Aug 232010

I’ve been in Las Vegas the last few days, celebrating the baptism of my nephew Dustin Parente. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, and in prior years it’s always been for business. We’re at the Trump Tower, and the service has been incredible. Whatever your feelings about The Donald, it’s a great place to stay.

You can’t visit Vegas and not go out for a fine meal. To decide which one, I looked to the expert staff at the Trump and the wisdom of the crowd via Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor had Mon Ami Gabi #12 of over 1,700 ranked restaurants, and the concierge at the hotel recommended it highly. Not only was the food outstanding, but the location right on the strip added to the experience, especially since we scored a table on the patio.

The place was packed and we had a short wait before being shown to our table. We were on the patio just inside the awning, not right on the street but close enough to enjoy the Vegas crowds and the spectacular fountain show directly across the street at the Bellagio. Our waitress Georgi was outstanding — really passionate about food and wine and ready with great suggestions.  The first was a wine suggestion — we were with my Mom and Stepdad and I wanted something approachable and reasonably priced that everyone at the table would enjoy.

She suggested the Paul Jaboulet Parallele 45 Cotes du Rhone 2007, which was very good. It’s a blend of 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah with nice restrained fruit with a clean finish. Cherry dominates, but it’s not simplistic, there’s more going on here than fruit. There was a pleasant earthiness that translated as smokiness to me, not the funkiness you sometimes get with French wines. Here’s a review by Gary Vaynerchuk on the wine — he’s a fan. It’s an incredible value, you can find it for around $11-12 in stores.

Of course with four of us we needed another bottle when the Jaboulet was finished. We wanted to stay with a Rhone, but try something else. With Georgi’s help we discovered another strong value performer, the J. Videl-Fleury 2007 Cotes du Rhone. Similar in some ways to the Jaboulet, to me it was spicier with a deeper texture. It had a fuller feeling on the palate with low tannins and a smooth finish. This made the wine a bit better with the filet mignons ordered by everyone but me, which they said were among the best they’ve ever had. It looks like this wine retails for be found for only around $10 retail.

I went carnivore first course with excellent steak tartare, then had a super pan-fried cod over cous-cous and greens. Everything clicked — the setting, the service, the food and the wine. Usually I’d be salty about paying a big markup for such inexpensive wines, but the experience was so good I wasn’t. It was a nice reminder you don’t have to spend big $$ for French wines  that complement food extremely well.

Of course, even with all that the evening couldn’t compare with meeting my nephew. A big thank you to my brother Mark and his wife Donna for making him happen, and for all the hospitality. We stopped by for some cocktails at Margaritaville restaurant where Mark manages, a crazy busy place that Mark proudly noted typically ranks as one of the top three grossing restaurants in the country. Definitely check Margaritaville out for a more partying bar scene when you hit the strip.

Dustin Joseph Parente, exhausted from all the attention

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