It’s not easy to make a splash in Las Vegas, but at Bazaar Meat by José Andrés inside the SLS Hotel & Casino, wine service has taken on a cutting edge. Chloe Helfand, lead sommelier at the upscale restaurant, manages a wine program with a strong Spanish influence, even though red sales are still at least 50% Napa Cabernet.
“I’m in an unusual situation. Jose doesn’t even like to refer to us as a steakhouse; we’re a meat house with so many things like cured meats and fish that are not steakhouse classics. But I do sell a lot of Napa Cab.”
Bazaar Meats lists everything Spanish first, making the point early to wavering customers. Las Vegas is an important wine market; as the main American adult playground destination, guests from all over the world willing to spend have in the past 20 years guaranteed that great wines of all sorts would be available, especially at the casino hotels where sudden riches require interesting ways to spend.
While Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (today’s steakhouse big seller) is well represented, Bazaar Meat’s edge comes from a unique program launched last year called the José and Goliath selection. On the main floor of the large dining space, two 27-liter bottles dominate the room, each holding the equivalent of three dozen 750 ml bottles of wine, what Helfand calls “magnums on steroids.” The bottles themselves cost about $1,000 and are custom made in Italy, and the process of sourcing and filling isn’t easy: sometimes it takes 6 or more weeks (not counting time needed to source the wines themselves) to ship out, clean, fill and ship back the bottles to Las Vegas, especially when the wines come from South Africa or Spain, or other international sources. Then there are the added issues created by the supply chain; distributors must establish new SKUs, for example, and find the best ways to manage such an unusually sized bottle.
The wine is preserved and served through an argon gas-based system (basically an elaborate bespoke draft wine system), and servers fill carafes and pour glasses at tables. In January, for example, Bazaar Meats servers poured a Cabernet Franc and a Pinot Noir from Washington State, and before that, a Spanish blend.
One of the reasons it makes sense for Helfand, who says owner-chef Jose Andres was captivated by the concept after seeing something like it in Spain, is that when Bazaar Meats opened, they served many wines from magnums by the glass. With that wine service in the hands of a busy bar staff, increased spillage became an issue. Waste of high quality wines can cut badly into profitability, plus with 400 or so seats, pouring lots of wine at the bar became an unattractive sight.
“It’s hard but we make it happen,” says Helfand. Programs like this are pretty distinctive, an important factor in a market like Las Vegas where efforts to raise the bar on service are continuous. However, in addition to being an eye catcher and a conversation piece, it shows that the underlying quality of contemporary draft wine systems allow lots of operational creativity.