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Tour de Force

by Shawn LeWinter

Wine and oyster pairings at some of Vegas' finest restaurants...

Ah fruit de mers! Parisians and visitors to the City of Lights fantasize during the summer heat of getting to their favorite cafe for a crisp glass of Muscadet and platters of crushed ice, topped with raw oysters, clams and mussels. Muscadet offers a lean tart, refreshing palate impression which highlights the briny nature of mollusks. Ernest Hemingway felt oysters were as close to the flavor of the sea as one could get. I do not know what Freud would say about the fantasy, but I suspect Hemingway would say, "...another dozen, si vous plait."

With the heat in Vegas, Emeril's Fish House in the MGM does a variation of this presentation in their dining room and oyster bar. Their selection is limited, but the quality excellent. On a recent visit, oysters; from British Columbia and Pacific Orchard; and clams were available. The Pacific Orchard Oysters displayed more of a floral-fruity character, while the oysters from British Columbia offered more mineral notes; complementary to both was the Vacheron Sancerre 1998. A more elegant selection from the Loire Valley than Muscadet, this Sancerre served modestly chilled to highlight hints of smokiness and green apple. When served colder, the acidity became more refreshing, but the delicate soil notes are sacrificed.

Across from the Monte Carlo, Alan Albert's Vintage Steak House prefers Gulf oysters from Apalachacola. Large in size, these meaty, less pungent oysters are delicious raw. Chef Reyes also uses them to create Las Vegas' best Oysters Rockefeller. His recipe, based on the original from Antoine's in New Orleans, uses lean bacon sautéed with shallots and onions before adding the spinach to the pan and the judicious use of Pernod in the final stages. The end result is a lushness that is enhanced by the herbaceous quality of Pernod and the smokiness of bacon. The wine list features many artisan producers and is one of the few restaurants in town noted for featuring age worthy white wine at the peak of maturity. For example, the Didier Dagnueneau Pouilly Fume En Chailloux 1993 showed excellent depth to the lemon-lime and mineral notes, while highlighting a fruitiness in the oysters not as prominent on their own. The Lucien Crochet Sancerre Cuvee Prestige 1994 was paired with the Oysters Rockefeller. Produced from old vines, it displays elegance and depth unusual for Sauvignon Blanc. Coyote Cafe, in the MGM, is consistently one of the most creative restaurants in town. Their Fried Oysters offer what haute cuisine is all about; the refinement of flavor. Their Russian corn breading offers sweetness while the acid of chipolte oil brightens the flavors. The oysters are served on a wild rice ragout of red wild rice, carrots, zucchini squash and herbs, then finished with a smoked asparagus cream sauce. The final flavors offer farm freshness to the earth notes from the root vegetables. With this creativity in the kitchen, there is no classic pairing. I would encourage an equally creative beverage choice; the Porfidio Reposado tequila. Very elegant; even unaggressive for tequila; this Reposado offers the floral, ripe quality of the agave plant. For those less adventuristic, The Pacific Echo Brut will cleanse the palate while adding a yeasty note.

On the west side of town, Panini creates a delicious dish called Mussels Provencale. The earthy flavor of the mussels is enhanced by the smoky, white oak used in their pizza oven. They are cooked in white wine, flavored with parsley, leaks and the juice from the mussels, then emulsified with olive oil. Fresh parsley added again at the end provides a fresh herbal note. To contrast the rustic elements of the dish, Evolution #9 NV was served for its tropical fruit and focused acidity.

All the dishes listed above are offered as appetizers. I hope these pairings entice you to sample the finest seafood available anywhere, and begin a memorable meal in one of Las Vegas's most flavorful restaurants.

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