We left Baker City on Monday morning before dawn, and had an uneventful drive to Boise for our departure to Vegas.
Jake brought only a carry-on bag. I brought a cooler full of pizza dough and cheese, certain that we would be able to find all of our other ingredients for the competition in the city of food and booze.
The flight was direct, and only lasted 90 minutes.
We jumped in our rental car and went straight to the most important place on our itinerary: Lunch.
Jake’s favorite food is Thai, and we found a great restaurant with a 12-page menu chock full of classics.
I ordered the Duck Curry, already bemoaning that Typhoon has closed in Bend and I won’t be able to have their version ever again.
It was very good, but no Typhoon.
After lunch, we jetted over to the Las Vegas Convention Center to attend a mandatory meeting for all of the pizza competitors. Some familiar faces were in the crowd, and Jake finally understood the magnitude of the event.
We listened to a long question and answer session, and the length of the day began to take its toll.
After leaving the Expo, we finally found our condo on the strip, checked in, and unpacked.
The place is a total score… set between the Cosmopolitan and Bellagio hotels. It has two giant bedrooms, two private bathrooms, a full kitchen, living and dining room.
The beds are incredibly comfortable, and they have their own pool, courtyard, gym, and really fancy outdoor grills. Plus, we were allowed the use of the Cosmo pool and shared an elevator. Valet parking was a bonus.
After checking in to the hotel, we got in the car and did our shopping at Whole Foods for the week, desperate to find horseradish root (one of our key ingredients for the competition) and all of the seasonings for the bloody mary sauce we had to make.
I should mention, that was our entry. A Bloody Mary pizza.
We stoked up the car, went back to the condo, and I made dinner.
Coconut and macadamia mahi mahi with a pineapple mango salsa, guacamole, and escargot. I sent this photo to Whitey and he assumed we were at a fancy restaurant spending too much money. Nope. Not yet at least.
We went for a walk; Jake wanted to see the fountains at the Bellagio, and we arrived just in time to watch the water dance to Celine Dion. Jake walks a little differently than most people.
A funny thing happened, too. While posing for a photo, waiting for the foot traffic to subside, Jake was swallowed up by a group of handsomely dressed Russian men.
I told him I’d put a leash on him if he disappeared again.
The next day, we went to the Convention Center to watch the Traditional Pizza Competition so that Jake could see how the rules are put into play. We sampled a few of the pies, visited a TON of the booths, and talked with a lot of people. This expo brings people from all over the world, and it’s not uncommon to hear a multitude of different languages and talk to people through their translator.
One key thing that we noticed with the competitors was that there was a lack of equipment. No peels, no paddles, and people were flaring their nostrils sharing what little equipment was available. When I questioned the management, we were told that 20 peels were stolen the night before, and that “hopefully” they’d find more by tomorrow. Most of the competitors can’t travel with bulky peels, and all contestants are informed that everything we need will be supplied. Now we knew that wasn’t the case.
We filled our bags with samples and brochures, and after a few hours of walking the convention floor, decided to head to lunch.
We ended up in Chinatown, and Jake picked the venue. A place with this logo on the wall outside:
A topless pig with a cop hat, rake, floral boxer shorts, UGG boots and a chicken wing in his hand. Not sure if this bodes well for a good meal…
boy was I wrong.
Jake ordered dumplings, which the server recommended in very broken English. I ordered the soup.
My soup was pure heaven. The broth was made from scratch, incredibly flavorful, warm, spicy, and the dumplings in the broth were of the best texture and flavor I could have asked for.
I could barely eat half of it, and yet swore that I would eat a bowl every day of my life if I could. If you’re ever in Vegas, go to Chinatown and the shopping area that has the biggest red arch over the parking lot, find this place. We couldn’t figure out the name of it even when we searched the signage and menu. It’s located on the furthest right-hand side with the topless pig logo and a small neon sign that says “NOODLES”. Get the soup.
After leaving Chinatown, we screeched to a halt by a sign that said “ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE” and “ARE YOU PREPARED?” How can you resist such marketing, right?
The store was small, and sold everything you need to prepare for a worldwide zombie takeover, from weapons to dehydrated foods, to target practice photos.
We figured we’d be safe in Baker City if the Apocalypse ever happened, (we both own big guns), but left with a few tawdry bumper stickers: I HEART ZOMBIES and HUMANS, THE OTHER WHITE MEAT.
We then drove to a restaurant supply store to purchase a pizza peel and two paddles to prepare our pizzas on the next day. We weren’t about to arm wrestle competitors for equipment.
Afterward, we continued our quest to find bloody mary seasonings and horseradish root. Hours of driving, and many stores later, we were still out of luck.
I figured that we’d be in VEGAS, home of all foodies and cocktail needs. I was wrong.
After spending hours on the phone with different food purveyors and bar suppliers, we finally found the spices we needed 75 miles away at a specialty liquor store. The gentleman on the phone heard the sadness in my voice, and when I told him it was for a cooking competition the next day, he took my number and said he’d check around as well.
Sure enough, he called back, and our ingredients were found only 10 miles away. We arrived at a liquor store the size of Macy’s, and our ingredients were waiting for us behind the counter.
I had to take photos. Jake isn’t 21 yet, and had to wait in the car. I just had to show him how big this place was. We could fit five of our restaurants inside this one store!
The only thing missing was the horseradish root. Whole Foods didn’t have it, and neither did the multiple other grocery stores we went into. Someone suggested a “hippy” store called Sunflower Market. It was late, we were tired and hungry, and I had made reservations at one of my favorite restaurants for a short time later. It was our last chance.
We went straight to the produce section, and Jake spotted our root on the top shelf, directly under the sprinkler. My relief was quickly overtaken by the fact that every.single.root was limp and beginning to mold. WHO PUTS A ROOT VEGETABLE IN DIRECT CONTACT WITH WATER?!?? If you want them to sprout, sure, but this was just a travesty.
Similar to a hunk of cheese that sprouts mold, we decided to buy a bunch of the roots and to shave the bad stuff off of the skin, then dry out the core in order to get our ingredient.
Back at the condo, we did just that. After taking the skin off, we laid them out to dry out, and crossed our fingers.
Then we went to dinner.
Sage at the Aria hotel and casino is probably one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at in the past. It’s more than a tad spendy, but worth every bite.
I could tell that Jake was overwhelmed, and he made a comment that maybe his hoodie wasn’t exactly fine-dining attire. I just laughed and said “You’ll forget about that in about one minute. It’s Vegas.”
He looked at the menu and then looked at me. I ordered for both of us.
The Chef’s tasting menu. A bit of everything that’s considered the best.
An unexpected amuse-bouche of seasoned tuna tartare was delicious, and Jake mentioned he’d eat an entire plate of just that. I explained that it was a single bite of something considered perfect, just to whet the palate and make you want more.
“Well they’re doing a good job so far,” was his response.
We started with the Foie Gras Brulee (Foie Gras Custard ‘Brûlèe’ – Blood Orange/Toasted Cocoa Nibs/Salted Brioche) and Wagyu Beef Tartare (Crushed Caper Aïoli/Slow-Poached Egg/Crispy Chocolate).
Then we shared the Glazed Pork Belly (Sweet Corn Tortelloni/Porcini Mushroom/Crispy Pancetta) and the Maine Dayboat Scallops (Braised Oxtail/Wild Mushrooms/Salted Caramel Reduction). The scallops were perfect, and the braised oxtail that they sat on blew my mind.
So far, lots of rich, sweet foods with crazy flavors.
Next, we each tried the Iberico Pork Loin (Milk-Braised Cannelloni/Baby Eggplant/Creminelli Mortadella) and the 48-hour Beef Belly (Golden Chanterelles/Padron Peppers/California Plums) which our server described as pure meat bliss that is “bathed and babied” for two days prior to preparing.
At this point, we were done. Done done done. Full and fully full.
But there’s more.
Dessert. We were both presented with our final course, Jake having a flourless chocolate cake with hazelnuts and myself a fresh berry shortcake. I couldn’t take a bite. Not one bite. I was doney done done done. The presentation of my dessert was beautiful, too, but I just couldn’t do it.
Our server brought us another unexpected finishing touch of homemade hot cocoa in a shot glass. It was exactly what I needed as I polished off my glass of wine, and the we left to attempt to walk off this incredibly rich meal of kings.
to be continued….