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Three-hour Carnival of Cuisine brings out Vegas’ best

It can be difficult to decide where to eat in a town like Vegas, with scores of famous chefs’ restaurants and a daunting list of options. The decision is rarely easy, especially for aspiring foodies such as myself.

That’s why events like the Carnival of Cuisine are great: They allow discerning diners and gourmet-loving gluttons to get their fill in one fell swoop. (Sure, the gluttons already have an array of all-you-can-eat buffets to choose from, but those with both an astute palate and an insatiable appetite can have a hard time.)

Carnival of Cuisine

The first annual Carnival of Cuisine at the Palazzo featured food from both it and its sister property, the Venetian’s, most popular restaurants. More than 30 eateries and eight James Beard Award-winning chefs, including all the big names -- Puck, Trotter, Keller, Legasse, Batali, Woo -- were represented. And over three tasty hours on both Saturday and Sunday, ticketholders were able to sample dishes from all of them.

The event also featured food demonstrations, carnival entertainers and regional entertainment that seemed to coincide with featured restaurants. (The mariachi band had more in common with Dos Caminos, and the Asian dancers had more to do with Mainland/Tao/Woo/SushiSamba/Zine Noodles Dim Sum than they did with anything typically found under a big top.)

The event was pretty low-key, largely marketed to Venetian players club members. Tickets were just 2,500 Club Grazie points (the equivalent of $15 in slot play, a $10 gift card or $5 cash back) for bonafide dice-throwers, slot-pullers and card players. Non-gamblers, meanwhile, had to shell out $50 apiece to get in.

The event took place for just three short hours, from noon to 3 p.m., on Saturday and Sunday, providing a short distraction from the craps tables just steps from the casino floor.

Food stations lined the ballroom perimeter and offered up everything from guacamole and tortilla chips to prime rib. An informal survey indicated green ravioli stuffed with veal and spinach, and a salmon tartar were among the most popular options.

Even this self-admitted food snob was satisfied with many of the offerings. (The blackened Alaskan cod with miso from Woo was especially good.)

When it came to desserts, the options were more limited, but if you like tiramisu, you had at least three versions to choose from. If not, there was still white chocolate-filled donut holes, chocolate and banana tiraditos and gourmet, bite-sized s’mores.

If you didn’t like chocolate, though, you were nearly screwed in the dessert department. Thankfully, Bouchon’s main dessert – or was it brunch? – came to the rescue with a remarkably tasty and popular apple French toast.

If there was a downside to Carnival of Cuisine, it was feeling like a pig as you asked for another serving of your favorite bite-sized morsel(s). But after paying $50 to get in, no one should’ve felt guilty asking for a second Dixie cup of jambalaya. And the serving staff usually smiled as they handed out seconds, thirds and fourths, and waited ‘til you waddled away before rolling their eyes or passing judgment.

And let’s face it: It’s hard to complain when chefs from two resorts’ best restaurants offer you samples of mostly delicious food for 180 minutes straight.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go punch a new hole in my belt …

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Melissa Arseniuk

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