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Secret Pizza in Las Vegas

Remember that time that I ate that incredible meal at e? Remember how it was so many courses, so many flavors, an experience like none other?

Well, there is a dirty little secret about that…I left a little peckish.

I couldn’t help it…I really needed a little something else to finish off a meal that consisted of about 1800 tiny bites.

Luckily, in the Cosmopolitan, there is a secret pizza joint. An unmarked  place down the hall from the Marquee nightclub, where, if you go down the narrow passageway, you are transported to a 1980s pizza joint, complete with an arcade game and a whole row of freshly made pies.

Order a slice from the ready-made pies or have one made specially for you (you might have to wait for a few minutes for one of those).

The pizza here is really tasty! Not as good as a New York slice, but VASTLY superior to most slices on the west coast. A thin, tender crust with an oregano heavy sauce and enough cheese to provide a creamy, stretchy quality without making the crust overly floppy. It is just greasy enough, just salty enough, and just filling enough to make the perfect midnight snack.

Upskirt shot, showing nice char.

This place is a quick service restaurant, so be prepared to eat it standing at the counter or take it back to your room in the standard paper box.

The pizza is cheap, it’s fast (don’t worry if there is a line, it really moves), and it’s just what you want after a tasting menu.

I ate a snack after a 3 hour tasting menu. I officially have no shame.

Grand Lux Cafe, Las Vegas

In between the decadent buffets and the pasta filled with pork and foie gras of Las Vegas, my body sent out an SOS. It needed vegetables and it needed them fast. I didn’t want to waste a fantastic restaurant meal on just a salad, but I wanted to make sure that the food was at least tasty. I also needed it to be nearby The Venetian’s casino where I was playing, and preferably somewhere that wouldn’t make my credit card scream in angst.

Grand Lux Cafe fit the bill.

This somewhat upscale cousin to The Cheesecake Factory is enormous, open 24 hours a day, and has many offerings. It features lots of the same entrees as The Cheesecake Factory in its bible-legnth menu, as well as a plethora of other items. Whether you feel like Asian tuna, hot wings, a burger, or pasta in Sunday gravy, The Grand Lux offers it, at a reasonable price point. It is ideal for large group of people because literally everyone can get something (s)he feels like. You can go in an evening gown at 10 AM or jeans at 8 pm and feel equally at home.

Though you could easily order a 3 course meal here, this wasn’t the point of my visit. This was my detox meal.

Chopped Salad  with Grilled Chicken, Bacon, Tomato, Maytag Blue Cheese, Avocado, Egg and Greens Tossed in Our Vinaigrette

Yes, my detox meal included blue cheese and avocado. But I left off the bacon…you know, to be healthy.

This is just a damned good salad. Crisp lettuce, creamy avocado, and sweet tomatoes. The chicken is juicy and still warm from the grill and the vinaigrette is tart and light. The final touch is the blue cheese, pungent and rich. It is basically a chopped Cobb Salad, and incredibly satisfying. Of course, if you don’t feel like that you could always order the:

BBQ Chicken Pizza and Salad Lunch Special

Or the:

Salmon Three Ways – Fresh Salmon Prepared in Three Styles; Soy Glazed with Shiitake Mushrooms, Horseradish Crusted with Asparagus and Almond Ginger with Green Beans and Beurre Blanc

Whatever you order here, the food will come quickly and in huge portions. An entrée can easily be split between two people, and if you have room for it, a slice of cheesecake is a delicious dessert.

Or, of course, it’s a great place for a detox meal featuring avocado and full fat cheese. 

Grand Lux Cafe (Venetian) on Urbanspoon

Jaleo, Las Vegas

Last year, eating at e was a highlight of my trip to Las Vegas, if not my year. As I waited to get seated, I noticed the restaurant around me – Jaleo was loud, thumping, and filled with energy and delicious smells. I saw plates of delicious looking food all over the place and swore that I would come back to eat at this tapas restaurant.

It took me a year, but finally I got there.

Jaleo was just as I remembered it; pulsating with energy and filled with the scents of garlic, roasting meat,

and huge pans of paella.

The atmosphere is hip but not snobby, filled with touches of whimsy. It would be a perfect place for a quick snack or a loud, long dinner with a group of partying friends. There is even a private room that looks perfect for a special night.

Tomatina Negroni with Campari, gin, sweet vermouth, tomato water

Anyone who likes negronis will love this. The tomato water sweetens the gin and rounds out the harsh edges of campari. The grapefruit comes through as tart rather than bitter, and the drink is refreshing and extremely food friendly. It doesn’t taste of tomato, just of sweet and fresh citrus. Highly recommended.

Patatas bravas with  spicy tomato sauce  and alioli

These aren’t the thick, traditional patatas bravas. These are thin potato chips, freshly fried and dusted with a generous helping of smoky paprika. The alioli is creamy and extremely garlicky  in a mouth-watering way. The tomato sauce provides a light, slightly spicy counterpart to the rich alioli. It tastes as if it has been infused with hot peppers, not in a fiery way but definitely in a spicy, zesty way. These are totally addictive and a must order.

Pan con tomate and Manchego

This simple dish is one of my favorites of the night. Jaleo hits the nail on the head with this totally authentic rendition of the iconic Spanish dish. Crusty bread rubbed with a clove of garlic and a cut tomato became moist but not soggy. It is soft enough to bite without shattering, but hearty enough to stand up to the tomato juice. Combined with the semi-hard cheese, it is nutty, salty, savory, and surprisingly refreshing.

Iberico Pork Burgers with piquillo peppers and alioli

That’s right. The same Iberico pork I worship in slices. Here, it is coarsely ground and loosely packed into a juicy burger. Served on a brioche bun with sweet peppers and more of that creamy alioli, it is a very meaty and almost woodsy slider.

“Bikini” Sandwiches with Ibérico ham, manchego cheese, and truffles

Heaven alone knows why this is called the bikini sandwich, because after just one of these, you can’t get into a mummu, let alone a bikini. Buttery toast cradles salty Iberico ham, gooey Manchego cheese, and aromatic truffle oil. This is one decadent grilled cheese sandwich – don’t miss it. And don’t plan to eat it all yourself – it is a bit salty and fatty, so share it to save room for more food.

Chicken Croquettes

Served in a sneaker. I have no idea why Andres does this, but I love it – it reinforces the fact that eating isn’t just refueling, it is a communal experience that should foster conversation and joy. And if these little nuggets of crispy, creamy, unmistakably chicken-y taste offer anything, it is indeed joy.

These croquettes are lighter and more complex than the garlicky, heavy ones at Porto’s. These are almost airy inside, creamy but not dense. There is the slightest hint of onion in there, perhaps some nutmeg, but most of all…its just tastes like really creamy chicken soup.

Golden fried quail eggs with ‘pisto manchego’ vegetable stew

One of our few vegetarian dishes of the night, this managed to stand out amongst all the indulgent meat and cheese courses. Perfectly brunoised vegetables like carrots, onions, and zucchini are cooked with rosemary and other aromatics until they form a tender but not mushy stew. The crowning touch is a sextet of gooey egg yolks and crispy whites

It was also served with a swipe of genuine gold dust, which no girl can ignore.

Vegetable Paella

This paella was the lone disappointment of the evening for me. A bit salty and mushy, it has none of the wonderful soccarat that I so crave. Though it is served with some more of that addictive alioli, I really can’t recommend this as a “must order” dish.

Pork and foie gras canelones with bechamel sauce

I don’t know how or why this was conceived, but I actually don’t care. This is an almost inconceivably delicious pasta dish. Thin sheets of canelloni are stuffed with sweet ground veal and earthy pate de foie gras before being blanketed in bechemel and broiled until crisp without and gooey within. It should be too rich. It should be too meaty.  It shouldn’t work…but it does. It is not too much this or too little that. It is an example of how Andres wants to do something – like, for example, deliver the world’s richest pasta dish without causing anything more than a very delayed coronary – and does it. He has an impeccable palate and has clearly trained his staff to know exactly how to execute his recipes.

His perfect, beyond compare, meaty and creamy recipes…

That’s what she said

Jaleo was delicious for all the senses. Delicious to see the pastry chefs working in the small open air dessert kitchen. Delicious to smell the dozens of small plates carried by servers that walked by our table. Delicious to feel welcomed by the enthusiastic and knowledgable staff. Delicious to hear chatter and laughter from everyone enjoying the night. And delicious to taste.

Jaleo was, in every way, worth the wait. I won’t be able to wait so long before I return.

Jaleo by José Andres (Cosmopolitan) on Urbanspoon

MoZen Brunch, Las Vegas

Buffets in Vegas tend to be quantity over quality. Mountains of overcooked prime rib, piles of cold shrimp, and miles of pre-made salads sitting under sneeze guards. Now, I’m not anti buffet – quite the opposite. There is a time and a place for buffets. You just don’t go there if you want a top-notch meal with attention to details and excellent service.

Unless, of course, you go to the brunch buffet at MoZen.

The Mandarin Oriental is, I believe, a harbinger of things to come in Las Vegas. It has no casino, has service that is comparable with the finest 5 star hotels in the country, and has a spa that is absolutely to die for. It also has MoZen, a modern American restaurant that draws inspiration from India, Singapore, Japan, and other Asian countries. It serves brunch on Sundays only, and includes a small luxury buffet, passed small dishes, and an entrée all for the price of $57.

The atmosphere is serene and sunny, almost as if you were at a Californian spa retreat rather than right in the heart of Sin City.

The buffet, set up along the side and back of the restaurant, includes breakfast pastries, fruit, yogurt, cheeses, meats,

freshly made sushi,

and a fantastic raw bar. The oysters are shucked right before your eyes, and the ones that I had were large, briny, and mildly salty. The crab legs were even better. Sweet and succulent, they were as delicious as crab that I have had on the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf. I enjoyed both with some tart cocktail sauce that wasn’t spicy enough, but at least wasn’t sickly sweet.

The spicy tuna sushi also deserves special mention. Sashimi and sushi can be made to order, and even when it isn’t it is made so frequently that it is very fresh. The rice is sticky but not mushy, the nori is crisp and nutty, and the spicy tuna is the perfect blend of hot Sriracha, creamy mayonnaise, and lush tuna.

Though the raw bar alone would have made this worthwhile, there is more.

Passed dishes included a peanutty Kung Pao chicken

and a greaseless calamari with spicy peppers.

THEN, you get to order an entrée.

Paneer Curry with Naan, Daal, and Rice

This was really unexpected. I was thinking I would get a very “obviously” Indian dish, with a garlic-and-red-pepper heavy sauce and a few blocks of dried out paneer. Instead, I got a small bowl filled with a tangy, pungent sauce filled with tomatoes, sautéed onions, and sweet peas. Though there was definitely some heat and garlic, the favors here focused on the tangy and sweet – a bit too sweet for my tastes, but at least it was not overtly heavy on the spice and cumin. It was multifaceted and filled with creamy and fresh paneer.

The rice was standard but the daal was excellent – very smoky and filled with lentils and kidney beans.

The naan was also top notch, slick with ghee and fragrant with garlic and cilantro. Pillowy and well charred, it was perfect to sop up the remnants of the pungent curry.

Hokkaido Scallops with Artichokes

Another winning entrée. The scallops almost tasted as if they were cooked sous vide, then just momentarily seared. They were almost exceedingly velvety and buttery, and the artichokes were succulent, earthy counterparts to them.

If you have room, you may wish to check out the desert buffet, wich is small but excellent.  Don’t look for synthetic soft serve ice cream or dried out cherry pie here. Instead…

choose from passionfruit panna cotta, strawberry cheesecake mousse, and vanilla madeleines.

The raspberry vanilla petit fours were the highpoint of dessert and one of the highpoint of the meal. Vanilla-scented white chocolate cracked to reveal moist poundcake and thin layers of tart raspberry jam. A really perfect bite of rich sweetness, just enough to cleanse the palate and end the meal.

MoZen really is the anti-buffet. It is small, with limited seating and buffet items made to order. There is very attentive waiter service and you are more likely to see a business lunch there than a hungover group of The Hangover fans.

The price is high, but if you eat enough oysters, you can rationalize it.

Hey, it’s Vegas…you can rationalize anything.

Mozen Bistro (Mandarin Oriental) 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

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

Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas

Although I have been going to Las Vegas since I was (no exaggeration) 9 years old, I have NEVER eaten a meal off the strip. 
I know, I know….I am a tourist in every sense of the word. 
But this trip, thanks urging from a friend, I made myself go to what some call the greatest Thai restaurant in America:
 Lotus of Siam. You will need a cab to get to the strip mall location, filled with other Asian stores and restaurants. You will think, from the surrounding area, that you might be shot while eating there.
You won’t…probably.
The first thing that hit me was the amount of accolades this place has gotten…it even won a 2010 James Beard Foundation Award calling Saipin Chutima the best chef in the Southwest!
It is a huge restaurant, and extremely casual. Jeans and flip flops are welcome. 
And, be aware…the menu is extensive and confusing. We mostly went with Lotus of Siam specialties and Northern Thai food, since it is hard to find that stuff other places. We did try a few old favorites…
 Pork SATAY with Peanut Sauce and Cucumber Salad. This was the first sign that this meal might be a little out of the ordinary. This satay was juicy, heavily seasoned strips of sweet pork, tangy and flavorful with fresh cucumbers and rich peanut sauce. This was a perfectly balanced dish – salty, spicy, bitter with the char marks and sweet with the rice wine vinegar in the cucumbers. This whet my appetite and actually made me hungrier while I ate it…is that even possible?
 MEE KROB-Crispy noodle mixed with sweet and sour sauce,chicken and shrimp. This can best be described as the savory Thai version of Cracker Jacks. Crispy, sweet, sticky, filled with sweet and tender shrimp, juicy marinated chicken, and shards of bright green onion and fresh bean sprouts. Is this authentic? Who knows? But it was as good a version as I have EVER had. This isn’t spicy at all, so it’s a great choice for those of you who are wimps.
 STUFFED CHICKEN WINGS-Chicken wings stuffed with ground pork, deep fried, served with homemade sweet & sour sauce. Also known as Angel Wings, these are one of my favorite Thai dishes and VERY hard to find, because they are so labor intensive. There is a layer of pork and noodles rolled inside the boned chicken leg before it is fried to juicy, crispy perfection. 
It’s like the original Turducken.
 This was unbelievable. The chicken was so juicy, the pork so sweet and the breading impossibly crunchy. The spices inside were complicated, but I know there was some ginger in there, providing a sharp accent to the sweet sauce served alongside. If you like fried chicken, you HAVE to get this.
 Northern Larb – Ground Pork, Northern Thai Spices, Fresh Herbs and Vegetables. I have professed my love of Larb before, but this is unlike any I have ever had. It was not tangy or acidic, nor did it have the peculiar but wonderful tezture of ground rice powder. This was like ground up BBQ-and that is a compliment. The pork was deeply flavorful, and richer than most pork. It tasted as if it had been pit BBQ’d for hours or even days, bringing out earthy and meaty flavors. The spices in it made it zesty, umami-filled and even pleasantly bitter. Eating it with the crunchy cabbage and slightly floral basil made the flavors well rounded and a different taste sensation than anything I have ever eaten. 
 ISSAN SAUSAGE-Grilled sour pork sausage, served with fresh chili, ginger and peanuts.
This was the standout of the meal. Everyone in my party agreed on that – which, in itself, is a major miracle. The sausage was filled with thick chunks of pork, and had this tangy, acidic flavor that made the meat seem light as vegetables. It had a snappy, crunchy casing and the bits of soft rice within the sausage contrasted pleasantly with the tender pork. Eating a bite with some of the chiles on the side gave a whole new taste to it – now it was even more citrusy, deep, and bright, all at once. I ate more than my fair share, and could have eaten even more.  This was the most revelatory meat product I have eaten in I don’t know how long. 
That’s what she said.
KHAO SOI BRAISED SHORT RIB- The Northern Thai egg noodle is served in curry sauce, coconut cream and braised short rib, garnished with sliced red onion, lime and pickled vegetables. This was my second favorite of the night. I have never had something like this before – almost candy sweet in taste, the texture of the velvety sauce mimicked that of the short rib, which was braised into melting submission. The beef tasted like it had some aromatics like star anise and maybe cinnamon it it, and the cut itself had an irony, almost offal-y taste to it. It was a deeply meaty cut, which provided a backbone to the fragrant coconut, tangy lime and bite of the red onion. The noodles were springy, soft but not mushy and absorbed all the flavor of the sauce perfectly. The fried noodles on top provided crunch, and this was a perfect end to a perfect meal.

No, really…a PPERFECT meal. You might notice that I didn’t talk too much about heat here, and that’s because we asked for most of the meal to be mild. My dining partners were all wimps. But, our server noted that we could make the dishes much, MUCH hotter…and noting from the people around me crying and wiping their noses, he wasn’t kidding. There is a Lotus of Siam in NYC now,and thought hte acclaimed chef isn’t in the kitchen, I just might have to check it out. Because for the price, the relaxed atmosphere, and definitely the food…it would be worth it. 
And it’s worth it to say that I have now eaten a world class meal off the strip. 
Tourist, no more.
Lotus of Siam on Urbanspoon

Las Vegas is for Foodies

Let’s do a recap on a Las Vegas trip I took recently…
And in the meantime, check out this article about gross candy that I recently wrote…seriously, that poop candy is the stuff of a 12 year old boy’s dream. 
Or my dad’s. 
Meanwhile, my dreams go something like this:
 Bollinger Grande Annee Champagne. Rich, toasty, yeasty, rather aggressively bubbly. Goes with everything, especially Fritos. And foie. 
 Dessert at the Wicked Spoon. The service left something to be desired, but the (unpictured) homemead ice cream was smooth, deeply flavored and tasted creamy, not icy or milky. And that thing on the far left? That is a chocolate covered Kit Kat topped with malt balls. 
Yeah, that reaction you just had was my reaction to: Awesome. 
 Homemade Potato Chips with Maytag Blue Cheese Sauce at Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill. I have had many iterations of blue cheese and potatoes, and this is my favorite in the WORLD. Fresh potato chips, unsalted so the unadulterated, earthy taste of the potato shines through, pairing with the funky, creamy, stringy, melty blue cheese sauce. My mouth is watering. Oh no, wait…I actually just drooled. More on this to follow…these. are. perfection. 
 Lotus of Siam Sour Sausage. I have always said that I love Thai food, but realized after eating here that I had never REALLY eaten Thai food. Sorry, Pam Real Thai, but I hadn’t. These flavors were so subtle and harmonious, and the heat was so in conjunction versus in competition with the mildness that it…well, it blew me away. Sour, meaty, sweet and crunchy…let’s just say I ate a lot of sausage that night.
That’s what she said. 
And…oh yeah…
This happened. And I’m glad it did, because we did a LOT of eating in Sin City, and that extra money came in handy!

Three “Don’t Miss” Vegas Dishes

I’m back from the motherland.

No, not Israel.

Not even Paris.

I went on vacation to Las Vegas.

Where else can one sleep in world-class hotel suites for the price of a hostel in most major cities? Where else can one see a $90-a-ticket Cirque de Soleil show and then walk through a shopping mall with a yard long drink that involves frozen soda and cheap rum? And where else can one lose more money in an hour than she makes in a week?

Clearly, this city speaks to me.

Though I ate mostly at old favorite restaurants, there are a few new dishes (and restaurants) that I tried that really deserve mention!

Sliders at She

If you find yourself a little peckish and in the mood for an upscale midnight snack,  head straight to She at Crystals shopping center. This sezy steakhouse by Mortons has all of the serious beef offerings of its parent restaurant but adds a young, hip vibe with a catwalk straight down the center of the restaurant. Enjoy burlesque performances and sideshow acts like belly dancers, sword swallowers, and extremely flexible, scantily clad jugglers.

If you like the ladies, this restaurant is for you.

And even if your taste runs to John Hamm instead of Christina Hendricks, this restaurant is worth a stop for the comfortable outdoor seating and the awesome sliders.  Juicy and coked to a rosy pink with a soft texture, they are served with sharp cheddar cheese, creamy Russian dressing, and some tangy pickled onions. The brioche buns are soft and eggy but still stand up to the patties’ ample juices. This restaurant isn’t cheap but during happy hour, these sliders are offered at a significant discount, as are crisply fried tempura shrimp and a bevvy of cocktails. She is a welcome addition to the Strip as a place to sit and relax outside while enjoying some really quality bites.

Huevo frito con caviar at Jaleo

Yes, Jaleo again. It was just as  vibrant, as exciting, as mouth watering, delicious as it was the last time I visited. This time, my sister was wise enough to order the egg-on-egg combo that brought our table to its knees. The egg arrives gently fried so that the white is firm bu the yolk is thick and gooey. The caviar is in an ebony pile on top promising salt and brine.

When the server cuts up the mixture and instructs you to spread it on the pillowy toasted bread, follow her instructions. The bite will be rich, buttery, salty, and very savory. It isn’t fishy or bitter at all – just like the world’s best poached eggs on toast. The little pops of caviar under your teeth are a wonderful counterpart to the silky fried egg and you may find yourself begging for extra bread to swipe the bottom of the bowl for any remnants of this deeply satisfying dish. 

Club Sandwich at Cafe Vettro

This is the place you visit when you just came off of 2 four hour flights that started at 3 am 3,000 miles away. The 24 hour restaurant in the Aria is more than the old fashioned Vegas coffee shops that are known for piles of mushy home fries and questionable clam chowder. Cafe Vettro is light, modern, and the food is downright craveable. The club sandwich is among the best of an excellent and huge menu. The house roasted turkey is juicy, the veggies are crisp, and the mayo is plentifully applied. The fries are salty and hot, and the whole plate can easily feed 2 people. This is a fantastic lunch option, and the staff is commendably efficient, helpful, and friendly.

Wanna know where else I worshipped during my visit to the motherland? Head back tomorrow for my re-review of what is heralded as the best Thai restaurant in America, Lotus of Siam.