Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Chef Aaron Losch


Getting to know the big man behind the resort’s food and beverage services…

Last fall I met with one of Westgate Resort‘s executive team to discuss this series on their culinary team. During our luncheon we were unexpectedly joined by a third person. Big, burly, and with a serious expression on his face, this mountain of a man made an imposing first impression. Then he broke into an enormous smile…and everything changed.

Chef Aaron Losch is a fascinating person to watch in action. Omnipresent, he seems to be everywhere at once. Being Director of Culinary Operations over the vast array of Westgate’s food and beverages, that perception surely works to his advantage. His presence is felt even when he’s not around.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                Westgate’s Fresco Italiano’s lounge and bar area…

Now that I’ve covered most of the Westgate dining outlets at this point, I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Chef Losch. He’s introduced me to other members of his team, invited me to sample new offerings at The Court and greeted me in passing while going about his day. But we never got to sit down and actually converse in depth until recently.

We started off our interview by getting a little dirty, so to speak. I’d checked out Chef Losch’s Facebook page and was fascinated by posts about him participating in Tough Mudder competitions. The images were a far cry from his usual pristine white attire, so I had to find out how someone gets involved in those extremely dirty endurance events.

“Why not do something insanely stupid?” was his remarkably direct response.  The trendy gauntlet-like courses are usually over ten miles long and test mental as well as physical strengths. “Your first one is a rite of passage. Every first-timer gets an electric shock” he said.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

These courses are made up of several kinds of obstacles, like plunges into ice water, monkey bars slicked with butter…and live wires hanging over a field of mud. “It’s really extreme” he laughed. “People go down from the electric shocks and they don’t get up. It’s really funny to watch”.

My face must have conveyed its own kind of shock, as Chef Aaron continued to laugh. He told me that his nine-year-old daughter participates in Tough Mudder, too. Losch doesn’t worry about coddling her, though. A natural prankster, he has a unique angle on parenting. “I’m the kind of dad who wraps grapes to make them look like chocolate Easter eggs”.

The Losch family lifestyle is all about adventure. Chef Aaron, wife Jamie and children Abbie (9) and Ethan (7) love to travel. Whether it’s zip-lining in Mexico, swimming with dolphins, visiting the Statue of Liberty or dabbling in Harry Potter’s magic at Universal Studios California, the quartet of thrill-seekers always has a blast.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Before marrying Jamie eleven years ago, Losch had already covered a lot of ground in the culinary world. Born in Santa Monica, he grew up in Port Angeles Washington. At nineteen he moved to my area of Portland Oregon to enroll in Western Culinary Institute. The school later became Le Cordon Bleu of Portland before permanently closing its doors in 2017.

Like many of his Westgate colleagues, Chef Aaron got his first taste of kitchen experience at an early age. “My parents told me to get a job while I was in high school. I applied for a dishwashing spot at the family restaurant of a friend. It was one of only two fine-dining restaurants in Port Angeles”.

It wasn’t long before Losch moved from scrubbing plates to working on the line. “After awhile I got to do prep in the kitchen and ended up being at the restaurant for three years. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush!”. That thrill motivated the budding chef to change his career plans from accounting to culinary school.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                             The Mansion at MGM Grand…

Moving to Vegas, Chef Aaron gained experience in several high profile locations. “Michael Mina’s Nobhill Tavern was my intro to fine dining in Las Vegas”. That famed spot, which was home to the legendary Cable Car Cocktail, shuttered in 2013. His tenure at MGM Grand also included The Mansion, one of the most opulent and revered destinations in the city. Despite the prestige of working in that exclusive location, the pace just wasn’t for him. “I wanted to shoot myself. It was so up-and-down there. I wanted volume!”.

Within those pre-Westgate years were a collection of valuable opportunities and beneficial experiences. One of them was the chance to open a restaurant from the ground up for Piero Selvaggio. “Caffe Giorgio Ristorante at Mandalay Place was the first one that I got to build out. It wasn’t the fit I was looking for either, so I only lasted eight months”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

BOA Steakhouse at Forum Shops of Caesars was more to Losch’s liking. “I walked in, got recognized and was hired on the spot. I went from Sous Chef to Executive Sous Chef and remained there for another year and a half”.

Throughout the ensuing years, quality and prestige went hand-in-hand in the varied establishments that added to Chef Aaron’s portfolio. Renaissance Hotel (home to ENVY Steakhouse), Wynn/Encore, T-Bones Chophouse at Red Rock Resort…all fabulous restaurants recognized for their top-quality dining. While at T-Bones, he received an award for his contributions to the Vegas Food and Wine Festival.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Chef Losch was wooed away from Red Rock by an opportunity to work with famed hotelier/restaurateur Chef Alex Stratta. Stratta is best known to Las Vegans as the name behind Alex and Stratta at Wynn Las Vegas. Hired as Corporate Executive Chef for the Stratta Restaurant group, his time there was a mixed blessing.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                With Chef Alex Stratta (center) at TAPAS…

“The level that Chef Stratta was doing things was at one I’d never seen before”, he told me. Despite those high ambitions, Stratta’s desire to bring Strip-quality fare to outlying areas didn’t quite work out. Efforts such as Tapas at Tivoli Village and an Italian steakhouse at The Gramercy either closed quickly or didn’t happen at all. A partnership with Vegas-based Preferred Restaurant Brands also collapsed.

But such is life in a profession where concepts soar, tastes change and new opportunities lie in wait. For Chef Losch, that next adventure would take place at a legendary destination, itself in the midst of reinvention and elevation.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                          Westgate’s Silk Road Asian Bistro…

Now the new Executive Chef of Sid’s Cafe, Losch worked alongside noteworthy names like Grant MacPherson and Charles Wilson. Last August he accepted a promotion to his current position. “As Director of Culinary Operations, my job is to help the chefs in the room to be creative”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                         With award-winning Pastry Chef Stephen Sullivan…

“I’ve worked with a lot of really good chefs” he continued “but some are not always the best people. I’ve been very lucky with my team here”. That collection includes the chefs that I’ve previously profiled on this site as well as his four assistants. Together they’re the driving force behind the restaurants, events, catering and banquet menus.

Being in charge of so many aspects of a department can be daunting, but out of it comes results. “I want to earn my position…I’m my own worst critic. The pressure comes from wanting to succeed”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                                          Fresco Italiano…

As the resort continues to evolve alongside ever-changing preferences, so do the concepts that Westgate’s culinary team rolls out. “Falling back on ‘What we always do’ never works. If you’re continuously doing the same thing, time after time, but expecting a different result…well, that’s the definition of insanity. You have to change and re-evaluate your approach. Of course, ‘corporate’ has their own ideas, too. You’ve got to integrate that all together. Ultimately, I want my bosses to succeed”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

                                Entrance to Westgate’s “Restaurant Row”…

During our conversation, Chef Losch and I were joined by Gabrielle PerezGeneral Manager of Casual Dining. She and Chef Aaron had previously worked together at Wynn Las Vegas. It was clear from their camaraderie that being at Westgate was a positive and beneficial change of pace. Especially from the corporate mentality at other Vegas resorts.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

“I enjoy building strong and dynamic teams that are passionate, committed and engaged to making hospitality fun, beautiful and profitable”, she told me. “I love the atmosphere at Westgate. There’s lots of professionalism here. So much of it that I’m continually amazed. But it’s mixed with fun and plenty of creativity”.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

Such positive words coming from a member of his own team must make Chef Aaron feel very proud. Despite the challenges of his field, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his personal time as much if the culinary team wasn’t a smooth-running machine.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

After our interview, Chef Aaron showed me his office in the depths of the resort’s inner workings. Covering the walls and shelves were memorabilia and mementos. Crests from Game of Thrones. Disney character statues. Bottles of Las Vegas Knights wine. “I LOVE the Knights”, he exclaimed.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

When I mentioned how serene things seemed in his personal space, Chef Aaron chuckled. “It’s not always this way. Sometimes I have a line of people out the door. Situations need to be addressed, emergencies come up, decisions need to be made. But that’s why I’m here”.

With things going so well at Westgate, it’s safe to say that everyone is glad that Chef Aaron is the big man in charge. And that’s why dining at the re-invigorated off-Strip resort is such a satisfying and mouth-watering experience.

Chef Aaron Losch Westgate

For a list of Westgate’s casual and fine dining options, menus and operating hours, click here.

Photos: Sammasseur, Chef Aaron Losch, Jamie Losch, Vegas.com, Vegas Food and Wine Festival, Tough Mudder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Chef Masato Shiga


International man of mystery lets his Asian cuisine do the talking…

Last summer I introduced readers to Bar Sake, the newly-launched Japanese Robata-style grill restaurant that I referred to “Westgate’s Hidden Gem”.

Unique in location, offerings and atmosphere, Westgate’s Bar Sake & Robata Grill is the perfect little venue to gather at with friends, a loved one…or to discover all by yourself.

Bar Sake‘s menu is as much about the great food as the unique beverage offerings. And while I had the privilege to discuss cocktail creation with Chief Mixologist Eddie Perales during that initial visit, Chef Masato Shiga stood off to the side and was noticeably quiet. I was to learn later that this is the norm for Chef Shiga. He’d much rather communicate via his food than chat with you about it.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Naturally, I wanted to discover what inspired and influenced the man behind these sumptuous dishes. And of course, to sample (quite) a bit more of his delicious creations…so we sat down to talk on a return visit before I enjoyed another great meal courtesy of Chef Shiga. Despite sampling plate after plate, it was me who did most of the talking.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

I was surprised to learn that as Executive Chef, Shiga oversees not one but four distinctive restaurants within Westgate‘s “The Village”. Taking up a substantial portion of the resort’s restaurant row, the two-story Village complex is home to world-renowned Benihana, Silk Road Asian Bistro, Rikki Tiki Sushi…and of course, Bar Sake.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

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Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

       Rikki Tiki Sushi overlooks the flowing water and gardens in The Village

Presenting such a vast array of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese specialties would be a daunting task for any cuisinier, but Chef Masa (the name he most frequently goes by) is no ordinary culinary expert. He brings a lifetime of authenticity and experience to the kitchen…and your table. He began cooking in Japan and has continued to expand his collection of recipes through an illustrious career at top Vegas restaurants.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

                                               Chigasaki, Kanagawa

Chef Shiga was born in Chigasaki, a resort community on the Sagami Sea in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan. This largely tourist-based city is home to about 240,000 permanent residents. Considered to be a sister-city to Honolulu, Chigasaki is rich with Hawaiian and other Pan-Asian influences. It also lays claim to being the birthplace of Japanese surfing.

Growing up while surrounded by such a rich fusion of cultures undoubtedly presented many memorable dining experiences for the young Shiga. With Tokyo merely an hour’s trip away, it would have been easy for him to savor and learn how to prepare many regional delicacies and those from around his country and the world.

Masa10

At the age of nineteen, Shiga began his education in culinary school. Along with Far East cuisine, he learned the fine art of French cooking…quite an interesting combination! And much like his previously-profiled colleague Chef Bruno Morabito (of Westgate‘s Sid’s Cafe), Shiga developed an affection for whipping up all-American breakfast dishes. Perhaps that’s why he eventually migrated to the heartland of the United States.

Masa1

       Vintage postcard image of Mikado Japanese Cuisine, Mirage Resort…

When we arrived here, I looked around and was…WOW! So much to see….so big! I knew this was where I wanted to be. We stopped at The Mirage and I went straight into Mikado Japanese Restaurant to apply. I’ve been in Las Vegas ever since.

After Mikado, Chef Masa moved next door to become assistant chef at Caesars Palace‘s famed Hyakumi. That was the first of several positions within the resort. Then came Bacchanal Buffet, probably the most famous high-end buffet in the world. After its successful launch, he moved over to the highly-acclaimed Nobu Japanese Restaurant at Caesars‘ own Nobu Hotel.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

As has happened with so many other wonderful Vegas chefs, Shiga’s next step led him to Westgate Las Vegas. He oversees operations of all four of their Asian restaurants. On some evenings you may find him behind the robata grill that he personally selected for the opening of Bar Sake. It’s there that you’ll see him searing skewers stuffed with succulent meats, colorful vegetables and glorious seafood in an ancient and revered method.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Despite being an extremely reserved and private man, Chef Shiga loves the camaraderie of being on the Westgate team. He enjoys the mutual support of his colleagues and appreciates the ability to have creative control over the meals he creates for guests.

The Chef recounted an especially memorable time with his professional family at a company golf outing:

We were all dressed alike. Nobody had different kinds of shirts. Managers played side by side with staffers. Everyone was equal there. You could be talking to your boss, an executive, a server…it didn’t matter. I like that about working for Westgate.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

The culinary artist was quite reluctant to discuss his personal life, as he values his privacy. He did tell me that he’s married and returns to Japan on yearly excursions to visit friends and family. He also enjoys attending American football games. But what he really likes to do is head out to the greens for a round of golf…even when he travels abroad.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Luckily for Chef Shiga, Westgate’s neighbor to the east happens to be the gorgeous Las Vegas Country Club. The two destinations have a long-standing relationship that offers hotel guests the opportunity to visit the private club via Westgate Golf Packages. So when the golfing bug hits him at home, Chef Masa doesn’t have very far to go.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

With all of that responsibility and ambition, Chef Shiga somehow maintains a calming presence that suits the soothing atmosphere of the restaurants he operates. Those admirable talents and twenty-plus years in the business have made Westgate Las Vegas a go-to place for lovers of fine Far East cuisine.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

                Benihana fires up traditional Japanese steakhouse fare…

Chef Shiga is proud to offer unique items in an environment that exudes small-town charm. His dishes are pieces of art unto themselves, which is exactly how he likes it.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Now that there’s talk of an Oyster Bar possibly being added to the line-up at The Village, Chef Shiga may have trim back on his number of golf outings. But it’s unlikely that he’ll give up a place behind his treasured Robata grill. It’s the one sure thing tho make him smile.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Silk Road Asian Bistro, Rikki Tiki Sushi and Benihana open daily at 5pm. Bar Sake & Robata Grill operates limited hours – call (702) 732-5755 for more information.

Photos: Sammasseur, Westgate Las Vegas/Chef Masato Shiga via Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

Culinary Superstars: Master Mixologist Eddie Perales

Record-holding flair bartender wrote the book on creating fantastic cocktails….

Some people look back on their lives and careers to find themselves saying “Oh, I should have written a book”. Eddie Perales, General Manager of Beverages at Westgate Las Vegas, won’t wait for that moment to come. He’s been creating a photo-journal of professional adventures from the beginning. And he is proud to share it.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Eddie has every reason to be proud. A man of ambition, he has been on his own since fifteen years old. While others at that age might have stumbled into various types of trouble, Perales actively went looking for it….by becoming a member of a hot dog firefighter crew.

It’s interesting that exposure to extreme heat in his early job would give way to a career built largely around ice. While living in the San Francisco Bay area, Perales took a part-time position behind the bar. His mentors inspired him to develop an interest in that field, which grew as he learned the intricacies and art of making the perfect cocktail.

When he moved to the central portion of California, Eddie decided to open up his own business…Bakersfield Bartending Academy. Fueled by the love he developed for beverage creation, Perales instructed his students to train in their field as opposed to practicing for it. He also got plenty of opportunities to use his signature line “Shake it HARD and shake it with a SMILE!”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Eddie’s passion for mixology instruction came from a personal philosophy. “There is a world of life to give back by educating” he said to me with a big grin. “I believe you can teach while remaining grateful and humble”. That approach proved very successful, as Bakersfield Bartending Academy was awarded “Most Outstanding Small Business in California” for 1998.

At the same time, this dynamic man of boundless energy was simultaneously running a catering business. Those two careers, sharing the same space in Eddie’s mind, seemed to bounce off one another. He found himself experimenting with fruits, herbs, cooking pans, ice and flames to create unique beverages…from his own kitchen.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Delving into that world of molecular mixology meant using science to alter the intensity and balance of flavors, suspending liquids of various viscosity and playing with the chemical interaction of ingredients. “It’s trial and error….doing things you’ve never done before. How do you know what will happen unless you try it?”.

Eddie’s dazzle behind the bar took on an entirely new dimension when he entered the world of flair bartending. That entertaining style of making cocktails (for those of you who’ve never seen the film COCKTAIL) involves juggling and theatrical use of liquor bottles, shakers and bar tools.

One of the pioneers in “flairtending”, Eddie racked up numerous awards and accolades via competitions throughout the world. He also held a record in Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Cocktails Mixed In One Hour”, an honor he maintained until 8 years ago.

Eventually Eddie’s various talents caught the attention of the regime at Rio Las Vegas. The team there recruited him to come to Las Vegas and become their Beverage Trainer and a newly-created title of “Flair Manager”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

During his time at the Rio, “flairtending” became extremely popular there. You could find it on the casino floor, iBar Ultra Lounge, the nightclubs and even poolside. Rio often held Flair Bartending Championships on the property, too.

You can still see Eddie’s influence at both Voodoo Nightclub and the floor-level Masquerade Village casino bar. While telling me about his stint at the Rio, Eddie opened his book to a design concept he created for the hotel that is still in use:

I was fascinated about the efficiency of drive-through fast food restaurants. You place your order in one place, pay for it at the next, and your order is waiting for you at the end. It’s so efficient and made total sense…so why not integrate that idea for cocktail servers and bartenders to get your drinks to you faster?

Along with changing the overall way that drinks were prepared and delivered, Perales held numerous classes for the staff, sharing his knowledge and inspiring his students to think outside of the box. Simultaneously, he was looking for bigger, bolder boxes for his own future concepts.

Eddie Perales Westgate

One of those boxes turned out to be an icebox…sort of. Eddie’s catering enterprise frequently made use of his own ice sculptures. Eye-catching crystalline displays became a natural evolution of his desire for theatrical and awe-inspiring presentations for his cocktails, too.

Making a name for one’s self in a city focused around beverage presentation would be a challenge for any expert in beverage creation. But very few mixologists have gone so far as to participate in a global-scale beverage competition in New Zealand involving bungee-jumping, speed boats and helicopters. Yes, really.

As his profile rose, so did the offers and responsibilities. Eddie found himself as a “Tequila Ambassador” for Tres Generaciones, “Assistant Beverage Director” for all of Caesars properties and eventually as “Director of Foundation Room Las Vegas” for Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues.

That photo-journal of Eddie’s was getting pretty filled by this time. Journalists were clamoring for profiles of his adventures…and secrets to his unique concoctions. Vegas Player Magazine, Scott Roeben (of VitalVegas.com), Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas Sun, Review-Journal, Hotel F & B and a host of others helped to add pages to the Eddie Perales scrapbook.

Eddie5

When David Siegel‘s corporation took ownership of the Westgate Las Vegas, they began gathering the best and brightest Vegas talent for their food and beverage operations. From Sid’s Cafe‘s Chef Bruno Morabito (of Giada’s fame) to Edge Steakhouse Executive Chef Steve Young (you’ll meet him in an upcoming piece), the team grew more impressive with each addition.

Eddie was the perfect person to spearhead Westgate‘s new beverage offerings. His unique style, daring “why not?” creativity and contemporary flair perfectly aligned with the resort’s plan to bring the former Las Vegas Hilton into 21st-century relevance.  The wide array of restaurants launched in the ensuing months gave him plenty of room to spread his wings and add color and flair to the off-Strip destination’s beverage menu.

Eddie Perales Westgate

My first formal taste of Eddie’s work came from a visit to Fresco Italiano, the excellent Italian restaurant whose review happened to be my first column when launching Vegas Unfiltered last June. There my guest and I enjoyed the most colorful and delicious red and white sangria. As is Eddie’s style, they were brimming with fresh fruits and lots of pizzazz:

Eddie Perales Westgate

I then sampled some of his creations for Bar Sake, a new hidden gem within the Benihana Village (you can read my full review here). There my group enjoyed unique drinks like the Jaded Midori (Midori Melon LiqueurTyku Cucumber Sake and lemon juice) and the Ginger Kamikaze with Tykusoju, Tyku Cucumber Sake, Domaine de Canton, lime and simple syrup.

Eddie Perales Westgate

We also indulged in a Paris To Tokyo (ST-GERMAIN elderflower liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and Mionetto Prosecco) and a Strawberry Coconut Mojito created with Tyku cucumber and coconut sakes, Southern Supreme Mojito Lime and Sweet & Sour.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Last April I attended a post-show party at Westgate to honor the amazing Prince (at the time, the Purple Reign tribute show that was packing them in at the resort’s International Theater). Servers were passing around trays filled with the “Purple Cocktail” which was created to honor the Minneapolis funkmeister. They were kind enough to share the recipe:

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The Purple Cocktail:

Blueberry puree – 1 oz.
Mint – 4-6 leaves
Lime fresh – 1/2 fresh squeeze
Sweet and sour -1 oz.
OJ – 1 oz.
Vodka citrus 1 1/2 oz.
Float – Champagne
Garnish – mint and blueberry

Build in a glass shaker. Add in all ingredients, then ice and shake. Strain over fresh ice, top with champagne and garnish…

As part of the top-to-bottom renovation of the property, the casino’s front-and-center bar received a dramatic and bold overhaul. Now dubbed the International Bar, this sleek 24/7 hangout features comfy seating, live musical acts and continuously-changing lighting effects.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Naturally, Eddie had to come up with a beverage menu to compliment the new bar/lounge area. He did so both literally and figuratively…by designing a list of signature cocktails etched onto an electronically-enhanced acrylic menu that changes colors…just like the bar decor itself.

Eddie Perales Westgate

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Someday when he has added his contributions at Westgate Las Vegas to the pages of his memory book, Eddie may consider publishing his own original volume. In it, he’d like to explore the diversity of the cocktail world and chronicle its evolution. He’s even chosen a title for it – “Passion From Spice”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

If Eddie Perales’s epicurean treatise on cocktails manages to be thorough as I expect, then he’d better commit at least a few chapters to focus on himself. And there would still be plenty of room for a sequel.

Photos: Sammasseur, Eddie Perales via LinkedIn, Scott Roeben via YouTube, Westgate Las Vegas

Westgate’s Superbook Lands a Slam Dunk at “The Court”


New dining outlet at world’s largest sportsbook is a hit with the fans…

In the past couple of years I’ve reported on the numerous improvements that have taken place in and around Westgate Las Vegas, best known as the former Las Vegas Hilton. Along with renovated rooms, modernized amenities and a new approach to customer service, a big focus of the current owners has been in food and beverage offerings.

Since the inception of VegasUnfiltered this summer, I’ve reviewed Fresco Italiano and Bar Sake, two immensely gratifying offerings along Westgate’s “restaurant row”. Last week I was invited back to experience the new, improved quick-bite outlet in Westgate’s enormous Race and Sports Superbook betting complex.

Westgate Superbook

Unlike those other two meals, The Court was anything but a formal experience…and that’s the idea. Focusing on tried-and-true favorites with elevated quality, moderate pricing and rapid service, the venues that make up The Court aim to satisfy by way of the food as much as the convenience.

Cordovano Joe’s NY-style Pizza, Drafts Sports Bar & Grill Express and Nacho Tacos Authentic Mexican are all created by Westgate’s own food and beverage team. The three share one main dining area and an additional space for overflow, which came in very handy on the Tuesday afternoon that I visited.

Westgate Las Vegas

The Court‘s trio of offerings are overseen by Jeffrey DiVito, Westgate’s new VP of Food and Beverage. DeVito came to Westgate Las Vegas by way of L’Auberge Lake Charles and Station Casinos (and was involved in the design and opening of both Red Rock and Alliante resorts). He joins a growing list of talented execs and chefs who have come to Westgate from other big-league Vegas properties.

Westgate Food Court

Westgate Food Court

            The previous incarnation invoked a truckstop/diner atmosphere…

The Court takes over an area previously known as Superbook Deli. Glaringly-bright diner decor has been toned down with softer lighting and mellower colors, bringing the Superbook atmosphere into the service and seating areas.

Westgate Food Court

Westgate Food Court

Westgate Food Court

                  So long, stadium hot dog stand…hello, neighborhood pub…

To accentuate the tavern atmosphere, pool tables and dart games have been installed at one side of The Court, making it appealing for those who may want to hang out around the Superbook without actually betting.

The Superbook’s unique placement within the resort allows for direct access via the casino or a dedicated entrance and parking lot. Those looking to drop by for casual eats and brews should be pleased by the variety of selections that The Court now offers.

Westgate Food Court

Assistant Executive Chef Aaron Losch, who made a name for himself at both Red Rock and Wynn, invited me to sample some of the new menu items that he created for The Court. We mostly focused on Nacho Taco‘s menu, with an item or two from Draft’s (I’ll have to come back for pizza during my next visit).

Being a fitness buff who tries to eat cleanly, I was a bit shocked by my mouth-watering response to the items that the staff brought over. It’s actually hard to upload the photos into this article without the same thing happening again.

Westgate Food Court

                                             Carne Asada Street Tacos…

My tasting started with selections from the Nacho Tacos kitchen. I began with a trio of Carne Asada Street Tacos ($13), served with cotija cheese and salsa on warm corn tortillas with beans and rice. All main dishes on the Nacho Tacos menu start with the basics ($8 for vegetarian), then are priced upwards according to toppings/fillings.

Westgate Food Court

                   Quesadillas with a side of Philly Cheesesteak, eh?

Grilled Chicken Breast with paprika, cumin and lime adds $3 to your dish, Carnitas (braised pork with chili and cumin) or Al Pastor (pork marinated in orange and pineapple juices) add $4, and Carne Asada (marinated skirt steak with garlic and lime) adds $5 more.

Westgate Food Court

                         Taqueria Fries topped with braised pork carnitas…

Instead of tacos, you can design your plate with a Tortilla Salad, traditional Nachos or a Quesadilla. For really hearty appetites, I’d recommend indulging in Taqueria Fries, a layer of crispy string potatoes topped with queso, pico de gallo, sour cream and jalapenos. All entrees at Nacho Tacos are priced the same way as street tacos, each according to the filling.

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Sandwiches, Caesar salads and chicken wings/tenders are the main offerings at Drafts Sports Bar. My favorite was the Philly Cheesesteak ($14), smothered in melted provolone with grilled onions and peppers.

Drafts also has a NY Pastrami Reuben on Rye ($13), 1/3lb. Grilled Angus Burger ($13) and a Grilled Nathan’s Foot-long Dog on a poppy seed bun ($9). All sandwiches include fries or coleslaw. You can make your meal a combo by adding a 20-oz fountain drink for $4 or a 16-oz draft of Budweiser or Bud Light for $5.

Cordovano Joe’s has sandwiches as well, like an Italian Hoagie ($13), Shaved Italian Beef ($14), Sweet Sausage with roasted peppers and carmelized onions ($12) and Meatball with mozzarella and marinara ($13). Joe’s specialty is individual authentic New York-style pizza. Basic 8-inch cheese pies run $6, Veggie or Pepperoni for $7, Meat Lover for $8 and finally $9 for Supreme.

Losch stated that many of Superbook Deli‘s core customers were regulars, so many favorites have remained at The Court with room for continued tweaking. He recounted how one frequent customer complained when a favorite disappeared…and just like that, they brought it back. “We’re not going to turn away people who helped to keep us going all these years” he said.

Westgate Food Court

The Court‘s newfound popularity might keep sportsbook customers off the betting floor for extended periods, but there could be a simple fix. Chef Aaron told me that they’re looking into various methods for guests to order food from the Superbook seats. “We may be able to provide cocktail servers with electronic pads so you can place a request from your seat”. And there’s always those handy smartphone apps…

Westgate Food Court

The sooner that remote ordering can be set up, the better. It’s obvious from the long lines I witnessed that The Court is serving up just what Westgate Superbook guests want. “We’ve only been open for a few weeks” said Chef Losch, “but we’ve already had some of the busiest days this space has ever seen”.

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Photos: Sammasseur, Deli pics via TripAdvisor

 

 

 

Seek and Discover BAR SAKE

Bar Sake – Westgate’s hidden gem is worth the search….

 


The concept of hotels-within-hotels may be lost on some, but it’s been growing steam. Nobu of Caesars Palace, Delano at Mandalay Bay and SLS‘s new W partnership are examples of the latest in maximizing square footage while blending brand recognition with something new (and hopefully exciting).

Westgate Las Vegas recently rolled out a similar idea with Bar Sake. Tucked away inside “The Village”, Bar Sake was a bit difficult to find. Silly me – it never crossed this writer’s mind that there was more to Benihana‘s themed village than just Benihana.

Bar Sake Westgate

Not having been to Westgate’s location before, I had no idea that there was an entire complex inside the familiar Japanese chain steakhouse. Among the ornate gardens and koi ponds is Rikki Tiki Sushi, with Silk Road Asian Bistro nestled to one side and the relaxing and lovely Bar Sake in the far rear.

Now in its third month of operations, Bar Sake is a bit of a hidden gem. Opened with minimal fanfare, it’s one of those places that you hope just enough people will discover to make it successful…without losing the atmosphere of intimacy that made our “guys’ night out” so satisfying.

Bar Sake Westgate

The small dining and bar area is bathed in rose-colored hues. We took seats around a low table and were offered a welcome sake as once served to President Obama by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. The smooth beverage set a wonderful tone for the prepared menu of food and drinks we were invited to sample.

Bar Sake Westgate

My companions and I started with an assortment of Signature Cocktails, created especially for Bar Sake by Eddie Perales, GM of Beverages at the Westgate Resort. Perales is an award-winning mixologist who’s been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

As a world-reknown flair bartender and ice sculpturist, Perales knows how to infuse his cocktail creations with a hearty slice of fun. He came to our table to share his enthusiasm for the Bar Sake cocktail list…and the excitement of trying out new creations in the weeks and months ahead.

Bar Sake Westgate

Much like Fresco Italiano‘s GM Angelo Cordero, Perales came to Westgate by way of Caesars properties. Whatever is luring these top-level experts to the off-Strip property, Westgate guests are all the better for it. The resort continues to please and surprise with superlative offerings, and Bar Sake is no exception.

As you might expect, the cocktail menu here is built around sake, the famed Japanese rice-based alcoholic drink. Perales has whipped up unique creations like the Jaded Midori (Midori Melon Liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and lemon juice) and the Ginger Kamikaze with Tykusoju, Tyku Cucumber Sake, Domaine de Canton, lime and simple syrup.

We also indulged in a Paris To Tokyo (ST-GERMAIN elderflower liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and Mionetto Prosecco) and a Strawberry Coconut Mojito created with Tyku cucumber and coconut sakes, Southern Supreme Mojito Lime and Sweet & Sour. All were light, refreshing and absolutely delicious.

For those wishing to stick strictly to sakes, the list of options is divided into four sections: “Fun”, “Expressive”, “Pure” and “Classic”. The beverage list also includes a wide variety of wines, whiskey, beers and non-alcoholic beverages.

Bar Sake Westgate

Despite the name, Bar Sake isn’t strictly a “sake bar”. It offers a wide variety a sushi and spectacular plates created before your eyes. Based on a centuries-old method of North Japanese food preparation called Robata, Chef Masa Shiga slow-grills his dishes on skewers over a high-heat charcoal “Robata” grill.

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Bar Sake Westgate

Hamachi Kama is Yellowtail Cheek, the most flavorful part ($12)…                  

Robata cooking originated with Japanese fishermen, who gathered to prepare their meals around a communal hearth. Sharing these delicious dishes with my friends carried on that tradition, albeit in extremely different surroundings.

Bar Sake Westgate

TOMATOMAKI ($4) are bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes…           

Robata skewers come three to a plate for $16. Choices include TSUKUNE (chicken meatballs), GYU filet, SAKE (Atlantic Salmon), SHITAKE, NISU eggplant and SHISHITO (a sweet Japanese pepper).

Bar Sake Westgate

Tsukune chicken meatballs and Gyu fillet, each 3 for $16…             

Bar Sake Westgate

Bacon-wrapped asparagus (far left, $5) join two other Robata skewers at Bar Sake…

Small plates are broken up into four categories: poultry, vegetables, seafood and meat. They range in price from $4 vegetable dishes to $18 for the likes of black cod, duck breast and lobster tail. All are presented with color, flair, and delicious seasonings like wasabi, Yuzu pepper paste and sweet miso.

Bar Sake Westgate

Gindara is a black cod seasoned with sweet miso ($18)…                  

Bar Sake Westgate

         Kohitsuji (above right) are soy/garlic-marinated lamb chops ($18)…  

Sushi lovers can choose from a list of five, ranging in price from $12 to $18. Although we were tempted to try a few, our collection of macho gents decided to save any remaining taste buds and close out this magnificent meal with a couple of sweets.

Bar Sake Westgate

Bar Sake Westgate

There plenty of Asian-themed restaurants and bars in Las Vegas, making it difficult for one to stand out so distinctly. Our visit to Bar Sake was magnificent, worthy of the raves.

Unique in location, offerings and atmosphere, Westgate’s Bar Sake is the perfect little venue to gather at with friends, a loved one…or to discover all by yourself.

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BAR SAKE is located within “Restaurant Row” of Westgate Las Vegas, inside the Benihana Village. It is open Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m.  For reservations or info, call (702) 732-5755.

Photos: [Sammasseur]