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The Grand Tasting of Vegas Uncork’d 2013

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Vegas Uncork’d is a celebration of food, wine, and spirits, now in its seventh year.  Caesar’s Palace hosted the Grand Tasting last night, where roughly one hundred restaurants, wineries, breweries, and distilleries came to share their finest around the pools.  We had a wonderful time sampling as much food as we could – with only two and a half hours and over 2,000 guests, it’s mathematically impossible for any one person to sample from every stand.  In fact, we didn’t go to any of the alcohol stands, only food, and we barely got to try everything in time.  We did learn a very important lesson, though, and that is to always bring a spare camera battery, even on a short assignment.  Foolishly we left our spare in the hotel room and the one with us died, so we got pictures of about 3/4 of the food.  Despite being a few shots short of representing the entire evening, we still feel that we can give you a well-rounded and accurate glimpse.  Please click on the pictures to see fuller details.

Chef Mike Minor greeted us at Border Grill, the first stand we saw, and he personally prepared two items.  We really enjoyed tasting the steak salad with roasted vegetables and grits with shrimp and a spicy sauce.  An added bonus is that we got to meet Chef Mike, and we’ll see him again next weekend at the Cooking For Solutions convention; that will be a much smaller affair, so hopefully we’ll get to spend more time talking with the chefs.

So the sign that Red Square and Citizens used was a little tricky because it didn’t name either of the two collaborating restaurants.  However, it was still mildly appropriate to draw attention to the tacos with delicious lamb.

Aureole brought a large selection, mostly sweets.  There were wine-infused sorbets and hand-rolled truffles with varying ingredients and spices like horchata and salted licorice.  The one savory item, house-made spicy Italian sausage crostini, was divine.  It was the miniature fondu that was the most whimsical and thoughtfully presented.

We have eaten at Chef Michael Mina’s STRIPSTEAK, so we knew automatically that the smoked foie gras stuffed cherry atop an almond gazpacho, and a beef tongue “shepherd’s pie” with garlic potato puree, would be good. Each guest had to be given explicit instructions on how to eat the cherry and gazpacho, but it was fun – and obviously tasty!

We have covered the Burger Bar of San Francisco, and tonight we got to meet the mastermind Chef Hubert Keller, representing Burger Bar and Fleur.  The ceviche was artful, and the beer float was dainty and distinct.

Raku had the longest line, but it moved quickly enough.  That was because the grill was being utilized to make small batches of skewered meat, ensuring quality for each guest.  Back at the NorCal Cherry Blossom Festival we tried octopus meat balls but they weren’t even worth talking about; these here were amazing in comparison!

SHe by Morton’s is a brand new steak house, opened this year in February.  It is billed as “the sexiest steak house on the Strip,” and the bites sampled reflected that zestiness.  Zach loved the jalapeño bite placed on a spoon, and we both appreciated the sheer tenderness of the braised beef on a potato puree with a sweet potato puree piped on top.

Chef Stephen Hopcraft of STK was having a great time dancing behind the counter while preparing his samples.  We got to chat with him about his stunning raviolis with jalapeño sweet corn and short ribs, essentially combining three of the restaurant’s dishes.  We’re excited to plan our next Las Vegas excursion and dine at STK.

Tetsu, a teppan grill establishment, brought out wonderful skewers of beef and shrimp, grilled and sauced perfectly.

Javier’s presented us another take on ceviche, plus two kinds of gourmet, Mexican-inspired soups.

Chickpea flat bread supported dressed greens and pomegranate seeds, a refreshing and delightful sample from Vintner Grill.

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The Linq DJ spun throughout the night, mixing an excellent mashup of some of the day’s hottest hits plus classics of the not-so-distant pop and hip hop past.  Speakers were placed well all over the pool grounds, so we were never far from the beat nor was it ever too loud.

Flour & Barley, a tenant of Linq, is a brick oven pizzeria.  Tonight they brought out mini calzones in empanada pastry, a fabulous twist on classic flavors.

F.A.M.E. worked tirelessly to pump out “fob” bao sandwiches.  Maybe the name is a little insensitive, but the sandwich was delectable.

Andrea’s little plates of rice, kimchi, and crispy pork belly were tasty.

Greek and Mediterranean-inspired Estiatorio Milos had two meats, both super moist and savory.  The milokopi fish from Cephalonia was baked in salt crust with horta (boiled green vegetables), while the Greek roasted whole lamb was done on a spit.

SUSHISAMBA made yellowtail taquitos with shiso, avocado, roasted corn miso, and spicy aji panca – a flavorful representation of the restaurant’s Japanese, Peruvian, and Brazilian influences.

Jalapeño fried rice with seared scallops was the offering from TAO, served in tiny take-out boxes with chopsticks.

The homemade cavatelli from LAVO stood out.  It was served from a giant cheese wheel, and the pasta itself was deliciously tender with a rich sauce of porcini ragu.

Dos Caminos street foodery of New York now has a Las Vegas location.  They offered margaritas, guacamole, skewers of grilled meat and veggies, plus chips.  We did not get a copy of the cookbook, but you can find it here.

Martorano’s had mini Philly cheesesteaks and meatballs.  Steve Martorano’s food has that homemade Italian feel.

KGB, or Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers, surprised us all and brought nothing that had to do with burgers.  Instead we had artful Japanese rice mango pudding and ahi tuna poke style, both yummy.

From Strip House we had a great roasted bacon and heirloom tomato salad with black radish and smoky Russian dressing.

Carmine’s made gigantic meatballs!  Now that’s how nonna used to do it.

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P.J. Clarke’s oyster bar was a super hit.  No need for a plate when you have a shell.

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The Max Brenner stand had soft chocolate chip and walnut cookies, plus syringes of chocolate sauce.  We all looked funny sucking out of syringes, but hey, solidarity – we all looked funny together.

Sushi Roku made a delicate tuna salad, refreshing and perfect for springtime.

Il Mulino had intensely creamy and cheesy raviolis.

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We spoke with Eric Klein, executive chef of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, who invited us to come back for tastings in his restaurant the next time we’re in town.  After trying the Moroccan-spiced grilled lamb with house-made harissa, couscous, mint, and apricot chutney, we can imagine that anything served in the restaurant will be well above par.

The Palm brought out sliced prime New York steak and lobster bisque.  August loved that the bisque had some chunks of meat, so with more than just lobster flavor, we could tell that really fresh lobster was used.

We had a thrilling time walking, talking, and eating amongst some of the finest chefs in the world.  We eagerly look forward to our next Las Vegas foray, when we will come back specifically for Spago and STK (and of course a few more).  And clearly, we will be back in one year for the eighth annual Vegas Uncork’d!