Friday, March 27, 2009

Eating through Las Vegas

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Isn’t that the phrase? Well, I didn’t do anything salacious enough to bury in Mandalay Bay’s sandy beach or cleanse in the purifying white light of Nevada’s desert sun. Unless you count gluttony, that is.

Since my husband’s business was exhibiting at the GlobalShop trade show, the kids and I hitched onto my husband’s coattails to land with him in Las Vegas for the week. My in-laws and brother-in-law and his wife came too, making it a great combination of business and pleasure. If you’re in the retail store or brand marketing business, you can find anything at GlobalShop, from lighting to display shelving, bejeweled Christmas trees to life-size moving dragons, cool carpeting to upscale retail paper shopping bags (my husband’s product).

Mark's booth at the GlobalShop 2009 trade show

Foodie Heaven

When I was not volunteering at the trade show booth, I was busy eating. This is foodie heaven, as many talented chefs, celebrity or otherwise, feature their signature cuisines in the lavish hotels that glitter and preen on the strip. Las Vegas is all about showmanship, and the food is no exception.

This year, our big food splurge was at B&B’s in the Venetian, where we enjoyed the traditional tasting menu of seven courses with selected wines over a three-hour, leisurely dinner. My first time to one of Mario Batali’s restaurants, I was interested to experience the master chef’s delicate and refined touch on Italian cuisine as well as benefit from his partner Joe Bastianich’s wine expertise.

Of the lovely dishes we enjoyed that night, I will remember three in particular. The tortellini in brodo was intensely flavored with the rinds of parmigianno reggiano which infused the broth and perfectly complemented the little pillows of fresh pasta filled with beef, pork, and veal. Glazed with an orange, caramelized onion, and campari reduction and served with a refreshing orange and raddicchio salad, the main course of braised Sicilian pork belly with campari sang its siren song, luscious, full in the mouth, and melting on the tongue. The chocolate pecan budino with American honey gelato, served with Recioto della Valpolicella, Begali 2004, defined the word "synergy." Each component magnified the other in a perfectly harmonized symphony of flavors.

Across from B&B's is Delmonico's, one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants. TV Food Network buffoonery aside, Emeril possesses a sophisticated palate and a deep expertise in food that shine through in his beautifully appointed restaurants. I wasn't with the crew that went to Delmonico's, but they raved about the lobster bisque and the perfect 20 oz. bone-in rib-eye, the restaurant's specialty. Two years ago, I did have a chance to enjoy a fabulous tasting menu with wine at Emeril's Fish House in the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel. Time and generous servings of wine that night have fuzzed my memory banks about the specifics, but I do remember being blown away by the food. I would go there again in a hearbeat.

Since we stayed in the Venetian, I had other Italian fare -- a nicely done goat cheese and pancetta pizza, rolled thin and crisped in a wood-burning oven at the casual Enoteca San Marco, another Batali-Bastianich restaurant, and a disappointingly dry chicken and mushroom canelloni at Caneletto, the most clumsily executed food I experienced during the week.

Asian Fare

When not eating Italian, I went back to my roots, preferring to eat Asian food. At Noodle Asia in the heart of the Venetian casino, we ate miso soup with enoki mushrooms, beef chow fun, sesame shrimp rolls, and crab rangoon. At Noodles in the Bellagio, another Hong Kong-style eatery, we had roti prata (fried bread) with curry sauce, agedashi dofu (fried tofu), steamed shrimp siumai, pan-fried pork dumplings, an array of glistening Chinese-roasted duck, barbecued pork, and soya chicken, and sesame chicken. The food was not exceptional at either place, but it was serviceable.

At the Grand Lux, I had some Asian-inspired cuisine -- duck potstickers with hoisin dipping sauce, Philly cheesesteak spring rolls with cheese and spicy relish dipping sauces, and potato scallion spring rolls. The Philly cheesesteak spring rolls in particular would be great appetizers for a party, a crowd pleaser for sure.

One night, we hit Las Vegas' Chinatown to go to a Korean restaurant recommended to us as the best Korean food in Las Vegas. Two of our compatriots who had flown in from Korea for the show had eaten there a couple nights before, so we were in their able hands. We knew it was good by the clientele -- all Koreans. Above the formica-covered tables and black-lacquered metal chairs, the Korea-Japan championship baseball game played, with intermittent cheers and groans from the dining room, including from our boisterous table of thirteen (Korea ended up losing). The Hite beer and soju (a clear distilled beverage which tastes like a light vodka) flowed freely through the meal, along with an errant bottle of cabernet. By the end of dinner, bottles and more bottles lined the windowsills of the strip mall storefront, looking like lonely castaways with nowhere to go.

We consumed an astonishing array of grilled meats, egged on by Mr. Moon, who enthusiastically ordered more and more food since he was inspired by my ravenous 10-year old (or maybe the alcohol). Anshim-gui (beef tenderloin), bulgogi (marinated beef), deungshim-gui (beef sirloin), kalbi (marinated beef short ribs), and samgyeopsal-gui (pork belly) filled the table braziers, parading in one after the other. I had never had the pork before, which was like thick slabs of bacon. Definitely addictive when dipped in the hot chili and light soy marinade dipping sauces and wrapped in lettuce. If that weren't enough, Mr. Moon ordered kimchi pajun (savory pancake with kimchi), an egg souffle of sorts, a thick soup made out of tofu curds, and to finish off the meal, bibimbap (hot mixed rice dish) and cold noodle soup.

When asked how this food, the "best Korean food in Las Vegas," compared to the food back home, Mr. Moon and Mr. Kwon said it was average. We definitely enjoyed ourselves, however.

Sweet Somethings

Of all the things to do in Vegas, the top of the list for my ten-year old gourmand, Christina, was to visit the 27 ft. chocolate fountain, the tallest in the world at the Jean Philippe Patisserie in the Bellagio Hotel. In her youthful mind, unencumbered by trivial details such as the health code, I'm sure she imagined wading in, dipping, and drinking the chocolate liquid in true Willy-Wonka style. To her disappointment, she found the fountain encased in glass, dainty drizzles of different color chocolate streams lightly cascading their way down oyster-shaped disks of wavy glass. Beautiful, yes, but the fulfillment of a chocoholic's fantasy? Not exactly.

That said, the pastries were gorgeous, the gelati vibrant, and the chocolate pure. On the candy bar we purchased, a milk chocolate confection studded with whole hazelnuts, the ingredients read simply: pure cane sugar, full cream milk, cocoa butter, cocoa bean, soya lecithin, vanilla bean, hazelnut. We also shared a berry gelato that had hidden among its silky folds frozen jewels of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Delicious.

There was more gelati to be had during the week. In the middle of the facsimile San Marco piazza in the Venetian Grand Canal shopping mall, Cocolini showed off a rainbow array of fruit gelatis and sorbets, as well as the luscious browns, creams, and light nut colors of flavors like chocolate, coffee, and hazelnut.

The fruit gelati and sorbets at Cocolini in the Venetian Grand Canale shopping mall

Reminiscing about the gelati I had one hot summer day in Perugia, famous for its Baci chocolates, I had to have the Baci gelato, bursting with deep chocolate and hazelnut tones. My daughters had tart and sweet watermelon and lemon sorbets, while my parents-in-law sampled the chocolate and cappuccino gelati.

Other desserts we enjoyed during the week were the creme brulee, apple crisp, and a massive chocolate fudge cake collision at the Grand Lux Cafe, a dinery with ridiculously large portions from the creators of the Cheesecake Factory. My sister-in-law's deceptively sweet apple pear martini probably counts as dessert too. Christina also had a $10 caramel, chocolate, and pecan-covered apple from one of apple stands found throughout the hotel.

Favorite of All Favorites: Bouchon

My favorite, hands down and without exception, was Bouchon in the Venetian Tower. The essence of France encased in four walls, the airy, spacious restaurant with its carrera marble bar, mahogany panels, and white linen-covered tables formed a respite from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. Looking out the ceiling-high windows into the verdant gardens, one could imagine that the casino and the click-clicking of the roulette wheels, the whirring of the slot machines, and the tumbling of the dice were miles away.

Bouchon is known for its breakfast, so we went there not once, but twice, to enjoy the relaxing and soothing environment, the robust coffee, incredible croissants, and soul-stirring breakfast fare. My first breakfast was a white boudin sausage with scrambled eggs and a browned butter noisette. I nearly swooned. Who knew browned butter could taste so good, wrapping itself in the nooks and crannies of the soft eggs and coating the delicate sausage in its smooth saltiness? My breakfast also came with a croissant, the best I've ever had.

A Bouchon croissant with layers and layers of crisp, flaky goodness on the outside; tender and airy on the inside.

OMG, the butter is to die for, along with the homemade jam. I'm now addicted to fancy butter, when I didn't even know there was a difference before. Good or bad, I don't know, but I'm off to Balducci's to look for French butter.

My second breakfast swayed toward the sweet, a sourdough waffle, crisp and light, with bananas, candied pecans, and vanilla-scented maple syrup. Love on a plate.

The Venetian

Since this is a food blog, I won't spend too much time on the hotel, but then again, staying at the Venetian was truly a delight. The rooms are all suites, with a living room and bedroom areas, multiple tvs, and large bathrooms. The hotel itself is lovely, Italianate in design with acres of shiny marble floors, ornate molding and pillars, patina-ed walls, and painted ceilings. The Venetian staff are helpful and polite. My only criticisms are that they charge for internet access and use of the gym, but I expect that the other luxury hotels do the same.

Like the other Las Vegas hotels, you could technically spend your whole vacation indoors, as all is provided within the hotel compound -- pools, spas, shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and of course, gambling.

Living room area of a Venetian suite (this is not my picture; click on the picture to go to its source)

Bedroom area of a Venetian suite (this is not my picture; click on the picture to go to its source)

Other G-Rated Things To Do in Vegas

There are plenty of things to do in Las Vegas, and we found in this first trip with the kids, that that they weren't wanting for things to do either. Each of the hotels has free or low-cost entertainment of which they took advantage, including:

  • Lions, Tigers, and Dolphins at the Mirage
  • Shark reef at Mandalay Bay
  • Monorail connecting the Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay Hotels
  • Adventure Dome arcade and roller coaster, and free performances, at Circus-Circus
  • Living statues at Caesar's Palace
  • Living garden at the Palazzo
  • Water show at the Bellagio
  • Conservancy and Botanical Garden at the Bellagio

    • Pictures from the Bellagio's Conservancy and Botanical Gardens

      And of course, the gorgeous pools and Nevada's sunny climate provide hours of entertainment in and of themselves.

      On this trip we went to "O," Cirque du Soleil's water show. I've seen three different Cirque du Soleil shows, connected by their pageantry, artistry, haunting music, and surreal sensibility, but this one is my favorite so far. It's a must see. We had orchestra seats -- five rows from the front. All seats seem to be fairly good, but I'd recommend spending a few extra dollars to sit closer to the stage.

      =That's my wrap up of our Las Vegas trip. In future blogs, I'll recreate some of the food we ate; for now, I am happy to eat rice cakes and carrot sticks for the next few days. :)

      We found out that GlobalShop 2010 will be in Las Vegas again next year. What shall we try next?


      Aggie said...

      Oh....what a post! Vegas is one of my favorite places to visit, I get so excited about going there. So much to do, so much to see, so much to EAT!!! I loved reading about all the places you visited...I've had that gelato at the Venetian a few times. One of the groomsmen in our wedding, my husbands long time friend, was a chef at Bouchon for a few years, I wish we got to eat there.

      Last time I went to LV it was the week of the grand opening of the Pallazzo...Mario Batali's new restaurant was opening and I casually asked the hostess if Mario was "in"...she said not right now but he will be in for dinner. I immediately made a reservation for dinner...turns out Mario was in for dinner, ate a few tables away from me with his family!! I was facing him the entire meal, I was a little star struck. The meal was one of the best I've ever had.

      Glad you are home safely! Thank you for sharing your visit!!!

      Ninette Enrique said...

      Thanks, Aggie. My only Mario Batali connection is that he bought our friend's apt. in NYC when they moved to another floor, so he could connect three apts. to make one big one.

      Anonymous said...

      Fabulous...I need to book my trip now!!! And, in terms of butter, Ireland's Kerry Gold is definitely a notch up and still affordable. That being said, I always prefer to make my own from really fresh cream. Tastes like'll never go back to Land O'Lakes...Julia

      Ninette Enrique said...

      Thanks, Julia. I just bought some Plugra (?), but I'll try Kerry Gold next time around.

      Tia said...

      omg - my stomach is growling just reading about the deliciousness you experienced! i was in vegas in december 07 but i had my 10 month old with me so it was a lot of going by his schedule, not mine. i'll have to go back now that he's older and can enjoy all the food too :)

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