For four days in May, Las Vegas buzzes with food excitement more so than it already does through the rest of the year. Vegas Uncork’d is a series of events put on by Las Vegas’s finest chefs and restaurants and hosted by Bon Appetit, with the goal of showcasing top food, wine, and spirits. We came into town this afternoon for the first of three individual events that we’ll attend between now and Saturday. Caesar’s Palace was the natural choice for the location of tonight’s dinner, since the five-course meal was put on by François Payard in his own restaurant inside the resort casino.
Being our first time at Vegas Uncork’d, we didn’t know that schwag would be part of the meal. We were excited to find these boxes of chocolates from the master himself awaiting us at our table settings.
A quenelle is essentially a meat cake. It can be made with creamed fish, chicken, or red meat, combined with egg binding and sometimes breadcrumbs. Tonight we each had a pike quenelle in truffled lobster bisque. The quenelle had a smooth and velvety texture, slightly buttery in flavor and not overwhelmingly fishy; strong fish flavor is the result of losing freshness, so we appreciate that landlocked Las Vegas serves seafood of the caliber of coastal areas, indicating its quality. What August liked about the bisque was that it was true to the unadulterated lobster flavor – not overcompensatingly sweet, and not so maritime briny, either. The truffle provided a pleasant aftertaste, as well.
The sole was flaky and moist, drizzled with a caper herb butter sauce which was balanced enough to allow the fish to still be the main feature of the plate. It was served with saffron potatoes, thick yet fork-tender, dense while al dente. We just wish there were a couple more pieces because they were so simple, but delectable. The orange streak was a mousse of carrot and ginger. There was a mild spicy bite from the ginger, blending with the sweet earthiness of the carrot. It was a palate cleanser for those who were more adverse to the fish flavor, but that’s not us. We love fish, and found that the mousse enhanced the sole when eaten in the same bite.
Thank you, Chef Payard, for having domestic lamb! It makes a big difference for August, morally and flavor-wise, since her Basque great-grandfather and grandfather were sheepherders and therefore through her family she recognizes quality lamb. It was extremely tender and buttery, a wonderful texture for rare meat, with the added bonus of a pistachio crust. The seasonal vegetables under and around the lamb included white asparagus, fava beans, scallions, and yellow carrots plus a bit of summer truffle. The white asparagus was crunchy, unlike the jarred and marinated kind that August is used to. The mint jus pool was very robust and enjoyable, when usually she refuses mint with lamb.
“Hot coconut rum foam & pineapple-mango-passion fruit syrup” delighted us, and got all the tables talking to one another. August has always hated coconut and loved pineapple, mango, and passion fruit but this time she liked the coconut, too! Sipping this was like taking our palate on a tiny trip to French Polynesia.
Roasting a pear caramelizes the natural fruit sugars, which mellows the tartness yet brings out more of the true pear flavor. It sat on a moist almond dacquoise, which in turn was atop a super flaky bescuit base. A dollop of Mexican vanilla bean ice cream perched on its own mini dacquoise. Caramelized pecans sat amidst a warm maple syrup. Delicious throughout, and not at all heavy.
We can’t forget that this was also a wine pairing dinner. From left to right, pre-dinner started with a nice prosecco. With the quenelles we had Copain, Viognier, Tous Ensemble, Mendocino County 2009. The sole was served with Domaine Philippe Plantevin, Côtes du Rhône Blanc, 2009. Red wine is a must for lamb, and the Domaine Santa Duc, Gigondas, Rhone Valley 2009 was excellent. For dessert we got Presidential, Tawny 20 Year Old Port.
We thought that the chocolates were a wonderful surprise, but we had no idea that we also got signed cookbooks from Chef Payard, Chocolate Epiphany and Simply Sensational Desserts. We are so happy to have these in our collection, and Zach can’t wait to start going through the recipes!
The staff at Payard was extremely accommodating and knowledgeable. We appreciated the attention and information from Sam Berkley and Michele Re. Chef Payard came out with each course to chat with all the diners, and we all had an enlightening time talking with him, for he is very passionate, thoughtful, and articulate. Quality in detail, ingredients, and presentation usually is found at a high price, but Chef Payard is realistic and his main goal is for his guests’ palates, appetites, pocketbooks, and hearts to all be beyond satisfied.
We found ourselves a hidden gem this evening, almost literally. The hidden part is what’s almost literal, since the address for The Peasant And The Pear is on one street but the parking lot and main entrance is off the next street over. Once you find it, though, you won’t be disappointed.
We dined here tonight with another couple, which meant it was easy to justify getting multiple appetizers. Most impressive was the pear burrata: house made burrata cheese with pear honey compote on a toasted baguette, and drizzled with 18-year-old balsamic vinegar. The cheese had the texture of a fresh mozzarella with a subtle extra creaminess to it, and the fresh cream flavor came through. The compote was mildly sweetened with the honey so the sweetness to pair with the cheese wasn’t overpowering, but it was still rich in flavor. Zach liked this appetizer so much, it’s something he will try to recreate for future dinner parties.
It was Zach’s first time having fondue tonight. Pear slices, grapes, and hunks of crusty bread came with a garlic-rubbed pot filled with melted New York white cheddar. The fondue itself was good – creamy, gooey, and cheesy. The fruit was fresh, and the bread was a good quality sourdough.
Zach got (and August nibbled on) a Caesar salad featuring whole romaine hearts, croutons, shredded Grana Padano cheese, and classic Caesar dressing with real anchovies. The romaine was super fresh and abundant, house made croutons added a great crunchiness, and the dressing was very, very real – creamy, tangy, and mildly anchovy-ie.
On a bed of creamy provolone polenta sat August’s osso buco-style Sonoma lamb shank that had been slow-braised in Chianti. The polenta was surely one of the creamiest August and Zach had tried, and it soaked up the lamb demi-glace marvelously. The lamb itself, she’s happy to report, passed the fork test and required no knife. It was a huge shank, too, making for an all-around amazing entree.
Zach got the chicken Madeira, a boneless half chicken in Madeira wine sauce with sauteed green beans and fingerling potatoes. He’s usually not a fan of dark meat, however this half chicken had both white and dark and he ate just about all of it, as both were equally juicy and seasoned well. The skin was rendered perfectly leaving it crispy. The Madeira sauce was not overly sweet which was a good thing; Zach says he’s had some in the past that were way too sweet. He soaked up a little bit of sauce with each bite of chicken. The vegetables on the plate were cooked well and it was obvious from the flavor that they were very fresh.
One of our friends ordered the special of the evening, which was prosciutto-wrapped prawns with asparagus, sweet potatoes, and an orange carrot sauce. We’re not 100% sure on the flavors, but it was a pretty picture and we wanted to share it with you.
The final round that we all split, because we were so full, was this warm pear tart. The pastry shell was buttery, flaky, and scratch made (not from a freezer). The caramel sauce wasn’t overly sweet; August thought it had more of a mild burnt caramel flavor. The pears were tender and refreshing, and the ice cream was exceptionally creamy and added a nice element to the plate. The struesle gave this just an extra little oomph that made it a delight.
Our server Kim was friendly and attentive, and even walked by us with dishes that other tables had ordered so that we could take a peek. Just as impressive as the service is the fact that this restaurant supports “sustainable agriculture and aquaculture practices” such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s Seafood Watch program. We arrived at an early-ish dinner hour and quickly the other tables filled up, including several large parties, attesting to the popularity. For a romantic dinner or a celebratory evening, find your way to The Peasant And The Pear.