If you’re a serious local foodie, you’ve probably been to what I like to call a “dine-around.” Held at pools or in nightclubs or casino ballrooms, they feature a dozen or more high-end chefs who entertain attendees with samples of their cuisine. Some are held for charity, while others are intended to woo casino high-rollers. Prices (for those who actually pay) are almost always in the three-figure realm. But for foodies, they’re a bargain.
“There’s always fantastic food,” says LeAnne Notabartolo, who writes the food blog Good For Spooning. “And I always get to hang around with people who are like me, who like food.”
Las Vegas may not have invented this type of event. But we probably have more than any other city in America. Some restaurants, like Tao and Lavo, try to participate in as many as possible. The company has committed itself to a dozen this year alone, including its own Taste of Tao at Tao Beach.
Kristen Conte, director of marketing for Tao and Lavo, explains why. “It’s twofold,” she says. “There’s the obvious exposure of giving potential guests the opportunity to experience what it’s like to eat at Tao or at Lavo. But then there’s the added benefit to our good corporate partners that we think are doing really good work in the community.”
Not every restaurant has the resources to participate in so many events, however. As a result, the more events, the fewer participants for each. Chef Carlos Guia has a unique perspective. As executive chef of Wynn Las Vegas’ Country Club, he’s regularly asked to donate his time and food. As co-chair of Taste of the Nation, the country’s oldest event of this kind, he’s charged with soliciting support from his fellow chefs.
“Getting people to participate isn’t always the easiest thing,” Guia admits. “Because we’re asked to do a lot as chefs or restaurants. And even though it’s great PR, it’s time away from the restaurant. And unless you have big money behind you, there’s limited funding for restaurants, especially nowadays.
“There’s almost too many of these events,” he continues, “because everybody thinks it’s a great idea.”
Customers may be finding themselves similarly overtaxed. When Food and Wine magazine came to Las Vegas recently for its annual All-Star Weekend, it had originally planned two dine-arounds: one at The Mirage and the other at Mandalay Bay. The former was eventually canceled, and most people in the industry suspect poor ticket sales were the reason.
Despite these problems, events of this type continue to be among the most popular foodie get-togethers. And the reason is obvious.
“For the price of a good meal out,” explains Guia, “you can hit 35 or 40 restaurants, depending on the event.”
LeAnne Notabartolo's name was misspelled in a previous version of this story. CityLife regrets the mistake.
Check out the rest of our Fall Dining issue: