M Life — Volume 9 Issue 2
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Anneliese D. Klainbaum

Fresh Produce Signifies a Shift in What Satisfies

Savory new dishes from Las Vegas chefs elevate vegetable creations from the simple sides category to the elaborate main course

Chefs from Las Vegas’ famously decadent kitchens are making seasonal vegetables the main attraction by expanding their vegetarian offerings beyond the ubiquitous veggie side dish trio. Creative entrées focused on light, market-fresh fare are providing a host of exciting options this spring and summer for all diners – from vegetarians and “flexitarians” to those simply wanting to enjoy the chef’s latest culinary creation. ¶ Fine dining restaurants such as MICHAEL MINA Bellagio are ramping up their meatless menus, inspired by an overall culinary trend toward fresh, seasonal cooking. “The amount, range and quality of products have given chefs the opportunity to be really thoughtful and creative when cooking vegetarian dishes and menus,” said Chef Mina.

THE Michelin award-winning chef’s eponymous restaurant features a variety of vegetarian entrées and even a seasonal tasting menu. Dishes such as the Artichoke Tortellini focus on market-driven products including fresh artichokes and mascarpone cheese, roasted red peppers, Meyer lemon and arugula. E texture and flavor combo make for a complete gastronomic experience.

A similar farm-to-table approach informs the menu at Sage at ARIA Resort & Casino, evident in the menu’s commitment to seasonality and simple, clean fl avors. “ ere are so many creative ways to use vegetables and it allows us to have fun with the menu,” said Chefde Cuisine Richard Camarota.

Sage’s Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi with smoked ricotta cream sauce, truffl e purée and parsnips is a flavor-packed dish that’s hearty and balanced. A hint of black truffle enhances the smoked ricotta, making this classic gnocchi unique, beyond the realm of basic comfort food. E shaved Brussels Sprout and Pear Salad would be the way to kick off this dining event at Sage, and for those who are adventurous, the restaurant’s dessert and absinthe menus are not to be missed.

Even at BR Prime at Beau Rivage in Biloxi, where steaks and seafood reign supreme, chefs are experimenting with flavorful vegetarian options that pack in flavor. “Vegetarian cuisine has become more mainstream in the past decade and more customers are demanding these kinds of dishes,” said Executive Chef Joseph Friel, who is debuting a vegetarian menu this spring that will appeal to both vegetarians and those simply wanting to try something new.

THE most popular vegetarian dish right now at BR Prime is a Moroccan-style tagine, a vegetable stew spiced with saffron, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric and harissa. Robust, globally-inspired ingredients like these add to the character of a satisfying dish.

In fact, those looking for satisfying, veggie-packed dishes have always looked to ethnic cuisines such as Indian, Italian and Mexican for their substantial offerings.Sushi has been a long-time favorite as well, and now master sushi chefs such as those at Shibuya at MGM Grand are reconsidering the basic vegetable roll in favor of more thoughtful, fish-free options.

Shibuya’s Executive Chef Stephane Chevet has seen a need for more sophisticated veggie-friendly rolls and The restaurant’s new Kenko Roll delivers. It is made with organic Akita Komachi sushi rice rolled in soy paper and fi lled with asparagus, avocado, cucumber, a pickled sweet daikon radish and Japanese gourd, which is then topped with blanched savoy cabbage.

Chef Chevet says that ligher cuisine focused on the highest quality produce “has been part of an evolution,” and that his kitchen is making room on the menu for the new gourmet dining experience, in part by offering a six-course vegetarian tasting menu.

Border Grill at Mandalay Bay also is offering a fresh take on vegetarian-friendly ethnic cuisine that hits the spot in the warmer months. E bold flavors of Mexico are the perfect backdrop for lighter dishes that are loaded with fruits and veggies, fresh herbs and salsas and rice and beans.

With a customer base that is becoming more educated in regard to factory farming, seafood sustainability and other environmental issues, Border Grill Executive Chef Mike Minor turns to the healthy, bright flavors found in Southern California’s farmers markets, which provided inspiration years ago for the original restaurant location in Santa Monica.

Chef Minor’s Portobello Mushroom Mulitas were designed to provide the comfort and heartiness of Border Grill’s skirt steak. E mulitas – grilled, marinated mushroom caps – are filled with organic black beans, cheese, poblano peppers and pickled onions, then stacked over seared garlic greens and finished with a roasted tomato-fennel sauce. E fresh ingredients, coupled with authentic Mexican flavors, make for a fabulous dining experience that could only be improved with the addition of an icy margarita and a slice of Tres Leches Cake.

As it turns out, kicking back at a casual burger joint with a (meat-free) burger, fries and a beer is also part of the new repertoire here in Vegas. Acclaimed Chef Laurent Tourondel’s interpretation of the classic American burger spot, BLT Burger at e Mirage, offers everything from Kobe beef burgers to turkey burgers, but for those wanting to try something a little different but just as satisfying, the spotlight is on the falafel burger. It’s a medley of organic grains and vegetables mixed with Middle Eastern spices and served as a burger-style patty on a soft, fresh-baked whole wheat bun, topped with hummus, cucumber relish, avocado and a mint-yogurt sauce.

Chef de Cuisine Juan Zuniga has worked his way through the ranks at BLT Burger and said that sticking with a “fresh and simple” approach is what makes the falafel burger – and everything else at BLT Burger – stand out. “I always cook with the highest-quality ingredients,” he said.

Truthfully, patrons aren’t likely missing the meat when BLT Burger sides like Chili-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries, Fried Pickles and Mozzarella Sticks are available into the wee Hours of the morning, along with spiked milkshakes and house cocktails (try the Back Porch Lemonade or the Jackpot).

Keeping it casual is always welcome when it comes to dining out with friends, and there’s no rule saying vegetables and sports can’t peacefully co-exist. Want to watch the game and get a beer? E Sporting House at New York-New York off ers great alternatives to meat dishes such as the Philly cheesesteak-style sub made with meaty Portobello mushrooms, onions, peppers and smoked Gouda cheese.

“In the past people thought that veggie-style dishes would be bland, but it’s just not true!” said Chef Chris Gagen. E restaurant’s Greek pizza is the most accessible veggie dish, made with house-made dough and sauce, feta cheese, roasted tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red onion and oregano. It has real appeal for sports fans who want to relax and enjoy the game at a bar without indulging in the customary nachos or chicken wings.

Chefs all over the city are getting creative with menus that pack in bright, vibrant fl avors. With this new focus on farm-fresh ingredients and incredible fl avor combinations that stand on their own, chefs are moving above and beyond the meat-and-potatoes concept – a welcome change for anyone looking for something new at the table.