Sunday, July 8, 2012

Eating Kobe Beef and... Meeting Kobe Bryant?!

By Dru Chai

Talk about lucky. When I was notified that I was the winner of a Twitter contest for a chance to meet Kobe Bryant at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas, my jaw dropped. I rarely win anything good. If I do win something, it's usually something lame like a mug or a book. But a chance to meet Kobe Bryant in person, take a picture with him, AND a free night stay at the Palazzo? Pssshhh, you got to be joking me.

Well, it was no joke. I won the contest on a Friday, and the very next day I was off to Vegas. The 4-hour drive seemed to take forever, and seemed to be more of an exhausting drive than the usual. When I finally arrived at the Palazzo, and checked into my room, I had to count my blessings once again. The view of the Strip high above the hotel was fabulous. Thank you, Palazzo and Vegas!

View of the Strip high above the Palazzo hotel

After a well-deserved nap and a couple of successful hours at the blackjack tables, we had some time for dinner before meeting Kobe. One of the restaurants I've always wanted to try is Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse CUT. There's a location in Beverly Hills, CA, but I've walked by the location inside the Palazzo hotel countless times without even a glimpse at the menu. This time around, I figured why not.

First time eating at CUT
Get the wallet ready

I had already braced myself for the high prices, but it's another thing to see the menu in person. After a bit of deliberation, I knew it was only fitting to celebrate the occasion by selecting the American Wagyu / Angus "Kobe Style" Beef ribeye from Snake River Farms (SRF). It's not quite on the level of Japanese Kobe beef, but it's still good. SRF is one of the top meat purveyors for BBQ competition teams, especially when it comes to brisket. If you've been watching this season's BBQ Pitmasters, you won't miss the SRF logo on the meats being used.

So this was my first time tasting meat from SRF. I requested the ribeye to be cooked medium, and it was absolutely perfect. Well seasoned and charred on the outside, while juicy on the inside. I loved all of the marbling throughout the meat, which gave it that intense, rich, and beefy flavor. They even provided a wide array of complimentary sauces and salt for the steak -- but it shouldn't even be touched. Just enjoy the meat, and nothing else. But overheard on the table next to ours, "can I get some BBQ sauce?"

The meal was excellent. So after eating some Kobe beef, it was time to meet Kobe Bryant. I know this is a BBQ blog, but I wanted to detail the experience and post some pictures of the Kobe meet-and-greet before developing a sudden case of amnesia. I'm a die-hard LA Lakers fan and have seen Kobe grow up since he entered the league as a rookie straight from high school way back in '96. So meeting Kobe is uh, something of a big deal for me. So excuse me if I sound like a giddy school girl in the following paragraphs.

As you can imagine, my interaction with Kobe was extremely quick. I had all of these things in my mind that I wanted to tell or ask him, but with no more than a minute to chat  -- it was all a blur. The security personnel made certain to tell us to keep things moving, that Kobe would not be signing any autographs, and that you could not pose with him and take pictures with your personal camera -- each group was only allowed one picture by the professional photographer. If you blink, or get caught in an awkward grade-school-like photo, tough luck. No do-overs.

So it went something like this:

I walked up to Kobe with a huge smile, and gave him a "bro hug" and said it was awesome to finally meet him in person. I told him I was a die-hard Laker fan for life and that I was looking forward to another ring. I emphatically said "Yeah, we got Nash!" with a little fist pump. Kobe looked at me with a big grin and said "we're gonna win it next year." I quickly said, alright then and I wanted to say something else... but before I knew it, it was time to pose for the photo.

The next person in line was already approaching Kobe, but I had to thank him again and that it was great he was doing this for his fans. I asked him if he still lives in OC (Orange County, CA) and he replied yes. I said I live in OC too. Kobe replied, "maybe I'll see you around." I smiled and pointed at him. It was all over. I was grinning from ear-to-ear, with an experience of a lifetime I'll never forget.

Security blocked off the waterfall atrium area for the special event
We asked if we could keep a poster - no luck
Line was already forming about an hour before entrance
About a hundred fans waiting for Kobe's arrival and photo-op
Kobe's in the house! With shades... indoors. But he pulls it off.
Kobe waves to the shrieking fans on the top level
Kobe soaks in the chants of "MVP! MVP! MVP!"
We met these cool, lovely ladies from LA while standing in line
They provided some hors d'oeuvres - these were potato samosas (okay, dry)
These were chicken skewers (bland, rubber-like texture)
After about half hour of photo ops, it was time for Kobe to exit the building
Kobe paparazzi shot, up close, with view of the goatee
Kobe being surrounded by fans following him, like the pied piper
See ya, Kobe! Go take home the gold and another ring next year!
It's like one of those old family portraits (I wish).