Saturday, May 16, 2009

I missed Chef Cat Cora at the "Vegas Uncorked"Grand Tasting Event at Caesar's Palace

I was quite unprepared for the scope of "Vegas Uncorked," a grand tasting event featuring world-famous chefs at Caesar's Palace on May 8th. And I would have missed the opportunity to be a part of that culinary event if not for the generous offer of a Fil-Canadian foodie friend to buy a ticket for me. "Vegas Uncorked" would be for us longtime friends the centerpiece of our reunion (after forty years). We almost missed getting to Caesar's Palace on time, having missed the entrance to the the hotel's parking entrance twice; my friend's husband was ready to burst. Getting off the car, he made a beeline to the restroom. "Let's meet at the poolside," my friend reminded her husband, and she and I headed instinctively in the direction of the poolside. Getting there, we were astounded by a long line of people who were walking slowly towards the venue. I stayed in line while my friend retrieved our tickets. When she came back she had her husband in tow.

It's a sultry evening; there is a slight breeze very slightly cooling the open-air venue, and we were dressed appropriately for that kind of weather. Several high amp speakers are blaring Motown-era songs. Two beautiful girls with bottles of Avian water met us at as we stepped into the poolside area. I accepted one Avian, which I stashed in my journalist's bag. It turns out later that the bottle of Avian would be very helpful.

Raffy, my friend's hubby shows me a plastic snifter as we plunged deeper into the crowd. I do not know him well enough to say that he was a teetotaler, but it sure looked to me that he is getting ready for a night of getting in the spirits. I am getting worried that we would get separated in the crowd, which I estimated at around a thousand foodies, tourists, vendors and marketing types, and I asked my friend if her cell phone was on. She assures me to not worry, as the venue is not that huge.

I am quite disoriented, or mesmerized, or both during the first 15 minutes. I take a long look at the arrays of liquors, wines and food samples around me, not picking anything up until I have made one full circle around the pool, jostling, dodging and appreciating the beautiful ladies who were already in the thick of the culinary event. In my limited and unscientific count, I estimate that the wine and drinks people equal the number of dining establishments that participated. Caesar's Palace outnumbers the other nearby hotels with as many as ten restaurants, including Mesa, Rao's and Beijing Noodle No. 9.; Valentino Las Vegas at The Venetian; Wolfgang Puck's Spago and Chinois at Caesar's, Postrio at The Venetian, CUT at The Palazzo, Lupo at Mandalay Bay, and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM Grand; Strip House at Planet Hollywood are participants too. So is Table 10 at The Palazzo; Society and Botero at Encore, and Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay, and many others. Or to tell it another way, the foregoing represents the number of business cards that I managed to collect while taking notes, pictures, and grabbing what I can in a mildly chaotic scene.

The first drink that I pick is a vodka. At least that's how I remember it. I am not sure whether that was a good idea, as my mother had always admonished me to not drink before eating. I make another circle, this time in a counter-clockwise direction, looking, sniffing, and deciding what to try first. The venue is redolent with the scent of grilling meat. Primerib, I wished. I stop at the Beijing Noodle No. 9 table and pick up my first food sample. It is a shrimp tempura-like preparation that the person at the counter describes to me is coated with a special batter. It is delicious and crispy. I picked a second.

All that time, I am wishing and hoping to see in person two of my favorites chefs, Bobby Flay and Cat Cora. But no luck. On my fifth or sixth full circle, I finally spy Bobby Flay at the MESA booth. He is very handsome in his immaculate white chef's coat with his name in stylish letters on the chest. I also notice the beautiful girl at his side. She is spreading kosher salt on the table where Bobby Flay's offerings -- shrimp ceviche ensconced in a half-coconut shell -- are laid out. It is a work of art. I pick up one of the ceviches, and without so much fanfare, I begin eating the crustacean. There are two shrimps in my sample. I know Bobby Flay's southwestern style, having watched him in the Food Network all these years. But I have never dined in any of his restaurants. So what follows is a wake-up call. That ceviche is hot. I mean it is nuclear hot. If I were to write about it years down the road, I would still remember its being very spicy hot. I remember the bottle of Avian water in my bag and I pull it out to douse the fire in my mouth.

I saunter to Wolfgang Puck's table at the northern edge of the pool. He is not there but three chefs representing his restaurants are. They are serving desserts, and I pick one up. It is a chocolate mousse that slightly cooled the ceviche's embers in my mouth. All in all, I have probably tasted more desserts than entrees. The mini-burgers being served to a long line of people at the BLT booth hold no attraction to me. The pork chops and steaks grilling at Botero's beckon, but I can't stand the wait, so I move on. By about 8:30 p.m. I am walking aimlessly, just taking in the other sights: ladies in fashionable dress, in animated conversation with their equally fashionably garbed companions. The crowd is generally friendly. Maybe it's due to the relaxing effect of the spirits, which is flowing in unending abandon. Raffy offers that it would have been a better deal to eat at a restaurant with a targeted menu, and I tend to agree with him. I mean I am good for ten Beijing Noodle No.9 crispy breaded shrimps. But to sneak that many times would have attracted the attention of other foodies who are in line, if not the chefs at the booth themselves. There are other entrees that I tasted, whose names and descriptions have escaped me. They are not as memorable as the crispy breaded shrimps at Beijing Noodle No. 9, and the fiery ceviche at MESA. And I missed Chef Cat Cora.

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