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Dining

UNLVino has grown into one of the city’s better food festivals

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Sip & Savor for 2014 UNLVino at Spago on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.
Photo: Matt Carter

It’s always been about taking a sip for scholarship. Las Vegas’ original wine and spirits festival, UNLVino just wrapped up its 40th annual event, a four-day cavalcade of fun and fundraising for the students of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.

But something happened last year that has helped turn UNLVino into a foodie favorite. In 2013, the Bar-B-Q event was added on Sunday, a casual affair featuring the culinary creativity of several local celeb chefs. This year, UNLVino events and venues were shuffled again, and the Spago Sip & Savor event—a strolling sample of food and drink from Wolfgang Puck’s varied restaurants—kicked things off on April 9.

Chefs from Samba Brazilian Steakhouse grill lamb chops at UNLVino's Bar-B-Q event.

Chefs from Samba Brazilian Steakhouse grill lamb chops at UNLVino's Bar-B-Q event.

This year’s Bar-B-Q event took place at Caesars Palace’s Garden of the Gods pool area on Thursday, April 10. There were plenty of beer, wine and cocktail booths spread around the sparkling waters, but there were also juicy, irresistible lamb chops from Samba Brazilian steakhouse in the Mirage and spicy scarpariello chicken wings from Carmine’s in the Forum Shops. The longest lines piled up in front of the Caesars food stand, where barbecue, Thai, and Buffalo sauced wings and chipotle lime chicken and barbecue pork sliders had partygoers drooling. Luckily the Unibroue stand was nearby. The cuisine was far from the fancy snacks served at this same venue during the annual Vegas Uncork’d centerpiece food fest, but it was fun, informal and tasty—just what a barbecue should be.

Friday night’s Bubble-Licious event, a favorite for any champagne lover, was held at the Venetian’s regal Strip-front courtyard, known as Doge’s Palace. The restaurants of the Venetian and Palazzo showed off with addictive, tiny dishes that paired perfectly with the bubbly. The standout nibbles were Postrio’s spring pea agnolotti with morel mushrooms—a perfect springtime bite—and a medallion of smoked pork terrine from Delmonico steakhouse. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Emeril Lagasse’s signature banana cream pie, distributed at Table 10’s booth.

Chef Jason Neve, culinary director of Mario Batali's three Las Vegas restaurants, prepares burrata crostini with spring vegetables at UNLVino's Bubble-Licious event.

Chef Jason Neve, culinary director of Mario Batali's three Las Vegas restaurants, prepares burrata crostini with spring vegetables at UNLVino's Bubble-Licious event.

The Grand Tasting, held Saturday, April 12, featured the most diverse food of all the UNLVino events. Attendees grazed through everything from food truck samples to some of the Strip’s finest dining. Polish sausage and bratwurst bites from the Sausagefest food struck were the perfect complement to a number of malty suds, followed by Tacos & Tequila’s ceviche with shrimp, scallops, pico de gallo and citrus—perfectly chased by a sauvignon blanc. People were queuing up for the Mirage’s latest Italian restaurant, Portofino, and for good reason. The burrata-filled agnolotti with lobster and chanterelles in roasted corn butter had excellent texture, from the pillowy pasta to the creamy, golden sauce, and hand-shaved truffles added even more decadence. Zenshin’s braised misoyaki pork belly was a great pairing with some sparkling sake, and Todd English P.U.B.’s Louisiana crawfish and wild mushroom tart would give any local an excuse to hit the Strip.

UNLVino has always been an essential Vegas event, but this latest installment proves it can hold its own with the heavy hitters of local food festivals.

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's food editor and author of the Strip-focused column The Incidental Tourist. He has written ...

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Local and independent music lover Leslie Ventura found her passion for journalism as a UNLV undergrad, contributing to Las Vegas ...

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