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.