Vegas Days 3 & 4: Picasso, The Cook Off & Grand Tasting, “Love,” Daniel Boulud Brasserie, Craftsteak

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If you go to www.endoftheinternet.com you reach a page that tells you “sorry, but you’ve reached the end of the internet.” I bring this up because on Saturday night, at Craftsteak at the MGM Grand, I received a message from my stomach that said: “Sorry, but you’ve reached the end of eating.” It waved a white flag, as did the stomachs of my companions, and by the time we left Vegas on Sunday morning we vowed never to eat like this again.

Which is all to say that our experience at Vegas Uncorked was one of decadence and gluttony. We ate and ate and ate and when we weren’t eating we were thinking of where to eat next and when we arrived there we talked about how what we were eating compared to what we already ate and what we were going to eat after this. And then, of course, there was wine.

This is what we saw when we sat down to lunch at the Picasso restaurant at the Bellagio:

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There were 12 glasses in front of each of us because, according to our host, “we couldn’t fit all 16 glasses per person on the table.”

This, of course, came right before I was to compete with Lorraine Bracco in the Pro-Am tournament. So I took sips of almost all these Spanish wines (this was a Spanish themed lunch) and enjoyed the tapas served in a room festooned with Steve Wynn’s real collection of Picassos:

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As you can see by the pictures, the ratio of wine to food was about 5:1, so I had to be careful as I continued to sip and try this wide variety of squashed, fermented grapes (my favorite was #3–the wine glasses were numbered–though I don’t remember what #3 was. Maybe I can find out). After this, we sped off to tape lots of stuff for the FN Dish, the real reason I was there.

I don’t want to spoil any surprises, though the video won’t air until a week from Monday. Suffice it to say I spent a good amount of time with Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and a Centurian as well as a Liberace homagist who did great justice to Mr. L’s version of chopsticks (which I heard him perform live at Radio City Music Hall before he died. I was 7.)

So we taped and taped and taped and then I scrambled over to a stage set up in front of Caesar’s palace where the Pro-Am was to take place. I was paired with John Church, a chef from the Hard Rock hotel, to go against (as you may recall) Ms. Lorraine Bracco and Todd English.

I can’t give too much away (I have to save the result for the video!) but I will tell you that the secret ingredient was cactus and that the judges (a group that included Alan Richman, Barbara Fairchild, Andrew Knowlton and Food Network’s own Bruce Seidel) razzed me for spending my whole time segmenting oranges. But the reason I spent the whole time segmenting oranges is that my chef wouldn’t let me do anything else! Lorraine Bracco got to batter and deep fry her cactus; why did I spend my whole time cutting out little segments, ones that he didn’t even use? (The ones he used were the ones he cut himself.)

Still, it was really fun and memorable and M.C. Cat Cora did a fantastic job keeping the show going, especially when the cooking got boring. Here are some pictures taken by Craig (thanks Craig!):

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Again, I won’t tell you the results (you can probably find them out if you search hard enough) though I will report that Lorraine Bracco taunted me afterwards which is totally undignified for an actress of her calibre.

Now, then, much passed between this event and our lunch the next day. Unfortunately, there are no pictures because, again, we were doing this for video. I’ll sum up this period quickly:

– We attended the Grand Tasting event where I got to interview the likes of Bradley Ogden, Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon (through an interpreter) and Wolfgang Puck. Hopefully, you’ll get to see all of that in the video, though what you won’t see is Wolfgang Puck asking me if I’m speaking English or French because I’m talking so fast. Sorry Mr. Puck!

– The food at this tasting event rivaled any tasting event I’ve ever been to, including the ones I’ve been to in New York. There was lobster, there was foie gras, there were gourmet Rice Krispie treats from Bouchon, there were king crab rolls from Joe’s Stone Crab, there were burgers, there was pate, there was the most divine pea soup I’ve ever tasted (courtesy of Mr. Savoy–pronounced savWAH). Plus, there was a drink that wowed all of us: a grapefruit martini with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, gin and (the secret ingredient) a bit of honey syrup. It was fantastic.

– After the tasting, Craig and I sped over to the Mirage where we went to go see the new Beatles show “Love.” I’m a huge Cirque Du Soleil fan so I knew I was going to love it, but I was really happy that Craig loved it as much as I did. “It was like the Spring Awakening of Cirque Du Soleil shows,” Craig said, which won’t make much sense to you if you don’t see much theater. But his point was that the cast was really young, really exuberant and really talented. If you go to Vegas, this and “O” are the shows to see.

The next day for lunch we had the best meal of the whole trip. The meal almost didn’t happen (many of these events were overbooked) but after some grousing on my part, we finagled our way in. And boy am I glad we did–this was our lunch at Daniel Boulud Brasserie at The Wynn Hotel:

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The first thing to note about Daniel Boulud Brasserie at the Wynn is that the room, unlike most restaurants in Vegas, is not in any way gaudy, it is in fact elegant and refined. It overlooks the Wynn hotel lake with a magnificent waterfall:

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Granted, this waterfall apparently contains a singing frog and a disco ball that come out at night, but during the day it is elegant.

Here’s my group sitting at a table near the kitchen:

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And here’s my view (one that I enjoyed) of all the chefs preparing our meal:

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What made this meal even more special was that this particular meal was prepared by the chef with his name in the title, Mr. Boulud who spoke before we started eating and came around and chatted with us after. I don’t want to get my facts wrong, so please don’t quote me on this, but the most interesting part of his speech had something to do with Sirio Maccioni, owner of Le Cirque, preventing Daniel from opening in Vegas all these years because of bad blood between them after Daniel left his original post as Sirio’s prize chef. Did I understand that right? At least that’s what I heard, but it should be corroborated.

Now then, the food. What beautiful food. I think food like this speaks for itself. For example, the first course: Quail Ballotine with Apricots and Pistachios served with a 2007 Sanglier Rose (all wines were from Andrew Muray Vineyards).

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Isn’t that a gorgeous pic? I have to give Craig credit: he took it. All my pics of it were blurry.

How to describe the taste? Just a wonderful, smoky, fatty (in a good way) conglomorate of poultry and pistachio and spice. I loved it.

Next up was Crayfish Fricassee with Morel Royale, Fiddlehead Ferns and Ramps (served with a 2006 Viognier):

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Daniel said this was a very emotional dish for him because he group up near a bayou where there were crayfish and it’s a taste from his childhood. (An interesting fact, especially after reading last week’s New Yorker profile of Grant Achatz where he describes trying to evoke memories from childhood in his food.) This dish too was wonderful; I especially loved the morels.

The third dish was Almond-Crusted John Dory with Asparagus Prepared Three Ways:

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I think that fried asparagus looks peculiar on the plate, but otherwise another lovely dish, this one paired with a 2006 Grenache which my table loved.

And then the main course–a Veal Blanquette “Printaniere,” Roasted Loin, Spring herbs and Radishes served with a 2005 Syrah Roasted Slope Vineyard:

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What’s there to say? This kind of food is masterful, classic, and yet fresh and alive. Daniel Boulud is one of the great living chefs because his skills are built on a foundation of deep culinary knowledge and yet he injects his food with all the whimsy of a wide-eyed child. It’s that combination, I think, that makes for greatness.

The palate cleanser was a mango soup so extraordinary, I may have to call the restaurant to find out how to make it myself:

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Apparently, Daniel’s pastry chef whipped this together last minute. “Isn’t she great?” he said, giving her a moment for applause. After tasting her soup, I have to agree. Yes, yes she is.

And then there was this dessert: a Chocolate-Cappuccino Tart with Caramel-Cardamom Ice Cream and a 2005 Late Harvest Riesling.

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What’s there to say after a meal like this? The only thing to say is that if you come to Vegas, you have to eat here. It’s that good. It’s last meal before the death penalty good. It’s I want to fly back to Vegas and have it again even though I live in New York and Daniel has three restaurants here good. Good good good good good.

Can you imagine the challenge of my job that after a meal like this I was expected to do work? From here we fled to the Liberace museum where we taped many funny sequences, delighted by the enthusiasm of our hosts who generously gave me a pair of Liberace sneakers which now adorn my piano. They also gave me a Liberace cookbook which I’ll write about somewhere down the line. If you go to Vegas, you must visit the Liberace museum: it’s classic.

We are reaching, now, the end of our trip and you might think: what did you eat after such a huge lunch, Adam? Just a light bite? A salad? Did you skip dinner and hit the gym?

No, my friends. We were bad. Really bad. I blame my director. I blame myself. I blame myself and my director. But, you see, my director said he had the best steak of his life at Craftsteak in Vegas and that we should go there. I listened to him. Why did I listen to him? Why did Craig and Rachael come along?

Here it is folks, the plate that did me in (taken with my cell phone):

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A $45 Rib-Eye steak grilled to perfection. It really was an extraordinary steak, one that it’d be difficult to improve upon. Was it worth carving years off my life, consigning myself to an early death (please bury me in my Liberace sneakers)? At least one of us couldn’t take any more, refusing to eat another bite. The others (myself included) bravely finished our steaks and that’s when we waved the white flag. No more. We were done, done, done.

Except then I had to host a VIP party at Bare, a topless pool at the Mirage hotel. This was a surreal experience. #1: They had a drink named after me, The Adam Roberts, which you will see in the video (and when that airs, I’ll provide a recipe); #2: Joel Robuchon was in attendance. Yes, Joel Robuchon was at a VIP party where they were serving an Adam Roberts. My life keeps getting stranger and stranger.

But the best part was meeting my fans who I managed to get in. Thanks Morgan and Wendy for showing up! I hope you guys had a good time.

And now, my friends, I must do penance for my week of gluttony in Vegas. What happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas unless, I suppose, you have a blog. Let’s just keep it between us, then, ok?

Thanks to all the people at Vegas Uncorked, Bon Appetit and Food Network for such a memorable weekend. My cardiologist thanks you too.

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