Serving utensils clanked lightly, a cool breeze flowed and conversations were almost whispered. This was the start of the evening at the Las Vegas Wine and Food Festival. The outdoor pool area at the Red Rock Casino quickly filled with guests waiting to taste some of the city’s finest offerings in food and drink. The event showcased fifty restaurants and dozens of wineries with proceeds benefiting the James Beard Foundation.
Chefs took no short cuts in ensuring the miniature versions of their menu items looked and tasted incredible. Nearly three thousand hungry patrons picked up the small bites as quickly as the chefs plated them. Guests sat on lounge chairs, balanced plates in their laps and held drinks for each other as they indulged some of the finest dishes Las Vegas has to offer.
In addition to appealing to the taste buds, some chefs garnered praise for their unique presentations. I was handed what appeared to be a tiny corndog on a stick. Turns out, Susan Philipp and Patty McCormick, owners of Sweet Ruby Jane Confections designed a red velvet cake pop to resemble traditional carnival fare which was the theme of most of their treats including maple and bacon flavored cotton candy.
Creativity did not stop at the ingredients. The Max Brenner Chocolate Bar was a sweet treat with an array of thick chocolate chip cookies and desserts. The booth also held a unique centerpiece - a tiered tray that balanced hundreds of food-grade syringes filled with milk chocolate. This stop was definitely the cure for anyone with a real chocolate craving.
Hachi, which is housed inside the Red Rock Casino, was a frequented station. The Hachi Roll barely made its way onto the platter before guests scooped up the pieces. The signature sushi roll consisted of spicy crab, tempura flakes, shrimp, avocado and a drop of hot sauce. Guests crowded the table and prepped their plates with pickled ginger and wasabi to accompany the sushi. This was one item I shamelessly sampled, once or twice more throughout the night.
The wine and spirits options available were plentiful. Red, white and blush wines were within close reach throughout the venue. Celebrity Cruises offered wine tastings of wines that are available on their cruises and specially selected by their sommelier. Moscato Allegro sampled their white and pink Moscato made from the Muscat Canelli grape.
For those patrons that were interested in an alcohol-free option, Dry Soda Company was a welcome addition. The all-natural beverage boasts only four ingredients. The cucumber soda was refreshing while not overpowering with a clean finish. Other unique flavors available were lavender, blood orange, vanilla bean and wild lime.
Tucked away from the main entrance in a vine and brick covered booth was Feast. Singer-songwriter Kelis, who is also executive chef, owns the new Los Angeles based restaurant. Chef Kelis and Chef Robbi previewed some of the menu items, which included jerk ribs and a rich butter cake.
I passed by the Monta Japanese Noodle House table several times waiting for the line to shorten. My chance finally came at the end of the night when the last batch of Tonkotsu Ramen was being served. “Last five!” exclaimed a chef stirring a large steaming pot. The hearty servings of unrisen noodles, sliced pork, a seasoned boiled egg and mushrooms were well worth the wait.
Some of my personal favorites from the event include the white chocolate pretzel popcorn from Laurie the Popcorn Girl, Poppyden’s chile crab toast, and the jalapeño short rib fried rice and peach sangria from Tao.
By the end of the night, chefs were making their own rounds to explore dishes from other restaurants. As guests exited the venue, the reoccurring theme heard was “I’m stuffed!” There is no denying that the event provided something that appealed to everyone. Although there were no foil swans to carry leftovers home in, patrons did not leave empty-handed. Several vendors provided samples to-go whether it was a variety of organic tea bags by the Tea Domain, a bottle of Tea of a Kind or the generous jars of seasoning and gravies provided by Feast, chances are you received a sample to take home and enjoy.
Great food, cocktails and wine are enough to make any evening satisfying. Add to that the opportunity to sample an extensive variety of dishes prepared by locally renowned celebrity chefs while benefiting a great cause created a recipe for a remarkable event.