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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CHEF CHARLIE PALMER - Chef Steve Blandino Bridging The Steakhouse Gap Between Old-World and New





By Chef Charlie Palmer


Anyone who has ever seen an episode of AMC’s ‘60s-era drama, “Mad Men”, knows the allure of the classic steakhouse: Guys in sharp suits meeting over slabs of beef, shrimp the size of Fiats, and Roger Sterling-like cocktails, all served up in a dark, clubby atmosphere that reeks of deal-making. This vintage steakhouse vibe is part of America’s urban restaurant heritage, particularly in that “Mad Men”-era Manhattan, where so many steakhouses lined Lexington Avenue, that the area was known as “Steak Row.” Although the competition for the best T-bone in town was fierce, the food was actually incidental to the experience. Most of the diners wanted the old reliable standbys.

That all changed when steakhouses came back in vogue 21st century-style. After languishing for a few decades as our dining scene became more international, the steakhouse remerged in its modern interpretation, and Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas is a prime example of the new wave: A quiet, clubhouse atmosphere in a warm ochre palette and dark mahogany accented refuge, just off the lobby of The Four Seasons Hotel.

With his contemporary culinary training and knowledge and respect of the classics, Chef de Cuisine Steve Blandino effortlessly bridges the old and new American steakhouse. A Staten Island native who grew up cooking at his two Italian grandmothers’ homes in Brooklyn, Blandino is a chef who respects heritage and yet pushes boundaries, as you will taste in his modern take on Caesar Salad – featuring wrapped crisp romaine hearts in prosciutto served with white anchovies; his re-mastered Organic Spinach Salad – topped by a truffle fried egg and crunchy bacon lardoons; or his Ritz Cracker Stuffed Maine Lobster – a beautiful mix of the everyday and the extraordinary.

Blandino knows that there are technical aspects to getting a good steak, and first is understanding the difference in the grades of meat available. If you see him in the dining room, ask him to tell you what makes for great beef. He will explain that all meat sold in this country must be inspected for wholesomeness (and so stamped) by the Department of Agriculture. But designation of quality is determined by a voluntary grading system, primarily based on the age of the animal and pattern of marbling (or how well the fat is distributed throughout the meat), critical to tenderness, as well as flavor. These are grades—not brand names —and should be visibly stamped on the exterior fat of the carcass. Blandino likes to concentrate on Prime, because the delicate interlacing of intra-muscular fat—like a cobweb—assures a high degree of tenderness, juiciness and flavor.

Today we are experiencing The Golden Age of Meat, and you’ll also find newly available American Kobe beef, used in Blandino’s spectacular version of tartare, served with quail egg and herbed ciabatti, as well as the rare Kamoshima Japanese Kobe Filet Mignon. But not everything is new. We adhere to the traditional way of allowing meat to self-tenderize: dry aging. In this time-consuming process, the beef is stored in temperature and humidity controlled coolers, evaporating the moisture that improves texture and concentrates flavor. Taste the difference in Blandino’s dry aged 14-ounce bone-in strip steak, as well as the classic steakhouse cut, a 24-ounce porterhouse aged for a minimum of 28 days.

Bringing a new perspective to the steakhouse menu is Blandino’s mission, and while you’ll find all the classic side dishes, like sautéed spinach, roasted asparagus and buttermilk fried onion rings, the chef also lets his imagination improve the standard offerings with standouts like Salt Roasted Chiles, Garlicky Broccolini and Truffle Baked Potato. A good place to start is Blandino’s “Cut of the Week,” an entire menu built around a specific cut of steak—like a whole roasted natural sirloin with white beech mushrooms—all served with a “bottomless glass” wine pairing. I think you’ll agree: His grandmothers would be so proud. —Charlie


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