Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Wynn creates a vegan oasis in the desert

Tofu and Eggplant

It's an old cliche - a billionaire creates an epic hotel, hires some of the world's finest chefs, goes vegan and then makes all the world famous chefs create vegan menus.

Well, it's not a cliche at all, but it should be.

Tracy and I sat down together to see if there were any good reasons to get out of town for the weekend. The idea of Vegas came up. It was probably a joke at first, but the idea became a real possibility when we remembered some old vegan news clippings that fell through our google news filters about an eccentric rich guy, Steve Wynn, who was doing something crazy: veganizing his restaurants. ( read about his veganism )

It make sense. Now that he has found himself a healthier lifestyle, he of course would want to be able to eat at the restaurants that bear his name. The residual effect is that he has created a vegan oasis and the rest of the world needs to take note at how simply accommodating vegans and vegetarians opens up the floodgates on an untapped revenue stream.

Tasting Menu from Botero

My best advice and the bottom line of everything I am going to say: if you are a vegan, go stay at the Wynn. The experience is something you can't imagine - every restaurant is more than vegan accessible. It is a privilege we thought we gave up when we went vegan. Wynn has given us the closest thing to normalcy I have experienced since becoming a vegan 7 years ago. For that I am grateful and I will show my gratitude with the thousands of dollars I will spend at his establishment.

My initial reaction is to gush about everything, but I think it's only fair if I share every detail so that if you do decide to drop a lot of money at the Wynn, you now exactly what you are getting into. The good, the bad and the great.


Tal Ronnen inspired cashew "cream" sauce pasta - "Pasta & 'Clams'"

If you've cooked your way through Tal Ronnen's cookbook, then the menu should feel familiar. He is a paid consultant of the Wynn and you can feel his influence in almost every dish - fancy salads, cashew cream sauces, and gardein can be found everywhere. If you haven't yet had these items, then the Wynn may very well be the best food you have ever eaten.

Me, on the other hand, have had many of these dishes cooked for me by a superb vegan chef (Tracy) and seasoned to my taste (super spicy and flavorful).

The chefs at the Wynn are traditional chefs. They are used to relying on creams and fats to carry their flavor and at times it shows. At the Wynn's tapas (La Cave) restaurant, we were served a mushroom pasta that relied entirely on the cream sauce and the mushrooms for the flavor, but the flavors just weren't bold enough.

The Caprese Salad

At Botero, we were served a caprese salad - it was wonderful - but the "cheese" component was basically raw tofu. I imagine in a non-vegan version this part of the salad would give it a much needed lift. It was however, a very intelligent use of tofu. I never thought a thinly sliced rectangle of barely cooked tofu would go so well with watermelon and raw tomatoes.

But it did.

The Wynn was also the home of some of the best vegan dishes I've ever had.

One of which, was simply titled Tofu and Eggplant. It was from Botero and was the 4th course of the 5 course vegan tasting menu. The connecting thread in the tasting menu was basil, and this dish did not fall short of it. The tofu was fried to a crisp, while still retaining it's normal soft consistency on the inside, creating a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth feel. Below the tofu, sat a wonderfully aromatic bed of arugula. Below that, sat perfectly grilled, not-too-soggy eggplant. And to finish, it was all drizzled with a chunky tomato sauce.

The room service was amazing. They could have charged us anything and we would have kept ordering it -- and that's basically what happened. With the exception of a $40 pitcher of orange juice, the prices were reasonable for room service and the results were mouth watering. And as a vegan, the concept of having vegan food brought to your room, without having to scour the internet and Happy Cow, is what's truly a life-changing experience when it comes to the Wynn.

The Griddle Cakes with Blackberry Jam and Vermont Maple Syrup

In spite of drinking ourselves into upset stomachs (not our style, but it was Vegas), we ordered up as much decadent food as we could. Tracy ordered some orange griddle cakes that were more than likely the best pancakes we've ever tasted. They were light, almost airy, and incredibly sweet. They paired amazingly with the savory, standard country potatoes that we ordered on the side. I only got a bite of these pancakes, because that's how Tracy rolls, but I'll remember how well the pure Vermont maple paired with the sweetness of orange citrus for years to come.

Me, I'm more of a savory breakfast person. I enjoy sweet breakfasts, but when they are side by side on the menu I will almost always order salty over sweet.

The Gardein Sausage & Tofu Scramble Wrap w/ Country Potatoes

For me, that made the Gardein sausage wrap the obvious choice. Gardein is always a winner so I had to see what the Wynn's chefs would do with it. Strangely, before this I had never tasted the Gardein sausage product, but it was only natural that it would be a home run. Sausage is heavily seasoned and therefore easy for a company that makes such good meat replacements to replicate. And that's exactly what they did.

The sausage was wrapped in a light, almost deliciously waxy flour tortilla and paired with a standard, but delicious tofu scramble and it was all topped off with a creamy vegan American/cheddar style cheese. This is not something outside of the culinary box, but as a Vegan it was nice to experience some old fashioned comfort food with ease and convenience.

I ended up ordering it both days. Need I say more?

(Click on any of the photos to go to our Flickr stream and see more of the delicious food we ate!)

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