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Desert Companion

Dining: Get a pair already

Too many people see drinking as little more than the pursuit of an alcoholic buzz, or social lubrication. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But to connoisseurs, the consumption of alcohol is more than just that.

Most great chefs realize that the proper wine, spirit or cocktail can add something special to a great meal. And never is that fact more apparent than in a great pairing dinner: a multi-course feast where each course is perfectly matched with the proper alcoholic beverage. And we’re not just talking about a glass of red wine with your spaghetti. Here are a few of the most interesting places in town to get a great pairing. But if you’re a true drinker, you’ll want to eat and drink your way though all of them.

As the craft beer movement continues to grow, great sommeliers are discovering the joys of offering beer as well as wine with fine dining. In that tradition, Morels French Steakhouse and Bistro in The Palazzo has started a series of late-night beer dinners. Beer-lovers gather at 10 p.m. on the restaurant’s Strip-side patio for four courses of Chef Jose Navarro’s culinary creations — each paired with an American craft beer.

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The most recent event, held Sept. 29, featured pan-seared diver scallops paired with Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, a grilled endive and romaine salad accompanied by North Coast Brewing Company PranQster, prime sirloin with Firestone Union Jack, and pear and apple pie a la mode — washed down with Unibroue Éphémère Apple. (The events take place every few months. To find out when the next is planned, call Morels at 607-6333.)

There’s no better place to learn about sake than Sushisamba in The Palazzo. It boasts the largest sake selection in Las Vegas, with about 130 bottles. And one of the best ways to sample it is with their pairing menu. The restaurant is known for its fusion of Japanese, Peruvian and Brazilian cuisine. But for the pairing dinner, they stick with Japanese — particularly dishes cooked up on the robata-style charcoal grill. The six-course meal features delicious skewers of filet mignon, pork belly, lobster, squid, eggplant and duck. And each is paired with a different sake — and we’re not talking about the hot sake you throw back at your local sushi joint. These are chilled, junmai ginjo varieties — the second-highest of Japan’s premium sake categories.

At Mandalay Bay’s Border Grill, Chef Mike Minor regularly chooses one of his favorite tequilas to serve as the inspiration for a special multi-course meal. In July, his bar staff whipped up cocktails from peligroso blanco, reposado and anejo, and offered a course to match each. And in September, Patron served as the inspiration.

The dinners are always — surprise — giant parties. Minor has been known to set up an impromptu kitchen in the patio and don a headset microphone while he cooks so guests can get a glimpse into the chaos of a professional kitchen. And Border Grill owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger usually fly in from L.A. to participate.

Plenty of fine French and Italian restaurants in Las Vegas offer tasting menus with wine pairings. But a Creole dinner with a wine pairing? Not quite as common. The only one we know of comes from Chef Carlos Guia at Wynn Las Vegas’ Country Club.

Guia is a veteran of New Orleans’ famed Commander’s Palace. So, despite the golf-course setting of his current restaurant, he knows Big Easy cooking. And with his six-course Taste of New Orleans menu (always available if you ask), he provides classics such as shrimp remoulade, gumbo, crab cake, pecan-crusted fish, Creole-spiced filet and beignets, accompanied by fine wines from France, California, Italy, Oregon and California. We’ll drink (and eat) to that. — Al Mancini