Photo by Matt Villano
The Venetian’s Grand Colonnade, which was transformed into a dramatic dinner setting
It featured gourmet food and wine, plus once-in-a-lifetime experiences like test-driving a Rolls-Royce.
It’s no secret that Las Vegas is a perfect destination for lovers of food and wine. There are dozens of stellar restaurants and hundreds of places to drink like a rock star.
But one epicurean experience may top them all. That weekend-long celebration, fittingly dubbed Ultimo (which means “ultimate,” for those of you who only wish you spoke Italian), transpired this weekend inside the Venetian and Palazzo resorts.
The weekend featured 10 different events, most of which revolved around fabulous food prepared by celebrity chefs, wine, and spirits. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities included the chance to test-drive a Rolls-Royce (more on that in a bit). Because the entire escape was limited to 140 people, the festivities played out like the most epic destination wedding ever.
Prices for the weekend bash started around $4,550 per couple.
Ultimo kicked off Friday night with a vodka and caviar reception overlooking the Las Vegas Strip. In the Paiza Club on the 36th floor of the Venetian, our group sampled hors d’oeuvres, caviar, and incredible cocktails from Belvedere. We then proceeded to the Presidential Suite down the hall for dessert and Dom Perignon. Spotted among the crowd: Robin Leach, who has become a bit of a Las Vegas media fixture and served as the (over-the-top and sometimes inappropriate) emcee for the weekend’s events.
Day No. 2 of Ultimo—Saturday—kicked off at 8 a.m. in the porte cochere of the Palazzo, from which guests had the opportunity to test-drive one of three new Rolls-Royce vehicles: the Phantom, the Wraith, and the Ghost. The test route included a familiar stretch of roadway: the Las Vegas Strip. The takeaway: On the open road (in this case, I-15), the Wraith’s 624 horsepower and V-12 engine gets you up to 95 mph in next to no time.
Later that day, guests enjoyed a picnic near Red Rock Conservation Area to the west, lunching on food prepared by chef Thomas Keller and again sipping Dom Perignon.
That night, following a Louis Vuitton fashion show and drink tasting at a soon-to-open lounge at the Venetian, it was time for the main event, also known as the Grand Banquet. Hotel staff had turned the hotel’s Grand Colonnade—with its arched ceilings and frescoes on the walls—into an exquisite dining hall. A table for 140, embellished with Lalique vases and fresh orchids, lined the center of the room.
What transpired at that table was nothing short of mind-blowing; a five-course meal with 10 dishes prepared by Keller, Ming Tsai, Shaun Hergatt, Mourad Lahlou, Paul Bartolotta, Emma Bengtsson, Pierre Thiam, Gerome Bocuse, Vikram Vij, and Curtis Stone. Each course was paired with a rare and renowned wine. The most noteworthy of these was a Castillo Ygay Blanco 1986 from Marques de Murrieta, which recently received a perfect score from Robert Parker. Also worth mentioning: a 2014 cabernet sauvignon from Memento Mori, a nascent cult winery in Napa.
The sixth course, a dessert from chocolatier Jean-Marie Auboine, was paired with the new Paradis Imperial Cognac from Hennessy, which was walked into the room by runway models.
Following dinner, guests moved to the Presidential Suite at the Palazzo, where an official afterparty featured the highest-end tequilas from Patron and additional art pieces from Lalique. Many of the chefs attended this bash as well—in street clothes. Some attendees even were spotted at a craps table down in the Venetian casino after 3 a.m.
Ultimo weekend concluded Sunday morning with a farewell brunch and more Patron. So what if many guests were obviously struggling to function? One can never have too much Patron. Especially in Las Vegas. Especially at the food-and-wine fete of the year.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.
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