FOR THE LOVE OF COOKING by Chef Charlie Palmer


If you’re anything like me, you’re not about to let a day end without a good meal, even when you have to make it yourself. Hunger is what drew me into the kitchen, but once there, I fell in love with the adventure of cooking.

Ever since I was a culinary student, my cooking has been driven by a sense of discovery, and I still look for a way to create excitement on the plate. That potential brought me to Las Vegas at the time when it was an underserved town with a buffet-driven dining scene. Today Las Vegas is a culinary destination, with a diverse community of restaurants, where it is a thrill and a challenge to please the many tastes of the global visitors. Diners are in a Vegas state of mind, ready to be wowed, and are not concerned about in-the-moment food trends.

I suppose that’s the main reason I don’t always limit myself to defining “favorite” ingredients. Rather, I concentrate on my style of cooking, which is an extension of my personality – there’s no denying that I’m a big American guy with a big American appetite. One of the best things about being a chef is figuring out how to pull the most flavor out of an ingredient. When my career began, the kitchen was dominated by butter and cream, and in a lot of ways, those additions buffer rather than enhance flavor. In classical French cuisine, you’re mellowing or adding creaminess to sauces. But my idea – which became my signature Progressive American cooking – was to keep it as pure as possible. If you’re going to have steak, I want it to taste like a steak. I don’t want it masked by too much added flavor. Enhanced, yes – but masked, no. A great deal of the restaurant business today is entertainment, and people eat with their eyes long before they put fork to food. Call me a purist if you like, but I still don’t want to lose sight of the big picture of what is on your plate – because it takes more than flair to create dining excitement, it takes flavor – but you have to know how to pull it out of your ingredients.

However, if there is ever a time when favorite ingredients guide me, it is Valentine’s Day, when I plan special menus that are not tied to the growing season as much as they are tied to the hidden meaning of food. Despite modern widespread availability, certain ingredients will always conjure up romance and luxury – so I stick with these classics at Charlie Palmer Steak. When I decided to open a steakhouse in Las Vegas, it wasn’t to imitate the old-school Vegas style. It was to pioneer a modern steakhouse, a little lighter and sleeker in décor – and we take that approach to our Valentine’s Day menu, as well.

Oysters are certainly a fitting introduction to what lays ahead. When Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, was famously painted rising from sea foam using an open shell as a platform, she bestowed her aphrodisiacal qualities on oysters, still part of the mollusk’s mythology. We go light and crisp, highlighting the Kusshi Oyster, a West Coast oyster known for its clean taste, spiked by a green apple gelée with a touch of caviar, another ingredient synonymous with the spirit of Valentine’s Day. The special menu is studded with other ingredients that have a luxurious presence, from willowy grilled asparagus, once known as a harbinger of spring, offset by the richness of a truffle poached egg and the mellow saltiness of San Danielle prosciutto. Although known for our select beef sourcing, I also like to offer equally outstanding options, such as our herb roasted Jidoori chicken (a Japanese term meaning “chicken of the earth”). Our menu is supported by a wonderfully eclectic wine list, spotlighting Napa Valley Cabernet and exciting new Pinot Noir producers from up and down the West Coast, European wines from France, Spain, Germany and Italy, as well as vintages from off-the-beaten path – because as a chef, planning a special menu for an evening as romantic this one, I know one thing for sure: delight is in the details. —Charlie




Award-Winning Chef, Hotelier and Entrepreneur

By Chef Charlie Palmer

Even as a young chef, I was always as interested in wine as much as food, and spent so much time composing wine lists to compliment my Progressive American cooking, that my staff referred to me as a “sommelier in a chef’s coat.” That passion never left me, and wine continues to plays a pivotal role in all of my restaurants. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to create great wine programs, garnering consistent Wine Spectator Grand Awards and many of the other top wine accolades throughout the industry. I also take enormous pride in the way wine lives in my restaurants, from Aureole Las Vegas, where the entrance staircase wraps around a four-story, temperature and humidity-controlled glass and steel “wine tower” holding over 50,000 bottles, to its counterpart, Aureole New York, where a temperature-controlled enclosed glass wine mezzanine room is cantilevered over the dining room, storing wine on bays of backlit acrylic units, giving the enclosure a unique glow.  So one of the hardest questions I am asked is to pick my favorite wine. The possibilities are endless. But although I was a Burgundy devotee in my early years as a chef, I’ve now developed a special fondness for Pinot Noir, particularly as I now live in Sonoma County, where the pinot noir grape, originally from the Burgundy region of France, makes its most significant American home, due to the cool, foggy growing climate. Pinot Noir is an incredibly versatile and very food friendly wine: rich and velvety, it has a boundless ability to pair with all sorts of food, from soft to spicy. I think that’s what makes it work so well for our evolving food scene, with more and more local products finding their way onto the table, and our melting-pot style of cooking that gives global influence cuisine a distinctive American stamp. Pinots couple well with shellfish, tender steak cuts, and pastas, but my favorite Pinot pairing will always be pork. At Charlie Palmer Steak, order any of our terrific Sonoma County Pinots with Chef Steve Blandino’s signature Caesar Salad, where the romaine hearts are wrapped in prosciutto and served with a dressing that’s slightly accented by white anchovies.

Although Pinot Noir first started showing up on the American table in the mid-sixties and seventies, sales catapulted through the roof after the wine “starred” in the 2004 film, “Sideways”, in which the main character, Miles, (played by Paul Giamatti), an unsuccessful writer and wine-aficionado, takes his soon-to-be-married actor friend on a road trip through California’s wine country. Miles speaks endlessly of his love for Pinot Noir because, “It’s a hard grape to grow. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive, even when it’s neglected. And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”

That’s one of the things that makes this wine so special. Every year I celebrate that fact at my annual Pigs & Pinot® event, held at Dry Creek Kitchen in Hotel Healdsburg, smack dab in the heart of North Sonoma County wine country, a place I like to use as a showcase for regional wines. Tickets go on sale in mid-January and sell out in a heartbeat. To find out more, visit What started out as a small event designed to support Healdsburg’s St. John’s School and Share Our Strength (S.O.S.), an organization committed to ending childhood hunger in the U.S., has become a sold-out happening, in which I invite world-renowned chefs and winemakers to celebrate the flavors of pork and Pinot Noir. It’s a swine and wine festival of demonstrations, seminars and great meals, culminating in our blind tasting from the world’s top wineries and wine regions, with the winner awarded the coveted Pinot Cup. The pairings naturally change from year to year, because Pinot Noir is an extremely temperamental grape. But that’s what makes the wine exciting and interesting to me. As a lifelong wine lover, I tend to stay focused on the idea that wine, no matter how sublime, is a product of agriculture and should have a relationship to the earth that produced it. So who knows what we can expect? I like to take every vintage for what it is, constantly looking forward to the next harvest and a new year in Pinot Noir. —Charlie


By Vegas Food Nerd


The Tivoli Village shopping center is slowly coming to life. Locally, this mall with Italian flair was known as the newest place in Vegas destined to fail and be bulldozed, like so many other buildings in town. But thankfully, due to some new store openings, as well as some new dining options, Tivoli is now starting to thrive.

One of the newest restaurants to open here is Echo & Rig. It is a unique concept: A restaurant and a butcher shop all-in-one. The meat eater in me wasn’t put-off by the giant half-carved pig hanging in the window, but I wondered how many others might not be so comfortable seeing this enormous swine all cut open in the storefront’s entranceway, just before dining at this establishment. My friend and I, undeterred by this, decided to venture upstairs and give the place a try.

The hostess informed us that on our next visit we should visit the bartender, as Echo & Rig is home of the one of the most unique mixology programs in Vegas. They feature hand-pressed juices fresh from the farmer’s market in many of their signature cocktails. There wasn’t much seating around the bar though, so in order to watch the bartender work his magic, it seemed diners would only get to experience this if the place was slow (at least that was our impression).

Once we were seated was when the place started to go downhill. It took quite some time for our waiter to even get to our table. When he did, he offered us sparkling water out of a clear blue wine bottle (a nice touch that we liked) and took our order.

The big calling card for Echo & Rig is that their charcuterie is made in-house, so we made sure to get a tray, along with a few other small plates. The charcuterie was good, in fact, I think the Prosciutto was one of the best that I have sampled in Vegas to date, along with the Capicola. Unfortunately, our server wasn’t properly trained and couldn’t identify any of the meats on our tray properly. Actually, while I could see who the manager was, he didn’t seem to notice the lack of service our waiter was providing.

The main standout dish that we both very much enjoyed was the Mushroom Soup. Served in a little white covered soup tureen, it was Mushroom perfection, with a touch of Brandy and cream. We also shared the Steakhouse Chop Salad, which featured Filet Mignon, some tasty fresh lettuces and these Heirloom Beans, which I just loved.

Sadly though, I feel this restaurant is going to need some serious adjustments to their level of service to match their price points, before I will be recommending it to our readers. High-class dining deserves high-class service.

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CHEF CHARLIE PALMER - Finding My Own Voice In The Kitchen




By Chef Charlie Palmer


Although I’ve spent the last three decades of my life in kitchens, when it comes to cooking, I’ve never stopped learning. Being a chef requires equal parts discipline and creativity, and it was this mix that drew me into the kitchen as a boy, first as a dishwasher in New York state where my family lived, then in a high school Home Economics class, (taught by my next door neighbor) at a time when guys didn’t just grab a whisk without hearing a lot of jokes. But these invaluable early experiences ultimately led me to seek further education at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, where I received my formal training and where I have come full circle as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, meeting and mentoring future chefs. After my graduation from the CIA, I did what every young, classically trained chef does: I went to France. This was my first trip out of the U.S.A., and while working a stage (or unpaid) in the kitchen of the legendary Georges Blanc in Vonnas, Burgundy, I was sated with my first truffle truck and struck by the huge part which food plays in the French identity of other countries. I decided to help spark this same cultural experience in America and soon got my chance as Executive Chef of the River Café in Brooklyn, one of the first restaurants in the country to incorporate concepts like “free-range” and “local.” Running this significant kitchen helped me to find my own voice – by marrying classical techniques with indigenous ingredients into a style I called “Progressive American,” defined by rambunctious, intense flavors, unexpected combinations, and substantial portions.

In 1988, I set out on my own, with a short wish list in hand: I wanted to do a big-time restaurant – to compete with the great French restaurants of New York. So it had to be the Upper East Side, close to Fifth Avenue. And I wanted to showcase the emerging awareness for American ingredients. It all came together when I found a townhouse just off Madison Avenue that became home to my landmark, Aureole, a stage in which I had the freedom to showcase my signature Progressive American cooking. After receiving three stars from the New York Times (which was pretty heady stuff for a 28 year-old) I needed something else to accomplish. I was always attracted to the adventurous spirit of the West, and sensing that Vegas was about to undergo a revitalization, I made early investment in what was destined to become a vital, new American dining city. Once just a green valley stopover in the desert for Spanish traders heading West, Las Vegas is now the largest city founded in the 20th Century. With a history that encompasses mining, the construction of Hoover Dam, and the country’s first topless showgirls, Vegas remains a frontier town where the unexpected is still a daily occurrence. The dining scene is equally as exciting, and I felt like a trailblazer when I decided to open Aureole Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay. With a nod to the theatrics of the location, I built a showstopper that featured the largest wine tower in the world: 40 x 14 square feet of more than 60,000 stacked bottles, made accessible by an elaborate pulley system presided over by our now famous flying “Wine Angels,” clad in black spandex by Calvin Klein. —Charlie




by Vegas Food Nerd


The best part of living in our city, aside from the food, of course, is that many people travel to Vegas, and we often get a chance to take them out on the town and show them around. Now, by getting to search out and find more, and sample more unique cuisines, my palate has really grown and doesn’t always mesh with visiting guests. The Burger Bar has long been my go-to spot. This is not your typical burger restaurant, though any food fan like me wouldn’t be surprised to hear that. The brainchild and creator is the legendary Hubert Keller. His reputation as a high-end multiple award-winning chef is world renown. His other restaurant here in Vegas is Fleur, located in Mandalay Bay. The Burger Bar is just a short walk away from Fleur (well, a short walk for Vegas) and is located in Mandalay Place. Keller’s Burger Bar is a surefire selection for three important reasons: 1. It’s a casual fun atmosphere; no one has to stress out about what to wear. 2. It can accommodate just about any diet – raw foods, vegans, and other dieters, alike. 3. Who doesn’t love a good burger?

Gourmet Burger restaurants have popped up in just about every corner of the Vegas Valley. Hubert Keller and his Burger Bar have long been credited for creating this craze that has not only caught on here, but across the country. You wouldn’t think a chef who built his reputation on healthy yet delicious food would be the burger icon that he is. Take it from me, though, no matter what burger you thought was the best, one at The Burger Bar is better. Also, the invasion of the sweet potato fries has to be a Keller trend, as well. I had never had them before when I first sampled them years ago at Burger Bar, but now it seems a commonplace item to find. The Keller-created menu offers fresh salads, chicken wings, a variety of fries, and of course, burgers. You can take one of two options: build your burger from the ground up, or choose from one of the Chef’s burger creations. I’d highly recommend going with a chef selection, which is served with skinny fries though. Always a sucker for the buttermilk- dipped zucchini fries, I generally upgrade to those. If you want to build your own creation, you will be floored by the amount of selections to choose from. They offer multiple grades of beef, buffalo (the most tender I’ve ever tasted), ground turkey, salmon, chicken breast, veggie burger, and a vegan option made with portobellos and other grilled veggies. The toppings offered are just as diverse. Feel like a lobster tail on your burger? Go for it. Truffles shaved on top of the moist succulent burger of your choice? They have that, too. Then after all those choices, you still get to pick your bun. I am partial to the ciabatta, but you could also opt for an onion bun, whole wheat, or the traditional classic. Their chicken wings are also off-the-charts, and perfectly crisp, and served at whatever heat level you can handle. Trust us and save room for a build-your-own milkshake, in which you create your own fantasy ice cream experience with a shot of liquor and homemade whipped cream for the perfect finish to the meal.

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