What do Moapa Valley, Santa Fe, N.M., and Palos Verdes, Calif., have in common? They are all places I’ve been recently for unique—and in one case, controversial—dining experiences.
Quail Hollow Farm is 60 miles north of Las Vegas, overlooking the Valley of Fire. Laura Bledsoe and her husband raise more than 30 vegetables varieties on the farm. They operate a sustainable food system in which customers buy shares—a full year is $1,465—and receive baskets of crops on a weekly basis.
The couple recently decided to host a public event, a farm-to-table dinner for 100 guests, but things went awry, big time.
Briefly, this is what transpired: A festive menu with farm vegetables, rabbit, duck, chicken and milk-fed lamb was to be served, prepared by Giovanni Mauro, the Slow Food king of Las Vegas, and former proprietor of Nora’s Wine Bar.
Unfortunately, the Bledsoes were late in applying for a permit to host the dinner, and were not properly informed of certain parameters, which led to violations. One was that Mauro transported cooked food at a low temperature. In addition, the lamb was from southern Utah, a no-no for a public event.
Laura was informed that all the food had to be destroyed. “The inspector wouldn’t even let me feed our pigs with it,” she said, tearfully pouring bleach on everything.
Had it been hosted as a private event, however, things would have been different. Mauro did his best to save the day, improvising by legally preparing products grown on the farm. Among other things, the guests ate bruschetta with farm tomatoes, risotto with Swiss chard, and delicious green and yellow beans. And the wine flowed … well, like wine. Next time, we’ll all know better.
A few days later, on a magical trip to Santa Fe, I ate at the acclaimed Coyote Café (CoyoteCafe.com), a branch of which was once at the MGM Grand. Chef Mark Miller sold it to the talented Eric DiStefano four years ago, and it remains one of America’s seminal restaurants.
Simply said, this chef is one of the best in the country. His lobster tarragon stew, served in a ceramic crock, is a symphony of cream and crustaceans. A delicately rare, bone-in cowboy-cut rib eye, topped with red chili onion strings, is beef royalty, and slices of elk tenderloin with creamy grits is one dish you won’t find in Vegas.
Lastly, if you find yourself near Los Angeles International Airport, take the short drive down to Palos Verdes to dine at Mar’Sel at the Terranea Resort (Terranea.com).
Chef Michael Fiorelli worked with our own Kerry Simon, and he’s one of the truly unheralded talents working in our vicinity. Everything from his house-made charcuterie and English muffins to entreés such as Dover sole with shiitake mushrooms, crushed almonds, wild arugula and chick peas has a unique character and displays flawless, confident technique.