37 hours. 9 meals. 21 pounds of beef. Putting his cholesterol count on the line, Daniel Duane embarks on a gluttonous quest to discover the future of steak.
All my life I’ve wished I could make myself vomit. I can find the button, no problem: It’s right at the back of the throat, that slippery-but-hard knob you can press, triggering the gag reflex. But no matter how stuffed and bloated I get, and no matter how hard I ram my whole filthy hand down my own gullet, I can never quite evacuate my belly. That didn’t stop me, however, from trying in the gleaming granite beauty of the bathroom in my room at Caesars — while, I might add, my old friend Pageler and my father-in-law were at the blackjack tables. When I gave up and lay alone atop my bed, oozing saturated fat and alcohol from every pore, I realized that I had in effect turned my mouth into a meat grinder and my skin into a sausage casing — a human hog intestine, jammed to bursting with what the British call forcemeat. I got confirmation of this when I stepped onto the bathroom scale at midnight. For the first time ever, 2 was the first numeral in the readout.
Fortunately, the bloated feeling faded the next day, over lunch at the Delmonico Steakhouse, Emeril Lagasse’s operation inside the Venetian, where my father-in-law announced that he’d won $1,100 in 45 minutes the previous night. I felt a curious ache in my belly that I finally recognized as — could it be? — hunger. We tore like champions through a bone-in New York strip, a filet mignon, and a bone-in rib eye — all accompanied by house-made potato chips flavored with black truffles and parmesan. And, just for good measure, we devoured some New Orleans barbecued shrimp.
“Non! Non! Non!” This was superchef Joël Robuchon, a few hours after the Delmonico feast. He was standing in the red velvet cocktail loun ge of the MGM restaurant bearing his name, Nevada’s only three-Michelin-star dining establishment. Dubbed the “chef of the century” by a top French culinary review and the possessor of a total of 17 Michelin stars, the most held by any living chef, Robuchon looks and dresses like an avant-garde international architect, a severe intellectual in a black turtleneck and black plastic eyeglasses, and I’d provoked him by asking if he, like all other chefs, salted and peppered his meat before cooking.
“Non! You must salt the meat only while it is cooking and after, but never before.” Salt draws out moisture, was the point; moisture is golden.
So what about pepper?
“Only once the meat is cooked. This is because the flavor of pepper changes intensely with heat. The only exception is for steak au poivre, and even here you would never, ever add salt before pepper.”
“Because the moisture the salt pulls out will release the pepper. So: for au poivre, pepper first. Then salt.”
I loved this guy. He was clearly out of his mind.
“Je suis contre le sauce!” he barked, like a Trotskyite terrorist opposing bourgeois reforms to the Communist Party platforms.
Robuchon’s translator interrupted, to clarify: “Monsieur Robuchon would like to explain that he is opposed to sauce, always.”
Not that Robuchon won’t drizzle a little jus over a finished steak, but where classical French technique often calls for jus built around butter, vegetables, and red wine, Robuchon is a fierce minimalist. (“Pas du vin! Pas du vin!” he shrieked predictably, meaning “No wine! No wine!”) Trimming a raw steak of all its imperfect fat, gristle, and stray meat, Robuchon sautées these discards in a small skillet until they’re well browned. Then he pours in just enough water to release those bits from the skillet bottom, simmers this broth, strains it, reduces it to a thick syrup, adds a little salt, and voila!
The result — as we experienced on a 16-ounce A5 Kobe rib eye, the biggest single serving of A5 available anywhere in Vegas and one that clocks in at $235 — is a miracle of pure beef flavor.
Our joy was tempered, however, at our next stop, Michael Mina’s Seablue, when my father-in-law’s BlackBerry picked up an e-mail from his cardiologist, answering his query about the possibility of a dangerous cholesterol spike in a single piquant word: “Yes.” And we truly began to disintegrate at the stop after that, Craftsteak, where we confronted those four filet mignons — American prime, American wagyu, Australian wagyu, and A5 Kobe — and tried to sort out whether those 13 trashy-looking women were porn stars or prostitutes (porn stars, we finally agreed, for complicated reasons). The problem was that two pounds of world-class filet, even when they push your marathon total to 18 pounds, is still two pounds of world-class filet, and it’s physiologically impossible not to eat them. So we did, every bite, along with most of the sides, and even though I felt certain I was killing myself, I was still shoving wild mushrooms and spinach soufflé into my mouth when we waddled off toward the Palazzo for what we would later come to call the Last Supper.