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Vegas Uncork’d: Notes, quotes and salt-crusted fish

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Hello, gorgeous: A selection of Paul Bartolotta’s product.
Photo: Sarah Feldberg

It’s a good thing food festivals don’t come with nutrition facts or I’d have spent the last four days adding larger and larger numbers in my head as Vegas Uncork’d rolled through Las Vegas.

What they do come with are chefs — mostly famous ones, who like to eat, drink and chat as much as their guests.

Here, in no particular order, are a few final notes from Vegas Uncork’d and the chefs that made it sing. If you need me, I’ll be at the gym.

Hello, hat trick: After the hard work — aka Grand Tasting — was done Friday night, the chefs headed to the Encore Pool for an afterhours blackjack tournament that’s become a highlight of the annual festival. Or at least a highlight for the Wynn’s Paul Bartolotta, who took home the tourney’s top prize for the third year in a row! Perhaps Bartolotta should start offering gambling tips along with his Mediterranean seafood.

Speaking of seafood: That seafood, which arrives fresh from the Mediterranean just 53 hours after it hits the pier (the restaurant employs a marine biologist!), was still alive and kicking — well, twitching — during Saturday’s Interactive Lunch at Encore. The afternoon event puts guests to work cooking their own lunch while David Walzog of SW Steakhouse, Alex Stratta of Alex and Stratta, and Paul Bartolotta directed them from onstage.

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Lunch of champions. Let me know if you want the recipe for this fantastically moist fish.

A big thanks to my table, which impeccably executed the recipes under the watchful eye of chef David Middleton of Alex restaurant. The whole menu was refreshing and bright, but the showstopper was Bartolotta’s whole fish baked in an aromatic sea-salt crust. Served with zucchini and a citrusy Sicilian sauce, it was one of the best bites of the whole festival.

Gangsta kitchen: Chefs are known for their late-night antics, but don’t tell that to Sage chef Richard Camarota who said that Uncork’d was practically the first time he’d been out and about in Vegas since moving to town to open the Aria restaurant in December. Camarota has a good excuse — an infant at home — but he did mention that he’d managed to slip out for one night on the town: a Snoop Dogg performance at Haze nightclub. I guess we know what’s bumping in the Sage kitchen now: Snoop Doooooggy Doooooooog.

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Chef Vince Chiyuto of Lagasse's Stadium, Bon Appetit Editor in Chief Barbara Fairchild and Carnevino Chef Zach Allen.

Paris, Nevada: We’re glad to have Bon Appétit as our neighbor — just a quick trip across the desert in LA — and apparently Editor in Chief Barbara Fairchild is feeling the love, too. “It’s just amazing the French chefs who have embraced Las Vegas as their second home. You are very, very lucky here, and I feel lucky that with Bon Appétit based in Los Angeles we are 45 minutes away.”

Fairchild isn’t even exaggerating. We’ve got a basketball team worth of French masters showcasing their skills in town — Pierre Gagnaire, Jo ë l Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy, Francois Payard. Of course, they have restaurants in other cities, too, but it takes a little longer to hop across the pond. “I say to a lot of my friends, ‘Why go to Paris? Just come here for four days, eat at each one and take all the money you’ve saved in the airline ticket and you can stay at one of these fantastic hotels,” Fairchild advised. The LVCVA should send her a muffin basket for that fabulous plug.

Coming soon: If you missed this year’s Vegas Uncork’d, wipe your tears and the drool in the corner of your mouth. There’s already buzz about next year’s fest, which likely will feature a whole new crop of award-winning chefs thanks to the impressive lineup getting ready to hit the kitchen at the Cosmopolitan resort, slated to open in December. I’m thinking a José Andrés paella cooking class and Blue Ribbon around-the-world wine dinner. With Vegas’ dining scene seemingly still on the up and up, Uncork’d just keeps getting better. And, like Barbara, I feel very lucky to be here.

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Sarah Feldberg is the editor of Las Vegas Weekly magazine. A veteran journalist, Feldberg previously worked as the Weekly's web ...

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