Las Vegas Dining Memories

 One of the amazing things about good food is how taste and smell can trigger deep memories.  One bite of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and I'm right back in Mom's kitchen on a rainy day and devouring a lunch of those unnaturally orange noodles while watching her bake something really good.  I found myself back in Las Vegas teaching at a medical conference this year and went to the Cirque do Soleil show.  In typical "over the top" Las Vegas style the concession stand was selling Black Truffle Popcorn.  One whiff of the unmistakable, pungent, earthy smell of truffles and I was remembering the most amazing meal I've ever eaten in my life.  Last year while in Vegas I went to La Mansion du Joel Robuchon in the MGM Grand.

    Joel Robuchon is a famous French Chef and when he opened a restaurant in Las Vegas, the editor of Gourmet magazine called it the most important gastronomic event in the US in a decade.  The chef himself has been called "The Chef of the Century".  He's really that good.  Anyway, if you ever want to find out just how the very very best Haute Cuisine in the world tastes, make yourself a reservation.  But bring your wallet.  One meal here set me back well over two hundred bucks, not including the wine. 

    When the best chef in the world is cooking, you pretty much leave it up to him what you're having for dinner.  The menu itself offers two choices:  The standard 7 course dinner, or the more adventurous 12 course tasting menu.  An amazing bread cart rolled by with dozens of selections.  Plates appeared and disappeared from in front of me with perfectly choreographed timing by the wait staff.  Each course arrived on its own style of china--selected to complement the style or appearance of the dish it carried.  And the food!  Oh the food!  I'd do it a grave disservice to even try to describe the flavors and textures and smells, but I walked away believing that there is genious and mastery in the art of cooking just as there is in music or painting.  And I was at the museum.

   Who knew that mashed potatoes could be turned into something sublime by adding sea urchin (!) and coffee (!!) to it?  And when all was said and done, and I added up all the white truffles, caviar, wagyu beef, sea urchin, and other exotic ingredients...once I started thinking about the time and precision that a small army in the kitchen took to create each pretty little plate for me...yes, I think my $300 dinner was a pretty good bargain.

   But this year, I kept telling myself, I a unemployed.  So I have already resigned myself not to spend that much on a meal no matter how good it was.  Which is too bad because there are probably 3 or 4 other restaurant's in Vegas with as spectacular a reputation as Robuchon's.  Le Cirque is a recreation of the restaurant of the same name in New York and consistently shows up on lists of the best restaurants in the nation.  But Le Cirque is also pretty pricey so I decided instead to book a table at "Il Circo" which is a little more casual and less expensive than it's bigger brother next door.  It has the same gaudy silk decor of red and orange and perhaps, I thought, the same quality of food.

   The tasting menu here was just under a hundred bucks.  Kathleen has been known to preface her extravagant purchase by first telling me how much money she saved, so I vowed to do the same.  After reminding her of the $300 dinner last year, I will tell her proudly how I found such a great bargain for dinner this year that only cost $99.  Including dessert!

   When Kathleen and I travelled to Europe 10 years ago, we arrived by train to a little town on the shores of  Lake Como in the morning.  Carrying our backpacks, we stopped into a nearby bakery and ordered a lunch of two small loaves of freshly baked bread, studded with bits of bell peppers and sprinkled on top with rosemary and sea salt.  It was absolutely delicious and we ate it while sitting on an old stone bench watching the mist swirl on the still lake.  I have tried a few times over the year to recreate that bread with absolutely no success.  But with my first bite from the bread tray at Il Circo that the baker in back must have once been to the same place. 

   I perused my wine list and found another memory:  Gainey Merlot by the glass!  Gainey Vineyards' Merlot was the first wine I ever bought a case of 10 years ago when I was just starting my practice.  I think someone gave me a bottle as a Christmas present and I thought it was so great that I had to have more.  I ended up ordering a case from the winery when I couldn't find it anywhere else.  That was the beginning of my wine cellar.  And the beginning of so many great bottles of wine that have passed through it, and great meals that have accompanied them, and great company that has shared it all over the years.  Food, flavor, smells, it can bring back such sudden, amazing, vivid and unexpected memories like nothing else.

   I drank the last bottle of Gainey merlot from my wine cellar a few months before we packed up the house to go sailing.  I was glad to have one more glass at Il Circo to wash down that incredible bread, followed by the most amazing salad of buttery tender strips of calamari tossed with roasted red bell peppers and herbs.  And although I probably shouldn't be spending that kind of money, I felt no guilt at all savoring each course to follow.

   Because in the end, it is those memories that we take with us in life.  All the things we buy will wear out, or get lost, or go out of style and at the end of our lives the best anyone can hope for is a mind filled with a rich tapestry of happy memories.  And that's what the voyage of Uliad is all about...getting rid of the things that get in the way of the experiences and the memories.  Bon Appetit!