Tag Archives: mandalay bay

Aureole Wine Lounge: A Secret In Plain Sight

Some things in Las Vegas have a way of hiding in plain sight. Aureole Wine Lounge is a fine example of this. Late last year, the Charlie Palmer restaurant in Mandalay Bay decided to update it’s rather austere entrance, opening up a huge window to their famous wine tower and dining room; it was a great idea, and arguably overdue, the first real change to the restaurant since it opened in the late ‘90s. At the same time, they also thought to gather some energy from the casino floor by creating a small “wine lounge” in front of the window, with a few select wines by the glass, and some small bites to accompany them.

It was just a modest idea. The only thing is, the team at Aureole (including Exec Chef Vincent Pouessel, Wine Director William Sherer and Pastry Chef Megan Romano) don’t do anything modestly. They do it as well as it can be done, or they don’t do it–and they let the results speak for themselves. Which is perhaps why so few local media have talked about Aureole Wine Lounge.

The lack of attention is perhaps understandable: If you don’t jump up and down and scream your lungs out on the Vegas Strip, you’ll get drowned out by every business that does. Aureole’s style has always been much more low key, quietly maintaining one of the best dining rooms and wine programs in the city without over-promoting it (take a look at their wall of awards, positioned inside the restaurant). Such exceeding expectations matched with quiet humility is the exact opposite of how things are usually done here. And while I myself have always had Aureole on a short list of reliable top recommendations, I too neglected to sit down and experience the wine lounge.

Once I did, I realized it was my loss. Because Aureole’s own standards are so high, doing an “impromptu” lounge for tourists and conventioneers means creating a place that far exceeds other much more “serious” stops at the same price point. And surprisingly, it’s not only better quality, but even better value, no matter what your budget.

In addition to a broad selection of almost 20 wines by the glass and several fine cheeses (all competitively priced–with the wines half off during happy hour), AWL also offers a menu of “small bites” in the $10 range that are easily some of your best food values on the Strip. Check out what I got to sample, all of which were great, and some out of this world:

Four Miyago Oysters for $10? You might find them a tiny bit cheaper elsewhere (most places they're $3 each). You surely won't find them better.

Four Miyago Oysters for $10? You might find them a tiny bit cheaper elsewhere (most places they're $3 each). You surely won't find them better.

Spicy tomatillo gaspacho with watercress sandwiches. This really is almost a meal.

Spicy tomatillo gaspacho with watercress sandwiches. This really is almost a meal.

Ahi tuna rolls with edible flowers: pretty. yummy.

Ahi tuna rolls with edible flowers: pretty. yummy.

Wagyu sliders with bacon: It was a tragedy we couldn't finish these.

Wagyu sliders with bacon: It was a tragedy we couldn't finish these.

Mushroom egg rolls, for you vegetarians in the house (and those of us who love you).

Mushroom egg rolls, for you vegetarians in the house (and those of us who love you).

Piece de resistance: St. Louis Ribs–meaty, tender, sweet and savory, incredibly, the BEST ribs I've had in Vegas. 3 for $10 might seem pricey but THESE ARE WORTH IT!

Piece de resistance: St. Louis Ribs–meaty, tender, sweet and savory, incredibly, the BEST ribs I've had in Vegas. 3 for $10 might seem pricey but THESE ARE WORTH IT!

Get Yr Ducats In A Row: Aureole Wine Weekend 2011 is coming

Will Sherer and I pose with one of the more esteemed dead soldiers.

Will Sherer and I pose with one of the more esteemed dead soldiers.

I’ve attended Aureole’s Wine Weekend for the past two years, and I remain convinced that this small, rather under-publicized affair, is among the best annual food and wine events in the country. The first year, 2009, I documented on this website, here. The second, 2010, on EscapeHatchDallas.com, here.

But I wanted to wait until this year’s schedule was announced to publish my full album of photographs from last year, so that everyone could see just what an impressive event this is. You can now see the full album here, on flickr. The number of pics was too many to post here!

This year's schedule: Click to enlarge

This year's schedule: Click to enlarge

I can’t recommend this event highly enough, especially since this year will not only feature three days of events hosted by William Sherer, MS, Chef Vincent Pouessel and Patissier Megan Romano, but also CEC Charlie Palmer himself, and a member of the Mondavi wine family. Yes, this price tag is not small, but when you break down what you get for the cost (including the hotel room) it’s a steal.

Burn This! Judging Hussong’s Salsa Contest

Sometimes you have to take a stand. Sometimes you have to accept a difficult task. The kind of task that just can’t be left to amateurs. Sometimes, you have to judge a hot salsa contest. And that sometime, for me, came on February 15.

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To answer the first FAQ, no this was not a salsa dancing contest. Although I may have my opinions about hot salsa dancing, and certainly hot salsa dancers, I am by no means an expert. This was salsa, as in Mexican food, and in that world, yes, I think I have some experience. So it was that on the day after Valentine’s Day, Hussong’s Cantina-Taqueria in Mandalay Place on the Las Vegas Strip invited me to join restaurateurs, a hot sauce entrepreneur and a dedicated Hussong’s regular in judging the Burn a Hole in My Heart salsa-off between Executive Chef Noe Alcala and chefs Tino Guzman and Michael Vargas (one of whom is his former and the other his current sous chef, I think).

Noe Alcala, Tino Guzman and Michael Vargas at Hussong's Cantina 2

I tried to be pure about the process, but before I knew what was happening, Noe was plying all of us with shots of silver Patron, and I couldn’t turn it down. At least we’d all be on a level field. I suspected a fix when I saw Noe got to use the robocoupe and the other chefs were given bar blenders but honestly, I don’t think that affected the outcome too much. Beyond the obvious ingredients–tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime–each took a different approach. All were far superior, by the way, to what you get at the original Hussong’s in Ensenada, where the chips are topped with a very plain, relatively dry pico de gallo of tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeno.

The first of the three we judged used more fresh peppers and was the most traditional–a little heat, a lot of vegetable flavor. The second used a lot of smoked chilis, making it extremely hot on the back end, with a thick, almost mole-like texture. It almost won. But ultimately Alcala’s recipe prevailed with a “kitchen sink” mentality, using a wide variety of fresh peppers, two hot sauces, almost a dozen dried spices, for an all-encompassing flavor with a lot of heat from beginning to end, that stayed with you (it took me holding a gulp of margarita in my mouth for 30 seconds to calm it down). It wasn’t just the heat that made it a winner though, but the variety of “heats” and flavor complexity–also the wet but thick consistency, which helped it stick well to tortilla chips.

Photos courtesy Bryan Steffy/Magnetic PR

Chefs Noe Alcala, Tino Guzman and Michael Vargas

Chefs Noe Alcala, Tino Guzman and Michael Vargas