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Breakfast at Heierling's: Great Food and Conversation at Silk Road

When I was approached via e-mail to do a story on the breakfast menu at Chef Martin Heierling’s Silk Road in Vdara, I jumped at the opportunity.  Not just because I know Chef Heierling does good work and because I’ve already eaten two very tasty and satisfying lunches at Silk Road unannounced, but because I was curious as to how the hell he was going to take his fusion concept of walking along the Spice Trade Route of the Silk Road from Asia to Europe and apply it to eggs and pancakes.  As I found out, he does it very carefully.  But before I delve into the whirlwind of food that was laid before me, a little bit about the chef…

Chef Martin Heierling of Silk Road

Chef Martin Heierling of Silk Road

Martin Heierling has the typical roots of most master chefs; he was born and raised in Germany, then lived in New Zealand.  Wait!  Huh?!? Yes…you read that right.  Born and raised in Germany, then lived in New Zealand.  One may make the assumption from this information alone that his menu consists of nothing but sauerkraut topped lamb sausages, but it is the globe that happens in between these two distant lands that set Heierling apart.

As we sat in a booth at Silk Road, Chef Heierling told me that living on the isolated island in the South Pacific was very beneficial as he was able to experience many different cultures due to a necessity to travel, visiting various parts of Asia and returning every now and then to Europe.  Heierling talked of the inseparable bond between food and culture that was a common thread through his travels, saying, “Food is always about culture.  The most representative aspect of any culture is when you go to people’s houses and eat.”

Chef Heierling’s American debut as an Executive Chef came with his much acclaimed Sensi in the Bellagio’s Spa Tower.  Heierling credits mezza9 at the Grand Hyatt Singapore for inspiring his concept of Sensi, which in turn plays a major role of the concept that is Silk Road.  mezza9 features nine different stations in the restaurant, each featuring a different ethnocentric cuisine.  Sensi takes the most popular of these cuisines by fusing the flavors of Asia, America and Italy in such a brilliant way that the food defies borders.  It is from this melting pot of cuisines that the concept of Silk Road was developed.

Map of the Silk Road, Courtesy OrexCA.com

Map of the Silk Road, Courtesy OrexCA.com

One thing I found out from our conversation is that Martin Heierling is a man that knows and appreciates history.  Heierling went on at length talking about Marco Polo and the history of traveling the Silk Road. The namesake of Heierling’s restaruant was the trade route that connected all the corners of Asia to the Middle East, on to the Mediterranean and points in Europe and Northern Africa.  As the Silk Road itself was vast, so was the diversity of local flavors picked up along the way.

The influence of this robust mix of exotic spices forming a cuisine in and of itself seems to be the juice that gets Heierling in his happy place.  A stint he had cooking for the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia (who hasn’t had that gig?) is what truly opened his eyes to using these spices.

His duties with the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia had him walking along the marketplaces of Middle Eastern bazaars (the Middle East’s version of Whole Foods), seeing the vibrant colors and smelling the enticing scents of the exotic spices.  Chef Heierling grew his familiarity with these flavor enhancers and discovered ways to use spices from different parts of the globe in harmonious dishes.

Table Centerpiece at Silk Road

Table Centerpiece at Silk Road

With Silk Road being the only restaurant in Vdara, the condo-hotel that sits in between Bellagio and Aria, what is a boy to do to make a restaurant that will stand out among a crowd of high end Italian, Japanese, Chinese, French and Steakhouse joints?  Chef Heierling’s answer is to do something unique, do it well and with substance behind it.

Also with Silk Road being the only restaurant in Vdara, it needs to double in the role filled by the “cafes” found at other hotels located up and down The Strip.  My curiosity, dare I say suspiciousness as to how in the hell Chef Heierling is going to take his concept and apply it to what us egg eating, pancake chewing Westerners have for our morning meal is echoed by Heierling himself as he told me, “Breakfast is the most difficult aspect of the whole menu when you want to present this philosophy.”

Entrance to Silk Road

Entrance to Silk Road

When Silk Road was to open back in December of 2009, Heierling took some at-first-reluctant staff from Sensi to work at Silk Road.  The big complaint among his workers was, “I don’t want to do breakfast, I’m a fine dining cook.”

Heierling squashed these concerns by demonstrating to the staff that “Fine dining is not associated with dinner only.”  I’ve heard gastronomic icons from Jacques Pépin to Bobby Flay echo Heierling’s sentiment that, “You can set a lot of chefs apart from them knowing how to cook an omelet properly or not.”  Heierling added, ” I think it’s all coming down to techinque and philosophy.  It doesn’t matter if it’s late at night or early in the morning, the philosophy of cooking, and cooking good food with fine ingredients is always the same.  It doesn’t matter if it is eggs or if it is foie gras at night.”

So how does Chef Heierling put his griddle where his mouth is?  He brings out Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes with an Orange Blossom Syrup and Candied Rose Petals.  Stick that up your Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity Ass, IHOP!

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes with Candied Rose Petals from Silk Road

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes with Candied Rose Petals from Silk Road

While it is so unfortunate that so many of us associate breakfast with cheap bacon and Log Cabin, or worse yet, a McMuffin and dirty dishwater coffee in the car on the way to work, I am now a firm believer that everyone, at least once in their life, needs to eat a  Candied Rose Petal.  Fresh, clean, unique…it was a remarkable awakening to a totally different way to think about a morning meal.

Tasty Tower of Breakfast Love from Silk Road

Tasty Tower of Breakfast Love from Silk Road

When doing this tasting, I was on my own as Chef Heierling had other business to attend to.  I was presented with a tower of food prepared by (I think assistant chef) Chef Jennifer Murphy.  This tower came with a myriad of tasting-sized portions of the aforementioned Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes along with Crispy French Toast, Turkish Eggs, Eggs Benedict, Fresh Fruit Parfait and Banana-Vanilla Compote Oatmeal.

Crispy French Toast from Silk Road

Crispy French Toast from Silk Road

The Crispy French Toast is out of this world.  With caramelized apples, cinnamon custard and cider reduction, the flavors may be less exotic, but they are just as memorable.  The brilliant execution of the French Toast makes you forget you’re eating a breakfast item and allows you to bask in “fine dining” done well.

Turkish Eggs / Free-Range Turkey Hash from Silk Road

Turkish Eggs / Free-Range Turkey Hash from Silk Road

Chef Heierling’s favorite, as well as my favorite are the Turkish Eggs, (which I believe on the menu is listed as Free-Range Turkey Hash).  Heierling claims this to be the most authentic item on the breakfast menu and I’ll take his word for it with me never stepping foot in Turkey (the country).  The hash is made from roasted and shredded turkey (the bird) and potatoes.  The hash is cooked with a Turkish spice paste called Kirmizi Biber, which explained by the chef are red bell peppers roasted and cooked down to a paste with a blend of spices.  Also adding some punch to the flavor are salt-cured preserved lemons and slivers of a julienne of olives.

This Free-Range Turkey Hash now stands side-by-side in my heart with Julian Serrano’s Huevos Estrellados as the breakfast food I want to eat everyday for the rest of my life.  Absolutely delicious!

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Even if your tastes aren’t suited to the exotic, there is the American Breakfast which is the standard choice of egg, choice of meat, choice of toast fare, or the twist on Eggs Benedict which has the Poached Egg and Canadian Bacon resting on spinach and a potato cake.  Keep in mind too, that when I say “exotic,” the exoticism is subtly and brilliantly done.  Nothing here is going to slap you upside the head, it’s more of a sensuous kiss on the cheek.

View of the Kayak Clusterfudge from Silk Road Dining Room

View of the Kayak Clusterfudge from Silk Road Dining Room

Like so many fine establishments in Las Vegas, the economy has taken its toll on Silk Road, with Chef Heierling having to make the tough decision to temporarily suspend dinner service there earlier this year.  With how outstanding the food is at Silk Road, I yet again find myself cursing the most inaccessible $8.5 Billion Project on Earth, which is CityCenter.   Tough economy aside, CityCenter has shot itself in the foot with the locals market due its over-promised and under-delivered amenities for residents.  It’s a shame that truly fine restaurants and the truly fine people that work in them have been, in my opinion, disrespected by this collection of miserably planned and plotted buildings.

It may help to picture your winding, twisting journey through the clusterfudge (only I didn’t say fudge) that is CityCenter as your personal journey along the real Silk Road. Silk Road is a definite worthwhile destination for a special breakfast, or lunch for that matter.  I also have good word from the chef to keep our eye open for a Family Style Brunch (as in dish-to-pass, not Mickey Mouse Gummi Bear Pancake “Family” Style) coming out sometime in May.  The Wife and I will certainly be with fork-in-hand waiting for that to start!

Thanks to Shawn Mikus with Kirvin Doak Communications and Suzie Rugh with MGM Mirage for putting this together, and of course my sincere gratitude to Chef Martin Heierling for taking the time out of his incredibly busy schedule (in addition to Executive Chef duties at Silk Road and Sensi, he’s also Food and Beverage Director for Vdara) to chat with me as well as host me for a sampling of his delicious, unique food.  It was a truly fascinating conversation (we talked for over 45 minutes) that has greatly amplified my admiration for the dishes he presents, which was already quite high in the first place.

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Silk Road

Vdara Hotel & Spa
2600 W. Harmon Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702)  590-2111

http://www.vdara.com/amenities/silk-road-restaurant.aspx

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Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife.

Follow Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.

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