There’s something about the holiday season that always gets me craving game—meats such as venison, elk, pheasant, boar and even alligator that were traditionally hunted rather than ranched. I admit part of it is the twisted kick I get out of telling my friends I ate Rudolph for Christmas. (Yes, I know venison isn’t reindeer, but it’s close enough for the joke.) But game meats have long been associated with cold-weather months since that’s when hunting seasons usually occur. And even in an age when game is farm-raised year round, many chefs prefer to serve it this time of year to incorporate the seasonal ingredients traditionally associated with each meat.
If you’re new to game meat, you need to realize it’s more than just an exotic novelty. Animals that live free in the wild (even farm-raised game animals usually live free-range lives) are leaner and healthier than those that are factory farmed. And as Tender Steak & Seafood executive chef K.C. Fazel explains, they offer unique flavors that can vary subtly based on where they come from.
“You’re experiencing nature through the animal,” Fazel says. “They’re eating wild berries. They’re eating wild grasses. Depending on which animal it is, [the food they eat] is going to influence their flavors.”
Plenty of game meat is available right now in Las Vegas. Here are seven places to try it:
Tender Steak & Seafood
Fazel uses various game meats seasonally in his house-made charcuterie and sausages. But the best way to experience it here is in his wild game tasting ($36), available year-round. It features antelope osso bucco, medallions of venison and a wild boar loin served with farro, fig chutney and a reduction of venison and seasonal berries. The delicious antelope is one of the most interesting game presentations in town, and well worth a visit on its own. In Luxor,
Chef Andre Rochat is offering pheasant on his seven-course Fall & Winter Tasting Menu ($135). It’s one of the available choices for the fourth course, and consists of a breast served with brioche and sausage stuffing, root vegetables, chestnut milk and jus. If you’ve never had pheasant, don’t let people tell you it tastes like chicken. In actuality, it tastes like chicken should! In the Palms, 951-7000.
Eiffel Tower Restaurant
While apples are technically in season in the fall, the fruit lends itself well to holiday recipes. So this is a great time of year to try Jean Joho’s pairing of venison and apples ($48). The deer itself is crusted in spices and charred. It’s then served with the sautéed apples alongside red cabbage. Throw in the amazing view of the Bellagio Fountains, and this is easily the most romantic game meal in town. In Paris Las Vegas, 948-6937.
Restaurant Guy Savoy
For the next few weeks, Guy Savoy and his staff are offering three game dishes. Marmite of pheasant, squab and duck ($120) features the three birds cooked with foie gras and cabbage in a traditional French casserole dish known as a marmite. The venison tenderloin ($115) is prepared with pear and cranberry jus. And pan-seared quail ($80) comes with spinach puree and roasted hazelnuts. In Caesars Palace, 731-7110.
For a taste of wild boar in an old-Vegas atmosphere, head to the Barrymore, which offers it year-round in a Bolognese sauce, served over stozzapreti pasta, then topped with caciocavallo cheese and bread crumbs ($16). 99 Convention Center Dr., 407-5303.
Fix Restaurant & Bar
One of the best items on Fix’s new menus is also one of the most creative duck dishes in town. Duck & Waffles ($36) is a spin on an American classic that forsakes fried chicken in favor of duck confit, fried egg and maple bourbon syrup. In Bellagio, 693-8300.
The Cosmopolitan’s steakhouse recently added venison chops to the menu ($58). Chef Stephen Hopcraft prepares them with sweet-and-sour red cabbage herb polenta and cherry gastrique. I’ve yet to try them, but if they’re half as good as Hopcraft’s steaks, Santa will likely get lost in the fog next year. In the Cosmopolitan, 698-7990.