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The Chefs of Vegas Uncork'd: Out of the Kitchen

While most of the outside world perceives the city limits of Las Vegas to not exceed the boundaries of Las Vegas Boulevard (between Sahara and Russell, that is), we residents know there is so much more to our little twinkle in the desert.  I remember when The Wife and I first moved to Vegas almost 6 years ago from Upstate NY like it was yesterday.  People asked, “Why would you want to move there?!?  There’s only strippers and degenerate gamblers that live in Las Vegas!”   Well, to my uninformed friends of the Finger Lakes, as the events of Vegas Uncork’d showcased; we are not only a town of strippers and degenerate gamblers, but we also have a whole bunch of chefs!

A Whole Bunch of Chefs at Vegas Uncork'd

A Whole Bunch of Chefs at Vegas Uncork'd

Like the chefs of the relatively new restaurants on The Strip, most of our fellow 2,000,000 residents are new to living in Las Vegas.  While you’ll find the occasional proud person that was born and raised here, most of us moved here at some point to escape the excruciating boredom of reality, the arctic chill of points north, the mirage of endless career opportunities (pre-2008) or a mix of the three.  The Wife and I moved here so our pipes wouldn’t freeze in the winter (both literally and figuratively).  Rick Moonen moved here to open a 17,000 square foot restaurant.  We all have our reasons.

Rick Moonen of RM Seafood and Shawn McClain of Sage

Rick Moonen of RM Seafood and Shawn McClain of Sage

I asked a few of the chefs at Vegas Uncork’d that now reside here what they like to do when they’re not behind the flames in the kitchen. Shawn McClain of Sage at Aria (who moved out here since before the opening of Sage in December, but will be returning to Chicago) and Kerry Simon of Simon at Palms Place both enjoy the natural beauty of Red Rock Canyon quite a bit.

Apparently Kerry Simon is in this picture

Apparently Kerry Simon is in this picture

Hiking and nature walking is a biggie out here for Vegas residents.  I never knew so many hikers in my life until we moved out here.  I don’t even like to walk to the mailbox to get the mail, so hiking is not part of The Wife and I’s Sunday morning repertoire.  But, we have driven around the loop of Red Rock Canyon several times in the comfort of sitting down in crisp air conditioning and have always found it to be enjoyable.

Me interviewing Bobby Flay (photo by: Kevin Stout)

Me interviewing Bobby Flay (photo by: Kevin Stout)

While Chef Simon also said he likes to go running and to also go up to Mount Charleston to go snowboarding in Lee Canyon, Food Network superstar and chef of Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay, was much more on my page when he told me that he likes to play dice and go to nightclubs.  I, too, am a fan of dice, and I’ve also been known to play a hand of poker or two.  Ok, so maybe I have a mild obsession with poker, although I haven’t been able to play much since this little Tasting Las Vegas project has begun, to which The Wife thanks each and every one of our fabulous readers.

Three Time Winner of Vegas Uncork'd Celebrity Chef Blackjack Tournament, Paul Bartolotta

Three Time Winner of Vegas Uncork'd Celebrity Chef Blackjack Tournament, Paul Bartolotta

Speaking of fellow degenerate gamblers, I can only assume Paul “Rain Man” Bartolotta likes to play a little 21 in his spare time with his triumphant threepeat as the Vegas Uncork’d Celebrity Chef Blackjack Tournament Champion.  I asked Chef Bartolotta what his secret is, and he said that it’s all “luck.”  Uh-huh …“luck.” All I know is that I’m not going to pester Bartolotta 10 minutes to Wapner anytime soon.

Rick Moonen with The Wife

Rick Moonen with The Wife

When he’s not being a reality TV star, Rick Moonen of RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay enjoys cycling among the mountains of his new neighborhood on the northern edge of town.  He’s also excited about his new organic garden he started in his backyard (yeah, you can do that in Las Vegas).  Of course, one of Chef Moonen’s primary passions is his advocacy for sustainable seafood, which he has been adamant about for the last 25 years, before it was cool to care about the environment.  I asked Rick what got him into the cause and he told me back when he was still a New Yorker and shopping for seafood at the Fulton Street Fish Market, he was seeing the swordfish shrink before his eyes, and that something had to be done.  He got involved with some of the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) that were on the responsible fishing soapbox early on and the rest, as they say, is Leave-the-Bluefin-Alone History.

Obviously not going to get any scandalous admissions of frequenting the Green Door by these chefs, I asked them where they like to eat in town.  Apparently I should have kept the questions to the subject of ball gags and assless chaps, as this was the most controversial question of all.  Everybody squirmed when I asked them what their favorite places to eat were in town, and it is certainly understandable.  After some brief probing (meaning questioning), I managed to squeeze out of a few names of places from the chefs.  As I am not in the gotcha journalism business, nor do I wish to end friendships as a few guys put on the spot forgot to give a shoutout to their buddy’s food joint, I’ll just list restaurants that were mentioned of the many chefs I talked with over the few days of Vegas Uncork’d.

Ichiza - Just one of the gems on Spring Mountain Road

Ichiza - Just one of the gems on Spring Mountain Road

On The Strip, Akira Back’s Yellowtail at the Bellagio got a nod, as did Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace and Aureole at Mandalay Bay.  Off the Strip, the restaurants of Spring Mountain Road got big props with a nearly unanimous vote of Raku among other mentions of Ichiza and Honey Pig.  Also a serious rave was given to Spring Mountain Road area China MaMa as a restaurant that is as “legit as legit gets.”  An Asian place away from our Chinatown was the much beloved Thai food of Lotus of Siam (conveniently located near The Green Door, I’m just sayin’).

It wasn’t just cuisine from the Orient that was tickling the chefs’ collective fancies.  Firefly got a shoutout for it’s reasonably priced and very tasty Spanish tapas as did Lindo Michoacan for it’s authentic South of the Border fare.  For the late night burrito fix, Fausto’s got a nod and when the chefs were in the mood for cloth napkins, one mentioned Vintner Grill over in Summerlin.  Also receiving a few tips of the hat was Kuldeep Singh’s refined Indian flavors at Origin India.

Yes, I have decided to keep the anonymity of which chefs said which restaurants, but I must take this time to single out Kerry Simon for an admission to liking Las Vegas pizza.  Yeah, don’t worry…..I asked him if he was shitting me for you.

While tales of hiking, running and bike riding may have made me feel my usual 90 seconds of guilt, I was happy to see a whole bunch of chefs I have great respect for also like a lot of the same food that I do.  I guess that makes sense.  I think Rick Moonen said it best when he said, “I think the top ten restaurants in Vegas can compete with the top ten restaurants anywhere in the world.”  This was certainly evident throughout the events of Vegas Uncork’d.

While my lazy ass may not run into a culinary legend on a trail in Red Rock Canyon anytime soon, who knows…maybe one of these nights Bobby Flay will roll me a Yo Eleven!

—–
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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1 comment to The Chefs of Vegas Uncork’d: Out of the Kitchen

  • I thought I ran into David Letterman out at Red Rock the last time we were out and had been hiking pretty far in. It turned out to be a guy who just REALLY looked like David Letterman.

    I actually didn’t hike before moving here. I thought I would hate it. I got into it around my third year as a way to get my dog some exercise and just fell in love with it.

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