Sometimes I get weary covering the dizzying number of food festivals in this town, but a few—such as Vegas Uncork’d and the recent Life Is Beautiful (really more of a music and art festival with a significant food component)—stand out. Now, we are going to have one that for foodies such as yours truly, will be an absolute must.
The La Cucina Italiana Food & Wine Festival, part of Winter in Venice at the Venetian and Palazzo from December 5-8 (866-641-7469), is going to be the greatest collection of Italian chefs, artisans and wine experts ever gathered in Las Vegas, and maybe this country. Chefs Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck and the Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini are among the hosts at the Grand Banquet on December 6 and at a festive dinner December 7 in the Palazzo’s atrium. Wine experts, sommeliers and mixologists will also present lectures and demonstrations.
This is a first visit to Las Vegas for the ebullient, charismatic Cecchini, who is for me the star attraction. He owns Antica Macceleria Cecchini butcher shop in picturesque Panzano in Chianti, and Solociccia, an adjacent restaurant—both virtual shrines in the constellation of Italian food.
His peers revere him. When Puck heard Cecchini was involved, he immediately expressed the desire to collaborate, which he’ll do at a VIP dinner December 5 at Cut. Nancy Silverton, pastry chef and Batali’s partner at L.A.’s Pizzeria Mozza, says, “Dario treats animals with an incredible respect in his small shop. I love visiting him, to eat with a gusto experienced nowhere else.”
While we’re talking Italian food, I have to tell you about the best Italian dinner I had this year, prepared by Luciano Pellegrini at the now shuttered Piero Selvaggio Valentino. The six-course dinner featured white asparagus, crispy sea bass, prime steak, a delicate cheese-filled ravioli and an elegant dessert platter, with everything except the dessert smothered in freshly shaved tartuffi bianchi, or white truffles. Luciano says he’s planning to stay in town, and has a few projects in the works. Keep your fingers crossed.
Finally, Michael and Jenna Morton will be involved in what might be December’s most exciting new Las Vegas restaurant, Crush in MGM Grand, which is taking over what formerly was Nobhill behind that property’s Restaurant Row.
Chef William DeMarco—who created the menu La Cave in Wynn—will be the chef, in an atmosphere with a “greenhouse” garden, private wine cellar and an eclectic menu of shared plates, including small ones such as shrimp risotto with arugula, and large ones such as lamb sirloin with celery root puree and bacon-swathed Brussels sprouts. Look for a mid-December opening.