Tag Archives: fine dining

The Fine Art of Plating Game

ingoodtastePheasanthuntforever050914Hunters who bring home fresh game want to serve it in style. The old-fashioned slab of meat surrounded by vegtables and potatoes has been replaced by concerted, carefully organized harmonies of color. Continue reading The Fine Art of Plating Game


SCI International Living – Fine Dining Primeval Style

As part of the Santa Monica Museum of Art’s “Cut Your Teeth” exhibit between Wolvesmouth and artist Matthew Bone, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks and Richard Carleton Hacker enjoy a before-dinner dram of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old. Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Johnnie Walker
As part of the Santa Monica Museum of Art’s “Cut Your Teeth” exhibit between Wolvesmouth and artist Matthew Bone, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks and Richard Carleton Hacker enjoy a before-dinner dram of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old.
(Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Johnnie Walker)

You may not think Mad Men’s redheaded star Christina Hendricks, the ultra-liberal Santa Monica Museum of Art, and maggot-covered coyotes would have much in common. But they all came together during one bizarre Southern California dining experience last fall.

The occasion was prompted by the launch of Johnnie Walker’s Platinum Label 18 Year Old ultra-premium scotch, and as it happens, Christina Hendricks is the brand ambassador for Johnnie Walker. So to herald in this newest blended whisky, I was invited to join Ms. Hendricks for dinner prepared by Continue reading SCI International Living – Fine Dining Primeval Style


sincityhotspotsstriphuntforever011614Viva 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.


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.

Chef Charlie Palmer


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.


Chef Keller’s brownie lollipops at Fleur

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.


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.


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.


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).


BurGR at 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

Wines With Springbok

winepairingSpringboktatakihuntforever011014The springbok is an antelope native to South Western Africa. It’s been hunted and eaten since prehistoric times in that region. It is very fine with the texture of veal combined with the rich, subtle taste of organic, matured beef, but without beef’s high fat content. When cooked it has a subtle sweetness and light gaminess that is quite different from other meats. So it’s not surprising that the great chefs of the South Africa’s Cape region have been making springbok into complicated and beautiful dishes for many years, and of course they’ve been pairing it with the region’s great wines.

At Capetown’s La Colombe, a three-star Michelin destination, much is made of springbok. Executive Chef Scot Kirton, the first South African to run the kitchen in the country’s best restaurant, has continued the eclectic approach that his French predecessors brought to cooking the game. Since La Colombe is the restaurant of the wine estate Constantia Uitsig, Kirton prefers to work with the wines from the estate. “As these wines have been paired with South African food for many decades, I conceive my dishes with them in mind,” Kirton explains.

In its most natural form, Kirton combines springbok medallions with pan-fried foie gras and fig puree; another natural creation is springbok loin, wild mushroom cannelloni and langoustine salad.  It’s not surprising that Kirton pairs his springbok dishes with a Constantia Uitsig 2008 red, essentially a Bordeaux blend of cabernet and merlot grapes. The wine is kept in French oak for 15 months, and that gives it a rich body and complex aromas of spices and fruit that hold up well against the springbok without overwhelming it – at about $35 a bottle, this wine is very good value.

For the springbok loin, Kirton will also suggest a wine from a little farther away: A Tormentoso Morvèdre from Stellenbosch. The Morvèdre grape provides a complex layered wine that also spends many months in the barrel. It develops a nose of berry fruit complemented by soft spice aromas, while the palate layers flavors of cloves, leathery spice and red fruit. The elegant finish is dry and savory; it is ideal with hearty food. This is also good value at around $40 a bottle.

More complex is smoked springbok tataki–tataki is a manner of preparing fish or meat that comes from Japanese cuisine. The fish or meat is seared very briefly over a hot flame or pan, briefly marinated in vinegar, thinly sliced and seasoned with ginger. At the Johannesburg restaurant DW Eleven-13, chef Marthinus Ferreira makes a nori-wrapped springbok tataki with beetroot gel, parmesan spheres, soy-sake reduction, pickled mushrooms and radish springbok tartare–more eclectic than that would be hard to achieve! Anyway, winepairingspringbokWaterkloofCircleofLifehuntforever011014it’s delicious washed down with a Waterkloof Circle of Life 2011.  This wine is a blend of merlot and syrah grapes with additions of cabernet sauvignon and mourvèdre. It is somewhat sweet, focused blackberry and blackcurrant fruit nose with a chalky, gravelly edge. It has a nice gravelly savouriness that matches the springbok well. Again, the price is accessible at about $45.

Then there is the more traditional approach of the springbok bobotie. A bobotie is a very old South African sweet-and-sour dish, one that came over from Malaysia in the 16th Century. It consists of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping.

At the Capetown hotel Cape Grace Signal restaurant, chef Malika van Reenan makes what she calls “Deconstructed Springbok bobotie,” the traditional dish made in a modern way–she’s won several awards for the preparation. Her version is a bit less muscular and more delicate than the traditional one, and she serves it with the subtle wines from Wellington, made from the Shiraz grape. These are very different kinds of wine, with intense spicy noses surrounded by black cherry and blueberry fruit. The palate is full-bodied, chewy and juicy, with integrated wood tannin that creates a pleasant clean, dry finish.

While nothing compares to dining on springbok while surrounded by the South African veldt, it is a meat that one can easily cook at home, even just slap on the barbecue, thanks to its innate rich qualities. When you pair that richness with a subtle, full-bodied and elegant wine, you will have a pretty remarkable meal. It’s fashionable in Johannesburg to serve a special kind of worm, called a Mopani worm, which is actually the larva of a moth, as an appetizer before eating springbok, but you probably don’t have to get all that authentic.– Andrew Rosenbaum