On Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending the annual benefit dinner for the Lou Ruvo Alzheimer's center. This is one of the biggest social events in Vegas, and tickets are very expensive so I don't usually get to go. This year, however, my mom's friend Mariam invited us to sit at her table. My biggest interest in the event is the food, surprise surprise, which this year was catered by celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller (I was actually able to get my picture taken with Thomas Keller, shown left, who is one of the top chefs in the world and owner of The French Laundry). Can you imagine how excited I was about this dinner?!
The opulent evening started with an array of hors d'oeuvres stations (great concept) from restaurants of the Bellagio, where the event was held. The best of these came from Michael Mina - a rice cracker topped with minced lobster, coconut panna cotta, a slice of red chili, and an unidentified yellow something. The construction of the tiny morsel was beautiful, it could be eaten in one perfect bite, and it was unique in its concept. It tasted great, too, with just the right combination of sweet, spicy, and lobster. It paired very well with the Dom Perignon. After trying every other hors d'oeuvres, we headed inside to red sequined tables sporting a wide array of glasses filled with more wine than one should ever consume in public. I was eager to enjoy my appetizer prepared by Mr. Puck and my entree prepared by Thomas (I think we're on a first name basis since we took a picture together and he waved to me later). The appetizer was quite the showpiece with a half of a sea urchin used as a bowl on one side of the plate. This was filled with the obvious sea urchin, as well as a combination of other sashimi. To the left of the plate was a little mound of sushi rice wrapped in ahi tuna, which would have been much better had the tuna been of better quality. The sea urchin was definitely the better half, but I did enjoy the little fried crunchies on top of the tuna. The entree was lamb tenderloin served over a bed of beans, including green, and topped with a little potato puree and cheese crisp. I wish I could identify the various kinds of beans he used because it would probably be insulting to label them with something I could come up with, like 'pinto' or 'kidney.' They were good, but beans are beans, and I was hoping for something requiring a little more finesse. The lamb loin was definitely of high quality, and it was cooked perfectly, yet something about the texture made the word 'mushy' come to mind. I liked it, I just didn't love it. Others at the table were happy but they shared my sentiments and agreed it wasn't too impressive. Dessert left the most room for improvement, hands down. I honestly don't know why someone would think it a good idea to pour white chocolate and raspberries in a firecracker popsicle mold and serve it at a dinner prepared by the aforementioned chefs. Was it a creative concept? Maybe for a child's birthday party. Did it taste good? I wouldn't serve it at my child's birthday party. The little spongecake with raspberry filling was pretty good, but I thought it looked weird with what appeared to be red cocoa dust on top. Little candies were also passed around, which is the trendy thing these days, but most of them looked a lot better than they tasted. I wish I had remembered to take the menu so I could report who the dessert chef was and advise against going to their restaurant.
I cannot judge too harshly, however, as I can only imagine what a nightmare it must be for them to prepare 1,000 dishes of the same item in one evening. Although there are techniques for delivering great food to that many people, banquet food is just not the best outlet to showcase what a chef is capable of. Had my credit limit been higher, I could have purchased the auction prize of a private dinner party for twenty prepared by either Mr. Puck or Mr. Keller for a cool $120,000, where I'm sure the winners will enjoy a much finer example of their culinary expertise (the event raised $27 million total!). Maybe if dog food sales spike in a way I can't imagine I'll be able to consider it for next year, although I guess the first step would be to buy my own ticket to the event...