Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween in Vegas

Posted by on Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 4:57 PM

Bryce Crawford and I joined our CEO Fran Zankowski in Las Vegas this past weekend for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies' Alternative Journalism Writers Workshop.

Neon on the Fremont Street Experience.

Outside the lecture and work sessions, we spent a great deal of time walking the strip and touring the different casinos and hotels. We also took in the Halloween festivities and aimed for a couple of special meals.

——— View a slideshow from the whole weekend here. ———

Some notes of explanation on the food-related photos: The deep-fried Oreos are something to which a local directed us — too nasty and tasty to pass up. The dining room full of orbs is in Mix at Mandalay Bay, chef Alain Ducasse's Vegas eatery. The other shots are from Bouchon in the Venetian Hotel, chef Thomas Keller's Vegas outfit.

Prior to heading out on the trip, I consulted with Paragon Culinary School head and Black Bear chef Victor Matthews, whom I remembered had designed a map of top Las Vegas chefs for use in a Paragon class.

Vegas_Map_Masters.jpg

Though it's no longer entirely accurate (Daniel Boulud's Brasserie has since closed), the map reveals a tremendous concentration of talent on the strip.

You'll notice on the map that Matthews refers to these Vegas chefs as "master chefs." There's no governing body that officially designates certain people as master chefs — Matthews bestows this particular designation on certain individuals based on criteria he has developed:

Screen_shot_2010-11-01_at_1.16.20_PM.png

Based on the criteria, Matthews has also composed a list (see below) of those "master" chefs — a list that has been specifically edited to be relevant to advanced students at Paragon. Of course, it can also be considered relevant to those of us who fancy themselves foodies and are looking for a place to begin when testing out new restaurants or cookbooks.

Screen_shot_2010-11-01_at_1.17.13_PM.png

We of course had neither the time nor the funds to sample widely, with many menus exceeding well over a hundred-dollars-per-person average. But we did aim to at least step foot in a couple places and sample a couple bites.

From the list, I selected Mix because of a small local connection to Colorado Springs: Penrose Room chef Bertrand Bouquin studied under Alain Ducasse at one point.

It was too dark in the bar area to take a usable photo, but from a fairly reasonable bar menu, we sampled a recommended macaroni and cheese with ham bits for $8. Certainly one of the best gourmet versions of the classic I've had, it proves that even top chefs love to slum it with comfort food items on their menus. We also went for some mini beef short-rib soft-corn tacos with guacamole and crème fraiche for $12 — a big step up in overall color and flavor than the average mini taco you'll pull off a local cart.

From the remainder of the batch, we chose to head to Thomas Keller's outfit mainly because of what Matthews says about him (which is generally agreed upon by many in the foodie world):

Screen_shot_2010-11-01_at_1.17.49_PM.png

Also, as some fellow journalists from the Monterey County Weekly confirmed, getting reservations at Keller's French Laundry and some of his other eateries can be extremely difficult. So when you have a chance to sample from any of his restaurants, you should probably take it.

We found the brunch menu to be relatively affordable, yet still sporting a few monster items like this $110 Grand Plateau plate of: one lobster, 16 oysters, eight shrimp, eight clams, nine mussels, seasonal crab and a special selection. Because I know no shame, I snapped a photo of it at a nearby table:

Showing more restraint, we first opted for a $7 oatmeal that arrived lukewarm at best, twice (we sent the first one back) — proving that these outfits aren't above disappointment. Thankfully, our second and third choices were much more pleasing. An $18 order of corned beef hash with two eggs and thick, buttery, airy toast delivered bright bits of peppery meat with ample sautéed onion influence. As seen in the above slideshow, the $12 Bouchon French Toast bordered being more of a dessert. It's elegantly served, bread-pudding-style, with brioche layered between custard and sweet baked apples, finished with maple syrup. Yum and yum.

I'll leave you with a final image from Bouchon, again demonstrating how in comfort food is at the moment:

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