Monday, May 31, 2010

Four Kegs

I can't think of a more Americanized version of an Italian dish than stromboli, so it is only appropriate that the Four Kegs, a humble sports bar, would have the best version in Vegas. After hearing about these strombolis on one of our favorite Food Network shows, 'Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,' Ian and I decided to visit this hole in the wall located in the same shopping center as Full Ho. Upon entering this particular dive we were shocked at the popularity, but upon discovering that draft beer was only $2.50/pint we immediately solved the first part of the puzzle, +2.

Next came the salad ($1.75). It was a watery mess of iceberg and iceberg, which was so bad I couldn't bring myself to take a picture, -1. At least it was fresh? At this point, we were hoping that something redeeming could come out of the kitchen. We were then hit with the Cajun fries ($2.95), which, seeing how there was nothing Cajun about them, should have been described as vegetarian chicken wings. I love Frank's Red Hot and ranch dressing just as much as the next Mid-Westerner (I feel I can pass judgement on the use of these ingredients because Ian is from Missouri and I've spent ample time perfecting my Velveeta cheese dip making abilities) but soggy fries just don't cut the mustard, -1.

Finally the stromboli ($8.49) arrived. Stroboli, believe it or not, is also the name of an island off the coast of Sicily, which is a noteworthy place because of its continuous and patterned volcanic eruptions over the last 20,000 years. The stromboli at the Four Kegs isn't quite as miraculous, but was an explosion of tastiness nonetheless. The exterior was crispy and browned, and the filling was appropriately cheesy, meaty, and saucy. Is it hard to make something taste good with these components? Not really, but the expertly constructed crust and price makes this dish a winner. The technique of Mario is to be commended, because he is able to thoroughly cook every bit of the crust without burning it or leaving a trace of doughiness. This is a feat most bakers in the States would have a hard time accomplishing. We only finished half of it, but I give it a solid +5.

At a +5 overall rating, I will label the Four Kegs as a cheap place to get a filling and above average meal, but stick with the Stromboli and beer. I promise you'll leave happy if you follow those words of advice.

Today's Food Ratings:
Cajun (or not) Fries: 4.5
Salad: 2.5
Stromboli: 8

Restaurant Rating: 5


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Farmer's Market Dinners

This week I made two dinners with vegetables from the Molto Farmer's Market, which is by far the best farmer's market in Vegas. They have a huge variety of interesting vegetables you won't find elsewhere, as well as other artisanal foods. Unfortunately, it only goes on from 11-1 on Thursdays and is inconveniently located at the South end of Dean Martin.

The first dish I made was buccatini with Tuscan kale and morel mushrooms ($6 per 1/4 lb.) in a cream sauce. We added some yogurt to the sauce to lighten it up a bit, which worked surprisingly well. The Tuscan kale was something I hadn't come across before, and the small leaves made it perfect for a pasta dish.

The second dinner I made was a spinach, feta, and caramelized onion frittata. The spinach was wild and included purple leaves. Very pretty! I wish I could have purchased some of the Quail Hollow farm fresh eggs at the market but all of them were spoken for.

The unique selection of gorgeous vegetables at the Molto market inspires me to cook in a way supermarket produce does not. Plus, you don't have to worry about the presence of pesticides, waxes, or GMO's and it's much less expensive than Whole Foods. I highly recommend you include it as stop in your next grocery run, even if you have to leave work to do it. Just remember to go on the early side for the best selection. It's becoming quite popular!

Friday, May 28, 2010


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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Coffee Cup

How far are you willing to drive for great waffles and $5 mimosas? Personally, I wouldn't drive more than thirty minutes, which luckily is just about the amount of time it takes for me to get to The Coffee Cup in Boulder City. The Coffee Cup is an ancient breakfast place located on the city's main drag that attracts local residents like flies. It's one of those really homey places where the kitschy decor tells the story of the owner's life and waitresses know you by name (not mine, however, since I only go there a few times a year). There is usually a wait when you go, but if you are willing to sit at the bar you can often poach a couple of seats within a few minutes, even on a Saturday.

I started coming to The Coffee Cup because Ian lived on the outskirts of Henderson when he first moved to town (apparently looking at a map to see that our culinary school was located in Summerlin never occurred to him) and it became a sentimental sort of spot. I wouldn't have insisted that we continue to go, however, if the waffles ($4.50) weren't so good. You can pick from a variety of fun fillings ($0.70 each), which are bundled up in a crispy, subtly sweet baked shell. I've tried several combinations, but my top recommendations are granola, peanut butter, and banana and bacon and chocolate chip. Washing it down with a huge $5 mimosa makes for the perfect weekend breakfast. The rest of the food isn't that great, much to Ian's chagrin, but it's all cheap and tasty. Last time he had the papas con chile verde ($6.75) which were mostly generic but showed a touch of creativity. Not bad for the price, but not worth the drive.

If you've never been to Boulder City and you're a waffle enthusiast, you should definitely make the trip. Besides hosting art walks and other community events, Boulder City is unique and charming because it is one of the only two cities in Nevada where gambling is illegal. It was established as a home base for the construction workers of the Hoover Dam, and was recently rated one of the top 25 best places to retire by Money magazine, so it has certainly stood the test of time. My guess is that this is partially due to the waffles and mimosas at The Coffee Cup!

Today's Food Ratings:
Waffle: 8.5
Papas con Chile Verde: 5.5


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Groupon is a great website that offers daily discounts at different local businesses, many of which are restaurants. Generally the restaurant discounts are 50% or more, so it's a wonderful way to try new restaurants without spending a bunch of money. Today's deal is for Bar + Bistro, located in the Arts Factory building. I haven't been too impressed with a lot of their food (they're still new so I won't judge harshly), and it's overpriced, but the veggie lasagna is authentic and delicious.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Un-frugal Foodie: Zine

On the same trip to the Palazzo where I ate at Canyon Ranch Cafe, my mom and I had dinner at Zine, an upscale Asian restaurant labeled one of the ten best in America by Chinese Restaurant News. Chef Simon To, the recipient of the blue ribbon award from my alma mater (can you say that about culinary school?), Le Cordon Bleu, has created a menu bursting with excellent renditions of the more popular items you find on Cantonese, Vietnamese, and other Eastern menus throughout the valley. I would like to try everything on his menu, however, due to the extraordinarily high prices you pay for these renditions, dining here is more of a luxury than feasting on similar versions elsewhere.

Between the two of us, we ordered four items. The amount of food was more than enough, but surprisingly, we didn't leave stuffed - a definite plus. We started with the Rare Filet Mignon and Beef Ball Pho ($18), a version of the traditional Vietnamese soup consisting of a flavorful broth, rice noodles, and a variety of vegetables, which usually contains either meat or seafood. The filet was ultra tender, the broth was rich, and the rice noodles weren't over-saturated with liquid. My only regret was that we hadn't ordered the version of the soup without the beef balls, not because they were bad, but because the filet was so wonderful. A traditional pho Vietnamese pho is probably not likely to include filet, however, so this pho is a therefore a particularly indulgent one and the hefty price tag confirms this.

We then moved on to the steamed Shanghainese pork dumplings ($9.25), which for the record, are the absolute best I've had in town. China Mama on Spring Mountain has been reviewed as having the closest version to those of the incredibly popular Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, but Zine puts those to shame. At China Mama, the technique just isn't down. The dumplings fall apart at the bottom because they are too thin, releasing the coveted broth prematurely, and the crimping at the top is inconsistent and often sloppy. Zine is the only place I've seen that can compare to Din Tai Fung, however, they don't have the great variety of options, a sad yet understandable difference. Unfortunately, they also cost twice as much, but for a Strip restaurant I'd expect nothing less. If I put myself on a food budget, which I really need to get around to doing one of these days, I'd order these alone and wouldn't need much else.

We finished with some dishes from the "Chef's Special" section, all of which end in $0.80. I think this is supposed to make the consumer lucky at the casino tables outside the restaurant. We had the sauteed vegetables ($16.80), which were impeccably dressed in a light garlic sauce and cooked beautifully. The little pearl mushrooms were a welcome and unique variation, however, I was hoping for Chinese broccoli rather than regular broccoli. The Honey Glazed Walnut Prawns ($28.80), a personal favorite, could have come out hotter but were delicious nonetheless. The dish consists of extra large prawns that have been lightly battered and fried and tossed with a mayonnaise based sweet sauce and, of course, honey glazed walnuts. Sounds healthy doesn't it? I found the quality of this comparable to same dish at Ping Pang Pong in the Gold Coast, but due to the fact they cost double at Zine, Ping Pang Pong wins my walnut prawn competition.

Other than the prices, there was nothing about Zine that would make me not go back. Each dish we had was skillfully prepared and well-balanced, so if you see a dish on the menu you've enjoyed elsewhere in Vegas, chances are it will be better here. Just don't forget to eat the lucky dishes so your gambling habit might pay off and cover the cost of your meal.

Tonight's Food Ratings:
Filet and Beef Ball Pho: 8.5
Steamed Shanghainese Dumplings: 9.5
Sauteed Vegetables: 8
Honey Glazed Walnut Prawns: 7.5


Friday, May 14, 2010

Dinner at Home: Eggplant Parmesan

Last week my parents came over for a vegetarian dinner of eggplant parm and shaved asparagus salad. I really liked the technique I read in Cooks Illustrated because it didn't allow the eggplant to soak up so much oil and left it with a crunchy outer coating. You start by tossing slices of eggplant with salt and placing them over a collander for 30-45 minutes to drain. When a fair amount of liquid has accumulated at the bottom of the bowl remove the eggplant and pat/squeeze completely dry between two layers of paper towels. Then, working in batches, toss the slices in a large plastic bag with seasoned flour, shake off the excess, dip in an eggwash, and then coat each side with homemade bread crumbs seasoned with lots of grated parmiggiano reggiano. Put them on a wire rack over a cookie sheet (to catch loose crumbs) so the bottoms don't get soggy. While doing this, have two sheet pans preheating in a 425 degree oven. Remove the sheet pans when you have finished all the eggplant slices and spread a few tablespoons of vegetable oil evenly on each (olive oil has a lower smoking point and can't hold up to the high cooking temperature). Place the eggplant in one layer on each pan, and bake for about thirty minutes (switch placement of the sheet pans after 10 minutes and flip eggplant slices after 20). This method gave the eggplant a fantastic crunch and made it much healthier. When you take the egglant slices out of the oven you layer them in casserole with tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, starting with your sauce at the bottom (this can be made very simply by simmering crushed San Marzano tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper for about 45 minutes). When you get to the top layer of eggplant, just put a little bit of sauce in the middle of each round so that you still have some of the crunchy coating exposed when you put it back in the oven to melt the cheese. If I hadn't slightly oversalted my sauce it would have been near perfect, but it was still really good.

For the salad, I shaved raw asparagus with a vegetable peeler and tossed it with halved baby tomoatoes, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper. This was really easy and made for a great 'almost summer' salad. I used purple asparagus since it was available, which emphasized the individual ribbons by adding another hint of color.

Dessert was a tasting platter of Biscoff cookies, leftover carrot cake, apple slices, and peanut M&M's.

Tonight's Food Rating: 8

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Canyon Ranch Cafe

A few weeks ago my mom and I spent the night at the Palazzo, attached to which is the mega-spa Canyon Ranch. Since I'd had a leftover gift certificate from the spa with a measly $30 remaining on it (measly because a 50 min. massage is at least $150 with tip) I decided to go downstairs and have a healthy breakfast, while she enjoyed the toasted bagel and cream cheese ($4) she sent me down to a hotel coffee shop to get for her as she got ready. I sat at the counter reading the Vogue magazine I tried to conceal as I waited for the mushroom frittata ($14) I ordered. When it arrived, I was in love with the presentation. I have a weakness for dishes/kitchenware/anything that is manufactured in miniature proportions, so the little cast iron ramekin filled with puffed golden brown eggs that were studded with mushrooms immediately pleased my eyes. Then I took a bite. Not only were the eggs as hard as rocks but they were completely devoid of flavor and the accompanying potatoes were terribly undercooked. Being the high maintenance woman I am (when it comes to food), I sent it back and tried my Vegas luck with the breakfast relleno ($13). This was a poblano pepper stuffed with organic eggs and chorizo topped with low-fat cheese over polenta. This was much better, however, no matter how hard I tried to like it (and I really did try), after a few initial piping hot bites the flavor started to take a turn for the worse and I was reminded of its uber-heathiness. I enjoy healthy food, in fact I love it, but I don't believe in eating something healthy if you don't think it tastes great, or if it is over-priced. So, I consumed my two small cups of decent fresh fruit dressed in lemon juice, asked for the check, and headed back to the room to share my mom's more satisfying bagel.

TIP: The spa isn't worth going to either, unless it is a really slow day. It is huge in order to accommodate herds of people, so if you go on a crowded day you don't get the serene spa experience you are hoping for.

Today's Food Rating:
Frittata: 3
Breakfast Relleno: 5

Restaurant Rating: 5

Would I go back? NOT EVEN WITH A GIFT CARD (nice presentation, though)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Strip Burger

Strip Burger is the indoor/outdoor burger joint attached to the Fashion Show mall on the Strip side. I went with Brian, Maggie, and the kids (Cole and Gabby) on a lazy Saturday afternoon because we had a $100 gift certificate to use up. Since the prices are reasonable, we had the freedom to over order, so I feel I had enough of a sampling to justify giving a review after one meal.

We started with three milkshakes, which obviously were a hit with the kids. The chocolate and strawberry were both good, but nobody really cared for the vanilla. It isn't too hard to blend ice cream with milk so no points were scored for this indulgent first course. Brian and I each had beer to go with our milkshake (bad timing) and Maggie had a margarita shaken in one mason jar and served in another. The presentation was cute but because the drink tasted worse than a manufactured drink from a machine at Fat Tuesday's, all points were lost.

Disappointingly, the burgers weren't that great either. We had their self-proclaimed famous blue cheese burger ($9.95) and the hickory burger ($9.95). The meat itself was alright, but they hadn't considered using a necessary moisture barrier between the meat and the bun. A juicy burger cooked on a flat top is bound to drip, so the best method for preventing this is to first set the patty on a paper towel after cooking to absorb the excess liquid, and then use some other ingredient (or ingredients) to form a layer between the meat and the bun so as to prevent the bun from getting soggy, such as lettuce, onions, etc. Despite their half-assed attempts and misleading picture on their website (follow link above), the bottom half of the bun still turned into a thin mush. The flavor of the meat and toppings were OK, but not good enough to compensate for the burger's shortcomings, so overall they weren't terribly successful.

We also ordered the "atomic fries" ($4.75) which weren't atomic at all, though it is still hard not to make fried potatoes tasty with the addition of processed nacho cheese and green chilies. I wouldn't order them again, but shamefully we still consumed most of what was in the basket.
The highlight of the meal was another side, fried pickles ($3.95). I had my hesitations but I am always intrigued by interesting fried things so we tried them out. The were crunchy, vinegary, and salty, and were served with a ranch dipping sauce. I could have had these and the chocolate shake and been very pleased with my lunch.

Despite the mediocrity of the meal, the prices were still quite reasonable for a casual Strip lunch and I can see why the place is usually busy. Gourmands on a food tour of Vegas certainly wouldn't eat here, but if you have friends in town on a budget that don't want to venture off the Strip, this is certainly a place a recommend. It's hard to find a sit down restaurant with such a prime location elsewhere that would cost you anything less than twice as much.

Today's Food Ratings:
Blue Cheese Burger: 6
Hickory Burger: 6
Fried Pickles: 8.5
Atomic Fries: 6
Milkshakes: 8.5 (except for the vanilla one)
Margarita: 4.5

Restaurant Rating: 6.5

Would I go back? Maybe if friends were in town and we were at the mall. The salads actually looked pretty good so I might try one of those next time to balance out the fried pickles.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Project Dinner Table: UNCE Orchards

On April 24th Project Dinner Table hosted its first dinner in the series of seven at UNCE Orchards. Each event features a unique local venue, a guest chef, a guest charity, local artisans, and some form of entertainment. At this inaugural dinner, Chef Roy Ellamar from Sensi at the Bellagio prepared the five course meal for the 125 people sitting at a long family style table running the length of the West side of the orchard. Prior to dinner we were given educational tours of the orchard as we sipped on champagne and interesting drink shooters that included frozen micheladas (a take on a Mexican beverage made with beer, lime, and sometimes bloody mary ingredients) and tomato "champagne." When the dinner bell rang we all gathered around and took our seats to enjoy the lavish and beautifully presented feast crafted from local and sustainable ingredients. Each dish was paired with a different beer from Widmer micro-brewery, which was a fun and tasty change from wine.

We started with the "Chilled Riverbend Farms Green Garlic Soup" topped with a horseradish croquette wrapped in Bar 10 Beef Carpaccio. I loved the presentation and the little croquette was light and flavorful. With the exception of this appetizer, every course was served family style, which not only strengthened the connection between us and our stranger neighbors, but also allowed the food to remain in its ideal state (no waiting for the kitchen staff to plate 125 times) and conserved water by limiting the number of dishes that needed to be done. The first of these was the "Quail Hollow Farms Harvest Salad" with sweet and spicy Niman Ranch Bacon and Kochu Jang vinaigrette (Kochu Jang is a Korean chili paste) that was deliciously hot and unusual. The chunks of bacon provided the fat to cut through the tangy dressing and crunchy soybeans served as Asian croutons. I could have eaten platefuls of this!

Our first main course was "Wild Raised Cypress Island Salmon" with summer corn succotash, sweet and slow pork belly, and smoked Hy-Desert tomato vinaigrette. The freshly shucked corn was sweet and the pork belly incredibly addictive so I had to restrain myself from taking more than my fair share. It was adorned with what I believe were blossoming basil stems, and these garnishes added a whimsical touch. Our second main course was a "Grass Fed Beef Duet" which included Pitch Black Ale braised Bar 10 beef and grape vine grilled Piedmontese beef with a Gilcrease Orchard charred vegetable salad. Both preparations of the beef tasted fantastic and were cooked incredibly well. The rich and intensely flavored sauce on the braised beef was perfectly juxtaposed with the simply prepared, sauce-free Piedmontese beef, so the dish didn't feel too heavy.

Finally, we were presented with three different kinds of dessert; a sugar coated donut with coffee caramel sauce that tasted like the best breakfast treat you've ever had; a chocolate bar that tasted like the best kit kat you've ever had; and a citrus panna cotta-like pot de creme made from local goat milk that tasted like the best orange creamsicle you've ever had. These were irresistible and were served with Colorado River Roasters organic coffee. By this point, I was thoroughly impressed.

The whole experience was really very fun. I loved eating local foods from producers I never knew existed and I loved that everyone around us was excited to be a part of this new movement in Las Vegas. The welcoming environment was casual, yet still refined, so everyone was immediately friendly and felt comfortable talking about all the delicious foods we were consuming. The dishes could easily have been served in any upscale Strip restaurant, yet because they were served family style they were not at all pretentious. This made it taste even better, as there is something magical about dining al fresco while eating from mounds of glorious food, without having to be in a restaurant. I highly suggest attending at least one of these dinners soon, as I'm sure sometime in the near future tickets are going to be hard to come by.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Un-frugal Foodie: Mastro's Ocean Club

Sometimes couples don't get along and during a little spat with my hubby a couple of weeks ago I did something I knew would really make him mad, I went to a great restaurant without him. I hit up Mastro's Ocean Club, the UFO shaped eatery located in the new Crystal's mall at City Center. A friend on Yelp had written a very positive review, and others had confirmed, so I thought I would try it out. As I was by myself, it was difficult to be frugal, but I did a fairly good job at sifting through the menu and picking a few options that were completely satisfying and didn't break the bank.

It was tempting to fill up on the bread basket filled with pretzel and rye bread sticks, Parmesan crackers, and teardrop sourdough boules, but I restrained myself and saved room for a half order of the Spicy Mambo Salad ($7.99) and the Sauteed Shrimp appetizer ($18.95, pictured above). Everything at Mastro's is fairly expensive, so these dishes were a great way to test their quality without spending a ton. The Spicy Mambo Salad was essentially a Caesar salad with horseradish in the dressing, and being a huge fan of horseradish, I very much enjoyed it. I always ask for light dressing (or dressing on the side) in less expensive restaurants because more expensive restaurants generally know how to dress a salad properly, and Mastro's was no exception. If anything, the salad bordered on verge of being under-dressed, so if you are a fan of heavy salad dressing, I would ask for extra. The sauteed shrimp were nothing less than wonderful, and hit the spot for my seafood craving. The huge shrimp were cooked just right (see tip) and served over a broth that tasted like a lobster bisque reduction rich with butter. The cheesy garlic bread croutons absorbed this liquid on one end, but remained crunchy at the other, providing some textural contrast. It was fun to dip all the different kinds of bread from the basket in the sauce as well to see how they each paired differently. Overall it was a really successful dish, and because the shrimp were so plump and the sauce so rich, it was certainly enough for my entree. One item that I might have tried as a side had I been with someone, however, was the lobster mashed potatoes - they looked fantastic. I wasn't too disheartened by not getting them, as I still had a terrific meal that was plenty filling.

I wanted to order their signature butter cake dessert, but because it was $14 and I was full by that point, I decided to pass. I'm sure it's enough for two to three people so maybe next time I go and I'm not by myself I'll splurge and get it. Besides, I didn't need the sugar as I walked away with sweet revenge. Ian was really sad he missed the experience and promised never to upset me again (well, at least the first part of that sentence is true!).

Tip: To tell if a shrimp is cooked well before even cutting into it, follow this rule of thumb: If it is shaped like a "u," as in a raw shrimp, it is undercooked. If it is shaped like a "c," that means it is cooked, and if it is curled up to the point of looking like an "o," than sadly, it is overcooked.

Tonight's Food Ratings:
Spicy Mambo Salad: 8
Sauteed Shrimp Appetizer: 9.5

Restaurant Rating: 9


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Snaps in The Cannery

Ian and I had a booth at the Silver State Kennel Club dog show, which took place all the way out on East Flamingo and Boulder Highway. Before setting up we need to grab some grub so we headed into the Cannery after reading positive remarks about their Mexican restaurant. Sadly, Casa Cocina (doesn't that just mean 'house of kitchen'?) is only open for dinner so we went to Snaps, their diner. Well, as you may have guessed the meal was pretty dull, but the highlight was the chicken soup. It was made from scratch, had a lot of flavor, and was well-seasoned. Most suprisingly, the egg noodles (someone in the kitchen knows the right noodles to use for chicken soup) were perfectly cooked without an inkling of sogginess. Had I ordered a bowl rather than a cup and passed on the sorry excuse for parmesan onion rings and cafeteria side salad I would have been quite happy. Just a little FYI in case you find yourself in the East Side Cannery and need something snappy....