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.


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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