Taste of the Nation blowout, four presidents for Ruvo, and Dirty Vegan Water

May has flown, but memories of several great meals and festivals linger. Taste of the Nation 2012 at the Palms Pool on May 17 could have been a bigger success had it not been for roaring winds that kept chef Barry Dakake from lighting his burners and presenting the crowd with Wagyu beef and pot stickers. As the host chef, he deserved a better fate.

Most paying attendees fled to the inner sanctum of Rain for pastrami by Kim Canteenwalla of Society Café, butter-poached lobster by Carlos Guia of the Wynn Country Club, and Lola’s jambalaya and bread pudding. But I stayed outside for delicious tomatillo-marinated ribs by Border Grill, a terrific garbanzo-bean-and-potato patty by Origin India and spit-roasted pork tacos from chef Brian Massie of Diablo Cantina.

The next night, Steve Martorano, the “Godfather” of Las Vegas Italian chefs and the pride of South Philly, held a gala fifth anniversary dinner for his Café Martorano in the Rio (777-7777), emceed by who else but the ubiquitous Robin Leach, with proceeds benefiting the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Brain Center.

Four, count ’em, U.S. presidents—Bush (father and son), Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama himself—appeared on video to thank Southern Wine & Spirits’ Larry Ruvo, who spearheaded the project, for his dedication to the center.

But for me, natch, the highlight was the food: braciole (a Sicilian-style beef roll stuffed with prosciutto), roasted peppers, ziti with cauliflower and breadcrumbs, chicken cacciatore and lobster Francese. In short, just about all the dishes that made the tattooed Italian-American cook the toast of West Flamingo Road. I went home in a wheelbarrow.

I also recently stopped into Society Café at Wynn Las Vegas (770-7000) to try a spate of new Canteenwalla dishes. The chef has lost about 35 pounds with occasional juice fasts, and he is serving three of them on his revamped menu: the Green Monster, Dirty Vegan Water and Society Garden, all of them healthful, colorful blends.

Virtually everything I tried was delicious and guilt-free. My dinner began with a demitasse of creamed corn soup laced with chunks of lobster and progressed to “Skinny” salad composed of poached rock shrimp, arugula, rice cracker, radish, Napa cabbage and a miso/yuzu dressing. My wife and I fought over the last bites.

Later, we had prawns subtly flavored with black garlic—a condiment that won’t mean you need a Listerine rinse after dinner—and amazing caramelized, seared scallops with a bacon-pistachio gremolata. Chef Kim was looking out for me with this ultra-health-conscious menu, but I still managed the trio of ice cream sandwiches for dessert. Whoops!

Hungry, yet?

Suggested Next Read

Seven reasons to lift up a glass

Scene Stirs

Seven reasons to lift up a glass

By Xania V. Woodman

London has a “season,” so why not Las Vegas? Chock-full of poolside parties, tastings and events, our season is off to a healthy start. The students of UNLV’s Chef Artist Series hit a home run with their capstone class April 24, featuring delicious dishes and paired wines from Napa Valley, Calif.’s St. Francis winery. The next night, Herbs & Rye hosted the Fratelli Branca Experience celebrating the bar’s new Fernet Branca tap and the arrival of Punt e Mes. Look for the beloved red vermouth to pop up on menus soon.