Monday, April 26, 2010

Pepe's Tacos

Pepe's Tacos is a Mexican fast food restaurant with three locations around town. Ian and I happened to go the one on Boulder Highway since we had a booth that weekend at the Silver State Kennel Club dog show way out in Dog Fanciers Park. At one point it received accolades from the Review Journal's 'Best of Las Vegas,' but it must have been awhile ago since no date is attached to the awards seal on their menu. We shared the Super Burrito ($4.75) with asada (chopped grilled steak), but with any of their taco, burrito, and gordita options you can also choose from al pastor (marinated pork cooked like a gyro, I had a sample and it was very good), carnitas (deep fired pork), lengua (tongue), pollo (you can figure that one out), cabeza (beef head), buche (pork), chicharron (pork skin), chile verde (pork in spicy green salsa), or birria (marinated goat meat). Goat is actually leaner than chicken and is supposedly the new other white meat, which I only know because someone once tried to sell me a goat farm. It's difficult to find in America, but it is actually the number one consumed meat in the rest of the world. Anyhow, I probably should have tried it but didn't. I was happy with the steak option, however, and we also ordered a soft taco with chicken ($1.45), which was also very good. I saw someone order a bowl of menudo (tripe) which was served in a broth that looked incredibly rich and delicious, but I am not personally a fan of tripe so I'm not sure if I'd venture to try it. They have a colorful little accoutrement bar with spicy marinated carrots and onions, a few kinds of salsa, and chopped onions tossed with cilantro. These add to the meal tremendously allow you to cater to your own preferences. The prices on everything are really low, and you'd have a hard time leaving without feeling utterly stuffed if you spent ten dollars. Our meal for two was just $6.20, so Pepe's Tacos receives the Frugal Foodie seal of approval, even if they aren't technically part of 'The Best of Las Vegas' anymore.

Today's Food Ratings:
Super Burrito: 7.5
Chicken Taco: 7.5

Restaurant Rating: 4 (quick friendly service and clean, yet still a fast food place)

Would I go back? I WOULD

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Project Dinner Table

This Saturday 'Project Dinner Table' hosts its first dinner!

"The idea is simple enough…re-connect with the dinner table, bring back meaningful conversation and feed ourselves with local goodness. This is what the small collaborative group called the “Kitchen Cabinet” has set out to share with others.

Project Dinner Table is a series of seven dinners where we gather in unique locations. You will dine at one long white tablecloth dinner table that seats at least one hundred and twenty five people. We will be served family style, six courses of seasonal and inspired cuisine prepared by a celebrated Chef utilizing local and regional purveyors. The mission is about local artisans, building community and giving back.

We will gather and it will be an awesome experience. Be part of something cool and join us on the adventure."

Gina Gavan ~ Founder & Spoon Bender, Project Dinner Table

As a member of the kitchen cabinet, I'm really looking forward to the first dinner prepared by chef Roy Ellamar of Sensi at the Bellagio! Tickets are $225 per couple, which isn't super frugal, but considering you'll be helping Junior Achievement and partaking in a novel and much needed food movement in our valley, the price is absolutely justified. Tickets are running out so if you want to be a part of the inaugural feast, you should purchase them soon. Of course, I'll be reviewing dinner #1 on my blog, so come back to find out more about "Project Dinner Table!"

For tickets and more information visit

Chianti Cafe

Chianti cafe is located across from our favorite specialty pet retailer, Scraps 4 Pets, off Village Center Circle in Summerlin. After delivering an order Ian and I headed there for a quick bite, as we had been there once before and thought it to be alright. It's not a place worth going out of your way for, but if in the area you can get a better than average lunch at a reasonable price. In fact, they publicize their lunch menu as "everything under $10," so you're pretty much forced to be frugal. If you have been there before, I'd like to let you know it has recently changed management. Apparently the restaurant was going downhill before they did, so if you had a bad experience you might want to try it again.

My Greca salad ($7.95) was quite enjoyable, and a touch unique. It was tossed with a creamy garlic dressing rather than a vinaigrette, which was a nice change, and the feta cheese was not of your standard supermarket variety. This cheese was soft and mild, which made me think it was a sheep's milk feta from France or Bulgaria. Feta cheeses from these countries generally have a creamier texture and a lower salt content. If you like the taste of a stronger feta, you probably would prefer feta from Greece, Israel, or America, as these are tangier and saltier (FYI, most feta is made from sheep's milk or goat's milk but many American feta cheeses are made with cow's milk). The cheese on this salad could have used a little more feta flavor for my liking, but was of good quality nonetheless and you do get some brininess from the kalamata olives.

Ian had the pastrami sandwich ($9.95) which was tasty but not delivered as promised. Instead of fries it came with a good version of basil mashed potatoes (I still would have preferred fries) and instead of the more appropriate rye bread listed in the description it was served on a soft hoagie. Additionally, the presentation was pretty sloppy (see photo below) as mustard was EVERYWHERE around the outside. There was too much mustard inside the sandwich as well, and it would have benefited from the use of whole grain or deli mustard rather than yellow. I still liked it as the pastrami itself was tender and delicious, but with a little improvement it would have been great.

Overall, it was a good lunch at a reasonable price, but not a real find by any means. It's just your average neighborhood Italian eatery in a nice area.

Tip: They have happy hour specials on drinks and appetizers from 4-6:30PM Monday through Friday.

Today's Food Ratings:
Greca Salad: 7.5
Pastrami Sandwich: 7

Restaurant Rating: 6.75


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Un-frugal Foodie: Carnevino

On Sunday we celebrated our first anniversary at a restaurant we've been wanting to try for quite sometime, Mario Batali's Carnevino in the Palazzo. Before I go into anything else, I must say the steak we had outranked any other in our history of eating steaks, and if you love steaks, I beg you to try it at least once in your lifetime (more about that later). Now we can start from the beginning. I've eaten at Carnevino a couple of times in the lounge area where I've ordered from the less expensive bar menu, and have been thoroughly impressed (they have a better fancy burger than Bradley Ogden, if you ask me). If you want to try their food without paying for the whole experience (meaning, you get a view of the casino from the bar and no tablecloths or amuse bouche) then I would suggest coming here. In the dining room, however, the understated decor is reminiscent of a simple yet sophisticated Italian country villa, and the general aura is relaxed and welcoming. I mostly appreciated the quality and beauty of the chairs, an essential component most restaurateurs overlook in favor of more 'show-stopping' elements, such as a dramatic ceiling or unusual pieces of art on the walls. At Carnevino the primary interests are comfort and food, and I'll take that over a fancy chandelier any day.

Every person on the waitstaff was friendly and knowledgeable and the managers were gracious and accommodating. Because it was our anniversary we each received a complimentary glass of Bastianich's own Brut upon arrival (normally $14 a pop), but more notably, because we are locals, we received 15 % off our entire bill. I believe Batali is the only chef thus far to offer such a discount on a regular basis, and he should be commended for it. After our free champagne, we started shelling out the cash. Ian started with a fancy bottle of Friska beer for $14 that was so incredible and smooth I found it hard to believe it was Italian (let's face it, Italians aren't known for their beer making abilities). Perhaps the Italians can't get motivated enough to brew beer unless they can charge a fortune for it, but in any case, Ian and I agreed it was worth every penny. The second bottle was, too. I had a glass of rose from Bastianch's and Batali's own vineyard for a measly $10 (the least expensive on the menu), and it was quite good, though I preferred the Brut. With my entree I had a glass of a full bodied red called "Aragone" from Tuscany at the recommendation of the manager, who was gracious enough (yet again) to charge me the same price as the rose, rather than the $22 listed, just because he wanted me to have it and I didn't want to spend that much. How refreshingly Italian! The wine was the perfect match for our perfect steak, which I hope you are getting excited to read about.

For an appetizer we ordered the pappardelle with 'porcini trifolati,' or cooked porcini mushrooms($22). Porcini mushrooms are my favorite mushroom. They are generally large and have a sponge-like underside rather than gills, giving them a kind of chewy yet slippery texture. Their flavor is fantastic, though they are still more similar in taste to an ordinary mushroom than everyone's favorite fungus, the truffle. When I saw porcini I got incredibly excited because the only place I have seen fresh porcini mushrooms in the states is at the Ferry Building farmer's market in San Francisco. While living in Italy they could be found everywhere in the Fall, even at road stands, and I frequently ordered this exact dish whenever I could. Needless to say I was truly disappointed when the dish came out full of shitakes and other varieties of mushrooms, with nothing like the porcinis I know and love. The waiter had said a woman farmer picks mushrooms just for the restaurant (of course I had checked to make sure they were offering the real deal before I ordered), which may be true, but if so she's picking the wrong kinds for this dish as it appears on the menu. If the menu had just said 'pappardelle with mushrooms' I would have been completely satisfied, as the pasta was beautifully home-made and tossed in a light yet buttery sauce. Sadly, this misrepresentation showed up more than once on the menu. Our spinach side was supposed to have cherry peppers to give a kick, yet didn't, and our 'spring peas with pancetta' turned out to be snow peas. I only wanted the latter because it is difficult to find fresh peas and time consuming to shuck them, so I thought it would be worth the $9. The snowpeas were at least cooked well, and I won't say these sides were terribly overpriced since it is a fine dining restaurant, but they could have used a little work and more accurate wording.

Now, let's move onto the steak, the showstopper of the meal. By this point you know that I try to be frugal when dining, but as a self-proclaimed foodie I am also willing to pay big money for something novel and ridiculously good. That something today was the 240 day dry-aged steak that cost $100 an inch, which is a more than you pay per inch for a David Yurman bracelet, and even some Cartier bracelets. Being somewhat frugal, we ordered the minimum of one inch in the form of a ribeye. This was definitely enough to share with all the rest of the food, but we don't eat that much at one sitting so a regular grown man would probably want his own. Dry-aging of beef is basically the controlled rotting of the exterior of the meat in a cold environment that results in the formation of a skin, or pellicle, that is then removed prior to cooking. It is an expensive process and therefore results in better, but less frugal, cuts of meat. Most well-marbled high grade meat is dry-aged for some amount of time as it dramatically enhances and concentrates the flavor, but this time can range from a few weeks to about the 240 days given the riserva steak here (we were told the slaughter date for our beef was circa early August, 2009). A second manager prepared it for us tableside by skillfully slicing it on a wooden board and drizzling it with the chef's recommendation of a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. We ordered the horseradish black pepper zabaglione as an accompanying sauce, but despite its ethereal qualities, it was utterly unnecessary and almost felt like a sin to use on this particular piece of meat. The inherent flavors of the steak were not powerful enough to stand up to it, and only by eating the steak alone could you truly appreciate the process and time required to create such a masterpiece. The waitstaff described the flavor as earthy, but for me it was as if the aroma you get when you first walk into a fabulous cheese store (such as Murray's in the West Village) found its way into the meat and then ultimately into your mouth in a subtle yet obvious way. Combine that with the intensely flavored juices of the best quality steak you can buy and the result is unlike anything you've had before. As I continued to analyze the complexity of flavors twinkling in my mouth I looked over at Ian and saw teardrops welling in his eyes. When he noticed I was looking at him he said, "I'll cry over meat, I don't give a f*#!." I was hoping he was tearing up over how happy he felt to be married to me, but no, it was the steak he was feeling such a fondness for. I really wasn't hurt at all because I felt the same, and in all fairness, you can't have a steak like that everyday for the rest of your life. A moment of silence in gratitude was well-deserved, and we haven't stopped thinking about it since.

Some other tidbits to mention about the meal came before it even started. The cheese puffs, which were similar to a gourgere, came as an amuse. They were salty and crisp on the outside but light and soft on the inside, and we agreed they were better than the gourgeres served around the corner at Cut (or at least those we received on our last visit there). The bread was accompanied by high quality room temperature butter (we feel this shows the chef cares about your spreading pleasure) as well as whipped lard fom cured pork belly. This was truly unique and though the whipping action resulted in a fibrous appearace, the mouth feel was smooth. We loved it and I for one was pleased to find out that it is lower in saturated fat than butter. I'm still not quite sure how that's possible but that's what the waiter claimed. I'll take it with a grain of salt, so to speak, due to the discrepencies over menu descriptions I mentioned earlier.

As far as Strip restaurants go, I would be more inclined to come back here rather than try some of the other celebrity chef restaurants I haven't yet been to. Usually you don't get what you pay for, but I felt the prices charged here were deserved. To boot, the service and ambiance were top notch without being stuffy. If you are looking for a special occassion place, Carnevino is now on my list of top ten Strip resturants.

Tonight's Food Ratings:
Pappardelle: 9
240 day dry-aged steak: 10 (a Frugal Foodie first!)
Snowpeas: 8
Spinach: 7.5

Restaurant Rating: 9.5


P.S. Batali comes from a long line of meat men, so even though Carnevino is relatively new, the chef's knowledge and experience working with steak is not. I have a picture with Mario Batali on my bio page taken a couple of years ago in New York, in case you haven't yet seen the man behind the magical meat.


Sliced 240 day dry-aged steak

Butter and Lard

"Spring Peas," AKA snow peas, apparently

Sauteed Spinach

Cheese puff

Friska beer

custom cuttlery - very cool

The Un-frugal Foodie: Julian Serrano

After visiting the restaurant with friends, my mom thought Ian and I should try Julian Serrano's new restaurant in Aria. My mom's cousin Kerry, her daughter Hannah, and my dad also came, so we got to try a lot of different items from their mostly tapas menu. The restaurant is called Julian Serrano, and the prices certainly reflect the chef's arrogance as much as the name. Everything was great, but if I had to come up with a sixth taste (besides sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami) it would be 'value,' because the value of a dish, or lack thereof, seems to make things taste different to me. When you order here you are hoping for dishes that are so unique and wonderful that the prices are justified, yet when the food comes out of the kitchen it becomes evident your expectations were too high and disappointment is inevitable. Take for example the imported Spanish 'pata negra' ham, described on the menu as 'the most delicious ham in the world' for $35. Obviously this is a ridiculously bold and definitive statement for anyone to make about a single meat, however, hopeful me fell for the marketing and ordered it anyways (thanks for indulging me, dad). While the ham was certainly lovely, and I can't say I specifically remember ever eating another that I found better, it was still a meager portion of ham for $35 and I've had comparable before (the curing of meats throughout Europe is an art form, and I've been lucky enough to experience this first hand).

The combination of small portions and hefty prices is bound to result in continued disappointment as you make your way through the menu. The scallop (pictured above) was done about as well as any other, but $12 for one of them is just too much to ask. The mushroom risotto ($10) was creamy but slightly underdone and the salmon with truffle ($12) was just so so. Definitely pass on the avocado canneloni ($10) which I found to be texturally amiss and void of any redeeming flavor. The almond stuffed dates ($8) were alright, but not only are the dates at Firefly a better value, they taste better as well. These dates had a panko bread coating that was unnecessary and bulky, which took focus away from the dates themselves, and the accompanying spicy sauce didn't pair well with them at all. The cheese plate ($14) included cana de cabra (soft goat milk cheese), aged manchego, and soft sheep milk extremedura, and was served with a fruit compote and soft toasty bread. Each cheese was complex, and it's hard not to love cheese, but I don't know if anyone other than the producers can really take credit for making a fine cheese plate. The piquillo peppers were delightful, with an oozy cheese center that was far more sophisitcated than that of Firefly, but was not worth the $10.

The good news is that I found the least expensive dishes to be some of the best anyway. The open-faced Pan Manchego ($8) was a wonderful Spanish take on a grilled cheese, and the beet salad ($10) was not only an architectural gem but a well-balanced and colorful creation. The steamed mussels ($9) were plump and the broth was something special, though it was frustrating to capture the broth in the shells because of the pot used to serve them. In addition to tasting better than most of the other dishes, this was also the best value on the menu. If you order these items I think you'll be happier with your experience and your bill.

Tip: I noticed from the menu pictures taken by another blogger that prices were $3-5 less in December of last year. If you do want to go here I would suggest you hurry, before they become even more absurd.

Today's Food Ratings:
Since there are so many items and I've told you what I found to be the best, I'm just going to give an average: 7

Restaurant Rating: 7 (The decor is funky but who wants to look out at the Aria check-in desk while you're eating. They should have put the buffet here.)


'most delicious ham in the world' - their words, not mine
Mushroom Risotto
Beet Salad
Avocado Canneloni
Pan Manchego
Cheese Plate
Steamed Mussels
Stuffed Dates
Stuffed Piquillo Peppers
Truffle Salmon
Almond cake - so, so

Monday, April 19, 2010

Yunnan Garden

A cuisine that has recently started appearing on the Vegas food scene is Chinese Szechuan, and one of the first restaurants to start serving it was Yunnan Garden. Szechuan cooking is much spicier than food from other regions of China, yet traditionally, Szechuan cooking was not as pungent or as hot as it is today. The use of chilies has really only become part of the cuisine for the last 200 years when the hot pepper was introduced to China from South America. The Szechuan region is very humid, and since peppers have an internal cooling effect, the new ingredient caught on. Though there is a sweating effect from the food, I don't find Szechuan cuisine I've had to be as hot in the mouth as what I've had at Indian or Thai restaurants, so if you prefer not to feel the burn you don't have to avoid this cuisine that sounds spicier than it is.

Today I dined with Azurde, whose new office is conveniently located in the heart of Chinatown. We bypassed the plethora of really frugal $4.99 and $5.99 lunch specials in favor of Yunnan Garden because I had been there before and knew we'd have a good meal. The first dish that came to us was the least impressive and least expensive, the Dan Dan Noodle ($5.95). It consisted of a sweet and overly salty sauce underneath a mound of noodles sprinkled with peanuts. You mix the noodles and sauce to combine, which you can somewhat do in a way that caters to your own preference for heavy or light dressing. The next dish to arrive was #156, sauteed seasonal vegetables with garlic sauce ($7.85, I'm not an expert on Chinese vegetables, but after looking at some pictures online I think what we had was Choy Sum). Though this generic 'seasonal vegetable' dish appears on most Chinese menus, you aren't quite sure what exactly what you'll be getting, and the degree of expertise used to prepare it can vary dramatically. This version was fantastic, with perfectly cooked vegetables, a light sauce that barely coated them, and excellent flavor. It's hard to tell where the flavor is coming from since there is barely any color, but I'm guessing there might be some MSG in there somewhere, judging by how shiny it was (Anthony Bourdain claims food gets glossier the further West you move due to the use of this magical ingredient. MSG produces a sensation on the tongue which can only be described as umami). Other than the fact that children and pregnant women should stay away from it, I'm not averse to the use of MSG. It's a pretty remarkable ingredient that can really add to a dish, however, it should be consumed in moderation and is usually considered culinary cheating. If the vegetables didn't have MSG, the Fish Fillet in Spicy House Special Sauce ($10.25, #57) that was our entree almost certainly did (see how shiny it is above). I was totally willing to risk consuming the controversial ingredient, however, because the dish was great and a fantastic deal; the plate could easily have served four people with hearty appetites. Though seafood is not an integral part of Szechuan food, freshwater fish is, and there is an abundance of it on Yunnan's menu. This fish was flaky and moist, and the sauce was pungent, spicy, and rich with the color of chilies. I loved the use of crunchy fried soy beans on top and the bed of incredibly fresh soy bean sprouts underneath, but it was a bit oily. Despite the oil, I didn't feel stuffed, and despite the possible health risks, I would order it again.

It's a little difficult to get your bearings when ordering at Yunnan Garden as the choices are numerous and the descriptions vague, but everything coming out of the kitchen looked pretty good. Don't count on much help deciphering from the waitstaff, but if you stick to your personal preferences you should be fine. Just remember, don't bring the kids and leave the pregnant ladies at home. (Note: Many restaurants -not just Chinese- use MSG, and it is also present in a lot of processed snack foods because of its addictive qualities. I'm not trying to single out Yunnan Garden as a culprit.)

Tip: The restaurant is difficult to find. The best way I can direct you is to go to the far back side of the one story strip mall between Valley View and Arville on the south side of Spring Mountain. It's part of that same set of buildings.

Today's Food Ratings:
Dan Dan Noodles: 5
Seasonal Vegetables with garlic sauce: 9
Fish Fillet in Spicy House Special Sauce: 8.25

Restaurant Rating: 6


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mama Maria's

If you are willing to drive distances to try out a great hole in the wall, then put Mama Maria's on your list of places to try. A guy making funnel cakes at the Silver State Kennel Club dog show told me about this place a few weeks ago and I'd been wanting to go since. We finally made the trip way out to the Northeast and were rewarded with fantastic food, reasonable prices, and friendly service.

After debating between several items, we decided to order the chile verde, enchiladas verdes, and a chile relleno a la carte. The chile verde ($8.50) consisted of tender pieces of slow cooked pork bathed in a tangy tomatillo sauce, and was served with a side of fluffy rice and refried beans that tasted identical to those we had at a little lobster village in Mexico. The pork (pictured above) was fork tender and I loved the large meaty chunks, but I would have preferred it to have a few more hot chiles. The chile relleno ($5.50 a la carte) was also worth the trip and we even thought it was better than that of Vega's Cafe, which previously held our number one spot for this dish. Rather than a white sauce, this was served with a perfectly executed red tomato-based sauce. The batter was thicker and had a good amount of egg, and there wasn't a superfluous amount of cheese in the center. The combination of these two factors pleased me because it resulted in more protein, less fat, and a more interesting flavor combination. It just felt like a more balanced dish than the other chile rellenos I've had. The enchiladas verdes ($8.99) were the least impressive dish, but still better than enchiladas at most other restaurants. I appreciated how the green sauce for these was different than the chile verde sauce used for the pork, because it showed me that each dish is thought of independently. Ian commented on the skill used to prepare the sauces here as they weren't broken (culinary term meaning the fat and acids haven't separated from one another), and I agreed. Even though the food here could be equated with awesome home cooking, the skill level necessary to prepare each of these is probably underrated in the eyes of the consumer. I really wanted the tres leches cake since that is on my top five list of favorite desserts (the best I've had is at Cuba Cuba in Richmond, VA), but sadly they were out so we settled for the flan ($2.50). This turned out not to be sad at all, because despite the weird presentation (see below, and yes, those are plastic covered toothpicks in the cherries), the flan itself was creamy and the caramelized sugar syrup was toasty and rich. Plus, it was the perfect size. If you don't want to try the desserts here, however, you can go to the shop next door to get homemade ice creams and popsicles, which are also inexpensive.

Though I've only been once, it seems like the food here would be fairly consistent since it's run by a couple from Guadalajara who manage the restaurant and do all the cooking, just like at Vega's cafe. Adding to the charm is the old fashioned diner wheel system for reading restaurant tickets, a refreshing sight in a country whose restaurants are filled with P.O.S (point of sale) systems. Plus, it's always great to support a Mom and Pop kind of place!

Tip: They have a happy hour from 2PM to 5PM with two for one drinks and half price select appetizers and entrees.

Today's Food Ratings:
Chile verde: 8.75
Chille relleno: 9
Enchiladas verdes: 8

Restaurant Rating: 6


Chille Relleno

Enchiladas Verdes


Tiny Food Window

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shuseki update

Ian and I went back to Shuseki yesterday and though the experience was still good, and certainly frugal, I feel the need to apologize for my premature rave review of the spicy pork miso ramen. The broth just wasn't as flavorful this time, and the sesame seeds had all but disappeared. I wouldn't discourage anyone from ordering it, as it still possessed some of the same wonderful qualities, however, I feel as if I was too favorable initially. There was definitely a different chef in the kitchen. I guess that is why a critic should test a restaurant, and the same dish at a restaurant, more than once before reviewing. Local chef Jet Tila described this in a way I love. In his Las Vegas Weekly food blog he writes "Eating at any interesting restaurant is like a new relationship, not a one-night stand. You have to go back at least two or three times to really start to get it." I suppose the last time the restaurant was on it's best behavior and put a little more effort into making a good first impression. I normally report after at least a couple of experiences, but sometimes I get so excited about an experience my patience is tried. For that, I apologize. I can't promise I won't continue to do so, but I do promise to be a bit more careful in the future.
Besides the ramen, we did try a unique dish that my father recommended after his visit, the Chikuwa Garlic, or garlic squid (pictured above). This was a version of calamari that was ultra tender and submerged in seasoned panko crumbs. Some bites were too salty due to the abundance of crumbs, yet the overall texture was soft without being mushy, and I'd never had anything quite like it. At $4.99 it's definitely worth a try, just don't hold me responsible if it doesn't call you ever again.

Ambrosia Cafe

Ambrosia Cafe is a decent and reasonable Mediterranean restaurant in the Southwest, just South of the 215 on Jones. I was on the way to go drop off food for Penelope and pay her a visit in her new home when I saw this fairly new restaurant and decided to stop in. I'm a little wary of a place that serves Philly cheese steaks, ribs, and falafel, and even more wary when the latter is spelled 'felafel' on their menu, but I was hungry and they had some reasonable lunch specials. Considering my first impression, I was actually quite pleased with my lunch. I ordered the 'felafel' sandwich plate ($6.99) which came with a good version of tabbouleh and an undressed salad. I realized after eating half the sandwich that I should put that little salad inside, since the weird (or to be kind, interesting) combination of falafel, hummus, pickle, and peperoncini needed a little color and a touch more crunch. The falafel itself was beautifully browned and flavorful, but could have used a bit more kick. The hummus was fine, yet fairly standard, and the tabbouleh salad was properly done with lots of lemon juice. After the hummus and tabbouleh at Sunnin in Los Angeles, however, I am finding it difficult not to draw comparisons and become slightly disappointed in these two items elsewhere. The portion of lentil soup ($3.99) was huge, but I'm not sure it is supposed to be, judging by the way the waitress had to move at the pace of a snail to avoid spilling any of it over onto the plate. I appreciated her care, but unfortunately by the time it got to me it wasn't super hot anymore. It had a pleasant hint of curry that I enjoyed, but needed salt and a probably a more flavorful stock. It definitely improved once I doctored the leftovers back home later that day. I wasn't terribly impressed with my lunch, yet it was better than I'd expected so I was content. This isn't a place you would go out of your way for, but if I lived in the neighborhood I wouldn't mind its presence and would most likely frequent it on occasion (they also deliver).

Today's Food Ratings:
'Felafel' Sandwich plate: 6.5
Lentil Soup: 5.5 (6.5 after doctoring)

Restaurant Rating: 5


Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Nozomi is a hole in the wall Japanese restaurant and sushi bar located in the same shopping center as the Omelet House on Charleston just East of Rancho. I have been going to this spot for as long as I can remember, and it may have even been the first place I ever had sushi. It also may have been one of the first sushi restaurants in Las Vegas, however, back then it was run by sushi chef Roy and was called Kifune. The interior hasn't changed much in 22 years, so it's a comforting place to eat for me. In my visits to Nozomi I have found the sushi to generally be very good, sometimes excellent, and sometimes not so good. One time Ian and I went there and they had the sushi bar cooler set at too low a temperature so the fish began to freeze, which caused the cell walls to break and destroyed the texture. The horror! Anyhow, that only happened once and every other time I've been pretty happy with my overall experience.

After sampling many different items on the menu I have settled on a favorite, and that is the Chuckster Salad, pictured above ($14). This salad is unique from anything I've had elsewhere, and because a lot of care has gone into the selection of the individual components the end result is a success. The first time I ordered it I thought, "Wow, what a clever way to use the extra pieces of fish you can't use for sushi or sashimi," but after watching them prepare it I saw that this was not an economical way to use leftovers, but rather a special dish in and of itself. The salad starts with chunks of freshly cut fish, including yellowtail, salmon, and tuna. I'll agree that these are your garden variety species that you can get anywhere, but they are certainly fresh here and their growing popularity makes this salad pallet pleasing to even the novice sushi eater. To these hearty bite-sized pieces the chef adds shredded daikon radish, sweet pickled cucumbers, and tempura "crunchies," all of which add perfect counter textures to the fish. That's pretty much all there is to it, with the exception of a delicious creamy dressing and garnish of daikon radish sprouts. If you are looking for a low carb alternative to your ordinary rolls, this is the perfect choice.

On this visit, we also tried something new that we will definitely order again, the Shrimp Wraps ($9). These reminded me of the Japanese version of Koong Sarong at Lotus of Siam. Instead of bacon, however, these have a filling of cream cheese. They are also wrapped in wonton wrappers rather than egg roll wrappers, and are served with a sweet hot wasabi sauce rather than sweet chili sauce. The dish is executed well and even though it is simple, the flavors go together wonderfully. Between the Chuckster Salad and the Shrimp Wraps we were satiated and pleased. Even more pleasing was that both items totaled $23, not bad for a Frugal Foodie dinner. I won't make the claim that Nozomi is the best sushi restaurant in town, but it is a charming place and these dishes are both worth going for.

Tonight's Food Ratings:
Chuckster Salad: 9
Shrimp Wraps: 8

Restaurant Rating: 6.75


Monday, April 12, 2010


Though Firefly has been around for awhile and many people have been at some point or another, I'd still like to write a review for those who aren't familiar with it. Firefly is a Spanish tapas restaurant that has just opened a second location in the Plaza Hotel at the West end of Fremont Street. The food here is reasonably priced, fairly consistent, always tasty, and it is the perfect spot for a light bite with a neon view. I wish there were more tapas restaurants in town, as I believe they are the wave of the future in dining. People don't want heavy, expensive entrees anymore. The blossoming pallets of the American foodie public demand a sampling of a chef's talents. People are beginning to realize that the first three bites of any dish are the most rewarding and not much is needed beyond them. After the first three you stop analyzing flavors, interest in the dish begins to fade, and taste buds begin to get bored. This is the reason why tasting menus are so popular. The problem with tasting menus, however, is that they are too expensive, don't allow for personal preferences, and generally contain more courses than are comfortable to eat. In contrast, a tapas menu allows people to pick their poison, and their personal ration of that poison, so they walk away satisfied and ready to get on with the rest of their evening. In this respect, Firefly is on the right track.

Where they are on the wrong track is with the service. I have never had a good experience with servers here as it always takes forever to place an order, or to grab your waiter anytime thereafter. It is just poorly managed. On this particular night my brother and I sat at the bar and it took us a good ten minutes to order a drink, even though the bartender was right there. He decided it would be best to finish up the drink order for a party of ten before making our two little drinks, one of which was a bottle of beer. Isn't that the first rule of any service industry? Prioritize the people in front of you before those out of sight, especially when their requests are quick. After he was done chitchatting with the servers standing around waiting for him to finish drinks rather than tending to their tables, he eventually got around to us. He didn't even look at us while taking our food order but just stood in front of the computer as we shouted it to him and he entered it in. I wish this weren't indicative of the regular service at Firefly but that's pretty much how it's been for me every time.

Once you do grab your waiter's attention, the food generally comes out quickly and you generally get what you ordered. Plus, it's really tasty so you begin to forget about the people who brought it to you. The first thing we had were the bacon-wrapped, almond stuffed dates ($4) in red wine reduction with bleu cheese crumbles, which I have to get every time I come. They are sweet, savory, crunchy, and squishy, which makes for a happy mouth (even my brother who is allergic to nuts orders them and simply removes the almond). I especially like that they are not too large to consume in a single bite. The dates were followed by the stuffed peppers, mac n' cheese, steak skewers, and roasted eggplant cannoli. The peppers ($7.50) were OK, but the more satisfying vegetarian option was the eggplant ($5), not only because of price but because the cheese inside was creamy and herbaceous rather than somewhat tough and bland. They come with the same yummy tomato sauce so you won't miss anything with the eggplant. The steak skewers ($7.50) are a good deal, and the accompanying sauces are good, but the presentation needs some work. Finally, you can't go wrong with the mac n' cheese ($8). It's one of the more expensive tapas options but the portion is fairly large and it's baked to an appetizing golden brown. The cheese can be a little gritty on occasion but it's still hard to go wrong with cheese and pasta. Another favorite we didn't order tonight are the sliders with fried onions and spicy aoli. They are filling but delicious!

All in all, Firefly is a perfectly frugal place to get good versions of your favorite foods. Nothing will blow your mind but you will leave content in the fact that you haven't spent a fortune and your belly doesn't feel as stuffed as the dates. Oh, and well drinks are only $5, which actually is pretty mind blowing come to think of it.

Tonight's Food Ratings:
Stuffed Dates: 8.5
Stuffed Peppers: 6
Steak skewers: 7
Mac n' Cheese: 7.5
Roasted Eggplant Cannoli: 7.5

Restaurant Rating: 7


Tip: If taking a date request a table that overlooks Fremont Street for a truly unique experience.

Mac n' Cheese
Roasted Eggplant Cannoli
Steak Skewers
Stuffed Peppers

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Un-Frugal Foodie: Postrio

Last week Ian and I went with my dad to Postrio, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in the Venetian. The entire decor and the menu have both recently been remodeled, changing the vibe to an upscale bar and sophisticated grill. This has made a world of difference (I was never impressed with the restaurant prior to this change)! This was our second time coming back, and while everything is very good, a few items particularly stood out.

The Korobuta pork schnitzel with Austrian potatoes and whole grain mustard sauce that my dad ordered was fantastic (Ian and I had it last time), and is one of Puck's personal comfort foods so worth trying. The pork is pounded thinly and lightly pan fried, and rests on a bed of lemon and herb dressed fingerlings. It is also served with a cooling cucumber yogurt sauce and mini sald of teardrop tomatoes. There is nothing wrong with this dish at all, and I can't imagine it being any better in Puck's home country. There was nothing wrong with Ian's dish either, which unfortunately was only a special for the evening. This was a large portion of two perfectly roasted quail served on a bed of fluffy gnocchi and freshly shucked spring peas, bathed in a rich and intensely flavored reduction. This should become a permanet fixture on the menu because it really was amazing. My entree of steamed black mussels with white wine, garlic, grilled sourdough lavishly spread with bernaise was very good, but somewhat disappointing in comparison to the version at his restaurant, Spago, in Beverly Hills. At Spago the mussels were petite and sweet, making it unique from other versions of steamed mussels, and the bernaise was prepared with a bit more skill. It's hard for me to evaluate the mussels here without thinking of the mussels there, so while the comparison was fun, I'd order something else next time.

The appetizers we had were good but I wasn't nearly as impressed with those as I was with the entrees. We had the mesquite grilled steak skewers with creamy celery salad and house made steak sauce, and the charcuterie plate with grilled bread, artisan cheese, and marinated olives. The former was good but didn't taste terribly original (the little salad was the best part) and the latter was missing a sweet element and could have used some work on the presentation. I understood from a business perspective that they were trying to make it look like a huge portion, but I prefer something that looks a little less like a deli tray when I order charcuterie.

I forgot to write down the prices, and they aren't showing up online (I hate when restaurants hide this), but I can assure you Postrio is pricey. My advice would be to skip on the apps (or at least those that we got), get an entree, and limit your drinks if you want to experience the restaurant without breaking the bank. Oh, and eat lots of bread - it's fantastic.

Tonight's Food Ratings:
Korobuta Pork Schnitzel: 9.5
Quail Special: 9.5
Mussels: 8
Charcuterie: 7
Steak Skewers: 7

Restaurant Rating: 8.5

Tip: Make a reservation and request a table on the "patio" for good people watching and a great view of the faux St. Mark's Square.
Quail special
Charcuterie platter
How cute is this?!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Los Tacos

Los Tacos is a popular Mexican fast food restaurant on East Charleston between Maryland Pkwy and Eastern. I was first told about it by my sister-in-law Maggie and have been eating there ever since because it is good, cheap, and refreshing in that there are actually some healthy options. They even have freshly shucked oysters, which simultaneously grossed me out and intrigued me on my first visit. Judging by how crowded the place was, I could tell they had the turnover necessary to serve fresh seafood, but I chose shrimp instead (on a later visit I had the oysters, which were certainly fresh but of too large a variety for me to enjoy without copious amounts of hot sauce).

Although I always eat some of what Ian gets each time we go, I stick with what I had that first time, the tostada di camaron (shrimp tostada, $4.24), because it is as delicious as it is light. It consists of a freshly fried corn tortilla (that's the tostada) topped with fresh shrimp ceviche and their finely chopped house pico (I add sliced avocado for an additional $0.85 because it is always perfectly ripe and adds a creamy component). It is served with a juicy lime that I squeeze until only the pulp remains, and I like to top it all off with a few dashes of hot sauce to give it a kick. It is satisfying and unchanging, like everything else on the menu, but unique because it's hard to believe you're in a fast food place.

The burritos are probably the best thing you can get if you want something more filling, which you can have stuffed with either pork (al pastor), steak (asada), shredded chicken (pollo), or beef head (cabeza). The cabeza is actually really flavorful but it is also rich and somewhat of an acquired taste. We tried it once and enjoyed it but have not ordered it since. This time Ian opted for two chicken soft tacos ($3/each), which were also great but messy. Their chicken is incredibly tender and they go through the extra step of grilling the inner corn tortilla of each taco before stuffing it which gives it a nice toasty flavor and melts the cheese (traditional tacos come with two corn tortillas because the idea is that you pick up the inner tortilla and eat it first, allowing the filling that escapes from it to fall onto the second tortilla so you can have another taco). You can opt to add extras such as sour cream (crema), salsa, cheese, but each one will cost you $0.45. You can also add avocado ($0.85) or rice and beans ($2). They ask you if you want everything when you order ($1.50), but if you agree know that this just includes cheese, avocado, and sour cream. These little extras can add up and make your meal not quite so frugal, and it's a little frustrating they charge $0.75 for a cup of water, but you'll still be able to enjoy a great meal for a good price.

Today's Food Rating:
Shrimp Tostada: 8.5
Chicken Tacos: 7.5 (I like the burritos better)

Would I go back? SI SENOR