Foodgasm. That’s what Uncork’d is. Bon Appétit is putting on the festival of eating and drinking for the seventh time this year, and you know what that number means to Vegas. Luck, baby. Although, the chefs involved hardly need it.
From May 9-12, the event lineup includes a French dinner by Joël Robuchon, a vodka and caviar social hosted by Brian Massie at Red Square, and a peek at Michael Mina’s new Pub 1842 (poolside to boot). Of 29 events, 12 are already sold out, so get on some tickets while the getting is good.
To start our mouths watering, Uncork’d offered a preview event last week in the Bellagio’s Tuscany Kitchen. The level of artistry was downright ridiculous.
Passed hors d’oeuvres
Just outside the main-event room, a bartender was cranking out Emeralds. Featuring Bombay Sapphire East, fresh lime and layered infusions of cucumber “essence,” the drink was garnished with dill and hit the golden note between sweet and crisp. It paired nicely with all three passed dishes, starting with rare Wagyu rib-eye cap with crispy maitake mushroom and a sauce of soy and rice wine. The Prime Steakhouse offering had deep, buttery flavor and playful presentation in a blocky white-china spoon.
Another beautiful square of meat, Michael Mina’s hay-smoked short rib came with decorative morsels that lent its smoky richness pickled, braised, fried and fresh complements. It looked and tasted like a jewel.
The final bite was organic California asparagus tempura. Served in a martini-style glass, Sensi’s dish combined the delicate crunch of its vegetable star with fresh greens, slivers of radish and carrot, a spoon of caviar and savory cream. I’m pretty sure I scraped the glass clean.
Four tables were impeccably set, and we found our places in view of the demonstration kitchen. A wooden board stacked with some of the most intoxicatingly fluffy and crusty breads and brioches was served with monogrammed butter (this is the Bellagio, after all), and we enjoyed the snack while Joël Robuchon Executive Chef Claude Le-Tohic and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon Executive Chef Steve Benjamin teamed up on one of the prettiest plates I have ever seen. Ever. Seriously.
In honor of spring, the chefs wanted to build something with bright color and flavor. Watermelon radish was sliced paper-thin and marinated overnight in yuzu (Japanese citrus) vinaigrette, intensifying its deep pink hue. Tiny red turnips were then dipped in parsley butter and immediately chilled so the green shells clung like chocolate on strawberries. Carpaccio-style raw scallops flavored with olive oil, lime salt and pepper were arranged on the tightly rolled radishes and embellished with spicy arugula flowers and oyster-ish blooms from the borage plant, espelette pepper, caviar, the turnips and spoons of lemony emulsion. Master sommelier Jason Smith’s choice of a 100 percent sauvignon blanc Vincent Delaporte Sancerre added the effect of sweet young grass, freshly cut. The entire course was spring on the tongue, tastes, textures and visuals distinct and yet melting into whimsical harmony. I’m pretty sure every person at the event posted a photo.
With such a strong French start, I wondered if the Mexican main would stack up. But as soon as Mary Sue Milliken and Mike Minor started mixing margaritas and joking around, I had no doubt we were in for a great ride. The Border Grill executive chefs made the cocktail with tamarind purée, añejo tequila, anise liqueur, fresh orange juice and a rim of chili, dehydrated lime and salt. As Minor said, the sweet-sour-spicy experience is much like eating tamarind candies and seasoned fruit-on-a-stick on the streets of Mexico.
It primed us for the baby New Zealand lamb chops crusted with toasted pepitas, black sesame, cumin and celery seeds and smoked chilies from Oaxaca. Again hitting the nail on the head, Minor called the chilies “campfire” and passed one around for us to smell. Dressed in jalapeño jelly and a salsa made with brown garlic, mint, white wine and sherry vinegar, the chops were served with “chewy, crunchy, gummy” (don’t forget buttery) pieces of pan-fried yucca and sautéed pea tendrils. It was another total homerun, from the temperature of the meat to the crisp on the yucca.
According to Carlos Salazar, executive pastry chef for Caesars Palace, sticky toffee pudding has done more to elevate the culinary culture of England than any chef—including Gordon Ramsay, whose Pub & Grill Salazar was representing with the divine dessert. The big flavor comes from Medjool dates and an embarrassing amount of butter. “This dessert has quite a few calories, but it’s worth it,” Salazar said. “I always say if you’re going to eat something, eat it all the way.”
Despite so many rich flavors, the cake was light and springy, soaking up the sticky sauce and sweet cream ice cream balanced on the side of a saucer brushed with gold—beautiful to look at; beautiful to make disappear. I was so over-satisfied that I didn’t even sip the Elderton Semillon served alongside. But it smelled like nectar.
If you love food and drink, buy tickets to Uncork’d. Each experience is special. And like a wonderful dish, it will never happen exactly the same way again.