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In French, the word for glutton is the same as the word for gourmet. In English, the distinction is a bit clearer. Webster’s Dictionary defines a glutton simply as “one that eats too much.” Generally, we like to think of ourselves as gourmets, not gluttons. Semantics aside, we admit our passion for food and wine has occasionally crossed the line from a healthy hobby to something a bit more, shall we say, intemperate. For us, the past month — which brought both our birthdays and a weekend trip to Las Vegas — was one of those times. Less ambitious eaters might have retreated from such a demanding dining regimen, but not us. Never ones to back away from a challenge, we rose to the occasion and embraced our inner gluttons. We have rated each indulgence on a scale of one to five pigs based on the total gastronomical experience. When in doubt, we went with our guts’ feeling. Here is our story. MAY 1: A GRATEFUL PALATE 1789 Restaurant, 1226 36th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. (202) 965-1789 We had been toying with ideas for celebrating Phil’s 32nd birthday when the invitation arrived for a prix-fixe dinner at 1789 Restaurant featuring Australian wines selected by importer Dan Philips. As longtime fans of Philips’ online gourmet shop, www.gratefulpalate.com, we didn’t take much persuading before buying our tickets — $135 apiece, including tip, for a six-course menu and samplings of 12 wines. The evening began with sparkling shiraz. Sparkling red wines we had tried in the past never left much of an impression, but we grabbed seconds of the 2002 Majella — a frisky combination of light bubbles and fruity backbone. Then, after a few introductory remarks from Philips on the virtues of Australian wine, we all took seats for the main event. The next three hours featured a parade of pretty dishes and uniformly excellent wines with fanciful names like Killibinbin, Lillypilly, and Black Guts. We started with a plate of grilled lobster, mango, and pea shoots accompanied by tastes of a delicate Clare Valley semillon and a crisp Barossa Valley chenin blanc. Next, meaty halibut with porcini mushrooms and fennel arrived with two fruity grenaches. Conversation at our table of seven was a bit stilted at first, but we had begun to loosen up by the time the waiters delivered roasted rack of lamb and luscious feta cheese potatoes with two ripe cabernet blends. The final course before dessert — braised venison and soft cherries atop a bed of wilted cabbage and bacon — came with two killer examples of jammy, black fruit shiraz. Stuffed and happy, we gobbled up a strawberry rhubarb tart and downed one last glass of wine, knowing our dining adventures had just begun. Verdict: For the excellent quality of both food and wine, as well as generous portions of both, we give the Grateful Palate dinner four and a half pigs. MAY 3: THE PERFECT STEAK Phil and Vanessa’s humble “garden” apartment, Washington, D.C. For the past three years, we have marked Phil’s actual birthday with a serious steak and a bottle of big red wine. This year, leaving nothing to chance in our pursuit of the perfect porterhouse for two, we pre-ordered a three-pound, three-inch-thick porterhouse from Sutton Place Gourmet in McLean, Va. Then, since we do not own a car, we rode out to the store and back on bicycle, carrying our precious cargo home in an insulated backpack. (We may be gluttons, but surely one could not accuse us of sloth.) For us, the perfect steak is at least two inches thick and must be cooked over a charcoal grill until it is black on the outside but still red in the center. Little is needed to complement the perfect steak aside from a glass of red wine. Fortunately, we had two bottles at the ready — a 1972 burgundy from the French village of Volnay and a 1972 Freemark Abbey Petite Sirah from Napa Valley. Both were drinking quite well (although neither had aged quite as gracefully as Phil). Verdict: For the sheer extravagance of enjoying our perfect steak and two bottles of wine on a Monday night, we give the dinner four pigs. MAY 7 TO 9: VIVA LOS VINOS! Wine Spectator Grand Tour, The Venetian Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nev. One week into our month-long bender, and we were off to Las Vegas for Wine Spectator magazine’s annual Grand Tour tasting. Three hours, 200 outstanding wines, and a suite on the premises — what better way to push the bacchanalian envelope? We eased into the weekend with a five-course dinner featuring the wines of Williams Selyem, a small California winemaker known mostly for chardonnays and pinot noirs. The highlight of the evening: a stellar 2002 pinot from the Russian River Valley paired with Kobe rib-eye. (The low point came about an hour later, as we blew $100 in five minutes playing blackjack and then watched the fellow sitting next to us at the bar win $8,000 playing video poker.) Saturday night’s tasting simply could not have been better. At many tastings, wines are grouped by importer or distributor and a single table features multiple wines. The table gets backed up, lines form, and at the end of the day, you wish you had simply taken the price of your ticket and purchased a bottle of wine to enjoy at home in peace. Here, the crowds flowed easily from booth to booth, each showcasing just one marvelous wine. At one end of the massive ballroom was Dom Perignon’s newly released 1996 vintage; at the other, a robust 1998 brunello from Castello Banfi. And between, a copious array of exceptional wines, including the 1996 Chateau Margaux, the 2000 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, and the 2001 Isoceles from Justin Vineyards. The buffet looked lavish as well, though we could not be bothered to turn our attention from the wines. We nibbled on cheese and crackers and inhaled three slices of pizza after the event had ended. Verdict: For surpassing our expectations and delivering every dropful of the $175 ticket price, we give the Wine Spectator Grand Tour five pigs. MAY 7 TO 9: BATTLE OF THE BUFFETS The Buffet, Bellagio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nev. There may be no single Las Vegas experience that captures the city’s spirit of shameless excess like the all-you-can-eat buffet. Being travelers who like to embrace local traditions, we endeavored to squeeze not one, but two buffet stops into our eating itinerary. Our first venture was Saturday brunch at the tony Bellagio Hotel where, for $34 apiece, we entered a wonderland of unlimited indulgence. Towers of chilled seafood accompanied by tureens of melted butter. Bread and pastries heaped as high as a man’s head. A table serving nothing but mashed potatoes in six separate flavors. Perversely, the overwhelming quantity and variety of offerings ultimately led us to feel deprived. It is simply not possible to taste everything. The best items at the Bellagio buffet are the least involved. On a return visit, we would surely start with french toast, a made-to-order omelet, and a bowl of what may be the biggest, sweetest strawberries known to man. Next, we would build a surf-and-turf plate, piled high with plump peeled shrimp, crab legs, and tender slices of lamb and filet mignon. Finally, we would grab a piece or two of pizza fresh from the oven, a crisp green salad, and a cup of coffee. And we would try (though frankly it might take discipline neither of us possesses) to forgo the rest, that endless array of forgettable dishes, and save our calories for better pursuits. Verdict: While the fare at the Bellagio buffet is inarguably fresher and fancier than what you find at most strip smorgasbords, its main appeal still lies in quantity, not quality. For unequaled, unabashed gluttony, we give the Bellagio three and a half pigs. CocoPalm Buffet, Stardust Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nev. On Sunday afternoon, after tiring of the pseudo-sophistication of the Vegas strip, we trekked north for a taste of Old Vegas. When the effects of hunger and heat exhaustion forced us indoors, we found ourselves at the legendary Stardust Hotel and Casino, home of the not-so-legendary CocoPalm buffet. We might have done better to have kept walking. For our $18 entry, we had hoped for something simple and unpretentious — popcorn shrimp, onion rings, maybe a baked potato bar. Instead, we encountered a shabby imitation of the same frou-frou cuisine offered up the street. Only here, everything looked and tasted like it came straight from a can, and the staff behaved as though they were on strike. Our dirty plates stacked up as we worked the buffet line from the anemic salad bar at one end to the fatty slab of meat improbably identified as prime rib at the other. Verdict: For offering poor food, poor service, and a poor value, we give the Stardust buffet one pig. MAY 15: A CHEF OF OUR OWN Elysium, Morrison House Hotel, 116 South Alfred St., Alexandria, Va. (703) 838-8000 Vanessa’s 28th birthday brought us to Elysium. About two years ago, the intimate dining room in Alexandria, Va.’s Morrison House Hotel gave up its menu. Instead, Chef Robert Ulrich comes by each table for a personal consultation and then prepares a six-course dinner specifically catered to each guest’s tastes. Or at least that’s the sales pitch. Over the course of our dinner, which did include some delectable dishes, we both received items we had expressly given the thumbs down. We also observed remarkably similar plates being delivered to our neighbors, and, ultimately, our meal felt generic. On the plus side, we enjoyed the restaurant’s innovative wine selections, including a dry rosé paired with salmon. If only the pours had been more generous and our glasses not so often empty. At $74 a head, not including wine, we probably would not go back. Verdict: For a perfectly nice meal, but one that failed to fulfill its made-to-order gimmick, we give Elysium three pigs. Vanessa Blum is a senior reporter at Legal Times. Phillip Dubé is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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