Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the FOOD & WINE All-Star Weekend hosted by Gail Simmons at the sleek new ARIA Resort & Casino and the classically luxurious Bellagio. I knew it was going to a helluva weekend when this pulled up for me at the airport. Well played, ARIA, well played.
While any FOOD & WINE event is sure to promise a flurry of star chef sightings and delectable tastings, I had a feeling that this would be particularly memorable given the impressive line-up of chefs involved.
Vegas has become a veritable foodie destination as the Michelin-starred, James-Bearded, and Zagat-rated flock to titillate the taste buds of high-rollers, rock stars, and culinary devotees of Sin City. ARIA alone is home to world-class chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Masa Takayama, Michael Mina, Julian Serrano, Shawn McClain, Jean-Philippe Maury, and restaurateur Sirio Maccioni.
The weekend kicked off with the First Course cocktail party hosted by Gail Simmons and Anthony Giglio. Between sips of champagne and passed hors d’oeuvres, we schmoozed with Top Chef alumni Sam Talbot, Angelo Sosa, Hosea Rosenberg, Stephanie Izard, and Yigit Pura. Not gonna lie, at any point I half expected Padma to show up and announce a quickfire challenge.
Desserts for the evening’s All-Star Nightcap were made by Top Chef Just Desserts Season 1 winner, Yigit Pura himself, who by the way is so sweet in person he just may be spun of sugar.
When I wasn’t frantically trying to digest all the food and booze being handed to me, I managed to get in some spa-time (two words: eucalyptus sauna)…
…strolled through the stunning Crystals at City Center (which promptly made me wish I had just heisted boatloads of money Oceans 11 style)…
…and, of course, checked out a Vegas show. Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis made a new Elvis fan out of me. The acrobatics were unreal — the trampoline number made we wonder if these people were actually Gummi Bears, I can now say I’ve seen a man spin an inflamed lasso with his teeth, and well, this was so beautiful it just gave me the chills. Plus, I get the whole screaming girl Elvis fan thing now. The King had lips that were downright smoochable.
Sorry, I digress. Back to the food.
Day 2 of the FOOD & WINE All-Star Weekend started off with A New American Lunch at Sage with Shawn McClain and Top Chef Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard. The chefs prepared a sumptuous six course meal of:
- Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Warren pears, macadamia nuts, bacon and mustard vinaigrette;
- Hiramasa Crudo with Crisp Pork Belly served with an Aji chili aioli, fried caper berries, and meyer lemon;
- Seared Diver Scallops with butternut squash and shiitake mushrooms in a smoked goat XO sauce infused with ginger, garlic, and lemongrass (one of my favorite dishes of the weekend);
- Herb-crusted Lamb Saddle with braised lamb tongue, warm butter beans, and a Banyuls wine vinaigrette;
- a Spanish cheese course of Sheep’s Milk Garrotxa with smoked apple sauce and Marcona Almonds;
- and Kabocha Squash Cake with saffron-infused pears and burnt honey ice cream for dessert.
Wine/cocktail/beer/absinthe pairings were done by Sommelier Anthony Giglio.
From the time between dinner at that evening’s festivities, I once again, willed myself to digest and get hungry again. I could have worked out in the uber nice gym at the hotel. Instead, I slowly walked by, commented to myself about how attractive everyone in there seemed to be, and then headed to my room for a nice bath/nap combo.
It was a good thing I got my rest, because the main event of the weekend was about to go down: the All-Star Tasting. After I finished drooling over Gail’s hot shoes (Sorry you can’t see them in this pic, but trust me. Stunners.), I proceeded to drool over the culinary creations being served. Here are some highlights:
Sirio Ristorante’s Vincenzo Scarmiglia brought his A-game, serving up two of my favorite bites of the evening! His chilled Alaskan King Crab and Leek Salad wrapped in golden beets was light, fresh, and a drizzle of pomegranate reduction on top made the whole thing pop.
Scarmiglia’s Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Duck Leg Confit in a brown butter and parmesan fonduta was fall comfort food at its finest.
If crack came in a truffled cheesy poof form, this would be it. I could.not.stop.eating these sublime Black Truffle Comte Cheese Fritters from Jean Georges Steakhouse. I peeked behind into the prep area and saw this dear woman churning them out at lightning speed.
I wanted to give her a big kiss. And then kidnap her so she could make them for me every day.
I had my first taste of raw venison ever – and loved it – thanks to Top Chef Season 5 winner, Hosea Rosenberg. Hosea created a Venison Carpaccio wrapped around petite watercress, a nice chunk of Wisconsin-aged parmesan, and tomato confit, served on a thin, crispy chip. The venison was surprisingly tender, fresh, and elegant, not gamey in the slightest bit, and absolutely delicious.
A update from the Denver-based chef – Hosea most recently opened Blackbelly Catering, which draws from fresh, seasonal ingredients, including naturally raised animals and produce from Hosea’s Blackbelly Farm.
Yigit Pura (Taste Catering & Event Planning) made sure we ended on a sweet high-note with his tasting of Indian-Spiced Caramel Pears, Pain de Mie Clafoutis Cake, and brÃ»léed Maple Sugar Chiboust. For SF readers, get excited, Yigit’s latest venture, Tout Sweet Patisserie, is set to open in Union Square May 2012.
Thanks to all the chefs for a calorie-laden, fun-filled weekend! Time to hit that “Goodnight” button by my bed stand now – the one that magically turns the lights out and closes the curtains to blackout mode. Love that button.
ARIA has generously put together a special giveaway just for you, my lovelies! Check out the goods:
All-Star Food & Wine Package
- 2-Night Suite Accommodations at ARIA Resort & Casino
- Invited Guest Check-In
- Dinner for 2 at BARMASA
- Dinner for 2 at Sirio Ristorante
- 2 Tickets to Viva ELVIS
- VIP Tour from our Social Media Expert
Simply enter here from now until November 30.
The winner will have one year from receiving the prize to redeem their certificate. Good luck!
FOOD & WINE All-Star Weekend
October 21-23, 2011
ARIA Resort & Casino / Bellagio
Las Vegas, NV
Disclosure: Trip was sponsored by ARIA Resort & Casino