Where is Doge’s Palace? Six years after moving to Las Vegas, I’m wandering around the Venetian’s casino floor looking for someone who can give me directions. The “palace,” as it turns out, is more of a bridge—the wide Strip-front walkways just outside the resort that slope over the headwaters of the Venetian canal.
On the first night of the 2014 Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appétit the bridge is packed with hungry people for Night Market: East Meets West, a dine-around featuring chefs like Thomas Keller and Mario Batali cooking up Asian-inspired bites, from banh mi to Balinese shrimp skewers. If it’s odd to see names like Batali and Buddy Valastro above plates of Far East fare, that dissonance melts away with the first taste. Venetian and Palazzo Executive Chef Olivier Dubreuil’s langoustine and Asian pear salad is punched up by grapefruit gelée, ponzu vinaigrette and micro cilantro for a bracingly fresh bite. Chef Tetsuya Wakuda (of the Marina Bay Sands casino in Singapore) serves a petite bowl of the sea—botan shrimp, uni (sea urchin) and caviar—that’s sweet, salty and wholly oceanic. And as the crowd filters by, chef Keller himself stands in front of his booth, greeting diners and handing out paper cones of spicy Korean chicken and individually packaged Rice Crispy treats. “They’re East meets West,” he says, offering up my favorite middle school dessert. Only his are infused with a hit of citrusy yuzu flavor, East meets West, indeed.
Still, there’s one man who rules the night: Marina Bay Sands’ petite powerhouse Justin Quek. With a popped collar on his coat, the Singaporean chef serves two of the evening’s most memorable snacks, quickly earning repeat visits and satisfied “mmmms.” First, steamed xiao long bao dumplings filled with decadent bursts of duck foie gras that knot brows in appreciation. Next, a refreshing foil: West-Coast oysters with a ginger flower vinaigrette that could easily become my favorite condiment. (I might have gone back for fifths.)
By the time I was taking sake shots with chef Wakuda, the night had devolved into Uncork’d at its best: an intimate, friendly, stuffed-to-the-gills celebration of all things delicious. If only I had room for one more oyster.