I have never been a fan of people, places, or things that are dumb on purpose. That said, I have just returned from a weekend in Las Vegas. If you’ve never been, imagine a city on the surface of the sun where fountains are a legitimate form of entertainment and you’re half way there. But, amongst the oddities, perversities, and electricity is a shocking amount of vegan food. Pink’s has a vegan dog! Ronald’s has vegan donuts! And thanks to quite possibly the world’s richest vegan (and one of Keith Olberman’s “Worst Persons In The World”) Steve Wynn, you can blow all your gambling winnings on Gardein products because every restaurant in the Wynn and Encore hotels has at least one vegan option courtesy of Collaborating Chef Tal Ronnen (Vegan Chef To The Stars Who Gets No Restaurant Of His Own). Vegans infiltrating Vegas? Super!
After perusing all the drool inducing vegan menus online, I was really excited to try some vegan fine dining (though there is also some vegan fast food but be forewarned, it closes at 3pm). After a “oh my god I want to eat at them all!” crisis I tried to get a reservation at Bartolotta, an Italian seafood restaurant. Sadly, they couldn’t seat us in time to make our 9:30 fountertainment, so I went to Plan B: The Country Club, a new American steakhouse. Chick’n Chimichurri? Gimme! Saltily, they are closed for dinner on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays and apparently, that’s what day it was. Plan C was Botero, a modern steakhouse with a dress code, a $60 five-course vegan tasting menu and a lot of art by the restaurant’s Columbian namesake. Our waiter was a lovely New Yorker who let me create my own 5 course vegan tasting menu and even brought me some vegan margarine for the bread basket. Here’s what I had:
Pistou Soup with fregola and summer squash
Watery, oily and lacking in flavor, this soup needed salt, pepper and CPR. I gave most of it to my date, who was not a prostitute, but ate like one. On the slot machine scale, I give this dish a bar, and two empty spots.
Grilled Broccoli Salad with marcona almonds, corn and polenta croutons
This was prettier than it tasted. The polenta croutons, while good tasting, were mushy and hot, not crispy like the word ‘crouton’ implies, while the broccoli was ice cold, making for a weird combination. There was no discernible dressing, which is better than being overdressed, but naked is embarrassing in public, too. I give this dish a 7, cherries, and a bar.
The description of this spinach sounded so good it’s what convinced me to go rogue on the tasting course. Cooked in cast iron with a homemade cashew cream? Who doesn’t love cashew anything?But this was a major disappointment. It wasn’t as hot as forged metal suggests, wasn’t creamy even a little and tasted like it had just been boiled or steamed. I had two bites and folded. 1 bar, a lemon and an empty.
Semolina Crusted Gardein Chick’n with corn pudding and chanterelles
Somewhere in-between the bread, courses 1-3 and 4 I managed to become painfully full, which is unfortunate because this was the best dish so far. Even then, it didn’t live up to my expectations. It was good, but not mind-blowingly awesome. I couldn’t taste the corn pudding, which just looked like a decorative sauce the Chick’n was resting on, the crust on the Chick’n kept separating, and the mushrooms were tough. Red seven, lemon, black seven.
Blueberry Peach Crumble with Toasted Almond Ice “Cream”
This dish was my motivation for picking the tasting menu, as it was not on the regular menu. It sounded so delicious– homemade creamy ice cream on top of a hot fruity crumble? What they should have told me though, was that they were out of said ice cream. Instead, there was a dollop of fruit sorbet on top. Who wants a third tarty fruit on top of a dual fruit cobbler?! That said, the cobbler was bowl scraping good. Lemon, lemon, bonus.
While it didn’t live up to my vegan hopes and veggie dreams, I did eat enough to make me have to waddle off into the brightly lit night, glad that I wore a stretchy dress and swearing I’d never eat ever again. That in itself is pretty awesome.
The next night I found myself back at the Wynn (or was it the Encore?) at Sinatra, a restaurant with, you guessed it, a full-on Frank theme. And, shocker, it was Italian. Still full, broke, and disappointed from the night before, I had a dirty martini and let it set aside all my pre-conceived notions. I ordered the most expensive thing on the Vegan Menu: Gardein Marsala (gardein chick’n breast, forest mushrooms, marsala sauce, potato gnocchi) and nothing else. I debated with myself over the “caesar salad” — I want to try it! I’m too full! It sounds so good! It costs more than my shoes! I just couldn’t do it. One of my table mates ordered the regular marsala, and I was excited to be able to compare. What do you think? I was impressed, they looked pretty similar, and then I took a bite … it was incredibly insanely delicious! The chick’n was tender and moist and thick like an actual cutlet– way more accurate than the flat frozen stuff you get at the supermarket. The sauce was full of flavor; rich and creamy but not too heavy. The gnocchi were small and soft and buttery and perfect. I cleaned my plate! Sinatra was a wonderful surprise and confirmed how mediocre Botero was, but both did it “my way”. I doubled down and got red seven, red seven, red seven!