  • Rey Silo Rojo con albaricoques y almendras – (Asturias) Intensely-flavored cow’s milk cheese with pimentón, paired with apricots and Marcona almonds
  • Caña de cabra con higos – (Murcia) A soft, semi-sweet goat’s milk cheese paired with raisin walnut bread and fig jam
  • Idiazábal con membrillo – (D.O. Idiazábal, Basque Country and Navarra) A smoked, nutty-flavored sheep’s milk cheese paired with quince paste
  • Selección de embutidos – A selection of jamón ibérico Fermín (dry-cured ham from the legendary black-footed ibérico pigs of Spain), serrano Fermín, lomo (smoke-cured, acorn-fed pork loin), salchichon (a dry-cured sausage made with ibérico meat) and chorizo ibérico de bellota Fermín (a dry-cured chorizo made with ibérico meat)
  • Jamón ibérico de bellota Fermín – Hand-carved, dry-cured ham from the legendary free-range acorn-fed, ibérico pigs of Spain
  • Aceitunas rellenas y aceitunas ‘Ferran Adrià’ – Olives stuffed with anchovy and piquillo and ‘Ferran Adrià’ liquid olives
  • Escalivada catalane – Open fire-roasted red peppers, eggplant and sweet onions with Sherry dressing
  • Gambas al ajillo – The very, very famous tpaa of shrimp sautéed with garlic
  • Huevo frito con caviar* – A fried organic egg topped with caviar
  • Mini pepito de ibérico* – Spanish mini burger made from the legendary, acorn-fed, black-footed ibérico pigs of Spain with ibérico bacon
  • Presa Ibérico Bellota con pan con tomate y salsa verde* – A special cut from head of the loin of the legendary acorn-fed, black-footed Ibérico pigs of Spain
  • Torejas* – Spanish-style caramelized “French toast” with fire roasted apples and vanilla rum ice cream (Worth the wait!)
When John brought out the charcuterie plate, my friend noted how excited she was for the Serrano ham, and he interjected to say that the Ibérico ham was much better. While we tasted the ham on the platter and weren’t overwhelmed with the difference, he brought out the coup de grace, Jamón ibérico de bellota Fermín. This stuff was amazing, and you could really distinguish the acorn influence on the meat. He had us from there on out.

The cheeses weren’t too exciting, so I would skip those if I return. Maybe it was because we ordered based on the server’s recommendations, which all turned out to be off the mark. The sauce with the shrimp was delicious, and we asked for extra bread to soak up every bit we could. I was also really excited by the Ferran Adria olives, which were also featured in the Science and Cooking series – definitely packed a punch and the spherification experience was fun, too. The mini burgers were good, but John told us that we really should have gotten the Presa Ibérico Bellota. This was served with a few sauces, which the server told us were great. John said the meat was better on its own, and we totally agreed. Since we had added on a few things to our original order, we were all stuffed, but caved when John told us that we shouldn’t pass up the Torejas. It took extra time, but we were in no hurry, and it definitely was worth the wait.

We finished our meal of the best tapas I’ve had by modestly tipping our server and getting a picture with John to remember the night, slipping him an extra tip on the side. It was the perfect experience for our Vegas initiate friend!

Sunday 8/3/2014, Brunch at Mon Ami Gabi

We finished our weekend with a brunch at the classic Mon Ami Gabi. We shared the brie, and I ordered the corned beef hash. A lovely breakfast and end to Trouble Weekend.

  • Warm Brie Cheese – black pepper honey, hazelnuts, croutons
  • Corned beef hash & eggs – poached eggs, roasted red pepper
  • Made-from-Scratch Waffles
  • Classic Quiche Lorraine – bacon, jarlsberg cheese, caramelized onion

 

Friday 11/28/2014, Dinner at Carnevino by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich

After asking the concierge at our hotel, the Venetian, where I could get a dry-aged steak, he suggested a couple places on-site. We selected Carnevino and off we went.

  • Anolini – with lobster and tarragon
  • Dry Aged Bone-In Ribeye – Our all natural BBL beef is hand selected and aged in our meat chamber by our man Adam Perry Lang. BBL beef is often beyond regular USDA prime standards for marbling and flavor and is hormone and antibiotic free. We rub all of our beef with sea salt, black pepper and fresh rosemary to get a delicious and slightly charred crust.
  • Foie Gras and Barolo
  • 2009 Barbaresco DOCG Muncagota Riserva
  • 2013 Grenache 82%/Syrah 18% Ochota Barrels The Green Room, McLaren Vale

The wine glasses they gave us were almost the size of my head and when asked, the sommelier told us that (though not recommended) you could indeed fit a whole bottle of wine into them. The runner who brought and carved our “ribs” also cracked the bone for us so we could get at the marrow. He also hinted that no one would judge if we used our hands. This was a delicious meal. The steak was extremely juicy and flavorful, and the added experience of gnawing the meat off the giant bone was wonderful.

Saturday 11/29/2014, Dinner at Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

This was a place that was recommended awhile back and it had been in the back of my mind ever since. Twist’s chef has been awarded 3 Michelin stars for his restaurant in Paris, and this restaurant was both highly rated and came with a beautiful starry-sky-like décor and amazing views of the strip. We got the tasting menu and discovery wine pairing.

  • Sea Urchin – Santa Barbara sea urchin custard
  • Maine Lobster
  • Palate cleanser – pepper, pineapple, strawberry, white chocolate
  • Turbot – wild mushroom gravy
  • Peppered American Wagyu Beef – Piquillos puree and diced turnip, truffles
  • Grand dessert – Mango coulis and fruits with vanilla ice cream, carmelized pears with fresh strawberry, passion fruit, chocolate ganache with grand marnier

I think I’m just not a fan of sea urchin – I’ve never had a preparation that I’ve liked, though I can see how the richness could parallel something like foie gras if you can tolerate the odd taste it leaves. The lobster, turbot, and wagyu were nice. I was not impressed b the grand dessert. It was actually the palate cleanser that I found the most delightful. Lovely fresh tastes combined with the slight peppery dusting and slight richness with chocolate flakes was delicious.


Family Vacation 8/2015

On a family vacation, we returned to places such as Grand Lux Café and Grimaldi’s, and even ventured to Caesar’s Bacchanal Buffet just before they closed (crazy long waits, huge selection of pretty solid buffet fare – glad to have experienced it once but probably don’t need to again unless on off-hours or convenient). The highlight was our dinner at Cut by Wolfgang Puck in the Palazzo. We noted it was rather audacious to hang a gigantic self-portrait as artwork in your restaurant, but I guess Wolfgang Puck can get away with that.

I chose the steak tasting (dry-aged, American wagyu, and Japanese wagyu) and we shared a selection of sides. Not only was the service excellent and staff friendly, but I was really impressed by the way the runners paraded to the table and at all at once descended on our table with our food. They then proceeded to divide our sides perfectly amongst the 6 of us.

  • 4oz rib eye of U.S.D.A. PRIME, Nebraska Corn Fed Dry Aged 35 Days
  • 4oz New York sirloin of American Wagyu Beef from Snake River Farms
  • 2oz Japanese 100% Wagyu Beef from Kyushu, Japan.
  • Creamed Spinach with Fried Organic Egg*
  • Yukon Gold Potato Puree
  • Wild Field Mushrooms & Shishito Peppers, Mirin-Soy Glaze
  • Cavatappi Pasta “Mac & Cheese,” Québec Cheddar

I’m glad I did the tasting to be able to compare the steaks side by side. The dry aged was a little underwhelming of the dry aged steaks I’ve had (the dry aged bone in filet at Manny’s in Minneapolis was way more flavorful). The melt in your mouth Japanese waygu was the clear winner.

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