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Cheer and boozing in Las Vegas

It’s day two and I’ve realised that what I’m doing in Las Vegas is basically the culinary version of Fear and Loathing. If he hadn’t blown himself out of cannon in Aspen, Hunter S. Thompson might be proud. This is gonzo food journalism, and any previous misconceptions I may have had about heavy food and booze weeks have been blown out of the water by what I’m experiencing right now. This is like the Michael Phelps diet, squared.

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We arrived on Wednesday night, to an exquisite five course dinner of two ways with foie gras, scallops and lamb at Charlie Palmer’s Michelin starred restaurant Aureole at Mandalay Bay, where Master Sommelier and James Beard award winner William Shear plied us with delicious wines and regaled us with tales of the founding of Palmer’s restaurant’s exclusive International Sommelier Conspiracy wine label. He also said that despite the city’s 18 Master Sommeliers (who knew!?) some snooty wine suppliers still turn their noses up at supplying the desert city.

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These suppliers clearly haven’t been to Vegas lately. Over the last decade, some amazing chefs have moved in, and the Michelin Guide with them – with the city now boasting 13 starred restaurants – including Joel Robuchon’s 3-star at the MGM Grand. Last night we had the pleasure of eating at Paul Bartolotta’s eponymous restaurant in the stunning new Encore at the Wynn hotel, which specialises in Mediterranean seafood (a ton of which is imported fresh to the restaurant every week).

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The fritto misto of calamari, flying squid, whitebait and delicious little soft shell crabs was divine, and I’m a big fan of Bartolotta’s concept of honest, family-style Italian food, served abundantly on the table with everyone encouraged to tuck in. It’s quite a brave move for Vegas, this brand of simple, rustic Med fare – and it really works.

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Our table of journalists, which had been treated to a mixology seminar and several cocktails courtesy of Patricia Richards just minutes before the meal, and were feeling a bit on the full side, couldn’t resist tucking in to the salt-caked whole roasted bass.

Salt-roasted bass

If you think that sounds indulgent, I’ll put it into context for you. We started the day with tequila tasting after digging into guacamole that we made ourselves at Dos Caminos at the Palazzo. This little refreshment was followed by a HUGE Mexican lunch of vegetable and three cheese quesadillas, tacos and beef and seared tuna with deep fried yucca (it’s a root vegetable) fries. It was yummy, but my favourite part was making the guacamole. Here’s how we did it:

DSC00731 Add chopped avo DSC00733 Give it a good mashing, but leave some chunks for texture, add salt and voila!

More installments on the way…