Archive for May, 2013

Fear and Loathing in Vegas Uncork’d

We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs… Oh wait, this is something else entirely, although I’m fairly certain I listened to “Sympathy for the Devil” at one point, and I recall there being amyl nitrate somewhere.


 Tobey Maguire not included


The build up to this story held a great many undertones of personal danger, but mostly calling in favors, tracking down PR types and weaseling my way into whatever it is I could.  My fervor was motivated less by testing my true grit against a weekend of a gluttonous bacchanalia, although I am always eager to do that, but to test my earlier prediction about the Hubert Keller/Sarah Johnson Beer Garden being the best real event (“real” referring to any that isn’t a Michelin starred chef cooking a dozen-by-a-dozen degustation-athons).  Really, honestly, with the trend of overselling the food booth and TV chef selfie events AND making the grievous omission of any Le Cirque/Circo/Sirio things, I would say my prediction had sadly come to fruition.  Grand Tasting: consider the ball dropped.  It all kind of ran together…


Chicken livers, beef and octopus carpaccio, and crudo by… some guys I guess



This strange old French dude grabbed my rump because there was a tiny bottle of champagne in it.  True Story.


Well I guess not sadly.  It is just kind of a double whammy that the non-grand events were way better than “Grand” event.  Dig on this beer garden, friends.  All Alsatian stuff, which is basically German food, with so much pork it was practically a mini-Cochon 555.  Cochon, for the fellow memory-impaired was an extremely amazing traveling pork-fest that had a leg here ONCE, until something happened.  I think they wanted to slaughter pigs in the bathrooms or something, or a butcher got in a fist fight with some religious protester I DONT KNOW.  All I know is that we are poorer for it, but hopefully this beer garden will be a permanent yearly fixture.  For being somewhat noticeably their first time, don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.


Little piggy on the left there


The food, oh the food.  Yes it was goddanged amazing.  There was a table with enough various cheeses, charcuterie, pork rillettes, and  mustards to make a German or a Frenchman cry.  Although the little play-dough pigs were a cute touch, the head cheese was the item that really flipped my lid.  There were sausages abound, weisswurst, brats, oldschool frankfurters, and even roast pig, de-boned and sliced whole, stuffed with apples and spices.  In a bizarre science gone wrong (or terribly right) was this kind of half-Bouillabaisse, half-sauerkraut dish.  It was a weird one, but turns out is very synonymous with Alsace and rather tasty.  The ‘kraut was soft, the fish, scallops, and mussels were tasty, and it was just a nice simple, rustic dish.  It was ‘displayed’ with some nice looking Riesling,  but there was none to be had.  Why’s that you imagine?  Because this AIN’T NO WINE PARTY.


tastiest big pile of pickled cabbage I’ve had in a while


The beer of this beer garden?  Phenomenal.  They had a limited release keg of Maker’s Mark barrel aged Sled Dog Imperial Stout on nitrotap.  That was about the creamiest, thickest beer I’ve had in a very long time, and had an extremely drinkable profile of wood, vanilla, chocolate, and roasted toffee.  I would usually say a barrel aged imperial stout would have way too much character to drink a full pour of, but this one was just too danged tasty.  There was some Innis and Gunn, a new Newcastle, and a few more selections from Big Dogs.  Overall, this event was a real winner and although I didn’t get to go to everything (anyone who did the Rick Moonen/Abou-Ganim event, let me know how it was) this was the real main event of Uncork’d.


Tangentially related: Rick Moonen told me he found my doppelganger (Alex Blagg), and it is FREAKING ME OUT.


To transport to the other side of the weekend and the liquor isle, there was a Vodka and Caviar social hour at Red Square, a place known for those two things exactly.  The Vodka: Pretty good!  There was a tasty shandy cocktail, a spiked sorbet, and Russian Standard martinis.  The Caviar:  Non-existent!.  The application was alright; build your own blinis as they came out of an automatic blini maker, on grilled oysters, topping little tiny seafood ice cream cones, deviled eggs (although a whole egg was a bit much), but the caviar itself wasn’t really anything to care about.  Paddlefish, lumpfish, salmon, even the much derided smelt roe were all present, but nothing that legally meets the definition of “caviar” where there are such definitions to be had.  Hey, I know it’s expensive stuff, but there could have been at LEAST some salt cured hackleback or smoked cod roe, something comparable.  My suggestion: up the price, make it a dinner, and break out the good stuff.


Well maybe “Lumpfish” is just a name OH HOLY JESUS NO


Your pal,


CARNEVINO: Grandmaster of Meat

After a meal at Carnevino and having one of their amazing 90-120 day aged cuts of meat, I’m going to have to totally agree with Mr. Curtas’classification of them as one of the best steakhouses in the country (his repeated, vitriolic endorsement certainly motivated me).

It’s like if the cold-war era wasn’t fought over nuclear stockpiles, patrolling bombers, and space travel, but rather steaks.  And while the Kremlin was trying to cross breed a Holstein with a Pachyderm, or putting the first person to stop clapping for Stalin in an abattoir, we were perfecting Carnevino.  Behind the facade of a giant Italian castle’s dining halls, there is a well-oiled (with artisanal olive oil, of course) machine working in back and off-site to turn cows into gold.

The Head Honcho, Exec Chef Nicole Brisson is a true Gangsta for real.  I was quite pleased to find that she was doing a couple items with ramps, an east-coast seasonal foraged green, that I was interested in trying.  In fact, I ended up trying quite a few things.  I would even go so far to say, just weighing in on food alone, Carnevino could stand as a wonderfully unique and creative restaurant even if there were NO STEAKS on the menu.

A steakless steakhouse would, in nearly all cases, just be a place full of tables and no customers.  Carnevino would make up for it by having an amazing sommelier, a truly inspired mixologist (David Cooper never fails to impress, and the Farmer’s Market cocktail is a testament to cocktails “with the seasons”), and some damned good food.  For example: this Dungeness crab salad, just lightly dressed with herbs and creme fraiche, on butter lettuce, kumquats, and “surprise” avocados.  “Surprise” is a variety that is about the size of an ostrich egg, and decadently creamy and tangy inside.  All came together as a perfect highlight of the super-fresh crab.

Also from the Sea, we have their grilled octopus.  While just as tender as other on-strip places that have mastered the cephalopod family, these thick logs of tentacle meat were definitely more solid than the rest.  They didn’t fall apart or get stringy as others can, but had the consistency of… super-firm tofu.  Something like that.  Either way, it’s a hearty bite with pickled root vegetables and a tangy limoncello sauce.  An interesting addition on the very bottom, thinly cut raw-ish octopus turned into a kind of carpaccio.


Thanks and photo credit to E. C. Gladstone @



I was there for ramps, and they were utilized wonderfully in this stracciatella with charred ramp pesto.  I had no shame, I got DOWN in this stuff.  The ramps gave an interesting aromatic, but green, flavor that when stretched out with the fresh creamy cheese, was amazing.  Bite after bite it was just so unique and satisfying, I nearly took it down myself.

Now, I love steak tartare.  I love it almost everywhere, and I’ve rarely been disappointed.  Compared to the “Carne Cruda alla Piemontese”, I feel like I’ve been eating a wet messy SHAM 90% of the time.  This is substantial tartare, that actually tastes like a danged steak!  Perfect bit of tang, perfect hints of mustard, and I’m sure “chopped to order” doesn’t hurt.


Thanks and photo credit to E. C. Gladstone @



Now I said before, and remain steadfast, that Carnevino can stand as one of the best Italian places in town even without their world class steak service.  However I would be a FOOL AMONG FOOLS if I went there and didn’t sample that heavenly aged beauty.  For your approval, a 90-day aged bone-in New York Strip, seared and finished to perfection, finished with just a little drizzle of super-fine olive oil.  The aging gives the meat this interesting rich, liver-like, foie gras kind of flavor, in addition to the natural meat tastes.  The table-side carving by a sharp looking young man in a suit only adds to the experience.


Thanks and photo credit to E. C. Gladstone @


Beautiful, no matter which way you slice it.  I swear I got chills, a guy in a Brooks Bros. suit slicing such a  steak like a surgeon is practically pornography.  I haven’t been to every steakhouse to hang a shingle in this town, but damn if I don’t know I’m in one of the best when I’m at Carnevino.



Inside the Venetian

3325 Las Vegas Blvd.

Las Vegas, NV 89109