They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas; today, however, Ed (from Yuma) will tell about a dinner that happened there anyway. Tomorrow, Kirk or Cathy will be sharing food with you.
In a previous life, when I lived in Monterey, California, Corey and I worked in the same shop. He now lives in Las Vegas, so when Tina and I were in town, we all had to get together. I remembered that sushi was one of Corey's favorite foods, so it seemed appropriate to meet up at Yonaka, a modern Japanese restaurant: Not wanting to spend a lot of time going over the menu, we ordered an omakase – our server recommended the 11 course chef’s special tasting menu which he said would include a range of dishes and be enough to satisfy three hungry appetites. Corey had beer, Tina wine, and me sake.
The first course to arrive was Scottish salmon: The chunks of fish were accompanied by pieces of Asian pear and baby heirloom tomatoes, all topped with a sesame/ginger dressing. While this picture isn't much good, we all agreed that this was a pretty good beginning course. The pear and tomato balanced the salmon well.
Then a large bowl of charred brussels sprouts arrived, smoky, chewy, crispy and crunchy, with a light chili lemon touch: This was a tasty vegetable dish that we continued to munch on between other courses until the bowl was empty.
The next item was some decent hamachi with unusual accompaniment: Between each slice of hamachi, there was a slice of Gala apple, all covered by a Granny Smith apple relish and accompanied by a deep-fried latticework composed of dried apples. Hamachi with apples done three ways? Again there was a light dressing accompaniment. While each item was okay, my palate did not find hamachi/apple interplay especially interesting. Your palate might well be different.
A generous plate of tuna belly accompanied by walnuts and cranberry jelly arrived next: This was an attractive dish, the fish slices topped with micro greens and seaweed strips. The tuna belly itself was good, but not outstanding.
On the other hand, the sashimi plate was excellent: The maguro had an almost suspicious deep red color, but it was flavorful with a good texture. The flying fish sashimi was firm, a bit chewy, and mild. For me, the highlight was the golden thread sea bream – rich and fresh tasting, leading to a long creamy finish.
Also quite tasty was the moist cooked salmon accompanied by baby bok choy and sliced peppers, all bathed in a spicy coconut cream. Yep, this worked: The sea bream bones, deep-fried, showed up next, but they were a little too sturdy and thick for me, not nearly as pleasantly crunchy as a Spanish mackerel skeleton: Maine lobster and braised fennel in a spicy sauce: The idea of this dish was excellent; we liked the interplay of the fennel, sauce, and lobster. The lobster itself, however, was a little overcooked. Still it was okay.
Tender and flavorful wagyu beef, cooked rare, accented by a fruit salsa: We also enjoyed the roasted carrots that seemed to be standing guard over the plate.
The apogee of the meal had to be this: Perfectly prepared pork belly. Incredibly rich, fork tender, slightly sweet, and pleasantly porky. Yum. I salivate just thinking about it. That's apple kimchi in the background.
The final savory course was fried rice with broiled hamachi, uni, ikura, and baby bok choy: While I enjoyed the seafoods and vegetable, the rice seemed pretty ho-hum – something to fill up anyone still hungry at this point, and that was not me. Of course, the pork belly was a tough (tender?) act to follow.
The desert, on the other hand, was surprisingly good: Mango two ways – gelato on the left and panna cotta on the right. I believe the panna cotta was covered in a vanilla sauce, but the best touch was the panna cotta itself, stuffed with a mango center, so when you cut into it and opened it up, the yellow filling flowed out like an over easy egg yolk. Sadly, I was so amazed that I forgot to take a picture of it. Nonetheless, we all thought the desert was a nice finish.
It was great seeing Corey again, and all three of us enjoyed the meal. The extensive use of fruits throughout made our experience unique, and we all left full and happy.
Yonaka Modern Japanese, 4983 W Flamingo Rd, Suite A, Las Vegas, NV 89103, 702-685-8358
Kirk and Cathy finally get to take things easy as Ed (from Yuma) is blogging today about a meal in Vegas about a month ago.
Usually when I am posting about a vacation or even just a couple of days in San Diego, I go in chronological order. However, this time, I want to start with Tina and my last dinner in Vegas – the splurge meal at Twist – while I still can remember most (some?) of it.
When I made the reservations, I had no idea that the Mandarin Oriental hotel containing the restaurant is allegedly one of only six five-star American hotels, and the only one in Vegas. From the moment of our arrival, when a valet parked our car and another guided us to the elevator, we were astounded by the level of service.
The stylish dining area is located on the 23rd floor; the view as one enters the restaurant is nice:
The restaurant decor is clean, angular, modern, and stylish:
We were delighted to be seated at a small table next to a giant window. Looking one way:
Looking the other way:
Even the reflections of Las Vegas scenery on other windows added a nice touch:
At first, the table held a lamp, two water glasses and two discs of butter, like little yellow hockey pucks – one sweet and one salted:
We each were given three breads: crunchy raisin toast, a rustic fruit and multigrain miniloaf, and my favorite, an outstanding old world style hard roll:
We were asked if we preferred sparkling or still water, and our water glasses were filled repeatedly throughout the meal.
After discussions with our waiter, Tina and I decided to go with the full five course grand tasting menu ($155) with the Discovery Wine pairing ($95).
Speaking of our waiter, I need to emphasize again the quality of the service. Waitstaff was ubiquitous, but not disruptive or intrusive. While everything was "proper," everyone was friendly and helpful, particularly our main waiter, Sunday, who hails from southern Nigeria and is very knowledgeable about the cuisine:
To amuse our mouths before our first course arrived, we received some tasty and interesting tidbits, like this slice of black radish with creamy herbed goat cheese and a large walnut half:
On another plate, there were two crunchy crackerly layers separated by a creamy filling; but the most memorable item on that plate was the gelatined martini cube:
On another platter, a radish slice – looking like a mini tortilla – was folded over a shallot and sesame paste. Another radish slice was wrapped around truly excellent steak tartare lightly sprinkled with coarse salt, sortof a mini raw salami:
Accompanying these little tastes were two of the best green olives: rich, creamy, and mild. Beside them, a small silver serving bowl with coarse salt, Panko crumbs, two crunchy Parmesan mini biscuits, and four green wafers – none of which made much of an impression on me – though I inadvertently snapped a selfie, thanks to the base of the silver bowl:
The first real course, called printemps, both Tina and I agreed was tasty and impressive:
At the bottom of the bowl lay an intense asparagus coulis that underlay the rest of the ingredients – including asparagus spears – and brought them together. Contrasting with the asparagus were the chunks of smoked hamachi and Asian pear. Cubes of another smoked fish were hidden inside the spinach leaf pouch, and the very thin radish and cucumber slices around the edge added crunch to the whole dish. Perhaps most interesting was the scoop of broccoli ice cream topped with caviar and gold foil. While this sounds like a mélange of flavors, the dish as a whole exceeded the sum of its parts. Even the smoked fish somehow enhanced the springtime flavors of the other ingredients.
Before this course, Tina and I had been sharing a flute of champagne ($26), which we finished along with the amuse bouche. Just in time, then, the wine pairings began with a full flavored crisp northern Italian white wine with flavors like Sauvignon Blanc or Soave:
Note the distinctive Riedel stemware; each wine we were served came with a different type of glass. In general, we were pleased by the pairings, but I wish I’d photographed each bottle because I did not recognize the labels and my notes for the entire meal get pretty sketchy as the evening and the wine drinking progressed.
The next course, sliced fresh Maine lobster tail with baby carrots and enoki mushrooms, was excellent – the lobster tender, flavorful, moist, and succulent:
This was certainly the best lobster I have eaten west of the Appalachians; while the serving was not large, it was masterfully prepared, and it was also perfectly matched by the fragrant and richly flavored white wine from southern Italy:
Likewise, the turbot poached in Nantes butter (with avocado, leeks, baby clams, and butter foam) was fresh and well prepared. The mild whitefish matched perfectly with the more subtle flavors of the glass of Marsanne from Crozes Hermitage in the northern Rhône Valley:
The serving size, however, was not very large:
At this point, we were given a palate refresher – rhubarb foam on top of crushed pineapple. Not only was this cool and tasty, it gave us a chance to pause and reflect and finish our last white wine:
The next course was American wagyu beef, tender and flavorful, served medium rare on a bed of diced turnips and a brown violine sauce that I cannot remember:
The thing that looks like a breadstick next to the beef is actually crusted dauphine potato topped with herbs. Like an edible pun.
To accompany the wagyu, the chef chose Le Gravot, an organic and rare wine from the Loire Valley, made primarily from the indigenous pineau d’aunis grape:
The wine was certainly full-bodied and interesting, with a flavor profile that reminded me of a good Spanish garnacha, but it did not seem, to my pedestrian palate, to complement the beef as perfectly as the white wines had matched their dishes.
While not as spectacular as the view nor as interesting as the cuisine, the music playing softly in the background was various, pleasant, and intriguing. Early on, there was some Sinatra (that was expected, we were in Vegas), and then some Rolling Stones (was it "Tumbling Dice"?). And later I was pleased/amused to hear the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" about looking out over a mass of humanity during a beautiful sunset:
Now it's time for me to apologize for dessert. I have some pictures of the interesting and creative desserts, and some memory/notes about the various plates. However, Tina and I had been having a wonderful time, and because of medications I had been taking, I had not consumed much alcohol in months, so most of the pictures by this time are fuzzy and my notes and memory are hazy at best. I do remember, however, that the desserts were served with a glass of Malaga, a dessert wine from the South of Spain, I forgot to take a picture of the wine.
This dessert certainly looked interesting; wish I could remember more about it:
I believe this martini glass has green apple foam on top of vanilla ice cream on top of a sweet fruity (mango?) surprise at the bottom:
This three layered dessert balanced chocolate flavors with orange flavors and offered three distinctly different textures:
Tina and my favorite had chestnut ice cream on a cheesecake accompanied by a sweet crunchy almond wafer topped with cassis marmalade:
Overall, we had a wonderful experience. Virtually every dish was perfectly executed and the food was often interesting and creative, as were the wine pairings. The organization of the courses, the pacing of the meal, the friendly and professional service, and the stylish ambience elevated our splurge dinner to a level (and a price) beyond what we anticipated. As it was time to go, Tina took a final photo that blended neon Las Vegas with reflections of the interior of Twist. A good way to end this long post – thanks for reading:
More info and details about Twist can be found here:
mmm-yoso!!! is a food centric blog, often with stories leading up to the reasons for the food. That's what's happening today. Kirk and Ed(from Yuma) are busy with 'research' for their food posts. Last week, Cathy mentioned she would be leaving on a vacation soon. She went and returned and now is blogging about her days out of town.
National Finals Rodeo, the best of the best. The top 15 cowboys from North America in each of seven events compete against each other in a rodeo a day for ten days. On the tenth day (this Saturday), the winner amongst winners receives a gold belt buckle in addition to their cash winnings. It's on the GAC channel, but last year the tenth day was broadcast on ESPN.
Before the rodeo starts, there's the Star Spangled banner, a prayer, a song by a famous Country Artist and the competitors line up and tip their hats to the crowd. The events are over in two hours.
Ms. T and I drive out here every year (and have for nine years now) for a "girls weekend" of relaxation, shopping and Rodeo. You can see splashes of pink on the cowboys and/or their horses as well as in the crowd because we were here on Day 5 of the Rodeo, "Tough Enough to Wear Pink" night.
My photos demonstrate the speed of timed events and not much else; the iPhone isn't quite sophisticated.
The Thomas and Mack Arena is surrounded with Sponsor booths and advertising.
The interior has a varied selection of food and adult beverage choices.
This booth caught my eye since I was looking for a low carb choice for a snack. This had sales of macaroni and cheese, chili and macaroni, chili dogs and also sold a cup of chili- for $3!
Meaty and with beans and a good tomato broth, topped with cheese and onions (no extra charge), this was a really satisfying snack. Chili and Rodeo also seems 'right'.
The hotel, spa and casino are a nice respite for us.
After checking into our rooms, we met in the casino and walked across the street, through "The District" and across the main road to a Whole Foods store, where we each purchased snacks. \
The Protein bars and pecans and almonds were brought from home, as was the tea. Inside the box was from the prepared foods/serve yourself/by-the pound chicken adobo, which was delicious!
We went to Cowboy Christmas, a free-admission gift show, the following morning. Many purchases were made and events and giveaways enjoyed.
That first evening, I wandered into the casino area, where there is a"Food Court" and (of course) found a Starbucks, which took the place of a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf location a month ago.
The Capriotti's storefront in the Food Court caught my eye, with the 'breakfast' signage. I asked, and they said I could order a breakfast sandwich, even at 8 p.m..
I love being able to watch short order cooks...
Egg, cheese and genoa salami on a toasted Kaiser roll ($3.27). Excellent. Quite large and very, very tasty. I need to find out of the Capriotti's around here does breakfast; the menu looked good.
Every hotel has a 24 hour restaurant.
The Grand Cafe, inside Green Valley Ranch has a special menu from midnight until 6 a.m.
This is the most expensive menu item ($5.99) -steak, eggs(poached), hash browns and toast (rye). Coffee is extra, and necessary at this hour. The NY strip steak is a real NY strip and quite large and was perfectly cooked medium-rare, as I had ordered.
Of course, Ms. T and I also at at Feast (Link to restaurants in the hotel) the all-you-can-eat buffet, where I enjoyed a plate of mains (liver and onions, chicken picatta, egg drop soup and spicy eggplant), a plate of salads (ranch salad, egg salad, mandarin beets, sweet potato salad and pear Bleu cheese salad) and my 'carby' dessert plate (a cannoli and mashed potatoes with gravy). The food and pastries prepared in this hotel are exceptional.
At 6 a.m., a coffee service is set up in the lobby area. We were on our way home at 6:30. The outside temperature was 15.
The drive home was uneventful, except for a portion of the I-15 and I-215 split, with high winds and large profile vehicles parked on the sides of the freeway.
Home before noon.
I hope everyone has the time to take a relaxing vacation during this hectic time of year.
What to do after two lunches in Vegas? Well, I guess a walk up the strip was in order. I parked at Aria, took the tram to the Bellagio, then headed up the strip. At Fashion Show Mall, where the Missus had checked out the latest from Lululemon the night before, I crossed the street and headed back.
On the way back, I decided to kill a couple of minutes at Harrah's, a place where I've had some luck in the past. I ended up making about $200 and decided it was time to flee.....
For our final dinner in Vegas, the Missus decided that we should do sort of a blow-out meal. Unfortunately, just about every place I wanted was booked, Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon, even Picasso, no bueno. My fifth pick was Sage, in the Aria. I'd heard some nice things about the place and it seemed a lot less assuming than the other four. Years ago, when Michelin Stars and stuff like that really mattered to us, we'd have been disappointed. But after doing The French Laundry, Spago, et al, the Missus and I decided that stuff really isn't for us. Some of it was stuffy and rather pretentious and you can get to the point where you're describing the food like a science project, not my style. But hey.....every once in a while you gotta live, right? And Sage really isn't that expensive.
We arrived right when they opened at 5. Though you might take a risk with the kitchen not being in full swing....they haven't hit their rhythm yet, I still prefer a more relaxed time. And though things might get kind of hectic at the tail end of your meal, you at least have enjoyed most of your meal.
We were the second party seated and our Server, who introduced himself as "Bond, as in you know...." was a pro's pro. He was also quite a character.....we came to find out his name was Jason Bond. Next up was what and how to order. You see, I wanted the Chef's Tasting Menu with the Beer Pairing, the Missus did not. And I understand the issues with pacing and all of that. If you're getting six courses and the person across from you is just getting an app and a main, well there's going to be a lot of dead time for the person having the conventional meal. Again, we plan for the win-win. So when I explained to Mr Bond that only one of us would like the six course tasting, he tried to discourage us from doing that. Until I explained our proposal. I'd get the six course with the beer pairing and the Missus would get five starters. In essence we'd be creating our own little tasting menu. We've often found starters to be more interesting than mains in many cases. Bond got really excited about this and told us it was a great idea, he went to check with the kitchen, who he said was "excited about this". I don't know about that, but we also told him to have the kitchen sequence the starters any way they please....which would mean that it would indeed be like having our own tasting menu.
Things started out with what looked like Himalyan salt and a herb butter. We were shown the bread basket and the two different breads. The serious looking, but really funny young man said, "I think you should each take both." In the end we took one of each. We knew we had a pretty rich meal in front of us.
The sour dough was decent, nice textures. The bacon roll; well, we were tempted to get another.
We were brought an amuse of a Kumamoto Oyster with Tequila Mignonette, and Piquillo Pepper.
The mignonette had a nice tartness to it, very cleansing. Love the sweetness of Piquillo Peppers, I'll probably have to buy some one of these days.
When we had finished up the oyster, the first beer of our tasting arrived. This was a St Feuillien Saison from Belgium. Very crisp, with a nice, almost sweet aroma. This was very easy to drink, light and airy. We also noted that the temperature of the beer was just right on perfect.
This was paired with the Chilled Main Lobster. The brown butter added a nice nuttiness to the dish, making it seem a lot lighter than it was. The Missus is not a big lobster fan, but this lobster was wonderfully sweet and very tender.
The Missus got the Wagyu Beef Tartare ($18).
This was very good. The creamy lightly poached egg yolk just added that extra luxurious texture to the very fatty, melt in your mouth Wagyu Beef. Two interesting touches, the pickled mustard seeds which helped to cut the richness and the savory crisp chocolate made this dish just that much better.
Next up was an interesting dish, the Foie Gras Brulee. Tasting the combinations of flavors in this was rather unpleasant for me as I thought it way too sweet.
Though I loved the salted brioche, the brulee was too much like having candy and pudding for dinner. Great when you're in elementary school, but not after. The cocoa nibs did act to settle things down and take it into a more savory-coffee direction, but it was just too much, until...... I tried this with the beer pairing.
This dish was pared with the Dogfish Head Midas Touch. The Missus loved it as well, it has a mead-like texture and that honey like flavor. There some fruitiness to it and the Missus enjoyed that component....I'm thinking that is probably due to the use of muscat grapes in the making of this. It's a favorite beer of our now. This just seemed to take that sharp sweet edge off the Foie Gras Brulee. To me, this was an awesome pairing.
The Missus got the Grilled Spanish Octopus ($22):
You wouldn't have thought this was octopus if you looked at it. Bond told us they removed the suckers and such so as to "not scare the customers". The octopus was very tender, but this wasn't especially memorable.
My next dish was the Pan-Roasted Sea Scallop. Man, the Jamon Iberico, mild salty-sweet, along with the creamy sunchoke-parsley root, and the olive oil made for a wonderful match.
Scallop and cured pig, a match made in heaven....there should be a children's book by that name, don't you think?
This was paired with another beer from Belgium, Duvel. Very fizzy, clean, with what seems like a bit of spice, this didn't mess with the flavor of the scallops.
The Missus got Her second favorite dish of the evening; the Slow Poached Organic Farm Egg($18), which was almost obscured from view by all the shaved truffles.
The Missus just loved this, even the potato foam and the smoked potato. She was in egg-truffle heaven.
Next up was a very nice Venison Tenderloin. This might just be some of the most tender venison I've ever had.
You could really taste the venison in this dish. The combination of flavors was very pleasant.
Loved the pairing, the Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock looked really heavy, but was not. Has a raisin-chocolate, earthy flavor which goes well with the gamey venison.
Just to prove that there is too much of a good thing, we were stunned at the huge portion size of the Roasted Sweetbreads ($17).
The dish started out really good...especially the sweet and smokey glazed bacon, which was a like a nice smoked pork belly. The sweetbreads were good at first, not the best I've had, they could have been a bit more, well, gooey on the inside. But man, after a couple of bites of this rich stuff, you pretty much wanted to hoist up the white flag. I'd prefer it more lightly fried....and that portion size was quite large for sweetbreads. And yes TFD, these are thymus glands.
Our last two savory dishes were very good. The 48 Hour Beef Belly, was rich, but the roasted quince and the caraway spiced squash helped temper things.
This was served with a Chimay Grande Reserve which was very fruity, perhaps a bit too fruity for my taste.
The Missus's last dish was the Braised Beef Tongue ($19). All I can say is that this was outstanding. Looking all the world like it would be on the waxy side, this was tender to the touch. The celery moved the dish forward by cutting the richness as did the apple cider based sauce. This had the rich, slightly gamey flavor of well made beef tongue.
Our palates were given a nice respite with "Zambuca Caviar".......
Somebody in the kitchen is playing with spherification! I'm usually not a big fan of sweet anise flavors, but this really did the trick.
I really couldn't do much after this so the Missus had the Grapefruit Semifreddo.
Dessert also came with a hard cider, a Eric Bordelet, Sidre Doux Tendre from France which the Missus really enjoyed. I ordered another Midas Touch as my dessert.
The Missus and I really enjoyed our dinner at Sage. The staff made us feel comfortable. When I told "Bond" that we'd be exchanging plates and sharing, he encouraged it. The service was excellent, efficient, but not hovering nor stuffy. We had a great time......the GM of the restaurant even came over to chat. We never felt rushed and the meal was well paced, clocking in at just a tad over 2 hours. The bill wasn't too bad either. I gave you all the prices for the starters. The Chef's Tasting Menu clocks in at $120, the beer tasting an extra $50, so we're talking about $300 total. I'm kind of glad that my other four choices didn't pan out......
Sage in Aria Resort and Casino 3732 Las Vegas Blvd South Las Vegas, NV 89109
After having some poke from Hawaaian Style Poke in the parking lot of 99 Ranch Market, I realized it was still too early to check out my "lunch stop". So what better to do then check out 99 Ranch Market? In fact, after walk around 99 Ranch Market, I drove up the street and had a look-see at 168 Market, which wasn't around the last time we visited Vegas.
The set-up of this 99 Ranch Market reminded me of the Irvine location.
Items are a bit more expensive here as well. Love the Engrish signs as well.....
Further up the street is 168 Market, which I thought was the cleanest of the three I visited.
I left 168 and jumped into my car and headed over to the plaza that housed Shun Fat Market. On the second floor is a Shaghainese Restaurant called Three Villages that had been mentioned to me a couple of times.
The set-up was a bit odd; at least for me. The "front" or street facing entrance is locked and really is just a large sign. You have to go around the corner and fine the entrance and the place almost looks vacated.
But of course it wasn't........the place was empty when I arrived though. I had to call out to check if they were actually in business.
Ordering was pretty simple. I'd come here for the Xiao Long Bao. I did make it a "combo" for a buck more and got some soup....a very plain soup with bean thread and tofu.
Actually this kind of plain, but hearty soup is the kind of thing the Missus likes....me, not so much. I will say that it was a pretty large amount of soup.
The XLB arrived soon after. First thing I noticed was how doughy and thick looking the wrappers were.
Still, I'm not the biggest fan of the over-worked, very thin wrappers and these ended up having a decent light stretch to them.....I still thought they were a bit on the thick side.
The filling was disappointing. Since they only have straight up pork XLB, I didn't expect a great range of flavors from the soup, but this was pretty weak, lacking in a good pork flavor and having no sweetness what so ever. The filling also had some hard bits as well.
Still better than anything in San Diego though. That's really not saying much.....
Three Villages Restaurant 5115 W Spring Mountain Road Las Vegas, NV 89103
After lunch I headed downstairs and had a little stroll through Shun Fat Market.
Since I was headed back to our room, I picked up a couple of Suan Nai for breakfast.
Just walking through these three markets you could notice things. The cleanest and busiest was 168. Both 168 and 99 Ranch Market actually listed the origin of their seafood, SF did not. The least cleanest was SF. I also saw a woman pick up a fish with her hands at SFM, then after putting it back she washed her hands....in the tank holding the clams! As I walked to my car in the strip mall, I smelled an acrid odor that everyone knows.....I saw the pool of liquid near the stairs. Unlike the seafood in SFM, I knew the country of origin of this liquid..... "urine-nation". Yikes.
If you're from Hawaii, I'm sure you heard Vegas called the "Ninth Island". I'm pretty sure that ore ex-pats from Hawaii live in Vegas than the rest of the United States combined. I'm not sure what the allure is, but I do remember folks I know packing up and moving back in the 90's, drawn by the gambling and the lower cost of living. Bozo told me that Vegas gets over 250,000 visitors from Hawaii a year and you really can't help but run into them. You'll run into them every which way you turn if you stay at the "capital of the Ninth Island", the California Hotel in downtown.
It was quite a phenomenon, how Sam Boyd and the California Hotel developed such a beloved relationship with local folks. In fact even been a book written about it. Cheap flights (remember "Didi Ah Yo and away we go?") and locals love of gambling sealed the deal. I still remember my first trip to Vegas with friends....of course we stayed at the Cali. I recall getting in at night...oh, the bright lights, oh the gambling! Then I got up in the morning and pulled back the curtains and I swear, all I saw was, desert, railroad tracks, and gila monsters.
I didn't think I'd get the Missus to the Cali; there's so much else to interest Her. I could have lured Her with the oxtail soup from Market Street Cafe, but they only start serving that from 11pm. So while the Missus was occupied elsewhere, I decided to visit for old times sake. The crowd and believe me, it was pretty busy, looks a lot older nowadays. But Market Street Cafe is still going strong with folks waiting in line at 915 in the morning.
It was nice wandering around a bit.....great memories of those really cheap junkets we used to take. I've had many a meal at Aloha Specialties which wasn't open yet on this morning.
I don't really gamble anymore....the Missus gets major chest pains watching me lose perfectly good money which could have gone to Her next pair of Christian Louboutins. But I thought I'd part with a twenty for old times sake at the slots. Two pulls later I was up over $550! You always get the better odds at these type of places. I played it down to $500 and cashed out quickly. The folks working here have always been very friendly....probably because of the Hawaii connection.
I took a quick walk down Fremont Street, which looked really depressed......
Then it was time to hele......
I headed back up to Spring Mountain Road. I thought I'd treat myself to two medium size lunches, the first was to grab some poke at Hawaiian Style Poke.
Now the thought of eating fish in the middle of Nevada might seem a bit odd to you, but with all the transplanted locals....well, I was curious. I initially thought of hitting up the popular Poke Express, but Bozo told me that this little, fairly hard to find shop near the corner of Wynn and Spring Mountain Roads was the way to go....so I did.
The shop is tiny, with a fish counter and trays of small batches of fish. There are different "seasonings" on the fish, but it looks like they pour on the same shoyu based "sauce" on everything. Fair enough, as the fish looked pretty fresh. I drove across the street to the plaza that holds 99 Ranch Market and had at my poke under this.....
Both the spicy garlic and shoyu poke were ok.
The spicy garlic wasn't very spicy and though there was some garlic flavor it was pretty salty from the shoyu. The shoyu poke was also on the salty side and you could tell the fish wasn't really "A" grade....though I gotta say, the prices aren't bad, $14.99 a pound if I recall. There were a couple of pieces with fibrous "sugi" and a few that were plain tough.
I am without a doubt somewhat of a creature of habit, there are certain "rituals" that I follow......in Vegas after dropping the Missus off, I'll take a walk up and down the strip to see what's new. I'll usually do this in the morning to avoid the crowds. It had been four years since our last trip here and for me, the biggest change was the massive City Center complex.....
Things had shifted a bit since our last visit....there are now a good number of suite-style offerings; larger rooms, small kitchens, away from the hustle, bustle, cigarette smoke, and noise of the casinos.
We actually stayed at the Fairfield, not quite on the strip, good sized rooms, and away enough from it all to kind of chill. It was easy to get to the strip though....the shuttle to the Mandalay Bay, the tram to Excalibur, a short walk through Monte Carlo to the tram station from Aria to the Bellagio.....
Soon enough you're staring at the Paris......
Which was enough time for me to head back and catch the shuttle at New York, New York, back to the Fairfield.
As for lunch; well, I usually go off the strip. I'd heard about a newer place in Summerlin, that did...well, that much too often used description, "farm to table comfort cuisine"......yet it came highly recommended. So I took that 20 minute drive. I'm sure the distance really wasn't that bad, it just seemed that way. The restaurant, named Honey Salt, was tucked away in the corner of a strip mall.....
Looking very unassuming from the outside, this place was really happening....so many "women doing lunch". It reminded me of places I've been in say, Scottsdale or Buckhead in Atlanta..... The Hostess was very nice telling me they would have a table for me in a few minutes....but I opted for the mellow bar area......
Which must have been fate....I asked the bartender if "it's okay if I sit here...." His response? "Eh, you from Hawaii, huh?" We call "Vegas" the "9th Island", so many visit and so many have moved there...you can't help but run into someone from "home". And once he introduced himself as "Bozo".....I knew he was the real deal. This was going to be a great lunch......regardless of the food.
Anyway, beyond the pleasantries.....there were many of the typical, "whea' you from" discussions..., eventually things headed to the menu. I had a couple of things in mind, Harissa crusted strip steak salad and Big Eye Tuna Tartar with Crunchy Quinoa came to mind. But MrB told me the two most popular dishes, at least on his watch, which led me to order items I would never had considered.
Starting with the Turkey Meatballs ($9).......really, turkey meatballs, when was the last time I ordered these? Try never.....
Caramelized onions and a touch of horseradish added some sweetness and pungency. And though the acid was a bit too much, I gotta say, these were the most moist and tender turkey meatballs I've ever had...literally melting in my mouth. You could easily have mistaken them for veal.
For my main, Bozo told me the Biloxi Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich ($13) was the best seller.
The chicken was very moist, though I would have appreciated a bit more "crunch" to it. The brioche was mildly buttery without being too sweet. The slaw completed without overpowering and added a bit more texture to the sandwich.
Actually, I really enjoyed the salad....the kale and edamame really balanced things out...to the utter joy of the Missus who eats and juices kale by the bushel.
I actually enjoyed the food here more than Urban Solace......
Of course, during our meal, another "Bruddah" stopped by for take-out....what can you say? In the end this was a nice meal made better by eating at the bar and talking to another ex-pat Kama'aina and also the young lady from South Africa who convinced Bruddah Bozo (in slang that means "Boy"), a third generation "Bozo", that he needed to check out Lotus of Siam soon. I also got a nice tip on grabbing some poke too.......
Honey Salt 1031 S Rampart Blvd Las Vegas, NV 89145
Perhaps I should have titled this post, "LOS Twelve Years Later" because that's how long we've been coming to Lotus of Siam. No trip to Vegas would be complete without a visit to the rather worn strip mall on East Sahara Avenue.......according to my friends, "where cabs don't mind dropping you off, but don't like picking you up." Based on our last meal here almost four years ago, our expectations were high.
We had wondered how time had changed LOS and the answer was easy enough to find. First, Bill Chutima, who owns and runs LOS along with his wife and chef Saipin Chutima is quite the oenophile. There's now a rather large collection of wine on display as you enter. An even bigger difference is that the space next door has been taken over, doubling the size of the restaurant. Even with double the space, hordes of people are still waiting in line at LOS......at least from what we saw on this evening. At least two mini-vans dropped off groups of folks to eat.......all this on a Thursday. Good thing we were on our way out the door when they arrived.
We're always torn when eating at LOS. We want to try out new dishes, but also stick with our favorites from previous visits. Usually, sticking with favorites wins out.
Our main server on this night was the wonderful and warm Mai. Friendly without being overbearing, he enjoyed discussing food, especially Thai food both in the US and Thailand with us. He was a great ambassador for LOS.
The Missus wanted something light and refreshing to start. So we ordered the Soft Shell Crab Salad ($18.95).
Whomever fried this deserves a raise.....the crab was excellent, light and ethereal, with just the perfect crunch. I'm not a big fan of fruits in salads, but here, the green apple did a nice job of adding an additional layer of tartness, without interfering with the overall balance of the dish. In other words, the soul of the dish was unmistakably Thai. It was a great start to our meal.....
Unfortunately, those heights were never quite reached again. Of course we ordered the Koi Soy ($13.95). I just had to have it. LOS was the first place I'd ever had this wonderful raw beef "salad" back in 2002 and it is my benchmark for the dish.
We knew something was off when the dish arrived.....there seemed to be a lot less roasted rice powder, which added great texture and a mild nuttiness to the dish. Some of the pieces of the beef were quite hard and chewy, something I had never experienced with the Koi Neua at LOS. There was a ton of cilantro, but I couldn't taste kaffir lime leaf. You can just compare this with the what we had four years ago below..... This is still good, but not nearly as wonderful as what we've had during previous visits.
Another signature dish at LOS is a Crispy Duck with Chili Mint Leaves ($20.95).
This didn't measure up well either. While the duck was wonderfully fried, there seemed to be a paucity of sauce, which also tasted off, the balance of salt and sweet just didn't seem right. It also looked pretty sloppy with sauce dripping off the side of the plate. Again, this was not a bad dish, the frying was carried out to perfection, it just wasn't as good as before.
Again, another photo from the files.
I mentioned that the restaurant on the other side of LOS had closed down to Mai and joked that the next time we're back they'll have taken over that space as well. His answer was quite interesting. We were told that they now typically do about 400 covers on a good weeknight and sometimes up to 450-500 during the weekend. The restaurant space had been expanded, but the kitchen had not. I began wondering if LOS had not become a victim of its own success?
Didn't have much time to contemplate this as our next two dishes arrived. We had been missing Lanna style Thai. Not so much the Khao Soi, but more of the "dips" which we call "Nam Prik" type dishes. So we ordered first the Nam Prik Hed (Spicy Mushroom Dip - $9.95):
This was another dish that was fine, but didn't hit the same heights as what we've had here before. This was much too sour and the mushrooms too chewy. Sad really, since we really enjoyed it last time - see the photo on the right.
The Nam Prik Noom (Green Chili Dip - $9.95) was good, even though we ordered everything at a heat level '7', this one really brought it to the table.
Loved having this with sticky rice or with some of the light pork rinds. Smokey, with a pernicious burn, I'm thinking my heat tolerance has gone down over the last couple of years.
As I repeated many times, this wasn't a bad meal by any stretch of the imagination. It is indeed better than anything in San Diego. And while newer or first time visitors may think this is fantastic, the bar had been set on our many visits over the years. We know how good the food can, and had been.....and this wasn't it. Remember, Jonathan Gold, back when he used to post on Chowhound, called this the best Thai Restaurant in North America. The Missus was more disappointed than I was. We had just plain wonderful service, so I'm hoping that this was just an "off" night. Now I'll have to try and convince the Missus of that.
Lotus of Siam 953 E. Sahara Ave Las Vegas, NV 89104 (702)735-3033
We had really been enjoying our meal at Raku, but I sensed an upcoming lull waiting for the item the Missus was looking forward to having. So I decided to just kind of go for it, ordering some sashimi from the specials board. Having really enjoyed the Shima Aji (striped jack) during my lunch at Mitch's, I wanted the Missus to have a taste.
Along with the pristine slices of fish was a small bit of nice tartar featuring avocado, cilantro, along with the shima aji. The fish was quite good, firm, with a mild sweetness. The Missus just loved the fresh grated wasabi and was actually eating the stuff straight up! I really didn't think much of the sashimi and fish dishes at Raku on our previous visit, but this changed my opinion.
I then decided to take a bathroom break......now why would I mention this......a "TMI" moment. But if you recall, I thought the restroom set-up was quite unique the last time we were here. The faux grass and stone path to the potty are now gone.....but the greenery on the ceiling of the restroom and tweeting bird sounds are still there. I also enjoyed the photo collage of various dishes on the wall.
And of course there are still flower petals lining the floor.......
As I returned, one of the dishes I'd been waiting for arrived......the foie gras with tare. With the ban on foie gras going full steam in California, I needed my fix. The Missus thought I was insane ordering a $16 skewer of foie gras, but what arrived was pretty impressive.
I was surprised at how good this was.......it was really ready to melt. The look on the Missus's face when She had Her first bite was just priceless. So luxurious......I told the Missus that this was so good I wanted "to kick myself". We took our time on this, enjoying every single morsel. When the server came to take the plate away, I thought the Missus was going to do bodily harm on the very efficient guy. The empty plate remained on the table....I actually thought the Missus was going to lick all the rendered fat off the plate!
The final dish of the night was the sake kamameshi, the salmon and ikura iron pot rice. It was a chalkboard special the last time we ordered this and at $35 was probably the most expensive rice dish I can recall ordering. Now you can order it by the cup....well, the Missus ordered 3 cups! That's three cups of uncooked rice......which came to $30 bucks anyway!
This was just as wonderful as on our previous visit. The Missus had the extra bonus of pouring off all the rendered foie gras fat on Her bowl of rice. This was way too much for us to finish of course, but like last time, they made us onigiri with the leftover rice. Which I had as a snack over the next two nights.
The service was reserved but nice. The one male server was pretty amazing in his efficiency. He would pick up on every tiny drop of spilled sauce and get things cleaned up and plates changed and removed with great speed.
It could be that we understand what we enjoy at Raku, making this visit more enjoyable than our last......but I honestly think Raku has improved over the last four years. I can't wait for our next visit!
Aburiya Raku Restaurant 5030 Spring Mountain Rd Las Vegas, NV 89146 (702) 367-3511 Hours: Mon-Sat 600pm - 300am
Man, time sure does fly, huh? It seems that it was only yesterday that we had a wonderful meal at Raku. But time had indeed marched onward and it was time for the Missus to renew Her certifications....which strangely, you aren't able to do in San Diego. Not that I'm complaining mind you, not in the least. This was actually fairly last minute, but I've got a wonderful manager and a great team who had no problem covering for me in spite of the rather late notice. This time, instead of the Missus flying out and I meeting Her a day later, She just picked me up at work and we drove up to Vegas. Of course this meant that we'd be getting in rather late, but since I usually get into the office before 6 (pssst, what they tell you about needing less sleep as you get older seems to be true!), She could pick me up at a bit after 3pm. In need of a late dinner, Raku, open until 3am immediately came to mind. We made reservations for 10pm, but actually got in before 9, checked in.....it was easy since we weren't staying on the strip....the Missus isn't fond of the crowds, cigarette smoked, and the noise of the strip. We arrived at Raku early to see if they could take us.....and being a rather quiet Wednesday, they had no problem.
Combined with the chalkboard items, the robata-ya, oden, and the rest, there's quite a bit to choose from at Raku. Luckily, we'd been here before and knew what we enjoyed....and more importantly, what we didn't. It made ordering....well not easy because of all the great stuff we had before....but perhaps a bit easier.
As per the program, the very nice Server told us to have this first with the matcha-shio (green tea salt), then with the whatever we wanted. While the matcha-shio experience was nice, this was just plain heaven with the house blended soy sauce.....nice mild hints of ume in it. The tofu, while soft, is not quite silken, but still wonderful and I thought the Missus would actually start chugging that shoyu......
Next up was what the Missus thought would be an interesting combination......it wasn't strange for me, but She thought the "gooey on gooey" would be different. Thus we ordered the Poached Egg with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe ($9). This was really a nice combination. I've always been a fan of the ikura (salmon roe) that Raku serves....it isn't the overly preserved and salty stuff you see at most places. Here's it's briney with a nice "pop".
I loved how the flavors wrapped themselves around my tongue. You mixed the whole thing up...the tororo wasn't just grated, but a combination of diced and grated, so you got the nice, very mildly sweet effect. The flavors created were so complex, sweet and custard like from the uni, a mild "green taste" from the thin slices of okra that seemed like a bonus everytime you had a slice....you get the point, right?
Then the robata items started arriving. First the enoki mushroom wrapped in a nice mildly smoked bacon.
Then the Kobe Beef Fillet with Wasabi....very tender and beefy, with the wasabi adding that nice fat cutting pungency....much like horseradish.....
The tare was nice, not too sweet.
Then something we had on our previous visit, the Duck with Balsamic Soy.
We'd really enjoyed this the last time....this time around...well, I didn't care for it at all. First, the balsamic glaze tasted burnt and bitter to me and the duck was really tough.
The Missus had never had Pork Cheek robata style, so I thought it would be a nice time to try it.
Well, She liked the flavor, but the texture.......at first bite, just like pork, but then chewy and tendon like, freaked Her out.
At this point, it seemed that the one item that the Missus really wanted was still a few minutes away....so what to do?