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,


10 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in Vegas Uncork’d

  1. Mitch, you crack me up. I can not imagine how a beer Fest is better than the grand tasting. Gordon Ramsay was at the grand tasting!!!

  2. Just when I want to give up on your curmudeonly, arrogant ass, ELV you hit us with a reality check. Feels like VegasUnCorked has become an introverted event for the select coupla hundred (dozens?) who come in from out of town. Should I care?

  3. Donna,

    Gordon Ramsays presence was the reason I thought the Grand Tasting was basically a clusterf*%k. He stood there looking all smug and entitled, while throngs of nitwits crowded around his three booths (really, who opens three places in a year and can look at you with a straight face and claim to be anything more than a coverboy).

    The rest of the Garden of The Gods was at least pleasant because Ramsay had drawn all the gawkers and syncophants to his little corner to hand out burgers.

    It was a stark contrast to the other side, where Bobby Flay and Michael Mina were actually working with their staff to get food out, while taking moments to graciously THANK people for coming and pose for pictures.

  4. Your logic means nothing to me Mark. Ramsay is cute and I watch him on the TV. Hence my priorities are much more valuable than mere quality and integrity. :)

  5. I’ve had a growing malaise about Uncork’d in recent times so I took a much-needed sabbatical this year. As a veteran of the affair from the start, I’ve seen Uncork’d slide from the glory days where we celebrated what makes Las Vegas a glorius city for dining into a narrow feeding trough that is not much different than some of the other food classics feted around America.

    Last year, at the final event I attended, I pulled the short straw. Billed as “Mother’s Day Brunch with Charlie Palmer” at Aureole, two things were strikingly missing. Caviar, apparently the mystery act at Uncork’d again this year, (as noted above), was absent at the scrambled egg station. Even more striking was the fact the diners didn’t ask for it, even though it was noted on the dainty menu card. I did ask and forthwith came jar after jar of the stuff. Good stuff from some ancient fish somewhere.

    Yet the most notable absentee at brunch with Charlie Palmer was Charlie Palmer. When I sent a post Uncork’d note to the executors of the Uncork’d estate, I received nary a response. An indication, I suppose, that they didn’t care what this poor sap had to say, even though I’d poured in a sum equaling the cost of a moderate home over the course of my Uncork’d relationship.

    Gone are the glory days when we could sit and chat with a notable Food Writer, say Alan Richman and have him sign a copy of his latest tome about the craft of food writing. Gone are the events where we discussed the food culture of Las Vegas and interacted with noted local scribes with names like John, Max and Al. Gone are the discussions with Chefs about how they craft a local, seasonal cuisine in a desert oasis. Gone are the tours of the vast kitchens, wine cellars and seafood shrine that is the house of Wynn.

    One hopes that Uncork’d will have an epiphany and realize that the success of the event isn’t solely dependent on a man who liberally uses the F word and throws pots at hapless cooks. Las Vegas deserves more.

  6. I posted my thoughts and observations, mainly stemming from the Bellagio Block Party, here:

    It strikes me that there are fewer and fewer participating chefs every year, not to mention entire resorts that aren’t represented. And the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority doesn’t want star chefs from out of town. No wonder the Grand Tasting was only $225 this year. And my manager told me that Bon Appetit charges way too much for participants, so expect fewer next year.

    I want Vegas Uncork’d to be successful, but like dr, there’s less and less that’s grabbing me each year. It’s the same names that I’ve (mostly) seen already. I’m more interested in the Lucky Rice Night Market, Life Is Beautiful, and other events that are bringing in fresh blood. VU is getting upstaged more and more.

    Hey, any food writers reading this — do some investigating! I think there’s a real story here.

  7. Mitch, you stole my line about the ‘mini-Cochon’ but I’ll let it slide because I tossed it off whilst we were co-gorging…and because I did get to enjoy more events including the Rick & Tony show (good stuff).

  8. Life is Beautiful is going to be a great event. More than just food, it will showcase music and more. On the food front – some terrific chefs head up the culinary advisory board including Bruce and Eric Bromberg of Blue Ribbon Restaurants, Kim Canteenwalla of Honey Salt, Scott Conant of Scarpetta and D.O.C.G. Enoteca, Cat Cora of Kouzzina in Orlando and CCQ in Costa Mesa, Chris Cosentino of Incanto Restaurant and Boccalone Salumeria in San Francisco, Hubert Keller of Fleur by Hubert Keller and Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay and Mandalay Place, Donald Link of Herbsaint, Cochon and Cochon Butcher in New Orleans, Michael Mina, who has his eponymous restaurant, American Fish, StripSteak and 1842, Rick Moonen of RM Seafood and the soon to open Rx Boiler Room, Jet Tila of The Charleston in Santa Monica, Calif plus his new Kuma Snow Cream and Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto in New York City.

    These are just the advisors – the participant list is HUGE and the lineup and events will be rolled out soon. Keep in touch with LIB at their official Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/LIBFestival.

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