Sunday, December 6, 2009

Postrio

I believe Wolfgang Puck to be an exceptional chef. I also believe his restaurant empire has become a little too large and unwieldy to be properly managed. On visits to a few of his outlets in Vegas and elsewhere (Wolfgang Puck Cafe and Chinois to name a couple) I have found the food to be widely inconsistent and just above average at best. But, he makes boatloads of money off of numerous sub-par outlets and the occasional gem, so I don't see a decline coming in the near future. Postrio, however, happens to be one sparkling gem in this restaurant king's crown.

Taking up its fair share of Saint Mark's Square in The Venetian, Postrio has two Italian dining options to compete with that are within 100 feet of its front desk. One of those two, Enoteca San Marco, is one of my favorite lunch spots on the strip, but if I'm there at dinner time Postrio will definitely be the place.

The menu here is fairly new. Wolfgang Puck's corporate site still lists this outpost as a "bar and grill" serving California cuisine with Mediterranean influences. They need to update their site to let people know that this place has come to play with the big boys of authentic Italian cuisine here in Las Vegas. While it does still hold on to some California influences, like a Shrimp Louis or a lobster club sandwich, the more classical Italian dishes truly shine here.

It isn't the menu that impresses me most here, or even the very accessible and good wine list, it's the execution of the dishes. Just like a significant other, a restaurant can look great on paper but not be worth the price of admission if the execution isn't there. Pastas are cooked perfectly as are meats, and flavors are bold yet balanced. The Ricotta Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms and Truffle essence is my new favorite way to eat gnocchi, and that's saying something. My girlfriend has been talking about going back just for the Pumpkin Ravioli with butternut squash and whatever the amazing sauce was that made the whole dish that much better. But the Veal Osso Bucco takes top honors in my book. Served with root vegetables (carrots were a little undercooked, the only slight misstep from a rock solid kitchen) and an amazing rendition of a creamy polenta, the meat and the marrow were perfectly seasoned and cooked.

The menu shows seasonal changes but seems to keep around many of the basic dishes with tweaks to ingredients based on the time of year. This is another positive. And, it means if my girlfriend wants that pumpkin ravioli again she should probably get back soon. If you're smart, you'll get there ASAP too.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Free Turkey Day

Well, I did it. I didn't burn down the house, and, most importantly, my Thanksgiving meal came out close to perfectly. This is a feat because I'm usually the one eating and critiquing and not the one cooking. I have next to zero training and only cook once or twice per year. The only advantage I have over many people is how lucky I've been to experience so many great meals and flavors.

Would you like the recipes? Yeah, so would I. My recipe for success was a near complete disregard for recipes. But here's a few hints, tips, and ingredients that I found along the way yesterday.

Based on the experience I had last night, people should eat more quail. It's not cheap, but it's not horribly expensive either. At $29 for six little birds from Branded Meats and Deli here in Henderson, the fun of eating these diminutive delicacies alone is worth the tariff. The birds I got were cleaned and had just the wing and leg bones still intact. For me, and most amateurs, this is probably the best way to go. I simply rubbed the birds inside and out with butter, salt, pepper, and thyme before broiling them for about seven minutes breast up and about 3 minutes flipped over. They had great flavor and were very juicy and tender.

I'm going to put a pear demi-glace on everything I eat from now on. I know that doesn't sound like the cheapest condiment, nor the easiest to come by, but it may be the best. I used about a cup of chicken stock, three cups of pear juice, onions, salt, pepper, thyme, and a Glace de Poulet base and reduced it all down to about a cup. It was rich and had the essence of pear without being sweet.

I suppose my dad does have a good idea once in a while. His biggest contribution to the meal was the recipe for a creamy lemon-scented polenta for the birds to rest on. I nearly followed the recipe. I would be a terrible baker, but the polenta was a great flavorful addition to the plate. My homemade pomegranate vinaigrette went nicely with the arugula, shallot, pomegranate, and glazed walnut salad my dad and I came around to for my vegetable.

If you're going to sear foie gras at home, open a window or two before the liver hits the pan. Make sure the pieces are about 3/4" thick for best results. The foie was tasty but cold by the time I actually got to it, oh well.

Yes, I did make my famous homemade butternut squash soup and cranberry sauce (which I embellished with a little pear juice to great effect) as well, but we were so satisfied with the dinner as it was on the plate we didn't even get to these more traditional Thanksgiving accouterments.

For about $100, including wine from Valley Cheese and Wine, I could have easily fed four people with this spread. So if you want a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner that will knock the socks off your guests next year, this menu wouldn't be a terrible idea. Just don't expect me to cook it for you.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner Tweets!

Follow my Twitter account all day today for updates on how my Thanksgiving dinner is coming together. I'm cooking instead of just eating today so it's a big deal.

For those of you who don't know, here's the menu:

Roasted Quail with Seared Foie Gras and Pear Demi-Glace atop a Creamy, Lemony Polenta accompanied by Arugula dressed with a Pomegranate Vinaigrette and candied walnuts. To keep it more in line with Thanksgiving, I will make a Butternut Squash Soup, and my Homemade Cranberry Sauce is already waiting in the fridge.

So check it out if you're interested at http://twitter.com/bwdining.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm In The Right City

I recently accepted my first paid food writing gig. A fair amount of work for very little pay, just how everyone should start out. It made me do something interesting though. I had to figure out how many restaurants I could truly say something nice about in this town. I came up with about 37 on the strip, and 17 off of it, just off the top of my head. I italicized "something" for a reason. Of these 54 restaurants, about eleven are going to cause me trouble to come up with the proper diction to make people really believe they shouldn't be avoided completely. The truth is, those eleven restaurants aren't bad, and some even have a Michelin Star, but in this town I have to hold restaurants to a higher standard than I would in, say, Fresno.

Fresno is not the restaurant city that Las Vegas is. That probably went without saying, but just in case you didn't know. That doesn't mean Fresno is lacking establishments which garner my praise on a regular basis, just not as many or as varied as here in Vegas. There are probably five Mexican restaurants there that beat out everything here. There is one Chinese restaurant that beats out everything here. There is an Italian place that could certainly hold its own (or trash the competition in the case of Zeffirino) in the Venetian itself. Their most widely known Mediterranean place is better than ours (Paymon's), and the chefs with their names on restaurants actually work in those restaurants. That being said, I can think of only about ten places off the top of my head about which I could find something nice to say based on my Las Vegas standards.

Does that mean writing about food is easier or harder in Las Vegas than in Fresno? Stupid question. Writing about food is never hard. But, in Las Vegas the opportunity to dress down a Food Network star is just as appetizing as giving the mom and pop place down the street the recognition it so deeply deserves and needs. In Fresno there are really only mom and pops and massive chains. The massive chains don't need your praise and won't suffer from your insults, while the mom and pops live and die by local perception.

So is it easier to write about food in Las Vegas? Definitely. With a higher density of amazing places there is more praise going around, the more everyday places become easier to malign, and the bad places easier to ignore. In a place like Fresno, where restaurants seem more a necessary evil than a way of life, the bar is much lower and it is the rare restaurateur that rises above it.

I know you're thinking good food is good food no matter the city. While that's true, there are different levels. Las Vegas probably isn't even in the top tier of restaurant cities. Mostly because it is located in a desert where nothing is really grown locally for wide consumption. That is actually good for my cause too, because it gives me something to fall back on when I can't find anything else to complain about, and it keeps some of the food savvy focused on the upper echelon cities while I'm free to make myself heard on the second rung. And while Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley feed much of the world with their produce, the restaurants consuming that produce locally are widely dispassionate about its use.

By moving to a city with a plethora of dining delights but not without its culinary issues, I made my life better in more ways than one. First, I always have something to write about. Second, I never have to cook for myself. And third, someone I don't even know might actually read this.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Reason I Know Mexican Food on The Strip Sucks

Mexican food in Las Vegas is sub-par as a whole, and a downright rip-off on the strip. I know there are some places on the strip with decent food which claim to be Mexican restaurants, but if you're paying more than ten dollars for a burrito, beans, and rice you're doing something wrong.


This isn't a blog about any particular Las Vegas restaurant though. Instead, I simply wonder why we can't get it right in this town. I just took a short jaunt to my hometown of Fresno, California and one of my lunches was at Mariscos Colima. No fancy neon signs or scantily clad female bartenders pouring too much Patron. Instead, it's two trailers, a concrete roof between them covering twenty or so tables, and good food.

While nothing in this valley can compare to that one place alone, not to mention five or six others in Fresno that are great (not just passable like the stuff here) Mexican restaurants, the "Mexican" restaurants on the strip receive all negative marks in my book for not understanding what makes that regional cuisine great.

I could go on and on with my specific gripes beyond high prices and generally bland food, but I won't bore you with that. I just don't bother with Mexican food on the Strip anymore, and that's a shame because it is one of my favorite cuisines.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Travel Post

Over the past two months I spent about a week and a half in different parts of California, and it was great. The weather was great. The food was great. The friends and family I got to see were, well, you get the picture. So here's a quick rundown of what I ate and where and, of course, if you should follow suit.

Los Angeles:

Bottega Louie-- A huge, beautiful space with high ceilings and marble floors. Good solid food and vast small plate options make this a definite foodie-friendly spot. Don't expect to hear what the person across the table from you says, though, as it is monstrously loud in here. Service is spot-on and prices are definitely in line for the quality of the food. I can't recommend a first date or business meeting here, but if you take your nagging significant other it may be one of the best restaurant experiences you ever have.

City Hall Farmers Market-- No clue what the name of the place selling the pupusas with the grilled plantains and fruit drinks was, but I'm sure this is the best way to experience their El Salvadorean cuisine anyway. The pupusa was tasty and the plantains were beautifully caramelized. The watermelon juice was much more watered down than it should have been, but everyone has to make money. A seat on the edge of a fountain while music plays on a sunny Southern California day makes everything better, but the food would have been yummy without the amenities.

Cafe Pinot-- Ah, the Patina Group. Their restaurants range from the sublime to the sub-par. This one, unfortunately, lay closer to the sub-par side than the other. The cooking here is widely uninspired in spite of their proximity to such a grand source of inspiration as the Los Angeles County Library must be. The specials are anything but. The basics here are executed fairly well, but this place is more miss than hit. Oh well, I needed something to complain about on this trip anyway.

San Francisco:

Gary Danko-- Anyone who really knows me, knows Gary Danko has been on my mind since my first visit over three years ago. For good reason too. I'm not sure how, but I think they may have even upped their game at this amazing restaurant since then. Between myself, my best friend, and his girlfriend, we tried 14 different items on their menu. From fish to fowl, from app to dessert, there was not a slip-up or a miss among them. Everything is cooked to perfection, and the flavors are amazingly balanced. Service is perfect. In short, it's the best. Go. Now.

Modern Thai-- Techno music in a bright, vibrant space isn't usually a combination that screams good Thai food to me. In fact, I'm not sure what it screams, but the food here definitely qualifies as good to very good. It's no Lotus of Siam, but while in San Francisco you could definitely do worse.

Oakland:

Sidebar-- At this classy but relaxed place right off the lake, they like it when you eat locally. Even their bar menu features both classic and locavore versions of their cocktails. Solid food and drink in a friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately the service is spotty, otherwise a solid find in a town not known for cuisine.

Healdsburg:

Bovolo-- First, I saw on the website that their slogan is "Slow food... Fast!" I knew I had to go. Then I saw it was located at the back of a bookstore. I was no longer sure what I was getting into. I'm very glad we walked to the back of that bookstore and had the salad and sandwiches at this little counter service joint. Fresh, fast, and flavorful. It doesn't get much better than this when it comes to sandwiches. If you're in California wine country you need to check this place out.

Thumbprint Cellars-- Their tasting room in downtown Healdsburg is currently inhabited by paintings of meditating superheroes, which made this place a winner before I even had a sip. Then I had a few sips and found a few new favorite wines. All small production stuff that totally rocked my socks. Certainly a must visit the next time you're in that neck of the woods. And, if you want to give me an awesome $2000 gift, buy me the meditating Superman while there.

San Leandro:

Joaquin Deli-- I know what you're thinking, "You went to San Leandro just to go to a deli? Not some fancy French place or some other ethnic gem?" My answer is yes, and I would do it again. The sandwiches were great, fresh and vibrant in flavor. It's a tiny counter service place in a converted house. Are the meats the same quality as Bovolo above? No, but at about 40% cheaper and an hour closer to my friend's apartment, I'll take the minor step down.

So, for those of you who weren't there, be jealous of my recent California treks. If not because of the (mostly) outstanding food, then certainly because of the spectacular weather and sights which inhabit those areas. And if you were there, still be jealous because I had you for company.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ichiza

If you've read my blog before you've heard of Raku, the beautifully sedate space on Spring Mountain just West of Decatur that serves amazing, refined Japanese bar food. If Raku is a 45-year-old Tokyo businessman with years of experience and the clothes and cars to show for it, then Ichiza is his 19-year-old, Tamagotchi playing, anime watching, punk rock listening, fauxhawk wearing nephew. I like to be around both of them, it just depends on my mood and who else is going to be around as to which one I prefer any given night.

Ichiza, located about a mile East of Raku on the second floor of one of the many Asian strip-malls on Spring Mountain, does everything I've tried amazingly well. From the simple but tasty beef tataki to the miso marinated cod, the boiled tripe in a tasty broth to the chicken katsu, everything is cooked wonderfully and has flavors good enough to make this critic swear off French cuisine for good (don't worry, I had my fingers crossed). This place makes me extra happy because they have lightly breaded, deep fried smelt, a hard to find favorite of mine. I even tried their fermented soybeans. Definitely an acquired taste. The deep fried quail eggs garnered what has been my only complaint about their food thus far, with the plastic-like outer part on a couple of the whites (this happens whenever you over fry an egg) of the otherwise delicious eggs.

So where does the contrast with Raku come in? Certainly both do a bang-up job in the food department, but it comes down to one thing: Style. While Raku is warm and inviting in a more sedate and refined way, Ichiza welcomes you with communal tables, a long bar, upbeat music barely audible over the more raucous crowd, and an English speaking waitstaff. The platings at Ichiza cannot touch the delicate grace of those at Raku, but they don't really need to. Ichiza does everything right with the food and has dead solid service so the more rudimentary platings won't bother anyone.

While Raku will probably remain my go-to spot with foreign dignitaries (friends and family) and heads of state (my girlfriend), Ichiza is my new favorite gritty locale for out-of-this-world late-night grub.


Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Ichiza Sake House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where I've Eaten Lately

An amateur food critic is at the mercy of his own pocketbook. Mine has not been very full lately, and, therefore, I haven't been doing too much eating out worthy of comment. I have been a couple places without reviewing them, so I will give them a little shout here.

I've heard for a few years that Pin Kaow, a Las Vegas Thai chain (3 in the valley), is at least serviceable and sometimes better than that. At lunch last week I found their Henderson location to be good at the basics we tried. The Pad Thai is definitely a good rendition, and since they are much closer to me than Lotus of Siam, I will probably be back sooner than later. The other items we tried were all fresh and tasty. The restaurant is nicely appointed and the service is solid (a notable departure from the other Thai place above).

Ping Pang Pong has been the place for dim sum in Las Vegas for as long as I've lived here, but I had never been there until a Mothers Day weekend visit with my parents and girlfriend. Lately there has been a buzz about China Mama and Beijing Noodle No. 9 for some of their dim sum items, but if they truly are better than triple P, I will be surprised (This next month is going to be busy for me on the Asian restaurant front). The dim sum selections are wonderfully executed, other selections are equally tasty, and the service is brisk and adequate.

All of the Green Valley area of Henderson seems to be abuzz about The Cracked Egg's fourth valley location in the Smith's shopping center at Green Valley and the 215. I went and found that, despite my doubts, there was a good reason for all the buzz. No matter what you order be sure to get some of their coffee cake. Fresh, warm and seemingly always with a different thing thrown into the mix (chocolate chips, apples, or cherries for instance), it is worth the trip by itself. Eggs are cooked to order correctly, everything tastes fresh, and service is on par with, if not a little better than, other good breakfast joints.

I have, no pun intended, heard mixed reviews of Mix at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay since before I moved to town. I now know the reason why. The restaurant itself is beautiful. From the view to the sedate yet surprisingly beautiful dining room, you can't go wrong with the ambiance here. The service matches the restaurant itself in its elegance and near perfection. The problem is, I don't go to restaurants for the ambiance. It helps, no doubt, when wooing a member of the opposite sex or a prospective client, but when I go to eat, I go to eat. I found the food to be haphazardly executed. The menu is well stocked with great combinations but the things I tried were not executed at close to the level that befits the price tag.

I guess I haven't been eating that poorly really. Throw in a couple requisite late night trips to Raku and the past month has provided some adequate, and sometimes superb, victuals. The next month and a half should hold Wazuzu, China Mama, Beijing Noodle No. 9, wherever I eat in Los Angeles, and of course a little Raku. Looks tasty.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Pin Kaow thai on Urbanspoon
Ping Pang Pong (Gold Coast) on Urbanspoon
Cracked Egg on Urbanspoon
Mix (THEhotel) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Foolishness of a Food Festival...

Let me first say that Vegas Uncork'd presented by Bon Appetit is an amazing event for this city, and brings all the itinerant chefs we have with their names on restaurants into the city on the same weekend. This is a boon for foodies in this town and should not be overlooked as, probably, the biggest and best food event in this town.

My gripe stems from the timing of the event. Mothers Day weekend is one of the bigger weekends for restaurants on the calendar. Las Vegas needs this event, but why bring it on a weekend where husbands, sons, and daughters are all splurging on tasting menus and brunches for mom already? The spas are full, restaurants get booked, and casinos don't have any problem getting mom to drop a few bucks in a slot machine. So why a food event on an already busy weekend?

Bon Appetit should remember that chefs have mothers too, as do restaurant employees at every level. Instead of having to work an extra brunch shift on this busy weekend, employees now have to be available for various lunch, dinner, and late-night events connected to the event, and while the big time chefs can fly in their mothers for the weekend, the average restaurant worker has no chance to enjoy a moment with mom.

On top of that, while it is good face time for people like Bobby Flay, the restaurants (in my not so humble opinion) lose money on the deal. Two seatings (probably 40 people per seating) on a Thursday night at $300 per person is not what Restaurant Guy Savoy should be making that night. His menu is set for at least $360 dollars ahead and they probably get a full 75 heads on a busy Thursday.

My question to the restaurants and chefs involved is: Why this weekend? I suppose when Bon Appetit says they want to give you advertising and bring a bunch of people to your restaurant and your town, you don't argue with the date. Right? I don't know if that's the case but I'd love to see the "negotiations" that went on to decide on the date. I think it went something like this:

Bon Appetit: So, we have the weekend of May 8th open.

Las Vegas Restaurants: Isn't that a special weekend of some kind this year?

BA: (Threateningly) Does it really matter?

LVR: Nope, sounds great.

But again, this is just my opinion of a stupidly scheduled, amazing event. Good for Vegas for having it, no matter the weekend. Still, just one weekend later or earlier would make it that much better.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

One Lunch at Serendipity 3 Las Vegas

There's a movie I've never seen which purportedly borrows its name from the original New York outpost of this new Las Vegas restaurant. That isn't what made me go. I had been to the New York location a couple times for dessert and knew it was a can't miss spot for sundaes and their famous "Frrrozen Hot Chocolate." Now I also know it's a very good choice for lunch on The Strip.

The sandwiches show some creativity and are definitely not your usual deli creations. Sometimes the combinations have a little too much going on for one sandwich, such as "A Summer Bries" which has sliced apples, brie, smoked turkey, and a cranberry mayo (The New York version is listed online with a Russian dressing rather than the mayo, and I think that would play better here as the apples and brie clashed with the cranberry mayo) all on a raisin pumpernickel bread.

The thing to get here, non-dessert wise, is definitely the Steakhouse Steak Sandwich "Oscar Style." Two nicely cooked, nicely seasoned, tender steaks topped with asparagus, crab leg meat, and a nice Bearnaise all on a baguette. Not a little six inch baguette, a full 18 or so inches of sandwich is what you're getting into here, a lunch for three to be sure. I haven't tried every steak sandwich in town, but I would be surprised to find one better than this, and, since a small family can share it, at $25 it's a steal.

Someday, I will put in my two days notice to go get their $1,000 Golden Opulence Sundae, but until then I'll settle for the sinful ultra-chocolaty goodness of their Frrrozen Hot Chocolate and their other, non-bankruptcy inducing, sundaes. Oh, and that unbeatable steak sandwich.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.


Serendipity 3 on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday Brunch at ENVY Steakhouse

I have come to the conclusion that very few cities really know how to put on a killer brunch. Buffet brunches seem the norm in the places that don't understand what brunch is really all about. And since I've never lived in a city that understands brunch, like New York or New Orleans do, I've had my fair share of buffet brunches, some good, some bad, and all lacking the relaxing, sit and enjoy atmosphere that befits a Sunday afternoon. ENVY Steakhouse does a pretty good job with their brunch buffet, and at $25 ahead with all you can drink champagne, mimosas, Bloody Marys, and wine it's one brunch buffet where you can definitely justify the price (especially if you're comfortable drinking like you did in your college days).

They call it "Mimosas & Music" and they certainly have both covered. The mimosas are served at a station at the back of the restaurant, and the music is served up by pianist Wes Winters. He puts on a good lounge act and nearly drowns out the din of clanging plates and serving utensils that is omnipresent at a buffet. My dinner visit to ENVY gave me a picture of a hip yet romantic little spot that would excel as a place for an anniversary. The view at brunch is not quite the same. The natural light flooding in through the floor-to-ceiling windows did enough to transform the normally sedate and candlelit dining room without the decidedly older clientele. Drop by Denny's at 4:00 PM and you'll have a pretty complete picture of the clientele at this brunch.

Enough about ambiance, on to the important stuff: Food. If you've been to a decent brunch buffet you won't be surprised by anything you see here. The usual omelet station, common Belgian waffle station, bacon, sausage, well above average cheese blintz, normal french toast, pedestrian pancakes, bland "breakfast potatoes," and better than expected eggs Benedict make up the breakfast selections.

A tastier-than-most-buffet-prime-ribs prime rib gets the action started on the lunch oriented leg of this journey and is joined by perfectly cooked shrimp with a well put together cocktail sauce, long but unfortunately lean crab legs, an assortment of average little "sandwiches" on toast points, an overly soggy tomato and mozzarella "salad," very fishy smoked salmon, bagels, and a nicely stocked but, given the volume, poorly presented (if anyone from ENVY reads this, the stone is nice for intimate gatherings, but should be augmented with individual plates and utensils for each different cheese when so many are partaking) cheese platter.

The desserts were, overall, the most disappointing thing in the restaurant. Although the bread pudding held up well and was tasty, the little cakes were mostly over sweet, and the mousses were so bad that I had to call my father the chef to ask what could have gone so wrong.

I know, I've been hard on them, but it's only out of love. On the night of one of their monthly wine dinners this place supplied me with one of the better meals I've had and I want their brunch buffet to live up to those high standards. Most of the complaints I have about this meal are specific to buffets, and especially buffets which must cater to the, "Hold the salt, please," geriatric segment of our population. But others just point to a restaurant trying to turn a buck in this brutal, business devouring economy. Although, I'm pretty sure they didn't make much money on me after two mimosas, a Bloody Mary, and three glasses of wine. I know they are better than this, and that is what bothers me the most.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.


Envy on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Top Restaurant List, Really, I Mean It This Time

Everybody has one, but most aren't in writing. In no particular order and from all over the world, this list only requires that I've eaten there once.

Raku (Las Vegas)-- If this list were ranked, this restaurant just might hold the same position in the list. Japanese like no other I've seen. Adventurous menu well executed in a sedate space.

Settebello (Henderson)--Pizza at its best. Neapolitan style in nice surroundings. Nice beer selection too.

Hunan (Fresno)-- Chinese cuisine that is pitch perfect and unpretentious. World class chef in a small neighborhood restaurant, can't beat it.

Joel Robuchon at the Mansions (Las Vegas)-- Fine dining at its finest. There's a reason Chef Robuchon was proclaimed Chef of the Century.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Las Vegas)-- An even cooler experience than the big restaurant next door if you sit at the bar. From there you can see your dishes meticulously plated.

Restaurant Charlie (Las Vegas)-- Fish, shellfish, and mollusks are all put to good use in this beautiful space.

Bradley Ogden (Las Vegas)-- Eclectic California cuisine on the floor of a Las Vegas casino that rivals anything in the Bay Area.

Gary Danko (San Francisco)-- One of the best dollar for dollar.

Coquinarius Enoteca (Florence)-- Any enoteca whose Latin name means "of the kitchen" is okay by me.

Parma (Fresno)-- Best Italian in Fresno. Would contend with the big boys in any other city too.

Valentino (Las Vegas)-- Best Italian in Las Vegas. Yummy doesn't get close to doing the job of describing the food here.

Alex (Las Vegas)-- Chef Stratta has a beautiful space in which to showcase his exquisite food.

Cracked Pepper (Fresno)-- Only been one time but I still can't get the Eggplant Napoleon out of my head.

Moto (Chicago)-- The Gran Tour Moto is a 3 hour, 20 course adventure through the senses. Molecular gastronomy on display in a hip little space.

Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare (Las Vegas)-- Chef Paul Bartolotta flies in his fish fresh daily. Not himself of course, but he is in the kitchen most nights (and afterward he can often be found at Raku).

Spice Market (New York)-- An Asian outpost by celebrated Jean-Georges Vongeritchen. Good food and cool surroundings.

Nobu (New York)-- The name really says it all. If you haven't heard of Nobu then you probably aren't reading my blog.

Del Posto (New York)-- Chef Mario Batali hits all the right notes in this massive restaurant.

B&B (Las Vegas)-- This place is apparently a duplicate of New York's Babo right down to the classic rock.

Enoteca San Marco (Las Vegas)-- My favorite lunch on the strip, cured meats and cheeses and a quartino of vino.

Crazy Pita (Henderson)-- Even if I didn't have the connection to it, this place would still be on the list.

Lotus of Siam (Las Vegas)-- Thai food in Thailand may or may not be as good as this place. Often regarded as the best Thai in this country, it is definitely the best I've had.

Shake Shack (New York)-- Yes, this is a little counter service burger joint. But, if you get the burger with the crazy stuffed, deep-fried mushroom in it, you won't argue with its inclusion here.

Bouchon (Las Vegas)-- This is the only Thomas Keller outpost on my list, not because the others don't belong here, just because I haven't been to any others.

Patina (Los Angeles)-- Yes, this is the only Southern California restaurant on the list. I just haven't been to that many there that fit despite copious time spent there. That just leaves a lot to eat in the future.

There ya go. And don't give me any "What about...?" or "But ... was so good." This is my list. You want your own, write your own.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hunan Restaurant

Chinese restaurants are abundant in this country. Good Chinese restaurants are not as easy to find. Great Chinese restaurants are so rare that I can think of only a handful. The one Chinese restaurant you all must make a special trip to go to is not on The Strip. It's not even on Spring Mountain. It's in little ol' Fresno, California, and it's called Hunan.

The chef there is world class. I'm not just using that as a nice little phrase to denote that I enjoy his food. No, Chef Liu has represented China in numerous cooking competitions and even has some of his medals, including a silver from a little competition known as Bocuse d'Or, displayed on the wall of this unpretentious space in an older strip mall in North Fresno.

The food at other Chinese places may evoke a "Yummy" or an "Mmmm" from time to time, but I challenge any city in this fair nation to show me a Chinese restaurant that makes you willing to make a six hour drive once a week to have the privilege of eating its food. Las Vegas doesn't have it, although we do have a number of worthwhile stops if you do happen to be in town.

I would put this place on the level of a Lotus of Siam with its bargain prices and amazing food, but the truth is, Hunan has no equal. Dollar for dollar, no matter the cuisine or the location, in this country, Hunan is the best. It's just that good. The service is friendly and prompt, and the food never falls short of my high expectations.

If you have a last meal coming up, I recommend the Butter Cream Prawns with Strawberries. A mixture of sweet and savory few can balance so perfectly. I don't care where you are in the country, fly to Fresno and I'll have my dad pick you up at the airport and take you to Hunan, it'll be cheaper than a trip to China, but with all the flavor.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.


Hunan on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 30, 2009

Parma Restaurant

What passes for Italian food in this country is usually cheaply made slop too heavy for anyone with a waist size smaller than my own (and if you know me you know mine is none too small). There are some spectacular exceptions to this rule right here in Las Vegas, but I still prefer one, back in my hometown of Fresno, called Parma. This authentic little place has yet to disappoint, and I'll keep going back until it does.

No restaurant is perfect. A few come very close, but even the best make mistakes. At Parma, almost everything I have sampled has been at least delicious and sometimes nearly divine. On my most recent visit the gnocchi was a little over done, but still tasty. Another place I believe them to be lacking is in the service department. This is not a knock on the servers they have or the management, as the servers they have all do an excellent job, and the owner is rarely, if ever, absent and always a joy to converse with. I simply believe that the service would be improved by one more order taking body.

In case you hadn't noticed, I have very little to complain about when it comes to Parma. From the antipasti platter, to the house made pasta, and finally to the house made desserts, everything here exhibits the passion of the entire Parma Restaurant family. And you will always feel like part of that family when you step inside this cozy place in my home town.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.


Parma on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Slow Food Doesn't Move Me

The Slow Food Movement started in the late 1980's in Italy in response to the growth of fast food chains. Today it is a "worldwide" movement with its own website and everything. If that seems a little glib it's because the movement is not earth moving (pun intended) in the restaurant world in the way that foodies wish it were.

Slow food restaurant efforts fall flat in all but the most ecologically diverse areas. The problem is that true slow food requires the food be made from ingredients regularly found in that particular ecoregion. Our Las Vegas Valley is part of an ecoregion which naturally yields only jack rabbits, coyotes, cactus, and Ken's Dressing. A slow food restaurant in our town would be a joke to say the least. Ecologically rich locales such as the San Francisco Bay area (included in an ecoregion that stretches down much of the California coast) can throw together a slow food restaurant with a very diverse and exciting menu with little effort. (I didn't choose the San Joaquin Valley because most of that farmland feeds the whole world rather than its own citizens and has no seafood options, although it can certainly be done there without much ado.)

Getting excited about this movement is for those people who live in areas that produce things. Las Vegas is an area of consumption, and as many world class restaurants as we have, we cannot do this whole slow food thing because we have no local crops to reap. I wish we did. I wish I could live in the city that is Las Vegas, but have it surrounded by farmland and vineyards. It just isn't so, and won't be barring a major ecological shift. What's worse, we don't even get the best produce we could, in grocery stores especially, given our relative proximity to California, as the best stuff (aka longest shelf life) gets shipped further across the country and we get stuck with the stuff Californians turn their nose up at (I should know, I do it all the time). It's okay though, their state is bankrupt and ours is... oh, right, only headed there.

I believe wholly in eating local, but here in the desert that opportunity does not exist. I envy the restauranteurs who have the option to buy local, and the consumers who get to enjoy the bounty of the soil they walk on every day.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Bar Round 2

I can't help but be skeptical about the food at bars in this valley. Most are suspect at best and many only survive on being close to the neighborhoods where gamblers live (allowing them to stumble home in their free-well-drink stupor). Even the better, more consistent places are joints I rarely frequent before 11:00 pm, and then only because of a good deal on a late night menu. The Bar at Bermuda & St. Rose has a few things I would actually go in for during normal dining hours.

The biggest draws are their beer (especially the bottled list) and wine lists which each hold some real gems without price gouging. That being said, they do have some good solid bar and comfort food with some twists thrown in. Their mini-corn dogs are silly but tasty, and their Angry Mac & Cheese (a breaded, deep fried cube of macaroni in a jalapeno spiked cheese sauce) is a fun and delicious way to clog your arteries. In the entree column, the Meatloaf and the Philly Cheese Steak were both pleasant surprises to my taste buds. Since my last visit they have cut some of the more adventurous, outside the box (read: disaster on a plate) items from their menu.

The best news is that this place was doing well before, and now that M Resort has opened just down the street they are doing even better.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.


Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why Anonymity Pays

In this town, at least, most of the mainstream food critics are highly recognizable sorts who make no attempt to hide their identities from restaurant managers and staff. This is a problem. By simply being recognized they compromise the integrity of their reviews.

Having knowingly served multiple food critics (one I didn't even have to recognize myself as it was on the reservation that he worked for a national publication), I know that servers and kitchen staff are on their best behavior and like to put on a show for the special guest. At the best places, admittedly, this makes little to no difference as kitchen and service are always on their best behavior. However, at the overpriced and under-good restaurants of the world, knowledge like this can make the average-at-best staff scramble to devise something worthy of the price tag.

The best way I have found to illustrate this is to imagine a conversation with a new friend versus one with a reporter. These are very different exchanges. Once you know that your words will be rebroadcast, your words change. The same holds true for a restaurant that knows a critic is in the house. The menu may even change for this omnipotent pen-bearer. An amuse bouche suddenly flies out of the kitchen, and the executive chef oversees every dish going to that table rather than remaining in his office.

The other thing is that these critics, independent or otherwise, often get extras or freebies from restaurants in the know. This clouds their view further. Frankly, if someone gives me something for free I am much more apt to have a positive view of the item than if I am constantly evaluating whether the item provides value for the price.

All of this comes down to why I will do my absolute best to keep my face detached from my reviews. My anonymity is beneficial to my readers, and, although it may cost me more, to my credibility as a critic.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Yes, I really did eat that

Everybody has seen something on TV or the internet that they just can't believe. A new entry in this category for me is the current Pizza Hut campaign for their Tuscani pastas and lasagna. I saw the commercials (often in fast forward thanks to DVR) and just couldn't fathom any Italian enjoying anything from Pizza Hut. (If you somehow haven't seen them, click here.) So I tried some. We ordered the lasagna and the chicken alfredo.

First impression of the lasagna: As visually appealing as the lasagna in my elementary school cafeteria. Even if a perfect piece was cut for me it would still look slightly inferior to Stouffer's frozen version. I'm not Italian, but have spent a little time in Tuscany and throughout Italy (and my dad makes the most robust and flavorful lasagna around), and I know that no Italian would ever be fooled into thinking this was authentic Tuscan cuisine, nor Italian of any kind for that matter. That's just from the look of it. I haven't even taken a bite yet.

One rule of thumb for food: If it doesn't look tasty it probably isn't. In this case that rule definitely held true. The lasagna was an amorphous mass of tomato sauce and limp noodles with a bland (even for ricotta) ricotta. The vaguely burned mozzarella on top made me regret ever thinking that I had been wrong, and maybe Italians actually went into a restaurant called "Tuscani" and felt this was a fair representation of lasagna. It also left me with a dry salty taste in my mouth which made me think preservatives.

The chicken alfredo (featured in an earlier commercial shot in New York) doesn't even warrant mention. But I will anyway. It was just plain bad. Bland sauce on floppy spiral noodles and maybe six ounces of chicken in the whole huge tray. Oh, and the same salty, parched sensation.

The commercials are clever in using the term "real people." This ambiguous statement makes you believe they aren't actors, while never stating either way.

Just another example of great advertising. Hey, it got me to try it.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

En Sushi and Robata Grill

Italian food here in Henderson is mediocre, Chinese is more of the same, Mexican tends to be just plain bad, French cuisine is not readily available, and the ubiquitous gaming bar/restaurant, well, we all know how that conversation goes. So that pretty much leaves one particular Mediterranean place, a few select Japanese, and one particular pizza place for me to eat at regularly. I just found what looks like it will become my favorite in the Japanese segment locally. En Sushi and Robata Grill just off Eastern on Anthem Village Drive has provided me with some of the better quality fish I've ever had and also throws in the "Robata" style grill which allows for smaller bites of grilled meats and veggies.

This is not the Henderson answer to Las Vegas' Raku. While it does offer some quality ingredients like homemade tofu, Kobe beef, and foie gras along with similar cooking styles, the menu is nowhere near the adventure you take at Raku. The grill selections are not the standouts that I wanted them to be at En, but they are tasty and certainly good enough considering it is the only thing like it in this part of the valley.

What this place does have, that Raku doesn't, is sushi; and that, for me, is a big plus. Especially with the quality of the sushi they put out here. The knife skills and composition on display reflect first-hand Japanese training rather than the second-rate second-hand training many "sushi chefs" receive here in the States. Or, at the very least, these men got much more out of their training than most I have sat in front of.

Each staff member individually speaks more english than the entirety of the staff at Raku, which is either a hit to En's authenticity or a huge benefit for those of us who don't speak Japanese. You choose. The service is friendly and accommodating and I hope this place lasts through the current economy with its not-so-good location. I'll do my part to keep it around.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.


En Sushi & Robata Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

My Birthday Dinner

Sunset Station is usually not the place I think of when I want a killer meal. Sonoma Cellar Steakhouse is starting to change my mind in that regard. As a steakhouse it provides some excellent classic choices for much, much less money than a similar meal on the Strip. As a place that features sustainable seafood it spares no expense in bringing in the freshest and the best and then doesn't pass that cost on to you as much as it could.

The best restaurants use the best ingredients and then stay out of the way. That is very much how the kitchen at Sonoma Cellar does business. From a shishito pepper appetizer (decidedly not a steakhouse staple) which is very simply, but to great effect, fried and salted, to the fish offerings which can be done grilled, poached, or meuniere, this place chooses to accentuate the flavors of the main part of a dish rather than drown them out. They have two dry aged steak options, both bone-in, a rib-eye and a New York. These are both marinated in such a way that brings out the beefiness and doesn't overpower the beauty of the dry-aged meat.

In the interest of full disclosure, Executive Chef Schuyler Schultz is a friend of mine, but I only admit to that, or even allow him to be called such, because he is an outstanding chef (I only hope I am deserving of the same moniker with him). So, on my visit for my birthday dinner there were a few off the menu treats including an amuse of marcona almond "soup" which only needed a bigger spoon, and some tempura asparagus which, in the chefs own estimation, weren't as good as at Raku but were still very good, although I did feel that the spears were unevenly tossed in their post-frying seasoning.

I will be returning on February 12th for a special beer paired dinner. It's open to the public and the menu and more info can be found here. Hope to see you all there.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Sonoma Cellar (Sunset Station) on Urbanspoon

Momo Sushi

Momo Sushi is a pretty good place for sushi. With atmosphere, staff, and fish better than many local sushi places, I'm glad Momo is ridiculously close (on Stephanie just south of Sunset Station in the Babies R Us Center) to my house. I've made numerous trips, and the fish is always fresh, and the speciality rolls are among the best I've had.

On my last visit I finally got some "regular" food. Their tempura is very good, and their teriyaki salmon is perfectly cooked with a more balanced teriyaki sauce than you usually see at this level. The miso soup and the salad were fairly typical and unexciting. But, I don't go to a sushi place for miso soup and salad. That's the good news here. The stuff that most people would come here for is solid, if not a cut above the norm.

I recommend looking at the specials on the wall behind the sushi bar, often there are rare items available for the more adventurous diner. I don't recommend speaking Japanese to the staff though, as most are not Japanese.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Momo Sushi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Settebello

For those of you who don't already know, Settebello has been in its new digs at The District at Green Valley Ranch for a few months now, and finally has ambiance!

Settebello is the place in town for real Neapolitan style pizza. For a few years this highly regarded destination was cloistered up on Horizon Ridge in a too-often-forgotten center, and housed in a very plain restaurant which did little to help showcase the top flight pies flying out of their wood fired oven. Now on the east side of Green Valley Parkway in The District, Owner Brad Otton has brought a little Italian style to this more inviting and accessible location.

Everything here is better, except the pizzas. Don't read that wrong. With very little room for improvement before, the pizzas are the same warm, delightful disks of quick cooked dough and toppings that you found when you went to the original. The service has also received an upgrade as have the beer and wine lists. There are some speciality beers here that would impress the best travelled conoisseur, and they actually have a bar at which to enjoy the lofty libations.

The long and short of this one is, simply, go. If you have never been, go now, if you haven't been to the new location, go now, and finally if you were there last night (as I was), GO BACK!

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 19, 2009

Restaurant Critics Bad Habits...

I have noticed, from reading numerous online restaurant reviews and blogs from around the world, that most restaurant critics have their favorite chefs who can do no wrong. I have worked in and eaten at restaurants with chefs of both considerable skill and those of very little skill, and all could hit or miss occasionally. Sometimes chefs of some renown or skill try for something and it doesn't quite work, and sometimes chefs who don't know their romaine from their radicchio nail a flavor that will make the toughest critics sigh with delight. But food critics seem to be unable to seperate a previous experience from their favorite chefs. Below is a rant full of suggestions for critics and more casual foodies to get the most subjective view of each dining experience.

All critics should go into every dining experience with an eye toward consistency and keep their previous experiences with the restaurant or the individual chef for the post meal synthesis. If a chef rocked your socks at his old restaurant don't go into the new place automatically believing that meal is the best you've had in (insert whatever ridiculous timeframe exaggeration happy critics use).

Mindset goes a long way in the enjoyment of a meal. So, if you go in excited just to be in the building with the chef in question you will probably think it a great meal. Conversely, if the chef happens to be on your naughty list, and you can't temper those feelings, you will probably not enjoy his offerings no matter what he throws at you.

Eat alone. If, for some reason, you dine with someone you don't like, your meal will seem inferior to the chefs talents. And, when you go with a lover or spouse (these are mutually exclusive mind you) or maybe even a best friend who makes you happy all the time, you will have an experience which far surpasses that of everyone else in the room.

Finally, for those critics who fall in love with a chef: Kindly remove your lips from their ass so you can better taste what is on your plate. I have tasted things alongside critics who had fallen for a chef, and had them declare his offering at a tasting best in show while I scratched my head as to what was wrong with his palate. This is a disservice to anyone who puts any stock into your opinion of food.

I know that some of these suggestions make dining into work rather than an enjoyable endeavor, but, just as with all critics opinions, take my rant with a grain of sea salt and maybe some horseradish because, if you do want to be as subjective about a meal as possible, this will help you.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Sinatra

According to some publications, Italian cuisine is at its worst right here in the United States. Sinatra does very little to dissuade me in regards to this statement. While not even near the worst representations of the oft misrepresented cuisine (see Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, Maggianos, and, my least favorite in town Zeffirino), for the dollars you spend here you would be better off in at least three other Italian restaurants within a mile of this one.

About a month ago I made some "fearless predictions" on a certain other Las Vegas food blog about the Encore restaurants, and I am sticking to my prediction (here among the comments) that Sinatra will be the first of the five to change its stripes (not including Switch, which changes its decor more often than anyone changes underwear).

Among the failings of Sinatra are a pedestrian menu and a dining room which feels more like that of a cruise ship than any cozy Italian place that old blue eyes himself would frequent. The food itself could use a little more attention also, my lobster risotto was all a touch overcooked and under-flavorful, the Osso Bucco "My Way" was sOsso, and the New York Steak was lacking in everything but proper temperature. The black cod was, overall, the best of the bunch and the only thing worth the freight. Appetizers were good, but very little wowed anyone at the table, and at these prices nearly every bite should wow you. The service seems average, but it is really too early to judge wholly because the training hasn't sunk in yet for most of the staff and there will be a great deal of turnover in the coming months (this is normal for a new restaurant).

Unless they take the shackles off of Chef Theo Schoenegger and let him do his own thing, I'll be absent from Sinatra, unless dragged there, for the remainder of its time in that space. I do believe this is a chef that can do much more than this place allows.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Sinatra (Encore) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Raku

I have known for some time that I needed to get to Raku, a small, dark Japanese restaurant in a forgotten mini-strip mall on the north side of Spring Mountain Road just past Decatur. I finally tried to get there a couple weeks ago, a disappointing event well chronicled in one of my previous posts. I finally got in the door last night.
Have you ever gone to a movie, show, or meal that you so badly wanted to be amazing, after hearing everyone rave about it, and had it live up to every last bit of praise you heard before and even surpass your own lofty expectations? For me there are Braveheart, Avenue Q, and now, Raku which all fit that mold.
I am by no means an expert on Japanese food or restaurants so I cannot say first hand that this is a truly authentic Japanese restaurant. I can, however, say that at one point during my visit there were ten guests in the restaurant and only three of us were not native Japanese speakers. Among the guests was the sushi chef who has probably made me more sushi than anyone else, and later, purported frequent Raku diner and praise-singer Chef Paul Bartolotta came in to partake.
I tried to order a good mix of the more "mundane" dishes and the more "bizarre" dishes. Among the "mundane" were a delicate house-made tofu, a nice-but-didn't-knock-my-socks-off oysters three ways, a perfectly grilled salmon served with roe, and a tasty grilled rice ball. The "bizarre" were Kobe beef liver sashimi which, not surprisingly, tasted like liver, a strange-to-me-although-not-really-that-strange dried tatami sardine salad, and a delightfully tender perfectly grilled Kurobota pork cheek.
This is a place that I could go to every day, and never tire of the food. The service is very friendly, although only one of the two servers understood at least half of what I said. Any previous complaints I had read about food taking too long have either been rectified, or those people are just too impatient.
Raku will probably survive in its current location because it is a destination kind of place where location can help but won't really hurt, but I need everyone to go there and tell them they need to move to the East side of town or at least open a second outlet there so I can get there more frequently.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.


Raku on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Bar Round 1

Went to the Bar @ Bermuda & St. Rose last night. So far I'm impressed by the meatloaf (yes, the meatloaf), the truffled mac & cheese, the bottled beer list as well as the wine list. The chefs platings are nice, if not uber-creative. As far as I've seen, for a place called the Bar, these guys are trying to do something a little different with their food offerings while still letting you pig out on buffalo wings and their good mini corndogs. Whether the different, more foodie friendly, items are worth stepping inside for has yet to be seen, as the highlights have generally been minor riffs on mundane bar or comfort food. The ownership is almost always on site and do a good job of getting around to everyone. The front of the house seems to be well managed, I hope the food can match up to the service. I'll be back there soon so I can render a more enlightened final verdict.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

When my parents come to town...

...we eat well. My father, the director of a culinary school, and mother, a nurse who eats very well and is well traveled, were in town for much of this past weekend. Whenever we are together, the conversations start and finish with the time and location of our next meal, and the stuff in between is usually about what we just ate. Their plane from New York arrived a couple hours late on New Years Eve, so we were unable to go to Settebello for our NYE dinner as we had hoped. They showed up at my house at 11:50 PM, we sat down for the countdown and some Segura Viudas Cava from Valley Cheese and Wine, then headed to Black Mountain Grill for some late night grub. Please keep in mind, BMG is not a place I go during normal hours, but their 22oz Cowboy Steak is big, meaty, and cooked correctly, and at about $13 on their late night menu, is one of the best deals around. After a satisfying meal, we returned to my house, exchanged gifts, and decided against breakfast the next morning.

So it was Bouchon for brunch. Good choice. My "Chicken and Waffles" was wonderful, with a beautiful chasseur sauce for the chicken and some very good syrup for the more savory waffle preparation. The pastry basket was deliciously decadent. My dads mussels were perfectly cooked, and I can't even remember what anyone else had because I was so engrossed in my own dish.

We then wandered up through the Palazzo and Wynn to the brand new Encore, gandering at the restaurants along the way. After trying for a couple hours to get through to Raku by phone (which I will expand upon later), we decided to do Settebello for dinner. Settebello is Neapolitan pizza. It is very good pizza, and one of my favorite places to go, bar none. My parents enjoyed it and the sour red ale my dad and I shared was a pricey but worthy complement.

While dining that evening, we decided on Lotus of Siam for lunch, once again opting out of breakfast. If you haven't been to Lotus, you are truly missing out. The service is spotty at best, but who really cares when the food is delightful at worst. The Pad Thai makes my girlfriend swoon, and I can't think of a dish I couldn't recommend to any human with a working jaw (I may even recommend some of the soups to those without).

Next, we went over to Town Square and had some frozen yogurt at Yogurtland. I don't usually review such things. Why start now. After about 3:30 I started trying to call Raku once again. They were still not answering. I understood the day before being closed New Years Day, but they had no voice mailbox message saying they would be closed for any extended period of time. For that matter, they had no message stating their normal hours or when they do answer the phones to take reservations. I know they normally open at 6:00 so we headed over about then. We got there to find a sign on the door stating they were closed through January 4th. Thanks. Glad you waited until I got there to tell me. So, since my girlfriends brother and sister-in-law were in town also and staying at Red Rock, we headed over to Hachi for what turned out to be an excellent meal. Some things about the place were a bit weird to me, like the 10 course menu including the amuse and edamame as courses. To me, edamame in this case is like the bread throughout a coursed meal, it should be a given (this does not include the ridiculous bread courses at some places which edamame could never hope to match in variety). And I have never seen a place count their amuse as a course. Nonetheless, the food was very well executed and presented and I wholeheartedly recommend Hachi.

My parents took us back home, and we once again decided against breakfast. We just aren't morning people. It was fun while it lasted but my parents left Vegas around noon the next day, a little too early for us to catch another lunch. Hopefully they'll come back soon so I can justify another such adventure.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.