Vegas Editor-in-Chief Andrea Bennett chats about Ultimo—A Weekend of Excellence.
Ever dined for an audience? I hadn’t until I was one of the 182 guests seated in the curtained-off Grand Colonnade at The Venetian on Saturday, December 10. Gawkers crowded both ends of the hallway to snap what was one of the most incredible dining spectacles I’ve ever seen: A super-long banquet table topped with $2 million in Lalique vases filled with massive, sculptural lilies, and enough glasses for each of the six courses—plus a few extra tastes (think roughly 1200 glasses, though I could be underestimating); with a big glass compass at each place to announce the theme, Le Grand Voyage. (Staff packed up the glass memento for each guest to take home at the end of the night.) And though there were plenty of well-dressed luminaries, the real draws were the chefs. It’s not often—probably never—that you get Thomas Keller, Ming Tsai, Curtis Stone, Paul Bartolotta, Vikram Vij, Emma Bengtsson and Jerome Bocuse, Pierre Thiam, and Shaun Hergatt in one room.
Video mapping on the walls of the colonnade announced the culinary voyage, represented by two chefs per course: It briefly felt like dining in a giant aquarium when the walls and columns filled up with projected water and swimming fish before one course, and ignited with projected fire before another.
Oenophiles were over the moon to get a taste of Vicente Cebrian-Sagarriga, Count of Creixell’s Rioja Gran Reserva Especial 1986 (rated 100 by Robert Parker) and Daniel and Georges Daou’s Patrimony Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, as well as vintage bottles of Dom Perignon (a sponsor), including the Second Plenitude P2 of 1998. The menu was unforgettable, but the major standouts for me were Keller’s California wine sturgeon caviar, smoked trout gelee, King Richard leek panna cotta and pumpernickel (he’d told me there would be plenty of caviar!); Thiam’s spicy red snapper caldou with sorrel relish over fonio with fermented dawadawa powder (representing Thiam’s native Senegal); and Vij’s marinated lamb “popsicles” in a Technicolor-yellow fenugreek cream curry. If I could mainline the broth for Bartolotta’s tortellini, I probably would. When the chefs were circulating after dinner, I asked him how many white truffles he’d used and just got a laugh: “A lot.”
Speaking of truffles, the weekend began with plenty of them. The night before the grand banquet, guests met in Paiza Club—the members-only club on Venetian’s 36th floor—for a caviar and Belvedere reception, though the biggest draw might have been the massive bowl of Perigord truffles chefs were shaving with abandon over plates of pasta. I did what I usually do and let the pasta warm up the truffles before I picked them off (naughty), and the chef just shaved more over for me. Ultimo, indeed. The night ended in the Venetian Presidential Suite for a Dom Perignon-soaked after party with another sponsor, Rolls-Royce, and towering tables of desserts.
Guests had some tough choices to make on Saturday before the dinner: Drive a Rolls-Royce into Red Rock or hot-air balloon over it before a Dom Perignon picnic catered by Keller? I holed up in Canyon Ranch Spa for their 18k gold facial, because it seemed like the right thing to do. (Look for more on this and other spa treatments I’m crazy about next week!) Other superlatives included a Lalique after party on Saturday in Palazzo’s Presidential Suite and Patron tequila nightcaps, as well as a Hacienda patron taco farewell party. And because Venetian SVP of F&B Sebastien Silvestri, whose brain this whole production sprang from, doesn’t do a taco party like you and I, think tacos with wagyu beef and Petrossian caviar, as well as the rarest of Patron’s tequilas.
Considering that the weekend, which was priced at $4,551 or $5,751 per couple (I’m pretty sure I ate that dollar amount in truffles and caviar, so….) also benefited Keep Memory Alive and Ment’or, a nonprofit devoted to assisting emerging chefs, Ultimo was a bargain! With its fourth spectacular year now in the rearview—but still at the forefront of many gourmands’ minds—my guess is that you’ll want to watch carefully for ticket sales for Ultimo 2017.
How do you keep pace with a party-packed Vegas lifestyle without burning out? Vegas Editor-in-Chief Andrea Bennett seeks out the healthy indulgences, insider finds, and desert beauty tricks that help you balance Vegas’s unique climate, nightlife culture, and fabulous temptations. (Hint: It’s not all yoga and kombucha here.)