Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard, read, raved or otherwise dealt with the news that broke during the tail end of 2014 about the United States and Cuba possibly letting bygones be bygones and starting to mend the political fences that have separated our two countries for more than 50 years? There hasn’t been this much talk about the Communist island 90 miles off our Florida coast since JFK started recalibrating the launch sequences for our ship-to-shore missiles back in October 1962. Now it looks like we’re all going to give each other a great big hug. Continue reading Beyond The Blockade – Lighting Up The Newest Non-Havana Cigars
Viva Las Vegas has become more than a hit 1964 Elvis Presley/Ann-Margaret film directed by my fellow pipe smoking friend, the late George Sidney. It has evolved into a catch phrase that personifies everything about the brightest, most vibrant and glitziest city in America. And for four jam-packed days in February, SCI will again be holding its annual convention in “Sin City.”
The convention floor will be action-central during the days and SCI has filled the evenings with plenty of activities. But what about the after hours? Or the in-between hours? Or for members who want to show up early or stay late before or after the convention? Vegas is thought of as a gambler’s Mecca, but as someone who visits and writes about this city often, I find it one of the culinary capitals of America. Food and drink now account for more revenue than games of chance, as the neon-studded Strip is home to some of the most celebrated chefs in the world.
Vegas also used to be the cigar-friendliest city in America, where firing up a stogie was allowed practically everywhere except at gas stations. But thanks to the Nevada Clean Air Act of 2007, those days are over. And although most casinos still permit smoking, you’re likely to get a few squinty stares from those around you. And as far as enjoying an OpusX or a Montecristo No. 2 at the table after dinner, fuhgettaboutit.
Fortunately, there are still a few great places where you can not only smoke a cigar, but are welcomed if you do. Moreover, there are some fantastic restaurants, three of which are owned and operated by award-winning celebrity chiefs–Charlie Palmer and André Rochat–who also love to hunt. So why not support the folks who enjoy life with the same philosophy that we do? Here, then, are my top ten picks for places to eat, drink and smoke. You might just see some fellow SCI Members there.
CHARLIE PALMER’S AUREOLE RESTAURANT–MANDALAY BAY
This is an easy one to get to because you’ll already be there. No driving, no taxis. The first thing catches your eye upon entering is the four story tall wine tower, and if you order one of the 10,000 bottles (they’ll lend you an iPad wine list to make it easier) you’ll have the additional thrill of watching one of the LED-bejeweled Wine Angels “fly” up the tower to retrieve it. Aureole’s Executive Chef, Vincent Pouessel, is a culinary master. They might even have wild boar on the menu, as Charlie likes to hunt these tuskers up close and personal.
CHARLIE PALMER STEAK–THE FOUR SEASONS HOTEL
Here’s another great restaurant within walking distance from the convention. In fact, you just walk through the Mandalay Bay casino, which connects with the sedate Four Seasons (there’s no gambling) and enter the warm clubhouse atmosphere of what was voted “The Best Steakhouse in Las Vegas.” Executive Chef Steve Blandino (like Charlie, a fellow cigar smoker) is a master on the grill. Try the Braised Bison Short Ribs or the 40-ounce Porterhouse Steak for Two with his twice-baked Truffled Baked Potato.
This elegant Michelin One-Star French Restaurant is presided over by Chef/Proprietor André Rochat, a gun collector and hunter who is planning an African safari this year. But just as importantly, he is the pioneer of French cuisine in Las Vegas. His classics–a “must try”–are the French Onion Soup made with Swiss emmental gruyere and the fresh Dover sole. An added perk at Andre’s is his upstairs Cigar Lounge, where you can light up next to a fireplace and enjoy some of the rarest cognacs, ports and sprits this side of the Atlantic.
If you like Chef Rochat’s French cuisine on ground level at the Monte Carlo, you’ll really get a “lift” out of his Alizé restaurant, located on the 56th floor of the Palms Casino & Resort just off the Strip. The spectacular view is only surpassed by Chef de Cuisine Mark Purdy’s equally spectacular menu along with a world-renowned wine and cognac selection. And for dessert, the Grand Marnier Soufflé is unparalleled.
As long as you’re at The Palms, after dinner at Alizé why not soar over to the 55th floor of the White Tower for a bird’s eye view of the Vegas panorama. Out on the Skydeck you can enjoy a cigar while standing on the Plexiglas square in the floor and look straight down to the parking lot below.
Also conveniently located right off the casino at Mandalay Bay is this casual restaurant creation by Bravo’s Top Chef Hubert Keller. From Ahi Tuna Tacos to Brownie Lollipops, his food will get you talking.
RESTAURANT GUY SAVOY–CAESARS PALACE
This Forbes Travel Five Star and Two Michelin Star restaurant provides one of the most elegant dining experiences in the world. Figure on spending three hours for the $348 Innovation-Inspiration tasting menu, where each dish is theater. And the Cognac Lounge has some rare eaux-de-vie that cannot be found anywhere else.
Best single malt scotch selection in Vegas? At multiple James Beard award winner Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak. Over 200 bottles await. The steaks are equally as impressive.
Perhaps more rums that you’ve ever seen in one spot. Plus you can smoke cigars on the patio, which has a partial view of The Strip.
CASA FUENTE–THE FORUM AT CAESARS PALACE
This is the only place you can smoke at The Forum but right now—ironically–you have to do it inside the Cubanesque boutique bar and walk-in humidor. But this is where you’ll find virtually every cigar the Fuente family makes, including their Casa Fuente brand, which is only available here. The bar is equally well stocked, but here’s an insider’s tip: ask to see The Black List for some rare spirits that aren’t found in most places, such as Tomintoul 1967, Glenburgie Selection 1989, and Evolution 2011 Selezione Top Class Vatted Malt. Open from 10am -11pm Sunday-Thursday 10am-12am Friday & Saturday.
THE BOURBON ROOM–THE PALAZZO
Simply put, the best selection of bourbons, Tennessee whiskeys and ryes. Plus you can smoke cigars while you watch the cocktail waitresses gyrate to pounding ‘80s rock in between mixing drinks (the action starts at 10pm).
GORDON RAMSAY BurGR–PLANET HOLLYWOOD
It may be slightly off The Strip, but this is where you’ll find the most imaginative burgers and decadent desserts. Hell’s Kitchen Burger, Shake #5 and Sticky Toffee Pudding? Plan on rolling back to the hotel.– Richard Carleton Hacker
Whether it’s watching our favorite football team, settling our gastronomic juices after a hearty meal, or just being with friends, firing up a favored cigar has never been more appropriate once the sun starts setting sooner and the air turns crisp. In fact, a big-ringed stogy works wonders for warming the hands while sitting around a campfire after a hunt, or for enjoying alongside a snifter of single malt at the lodge once the rifles and shotguns have been put away.
All of which brings up the subject of cigar etiquette. For example, if your hunting partner hands you a cigar, do you offer him one in return? Well, yes, if you happen to have an extra on you. That is why I favor a “three fingered” leather cigar case to slip into my hunting coat pocket, not only to protect the cigars, but to have an extra stogy to give to a hunting partner or the guide. Plus, having more than one cigar insures I’ll have a choice, such as Dominican or Nicaraguan, sun-grown or maduro. If it’s an extended hunt, I’ll often bring a box of cigars to share with the camp.
Whether to leave the band on or off is a question I’m often asked. In Europe they tend to take the band off, but to me that’s tantamount to covering the brand name of your rifle. Just as we’re proud of the guns we shoot, we should be proud of what we smoke. Show it off; leave the band on. Less chance of tearing the wrapper that way besides.
Then there is the matter of how to clip and light a cigar. Sure, you can bite off the cap with your teeth a la Clint Eastwood. But you risk tearing the wrapper. In the field, I’ll admit to occasionally using my knife to trim the cap. Another method, emulating the old Cuban cigar rollers, is to use your thumbnail to etch a circular cut in the cap, then plucking it out. But the best way to cut the cap is with a cigar cutter.
There are four types of cuts made by four different styles of cutters. First is the Guillotine cut, in which a straight-across slice takes off the head. Then there is the Punch cut, which consists of a round sharpened metal tube rotated into the head and a plug of tobacco is plucked out. The “V” cut, also known as a “cat’s eye,” slices a V-shaped wedge into the head. The Pierce is simply a hole punched through the center of the head.
In camp the pierce is often done with a wooden matchstick and I once saw it awkwardly performed with a spitzer bullet. But the single hole of a pierce acts as a collection point for rancid acids and tobacco juices, and your cigar will soon taste bitter. The V cut, on the other hand, creates an ample, two sided surface that provides an adequate draw, and the exposed tobacco — a potential gathering spot for bitter tars — is kept at an angle, away from your tongue. However, few clippers are capable of making a clean V-type slice without ragging up the edges. Plus, a standard V-cutter is not big enough to accommodate many of the larger ring gauges, and anything larger than a 48 ring may only produce a shallow slice instead of a deep cut. That said, there are a number of attractive antique and modern V-cutters with stag or engraved metal slabs that I enjoy just for their looks, if not their functionality.
The punch cut works well on most cigars, pyramids being the exception. But the more practical cut for virtually all of today’s cigars is the guillotine cut, which, like the V, exposes an ample surface for easy draw and full flavor. It is also a much easier cut to execute, consisting of two parallel blades that slice across the diameter of the cap. The only caveat is that some of the pocket-sized guillotine cutters are not large enough for cigars with big ring sizes, but at home, a cigar scissors can solve that problem. So for overall practicality, my recommendation is the guillotine. After all, what was good enough for Marie Antoinette should be good enough for our cigars.
When it comes to lighting, a butane torch lighter is my preferred choice (except in high altitudes). However, cedar matches are more traditional. But don’t use paper matches; they are impregnated with chemicals that will taint the smoke. Of course, I’ve used a burning campfire twig on many a hunt. Just be careful not to char the wrapper, which provides up to eighty per cent of the cigar’s flavor.
And never crush out your cigar, which will spread the ash and accent the smell of stale smoke. Instead, toss it in the fire, or put it in the ashtray, where it will soon go out of its own accord. Unlike cigarettes, there are no chemicals in a hand rolled cigar to keep it burning. In that way, it is just as natural as our sport of hunting, which is why the two go so well together.– Richard Carleton Hacker