Jean-Louis Palladin was a giant in the food world, and what better way to  honor him than an annual benefit dinner?  Last Sunday The James Beard foundation and Alize at the top of the Palms came together to honor this culinary figure, in one of the great food events of the season.  Hosting was the ever-present Robin Leach, lending his larger than life emcee style to the presentation.  The list of chefs plying their talents was equally amazing, if not more so.  To name just a few: Brian Howard from the Cosmopolitan’s always amazing Comme Ca, Luciano Pellegrini from the classic Vegas Valentino, and even the talk-about-town new chef, Gregory Pugin from the Las Vegas/New York City institution Le Cirque.  The entire list (and a list of the courses) can be found on the James Beard Foundation website, HERE.

Andre Rochat and Robin Leach. Photography by Tom Donoghue

 

Now, the form of the food this evening was alternating courses, meaning there are two dishes for each course, alternating between the people at the table.  Unfortunately, that means half of the courses listed were out of my reach.  Regardless, whichever side of the coin you fell on, there was a large and amazingly good meal.  My first course was a perfectly tender and beef carpaccio.  The flavor of the beef was complimented by a homemade grain mustard aoli and fried lotus chips, as well as a little watercress salad and marinated wild mushrooms.  Next to me, Mario Maccioni of Le Cirque got a chilled Maine lobster salad, with a celery root and green apple remoulade, black truffle vinaigrette, and lobster glace.

 

The next course was sottocenere, sauteed pioppini, and white truffle-stuffed “Gn-Avioli”, which I believe is the offspring of Gnocchi and Ravioli.   When I got the pan-roasted wild Colombian sturgeon, I was perfectly happy.  The spice-cured pancetta, littleneck clams, and peppercorn jus worked together to make a very bold frame for this great piece of fish.  But, I have to admit, I was pretty jealous of Mario’s dish of stuffed rabbit saddle, with pink apples, bacon, foie-gras, and Gilcrease cider.  I mean, do you have to stuff one my favorite meats with the rest of my favorite meats AND my favorite apple?  Very jealous, but I am determined to have it recreated someday, either by myself or perhaps a very ambitious and better trained friend.

 

The next course is what I considered to be the “Art” course.  These two dishes were almost more enjoyable to look at than to eat.  Mine was Brian Howard’s take on a Palladin dish, made of sea urchin tongues, on sea urchin flan, with sea urchin sauce.  All this was served in what looked like a fishbowl turned on its side, with little sprigs of sea vegetation and something like a black pepper jelly spotted throughout.  I was surprised when it didn’t taste only like sea urchin.  The rich, velvety natural flavor of the sea urchin was well complimented by the little touches of pepper and seaweed.  It almost reminded me of a foie gras dish,  in that it was a very unique but delicate flavor, supported by various garnishes and sauce.  The other dish was by Gregory Pugin, an interesting dome of one long noodle over Kobe beef.

Sea urchin, by Brian Howard. Photography by Tom Donoghue

 

Then, the Main course.  Mary’s Farm Organic Chicken, with fresh truffle, celery root puree, roasted fennel, and Cippolini onions burgundy sauce.  The chicken had this amazing golden crust on it, and the dish had a very subtle, almost herbal flavor from the roasted fennel.  It was very similar to the Tuscan Brick-Pressed chicken in the New York City location of Cirio, both nearly tying for my favorite chicken dish ever.  HOWEVER, how could Mario one-up me?  He was served Togarashi-crusted Australian Kobe beef strip loin with spinach mousseline, Yukon gold potato confit, and black truffle jus.  Come ON.  He must have seen me drooling, because he traded me a bite for a bite.  Absolutely amazing.

Togarashi crusted Australian Kobe Beef Loin. Photography by Tom Donoghue

 

The Sixth and Seventh courses were cheese and desert.  I would say I am a subscriber of the old maxim “Variety is the Spice of Life”, so I was quite happy with my Cheese Trio.  Caramelized pear Stilton Bleu, a Brillat Savarin toasted brioche, and my favorite, goat cheese crusted with pink peppercorn and pistachio.  It was a good comparison to the Tarte tatin with spiced pumpkin ice cream, honey emulsion,  and Marcona almonds.  I was relieved that the ice cream was indeed spiced pumpkin, not “pumpkin spice”, especially after the usual fall onslaught, but should I expect less than the best chefs Las Vegas has to offer?

Goat cheese, pink peppercorns, and pistachio. Photography by Tom Donoghue

 

I count myself truly, truly fortunate that I was able to sit and dine on some of the finest food that the James Beard Foundation has to offer.  Las Vegas wouldn’t quite be what it is without a great fine dining scene, and our fine dining scene would hardly be anything without Jean-Louis Palladin.  I know I am thankful for what he has done, and I am glad that I could taste the fruits of his legacy.