Thai beef salad with marinated flank steak, mango, papaya and peanut dressing. Cedar plank-roasted salmon with purple potato salad. Roasted chicken with sweet Vidalia onions and fenugreek-spiced carrots. Braised pork belly with smoked almonds and avocado-jalapeño salsa verde. Isn’t this what you had for your Fourth of July barbecue?
If you’re drooling with envy, you might want to make plans to attend next year’s barbecue and beer event at Bellagio, part of the resort’s Epicurean Epicenter series of events held in the resort’s hidden Tuscany Kitchen. This annual feast is the most casual and lively of the 30 or so special culinary events held throughout the year: One part educational cooking demonstration, one part beer tasting, one part smoked meat extravaganza.
The cost of $95 was a pittance considering the quality and quantity of the food, not to mention the interactive fun of watching Bellagio executive chef Edmund Wong cook, share his barbecue secrets and answer questions with the assistance of the resort’s director of wine—and self-titled “intoxicologist” for the day—Jason Smith, a master sommelier. Each dish was a paragon of what barbecue should be, slow-cooked and gently infused with smoky flavor, and refined a bit beyond the typical simple preparation of meat cooked over fire. And then there were the side dishes ... crispy fried pickles, a salad of grilled broccoli, pine nuts and golden raisins in buttermilk dressing, watermelon and tomato salad with aged balsamic vinegar, truffled mac and cheese, warm orzo pasta with peas and artichokes, and rustic, irresistible biscuits with honey butter.
Along the way, we were treated to a sampling of outstanding Belgian-style beers including Goose Island Pere Jacques and Sofie, Stella Artois, and Leffe Blond. Each light, crisp brew was ideal for summertime consumption, though I couldn’t stop sipping the golden saison from Chicago, Sofie. It was paired with salmon, which was marinated in soy and mirin for a caramelized sweetness that played well with the unique, somewhat sharp flavors from cedar wood smoke.
Of course, there was dessert. Several. Peach and blueberry pie, chocolate and honey nougat bars, an ice cream sundae with brownies, caramel sauce and toasted almonds, and a Hoegaarden sorbet. That last bite was just what it sounds like, a refreshing slurry with all the delightful flavors of the spiced white ale.
This may not sound like your idea of a barbecue, and it was certainly no backyard cookout. But as the chef discussed with the rowdy Texans in the dining audience, everyone from every place has their own idea of how barbecue should be done. The Bellagio’s version is as good as it gets.