Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Last Time I Saw Vegas

The last time I saw Vegas, it was so long ago, the memory of it isn’t even a blip. Which isn’t all that unusual, for many people’s memories of the last time they were in Las Vegas. My story is a little different. I wasn’t gambling; I wasn’t drinking, at least not from a liquor bottle. I wasn’t staying up all night, even though my sleeping pattern, I am told, was erratic. I wasn’t stumbling, hell I wasn’t even crawling.

That’s because I was maybe all of three months old, and my family was on the only vacation we ever took. Too bad I can’t remember it.

Not that there was that much in Vegas, in those days. An occasional puff of smoke in the sky from nearby atomic bomb testing. Other than that, Vegas as we now know it hadn’t been imagined. Imagine that?

Growing up on the other side of that desert, in Palm Springs, California, it wasn’t like we didn’t have our own little pre-Vegas party going. A lot of the folks who made their fame and fortune in Las Vegas lived quieter lives in Palm Springs. The Village, folks liked to call it. It was quiet, at times. It was more of a global village, in that there were people from all over the world living there. I enjoyed it. Hell, I loved it, as a kid. Even on Saturday nights during the height of the season, when I swear I could feel the collective orgasm of thousands of shaking, wiggling bodies, in the hotels, cars and pools, grinding to the post-war beat of the 50’s and 60’s.

But Vegas, that was another story. I had managed to avoid the place, for fun, for business, all these years. Not that I consciously went out of my way not to go there. I just had other priorities. Like Italy, San Francisco, New York, France, Sicily. Ya dig?

And so when the plane finally took me and plopped me down into the 2010 Vegas landscape, can I tell you, it was a bit of a moment for me. Actually, 150,000 moments.

This is my take on Vegas, from the wine trail in Italy perspective. It was also Nevada Day, Halloween weekend and World Series time, so the town was packed. Bustling. Smoking. Walking through the casinos, I feel like I inhaled a carton of cigarettes.

So where to start? How about with Mario Batali? It was rumored he was walking around the hotel I was staying in, the Venetian. No surprise there, he has two restaurants in it and the hotel was hosting the Wine Spectator weekend, the reason why I was in Las Vegas. Work. Got it? Anyway, one in our group suggested we go to B+B for lunch. I still had my watch on Texas time so I drug myself out of the room, after a 90-minute conference call, and hightailed it down to the restaurant. Only to find it was only open for dinner. No problem, little sister restaurant, Enoteca Otto, upstairs, in the Venetian's Piazza San Marco, could accommodate our group.

After walking around the casinos, staring, looking, seeing people sitting in the same slot machine chairs for 5,6,7 hours, my batteries were a little scorched. Lungs too. So when I took the escalator up to the so-called Piazza San Marco, and saw the staged lighting (lovely, actually) and the open space (sans gaming tables) I breathed a smoke-free breathe of relief. I wasn’t in Italy, but it was a very reasonable facsimile. A colleague found me and suggested we have a pre-lunch drink. I spotted a bottle of Aperol and ordered Aperol Spritzes. Perfect way to wait for the rest of the group to join us. At this point I am finding a way to be at peace with Vegas.

Aperol, salumi, a wine list that has Italian wines on it that I like. Even a sommelier who is pleasant to talk to. He knows Italian wine well, knows I know Italian wine well, has read my blog, and starts bringing my attention to the cool wines on the list. Coenobium, the intriguing white from Monastero Suore Cistercensi. Frank Cornelissen’s Monjibel Rosso, you name it. Not just a list of Super-Duper Tuscans (Yeah, Masseto and the usual suspects were on it, this is after all, Vegas, where they might sell). Someone put together a list of really nice wines, and some good prices.

About then, Drew Hendricks and his crew walk in. Drew heads up the wine program at Pappas Bros in Texas and is also one of the founders of TexSom. Great, this gives me an excuse to order some more wines and taste them, pass them over to their table. How about some Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Valle dell’Acate? Now, we’re in a Vegas of my own choosing, now I am liking it so much more. No dark, chilly rooms, no smoke, just a plate of house-made mortadella (they sold out of culatello) and more wine. Yeah, my kind of town.

The Wine Spectator event, the reason I was sent there. Weird, just plain freekin’ weird. I went up to Christophe Baron of Cayuse. I thought I recognized him. “Are you a blogger?” I asked. “No” he answered abruptly as he reluctantly poured me a glass of his Syrah. “Are you a winemaker?” I asked. “No! I am a vigneron!” And he pulled the wine bottle back and announced for us to come back later as he wasn’t pouring any more wine. Maybe he was afraid of the Italian suit. I wasn't drunk. I wasn't being rude. I was merely asking friendly questions. Dude, I was just trying to find put more about you and your wines. No, Christophe, you aren’t a blogger. Or a winemaker. But a world class bonehead, that you are.

Thinking this had to get better, I headed over to see Randall Grahm. He recognized @italianwineguy from Twitter (that happened a lot, Facebook too) and he shared a taste of Le Cigare Volant with me. Nice guy, nice wine. Thanks, dude. Proved all Bio-dynamic winemakers aren’t jerks.

Not much Italian-centric for me to report from that event, but Vegas was an epiphany for me. All these years, in flyover country, feeling like this missionary work just wouldn’t ever end. Or at least end with a victory. Well, Italy has conquered the desert, and Vegas. And maybe it is a little caricature-ized in a grandiose and ramped up way.

I mean, is Mario Batali a God in Vegas? Perhaps. One of many, though, if he is. Vegas blows it up, magnifies it and puts a spotlight on it, for all to see. And if that comes off good, it is a good thing for all my friends and family back in Sunny Italy. In that regard, I think Vegas has been a good thing for Italian food and wine. And hopefully, in respect to things Italian, maybe what happens in Vegas won’t have to stay in Vegas.


David McDuff said...

You've now got me beat 2-0 when it comes to Vegas visits, Ace. One of these days, something will take me there, I'm sure, though now that Lotus of Siam has opened a NY branch, there's one less reason.

Sounds like the wine program at Vegas Otto is very much like that in the NY branch. Lots of Barolo, too?

Thomas said...

Sorry, feel like throwing up now...

Alfonso Cevola said...


Trick or Treat!

Thomas said...


Next time wait for April Fool's Day.

I dunno: something about a faux place that makes me lose my balance. But I guess it is nice to know that the word Otto and the concept of celebrity chef isn't making money only on West 8th Street...

Alfonso Cevola said...

I hear you, Thomas. I was there for work, and frankly, was surprised to find an escape from the casino-culture. And while it wasn't a place I would normally choose, and I am not normally predisposed to a Batali(or any Celebrity chef) restaurant, I was relieved to have a nice meal and good conversation with the young sommelier. Anytime my preconceptions are blown up, it is a revelation, especially when it is infused more with pleasure than with pain.

But thanks for keeping us on track, amico!

Thomas said...


The only time I was ever in LV was for work, (I used to be in the corporate presentation/convention road show business). Didn't take me long not to like the place.

Admittedly, however, this was before the restaurants and wine lists got a little religion, and not only the part that required confession.

In those days, I traveled to every major and a few minor cities--ranked LV at the bottom, behind LA, Orlando, and Syracuse!

Marco Passopisciaro said...

"This is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted...We promised, but the moment we got inside we lost control. The tension had been too great. Debbie Reynolds was yukking across the stage in a silver Afro the tune of "Sargent Pepper." from the golden trumpet of Harry James."
Fear and Loathing HST

Oh, and BJ's Wholesale now sells Mario's prepared meals. said...

Well if you have to go to Las Vegas, and unfortunately I do every year for a Psychological convention(go figure), the Venetian is the place to stay. I will venture out to Bellagio too. those two I can tolerate to some degree. It's a lot like disneyland gone Italian but I have been able to fidn some good restaurants and ambience that project me to reminices of Italy.

It was so different in the 50's. Very rat pack and hip in a 50;s sort of way. Neither period is my cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

I was in LV precisely once, for work. This was in the 90s some time, and it depressed the hell out of me. At that time there wasn't much in the way of decent food (forget the wine).

Why anybody would choose to go there is completely beyond me. Skeevy.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for attending the New
World Wine Experience. I'm sorry if you were disappointed not to find wines from Italy in the Grand Tasting (Italy not being, after all, one of what we consider the New World wine regions), but I hope you had a chance to taste the Nebbiolo from Cetto in Mexico. And perhaps have dinner at Piero Selvaggio's Valentino in the Venetian, which also has an amazing list of Italian wines.

Thomas Matthews
Executive editor
Wine Spectator

Alfonso Cevola said...


I went in knowing it wasn't Euro-centric. Next year-NYC- I'm on it. Not to worry.

Maybe next year you might want to include some of us Euro-bloggers on your panels, eh?

Thanks for popping in....

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