Blackjack and Fat Tire
Las Vegas is a place I’ve always been skeptical about when it comes to finding good food. My reasoning is the clientele. The waddling, neon-colored-adorning fanny-packers I typically see mowing down a fast-food burger-color-sprayed, garbage wrapper-covered food-item don’t typically give me confidence in good eating.
Our tour manager, Brian, got us a pretty slamming deal at one of the better hotels in Vegas (I forgot the name already… MGM maybe?) and I started looking in the pamphlet they dole out for guests. A Le Atellier?? Michael Mina restaurants? 2 Colicchio joints? Hmm… I guess I was wrong. Ashley then mentions “All the big celebrity chefs has places out here.” I learn something new every day. I mean… I knew the typical celeb-Food-network-guys had places out here (at which I am positive that the diners think Emeril and Wolfgang are actually making their burger), but I didn’t know they’d have the good stuff out here.
Ashley, Paolo, and I hung out by the pool for a while - getting nicely scorched by the Vegas-desert sun, then got hungry. We decided to hit Wichcraft by Tom Colicchio: this was a real good sandwich/lunch-type place, and certainly affordable. Apparently, Colicchio is very into trying to make school lunches much healthier than they are now… something like a country-wide attempt - a very great idea - school lunch from my recollection was unhealthy and of prison-grade-quality.
Wichcraft reminds me of something that would be a gourmet/lunch/school lunch place. I had the corned beef panini with sauerkraut, gruyere cheese, whole grain mustard, on rye. This thing was good, damn good. A sandwich isn’t a sandwich… there is good, bad, ugly… this thing was great. Still very reminiscent of what should be on a corned beef, with little additions more - a great spin to the classic. The tanginess of the sauerkraut meshed with the gruyere in a harmonious way.
We all hung a bit, then Ash and I suited up to go gamble. This would be Ashley’s first time gambling surprisingly.
We started light - with slots; agreeing on a hundred bucks a pop lost total for the whole night. I’ve really only ever played blackjack but a handful of times… so I said we ought to go check it out together.
I found the lowest minimum game and started playing… and playing… and playing. First I was up. Way up. I started getting free drinks - quite a few of em too: Fat Tire (a great Colorado beer that I can’t get in Florida), I think there was some Chivas or Glenlivet in there too.
I totally get gambling-addictions. It’s the thrill people must get attached to. While being up, I was remarking that I wanted to win enough money to hit Joel Robuchon’s restaurant L'Atelier (this would be the Vegas location of Joel’s less-upscale, smaller-plated version of his restaurants - I passed the one in Paris months back that I wasn’t able to get to) that was requiring casino winnings for someone like me to afford.
Things started looking good, then bad… then worse. I went from being even, to being a few hundred up, to being right about at my maximum 100 down. Ashley tried her hand in Blackjack as well - I’m not sure if we both ended up breaking even or being at about 100 bucks down combined-total… but it was time to wrap that stuff up.
We went to Nobhill Tavern by Michael Mina for dinner and drinks and a laugh about our first joint-married-blackjack adventure. I started with the Marcela: elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon, el tesoro. I really am getting hooked on this elderflower thing - it’s a whole new type of flavor if you haven’t experienced it yet. Citrusy cocktails also are seeming like a pattern of mine.
This menu was exactly what I look for in New American Cuisine. Familiar, unpretentious, and things that show the chef throwing in his favorite ingredients. Seared foie gras with seasonal accompaniments was a must. I am a sucker for offal. I love sweetbreads (I haven’t had my fix in months of that) and foie. The foie here was perfect - ideal texture, good char on the top - the bread and berries went flawlessly with the deep-flavor of the meat.
We wanted fun dishes - things that we could celebrate our blackjack/Fat Tire buzz in style with. Braised Beef Short Rib with sweet carrot puree, English peas, and natural jus was tender enough to cut with a spoon. I loved this short rib. If you haven’t had short rib in a proper-place - it’s something texturally along the lines of very properly-done pot roast. Fibrous hunks melt off when you paw at it - the fatty spots are the best. There is so much flavor in the fat.
We also ordered the American Kobe Burger with “secret sauce,” balsamic onions, cheddar, and a house baked bun. This meaty little thing was juicy, tender. The sharp cheddar flavor went perfectly with the overly-perfectly-soft meat. The pickle had the right amount of vinegar bite that has to come with a buger this good. And those fries? Frickin’ awesome.
All that delectable meat was washed down with Baron De Beauleac ‘03 Bordeaux.
Desert was a Panna Cotta with mandarin panna cotta, tropical salad, and a coco-lime sorbet. The sorbet was almost a texture of ice cream and whipped cream - coconut and lime should always go together; that crumbly-deliciousness that it all sat on top of was like eating the crumbled bits of the best pie you’ve ever had.
I loved all the food that we had that day. Really fantastic stuff. Mina’s restaurant and Colicchio’s restaurants alike were simple, more casual versions of what they are capable of - but I really feel that they were some mind-blowingly great places.
Maybe next time I’ll win a G in Blackjack and finally have some of L'Atelier’s fantastic food that keeps eluding me.