Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rich Chicken, Poor Chicken

One of my favorite comfort foods, and probably one of yours, is roast chicken with potatoes. I've had two excellent versions lately, one at Spago in the Forum shops and one at Sedona in the Northwest.

Sedona is the only restaurant I've ever worked in and I wouldn't have gone back or recommended it until just recently because I didn't care for the old chef. My old sous chef took over a couple of months ago, however, and the food is now much better. The one dish that really stands out is the roast chicken on the lunch menu for $12. It is served on a bed of fingerling potatoes, fennel, and radicchio and is accompanied by a rosemary and worcestershire vinaigrette. The chicken is cooked 'sous vide' (in a bag) to keep it moist and juicy and then is either roasted at extremely high heat or pan-fried to give it a crackly skin. At $12 it is a bargain for what it is, especially because it also comes with soup or salad.

The roast chicken at Spago is slightly better only because the chicken is of a bit better quality and the potato puree under it rivals that of Joel Robuchon (read: lots and lots of butter). I am such a fan of Mr. Puck because of dishes like these. There's nothing pretentious about this chicken, just a great piece of bird with a perfect jus and veggies. At $21 it's about twice the price of the one at Sedona but it's worth every penny, especially since you also get a 20% discount for being local (limited time only).

I highly recommend either of these dishes when you next get a hankering for chicken that isn't boring.

Sedona Roast Chicken (above)
Spago Roast Chicken (left)
(below) A picture of another beautiful bird at Puck's Postrio in the Venetian. This was a special for mother's day this year.

Groupon: Agave

Today's Groupon is for Agave Mexican restaurant in Summerlin. For $20 you get $40 worth of food and drinks. I've been there many times and have found that the food is consistent and good (try the nachos and fajitas) and the margaritas are top notch.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Un-frugal Foodie: Martorano's

Muscle man Steve Martorano serves overpriced East Coast Italian food at his restaurant in the Rio, where we dined with our foodie friends on Sunday evening. Although nothing we had was bad and everything was well-seasoned, I still left with a bad taste in my mouth due to the prices and the atmosphere. Let me give you a mental picture: disco balls, neon lights, over-sized outdoor garbage cans in the bathroom, and blaring music only turned off so you can watch an equally loud scene from the original Ocean's Eleven on one of six flat screens. The light/video/music show is all orchestrated by DJ Martorano himself, who spends more time annoying his customers with noise than paying attention to their food.

His menu is as beefy as his arms, so I would advise vegetarians to stay away. I actually give him credit for his unabashed use of meat, which he prepares well. Since we were a group of four and didn't feel like eating a ton of food, we ordered a bunch of appetizers to split. Their meatball, which they are famous for, is light with balanced meatball elements. It is served with tasty marinara and excellent ricotta, though these features can't justify the $14 price tag (or $18 if you want a microscopic salad to go with it as we realized after the fact).

We then ordered pigs feet, a dish I would say was the highlight of the meal because I don't generally eat pigs feet and they seemed to be prepared well. But it's also possible my enjoyment was due to the abundance of that San Marzano marinara or the relatively inexpensive price ($10). The feet themselves were not terribly meaty, but the accompanying rolled pig skin stuffed with pork was quite enjoyable (if eaten only a few bites at a time) and tasted like thick, chewy pasta (if pasta was pure fat).

Other above average options included; the eggplant stack, which was crispy but heavy, and not served hot ($19); the gnocchi side, which was light enough but not terribly interesting ($14); and the hot peppers stuffed with veal that I enjoyed, but felt had a bit too much crushed red pepper ($18). He also offers an interesting take on carbonara, which he sent to our table gratis because we are locals (Always tell restaurants on the Strip you are local when making a reservation. They usually do a little something extra for you). I can best describe his preparation as spaghetti (though the waitress called it buccatini) tossed in a white bean hummus. The flavor was fine but it had an off-putting mouth feel, and was not worth the $24 price listed. I'm not sure how he can get away with these prices for dishes that are essentially superior preparations of adulterated versions of real Italian food...

That being said, I've never been afraid of writing a review but due to how large and in charge this chef is I'm really hoping he never reads this. Ian agrees, so if he does, I'd like him to know that Ian thought the restaurant was nothing short of extraordinary and will be highly recommending it to everyone he knows.

P.S. Don't let the waitress talk you into a specialty cocktail. They taste worse than a melted tropical concoction from Fat Tuesdays. And, if you still want to come, do so before 7:30 or you won't even be able to have a conversation with yourself. I'd like to leave you with an excerpt from his own website:

"Guests can dine on Italian-American food while watching his favorite movies and listening to classic R&B and classic rock on a sound system that rivals that of South Beach’s hottest clubs. This rare talent has allowed him to create an ambiance that attracts a clientele that ranges from a local, sexy, hip crowd to entertainment’s hottest celebrities. This family-run business is the only venue that has managed to create a modern and cool atmosphere while maintaining that welcome-to-the-family vibe."


Tonight's Food Ratings (remember, value is taken into consideration):
Meatball: 6
Pigs Feet: 8
Eggplant Stack: 4.5
Gnocchi with White Sauce: 5
Stuffed Peppers: 5.5
Carbonara: 4.5


Pigs Feet
Eggplant Stack

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Du Par's downtown and Silk Road on the Strip are two totally different restaurants. One is ordinary and predictable, the other is hip and refined. What do they have in common? Great pancakes. I don't usually order pancakes when going out for breakfast on account of the carb and sugar content, but I am certainly a fan and have been feasting on them lately because of these restaurants.

Du Par's is a better than average chain diner restaurant at The Golden Gate, a place that prides itself on being the oldest hotel in Vegas (they claim to have had the first telephone number in the city) and 'home to the 99 cent shrimp cocktail' (which is now $1.99). Although Du Par's bakes all its pastries in house daily (you can watch this process on a TV outside) and pays more attention to vegetables than similar places, the only real reason to come here is for the pancakes ($7.75 for a short stack, $2.50 for one). There's nothing fancy about them, but they're f'***ing delicious without any bells or whistles, save for the homemade preserves available in strawberry, peach, or boysenberry. They must use some combination of baking soda, baking powder, and carbonated water because they puff up into a spongy, kind of chewy consistency that is light yet hearty, and absolutely irresistible. Butter is definitely involved because they even manage to get a little crispiness around the edges. Yum!

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Silk Road, a funky place in Vdara that would have found a welcome place at a Ritz Carlton on the Jetson's. They used to be open for dinner but due to heavy competition from their City Center neighbors' restaurants you can now only dine here for breakfast and lunch. Unlike Du Par's there are plenty of reasons besides the pancakes for dining here, but for the purpose of this review we'll concentrate on Silk Road's blueberry ricotta interpretation of this breakfast favorite. These were unusually executed and plated so beautifully that they deserve an award for bringing fine dining elements to the first meal of the day. The pancakes ($14) were more cake-like than those at Du Pars and had been baked in mini pans, giving them a crispy exterior all the way around. It seemed very French. Accompaniments included orange blossom syrup, honeycomb butter, whipped cream, fresh blueberries and, my favorite, candied rose petals. We also ordered a turkey hash that was excellent and ethereal ham and cheese beignets served with an Indian tomato chutney (sounds weird but trust me, they're fantastic). Silk Road does for breakfast what Steve Wynn did for Vegas - making it better by pushing the envelope and inundating it with class. All I have to say is move over Payard's....

Though you pay through the nose at Silk Road (let me mention that I passed on the $10 coffee) the atmosphere and menu undoubtedly make it stand out much more than Du Pars. This is a place to take your friends from out of town, and Du Pars is a place to go on a lazy weekend morning. Bottom line, both have really good pancakes. You get more bang for your buck at Du Pars but Silk Road will offer you the most interesting breakfast you've probably ever had.

Honeycomb Butter and Orange Blossom Syrup

Breakfast Beignets

Interior of Silk Road

Private dining room

Baking TV at Du Pars

Ian by a replica of the first telephone in Vegas

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Slidin' Thru

Slidin' Thru owner Ric describes his 'Slider Truck' as 'Vegas’ first and only premier mobile restaurant, serving gourmet sliders made from the freshest ingredients.' Using social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook he is able to let his customers know where he'll be parking for lunch that day, or if there has been a last minute change to the schedule because he's been booted from his post. His truck has already become the talk of the town and he's only been open since Spring, so plan on a line when you come. His colorful comic strip ride is fun to look at while you wait, but if you try to stay out of the sun when its 100 degrees out, I'd suggest coming after summer. At one point Ian and I had been semi serious about starting our own food truck, but the realization we would be in a confined space with limited AC and a flat top in the middle of summer stopped us dead in our tracks. I give Ric and his crew major points for facing this challenge, so I suppose the least we can do is wait a few minutes for a few of his tasty creations.

The day I faced the heat I tried the Pep Pep, the Yaya, and the Pulled Porkie, of which the latter was my favorite. The pork was tender and not shredded to death, and the tangy, spicy barbecue sauce bathed it well. The caramelized jalapeno was a nice touch. The Pep Pep was good but ordinary, something like an In-n-Out Burger with a special sauce moving more in the direction of tartar than Russian. The Yaya, a Greek inspired slider with feta, red onion, tomato, and taziki felt healthier than it was on account of the sharpness from the white wine vinaigrette dressing the lettuce. The flavors are great, but perhaps lamb for the meat instead of angus would have been better.

I can understand the constraints on using more expensive proteins, however, because his sliders are very affordable. You can get one for $3, two for $5, or three for $7. I would be willing to try any of his other sliders, but next time will pass on the limp sweet potato fries, $3. They're tossed with cinnamon and sugar, which I believe would make for a better seasoning if the sugar were replaced with salt. The sweet potatoes offer all the sugar you need, and if that's still not enough then you can munch on the whimsical fun pack of skittles Ric puts alongside your sliders.

It seems the young people starting unique food businesses in Vegas are favoring burgers. I'd much rather have these businesses than not, but it would be great if someone could come out with something a little different. Hopefully this is just the beginning of the food truck trend in Vegas and the next mobile chefs will explore other possibilities for fun, fast food. I have no doubt that Slidin' Thru will be able to hold onto the burger market for years to come, but there is still plenty of room for mobile catering growth. I look forward to seeing what kind of food truck comes next!

Today's Food Ratings:
Pulled Porkie: 8.5
Yaya: 8
Pep Pep: 7
Sweet Potato Fries: 5.5


Pulled Porkie


Pep Pep

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cruise to Europe

I'm back from the Mediterranean and before I get back into blogging for the benefit of Vegas diners I'd like to share some of the wonderful foods I ate on the trip.

We started the cruise in Athens, where I had a spanakopita that trumped all others. It had layer upon layer of flaky filo and the filling was made from fresh spinach and authentic feta. (O Platanos Taverna at 4 Diogenes)

Jacque Pepin was responsible for creating the dining experience on our ship, the MS Nautica. Not all the food was amazing, but this perfectly executed consomme was a highlight. It is incredibly difficult to give a broth so much flavor while maintaining its clarity. I also loved the added crunch from the julienne of leeks and carrots, and preferred these to the unneccesary chicken quenelles.

After Greece and Turkey we headed to Italy, a country I had the pleasure of living in and eating throughout during my junior year of college. In Portofino we enjoyed a fantastic sea urchin pasta at Il Guarancino, an open air restuarant on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

Though my Italian was rustier than I had hoped, I was still able to communicate enough to land us at the best restaurant of the trip. This was in Livorno, a port town not on the agenda of most tourists. This second meal overlooking the sea was absolutely amazing, which was no surprise since we were the only non-Italians there and every table was full within fifteen minutes of their opening time. We had a tender octopus salad that reminded me exactly of one I had the home of my Italian roommate, which was followed by a baby gnocchi pasta with mussels in a pesto cream sauce. I had to restrain myself from consuming the entirety of the latter to save room for the mixed grill of langostines, squid, and shrimp that perfectly highlighted the inherent flavors of the impossibly fresh seafood. I will go out of my way completely to eat at this restaurant again. L'Ostricaio is unforgettable.

In Livorno we also went to a market where we had a snack of parma prociutto, baguette, and REAL pesto. I loved watching Ian discover why creamy pesto from the Ligurian sea is better than any other. It is said that the breeze that comes in from the sea and the terroir of the land make the basil incomparable to any other. Sadly after consuming it you can't truly enjoy pesto elsewhere.

Though the best pesto and pasta come from Italy, the best desserts come from France. These stewed figs with caramel ice cream at Chez Feraud in Aix in Provence were to die for.

Last stop - Barcelona. This particular plate of pata negra ham had us swooning. It was twice as good and half the price of the plate offered at Juian Serrano in Aria. (Can Majo in Barcelonetta)

The most unique thing we had on the trip was a plate of sea barnacles, which look like mini dragon claws. These are the sexiest things you can pull off a shipwreck, and you pay for the experience. You rip the 'fingers' open to pull out the meat, and then crack the little 'nail' like a crab claw to enjoy the tender part you see my dad holding up. (Botafumeiro on Gran de Gracia)

We couldn't leave Spain without paella, and this version (at the same restaurant we had the barnacles) was exceptional. It had the important crusty layer at the bottom of the pan, the ingredients were of excellent quality, the flavor was rich, and the texture was creamy.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I'm sorry I haven't posted anything recently but I am on a big family cruise in the Mediterranean expanding my taste buds. I'll have lots of fabulous meals to post when I get back in about a week, as well as reviews on Slider Truck, Du-pars, and EK bistro as well as some Crystals restaurants inlcluding Wolfgang's Pizzeria and Todd English's P.U.B. Thanks for your patience!