Photo credit: Lally Barnes

VegeNation Making Food So Good Anyone Can Enjoy Going Vegan

The article title above says it all. Anyone who is leery of vegan cuisine owes it to themselves to give it a try and VegeNation may just be the perfect place to do so. Although vegan food isn’t new to me, my visit to VegeNation was the first time I’d dined at a restaurant that is 100% vegan.

The Downtown location at 616 E. Carson opened in 2015 and the Henderson location at 10075 Eastern which I visited followed in October, 2017. The décor is what I’d call earthy, and I mean that in the best way possible. Tables and chairs are fashioned from rustic wood, two walls are filled with live plants, as well as several hanging from the ceiling; and a sizeable outdoor dining area is brightened up with vines, more hanging plants and a colorful mural. A nice touch in the dining room is a counter equipped with electrical outlets and USB ports for customer use. 

Although the menu has words such as cheese, chicken, meatball, sausage and tuna, everything is actually 100% plant based, and diners are informed of this as soon as they are handed the menu. I must confess, if I hadn’t known or had been blindfolded, I wouldn’t have been able to tell that the “chicken” I was eating had not come from an animal.

Some of my favorites included the My Little Dumpling—steamed shiitake, tofu and spinach dumplings with a delicious dipping sauce; Buffalo Cauliflower Wings with a side of vegan ranch dressing; and Food Not Bombs Bowl—a huge portion of house-spiced tofu, black bean chili, breakfast potatoes, cheese, avocado and chipotle cream served with corn tortillas. The Save the Tuna is well named, as it is hand rolled made with seasonal vegetable and forbidden rice. Two unique pizzas are the Mac N Cheese with creamy mac n cheese and Chipotle Ranch and Blaze Doritos and Spicy Picante Pineapple with fresh pineapple, jalapenos and Italian sausage crumbles. Burger fans should be satisfied with the Mac Daddy Burger loaded with a plant-based burger topped with mac n cheese, collard greens, BBQ sauce and a secret burger sauce; and Downtown Tony—Portobello mushroom sliders with vegetable slaw and sriracha aioli. Desserts include a Baked Alaska layered with cake, locally-made coconut/almond ice cream and toasted meringue.

GM Travis Schwantes is a wonderful ambassador of the restaurant’s mission to lead a food revolution and appreciate the positive impact plant-based cooking makes on our planet, animals, our health and local community vegan lifestyle, which his family and the majority of his staff adheres to. I was also impressed when after informing Travis of a food allergy my wife has, he returned with the “Food Bible,” a notebook filled with notes regarding various allergies and all of the ingredients used in each dish. 

In addition to the plant-based cuisine, VegeNation sources its ingredients from local farms and small businesses as much as possible and beers served are Resonate IPA and Evocation Saison from CraftHaus Brewery, brewed just a few miles away. A colorful chalkboard in the hall near the restrooms proudly lists the various providers.

If you enjoy brunch, show up between 9-3 on Saturday or Sunday, when a special menu is served. Otherwise, the Henderson location is open daily for lunch and dinner and the Downtown location is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For more info and to view the complete menus, visit vegenationlv.com.

Photo credit: Bob Barnes

T.A.B.L.E. Dinner Spotlights Australian-Raised Proteins 

Last month I had the extreme pleasure to take part in an exclusive pop-up T.A.B.L.E. dinner. The acronym stands for True Aussie Beef and Lamb Experience and a delightful experience it was. T.A.B.L.E. has previously held dinner experiences in Washington DC and NYC and our five-course meal, prepared by Chef Roy Villacrusis, was a showcase of proteins raised in Australia: wagyu, lamb, goat and grass-fed beef. Chef Roy is the group’s main chef for the popup dinners, and has a past in Las Vegas, having worked as Master Sushi Chef for Shibuya at MGM Grand and as a consulting chef at Andiron. 

The purpose of the dinners is to expose chefs to what can be done with Aussie meats; I was one of only five non-chefs to participate, as the room was filled with more than a dozen local chefs. Chef Roy called on his Filipino background for this dinner, as each dish had an Asian flair. We began with kilawin Wagyu beef and kinilaw prawns with crab fat, coconut vinaigrette, labuyo pepper and chicharon flakes that chef described as a Filipino version of ceviche. Next up was kalbi of shaved lamb loin in dolsot, a play on bibimap with lamb instead of beef. We all got a rare and welcome chance to enjoy goat with Chef’s kaldereta of goat with root vegetables and steamed pandan rice. Grass-fed beef was spotlighted in binchotan grilled grass-fed beef kushiyaki with creamed cauliflower, maitake and honshimeji mushrooms in Wagyu fat and truffled soy butter.  The final course featured creations all made with rice and coconut milk, such as rice mochi, cassava cake and purple rice cake. Each course was paired with wine, with the likes of Clarevale 2018 Riesling and 19 Crimes Pinot Noir. 

At the conclusion of the dinner Chef Roy came out and received a well-deserved rousing round of applause. The presentation of each dish was beautiful and the flavors were superb, putting this tasting of Australia in the best light possible. 

The dinner was held at Every Grain at 1430 E. Charleston. The new eatery is by Sheridan Su and Jenny Wong, who have garnered much acclaim for their Fat Choy and Flock & Fowl restaurants. Both were present at the dinner, with Jenny helping out with service. For now, Every Grain is in its soft opening phase and open Tue.-Sat. from 10:30-2:30, but Jenny says the hours will expand and they are in the process of obtaining a liquor license (they got a special permit to serve wine at this special event). 

It’s possible that we’ll be seeing more of Chef Roy. He shared he is planning on opening his own restaurant called Gaijin Asiatic Cuisine, a studio-like space for 8-10 diners serving an Omakase-style tasting menu with a new approach on sushi and other Asian ingredients. After enjoying his Aussome (not a typo, pun intended) cooking at this dinner, I highly recommend checking out his cuisine for yourself once it opens.

Worth noting is that Aussie beef, lamb and goat producers raise much of their livestock on pasture and natural grasslands; in the past 30 years the water use has been decreased by 68%; greenhouse gas emissions have declined by 56% over the last 14 years; and the nation/continent is committed to be carbon neutral by 2030.

For more info on Aussie meat and menus visit www.trueaussiebeefandlamb.com, if interested in being a True Aussie Chef or hosting/attending one of the T.A.B.L.E. events email mlateam@summitmg.com and to check out Every Grain, go to www.eateverygrain.com

Photo credit: Stephanie Kramer

Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry Bring the Heat to MGM Grand with Their Vegas Location of International Smoke

Renowned Chef Michael Mina and restaurateur/chef/bestselling author/EllenTube Fempire host Ayesha Curry have expanded their International Smoke concept to Las Vegas, opening at the MGM Grand in the same space as Mina’s former Pub 1842 in the MGM’s The District. The décor is mostly unchanged, and there are still three seating areas: main dining, patio and bar with large round tables and comfortable booths throughout. 

The concept debuted in San Francisco in 2016 as a pop-up in the MINA Test Kitchen and now has permanent locations in S.F., Miami, San Diego and now Las Vegas, and stemmed from both Mina and Curry’s personal travels around the world and shared love of international cooking techniques. As suggested by the name, a smoker is in use for the BBQ meats, as well as a wood-fired grill for the steaks and seafood.

During a media preview dinner last month we were treated to an extensive tasting of the menu, which included Roasted Shellfish Platter containing crab, lobster, oysters and shrimp; Crab & Thai Coconut Soup Shooter with Ayesha’s cornbread; Citrus Beets; Mama Mina’s Falafel (a Mina family recipe); Truffle Caesar Salad; Tokyo Fried Chicken; Jerk Duck Spring Rolls with spicy mango chutney; Shaking Beef (seared tableside and topped with Maggie sauce); Verlasso Salmon; Mediterranean Branzino; Pacific Swordfish; Trio of St. Louis Pork Ribs, Braised Jamaican Oxtail and Smoked Korean Short Rib; Sweet & Sour Brussels Sprouts; and desserts of Sugar & Scribe Key Lime Pie, Valrhona Chocolate Molten Cake and Palette of Pudding Trio of vanilla bean crème brulee, raspberries Black Forest chocolate custard and maraschino cherries butterscotch pudding. Needless to say, we needed to be hauled out in a wheelbarrow after such a feast. 

Chef Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry visited with each table answering questions. When I asked Chef Mina about closing Pub 1842 he commented, “The Pub did well, but after we opened International Smoke, we brought the idea to MGM for this location. One of the things we have planned is to focus on one country a month and do specials featuring that country.” Ayesha added, “This restaurant is very collaborative and some of the best menu items have come from recipes of family, such as the corn bread with coconut curry, reflecting a Jamaican influence.” She also shared that a menu item unique to the Las Vegas location is the Jerk Duck Spring Rolls, which happened to be one of my favorite dishes we enjoyed during the tasting.

Of course, being a beer guy, I was very happy to see a well-rounded beer list with 35 taps pouring a range of beer styles and  local representation, including Able Baker Atomic Duck IPA; Big Dog’s Tailwagger Hefeweizen; Lovelady Golden Nites Golden Lager, Love Triangle Amber and Love Juice IPA; and Tenaya Creek Bonanza Brown and Hop Ride IPA. I was also thrilled to find some of my all-time favorites: Dogfish Head 120 IPA (which is actually a barleywine), Delirium Tremens and New Holland Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Stout. 

International Smoke
Open daily from 5-10:30 p.m. 

mgmgrand.mgmresorts.com/en/restaurants/international-smoke.html