Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Last week my dad and I went to get a snack at Penang, the Malaysian restaurant located in the same shopping center as Shuseki and Hue Thai. Malaysian cuisine is the result of the convergence of many cultures, including those of China, India, Eurasia, and Nyonya, as well as the indigenous people of Borneo. The country's unique historical heritage has thus resulted in producing an exotic cuisine heavily laden with aromatic herbs, roots, and spices.

I had eaten at Penang a couple of times prior to this visit and everything was pretty good. I most enjoyed the roti canai ($3.50) and kang kung ($9.95) so that is what we ordered, in addition to chicken and beef satay skewers ($6.95). The roti canai (pictured above) is a fry bread served with a beef and potato curry dipping sauce. I love the presentation of what is essentially a pancake formed into a pillow, because as you make your first tear, a burst of steam emerges from within and fills your nostrils with fragrant goodness. The curry dipping sauce is flavored well from the beef and myriad of spices, which combine to give it a sweet (but not sugary) taste. The value is terrific to boot. To balance out the fried roti canai, a vegetable is recommended. I love the kang kung, an Asian green that looks like like long strands of tubular baby spinach. Here you can order it with spicy shrimp paste or dried shrimp, but I love it simply sauteed with garlic. It's a nice change from the standard vegetables on most American menus. I know it seems kind of pricey for a vegetable, but you do get a large portion and sadly eating healthily often costs more. My recommendation would be to go during lunch hours, Monday through Friday, to take advantage of their specials, which include kang kung for half the price as well as numerous other items from their lengthy menu. The satay here aren't as good as they should be, considering the fact they are a Malaysian specialty and recommended dish at Penang. They are charred nicely and have a good, caramelized flavor, but the meats aren't of great quality. The chicken satays are made from thigh meat (a tender yet fatty cut) that was somewhat dried out from the cooking in this case,, and the beef was a bit tough, so I don't think I'll be ordering this again. I will say the peanut sauce was tasty, but a touch on the oily side.

If you haven't tried Malaysian food this is a great place to have your first experience, so grab hold of their neon orange chopsticks and enjoy!

Today's dish ratings:
Roti Canai: 9
Kang Kung: 8
Satay: 6.5

Restaurant Rating: 6.5


Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Last week we had a firey dinner at Gandhi, our favorite Indian restaurant in town. Although other Indian eateries in Vegas have their strong points, Gandhi wins it for us because of their sauces, consistency, atmosphere, and overall value. They have recently renovated the interior, which has really changed the whole feel of the restaurant and made it a place you can suggest for a special occasion or a first date (if you saw it before you would know why you couldn't do so in the past). There are semi-secluded alcoves that are intimate enough for a private party or group, an abundance of beautifully carved wood, and improved pieces of art on the walls.

Besides the friendly, attentive service and attractive new decor, the food is what keeps us coming back. We usually go for their fantasatic lunch buffet ($13.99), which has about four different meat options, including lamb on Friday's, and plenty of incredible vegetable dishes. Even though it is more than the $10 per person mark we target for lunch, it's definitely worth it as evidenced by the crowds at peak times. This time we came for dinner, which is also desirable because you can choose whatever you're in the mood for. As soon as you sit down you are given papadom (caraway seasoned lentil crackers) with a sweet tamarind sauce and a spicy mint and cilantro sauce. I challenge you not to eat the whole basket. We tend to order the same things (gosht vindaloo and mushroom mattar) but the bill can add up with all the extras such as naan, raita, and rice. This time in the interest of trying a variety of items and saving a little money Ian stuck with the gosht vindaloo (heat level of 10 - oh my gosht!) but I ordered the vegetable thali ($19.95), which comes with all the extras, as well as an appetizer, three small vegetarian dishes and dessert. The appetizer is vegetable pakora, which are fritters made with caulifower, potatoes, eggplant, onions, and spinach. I would have ordered them anyways because I LOVE these flavorful fried morsels dusted with a seasoning that puts them over the top. They always come out piping and the portion for the combo dinner is the same size as the a la carte version (only $3.50), so we weren't even able to finish them and still save room for our entrees. The Aloo Gobi (seasoned caulifower) and Saag (Indian spiced creamed spinach) that came with my dinner were delicious and an explosion of flavor as always. I find it totally perplexing how Indians can cook vegetables to death and still make them taste amazing. It just goes to show you with the right spice blend anything is possible!

If you have ever made Indian food you know how time consuming it is to toast and grind all the spices, which is the only way to get those pungent flavors. For this reason I've only made an Indian dish once, and although it turned out well, the exhaustion associated with it has led us to try out nearly every Indian restaurant in Vegas. Gandhi is our personal favorite, but here is a breakdown of pluses and minuses of other Indian restaurants:

Bollywood Grill
Pluses: Lentil soup, selection of Indian desserts
Minuses: Use of frozen vegetables, mediocre lunch buffet

India Oven
Pluses: lots of vegetarian options in buffet, unique dishes
Minuses: use of frozen vegetables, sauces hit or miss

Origin India
Pluses: sophisticated "fusion" dishes
Minuses: expensive, limited and overpriced lunch buffet that isn't very good

Mt. Everest
Pluses: great naan, inexpensive lunch buffet
Minuses: atmosphere, limited selection for lunch buffet

Today's Food Ratings:
Gosht Vindaloo: 9.25 (the lamb isn't gamey at all)
Gandhi Thali: 9
Vegetable Pakora: 9.5

Restaurant Rating: 8

Tip: There is a 15% off coupon that is always available on Gandhi's website.

Vegetable Pakora

Gandhi Thali (back row: saag and aloo gobi, front row: paneer mattar and dahl)



Cottage Cheese Desert (don't knock it til you try it)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Marche Bacchus

On Sunday Ian and I went to another picture perfect lakeside brunch in Desert Shores, this time at Marche Bacchus. I am falling in love with this commecial center's 'restaurant row' each time we go, as I find it a much needed escape from our natural desert landscape (the desert has it's beauty, but the life that flourishes in and amongst this artificial oasis is a refreshing change). The beautiful weather this time of year certainly makes this particular outdoor eatery more appealing, but the food makes it worthy of a return no matter the season.

Although I have eaten at Marche Bacchus a handful of times within the past few years, I hadn't been back recently because the old chef seemed to let things slip. The new chef, however, has revived this hot spot for traditional French cuisine, and a decorator has stepped in and made the cafe/wine store into a place you can easily spend a few hours in. Since this location is becoming a popular place to host weddings, today we tried something old and something new, something cold and something, well, pink.

There were actually two something olds, the french onion soup ($8) and the moulles frites (or steamed mussels with fries, $15). The French onion soup was served traditionally in a brown and white clay bowl textured by crisp gruyere baked around its edges. The veal stock was rich and seemed salty at first, but as the soup began to cool from its bubbling state the flavors emerged revealing a layer of acidity we intially mistook for overseasoning. It was definitely one of those dishes that gets better and better the more you eat. Sadly, however, the moules weren't as impressive. Although the mussels were cooked well, the broth was weak and didn't coat them enough to give any additional flavor. It was served in the appropriate cast iron vessel, but this pot was really too small to allow you to get the liquid in each bite. The frittes on the other hand were teriffic, but I would have preferred a traditional aoli as an accompaniment rather than plain old American ketchup.

The something cold was the Lobster Avocado Croissant ($12), which was incredibly difficult to find any fault with. The buttery and golden brown croissant was light (can light be used to describe a croissant?), but despite this was not overpowered by the lobster filling. There is no mayonnaise used in the salad, according to the waiter, making the dish all the more impressive as there is a definite creaminess to it. The salad was composed of big chunks of lobster bound by less desirable (yet still tasty) knuckle meat enhanced with crunchy, finely chopped celery and shallots. It was served with a delicately dressed salad that upped the fresh factor and colored the plate.

The something new was the sake Bloody Mary ($9.50) Ian had, which rivaled that of Hash House for the best in town (note: they don't use vodka at March Bacchus because they only have a wine and beer license). This one doesn't have the jalapeno stuffed olives and tangy cornichons, but it does contain an ample amount of real horseradish that gives an unexpected punch, differing greatly from the usual tobasco and black pepper that give heat to most (think spiked cocktail sauce). The something pink was my Kir Royale ($8) which was a relative bargain but a touch on the sweet side for my taste. It didn't matter though, becuase the color looked so beautiful in contrast to the background of blue sky and green palm fronds (see below).

To top off the lovely meal, the service was wonderful. Our waiter even brought over a heat lamp to combat the mild, cool breeze without us having to ask. I could have done without the artificial strand of sunflowers that wrapped the bridge, but I guess the whole scene is fairly artificial so it didn't bother me too much. The ambiance actually adds tremendously to the meal, because despite the faux flowers and what not, you are surrounded by running water, several turtles, large carp, and the beautiful black swan you may remember from the Garfield's review. If you come here I insist you pick a day when the weather is just right and make the most of the money you're spending by lingering over a deliciously beautiful afternoon.

Today's Food Ratings:
French Onion Soup: 8.5
Avocado and Lobster Croissant: 8.5
Moules: 6.5
Frittes: 8

Today's Drink Ratings:
Bloody Mary: 9.5
Kir Royal: 7.5

Restaurant Rating: 8

Would we go back? OUI OUI

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Original Pancake House

On Friday I went to brunch with one of my favorite dining companions, my dad, to talk shop. We have been eating here together for a long time, and the OPH was also a favorite breakfast place in high school (how I miss those days of eating everything in sight and not gaining a pound). I know the Original Pancake House is pretty well known around town, and I'm sure a lot of people reading this have dined there at least once (with mixed reviews), but I feel I can give a fair assesment of the best dishes on (and off) the menu, so I'd like to share them. You really do have to know what to order here, since not everything is as good as the pancakes (i.e the eggs benedict - go to Payard's for this).

I feel the omelets are the best option, which is one reason anti-omelet Ian would rather go to the Egg and I (he's a 'breakfast skillet' kind of guy). The omelets here are tremendous, both in flavor and size. I love that if you have a willing dining companion you can split one and both be completely satiated for a reasonable price. Normally I opt for the Western or the spicy Fiesta omelet, but this time we had the Irish, which included their home made corned beef hash and cheddar cheese enveloped in fluffy eggs. It was scrumptious, and might be my new favorite. Since the omelets come with a side of pancakes or toast, I always get pancakes (who would get toast?) and I ALWAYS upgrade to something more interesting than the ordinary plain cakes. This gets more expensive if you are ordering alone here (not recommended, you'll get to look like the people around you), but if you are sharing, it is totally worth it. I really like the blueberry and coconut varieties, but this time we shared something particularly indulgent, bacon AND chocolate chip pancakes, served with nothing less than freshly whipped cream. This is not on the menu, and the waitress might look at you funny (as ours did) but I promise you'll like it. It is reminiscent of the Voges chocolate bar, Mo's Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar (also highly recommended), and packs a powerful punch with a few of Earth's finest offerings - sugar, flour, bacon, whipped cream, and of course, chocolate. I'm actually not a chocoholic by any means, but these pancakes steer me in that direction. If you're in the mood to be sinful, these will make you feel like the devil. You can wash it all down with a glass of freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, which are much better than juices offered at any other off-strip breakfast places.

To summarize, come here for the omelets, pancakes, corned beef hash, and juice - nothing else is that good.

Today's Food Rating:
Omelet: 8.5
Pancakes: 8.5

Restaurant Rating: 5.5

Would I come back?: DO CHICKENS LAY EGGS?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Los Angeles

Earlier this week Ian and I made an impromptu trip to LA to get away from the pollen and try out some new restaurants. The first stop on our self-made food tour was Bombay Cafe, which was not actually planned but is close to my parents' Brentwood abode and therefore a tempting alternative to driving anywhere else. We really wouldn't have gone there again under normal circumstances because sadly the once great Indian restaurant is going down hill, a fact which our latest meal confirmed. We actually sent back our main entree, the lamb vindaloo, because the flavor profile had changed dramatically and not for the better.

The next day we moved on to the first planned stop, Zankou Chicken, which was recommended by my foodie friend Audrey. Zankou is actually a chain of eight fast food restaurants in the LA area, and their specialty is marinated rotisserie chicken with crispy skin. They have been praised in publications such as the New York Times, LA Magazine, Fodor's and the Seattle times, and for good reason. We had the Chicken Tarna Wrap ($5.39), which consisted of the delicious shredded chicken and tomatoes nestled in a warm pita that is spread with their fantastic garlic sauce. I think we may opt for the 1/4 chicken ($7.99) next time, however, because the chicken in the wrap is flame-broiled and I don't believe it is ever put on their famous rotisserie (not a huge mistake, but frustrating to realize that after). The wrap was still worth coming back for and the prices are great, so I would certainly hit up Zankou Chicken again for a quick meal. Audrey said that we then had to go around the corner to a Lebanese restaurant called Sunnin to get the best hummus and tabouleh, even though both of these traditional foods are offered at Zankou. She was absolutely right. The hummus ($5.50), or rather hommos, at Sunnin was the best I've ever had, with a perfect balance of ingredients and an addictive velvety texture. The tabouleh ($7.95) was also a hit, and I liked how the bulgar still had a bit of crunch. The portion size is huge, considering how much time it takes to chop that much parsley, but it is a really healthy dish so you can eat all you want. We also got the kebbeh makliyeh ($7.95), which is ground meat and bulgar stuffed with minced beef, onions and pine nuts, and deep fried to a dark brown. It would be quite interesting for me to find out how they are able to get the stuffing perfectly situated into the outer layer of beef before it is fried into a football shape, because I'm sure a lot of experience is needed to get the form just right. It wasn't our favorite dish of the day but it was still very good, and tasted like a beef donut - a plus, and a minus.

Chicken Tarna Wrap

Kebbeh Makliyeh



After allowing enough time to get hungry again we went to a restaurant in Venice that is incredibly popular right now, Gjelina. We found it as we were researching restaurants on the drive from Vegas, but when we called to make a reservation for the same night the only time available was ten o'clock (on a Monday!). We were able to get a reservation at six the next night, so we took it. The place has a funky decor described by the person sitting a little too close to me as 'industrial farmhouse,' or something to that effect. There is a cool chandelier over the bar made from a hanging pot rack with different kinds of light bulbs, and the rest of the restaurant is comprised of dark stained woods with steel accents. The food isn't cheap, but it is reasonable for what you get, and everything came out of the kitchen looking incredibly appetizing. We ordered the charcuterie plate ($12), presented adorably on a wooden board studded with four kinds of Italian style meats, pate, house-made pickled cukes and onions, olives, Dijon and whole grain mustard, and a fruity compote. The bread it was served with was grilled to the state of a crunchy cracker with a little give, and our only complaint was that there weren't enough slices. We could have used some more mustard and compote as well. The steamed mussels ($13) were excellent, and included house made chorizo with tomato confit. I appreciated tremendously that the chef took the time to purge the mussels before cooking them, meaning that he added flour to a water bath housing the mussels to remove any sand and plump them up. This is a step not many restaurants take, but it makes a world of difference. The piece d' resistance, and interestingly enough the best dish of the trip, was the charred brussels sprouts with dates, bacon, and vinegar ($8, pictured at the top). They were like vegetable candy with a light syrupy coating that contrasted beautifully with the charred exterior of the sprouts. These would make any child eat their vegetables, without question. We will absolutely come back here on our next trip, but will plan ahead of time so we can be sure to get a table. (Note: the only downside is that they serve beer and wine only and the cheapest glass available is $12)

Our final stop on the way home was the Wood Spoon downtown, where we had been wanting to go ever since we saw it featured on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," a new show on the Food Network. The particular dish featured on the show was the Brazilian Chicken Pot Pie ($12), so that's what we got. I will say it was the best pot pie I've ever had, with a browned flaky crust, interesting yet familiar flavor, and a thick but not too heavy gravy. Ian missed the peas and carrots from his grandma Mama Ginny's pot pie, but the corn in this pie added precisely the right amount of sweetness that you usually get from other vegetables. I'm sure Mama Ginny's is just as good (or maybe better) since she is a great cook who specializes in foods that are especially heart stopping and rich with love. Therefore, I won't say this is the best in the chicken pot pie in the World, but it's certainly a contender. We also got the coxhina ($7) which were very similar in form to the kebbeh makliyeh at Sunnin. The flavors were much different, of course, and this one consisted essentially of what is the pot pie filling (wouldn't have ordered them had I know that) engulfed in a thick batter and deep fried in the shape of fat tear drops rather than little footballs. The mayonnaise based cilantro dipping sauce, which also comes with the pot pie (in case you were missing more fat in your meal) was soothing and had a nice consistency, but the heat resided more in the interior of the coxhina, which I found interesting. Normally the sauce holds the fire, but this sauce was more of an antidote to the peppery interior of the coxhina. I can't vouch for the rest of the menu, since these are the most popular dishes, but I've read on Yelp that other items are hit or miss. To be on the safe side I would stick with the pot pie and drink copious amounts of the water flavored by either cinnamon sticks or orange peel that comes to your table, free of charge (nice touch!).


Coxhina interior

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie interior

Friday, March 26, 2010

Marnee Thai

The other day went to Marnee Thai on Spring Mountain for lunch, since we had been years ago and enjoyed their spicy catfish. We decided to order from the lunch special menu, partly to save money and partly because the waiter didn't hand us the full menu, which we later found out is always available.

Ian had the Chicken Larb ($6.50) and I had the Spicy Basil Shrimp ($7.50). Both came with soup (pretty bland), salad (kind of), fried rice (shouldn't be called fried), an egg roll (no thanks) and a fried cream cheese purse (mediocre but crispy). For prices this low you really can't complain much about the unexciting and standard sides, but there are some other things you can complain about. The portion of Ian's larb, for example, was almost laughable (see below) and it wasn't served with a wedge of crunchy cabbage as it should have been. The flavor was good, however, just not as good as the larb at Lotus. My shrimp was of a more reasonable portion size, with a count of six fairly large and fresh shrimp. The shrimp had a nice snap to them (a good sign) and the extra veggies I asked for were crisp (come to think of it, maybe the portion was only bigger because I asked them to add vegetables).

Now, I love spicy food but my level eight dish was much hotter than Ian's level ten larb (see all the chilies and jalapenos below that were left over). Though heat levels can vary amongst chilies, this kind of inconsistency is not a good thing. I will say, however, that we REALLY appreciated the use of actual Thai chilies in the food, which hardly any Thai restaurants in America use, including Lotus of Siam. Usually ordinary red chili flakes are used for heat, which does allow a restaurant to better control how hot a dish is, but doesn't impart the essential flavor found in authentic Thai food. Thai chilies are delicious, and not too hot when used in moderation and for flavor - we had them everywhere in Thailand and were not overwhelmed.

Overall the meal was alright, and better because of the price. I wouldn't go out of my way to eat here, but I might stop in again and try out the regular menu since lunch specials don't ordinarily highlight the best dishes of a restaurant.

Today's food ratings:
Larb lunch special: 6
Shrimp lunch special: 6.5

Restaurant Rating: 5 (slow service, drab dining room)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dinner at Home: Steak with Chimichurri

Sunday I prepared a dinner of grilled steak with bacon chimichurri and a grilled romaine salad. I got the recipes from Food and Wine and was happy with the results, so I thought I'd share them since they are very simple (except for the chimichurri which was too vinegary anyway - liked the bacon but another recipe for it would be better). The marinade was a cup of red wine, 8 cloves of crushed garlic, two sprigs each of rosemary and thyme (roughly chopped), one finely chopped small red onion and two tablespoons olive oil. Make sure to let the steak sit refrigerated in the marinade for at least four hours, turning over once, but allow it to come to room temperature before grilling to ensure even cooking. The salad dressing was also fantastic and very simple. It consisted of the cloves from one head of roasted garlic (cut off top of garlic head, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, wrap in foil and bake until sweet and tender, about 25 minutes), 1/4 cup buttermilk, juice from one juicy lemon, half a cup of olive oil, and salt and pepper. Combine in a food processor. For the salad grill halved heads of romaine for 2-3 minutes, pour dressing on top, and shave manchego cheese on top. So easy yet so delicious! I served it with Near East Whole Grain blend of roasted pecan and garlic. I'll definitely make this again as we are approaching BBQ season.


Last week Ian and I chose a random new restaurant to try, which happened to be in the same Chinatown strip mall as a few other places we like to go (Hue Thai, Penang, and Provence Bakery). The name of the Japanese restaurant is Shuseki (no website, 5115 Spring Mountain #117) and we were thrilled to make the discovery since from the street you wouldn't see it nestled in southwest corner of the first floor. Though the decor is unexciting and kind of tacky with amateur pictures of specials on the wall, our hostess/waitress was polite and efficient and we immediately felt comfortable. The first thing that appealed to me when we sat down was the layout of the menu, which has mini pictures of each dish so you know exactly what you're getting. I love to be adventurous in ordering, but it's always great to know you'll be spending money on something you'll enjoy. Also, because the pictures are small, it is easy enough to look at every dish so you can make your selection amongst the 179 items.

Since they have a sushi bar we decided to order hamachi sashimi to see how fresh their fish was. The sashimi ($7.99 for 5 pieces) was not the best I'd ever had, but it was certainly fresh and had a subtle but good flavor. The rolls all looked pretty drab and mainstream, so we decided against ordering any of them, even though the prices were reasonable. After the sashimi we had two dishes prepared in a way I had previously thought was only done at Raku, the authentic and superb Japanese restaurant down the street. These were what I like to call "Japanese tapas," or mini items that are cooked on a robata grill. We had the Bacon and Asparagus (#64, $1.50) and the Korobuta Sausage (#67, $1.50), both of which were excellent and a terrific value. Though the selection of items like these isn't as wide as it is at Raku, the prices are lower and the quality is comparable.

The real show stopper of the meal was the Spicy Pork Miso Ramen soup (#151, $7.99). This soup was so richly flavored and delicious (yet still light) that we found it nearly impossible to put down our spoons. The spicy ground pork, miso, and ample sprinkling of sesame seeds enhanced the broth tremendously, and the bean sprouts, scallions, and coddled egg gave added texture. The noodles added another dimension, and were fresh and chewy (not at all overcooked). Ramen noodles are wheat based noodles, which I personally prefer to rice noodles because they can stand up to the temperature of a big bowl of hot soup for a longer period of time. In my opinion, they also taste better. This soup was the best I've had in a long time, and ranks up there in comfort with my mom's chicken matzo ball soup. Unlike Jewish penicillin, however, this soup has some heat, which is great for clearing your nostrils of all the nasty pollen this time of year. If you are not a spice lover, they have seven other kinds of ramen to choose from, as well as four kinds of udon. I can't vouch for any of these, but based on what we had I'd be willing to try any of them.

Today's Dish Ratings:
Hamachi Sashimi: 7
Bacon and Asparagus: 9
Korobuta Sausage: 9
Spicy Pork Miso Ramen: 9.5

Restaurant Rating: 7.5


Korobuta Sausage (there was a third piece but Ian ate it before I took my picture)

Hamachi Sashimi

Asparagus and Bacon

Havana Grill

Last weekend Ian and I went to lunch at Havana Grill in Green Valley, which we consider to be the best Cuban restaurant in Vegas. It is a bit of a haul for us considering that its sister restaurant, Florida Cafe, is located less than ten minutes from our house, but the food at Havana Grill is a lot better for some reason and therefore worth the drive. Though the service isn't super speedy, you are perfectly occupied with slices of buttered and grilled cuban bread you will need to restrain yourself from finishing. After limiting myself to one piece (ok, one and a half), I had my favorite dish, the insalada playera ($10 for lunch), which I was glad to see served on a regular plate rather than the ridiculous and impractical shell-shaped bowl it previously was served in. This salad contains small succulent shrimp, ripe avocado, baby tomatoes, roasted red bell peppers, and sliced red onion atop a bed of beautifully assembled mixed field greens, and is served with a mojo dressing that is wonderfully pungent with lemon and garlic. It reminds me of a salad you can get at a good cafe in California where fresh and healthful ingredients parallel intense flavor and a sense of hearty satisfaction. I have no complaints whatsoever about the salad because it is exactly the kind of food I like to enjoy. If you are looking for something a bit more filling without feeling stuffed, however, you should get what Ian got, the pollo alla plancha ($10 for lunch). This is a thinly pounded chicken breast grilled to perfection and served with sauteed onions. The onions could definitely be sauteed longer to get some nice caramelization, but the chicken is great and the accompanying 'moros y cristianos' (black beans and white rice) are to die for! The flavors of the latter meld together with bits of tender pork to create a Cuban staple you'll want to eat over and over again.

Another item we usually get is the Cuban sandwich. In case you've never had one, a Cuban sandwich consists of sliced ham, roast pork, pickles, and swiss cheese pressed on a white Cuban bread loaf spread with mustard until it is warm and melty. The version here is well-executed and tasty, and, although I've had better in New York, we haven't found another in town that compares. They offer it in a half size as well, which would be enough for an appetizer for two or a small meal.

Although the food prices here are fairly reasonable for what you get (dinner gets more expensive), drink prices are absolutely not. Even the Strip can't get away with charging $6 for a Miller Lite, unless perhaps you are at one of the best restaurants, and they generally don't even serve Miller Lite. Even worse, the beer at Havana Grill doesn't come to the table icy cold. Perhaps they are trying to give you a taste for authentic Cuban refrigeration temperatures, but at these prices I want refrigeration you can expect at a Ritz Carlton (or any decent bar). Anyhow, just thought I should let you know what you're in for before you get the bill.

Today's Dish Ratings:
Insalada Playera: 8.5
Pollo alla Plancha: 9

Restaurant Rating: 7


Lola's is a friendly little Louisiana kitchen that resides in the old Holsum bread factory off the 15 and Charleston. Ian and I eagerly anticipated dining at this restaurant long before it opened since it is close to home and we were regulars at the restaurants of the two previous occupants, The Grill (miss those salads) and Bistro Divino (miss those pine nut cookies). I hope the third time is a charm for this location since Vegas is missing good Southern cuisine and because the owner, Lola (AKA Beth), is as sweet as the splendid sugary yams you may have the privilege of enjoying if she happens to have some on hand or if you specially order them.

I think this was our 8th or 9th time dining here since it opened last year, and although everything is pretty good, we tend to stick with our favorites. To start we had the craw puppies ($5.99), deep fried morsels of crawfish and cornmeal batter served with an addictively spicy aoli. These are a wonderful way to start the meal and a unique creation of this particular restaurant. For my entree I ordered the shrimp remoulade salad ($8.99), which is the simplest and healthiest dish on the menu, but perhaps also the most underrated. It consists of plenty of perfectly poached shrimp served on a bed of romaine lettuce, accompanied by tomatoes, quartered hard-boiled egg, and lemon wedges (be sure to squeeze them over the shrimp for the proper acidic component). The remoulade dressing made with whole grain mustard and mayonnaise really makes the dish stand out, and the salad is a refreshing antidote to the heavier items that pervade the menu. Ian got the bronzed catfish with grits ($14.99), that he always opts to have blackened rather than the aforementioned bronzed preparation. It is wonderful when you can have catfish that actually tastes good, and Lola's does an excellent job. Ian tends to douse it in the Louisiana Gold hot sauce (the real deal), but it is certainly delicious on its own. The plate hits on all cylinders, and the only change that could be made would be the addition of a bit more cheese in the grits to add some saltiness.

Even though I didn't get it this time, I would also suggest the rich and flavorful gumbo, properly prepared with a dark roux and plenty of sausage and seafood. It's a cup of Southern goodness, though you might want to ask for it extra hot since sometimes is doesn't come out the way I personally prefer which is best described as "burn the roof of your mouth off hot." The baked oyster appetizer is another hit, and please don't forget to ask about those caramelized and gooey yams to round out the meal. The Purple Haze Abita beer ($4.25) is also a must to complete the experience. On the downside, I haven't been too impressed with the po-boys as they are heavy on the bread and the steak wasn't too well-received by Ian's best friend and fellow chef Jason. Boiled crawfish are now temporarily offered on the menu, however, which I anticipate will be terrific and look forward to trying next time so I can compare them to Hot n' Juicy.

It is evident from your first visit that Lola's serves up authentic Louisiana fare prepared with love and a genuine desire to make bellies happy. Although the food is not as refined as that of the late Commander's Palace where Ian used to work, you can certainly imagine it coming out of your grandmother's fragrant kitchen, should she happen to be from New Orleans. The yummy food, homey atmosphere of the restaurant, and Beth's smiling face keep us coming back time and again, and I hope we don't see any more restaurants in this space.

Tonight's Dish Ratings:

Crawpuppies: 7.5
Bronzed (but in this case blackened) Catfish and Grits: 8.5
Shrimp Remoulade Salad: 7.5
Special Yams (not ordered tonight but worth rating): 9

Restaurant Rating: 7.5

Would we go back?: Yes Ma'am

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Rating System

I have decided to change my rating system in order to give a better idea of what to expect at each restaurant. Until this point I have been giving an average rating of all the food that was ordered on that day, which really doesn't let you know how each individual dish was rated, or what the overall caliber of the restaurant is. There are some places you go for one particular dish, but would not go otherwise, and there are some restaurants that are pretty great across the board. Therefore, the new system will rate each dish of the meal, and an additional rating will be included for the restaurant itself and the rest of its menu.

Individual dishes will be rated on a scale of one to ten, taking into consideration taste, presentation, creativity, and of course, value. There will be usually be several of these for each meal so an average of these would be the same as what is currently rated under "Today's Food Rating."

Restaurants will be also be rated on a scale of one to ten, and will be based on hospitality, ambiance, quality of ingredients used, and the average taste rating of all the dishes I've had there. This rating will not be based on value, and will almost always be lower than the rating of individual dishes since we usually know what we want to order before we go somewhere and we have our own preferences for certain foods we like to eat (i.e. Ian = steak and cheese, I = salads, vegetables, french fries, and seafood).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

China Mama's

Yesterday was my weekly Ladies Lunch with Lauren day, and we opted to go to China Mama on Spring Mountain and Jones, a spot initially recommended by another lovely lady and fanatical foodie, Audrey Chin, who you may recall as the birthday girl in the Wayne's Sushi review. Audrey and her entire family are bigger foodies than any others I know (if you remember Chin's restaurant in the Fashion Show mall no further explanation is needed) so we always write down every place they tell us about and make a point of going as soon as possible. Audrey is the one who told me about Raku, a restaurant I consider to embody the Frugal Foodie philosophy more than any other, so needless to say China Mama is a very good restaurant. It has been considered one of the top 100 Chinese restaurants in America, yet some dishes are certainly better than others.

A personal favorite, and also a favorite of Ian's and Lauren's, is the crispy beef, pictured above. The tender, scrumptious, and of course crispy morsels taste nutty and are beautifully caramelized with a sweet soy glaze. The addition of shredded carrots and thinly sliced celery truly adds to dish and make it all the more irresistible. Lauren and I also always get the scallion pancake, pictured below. This is a concoction best described as chewy layered dough studded with scallions that has been pan fried on the outside to give it a crispy crunch. Not everyone is a huge fan, as it is very simple and not pungent with flavor. In my opinion, however, the subtle taste makes it all the better, and a dab of soy sauce and vinegar gives it the little kick you're looking for. We also had the eggplant, listed under the vegetable category, to which we added broccoli for a textural difference and healthful component. The eggplant on it's own is delicious, but is pretty much saturated with oil (let's face it, most good eggplant dishes are) so the broccoli makes it a bit less heavy. All that oil really contributes to the blindingly glossy finish of the dish (as shown below), and as we all know, you eat with your eyes first. You probably shouldn't finish the plate, but as far as taste you won't be dissatisfied.

Another dish I've had several times here but that we didn't get today are the juicy pork buns, which aren't buns at all but rather dumplings stuffed with pork and broth. These have been applauded by food critics around Vegas, but in my opinion are over rated. If you are interested in the magic contained within such a concoction you have to go to Din Tai Fung on your next drive to or from LA. This restaurant is located in Arcadia and has the real deal. Their dumplings are constructed much better than those at China Mama, completely showing off the expertise of the cooks, and will give new meaning to the word dumpling. Once you go Fung, you'll never go back.

I apologize for not having the prices of the dishes we ordered, and I can't find them online, but our meal for two was $29 with a soda, so every item is roughly around $10. You can certainly get out of there for $20 for two people, however, and there were plenty of leftovers, even with two hungry mamas.

Today's Food Rating: 8
Ambiance: 7

Los Molcajetes

Today Ian and I went for the second time to a place that my brother recommended called Los Molcajetes (no website). This was our second time visiting this unassuming restaurant that is located on Eastern, a couple of miles north of the 95. The signature dishes are (not surprisingly) called 'los molcajetes', which is not so much a description of the food itself but the name of the vessel used to prepare and serve it, a Mexican mortar. Their use has been traced back to the Aztecs and Mayans who used them for crushing and grinding spices, but they are still common tools employed by Mexican cooks today. They function similarly to a cast iron skillet, becoming more seasoned with each use and imparting the cumulative flavors into the food. They also keep the food bubbling so you can eat at a leisurely pace as you continue to enjoy the food in its optimum state, nice and hot.

This is the only place I've had food prepared in this way, so unfortunately I can't make any comparisons, but I can say that it is very good and certainly worth the trip to a less desirable part of town. We have tried two different options, one with beef and one with chicken. The meat in both is of relatively high quality, but I agree with my brother's preference for the chicken ($12.99). The base of the dish is a flavorful and intensely colored red sauce that is laden with paprika (a little too much, perhaps), and is filled with your choice of meat or seafood as well as various other vegetable garnishes. These garnishes include nopales, or cactus (looks like a tongue coming out on the left hand side of the bowl pictured above), tomato, avocado, radishes, scallions, and a grilled jalapeno (watch out). There is also a wedge of lime, a cheese best described as Mexican feta, and a mini drink umbrella, which adds a whimsical touch. The chicken is roasted to tender perfection (see below), and tastes amazing on a warm flour tortilla. The broth has the right amount of heat, and is full of flavor, but Ian and I both agree that the meal could benefit from a few added elements. I liked the cheese, but it was fairly salty and dense for an already well-seasoned base. I think some crema, or Mexican sour cream, would have been the perfect antidote for the inherent flavors of the dish, and some rice, beans, and/or guacamole could have added to the texture. The meal was unique and tasted great, don't get me wrong, but got a tad boring to eat towards the end and need a little something to push it into the arena of "oh my god I have to come back and get this tomorrow." I noticed that you can order the molcajetes fajita style, however, so maybe I will try that next time and see what it comes with. I'll miss the little umbrella, but I've endured much more in the name of food.

Definitely try "Los Molcajetes" because it is a unique place in Vegas, the food is really tasty, and the price is right. One dish easily serves two, and with the purchase of 'molcajetes' you also get a free drink. We opted for Modelo Especial, a light Mexican beer that I strongly recommend (pictured below). For both of us the meal was less than $18 with two beers (we had to get an extra, of course), so it certainly fits the bill for the Frugal Foodie blog.

Tip: Los Molcajetes is open six days a week from 10 until 9, but closed on Wednesdays.

Today's Food Rating: 7.5
Ambiance: 5

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mundo 3

I wouldn't normally review a restaurant three times but last night Ian and I had two new dishes at Mundo that I thought you should know about. We started with the queso fundido ($12), which was a combination of four melted cheeses garnished with oven roasted cherry tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and a serrano chile drizzle, and served with tortillas. I loved the use of goat cheese, the mushrooms were cooked very well, and the spicy "drizzle" complimented the cheese nicely. It's a heart stopper of a dish so we didn't finish it and instead opted to save room for our entree, which was a fantastic idea. We split the filet mignon of Korobuta pork with ancho chile mango glaze and chose sauteed spinach for our side ($26). Though I think it's a stretch to use the words filet mignon to describe pork tenderloin, we both thought the dish was incredibly successful. The ancho rub on the outside of the perfectly cooked pork was wonderfully intense and the accompanying sauces really set it over the top. The mango relish on top was a fantastic sweet addition that cooled the pallet from the heat. Additionally, it was a huge portion so definitely worth the price. We thought maybe they super-sized it for us since go there frequently and have unabashedly expressed our opinions to the staff on each trip (some of which could have been taken as insults but were meant to be helpful pointers since we want the restaurant to succeed), but the waiter confirmed this is the amount everyone gets. So much for feeling special. The sauteed spinach side was great as well, and unique due to the addition of roasted jalapenos. I would absolutely get both again.

By the way, I'm sorry about the terrible photos. I hope they still make the food look as appetizing as it was.

Tonight's Food Rating: 8.75