Archives for June 2011

Foie Gras and Fig Sandwiches

You know that the name of this blogs is Fritos and Foie Gras, right?
I have demonstrated my devotion to Fritos.
But where’s the foie gras love? Where’s the adoration of that organ meat to end all organ meats, that king of controversy, that fatty, creamy, unctuous lobe of heaven?
It’s right here, kids.
It’s a foie gras sandwich.
This is the ultimate sandwich. It is savory, it is sweet, it is rich and it is incredibly simple to make. All you need are some really high quality ingredients.
 You will need:
Brioche (either these small buns or a loaf of brioche will work. You need a soft, rich bread.)
Fig Jam
Pate de Foie Gras (it’s pricy, but a little goes a long way, and if you have never had it – imagine chicken liver pate or liverwurst amplified a million times. I like to get the kind with truffles inside, because once you are spending the money, you might as well spend the extra $3 for the good stuff, right?)
Salt (once again…use the good stuff here. No table salt -you want large grains of sea salt here. Maldon is one of my favorites)
 1)Cut the roll, or 2 slices of bread. Toast them lightly. And, if you use a loaf…might as well cut the crusts off.
Remember…this is a highfalutin sandwich.
 2)Take a sliver of pate. Don’t be stingy now…this is a foie gras sandwich, after all. Be sure to get some of the aspic on your knife, since it is usually made with Sauternes or some other sweet wine. It counteracts the savory texture of the pate and is so delicious mashed into the soft meat.
 3)Spread on one slice of bread.
 4)Take a slightly smaller amount of fig jam. You don’t want the sandwich to taste too sweet, so make sure that there isn’t quite as much jam as there is meat. Figs have a deep natural sweetness that is not sugary sweet, like a strawberry, for example. This makes them a natural accompaniment for savory dishes. Fig jam is also great on Prosciutto sandwiches, with mozzarella on a flatbread, or heated and drizzled over a pork roast.
 5)Sprinkle some sea salt over the side with the fig jam. This will make the figs taste even sweeter.
6)Eat. This has the most savory, umami taste at first, with the earthy truffles and fatty pate coming through strong. Then, the sweetness of the figs shines through on a bright, high note. Finally, on the finish, the salt makes the contrasting flavors taste incredibly vibrant, leaving the memory of meat and sweet. You will want more.
And that’s the thing about it…
You can have as many as your pot of pate will allow.

Lefkos Pirgos Cafe – Pastries, Greek Style

After a night full of garlic, wine and a pre-dessert, what could cap off a girls’ night better than a visit to a traditional mom and pop style Greek bakery?
 Besides Joh Hamm…sadly, we couldn’t get him in Astoria.
 What we could get was Greek TV, a Greek staff and a plethora of Greek pastries at Lefkos Pirgos Cafe. Be aware – you come here for the food, not the atmosphere, which is casual and relaxed with a tough of “EAT YOUR DINNER,” from the slightly haggard servers. If you take pictures, they will yell at you, and if you ask for the name of the sweet you are eating, they won’t tell you. Who cares? Grab a table and chair and relax for some of the best desserts this side of Athens.
 Be sure to get a slice of the Baklava. And by a slice, I mean the mammoth hunk they will place in front of you. Layers of flaky phyllo dough are alternately crisp and moist, sandwiching a fatty, slightly savory melange of mixed crushed nuts, spicy with cinnamon and cloves. Honey envelops the entire pastry, making it all sweet and melding with the spices. You might think that you can’t finish the whole thing, but I bet you will be able to.  It is huge and it is delicious.
 Galaktompoureko – cream filled pastry soaked in honey syrup. 
It was about this time that I stopped thinking about Jon Hamm, because nothing could be more delicious than this. Dense, creamy filling was less sweet than it was tangy and rich – like a cheesecake with a whipped consistency. The phyllo dough provided textural contrast and the sugary syrup added the necessary sweetness to the dish. This was like a very ripe brie with honey – sweet, smooth, satisfying. 
And now, my favorite…These tiny nut cookies. I wish I knew their name, but in the absence of a name, I will just call them what they are – little bombs of heaven. They are heavy, rich and incredibly sweet. Loaded with nuts and those same aromatic spices. Small but packed with flavor. 
Lefkos Pirgos Cafe will never win for decor. It will never be the most cutting edge place in town. But what it does, it does exceptionally well. Well worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood.
And on a night that you can’t get Jon Hamm…it makes a darned good substitute.

Agnanti Meze – Greece in Astoria

If you don’t use Twitter, you are really missing out. How else are you supposed to know what Kirstie Alley ate for breakfast? And, more importantly, how else are you supposed to know where to eat for dinner?
 A Twitter friend and foodie told me that Agnanti Meze was THE place to go for Greek food in Astoria. And since Astoria is THE place in New York for Greek food, I figured this would be the creme de la creme. 
 The casual restaurant has a lovely patio section, but be warned – by 7 pm on Saturday night, this joint was JUMPING and there was a wait. No mind, we sat at a rustic bench and enjoyed…
 This wine, which was similar to a sauvignon blanc. A little more acidic than I like, and perhaps too dry, but incredibly cheap. A bottle like this would cost twice as much in Manhattan.
Unless we were in the Meatpacking district. 
Then it would be three times as much.
 We started with a classic Greek Salad(olives on the side – and those olives were sweet, meaty and delish). This was just what I expected, only about a thousand times better. The tomatoes were ripe and sweet, the cukes crunchy and almost fragrant, the red onion added a bite but not too much, and there was pepper making the whole thing alive and a bit spicy. And then there was the feta cheese. Be still my heart…that feta cheese was the stuff dreams are made of. Creamy, soft, just salty enough to bring out the flavors of the vegetables…it was milder and more grassy than other fetas I have had. We fought over the dregs of the salad, dragging our crusts of peasant bread through the mouth-puckering vinaigrette that adorned the sweet veggies. 
 Tzatziki. If you don’t get this when you visit a Greek restaurant, you might as well just head to Applebees. What’s the point? Tzatziki is to Greek Cuisine as Butter is to French Cuisine. It practically defines it – for me at least. Made of yogurt, cucumbers, dill and garlic, this was a perfect rendition. It was creamy and tangy, with long spaghetti-like strands of cucumber binding the milky yogurt, the sharp garlic and the earthy dill. This was good on everything – bread, vegetables, fingers.
 Gigantes- Lima Beans stewed with tomatoes. If you think you have had lima beans, that is so nice for you. Till you have had these, you haven’t had lima beans. These are more like huge cannelini beans than anything else, and are so buttery that you could SWEAR that they had been injected with cream. Mild and hearty, they absorbed the rich, umami-filled taste of the stewed tomatoes and sweetly caramelized onions. There were earthy herbs strewn throughout – I know that I tasted spicy oregano in there, and I saw a bay leaf – this was my favorite vegetarian dish of the night. If you like polenta, you will love this for the same rich mouthfeel and filling sensation.
 Octopus Stewed with Tomatoes and Onions. Agnanti is famous for their grilled octopus, and I almost ordered it grilled, but at the last minute, our server convinced us to order the night’s special. As he puts it “When it’s grilled, it can only be great, but when it’s done the chef’s way, it is really something special.”
Touche, sir.
The octopus was incredibly tender, with just the merest sense of the ocean, like a piece of shellfish has that very mild seafood taste. It cut with a butter knife and was steeped in a rich and salty olive, tomato and onion stew. This was a dish for lovers of rustic food, and lovers of octopus. It had none of the rubbery texture or acrid flavor that chargrilled octopus can have. It was delicious.
 Shrimp Kataifi – shrimp wrapped in phyllo dough, served in a butter-mustard sauce. This was the richest shrimp dish I have EVER eaten. The large, snappy, perfectly cleaned shrimp were wrapped in crackling strips of phyllo dough and then positively drenched in what seemed like extra-rich butter. The mustard cut the sauce with a bit of acid, but make no mistake…this was butter central. Now, butter and shrimp are a natural combination, but this would be too much for a main course – and this is coming from the foie gras queen! As a shared dish, however, it was perfect, and was a filling and satisfying part of the meal. 
 Fried Bacalao. I LOVE Bacala, and this was the bacala of my junk food dreams – like the Greek version of New England fried seafood. Fried to crisp, pleasantly greasy, golden perfection, a puff of steam escaped as my teeth broke through the outer shell to the smooth texture within. Mild, with enough texture to tell what I was eating, the codfish inside had little or no potato, being totally full of that fresh tasting white fish. IT was served with skordalia, a potato garlic dip that was so strong it brought tears to my eyes. Forget warding off vampires…this was warding off people in Jersey. WAY too strong for me, and the only misstep of the night. Plus, these moist and crispy balls of fried seafood didn’t need anything else.
Other than my mouth. 
That’s what she said
Each table gets a complimentary serving of cornmeal cake with Greek yogurt and Sour Cherries. So, SO good – sweet cake with the slightly grainy texture of corn, creamy yogurt and sweet, tart jam. It is light but feels decadent and is a pleasing way to end a MORE than pleasing meal. 
This meal…all of it…cost just $30 per person. That includes the bottle of wine, some beer, and ALL the food. And when I say all, I didn’t even include the multiple courses of hot pita and peasant bread that were brought to our table. Or our enthusiastic server. Or the fact that we were invited to sit and linger over our glasses of wine even thought the restaurant was hopping. They didn’t want to turn over the table, they wanted us to enjoy our meal. And we did. I would have paid double, but because I didn’t have to, I will be back twice as much. 
And that, my friends, is why you need to get on Twitter.
Agnanti Meze on Urbanspoon

Duo Restaurant – The Best Martini in NYC

I have found the best martini in NYC. It is located in the delicious Murray Hill/Flatiron area, which houses Zero Otto Nove, Pure Food and Wine, and – now – Duo. Duo is owned by 2 Russian sisters whose family has a long history in the restaurant business. 
 The elegant, somewhat over-the-top space is done in purples, metallic and an ornate crystal chandelier. It is perfect decor for a bachelorette dinner. Duo is a New American restaurant that puts the focus on sexy, hip and trendy.
Case in point:
 Light up menus. Not Ipads, just plain old light up menus. Call me a sucker, but…these are kind of awesome. They make you feel like you are cooler and richer than you are. 
 And what’s wrong with that?
 If you like light, fruity drinks, start with the Pink Grapefruit Martini. Stoli, fresh grapefruit juice and mint combine in a tart but sweet drink that tastes more like lemonade than a potent drink. The mint adds an herby edge that keeps this from being too sweet.
 Of course, if you have really good taste, you will get the Double Truffle Martini. Vodka, dry vermouth, truffle juice, blue cheese and truffle stuffed olive. This is a drink for those of you who like the sharp taste of vodka, the clean, taste of vermouth, and the earthy, intoxicating taste of truffles. The truffles balance out the vodka’s astringent qualities, and make the vermouth taste lighter and more citrusy. The olive at the end is one of the best I have ever had. Juicy, briny, salty but not bitter, and stuffed with funky blue cheese and that deep taste of the truffles. This took over Pier 9 as having my favorite martini in New York. 
Pineapple Gazpacho was a fantastic amuse bouche. The pineapple retained its sweetness, but also tasted more tart than usual, picking up on the soup’s jalapeno and mild onion flavors. It was spicy(but not painfully hot), light and vibrant – the kind of thing that gets your appetite going. 
 Peppercorn bread. A bit cottony, with no discernible taste of pepper. Not an auspicious start to the meal, after the excellent drinks and amuse bouche. 
Luckily, the meal picked right back up:
Crispy Calamari Salad-frisée, bell peppers, shaved fennel, mango, yuzu Vinaigrette. 
The calamari was crisp and lightly breaded, with tender, thin cut rings of squid within. It tasted decadent but not at all heavy or greasy, with the lightly dressed salad adding brightness, the mango adding sweetness, and the fennel adding an lightness to the fried seafood. This is a perfect start to any meal. 
Poached Maine Lobster Salad -Avocado, cucumber, red and yellow peppers, jalapeño, champagne mango ‘caviar’
The generous portion of lobster was cooked expertly, until just BARELY done, so it retained it’s supple texture and exceedingly rich, buttery flavor. The smooth avocado echoed these flavors, the jalapeno added zip but not heat, and the mango brought out the brininess of the lobster, while adding a sweet, high note. The cucumbers and  peppers added texture to the mostly soft dish, making it a well conceived an executed one. This was the highlight of the appetizers, for me. 
Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad.
 If it is wrong to love this luxurious version of a plain old Caprese salad, then I don’t want to be right. The tomatoes were so sweet and juicy, the burrata so creamy and tangy and the balsamic so syrupy and sweet that it is impossible not to like this. Go on. I dare you. Try it and TRY not to like it.
Also try not to scratch your best friend with your fork while prohibiting her from getting the last of that slippery, fatty burrata. 
Sorry, Lauren…I’m sure that won’t scar. 
 At this point in the meal, we all got “sippers,” ingenious little cups made expressly for Duo that were filled with mixtures of fresh fruit and Grey Goose Vodka. They were some of the best alcoholic libations I have ever sampled – the pure taste of strawberry, litchi, or half a dozen other fruits, with absolutely NO alcoholic taste.  Though they were delicious, at $18 a pop, they were more of a novelty treat than a full on drink.
 Filet Mignon Carpaccio with Portabello Mushrooms, Artichokes and Arugula. 
Exactly what you want in a carpaccio. Beefy, full-on steak flavor in thin sheets, pounded so thin that they broke on the tines of my fork. Nary a shred of fat nor gristle in sight,just pure, juicy shreds of beef that delivered that unmistakable flavor of STEAK. Marinated portabello mushrooms doubled the umami factor, while artichoke hearts added a sharp flavor and the arugula salad was light and peppery. This was just a perfect carpaccio. The mushrooms truly pumped up the volume of this meal, leaving me more satisfied than if I had just been leaf with the beef and other vegetables. A drizzle of olive oil added fruitiness, and although it was an appetizer, it made a filling entree.
 The Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille was also above par. Uniform dices of squash, tomato, eggplant, onion and other vegetables were served in an elegant timbale that belied the hearty taste of the dish. The vegetables were all caramelized and sweet, and the textures melded so well – soft tomato, toothsome squash, melting eggplant. There were no discernible spices, making all of the flavor thanks to the varied and full flavors of the vegetables. 
Peach Cobbler with Roasted Peaches and Peach Gellee (unpictured). Get this. Just get it. The most buttery, crumbly pastry topping sweet, cinnamon spiked peaches that were yielding but not mushy and sweet not with sugar but with vanilla and their own sweetness. The gellee was like a grown up gummy bear, adding a whimsical touch to the plate, and the roasted peach was tender under a crunchy sheath of caramelized sugar. Like I said…just get it. 
 Hot Chocolate Cake, filled with Molten Chocolate Pudding and served with Toasted Marshmallow Topping and Chocolate Krispies.
Smooth and creamy chocolate, sweet marshmallow fluff, the slight crunch and pleasantly bitter taste of the krispies…There was NOTHING not to love here.

And really…there wasn’t. Sure, it is a bit on the pricier side, but you are paying for atmosphere and (excellent) service. The food is really much better than it has to be, since the drinks are so good, I would have been satisfied with eating pretzels all night. The lobster salad, filet carpaccio and peach cobbler were all so delicious that I would come back here for those, even without getting a drink.
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*

Duo on Urbanspoon

E by Jose Andres, Las Vegas

I saved the best of Vegas for last. The best was the night that I ate at James Beard Foundation Award winning chef Jose Andres’ molecular gastronomy focused restaurant e
 Here’s the thing…e isn’t in plain sight. And there isn’t a phone number. You have to be really sure that you want to eat there, because you have to make a reservation by email a month in advance. And I mean a month in advance to the MINUTE – only 16 people a night can eat there, 8 at each seating. 
 And…oh yeah…the restaurant isn’t in plain sight. You walk through Andres’ casual Spanish restaurant Jaleo, go behind the bar through a secret door, and dine in total privacy from the diners outside.
Basically, you are James Bond, tapas-style.
The special treatment starts immediately – the moment I approached Jaleo, Anthony, an exuberant and affable man, greeted me and asked if I was Sarah. Don’t ask me how he knew, but he did. He led my party to the bar and insisted we order a cocktail before dinner, since we weren’t doing the wine pairing.
Well, okay…if you twist my arm.  
This was the Sangra y Fuego, made with Mezcal, house-made sangrita, cherry liqueur
and sweet vermouth. This sounds like it might be sweet, but it wasn’t really – just in the way that BBQ sauce might be sweet. It was mostly smoky and a little meaty from that rich Mezcal, with the cherry coming through right at the end. This was almost like a beefy Bloody Mary – it was really interesting and totally delicious for those of you who love, as I do, savory drinks. It was unexpected and like nothing else I had ever tasted – a harbinger of things to come that night. 
Picture via ThinkFoodGroup
After our (AWESOME!) tablemates arrived, we all shimmied behind the bar, and escaped from the raucous, casual atmosphere of Jaleo to the subdued, whimsical atmosphere of e. A tiny room with one curved bar set in the middle, we all sat down and met our chef, Edwin. Edwin, who was at once serious about his work and a total ham on the stage that was this restaurant, told us that the meal would be cooked directly in front of us and explained to us at each course. And with that…the odyssey began. 
 Gin and Tonic sorbet and foam. The top of the dish was a tonic foam and the bottom was a gin sorbet, frozen with liquid nitrogen. There was also some Meyer lemon puree at the bottom, adding some sweetness to the natural acidity and bitterness of the dish. It was, at first, just like a mild Slurpee, but as the sorbet melted in my mouth, I tasted the alcoholic kick of gin and the faint sharpness of the tonic water. It was foreign yet totally familiar.
 Spanish “Clavel.” This raspberry candy, crunchy and tasting both tart and sweet, just like the fresh raspberry, were served on a whimsical dish shaped like a hand. Shaped, specifically, like Jose Andres’ hand.
Seemed like a big hand. 
And you know what they say about big hands…
That’s what she said.
 Caramelized Pork Rinds. Crunchy, slightly sweet crackers with an insanely meaty taste. Like honey glazed ham in cracker form. 
 Beet Jewelry. 
 Sugary, earthy, slightly greasy in a pleasing way – like a potato chip. Dusted with gold. Somewhere between salty and sweet. 
 Apple “Brazo di Gitano.” Tart green apple meringue surrounded a light but surprisingly rich blue cheese espuma. The espuma was like a mousse, but more “melty” and even lighter. The cheese was pungent and contrasted so well with the crunchy mousse that almost disappeared in the mouth. The walnut paste on top added a fatty and meaty component that really completed the apple, cheese and nut “salad.” Once again…familiar but foreign. 
 Crispy Chicken Skin in Escabeche. The chicken oyster is the part of the thigh that is the most tender, the sweetest and the meatiest part of the chicken. If I ever make you chicken, chances are that I have already eaten the oyster. It is just the essence of chicken. This oyster was served caramelized on the outside but juicy within, served on a crispy crackling and topped with woodsy thyme foam. I could have easily eaten about 12 of these. 
 Jose Taco – Iberico Ham topped with Caviar, and Fried Artichoke topped with a raw quail egg and caviar. The “taco” was, no question, the BEST taco I have ever eaten. The smooth and delicate ham melted upon my tongue, leaving behind fat and salt that echoed the briny taste and tiny “pop” of the caviar. My tablemate Patty said that the artichoke was one of her favorite bites of the night: a single bite of earthy artichoke, unctuous quail egg and that slightly fishy and salty caviar. 
It hit all major food groups – fatty, salty, fried. What’s not to like?
 Bocata de Calamares- Brioche, scallions, aioli, cucumber and…
 UNI! That seafood of the Gods, custardy sweet, salty with brine and umami-rich as pate de foie gras. Combined with fresh cucumber, biting scallion and the rich aioli complimenting the uni’s creamy texture, the buttery brioche was sturdy enough to contain this completely but soft enough to eat almost without chewing. 
I could eat a foot-long one of these. 
 Sandria. Watermelon soaked in sangria. The watermelon’s light flavor made the sangria taste richer and more alcoholic – as if it was brandy based, or some rich and buttery liquor like that. This was certainly delicious, but not the most inventive dish of the night. 
 Ajo Blanco. Ajo Blanco is a traditional Spanish soup that is made with bread, almonds and garlic. Of course, Jose had to spark it up a little. This was a deconstructed version, with the mild soup surrounded by raw almonds, toasted marcona almonds, PX Jiminez Gelee, Green Grapes, Tomato and Manzanilla Sherry Ice and Mircorgreens. This was a revelation. To take the soup with each of the accompaniments was a new mouthful each time – sweet with the gelee, pungent with the ice, savory with the grapes, hearty with the microgreens.
 Maine Lobster with Citrus and Jasmine. The lobster was tender enough to cut with a fork, buttery and totally devoid of any sense of fishiness. The citrus cut through the richness, and the jasmine brought a floral, ethereal taste to such a rich dish. 
 Chickpea Stew with Iberico Ham and Parsley Oil. This blew my mind. IT was solely made of chickpeas and Iberico ham, and when I put one of the “chickpeas” in my mouth, it exploded and let loose an intensely chickpea-tasting liquid. These speherical chickpeas were another one of Andres’ playful takes on food that I thought I knew. He managed to show me that there are still flavors and textures I don’t know. The chickpea flavor was so rich and earthy that it made the ham seem light by comparison. Salty, hearty, with the herby kick of the parsley – this was my favorite dish of the night. 
 Catch of the Day – Turbot with Black Garlic. One of my dining companions, a fish hater, proclaimed this “the most steak like fish in the world,” and scarfed it down before I could snag a bite. The Turbot was thick, moist, and heartier than most fish, along with tangy black garlic that had no bite at all. It was all tang and sweetness, melding with the fish’s savory flavors. Tiny citrus pearls on top brightened the fish and added another dimension of flavor. I could not imagine a more satisfying fish dish. 
 Morels in cream. 
 with rosemary foam. Woodsy, deep, meaty, creamy, umami. There was nothing new or inventive about the dish, and that alone was a shock in this meal full of unexpected turns. 
 Secreto of Iberico Pork. This was served with porcini mushrooms, both raw and cooked. The pork comes from the shoulder blade of the Iberico Pig, and is cooked to medium wellness – still pink but not at all dripping juices or red. This is a perfect degree of doneness for this cut of meat – rare enough to stay tender and retain the taste of the pork, bu done enough to have some caramelizing on the outside of the beef. The mushrooms were hearty and toothsome, and the raw mushrooms were particularly fragrant – almost truffle – like in their aroma.
*Before I talk about dessert, I really must give kudos to the amazing staff of this tiny restaurant. From vivacious and trivia spouting Anthony to the charming and dedicated Edwin to everyone who filled my glass before I realized it had emptied, the entire staff exuded joy and passion. It was a well-choreographed dance, with nary a step out of place nor a spilled drink, nor a lag in the meal. It was well paced and expertly served, and more than that – everyone was happy to be there. They clearly love food and wine as much as their diners do, and that added so much to the night. Scratch that…it MADE the night. This is the best service I have ever had. In my life.*
 Scraping the cheese for our first dessert…
 Orange Pith Puree with La Serena Cheese and a crostini. 
 This had sheep’s milk cheese had the funkiness of goat’s cheese with the rich texture of brie with the salty, nutty tang of Gruyere. Mixed with the tart and slightly biter puree, it was an exemplary cheese course, served in a beautiful and unexpected way. 
 Our next course, set aflame!
 Apples and Red Wine “Fredy Giradet.” Ironically named after a famous Swiss Chef who dislikes Molecular Gastronomy, this featured glazed apples and red wine spheres that, like the chickpeas, looked like small red cherries and burst in the mouth with sweet and spicy red wine. The ice cream was sweet, fragrant with vanilla, and what can be said about stewed apples other than…they are as good now as they ever were.
Edwin teaching Patty how to make the red wine spheres!
 Frozen Apricot Coulant – this was what was being flambeed earlier. A crisp outside gave way to a liquidy interior, entirely apricot. This was far too sweet for me, and the only misstep of the night.
 Fizzy paper. Literally, just what it sounds like. Paper-like candy that fizzed and popped in your mouth like soda. Citrus flavored, it reminded me of a grown up seven up! So delish!
 25 Second Bizcocho. A cake made in the microwave…the MICROWAVE!!! It was fluffy and filled with vanilla yogurt and tasted like a less sweet version of a Twinkie. Don’t worry, it was still sweet…I just didn’t go into diabetic shock after I tried it!
 Aerated Dark Chocolate Air that was like spongy honeycomb in my mouth, and saffron scented chocolate that had an ethereal, exotic, savory taste with the creamy, sweet milk chocolate.
This was a truly incredible meal. Not that it was perfect, but that it was full of food I have never experienced before. Tastes, textures and combinations that I could never imagine. The whimsical plating and intimate setting lent a magical air to the night – that is the only word for it. Magical. Like Chef Edwin was the magician, the servers were all his assistants, and Anthony was the glamorous showgirl, ready to charm us all with smoke and mirrors. The thing is…underneath the smoke and mirrors, this food was really fantastic. Not just in the first rate ingredients, but in the innovative cooking techniques. Andres makes eating fun. He makes dining an adventure. This was the most expensive meal I had in Las Vegas, and it was also the best value. I would dine here again in a heartbeat, and suggest that anyone who wants to be challenged, entertained or amused do the same. 
Oh yeah…and you will be well fed, too.
e by Jose Andres on Urbanspoon

Chinese Chicken Salad Wraps

Inspired by my awesome salad at Wolfgang Puck’s, I knew that I would have to enjoy it at home. 
I mean, I’m not saying I’m as great as Wolfgang, but I can hold my own at copying or adapting a recipe. 
Just look at these Chinese Chicken Salad Wraps.
First step – let’s poach that chicken! I used chicken thighs and breasts, but you can use one or the other if you prefer. Just make sure that the chicken is bone in, which will result in the most flavorful chicken.

I started with 1 carton of beef broth, because I love the deep, iron-y umami taste of beef. Feel free to use whatever stock you have on hand. Add about 1/2 a cup of soy sauce to the liquid. Set that to boil along with…

 A few cloves of fragrant star anise (do NOT leave this out – it lends an unmistakably Chinese taste to the chicken),

a pinch of ground ginger (or knob of fresh, if you have it),

 1 quartered onion, a few smashed cloves of garlic, and the (cleaned) stems of cilantro, whose leaves you will use later.

 Just set this pot to boil for at least 30 minutes, though an hour is better – the flavors will just intensify as it boils. When you are ready, just plop the chicken in and turn the heat down until the broth is just simmering, NOT boiling. This will ensure that the chicken cooks slowly and evenly. Poaching results in incredibly juicy and tender chicken, and boiling often renders it too tough.

It is done when the juices run clear when pierced with the fork – probably not more than 20 minutes, if you have a great stove, longer if you have a worse one (oh, New York kitchens…we all hate you). Strain the soup so all you have is the broth. You can toss the veggies, but SAVE THE BROTH! You will use it momentarily!
Set the chicken aside to cool momentarily while you make the dressing:

 You want to use whatever citrus you have lying around, but you at least need a lime. Lime has a certain acidity that really brings this salad to life. Use oranges, tangerines, clementines for the rest of the juice, but you need at least one lime. We used tangelos – they are sweet like tangerines but as big as oranges and with less seeds.

 So yes…you will need 2 cups total of citrus juice.

 Add to that about 1/2 a cup of rice wine vinegar,

 1 cup of sesame oil (not the hot kind, this time…the heat comes later),

 about a tablespoon of ponzu flavored soy sauce (it’s worth it to buy this citrus flavored soy if you haven’t yet. It will absolutely CHANGE YOUR LIFE),

 and  about 3 Tbls. of Hoisin sauce. This is a sweet, thick Chinese condiment that is the equivalent of Chinese BBQ sauce. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t become an instant fan of it. Whisk the dressing until smooth, then take the skin off the cooled chicken and shred it off the bone.

Let the chicken absorb the marinade – while it is warm or room temperature, the meat will absorb the most flavor.

 Now, take your package of rice noodles. These are the things that pad thai are made out of, and though you could use cappellini or bean thread noodles, these have the nicest, springy texture. You could even use fried wontons if you want, but, what the heck…I love a noodle!

 Here is where the broth comes into play. Boil the noodles until al dente, and they will absorb all the deep, salty, fragrant flavors of the broth.

Then drain ’em and then you can throw the broth if you want (but I never would! That makes for some great eating!!)

I know it’s been awhile, but lunch is almost ready!

 Now you just cut up a couple of bell peppers. Any color will do, just be sure that you get a pepper that is shiny, smells fresh and a bit fruity and is firm with no wrinkles.

 Lop of the top and bottom,

 cut off the walls of the pepper, and slice them into thin strips. Be sure to only get the colored parts of the pepper, none of the white membrane.

 And then just prepare the other veggies and herbs. We used cukes, scallions, peppers, cilantro, bean sprouts and pea shoots. Use whatever you want, but these are the best ones. Trust me.
My blog, my rules.

Now make your wraps! The chicken is moist and fragrant, the noodles are chewy and bouncy and the vegetables add crunch while the cilantro adds that hit of freshness. Topped off with the garlicky tingle of Sriracha and another dollop of that sweet Hoisin sauce, and this is a meal that anyone would enjoy. 
Even Wolfgang Puck. 

Guacamole for Idiots

A while ago, I posted a recipe for fish tacos, and neglected to post a recipe for guacamole with it…
What kind of IDIOT am I?!?!?!?
Who am I to assume that you have a proper guac recipe?
Let’s say you are from Nebraska, or Switzerland! Let’s say you just got over an avocado allergy you have had all your life! Let’s say you are so schwasted from the night before that you can’t possibly think for yourself and you NEED to see some recipes laid out in front of you!
Don’t worry…I’m fixing the errors of my ways.
Well, this error, anyway.
These are all the ingredients you need: 1 sweet onion(or just half an onion if it is large) 4 avocados, 1 bunch of cleaned cilantro, 1 Serrano or jalapeno pepper, 2 limes. 
And salt. 
Please…let’s never forget the salt. Perish the thought.
 When you slice the avocado lengthwise, there will be a pit in the middle. To pull out the pit, whack your knife blade in there…
 and the pit just pops out!
 Then, scoop out the yellow-green flesh of the avocado. Avoid any brown spots.
Doesn’t that advice work for everything in life?
 Spoon all the flesh into a bowl, 
and start to mash it with a fork. You don’t need to fully smooth it out, just start to get the substance broken down. 
 Now you add the FINELY diced onion(dicing all the veggies finely really adds to the taste of the dish – making sure everything is distributed evenly), 
 the FINELY diced pepper (as always – seed it or just use half to reduce the heat quotient),
 the juice of both limes,
 and a healthy dose of cilantro. This is key…you need a LOT of cilantro here.
 Then you toss those ingredients into the avocados, mix them up, and add salt to taste. Does it need more acid? Add some lime. More spice? Add some more diced peppers. Some people like to add salsa, garlic or cumin. I…I am a simple girl.
Well…maybe not entirely simple.
 But this guacamole is simply delicious. Chunky but creamy, buttery and sweet but spicy and zesty. The lime really brings the avocado’s savory points to the forefront, since it is naturally SUCH a mild and sweet fruit (that’s right people, it’s a fruit!). The cilantro adds a heady herbaciousness to the rich dip, and this is perfect for everything from chips to fish to a salad topping!
Or, you know, you could just put it in a burrito with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and Cholula and call it a day. 
That’s what I did…guess I’m not such an idiot after all.

Milk Street Cafe

There have got to be a million delis in New York. The kind where you run in, grab a coffee and a bagel and run out just as fast. But then, most delis don’t have kosher-grade sushi bars in the place, as many food stations as a Las Vegas Buffet, and enough seating for everyone to relax for 5 minutes outside of their offices. 
Milk Street Cafe started in Boston as a catering company, and is expanding to Wall Street. 
 The eatery, which offers quick service options ranging from an Asian station to Italian food to several kinds of roast meat, has seating for hundreds of people and is bigger than some entire apartment buildings! This place was crowded for the press event, yet I had plenty of room, easily found a seat and only once wanted to punch someone in the throat (usually that happens a LOT when I am in a deli and can’t get served fast enough).

 The risotto was a little gluey for my taste, but that happens in a place where a big batch is made and it sits around. Risotto HAS to be served instantly, or it just turns mushy and the starches leach out. Still, this was not bad, as far as deli risottos go. There was clearly some quality cheese in there that was salty but not overkill, and the peas were sweet and fresh. 
 These were those frozen blends that call themselves smoothies or frappes but should really just be called “weight that goes right to your hips.” And, men and women…that is a good thing. I had a mocha whip and it was as good as any coffee dessert drink I have ever had at Starbucks – better, in fact. Thicker, deeper without being bitter, and loaded with tiny dark chocolate chips. 
 I mean, I don’t just show that kind of attention to any old dessert drink that walks into my life. 
Unfortunately, not everything was so delightful. This eggroll was rather tasteless and overly greasy, and the accompanying vegetables tasted unpleasantly of sulphur. Luckily, the night’s menu picked right back up…
with the small sushi station that was serving made-to-order sushi. The whole restaurant is kosher, and while the phrase kosher sushi doesn’t tend to make my mouth water, this sushi actually DID!
 The tuna was mild, the salmon was wonderfully fatty and tender. Both fish were fresh and cut well, with no sinewy strands or offputting smell. Even the rice was excellently cooked, al dente with a tangy taste from rice vinegar. 
The hand rolls were also exemplary, with crispy, slightly salty seaweed, buttery avocado and hot smears of wasabi paste. I would absolutely come back here for the sushi alone!

And I mean that! I would REALLY come back here! It isn’t a destination restaurant, for sure, but compared to the other delis and take out places in the area, this is LEAGUES above in quality of food, value for your money, and comfort while you dine. 
And hey, this place made me believe in Kosher Sushi…pretty much the first Kosher ANYTHING that I really enjoy.
*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*

Sage Restaurant, Las Vegas

After you lose a ton of money that you didn’t have in the first place by playing slot machines that clearly hate you…you really just want a delicious meal.
Reading Wandering Eater’s review of Sage, I knew I had to check it out when in Las Vegas. It was brand new, run by an award winning chef, and featured something called foie gras custard…
 I was there faster than you can say “heart attack.”
 The restaurant, located in the Aria hotel, was huge and upscale, done in dark purples and with traditional chandeliers and furniture offset by whimsical carpets and dishware. Formal yet inviting.
 There were many options on the menu, including a la carte and a 4 course option, but…when in Vegas…ONLY a tasting menu will do.
I suggest you start with the WORLD’S BEST BLOODY MARY…I called it that, they call it the 3-Day Mary. They call it that because the Bloody Mary mix marinates for 3 days before you drink it. When you do drink it, it is incredibly rich – almost as if it has beef broth in it, but the richness comes from the marinated vegetables intermingling with organic tomato vodka. It is spicy with horseradish, tangy with pickles, peppery, sweet and pleasantly bitter, perhaps from the pickles’ brine. Our server told us that the head mixologist grows much of the produce himself, and takes massive pride in this drink.  It is a meal in a glass, and I mean that in the best way possible. Oh…and just one will relax you after you realize that you have lost that unspeakable amount of money in the casino.
 Bacon bread.
 That’s right…soft bread studded with tiny bits of crispy, chewy, salty bacon.
Spread with lavender butter and sea salt, it was delicious. The butter is of particular mention, because the judicious use of lavender made it earthy instead of soapy as so much lavender scented food tastes. It was just a hint of the flower that made it interesting and a contrast to the creamy butter, versus an all-encompassing flavor.
 Market Oysters with Piquillo Pepper and Tabasco Sorbet with Aged Tequilla Migonette. A perfect amuse bouche, these briny bivalves were accented by sweet and spicy sorbet that was more liquid than solid – a great texture to compliment the slippery, salty oyster. The mignonette was totally lost here – there was none of the acidic bite of tequila, unfortunately. That would have really brought this to the next level. Regardless of that fact, this was still an excellent start to the meal.     
 Bigeye Tuna Belly with Oro Blanco Grapefruit, Preserved Lemon and Powdered Olive Oil. Sweet, mild tuna  was positively velvety in the mouth, thanks to the heavy fat content. The citrus taste was too mild for my palate, but the tuna was of such high quality that the lack of bitter or acidic flavors did not harm the dish. It did, however, alert me to the fact that seasonings were very sparingly used in this restaurant – not a downside nor an upside. Just a point.
 Foie Gras Custard Brulee with Rhubarb, Toasted Cocoa Nibs and Salted Brioche.
This BLEW my mind. I have previously had foie gras creme brulee at Eleven Madison Park, but that was richer in both texture and taste, tasting solely of  liver. This was more ethereal, with a lighter texture that disappeared on the heat of my tongue, leaving behind the deep, offally taste of the foie gras.
Buried under a sheath of crispy caramelized sugar and bitter cacao nibs, the foie gras custard was simultaneously unbearably rich and astonishingly light – resulting in the perfect dish. I don’t know how I could even eat it all, but I did. Every last shaving of creamy, rich foie gras disappeared into my mouth.
 I may have cleaned out the bowl with my fingers.
Side note – the brioche was some of the best i have had outside of France. Buttery but not greasy, it was light but had layers of wheaty, salty flavor. It was the perfect vehicle for openfaced foie gras sandwiches.
Scallop and Potato Ravioli with Porcini Mushrooms and Shaved Truffles. This was a very good dish, but not great. The scallops were well cooked, but a bit fishy They did not taste off at all, but they were just very…fishy. Now, I don’t mind that, but it could be offputting to others.
The potatoes was crispy and delicious and the mushroom broth was earthy and deep, but the truffles on top did not release their usual intoxicating smell and taste. That fishiness was just too overpowering.
Liberty Farms Duck Breast with Duck Leg Confit and Seville Sour Orange. Now, here was the stuff! Excellently cooked duck, medium rare and tender but with a crispy layer of fat surrounding the pleasantly gamy meat. The confit was deeply flavored, tasting woodsy and primal next to the rareness of the breast – it was a terrine and excellently prepared. The orange provided a bitter counterpart to the mild meat, and made the duck’s sweetness shine. It even pleased one of the members of our party who swore that she didn’t like duck.
48 Hour Beef Belly, Caramelized Onions, Morel Mushrooms and Pickled Ramps. Delicious – the favorite of some of the diners. The beef must have been cooked sous vide, because instead of being cooked all the way through like short ribs, it was medium rare and iron-y, tender enough to cut with a fork. The (lone) morel was funky and umami-licious – a perfect mushroom in any sense of the word. The onions were sweet and those pickled ramps were the best I have had since ABC Kitchen. They were tangy and piquant but not at all abrasive – somewhere between a cocktail onion and a Vidalia. So, so good and the vinegar cut through the richness of the beef.
An intermezzo of pineapple sorbet was tart and sweet – the perfect segue from main course to dessert. The berries served with it were of particular mention -each one was sweet and well rounded in flavor. Nothing ruins a meal like a bad berry.
Unless you remember how much money you lost at the casino.
Blackberry and Chocolate Cremeaux with Chocolate Fudge, Blackberry Mousse and Powdered Chocolate.
This was very good, not to say amazing.  The fudge was smooth and creamy, the mousse was sharp but sugary as well, and the crunchy cookie at the bottom was totally delightful. The only issue was…I just didn’t like the flavors together. The deepness of the chocolate and the assertive taste of the blackberry were just too discordant to me. They seemed to be competing rather than complimenting each other.
Luckily, this post-dessert cup of mint hot chocolate saved the day. Sweet and creamy with the sharp note of mint cutting through the considerable fat content, it was a childhood favorite grown up.My overall opinion of the meal is mixed. It was well prepared food for the price, the service and decor were excellent, and there were certainly some standouts (that foie gras custard still haunts my DREAMS).
But is it a destination restaurant? I would have to say…no. There are so many restaurants in Las Vegas that are wonderful – Guy Savoy, E by Jose Andres and Joel Robuchon (both the Mansion and L’Atelier) all offer more perfected cooking and a more memorable dining experience. If this were in another location, it would absolutely be a destination spot. But, in Las Vegas, this just fell short of the “wow” factor. I didn’t continue thinking about the meal the way that I should have after we were done eating.
BUT…that said…
I would ABSOLUTELY stop in here for a Bloody Mary and a Foie Gras Custard. Those were both delicious and unique enough to warrant a visit on their own.
After all…you might need some way to forget how much you lost in the casino.
Sage (Aria) on Urbanspoon

Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill, Las Vegas

There are the meals that you eat to try new experiences, and there are the meals that you eat to relive old memories. Then there are the meals that you eat to enjoy old experiences, but they so surpass your expectations, they become new experiences.
This is one such meal. 
Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill, started by the original celebrity chef, is located on the casino floor of the MGM Grand hotel, right in the midst of all the action. It isn’t quiet, but it does maintain a sense of elegance and refinement with its colorful but streamlined decor and consistently courteous and competent waitstaff.
I have eaten here many times for a quick bite, and each time, the food is just what I feel like – well seasoned, inventive spins on classic American dishes.
The only difference this time was that the food was exceptional.
Were the soups always as complex, as herby, as perfectly smooth as this tortilla soup? It had a smoky, earthy flavor that was complemented by the comforting taste of chicken and the kick of cilantro. Not at all hot, but definitely full of spices, it was balanced by chunks of creamy avocado. It was soothing, inviting yet interesting to the palate. A definite appetite starter.
Was the Maytag Blue Cheese Potato Chips always so perfectly balanced a dish? Were the chips always so thin, so crispy, unsalted to let the tangy, pungent, funkiness of the blue cheese show through? The cheese sauce was velvety and creamy with gigantic chunks of soft blue cheese, the heat revealing all of it’s umami flavor.
I love these more than I love my family. True story.
Was the Chinois Chicken Salad always so refreshing yet satisfying?
Puck introduced this salad in the 1998’s at his Chinese fusion restaurant, Chinois on Main. This basically revolutionized the modern Chinese Chicken Salad, with its acidic dressing, lightly poached chicken and shredded vegetables, and the salad is just as delicious today as it was then. The chicken was in credibly tender and flavorful, and the dressing was light but flavorful with acid and sweetness. The vegetables were all shredded to equal sizes, which I SWEAR makes a difference in the taste. The wontons were freshly friend and irresistible, and the peanuts (on the side so my peanut-allergic friend could try some), were candied and crunchy. This is the gold standard of Chinese chicken salad.
Was the pizza always so…pretty good for restaurant pizza?
I really don’t’ know the answer to this – I haven’t ever tried the pizza here before. But this had outstanding toppings – tender meatballs, fragrant with basil and garlic, creamy wads of mozzarella stretching out over vibrant, intensely tomato-ey sauce.
  The crust was a bit thicker than I like, but beneath the pillowy top lay some good char. While I wouln’t order pizza here, it isn’t per se bad. It’s just that everything else is so satisfying.
 Say what you like about Puck – that he sold out, that he is never in the kitchen, that he looks like a cheerful kitchen-elf. Say what you want, but the truth is – his restaurants have damn great food, and this one has especially great prices. This is nice enough for a meal celebrating a birthday, but casual enough to sit at the bar and enjoy a quick burger. The staff is knowledgeable about the items but never tries to upsell. The service is prompt and the food really goes beyond expectations.
And every time I go there, the food is better than I remember it.
Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon