I told the wife that foie gras is an acquired taste for some, but to be an acquired taste means it has to be tried. The wife wouldn't touch it, not even grilled and placed over sugary yams and served with a tasty port to wash it down.
Just her basic finickiness with a sliver of the gelatin-like fat made it a little harder for me to stomach, but what really stood in the way was the thought that I'd have little room for what was to come. This was merely the third course in six at Delmonico's Steakhouse in the Venetian, on Las Vegas' strip.
Brian Deloney, the restaurant's executive sous chef, was serving up a so-called kitchen dinner. He'd just been interviewed by our own Janie Ginocchio, and since my wife and I were traveling to Vegas in a matter of days, we arranged for not only the dinner and wine pairing, but the kitchen table to boot, which offered us a window view of all the happenings behind the scenes and in complete privacy.
If you're going to do this, make it count. It should be a special occasion. The wife and I decided to give each other an early Christmas present with a dinner that ran $250 plus tip ($75 each for the dinner, and an additional $50 each for the wine-pairing portion of the experience).
Deloney was dressed in the usual chef's shirt but also in a red ball cap, a style that's apparently taking the place of the traditional chef's topping among the younger set. With the executive chef on vacation, Deloney was in charge of the kitchen. He was working on a solid week of calling the shots. No matter, he was friendly with new friends from Little Rock, taking time to regularly stop in and explain each dish and to talk about the owner of this and dozens of other restaurants, Emeril Lagasse. Later, he'd give us the grand kitchen tour, where we saw where he stores Delmonico's aged beef and the Hudson Valley foie gras, from ducks who don't get to flap along the Mississippi Flyway. I've seen duck liver before, and this was something entirely different - a large glob of yellow.
We also were regularly visited by "the wine guy," dapper and smooth sommelier Robert Lindsay, who gave us our own personal wine tasting, only with much more in the glass than a tasting usually offers. He was full of surprises, the port in the middle of the dinner being one of the major ones.
Deloney started us off with a bowl of truffle chips sprinkled with parmesan cheese and chopped green onions. If we don't eat these, will he be offended? we worried. Personal six-course meals aren't our usual experience. Yes, we were rookies at this sort of thing. So, we stared at each other and started eating chips.
Fortunately it wasn't long before the real first course came, Delmonico's twist on the classic oysters Bienville. These were parmesan-crusted oysters (Emeril, if you've seen his Food Network show, is big on the parmesan) with spinach pasta, shrimp, bacon and herbsaint butter sauce.
Wine guy paired a 2001 Maximin Grunhauser Abstberg Riesling Spatlese von Schubert Mosel-Saar Ruwer with it. Put simply, it was a light, sweeter wine that brilliantly brought out the various flavors in the dish, and we'd soon find that every choice the wine guy made, whether it made sense to us at first, was perfect.
Next came the bacon-wrapped jumbo sea scallops with blue crab parmesan (see!) risotto and parsley butter sauce. (Emeril also likes butters, too. The guy followed Paul Prudhomme as executive chef at Commander's Palace in New Orleans, for gosh sakes.) With the seafood appetizer came the 2000 Puligny-Montrachet "La Garrene" Sauzet.
Really, couldn't you handle foie gras with bourbon-smashed sweet potatoes, crispy parsnips and praline duck sauce, and a Taylor-Fladgate 20-year tawny port? OK, if you must know, the wife did just brush the foie gras off to the side for a few bites of the rest.
Now, for fourth and fifth courses, came the big guns. By now, wife was ready to raise the white flag; tummy room was running shy for her, but I took the challenge.
First came the Colorado lamb rack with root vegetables, smashed potatoes and a lamb reduction sauce. I now see lamb in a totally different light, a good one, and not the way I've seen it usually presented with mint jelly and such. What a spectacular piece of meat.
Well, that is, until the next piece of meat arrived. The fifth course was a dry-aged petite ribeye, again with smashed potatoes, fire-roasted corn relish, a buttermilk onion ring on top and an AOK barbecue sauce.
Wine guy paired a 2000 Robert Biale Napa Ranches Zinfandel with the lamb, and rather than overwhelm the meat with the usually requisite Cab-Sauv, he chose a 2000 Woodward Canyon Merlot Walla Walla Valley, which was heavier than a Napa merlot, but with the smoothness of a pinot.
Do you really want to know about dessert? To finish us off, Deloney delivered three of the night's desserts and let us have at it. I'm not even sure what the wine guy paired with them at this point.
Three hours after we had arrived, at what was 3 a.m. back home (Vegas was still cranking strong, of course), we ventured out into the cool desert air of late fall, filled, pleased and feeling like we'd made some new friends.
Deloney says Emeril only makes about five trips a year out there, where he also owns his eponymous restaurant in the MGM Grand as well as a Fish House restaurant. Lindsay and Deloney both noted that a decade ago, Vegas was wanting for truly great restaurants that people would travel for. But no more. The promise here is that you would want to travel to Delmonico's. When we wondered which celebrities might have enjoyed the kitchen table treatment at his restaurant, Deloney thought and said, "Name 'em." In happier days, even Ben and J-Lo probably stopped in.
You don't have to do this in seclusion, though. They'll give you the full treatment out in the restaurant, too. Need we say, though: Call ahead.