Every year, Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appétit hits its culinary crescendo with the aptly named Grand Tasting. Grand it is, the entire Caesars Palace Garden of the Gods poolscape taken over by chefs, diners, winemakers and bartenders in the name of eating and drinking far beyond the point of satiation. By the time the crowd shuffles toward the exits certain truths have become evident:
1. Crowds are the enemy. With 2,500 guests angling over milkshakes and cups of ceviche, there’s hardly a quiet corner at the Grand Tasting. But the quicker you can escape the entrance area, the quicker you can begin stuffing your face with fantastic creations from the kitchens of Mario Batali, Michael Mina, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and more. Those in the know bolt toward the back and work their way forward.
2. Whoever invented the cup-holder plate is a genius. Two hands are not enough to handle all the tiny platings, cocktail samples and wine tastings on offer. Until we can go octopus at will—I’m talking to you, future—the plastic plate with a cutout to hold your wine glass is everyday brilliance that lets you carry a pour of cabernet and a hunk of slow-cooked short rib—while keeping a hand free for those single-origin chocolate truffles.
3. Celebrity chef spotting makes for good entertainment. In between all the eat-drink-shuffling, Uncork’d is full of encounters with A-list culinary talent. Half the fun of the Grand Tasting is watching the big names mingle with the little people, like chef Morimoto handing out yellowtail tacos in khaki shorts (!?), Susan Feniger trying to talk a reluctant diner into trying her ceviche and Hubert Keller posing for photos with fans (and ponytail, of course). But it’s also something of a high-school reunion for the world’s top toques, and catching them catching up is a pretty awesome sideshow to all the deliciousness on display.
4. There will be trends. Every year, certain items seem to pop up all over the pool. In 2014 we had two renditions of burgers on doughnuts (from Fukuburger and KGB), two highly buzzed-about savory macarons (cocoa with miso foie gras filling from Michael Mina and black truffle from Francois Payard) and meatballs from just about every other booth at the Garden of the Gods. Of course, certain dishes (meatballs) stand up better to hours outside and mass preparations than others, but when you’re eating for three hours straight, creativity is greatly appreciated.
5. Brutal honesty is inevitable. One moment you’re scooping up every last morsel of soba spaetzle, the next you’re throwing away a perfectly good slider after just one bite, because there comes a point in the evening when the mediocre, the pretty tasty, the “that’s nice” dishes just don’t cut it anymore. Ninety minutes in, anything that’s not immediately awesome gets tossed. Digestive Darwinism.
6. You will still eat too much. Even after you’ve gone cutthroat, even after you’ve started skipping cream sauces with a sinister laugh, you will still eat too much. Because passing on Jean Georges’ carpaccio fritter or Bar Masa’s bluefin hand half-rolls or Joe Elevado’s Wagyu beef tongue is simply not an option. Besides, no one has ever left the Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting feeling just pleasantly full. No one.