In the Spring of 2010, Steve Wynn became a vegan. For most people, that means a change that affects only themselves, but when you’re the owner of iconic Las Vegas resorts, it means you can change other people’s lives. Wynn recruited Tal Ronnen, known for his vegan creations, to participate in an opportunity Ronnen couldn’t refuse – collaborate with the chefs at all the restaurants in the Wynn and Encore resorts to create full vegan menus. I heard about the new vegan options and immediate began chomping at the bit to get out there and check out the menus. In October, my chance finally arrived. I was to spend five nights at the Wynn for a work trip. The entire time I was there, I never went hungry and remained consistently overwhelmed at all my choices.
There are 22 completely vegan menus throughout the resort including the room service menu that reflect the various restaurant types, themes and fare. At each restaurant, there is a distinct, “Hey, look at me, I’m a vegan menu!” and then other vegetarian items scattered amongst the rest of the “regular” selections.
Let me pause here a moment. The fact that there was a separate and distinct vegan menu made me wonder how many people are skipping looking at the vegan menu all together. I would guarantee that they would get ordered even more, by non-vegans, if they were also interspersed throughout the regular menu. I know many omnivores that wouldn’t even consider looking at the vegan menu by virtue of the fact that it’s called “vegan”. But, little would they now that they’d actually enjoy some of the vegan fare. In fact, some of my omnivore table-mates experienced exactly that. It was only because I ordered dishes off the special vegan menu that they knew about it or tried it in the first place. But, I digress…
Tal Ronnen came up with casual fare and fancy-pants stuff and did so brilliantly. Gardein products appear on many of the menus from “meatballs” to veal. (Part of that may be his spokesperson relationship with the product and part of it is because they make quite versatile products.) My ultimate favorite use of Gardein was the “Wynn Burger” that shows up on the menu at several locations. I ordered mine from the Society Cafe bartender who packaged it up “to go” for me. The Wynn Burger, served with fries and a chocolate milkshake, turned out to be the perfect meal when I only had a few minutes to rest in my room.
First, the milkshake. It’s made from coconut and soy milk and is served with a fat straw because it is oh so thick. Simply put, it was frozen goodness and a perfect mid-day treat. The fries were crisp but nothing to really write home about because the burger stole the show. It was packaged in a golden wrapper. The thin, dare I say, “McDonalds-like” bun was perfect for smooshing down to distribute the ketchup, mustard, pickles and onion on the thin Gardein patty with vegan cheese. It was an awesome fast-food-style lunch with out the fast-food fatty bloated letdown.
Dinner at Switch Steakhouse was an effort to not fall asleep into my plate. Oh, no, it wasn’t because of the food. It was my first night out there and I had a bad case of jet lag. (The restaurant also made it tough to doze off, every 20 minutes or so there would be dramatic music, sparking lights, then the walls would move into new decorations and the ceiling would morph with new light fixtures – hence the name “Switch”.) I started my meal with the tofu carpaccio. It had thin slivers of tofu covered in shimejo mushrooms, pine nuts, fennel, cherry tomatoes, arugula. A fresh basil pesto was drizzled lightly on top. It was a nice way to start off the meal as it didn’t weigh me down before my next dish.
Next up was a “hello” to comfort food. I wanted to take the Switch polenta-mushroom cake back with me so I could enjoy it in the crisp autumn weather at home. Comfort food at its best. The lentil ragout was balanced by the sweet pea sauce. After this meal, I was happy, full and ready for bed. I look at this picture now and drool just thinking of those warm earthy flavors.
For dinner another night, I headed over to Wazuzu. It was a chance to try yet another Gardein dish with the chick’n shu mai. I managed to pop them in my mouth in rapid succession and was a bit sad that I promised to share them with my dinner mate. However, my dinner mate had never experienced Gardein and is a skeptic regarding “fake meat.” She was very surprised at how good they were and wanted to know more about the “magical” product. (I apologize for the blurry Wazuzu pics. I only took one picture of each dish because I was starving so all of our Wazuzu meal came out fuzzy.)
Then, I sort of made a miscalculation on my main dish. You see, I ordered the crispy tofu with green beans and mushrooms hoping that the crispy tofu was the feature. However, it ended up being primarily green beans so I felt like I was eating a side dish rather than a main meal. The garlic soy sauce was delicious, but I think this dish would have been better to share as a side. I unfortunately didn’t make it back to Wazuzu before the end of my trip because I really wanted a chance to try the vegan sushi with the faux glazed eel.
At the Society Cafe, I started my meal with some grilled artichokes. If you order these just for yourself, be prepared to take a little bit to eat them. Don’t let the picture fool you, it’s a whole artichoke cut into four pieces. My table-mates had to watch me tear away at the artichokes long after they finished their appetizers but I was not letting any go to waste. (I, however, reluctantly shared a bite or two with them…)
I was then served a pasta dish that made me wish I had an empty fridge back in my room. The orechiette pasta was so good yet it was more than I could eat in one sitting. The fresh vegetables included roasted tomatoes, asparagus, shaved Brussels sprouts and mushrooms galore. I walked away full but not overly-full after eating this. I’m sure if I finished the whole bowl I might have been in trouble.
When you’re on east coast time, lunchtime comes early in Vegas. Unfortunately, most places didn’t start serving their lunch menu until 11:00 (except if you wanted to brave the buffet). I wanted patiently until 11, then walked past the long line of fellow East Coasters that had formed at the Terrace Pointe Cafe. I hopped up on an empty barstool and lunch was served. Oh, boy was I happy. I had some vegetarian sliders paired with spicy seasoned steak fries. I took my first bite and immediately texted the In-House Taste tester a picture exclaiming, “These veggie sliders are fanf#&^$ckingtastic.”
By the time I made it to my last night at the Encore, I was exhausted. So, I did what any road-weary traveler would do: order room service and watch a movie. I had lots to choose from on the vegan room service menu and I ordered myself up a little picnic of goodness.
And, finally, I had another Gardein product in the Southwest BBQ ‘Chicken’ Wrap. Towards the last bites, I unrolled the wrap and ate the “chicken” with my fingers. I do believe this meal was a nice way to end the trip.
I was fortunate to be at the Wynn for several days to check as much as I could out. But, I ran out of time. What a concept! Being at a hotel and not having to resort to having repeat meals due to lack of choices on the menu or having to convince staff to make something special without meat in it. Oh, yes, I was happy to be going home, but sad to leave a hotel and resort that catered to my non-meat eating needs.