Friday, May 11: The Grand Tasting at the Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars Palace
The Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appétit signature event kicked off Friday night at the Caesars Palace pool, bringing out all the culinary heavy hitters. Consider this: Somehow a single Grand Tasting red carpet photo op contained star chefs Guy Fieri, Steve Martorano, Gordon Ramsay, Susan Feniger, Nobu Matsuhisa, Giada De Laurentiis and Guy Savoy.
Among the light bites and small samplings of some of the city’s best dishes were Lavo’s handmade gnocchi lathered in a luxurious and velvety truffle cream sauce and topped with shaved truffles. Border Grill’s Mike Minor served up cheese and loroco pupusas with an acidic and spicy garlic slaw you’d want to keep in your fridge to throw on just about anything, plus a seafood cocktail campechana made with Alaskan king crab.
The always-refined Hakkasan showcased its vibrant green, steamed chive dumplings filled with juicy shrimp, nira (garlic chives) and savory shiitake mushrooms, while SushiSamba went above and beyond this year with robata-grilled Peruvian bay scallops with a shiso-lime-butter crust, served in the shell and finished with a quick torch blast.
Other standout snacks: Nobu’s zuke, marinated tuna with a spicy and fragrant wasabi salsa; Spring Valley’s Japaneiro, which served its classic seared Hokkaido scallop with foie gras and a truffled foie reduction; and Charles Phan’s San Francisco-to-Strip haunt The Slanted Door, with its vegetarian daikon rice cake. Phan’s awaited Vietnamese restaurant is slated to open at the Forum Shops this summer. –Leslie Ventura
Saturday, May 12: Picnic at the Park
The second installment of Picnic at the Park—held at the Park, the T-Mobile Arena-fronting promenade that has become Vegas Golden Knights party central in recent months—was blessed with perfectly sunny weather and cooler temperatures than last year’s inaugural event. With a strong selection of MGM Resorts chefs, plenty of booze and shade, live music and delectable dishes served in true picnic style, it’s no wonder this is fast becoming everyone’s favorite among the many Vegas Uncork’d options.
We sipped on Bulleit bourbon cocktails and Aperol spritzes and crunched on Masaharu Morimoto’s raw fish tacos and Michael Mina’s crisp lavash tiles layered with smoked trout, orange-zataar labneh and pickled peppers. We tried to figure out which out-of-towner would open a restaurant first at an MGM Vegas property—Graham Elliot or the Voltaggio brothers. (Sorry, nobody was giving up the goods, but Elliot’s octopus and the brothers’ decadent “steak and cheese” dish were among the best bites of the day.) And we went back for second helpings of Roy Ellamar’s exquisite lechon and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s rich brisket bao. It’ll be hard to improve on this picnic next year, but we’ll be there to watch them try. –Brock Radke
Saturday, May 12: Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill Craft Beer Tasting at Caesars Palace
If you ever wondered if Gordon Ramsay really loves his fans, all the proof coalesced Saturday afternoon at the front of his eponymous pub at Caesars Palace as the manic celebrity chef chased down a trio of elderly ladies in “Drunk 0 through 2” shirts (think Cat in the Hat) leaving the venue. While a queue of fans awaited entry into his Uncork’d Master Series Craft Beer Tasting, Ramsay sprinted to the women to insist upon pictures with them, delighting the ladies and event attendees alike. He may not like undercooked Beef Wellington in Hell’s Kitchen, but there’s no doubt he loves his fans.
The crowd shuffled into a side area of the restaurant where bar games, a gourmet pretzel station and tasting tables awaited. After a little mingling and quaffing, emcee Christina Wilson—the Hell’s Kitchen season 10 victor who now serves as Ramsay’s executive chef for U.S. venues—introduced Ramsay and fellow Hell’s Kitchen winner Michelle Tribble, who now serves as executive chef at Caesars’ Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. Ramsay then took over, welcoming the crowd and loudly inquiring whether everyone was drinking yet: “In Scotland, we start drinking at 6 a.m.!”
Brewery tasting tables included local favorite Big Dog’s, manned by director of brewery operations Dave Pascual; Innis & Gunn with its rum barrel-aged Blood Red Sky; Sierra Nevada pouring the Hazy Little Thing NE-style IPA; and a variety of U.K. offerings from Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. The pretzel station served everything from plain to cheddar and jalapeño accompanied by a trio of Innis & Gunn-based dipping sauces, including a savory Welsh Rarebit. Passed bites included caviar-dusted salmon toasts, spicy Hell’s Kitchen sliders and miniatures of Ramsay’s famous sticky toffee pudding.
A rambunctious chef, free-flowing craft beers and an unlimited supply of gourmet pub bites. That’s a memorable afternoon. –Jim Begley
Saturday, May 12: Behind the Bar at the Dorsey at Venetian
Have you visited a great cocktail bar, had a sip of a perfect craft libation and thought, “I can make this.” Well, you can’t. But I can, now, after taking a lesson from the talented teams from the Dorsey at Venetian and Rosina at Palazzo.
Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits director of mixology trade development J.R. Starkus and Bon Appétit’s Andrew Knowlton welcomed a small but enthusiastic crowd to the Dorsey Saturday afternoon for a cocktail education. Drinks were demonstrated and then we had the chance to mix and shake and stir and taste. We learned when to use which muddler, how much mint you really need for a julep and how to balance sweet and sour. In the end, everyone left a much better drinker if not a better drink maker. Let me know if I can mix you a French Pearl. –BR
Saturday, May 12: The Thrill of the Grill at Sugarcane at Venetian
Uncork’d diners descended upon Sugarcane Raw Bar & Grill to be schooled in open-fire grilling techniques by executive chef and partner Timon Balloo. Guests were greeted with a raw bar spread including Balloo’s earthy Hokkaido scallop crudo adorned with black truffle, bluefin tuna tartare laced with sesame seeds and West Coast snapper ceviche spiced with aji Amarillo, with Sugarcane favorites such as savory bacon-wrapped dates and goat cheese croquettes passed around.
The affable Balloo worked the room, introducing himself to attendees before manning the grill with live feeds projecting onto big screen TVs flanking the room. The chef gave a little bit of the background on why his restaurant became so fire-centric, reminiscing how the venue opened during the David Chang-driven kimchi and gochujang culinary craze and joking he “couldn’t get that sh*t in Miami so we opened it there.”
The meat orgy began with marinated, galbi-style short ribs before moving on to chimichurri-laced skirt steak and even better salt and pepper chicken wings. Each dish arrived while Balloo discussed the preparation methods and demonstrated his grilling prowess. He even threw in a surprise: a little gift of slightly funky, 30-day dry-aged tomahawk steak. And there were more surprises, as dishes of white asparagus and Iberico pork arrived unannounced. He also delivered an addictive grilled elote (sweet corn) tossed with chipotle mayo and cotija cheese and ash-roasted potatoes with salsa verde and aioli.
Balloo interacted with the crowd throughout, asking for everyone’s grilling tips. It was a welcoming afternoon seeing the rising celeb chef in his environment and one of the types of connections for which Uncork’d is so well known. –JB
Saturday, May 12: Burgers & Beats at Black Tap at Venetian
Let it be known that Black Tap doesn’t just make a good burger—it throws a hell of a party, too.
Saturday night’s Burgers and Beats event kicked off at 9 p.m. with DJs spinning ’80s and ’90s hip-hop to a crowded mini dance floor and hosting a lip sync contest. But let’s be real: I was there for the burgers, and I wasn't disappointed. If you’re feeling LA vibes, the Californian is your match, with an all-natural turkey burger, avocado, Swiss and a hearty truffle mayo. Everything is bigger in Texas and the Texan burger is no different. Aged cheddar, an onion ring, bacon, Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce and mayo come together to form the perfect marriage of everything meaty, sweet and tangy. Pro-tip: Don’t wear lipstick if you plan on eating here. These burgers are piled so high you’re your look won’t stand a chance. I know from experience.
What would a stop at Black Tap be if I didn’t get to try one of the signature Crazy Shakes? Not only did I get to sample the Bam Bam—a Fruity Pebbles-flavored shake that tastes just like a bowl of your favorite cereal—I got to step behind the bar and make one. Nostalgic for my high school job at an ice cream parlor, I threw on some black latex gloves and wasted no time collecting flavors and toppings. Since there are no blenders involved, each shake is hand-churned for premium, old-school thickness. I’ve made plenty of milkshakes in my day, but none as fun as this one. –LV
Sunday, May 13: Brunch with Bobby Flay – Gato Comes to Vegas at Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace
Fans of one of the best-known celebrity chefs in the game flocked to Mesa Grill on Sunday afternoon for a Mother’s Day brunch hosted by the man himself, Bobby Flay, presenting a never-been-done experience that featured signature items from his acclaimed New York restaurant, the Mediterranean-inspired Gato.
“It’s very olive-oil driven cuisine, very healthful, very fragrant and flavorful,” he said.
The three-course meal started with a trio of small bites—a bright and refreshing mussel and crab salad, a crispy polenta cake with mushrooms and creamy gorgonzola and an asparagus salad with manchego cheese.
For the entrée, Flay prepared a choice of charred beef with mustard green salsa verde with soft scrambled eggs, romesco and tomato oil toast, or poached eggs with hot pimentón Hollandaise, crispy Serrano ham and olive oil toast.
Along with chef’s Gato-exclusive dishes, we got a few trade secrets—like how Flay makes his garlicky, red pepper romesco, which he marbles through his soft scrambled eggs before adding fluffy, Boucheron goat cheese. “Texture is really important to me. I like contrast and texture in everything I put in front of you—nothing is ever going to be the same texture,” he said.
Crispy Yukon gold “Gato potatoes” with dandelion greens were served family-style alongside a heaping plate of thick, almost-candied slices of pomegranate-black pepper glazed bacon. Do you remember the best bacon you’ve ever had? It won't compare to this.
The meal ended with a large portion of almond-crusted French toast with date crème fraiche and sour orange syrup. The texture of the spongy toast combined with the crispy, cinnamon-almond crust was almost churro-like. I don't normally love French toast, but I could eat this every day. After looking at all the empty plates next to mine, I knew I wasn't alone. –LV