It’s the way we dined in Tokyo. Hanging out with dad at his favorite sushi spots was like visiting friends, who just happened to be master sushi chefs that knew your palate. Like magic, they’d prepare stunning, one-bite dishes that were presented over the counter like a sacred ritual. Indeed, it was a gift of honor and respect was paid by savoring it.
Dining omakase (o ·ma·ka·se), a Japanese meal that consists of dishes selected and coursed entirely by the restaurant’s sushi chef, is the most traditional way to enjoy sushi. For the true sushi lover and adventurer of food, it’s like receiving a series of surprise gifts, which are hand-crafted with thoughtful care just for you.
After a hot hand towel (oshi·bori) is presented to cleanse your hands and dietary restrictions covered, then it’s time to relax and welcome a multi-course selection of deliciousness. With exacting precision, chef prepares the freshest fish of the moment, not to mention fish of the highest caliber. Each one requires a different mastery.
In Las Vegas, Chefs Hiromi Nakano and Shinji Shichiri of Sen of Japan deliver an experience that keeps the curious and adventurous coming back for more. The product of two masters from the Las Vegas strip – Nakano from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Nobu and Shichiri from Bellagio’s Shintaro (now Yellowtail) – there is no denying their culinary talent and synergy. Sourcing only fish that exceeds their expectations translates to an unsurpassed dining experience. And if you’re seeking to discover more about any of the fish they serve, ask anyone and they’ll be able to tell you where it was caught and when.
Here is a look at their recent offerings. Next time I go, it will be completely different. That’s the beauty of omakase.
When I asked the illustrious Chef Pierre Gagnaire to articulate his sheer genius in the kitchen, he leaned over and with a gentle smile that came through his deep steel blue eyes, to say, “I try to create an emotion.”
Clearly, Gagnaire has such an ability. His food is as artistic as it is delicious. Edible art that is simple, and also ingeniously creative, his creations are capable of drawing out feelings of love, happiness, inspiration, delight, curiosity, ultimate pleasure.
Yet, Gagnaire is modest in every way. Though he has gained a cult of international devotees and owns highly-acclaimed restaurants worldwide and has garnered three Michelin stars for his eponymous restaurant in Paris, he finds himself short of expressing his brilliance. But he understands that his business is a process and that constant evolution has allowed him to stay at the forefront of the international culinary scene and remain relevant in an ever-changing world.
Gagnaire is the type of individual that is present at every front. By example, this is one of the reasons for his visit to his only U.S. restaurant, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, located on the 23rd floor of Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. Working alongside his kitchen team, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don, and wine director, Master Sommelier Will Costello, he says that consistency is supremely important – one that takes patience, the ability to empower his team to envision his idea, then organically allow their magic to take place in the kitchen.
“He creates an environment of family which allows me to have his full support when I am creating new menu items,” says Twist’s, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don. “Most of all, he trusts our team.”
Gagnaire has always encouraged chefs to break free of the rules that have governed the French canon for so long.
“Finally, one day I was ready to open my vision with all these chefs,” says Gagnaire, “A chef has the capacity to translate .. he or she is talented. I’m obsessed with the quality, and I try to give the process. Not the recipe, never the recipe – just the idea.”
The feeling of creativity, design and artistry delights the senses from the very moment you enter Twist. The majestic floor-to-ceiling windows heighten the energy in the dining room and a dramatic glass staircase leads up to a suspended wine loft. The restaurant also boasts a most striking lighting feature, which incorporates more than 300 spheres designed to look like bubbles floating across the ceiling. All this, is after being greeted by hundreds of silk purple butterflies that are seemingly an extension of the warm hospitality one receives as a guest.
Twist by Pierre Gagnaire continues to garner accolades for its groundbreaking menu of classic French cuisine, from vegetarian specialties, like Jardinière (Fava Beans, English Peas, Spring Onions Baby Carrots in Onion and Curry Juice English Pea Soup), to Muscovy Duck from Grimaud Farm (Thinly sliced with Cassis Bigarade Sauce Celeriac-Red Beetroot, Baby Carrots Turmeric Pommes Gaufrettes, Bacon Powder), Chef’s creations are a “twist” on the contemporary.
Gagnaire admits that his life in the culinary world was specified at an early age. His father was a chef, and while his siblings opted for other careers, cooking became Gagnaire’s destiny. After working under some of the finest chefs in the business, he struck out on his own in the town of St Étienne, where his illustrious career took flight.
Since then, he has overseen the development of a number of restaurants around the world, from London, to Paris, to Seoul and Dubai – each of which stay true to the defining quality and innovation synonymous with Chef Gagnaire.
But, working closely with his team is where he feels most at home. He explains how relationships are made through food, not only with his guests, but also with his team.
“I didn’t have a [career] choice, but I found that it was possible to tell a story. Food creates relationships with people, and people are the keys to my life.”
The moment I arrived at Spinasse (pronounced speh-nah-say), in the gastronomically-gifted Capitol Hill area of Seattle, I was in love. On the street level of this handsome, multi-storied brick building, an intimate spot welcomes us with charming outdoor seating consisting of wooden plank tables, surrounded by a whimsy of colorful chairs. An old-world iron sign hangs above the quaint entrance door, of which the window is tastefully etched “Cascina Spinasse.”
A peek through the glass is like looking into a rustic Italian farmhouse. Wooden trestle tables with knotty imperfections imply generations of celebrations with suppers and wine that had been consumed around them. Soft and delicate ivory lace curtains grace the front windows, wrought-iron chandeliers illuminate the cozy space, and mismatched wood and marble countertops suggest a sense of history and soul. Any more rustic, and I’d have arrived by wagon.
We sit in a cozy corner table next to the window, but this isn’t a quiet dinner spot at the 8 o’clock hour by any means. Conversations just inches away give the entire space a comforable, convivial vibe.
I knew that Spinasse was one of those places that is hotly acclaimed by fervent foodies. It’s easy to understand why, with robust platters of pan-roasted rib eye with plums and spring onions, lovage and balsamic, to a light arugula, fennel, prosciutto cotto and green bean salad with cherry tomatoes and fennel maioneses – everything is lovingly prepared, oiled, and seasoned.
The pasta is capable of achieving density and delicacy at the same time, in the fine hand cut egg pasta (tamarin) with butter sage – a classic Spinasse dish – or hearty cavatelli with beef short rib and shoulder ragu with marinated cherry tomatoes and parmigiana. Everything is a masterpiece that pays homage to northern Italian region of Piemonte (Piedmont), under the creative and passionate direction of Executive Chef Stuart Lane.
Lane attended the Italian Culinary Institute in a castle in Piemonte at Costigliole d’Asti. He later staged at the Hotel Monte del Re in Dozza Italy outside of Bologna in the heart of Emilia-Romagna. While there, he crafted tortellini by the thousands and was immersed in the Italian food culture. Today, Lane oversees the menus at Spinasse and the adjacent casual Italian eatery and bar, Artusi. He is passionate about Piemonte, and you can taste it in the food and in the wine.
Overall, the experience is one to remember. The interior is charming and picturesque, with the kitchen-view dining as a portrait in craft, as well as a warm welcome to this old world space. Spinasse is one of Seattle’s most delicious places. I can’t wait to go back.
The Las Vegas Epicurean Affair is without a doubt one of the premier events to attend in Las Vegas to satisfy your inner gourmand. It takes place one night a year in the most gorgeous setting – the Palazzo pool deck – and guests are treated to the most delicious soiree featuring nearly the city’s most renowned chefs, along with 80 restaurants, nightclubs and beverage purveyors.
This year, on May 26, more than 2,300 guests mingled under the stars on the most perfect night and enjoyed tastings of dishes and specialty cocktails from the illustrious restaurants of The Venetian and The Palazzo, including AquaKnox, B&B Ristorante, B&B Burger & Beer, Carlo’s Bakery, Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, db Brasserie, Delmonico Steakhouse, Hong Kong Café, Lagasse’s Stadium, Lavo Italian Restaurant, Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro, OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria, Public House, SUSHISAMBA, Table 10, and Tao Asian Bistro; as well as other local celebrated restaurants both on and off the Strip, including The Capital Grille, Carmine’s, Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant, Hash House a Go Go, Il Mulino, Katsuya, Origin India, Shake Shack, Texas de Brazil and Triple George.
In addition to culinary delights, live band The Lift with special guest star Corinne Zarzour entertained the crowd while synchronized mermaids the Water Beauties put on a show in the main pool.
Proceeds from the evening will fund NvRA’s educational and scholarship programs, including ProStart®, a national high school culinary skill and restaurant management program.
With so many amazing restaurants in Las Vegas, this event will give you a taste of the best the city has the offer. Then, go back and make a few reservations at your favorite picks!
“No favorites…” I was reminded by Dry Creek Kitchen’s wine director Rolando Maldonado. As if each bottle of wine was a child of his own, not one would be singled out. Of course, he’s right. Every bottle and varietal is so perfectly suited to certain foods and/or occasions. But, the selection of Sonoma County wines he showcased paired so harmoniously with every dish, I tended to exclaim, “I love this! They go so well together, perhaps my favorite!”
I hadn’t been to Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA in 10 years. But, last week I had the opportunity to dine there again with two close friends during a work trip. I loved it then, and I love it even more now. We met Rolando, who maintains Dry Creek Kitchen’s focus on all-Sonoma County wine selections. Rolando honors the traditions and people of Sonoma County by offering bottlings of passionate producers, burgeoning varietals, and well-loved classics. In collaboration with Dry Creek Kitchen’s chef, Rolando creates pairings that highlight the flavors and ingredients of Sonoma County to deliver truly memorable dining experiences. Below are visual highlights from the evening. Delicious food. Delicious wine.
The setting: A cold, rainy February night in the charming town of Healdsburg. After tromping through soft, rain-soaked vineyard soils while witnessing unusually early bud break in neighboring Geyserville, I was ready to drink some wine.
Cut to: Interior of Charlie Palmer Dry Creek Kitchen, with a staff committed to gracious conviviality, the atmosphere is welcoming, natural, and elegantly California wine country.
For two decades, Napa Valley’s top winemakers have auctioned futures of innovative, one-of-a-kind wines for the unique portfolio of wines known as Premiere Napa Valley. This day-long extravaganza of barrel tastings, lunch, and bidding takes place on Saturday, February 20, 2016, with a full week of parties and educational tastings leading up to Premiere. What a week it will be!
Proceeds from the event support Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit trade association in their efforts to promote, protect, and enhance the Napa Valley appellation. In 2015, an arousing display of uniformly passionate bidding on a range of unique wines resulted in a new record $6 million fundraising total for the Napa Valley Vintners.
As a preview to the 2016 event, Napa Valley Vintners brought six winemakers to Las Vegas in November to offer Premiere Napa Valley barrel samples and a panel discussion led by Master Sommelier Lindsey Geddes. Held within the grand arches of Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas‘ dining room, along with trade professionals and buyers, I had the opportunity to taste the current releases and barrel samples, as well as hear from the following vintners/winemakers (you can search all the 2016 lots here).
Jimmy Kawalek, Ancien Winery
Ancien Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Ancien Winery, 2013 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
Steve Reynolds, Winemaker, Italics Winery and Reynolds Family Winery
Italics Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Italics Winery, 2012 Coombsvile Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Reynolds Family Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Reynolds Family Winery, 2010 Stags leap District Cabernet Sauvignon
Matt Wood, Newton Vineyard and Domaine Chandon
Newton Vineyard, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Newton Vineyard, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Michael Scholz, Winemaker, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, 2012 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
The experience in Las Vegas was just a small sample of what Premiere Napa Valley will bring in February in Napa, but an exciting representation of the quality and diversity of the Napa Valley AVA. At Premiere, the wines will be previewed and then live-auctioned before an invite-only audience of licensed wine buyers. These wines are truly unique from year-to-year and may be a varietal blend, or a single vineyard expression, a delicious and artistic collection of sub-appellations, or a remarkable vintage.
This year marks the 20th anniversary. And, for those around the world that cannot join, an online auction will be unveiled, offering 25 lots featuring unexpected varieties and early release date wines in 60, 120 and 240 bottle lots.
I consider myself fortunate to experience this on February 20, 2016, and I can’t wait to share more when that time comes!
Select photos: Bob McClenahan for Napa Valley Vintners
Archeologists have traced the origins of wine-making back to 8,000 years ago to the country of Georgia. Wine was produced – and continues to be produced today – using clay vessels called kvevri. Essentially, fermentation of red and white wine in clay involves prolonged contact with the skins. In wine circles, the term “amphora” is commonly used to describe this style of wine.
It goes something like this: perfectly mature grape bunches are placed into kvevri that are sunken into the ground, a stone lid secures the top, then it’s opened the next spring or summer to skim the finished wine from the grape bunches that have accumulated at the bottom.
Georgia has been producing natural wines like this, without the use of chemicals, foreign yeasts, or filtration long before it became a stylistic trend. In the last decade, however, winemakers in other parts of the world, especially Italy and Slovenia, have embraced this ancient way to making wine, and they deserve some attention.
While amphora wines can be made with red or white grapes, the wines made with white grapes end up with an attractive orange hue. Typically, these wines have more body and structure than a normal white wine, and may even have noticeable tannins, due to the time spent with the skins. When in Las Vegas, try them at the following places listed below. The sommeliers have provided the dish they’d pair with each one:
Josko Gravner Ribolla Anfora, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy 2003 Taste at:Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Manadrin Oriental Pair with: Roasted Tomato “Provencal”Ratatouille of Vegetables, Diced Baby Squid, Saffron Fish Soup
Sommelier’s Notes: “This is a super complex dish with the earthful flavors from the ratatouille, the “sweetness” of the squid, the saffron brings the lightly aromatic flowery thing. All of these you would find in something like Gravner’s wines. Just a whole lot going on.” – Will Costello, Master Sommelier/Wine Director, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire @ Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas
COS Pithos Bianco, Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2012 Taste at:B&B Ristorante, The Venetian Pair with: Grilled Octopus with Fagioli Marianati and Spicy Limoncello
Sommelier’s Notes: “The COS Pithos Bianco has the delicacy to compliment seafood while offering the power to stand up to the flavorful char on the octopus, as well as the spice of the limoncello vinaigrette.” – Kirk Peterson, Beverage Director, B&B Hospitality Group, Las Vegas
Josko Gravner, Ribolla Anfora, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy 2005
Taste at: Bazaar Meat, SLS Pair with: Whole Turbot, Josper-Roasted with Olive Oil and Salt from La Coruna, Spain
Sommelier’s Notes: “The Turbot is a large flat fish found primarily in shallow waters close to shore, it has bright white flesh, a delicate flavor and can have a slightly oily texture. The texture of the fish provides contrast while the simplicity of preparation of the Turbot compliments the flavors of the seafood and wine pairing.” – Chloe Helfand, Lead Sommelier, SLS Las Vegas
A few more producers:
Luigi Tecce, Campania, Italy Frank Cornelissen, Etna, Sicily
Adega José de Sousa, Alentejo, Portugal
As I sat at lunch adoring this luminous, copper-colored wine, Valter Scarbolo said, “Every single grape must be perfect to make that wine.” Which meant that at the time of harvest, each Pinot Grigio grape would have to be healthy, perfectly ripened, and free from any marks and blemishes, to become this delicious liquid rose gold he calls Scarbolo Ramato XL Pinot Grigio. Certainly, I made sure to indulge to the very last drop.
Then, not more than ten minutes went by while having lunch at Inyo in Las Vegas with newly-met friends from the food and wine world, I felt like Valter was offering to take us on a virtual trip to his vineyards, located 5,800 miles away in northeastern Italy in the region of Friuli. How could I resist his contagious energy and enthusiasm? Valter, with his robust personality and bright, expressive eyes, talked about how he acquired a passion for viticulture and viniculture from his father and set out to expand his family’s winemaking traditions. He grew to love each vine as a beloved friend, while holding the utmost respect for the land, as well as the wildness of nature that creates day-by-day challenges … and gifts.
His vineyards, located on the right bank of the river Torre in Lauzacco, is about an hour northeast of Venice. He and his family also own a popular road-side tavern called La Frasca.
As he introduced his wines, he spoke with passion about the land where the grapes originate – how the earth (red, clay-heavy soils with alluvial deposits, minerals and chalk) provides excellent drainage and imparts unique characteristics of the region’s wines. He explained how the cool Alpine breezes and warm marine flow from the Adriatic create the optimal thermal balance, allowing grapes to mature more slowly and evenly, resulting in rich flavors, well-defined aromas and a charge of acidity. And, while the area takes its cues from neighboring Austria and Slovenia, the wines are very much “deeply rooted” and unmistakably Friulian.
Dominated by small, family-owned producers, like Scarbolo, Italy’s northeastern corner – Friuli Venezia Giulia – has long been a powerhouse of fine white wine production. The ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, as well as other whites like Sauvignon and the local Friulano, have contributed to fresh, modern whites since the 1970s. Increasingly accomplished reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the native Refosco are also found in this magnificent region.
“Friuli is the frame of a beautiful canvas, colored with paint of our white wines.” – V. Scarbolo
Clearly, Valter is his land’s best ambassador. He wanted me to not only visualize the area but to also “taste the land.” With each sip, I was gently reminded that the vines are trained for lower yields, and that all his grapes are carefully harvested by hand and vinification and aging is carried out meticulously to demonstrate full varietal expression.
So with that, I’ve listed his offerings below, followed by my casual and very personal descriptions. Look them up for more refined tasting notes at Scarbolo.com. Then, go taste them!
Scarbolo Pinot Grigio – Pinot Grigio with character! Apples, honey, elegant minerals. Fresh, light, absolutely loved it.
Scarbolo Sauvignon Fruity, like peaches and tropicals, herbaceous and great acidity. Want more! Scarbolo Friulano Pure, chalky, wildflowers, super enjoyable and picnic-perfect. Scarbolo Merlot Soft and silky, bright and juicy – unlike any Merlot I’ve had. Scarbolo Cabernet (Cabernet Franc 70%/Cabernet Sauvignon 30%) Driven by one of my favorite varietals (Cabernet Franc), I was captivated by the deep ruby in color. It’s rich, robust, and delicious. Scarbolo Ramato XL Pinot Grigio Skins spend six days with the juice, resulting in the copper hue. Gorgeous, remarkably special, crushed red berries, silky. My Time A “super white” with a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvingon, and Friulano, Valter dedicates this wine “to life.” There’s great meaning behind this wine, and I find it to be inspiring and delightfully delicious – fruity, exotic, mineral, elegant, perhaps my favorite from this list.
Scarbolo Campo Del Viotto (100% Merlot) An exciting and fascinating way to interpret Merlot, approximately 40% of the clusters are dried out for 20 days. Aged in barriques, the color is intense ruby, the experience – voluptuous and powerful.
Scarbolo Refosco – A native Friulian varietal that dates back to the Roman Empire. Amazing, fruity, spicy and what I call “playfully romantic.”
“Wine is the vessel that carries the Spirit of the land, its culture and traditions.” – V. Scarbolo
Valter is tenaciously passionate about his wines and it stems from the respect that he has for the land and “what happens under the sky” – even if it’s unfavorable. He mentioned how a devastating tornado blew the roof off his winery years ago and how it undeniably tested his determination. However, nature’s wild setback made him and his family stronger and more committed to producing wines that reflect the richness of the land.
After tasting his wines, I asked him how he came up with the art on the label, which depicts a set of agricultural wheels. He said that while he had asked designers to offer him specs for his consideration, ultimately it was he who sketched out his own design. It’s profoundly symbolic of his story. The wheels represent the daily work, the continuous evolution and the new challenges that each day brings.
It’s perfectly clear how much dedication and love he puts into his work. The unmistakable bottles, graced with his unique trademark, reflect his philosophy and passion and give true meaning to Scarbolo wines, which make tasting them all the more amazing. Keep the wheels turning, Valter!
Rosés are a masterful match for almost any dish. These wines are versatile because they fall in between the extremes of red and white — less intense than a big, tannic, mouth-busting red, but with a little more depth than a super-light white.
I recently enjoyed a special lunch prepared by Chef Luciano Pelligrini at the quaint Marché Bacchus French Bistro in Las Vegas. The luncheon was accompanied by a sampling of rosé wines presented by John Matthew Smith, a well-known wine authority of Wirtz Beverage Nevada. All the wines were rosés – dry, refreshing, absolutely riveting – from places that beautifully express their terroirs.
In addition to the line-up was a sweet surprise, which wasn’t a rosé at all. It was a German riesling that paired nicely with dessert.
Below is a list of wines that were poured during the luncheon. What’s truly special about Marché Bacchus, besides the waterfront patio setting, is the wine shop, which boasts over 950 different labels of American and International wines. Any of these wines are available for purchase, to be taken home, or enjoyed with your dining experience at Marché Bacchus.
While rosés are great suggestion for warm weather, don’t let temperature dictate what you enjoy; they are perfect year-round. Enjoy!
Champagne Ayala Rosé Majeur
Le Grand Courtâge Brut Rosé
Pierre Boniface Les Rocailles Apremont 2013 (Savoie)
Chateau de Calavon, Coteaux d Aix-en-Province Rosé 2013
Domaine De La Bastide Blanche, Bandol Rose 2013
Chateau Beaubois Costieres des Nimes Expression Rose 2013
Domaine Collotte, Marsannay Rosé 2013
Reuling Vineyard, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2013
Albert Bichot, Savigny Les Beaune Rouge AOC 2011
Chateau du Donjon, Grande Tradition, Minervois 2011
Dr. F. Weins-Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett 2013
Yet here’s another reason why orange continues to be my favorite color – orange wines. I recently had a chance to try this gorgeous copper-hued wine, the 2011 Paolo Bea “Santa Chiara” Umbria Bianco.
Why is it so special? This one hails from Umbria, Italy. Often referred to as the “green heart of Italy,” it’s the only Italian region without access to the sea or international borders. Wines from here are not exactly famous, but they are interesting, delicious and definitely worth seeking. Next, orange wines are generally not widely available. In other words, they are rare treasures. Such is the case of this wine producer – Bea’s wine-making practices focus on high quality artisanal wines, however, their production is low.
Paolo Bea’s “Santa Chiara” 2011 is a fascinating orange wine with a unique field blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Garganega. If these are all white grapes, then what makes the wine orange? To clarify, it has nothing to do with orange fruit. Orange wines are white wines produced more like reds, with prolonged contact of crushed grape skins and seeds. This contact produces the distinctly beautiful hue. Ranging in color from butterscotch to tawny brown, they can also vary from vintage to vintage.
Often made in clay vessels or wooden barrels, this is an ancient wine making style that has recently been revitalized by Italians and Slovenians, and are produced today by enterprising winemakers worldwide.
It’s not easy to describe the “Santa Chiara.” It has a very different and unique aroma and quite generous in flavor – with spice, cantaloupe-like, rustic, earthy good funk going on in the glass.
Generally speaking orange wines often possess the body and tannins of red wines and the fruit and minerality of white wines, which it probably why I like it so much. They are stylistically unique, and many offer earthy savoriness, with a richly textured mouth-feel.
Some claim orange wines to be a fad, but I think they offer a wealth of virtues. They are quite hard to find, however.
As for trying one out, look for a restaurant with a solid Italian wine list. In Las Vegas that would be none other than B&B Ristorante (The Venetian) and Carnevino Italian Steakhouse (The Palazzo).