Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Project Dinner Table: UNCE Orchards

On April 24th Project Dinner Table hosted its first dinner in the series of seven at UNCE Orchards. Each event features a unique local venue, a guest chef, a guest charity, local artisans, and some form of entertainment. At this inaugural dinner, Chef Roy Ellamar from Sensi at the Bellagio prepared the five course meal for the 125 people sitting at a long family style table running the length of the West side of the orchard. Prior to dinner we were given educational tours of the orchard as we sipped on champagne and interesting drink shooters that included frozen micheladas (a take on a Mexican beverage made with beer, lime, and sometimes bloody mary ingredients) and tomato "champagne." When the dinner bell rang we all gathered around and took our seats to enjoy the lavish and beautifully presented feast crafted from local and sustainable ingredients. Each dish was paired with a different beer from Widmer micro-brewery, which was a fun and tasty change from wine.

We started with the "Chilled Riverbend Farms Green Garlic Soup" topped with a horseradish croquette wrapped in Bar 10 Beef Carpaccio. I loved the presentation and the little croquette was light and flavorful. With the exception of this appetizer, every course was served family style, which not only strengthened the connection between us and our stranger neighbors, but also allowed the food to remain in its ideal state (no waiting for the kitchen staff to plate 125 times) and conserved water by limiting the number of dishes that needed to be done. The first of these was the "Quail Hollow Farms Harvest Salad" with sweet and spicy Niman Ranch Bacon and Kochu Jang vinaigrette (Kochu Jang is a Korean chili paste) that was deliciously hot and unusual. The chunks of bacon provided the fat to cut through the tangy dressing and crunchy soybeans served as Asian croutons. I could have eaten platefuls of this!

Our first main course was "Wild Raised Cypress Island Salmon" with summer corn succotash, sweet and slow pork belly, and smoked Hy-Desert tomato vinaigrette. The freshly shucked corn was sweet and the pork belly incredibly addictive so I had to restrain myself from taking more than my fair share. It was adorned with what I believe were blossoming basil stems, and these garnishes added a whimsical touch. Our second main course was a "Grass Fed Beef Duet" which included Pitch Black Ale braised Bar 10 beef and grape vine grilled Piedmontese beef with a Gilcrease Orchard charred vegetable salad. Both preparations of the beef tasted fantastic and were cooked incredibly well. The rich and intensely flavored sauce on the braised beef was perfectly juxtaposed with the simply prepared, sauce-free Piedmontese beef, so the dish didn't feel too heavy.

Finally, we were presented with three different kinds of dessert; a sugar coated donut with coffee caramel sauce that tasted like the best breakfast treat you've ever had; a chocolate bar that tasted like the best kit kat you've ever had; and a citrus panna cotta-like pot de creme made from local goat milk that tasted like the best orange creamsicle you've ever had. These were irresistible and were served with Colorado River Roasters organic coffee. By this point, I was thoroughly impressed.

The whole experience was really very fun. I loved eating local foods from producers I never knew existed and I loved that everyone around us was excited to be a part of this new movement in Las Vegas. The welcoming environment was casual, yet still refined, so everyone was immediately friendly and felt comfortable talking about all the delicious foods we were consuming. The dishes could easily have been served in any upscale Strip restaurant, yet because they were served family style they were not at all pretentious. This made it taste even better, as there is something magical about dining al fresco while eating from mounds of glorious food, without having to be in a restaurant. I highly suggest attending at least one of these dinners soon, as I'm sure sometime in the near future tickets are going to be hard to come by.

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