by Bob Barnes
The Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas continued its Epicurean Epicenter Event series with a celebration of beer and barbecue. The sold-out event began with a reception where we were served a Bellagio Fountains Shandy. This creation by Assistant Beverage Director and Master Mixologist Matt Myers is a mix of Stella Artois and Bombay Sapphire gin, which he related is a play on a Canadian cocktail.
As we entered the Tuscany Exhibition Kitchen, the scene was set with tables decorated with buckets filled with beer. What’s exceptional about these events is that they’re so much more than just a pairing of food and drink; the added benefit of an entertaining demonstration is akin to a foodie’s dinner show. The state-of-the-art demo kitchen’s three cameras, positioned above the prep stations and stove tops, captured shots of Bellagio’s executive chef Edmund Wong at work, which were projected onto 60-inch plasma screens mounted above the cooking area, giving everyone a bird’s eye view.
Chef Wong enhanced the mood as he donned his cowboy/BBQ hat and demonstrated his sense of humor throughout the demonstration to the delight of all. First up was grilled flatbread, which Chef Wong described as a spinoff of pizza dough. The flatbread was brushed with oil infused with herbs grown in the garden located on the rooftop of the Bellagio. Using a Robata grill with Japanese oak and mesquite wood charcoal, Wong seared seaweed that was used to wrap around a Maine lobster “bake” appetizer; our appetites were whetted as the aroma of grilled seafood wafted through the room. The lobster was poached in water and aromatics, and then grilled and paired with baby zucchini blossoms that were tempura-battered and fried, and grilled full-grown zucchini. The result was a pleasant contrast of textures.
He then combined a salad of bacon, butter and potatoes dressed with roasted corn vinaigrette cooked down to intensify the flavors. Chef Wong commented, “Bacon, butter and beer make everything taste good.” The beer making this dish taste good was New Belgium Somersault, a light summer ale with hints of coriander and citrus that went well with the lightness of the lobster and salad.
In between courses, Matt Myers talked about hops and how they were originally used as a preservative in beer before it became more recognized as a flavor ingredient. He went on to introduce the next three beers that we would enjoy: a trio of Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale, Real Ginger Brew and Commemorative Ale from the Kiuchi Brewery in Japan. The brewery was solely a sake producer until it tried its hand at beer in 1996.
The Red Ale was matched with Wong’s take on chicken and waffles. The chicken was marinated overnight in buttermilk, breaded, deep-fried, and combined with buckwheat mini-waffles topped with maple butter. The sweetness in this entrée was contrasted with the saltiness and brine characters in the ale. Maple butter boneless pork ribs with a jalapeno and citrus vinaigrette paired well with the citrusy Real Ginger Brew. A juicy, medium rare Prime dry-aged rib eye and a goat cheese and apricot “soufflé” were a hearty rendering that were backed up with the 8% ABV Commemorative Ale spiced with vanilla bean, cinnamon and coriander. To go with the three entrées, we were served side dishes of macaroni and cheese made with cheddar, English peas and roasted carrots, pickled beets and cucumbers and grilled nectarines with heirloom tomatoes.
Chef Wong introduced Bellagio pastry chef Sylvain Bortolini, the creator of the dessert finale that consisted of blueberry pie and an assortment of “Treats at 32 Degrees” that included an Oreo/hazelnut ice cream sandwich; a mango, raspberry, lemon and vanilla push pop; and a strawberry ice cream lollipop. A very interesting accompaniment was a spiked root beer float that contained no root beer or ice cream. Matt Myers’ concoction contained the Brazilian Xingu Black Beer, Navan Espuma (a vanilla liqueur), Pimm’s No. 1 and the Italian digestif, Averna Amaro. The result was a convincing replica of a root beer float that packed a potent punch.
The culinary experience was capped off with parting gifts of glassware, menus of all the drinks and dishes presented, some of the beers we had been served and a handy and functional beer bottle opener. The Bellagio’s next Epicurean Epicenter event will be a Husic Vineyards pairing prepared by Prime restaurant executive chef Sean Griffin on Saturday, September 17.
You can click on each photo to enlarge to see dishes from Bellagio’s restaurant menu.