The first star of Life Is Beautiful was revealed Friday night.
At the Grills & Guitars kickoff party, an outdoor dine- and drink-around honoring pioneering chef Jonathan Waxman, the true guest of honor didn’t hold a guitar, hit the grill or earn the nickname Obi-Wan Kenobi on Top Chef Masters. Because the star of Grills & Guitars was a fish—a 200-pound bluefin tuna.
The gorgeous fish was displayed inside the Blue Ribbon booth on an artfully cut ice block, where the Bromberg brothers’ team of chefs went to work on its glistening frame in front of a crowd of smart phone screens, glowing like phosphorescent coral. About a minute later, the tuna was served, carved into deep red chunks and offered with a splash of soy sauce and a dollop of wasabi on cardboard plates. Some eager diners just held out their hands, and the Blue Ribbon chefs obliged, handing over thin slices of fish and drizzling the soy right into their palms.
“Do you think it’s local?” one diner joked as he waited for a serving.
While the tuna stole the show, it had plenty of strong competition. Seventh Street was transformed into an outdoor lounge, complete with strings of lights, lawn chairs, comfy blankets and fire pits, where diners toasted marshmallows for DIY s’mores. Backed by a wall of the soon-to-open Container Park, the space was hardly recognizable as Downtown Las Vegas, and the food and drink felt a bit like a peek into the neighborhood’s culinary future. There was Scott Conant’s rich braised rabbit, almost too luxuriously comforting for a warm fall night, and Border Grill’s cone of Peruvian corn, doused in spices and cool aioli that lit up your mouth. Visiting chef Cat Cora handed out plates of perfectly cooked Basque lamb chops topped with garlicky chimichurri, and Comme Ça’s David Myers and Brian Howard offered pork cassoulet, with blood sausage and all the pig’s icky bits combining into a deeply flavorful stew impossible not to love.
As music from Todd Rundgren and Dawes drifted over our heads, the evening took on the feel of a backyard party, where everyone eats and drinks just a little too much and ends up lounging lazily as the night rolls past. It’s a beautiful feeling—a fitting start to a festival all about finding the beauty in life.