Allegro, Las Vegas NV

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Allegro

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Panino with Tomatoes, Ciabatta, Grissini, Piadina, Garlic Lentil Spread

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Prosciutto di Parma, Creminelli Salame Felino, San Daniele, Mozzarella di Bufala, Sheep Ricotta, Burrata with Crostini

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Focaccia Pizza – Mozzarella, Crème Fraiche, Smoked Salmon, Chives, Red Onion

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Fried Calamari – Cherry Peppers, Spicy Tomato Sauce

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Beef and Pork Meatballs, Sausage, Tomato Sauce

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Eggplant Parmigiana

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Baked Lasagna Napoletana – Sunday Meat Ragu Sauce with Meatballs, Pork, Smoked Mozzarella, Pine Nuts

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Risotto Pescatora – Shrimp, Scallops, Calamari, Mussels, Clams

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Osso Buco D’Agnello – Bone in Lamb Shank, Vegetable Stew, Pappardelle Pasta

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Veal Chop Parmigiana – 12oz Pounded Veal Chop, Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella

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Tiramisu

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Baba au Rhum with Bluberries

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Bread Pudding with Rum Raisin Ice Cream

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Pear Frangipane Tarte

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Highly praised by a pair of palates that I’ve come to know and trust it was with four friends that I sat down at Wynn’s Allegro on Saturday evening, and although the restaurant features prominently just outside Showstoppers at the crux of the Wynncore complex the food being served inside is every bit the definition of a ‘treasure hidden in plain sight,’ the three-course tasting billed at $60 per person proving a remarkable dining deal in a casino where lofty prices and luxurious environs almost invariably are the rule.

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Dubbed as a ‘casual’ restaurant on resort website, but in reality a swanky sort of space with dark mahogany juxtaposing buttery red leather seats, offset by lighter tones of white woods and hints of beige, Allegro features the culinary talents of Enzo Febbraro, and with teeth cut in some of the East Coasts most classic Italian Eateries the cuisine is the heavy yet elegant sort served up by many Italian Mamas but with the sort of ingredients few would be likely to invest in, the product sourcing of a billion-dollar enterprise on full display with everything from produce to proteins flown in fresh with the same quality seen elsewhere in the resort without all the pomp or circumstance as Dean, Frank, and even Neil Diamond serenade softly overhead.

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Served ‘family style’ at our request to the chef, leaflets raised to accommodate the quantity of food, it was with the first of two bread baskets that the meal began and eschewing olive oil or butter for a puree of legumes and garlic the creamy concoction proved a hit across the table, a second helping replenished without request, though for my part the tomato-topped pannino and pillowy focaccia was far better suited to sopping up tomato sauce from saporous, smooth meatballs or for topping with a slice of San Daniel Prosciutto and funky sheep’s milk ricotta from a board of charcuterie that would have easily topped $60 by itself anywhere else on The Strip.

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Continuing with antipasti, suffice it to say that kitchen’s take on Wolfgang Puck’s signature pizza was a masterwork of crisp crust, smoky salmon, and plenty of tang from crème fraiche while the oft overdone calamari was highly touted by the chef as ‘just a little undercooked,’ resultant rings and tentacles the very definition of creamy beneath crunchy without a bit of over-breading or oiliness to be found.

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At this point already impressed, and surprisingly full as a result of so much bread and cheese this early on, it was after a bit of respite and conversation that round two arrived and as plethoric as the first selections had been, the pasta and secondi were absolutely gargantuan, a “12oz” pounded veal Parmigiana undoubtedly under-billed and easily sixteen inches in diameter while lamb osso buco was fatty and rich, literally falling from the bone into ribbons of house pappardelle slicked by a smoky vegetal stew.

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No less impressed by tender risotto, cooked in octopus stock with at least a pound of mixed shellfish kicking up the flavors of the sea to a significant extent, it was finally with an unbreaded approximation of Eggplant Parmigiana and Shortrib lasagna that savories would conclude, the former essentially reinventing a classic into something light and creamy beneath the caramelized cheese while the later was substantially more decadent, the layers of pasta barely able to keep up with all the mozzarella and meat as ground pinenuts came through as a basenote at the end.

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Upcharged on espresso, a double over ice billed at a steep six dollars, it was again after a much needed delay that desserts would arrive and although far less substantial in portion than the plates preceding the pastry staff proved no less skilled than the luminescent and bustling savory kitchen, the tiramisu a bit run of the mill while bread pudding and a caramelized pear crostata were texturally complex and well balanced in sweetness, the baba felt a bit too boozy for some, but an absolute reference standard of the Italian variety to those familiar – a dessert worth seeking out in a city where sugar-steeped versions are far more easily found.

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FOUR STARS: Priced on the level of similar Strip-Side eateries like those at The Venetian, but turning out the sort of cuisine that takes ‘red sauce’ to a rarified heights, it is truly a shame that Allegro is relegated to second tier status by the reign of celebrity chefs, because as much respect as those folks may deserve for their pasts I’d be hard pressed to name anyone on Las Vegas Boulevard save for the team at Portofino putting more passion into Italian Cuisine at this moment, the Mirage space a bit more ‘formal’ while the later feels like the sort of cooking passed from generation to generation in a grand Italian home.

RECOMMENDED: Beef and Pork Meatballs, Veal Parmigiana, Lamb Osso Buco, Eggplant Parmigiana, Baba au Rhum.

AVOID: Overpriced coffee and wine, filling up on the bread basket, and any plans for strenuous activity later that evening unless you skipped lunch or show far more restraint than I.

TIP: Open from 5pm until late at night and offering tasting menus of 3-4 courses, those interested in an experience such as ours are encouraged to contact the restaurant directly as both the Chef and GM are glad to accommodate a family style tasting provided advanced notice is made.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.wynnlasvegas.com/Dining/CasualDining/Allegro

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Posted in Allegro, Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Italian, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pizza, Pork, Tiramisu

Grand Café at Palace Station, Las Vegas NV

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Grand Café at Palace Station

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Cinnamon Roll

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Banana Nut Muffin

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Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

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Buttermilk Biscuits

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Blueberry Lemon Cupcake

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Chocolate Chip Cookie / Peanut Butter Cookie / Spring “Black and White” Cookie

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Chosen for lunch when I delivered a colleague visiting for a conference back to the hotel, a visit to Grand Café at Palace Station served as my second experience at one of Station Casino’s 24-hour eateries, and although the pasty case was not quite as well apportioned as that at Red Rock, it was to the same menu of diner eats and American classics that we were treated, the service a bit less attentive than at the Summerlin iteration but the cuisine no less competent or well priced.

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Located just inside the Self-Park garage, mere steps away from the gaming floor outside, Grand Café at Palace Station features a rounded central bar set on both sides by tiered dining and opting to be sat opposite several large parties our arrival was greeted with menus and water, the humorous ‘My Generation” placemats cleared from tables as a sizable selection of pastries and entrees were made.

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Largely self-selected, my dining partner already sated from a lunch at the conference from which she came, it was with a shared cinnamon roll and banana nut muffin – both rewarmed and piping hot to touch – that the dining began and while the tightly wound roll lightly topped with icing was as good as the sticky bun from previous experience the muffin was unfortunately marred by what can only be assumed as artificial banana extract, the flavor too sweet and far underspiced despite a crumb that was quite moist.

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Moving next to ‘entrees,’ the Log Cabin eschewed for pure maple syrup that has become a staple of my weekend laptop bag, a four-stack of pancakes punctuated with fresh blueberries proved every bit as good as the chocolate chip version enjoyed at Red Rock and again challenging DuPar’s for best the best Buttermilk batter in the valley a similar tangy topnote imbued both members of a duo of biscuits, the fluffy rounds just-short of golden but otherwise excellent beneath a topcoat of butter and honey served alongside a selection of jams.

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At this point quite full, but still with ten bucks to spend on the hotel’s $30 voucher, it was with three cookies and an abysmally dry cupcake that the meal would end, and although the cutesy “Black and White” was far less interesting than it would have been had the kitchen actually used cocoa or lemon instead of just sugary vanilla, both the chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies were homey and classic, the lightly crisp rim and soft center dense with flavor yet relatively low in sweetness, the results far better than one would expect from a simple café in a smoky off-strip Casino…or even one along Las Vegas Boulevard charging a dollar or two more.

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THREE STARS: Generally disinterested in the soups, sandwiches, salads, or entrees offered at places of this ilk, Grand Café once again proves to a good spot for a cheap breakfast for locals and tourists alike.

RECOMMENDED: Pancakes, Cookies, Cinnamon Roll.

AVOID: Banana Muffin, Cupcake.

TIP: Frequently offering dining deals to locals and plenty of comps to tourists and hotel guests, those interested in a deal are advised to sign up for Station’s Boarding Pass, a free, BOGO, or discounted meal never more than a weekend e-mail or mailbox coupon away.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://palacestation.sclv.com/Dining/Grand-Cafe.aspx

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Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Grand Cafe, Grand Cafe at Palace Station, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes

Hexx Kitchen + Bar, Las Vegas NV

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Hexx Kitchen + Bar

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Peete’s Coffee

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Banana Nut French Toast – Caramelized Banana, Foster’s Sauce, Fresh Berries

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Carrot Cake Pancakes – Spice Batter, Carrots, Cream Cheese, Frosting

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Chocolate Pancakes – Caramel Syrup, Fresh Banana, Powdered Sugar

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Cinnaroll Waffle – Cream Cheese Frosting, Cinnamon, Sugar

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Chicken and Waffles – Apple Cheddar Waffle, Apple Butter, Bourbon Maple Syrup

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Baked Cheese – Carr Valley Wisconsin Cheese, Fig Jelly

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Spaghetti Carbonara – Guanciale, Pecorino, Cracked Black Pepper, Egg

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Classic Burger – Kobe Beef, Aged Wisconsin Cheddar, Peppered Bacon, Sesame Bun, 1000 Island

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Pineapple Upside Down – Pineapple Compote, Vanilla Ice Cream

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Apple Pie – Puff Pastry, Cinnamon Apple, Vanilla Ice Cream

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Crème Puff – Chocolate Cream, Toasted Marshmallow, Graham Cracker

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Coffee Cake – Cinnamon Crumble, Espresso Ice Cream, Chocolate Sauce

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Turtle Sundae – Brown Butter Praline Ice Cream, Brownie, Pecans, Chocolate Sauce

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Single Origin Chocolates

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Replacing Sugar Factory with Las Vegas’ first bean-to-bar Chocolate company it stands to reason that Hexx is looking to shake things up, and wanting to write a story about not only the behind the scenes beans but also the restaurant itself a Saturday morning breakfast was planned, Executive Sous Chef Derek Desroches taking me through a baker’s dozen dishes on the 24/7 patio before an hour-long tour of the chocolate kitchen showed off the passion of Chefs Matt Piekarski and Matthew Silverman to do something Sin City has never seen.

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Not entirely abandoning the ideas espoused by Sugar Factory, the culinary team still mostly intact and the menu decidedly “American” it was just after 8am that I entered the stylishly appointed space and with a prime seat on the patio mine for the morning as everything from Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga played overhead it would not be long before several more diners of all ages gathered, the sunlit space nearly filled to capacity when I completed my tasting nearly two hours later.

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Largely crafting a menu of breakfast and lunch favorites based on my personal requests, it was expectedly that the day’s dining began with Pancakes alongside French Toast, and although the later was not exactly what was expected in that the thick wedges were actually griddled banana bread the lightly charred fruit flavor was absolutely exemplary, a similar compliment owed to both stacks of flapjacks, the chocolate iteration rife with cocoa that unfortunately is not yet sourced from Hexx’s beans while the richly spiced carrot cakes were feather light despite being stuffed with plenty of shredded carrots beneath a mountain of frosting at once both tangy and sweet.

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Treated to spot-on service, coffee and water kept brimming with new serviceware and napkins delivered at each course, round two transitioned sweet to savory with a duo of waffles, and featuring entirely different batters one would be hard pressed to decide where best to invest – the cinnamon roll dough just barely tanned with a light and fluffy mouthfeel matched to rich icing while chicken that could have used a bit more spice or brining sat atop a crispy buttermilk batter offset by caramelized cheddar and julienned Granny Smith’s that melded beautifully with the Chef’s grandmother’s apple butter recipe as well as a sidecar of house-made syrup fragrant of woodsy notes and booze.

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Treated to pan-seared cheese cubes finding their foil in rich fig jelly as savory entrees were prepared it was at Derek’s behest that I sampled the restaurant’s signature burger, and although those preferring their meat still mooing might be somewhat saddened at the thin patty’s inability to be cooked rare I’m happy to say that flavors came across bold with juiciness not for lack amidst a great grind, the neighboring Carbonara with noodles sourced from nearby Pasta Shop proving an unexpected stunner with guanciale just smoky and fatty enough to stand out from the al dente noodles sticky and well spiced in a simple lacquer of black pepper and cracked egg.

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Rounding out the afternoon with no less than five of the restaurant’s signature desserts, suffice it to say that the 24/7 available options are reason enough to stop by Hexx for a bite, the pineapple upside down cake, sundae, and apple pie all well constructed with High Road Ice Cream gilding each bite while buttery coffee cake and whimsical profiterole interpretation of S’mores were absolutely inspired, the later actually incorporating graham flour into the choux with future plans to begin utilizing Hexx chocolates throughout the menu adding all the more promise in days and weeks to come.

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At this point led from the table to the retail outlet, and then to the chocolate lab in back, the majority of the next hour was spent chatting with the two Matt’s about all things chocolate and swapping stories about techniques, sourcing, machinery, and the blooming bean-to-bar scene one cannot help but be excited for the team and city of Las Vegas, an unguarded and unbridled excitement palpable in not only words and actions, but also the quality of the process and flavor of each bar, but more on that to come…

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FOUR STARS: Replacing the shimmer and celebrity of Sugar Factory with a passion project seemingly set to do big things it should come as no surprise that the focus of Hexx is indeed the single origin chocolates, yet instead of mailing it in on food the team can assuredly sell based on location alone it seems the 24/7 spot with great views is poised to not only please but to excel, prices no higher than similar Strip-side eateries while execution and innovation outpace all but a few.

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RECOMMENDED: Single Origin Chocolates, Carrot Cake Pancakes, Cinnaroll Waffle, Spaghetti Carbonara, Crème Puffs, Coffee Cake.

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AVOID: The bitty bird on the chicken and waffles is a far cry from that at Yardbird or Citizen considering the hefty $24.95 tab and those expecting “French Toast” may be a bit disappointed by the Banana Bread, even though it is quite good under the right context.

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TIP: Five flavor chocolate tastings at the counter are free starting at 9am until the retail store closes at night, the rich 73% variety from Ecuador currently used in the restaurant’s hot chocolate and soon to be featured in an exclusive ice cream from High Road that will be offered by scoops in house and later via pint in stores.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.hexxlasvegas.com

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Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Hexx, Hexx Kitchen + Bar, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Pork, Waffles

Le Cirque [3,] Las Vegas NV

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Le Cirque

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Souffle de Saison – Raspberry Vanilla Swirl, Crème Anglaise

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Raspberry Parfait, Champagne Gelee, Lychee Guimauves, Hibiscus Consommee

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Pistachio Genoise, Lemon Cream, Poppy Meringue, Basil, Buttermilk Sorbet

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Positioned as a quick stop for cocktails and continued conversation after dinner at Lago it was to the bar at Le Cirque that our group walked and although no one had planned to order food it was with inquiries about the new pastry chef that three selections were presented, both the Parfait and Genoise showing an unexpected Eastern influence despite the decidedly French environs, while the Souffle was nothing short of textbook. A return visit, if only to see the other three options, as well as the Dulce de Leche and Banana Tarte for two, must occur soon…

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http://www.bellagio.com/restaurants/le-cirque.aspx

Posted in Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Le Cirque, Nevada

Lago, Las Vegas NV

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Lago

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Tiramisu Cocktail – St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, Tiramisu Liqueur, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Mascarpone Cheese, House Made Vanilla Ice Cream, Iced Espresso, Chocolate Curls, Italian Chocolate Cookie Dipped in Selvarey

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Allie Olive Verdi Focaccine – Roasted Green Olive, Pecorino / Alla Ricotta E Miele Focaccine – Ricotta Cheese, Honey / Guanciale E Fave Focaccine – Fava Beans, Cured Pork Cheek

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Cheese Platter – Ubriaco del Piave, Quadrello di Bufala, Pecorino, Parmigiano, Carta Musica Bread, Horseradish Candied Fruits

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Salumi Platter – Prosciutto di Parma, Finocchiona Salame, Rosemary Porchetta, Carta Musica Bread

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Crudo Plate with Citrus-Colatura di Alici – Ahi Tuna, Orange Segments / Scallop, Blood Orange, Pistachio / Skuna Bay Salmon, Crispy Caper

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Risotta Alla Trippa e Funghi – Tripe, Mushroom, Mint

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Risotto al Vino Rosso – Red Wine, Burrata

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Gnocchi Alla Romana – Flat Semolina Gnocchi, Blue Cheese

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7&7 – Potato Gnocchi, Lobster Knuckles, Salsa di Crostacei

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Polpo e Fregola al Nero – Octopus, Squid Ink Cous Cous, Bottarga

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‘Nduja Crostini – Spicy Pork Sausage, Gorgonzola

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Al Cipollotto e Speck Pizzette – Buffalo Ricotta, Cipolline Onion, Speck

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Canneloni – Pulled Pork Short Ribs, Parmesan Fonduta, Tomato Sauce

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Malloreddos – Small Morsel Pasta: Sardegna, Pork Sausage, Tomato Sauce

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Polpette di Carne – Tomato Braised Beef Meatballs

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Viteello Tonnato – Chilled Thin Slice Veal, Tuna Caper Dressing

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Scaloppina di Vitello – Veal Piccata

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Costa di Manzao – Slow Cooked Short Ribs

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Quaglia Saltimbocca – Boneless Quail, Prosciutto, Sage

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Osso Buco – Red Wine Braised Veal Shank, Polenta al Formaggio

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Garganelli – Squid Ink Garganelli, Whole Lobster, Tomatoes

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Amalfi – Hazelnut Praline, Limoncello Curd, Meringue, Limoncello Sorbet, Passion Fruit Coulis

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Biancomangiare – Raspberry and Vanilla Cream, Shortbread Cookie, Fresh Berries, Strawberry Gelato, Mixed Berry Coulis

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Cremino al Carmello – Chocolate Mousse, Passion Fruit, Caramel Glaze

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Flourless Chocolate Cake – Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Ganache, Crisp Chocolate, Chocolate Sorbet

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Hazelnut Bombe – Hazelnut Cream, Milk Chocolate Shell, Crème Anglaise, Hazelnut Ice Cream

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Sitting down with friends both new and old at newly opened Lago by Julian Serrano one could not help but comment on the space – the lounge up front lively and full of tightly dressed servers, the long bar well stocked with a bevy of spirits and ubiquitous televisions, and the breathtaking views of the Bellagio fountains gleaming in bright white – all a staunch departure from previous occupant, Circo, and although opinions varied from “CVS” to “trendy and fun” the service could not have been better, members of our table very well known to the chef and his team leading to an “anything goes” sort of experience where much fun was had, and plenty of plates were passed.

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Part of the growing ‘small-plates’ trend, clearly targeting the Hyde crowd with a bumping soundtrack and see-and-be-seen settings, it was just after 6:00pm that our party of six found seating at a large circular table far from the bustle up front, and served family style with the chef making most decisions the meal began with well concocted cocktails and continued swiftly into plates of cheese, charcuterie, fociaccia, and crudo from which only the latter was particularly special – the scallops particularly buttery atop blood oranges with crunchy pistachios dialing up the textural contrast in a way that practically redefined the oft overcooked mollusk.

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Moving next to pastas, several bound to become signatures given the sharability and relative low price compared to meats, breads, and entrees, it was here that the Lago kitchen really flexed its muscles and as good as both the lobster knuckle gnocchi and flatter version soaked in cheesy fondue were it was the risotto that undoubtedly stole the show, the red wine tinged version stretchy and smooth with burrata while the spiced up iteration with mint was the most memorable plate of the evening, small bits of tripe soft and seamlessly blended with rice that was good enough that we immediately requested a second bowl.

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Impressed by tender octopus with large cous-cous soaked in black ink while wishing that the crostini with spicy Calabrian pork as well as the pizza were perhaps twice the size considering the price, it was here that the menu unfortunately found a few weaknesses, for as good as the previous pastas had been neither the Malloreddos or the Canneloni were particularly memorable, the former’s pasta dramatically undercooked while the sauce of each was no better than stuff from a jar or Chef Boyardee.

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Moving to heavier proteins, though not particularly a fan of veal it should be noted that the Viteello Tonnato stood heads and shoulders above the piccata, particularly as a light option for those heading to the club next door, and although both the meatballs and shortribs were ‘good,’ neither were nearly on par with versions available both on and off strip, though both will surely please palates of the less adventurous sort.

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Personally impressed by the quail, while others found the pork-wrapped bird to be far too greasy, it was with two large plates that savories would conclude and although the osso buco is a good rendition the dollar-per-ounce ratio was far tilted to the left compared to better versions at Portofino and Allegro while the $55 Garganelli’s pasta and tomatoes were textbook, though the lobster was overcooked and flavorless – a damned shame considering the quality of the one served over the gnocchi noted above.

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Taking coffee, a strong double espresso over ice that could have just as easily been replaced by the tiramisu cocktail I’d ordered to kick things off, along with desserts it was with an unfortunate whimper that Lago closed out the evening, for as ‘cute’ as each of the five plates was not a single bite save for the Limoncello spiked Amalfi was better than something found at Bellagio Buffet, let alone nearby Jean-Phillipe, the $10 each tab harkening memories of Bazaar by Jose Andres for least inspired and overpriced pastries available in a city where no lack of exquisite desserts exist.

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TWO AND A HALF STARS: Expectedly precious and pricey, though no bill was presented to our table, Lago has a long way to go before becoming a ‘go to’ for people serious about their food and although I’m sure early reviews will be gushing given the nature of Las Vegas food media (and the fact that Serrano smartly launched the place with a Yelp event giving food, and $125 gift cards away to ‘gold’ elites) the truth is that better Italian food can be found in almost any US City at half the cost, or in nearly any local casino without all the bright lights and Avicii overhead.

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RECOMMENDED: Both Risottos, Scallop Crudo, Polpo e Fregola al Nero.

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AVOID: Canneloni, Malloreddos, Desserts.

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TIP: Those looking for a bit less ‘noise’ would be well advised to request seating on the al fresco patio overlooking the Bellagio Fountains, or a small semi-private room across from the bar where speakers are far less ubiquitous.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.bellagio.com/restaurants/lago.aspx

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Posted in Coffee, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Italian, Lago, Las Vegas, Lobster, Nevada, Octopus, Pizza, Pork, Tiramisu

Tapas by Alex Stratta, Las Vegas NV

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Tapas by Alex Stratta

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Sangria

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Spanish Osetra Caviar – Bottarga Stuffed Egg, Pimenton

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Foie Gras Conserva – Fig-Almond Bread, Spiced Apricot Jam

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Potato Tortilla – Caramelized Onions, Eggs

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Roasted Eggplant Dip – Romesco, Chickpea Crisps

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Baked Monte Enebro – Pistachio Crust, Caramelized Onions

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Valenciana Paella – Rabbit, Snails, Broad Beans

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Fried Oysters – Crisp Bacon, Lettuce Cups

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Seeded House Lavash

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Black Kale Fritters – Pine Nuts, Sour Cherries, Green Apple

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Medjool Dates – Crispy Pancetta, Apple-Mustard Sauce

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Bacalao – Olives, Oranges, Fennel

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Grilled Octopus – Garbanzos, Celery Hearts

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Bone Marrow Dip – Chimichurri, Serrano Crisps

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Chicken Croquetas – Greens, Raspberry Crisps

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Patatas Bravas – Chile Sauce, Saffron Alioli

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Saffron Alioli – Sweet Onion Cocas, Pimenton

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Fresh Churros – Chocolate, Spices

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Arroz Con Leche – Vanilla, Almonds

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Frozen Nougat – Pistachio, Citrus, Turkish Apricot

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Chocolate and Almond Cake – Cajeta, Sweet Sherry

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Bunuelos – Vanilla Cream, Powdered Sugar

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Lustau, Pedro Ximinez PX Sherry

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Undoubtedly a beautiful development, the sort of place that seems miles away from The Strip – or even Summerlin, really – anyone who has lived in the Las Vegas area for more than a few months is likely to have heard the difficulties faced by restaurants inhabiting Tivoli Village, yet earlier this week it was none other than former Michelin 2* Chef Alex Stratta who decided to challenge history, his Tapas by Alex Stratta opening in the space formerly inhabited by Poppy Den with a menu that immediately had me thinking “he’s going to do that, there?”

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Last seeing Chef Stratta’s cooking at his Wynn flagship in September of 2008, one of my first fine dining experiences in Las Vegas, it was just after 6:00pm on Saturday that myself and five others sat down at a small table just inside the lively al fresco dining patio and with service that was exceedingly professional, if not a bit overbearing with descriptions, guiding the rest of the evening a large order was crafted in several rounds, a total of twenty tapas tasted over the course of three hours bookended by refreshing glass of sangria and some of the richest, sweetest sherry I’ve tasted in ages.

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Taking a surprisingly traditional approach to Spanish small plates, the menu divided into six sections with several options available to please most dietary restrictions, it was largely in items from the menu’s front side that selections were made and although prices trend a bit higher than they probably should for dishes like the $25 Foie Gras, $10 Croquetas, $15 Fried Oysters, or $18 Deviled Eggs with Caviar and Bottarga it would be a fool’s folly to question the quality of any of the ingredients or preparation – each on par with the best versions in town.

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Convivial in atmosphere, with plates intended to be shared despite portions that do trend small, other classic options selected amongst savories entailed spot-on presentations of Patatas Bravas as well as Potato Tortilla and although requests for extra bread had to be made more than once both the Baked Monte Enebro with crunchy pistachios and the unctuous Bone Marrow Dip were absolute showstoppers, the former an absolute must order for anyone fancying funky cheeses while the later was silky smooth and complicated without being fussy one bit.

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Executing standards like dates as well as octopus with a deft hand, and somehow finding a way to present crispy fried kale as a novelty amidst accoutrements both sour and sweet, diners looking for more bold flavors would be well served to order a plate or two of the unexpectedly chilled salt cod with citrus while those desiring something slightly less ‘fishy’ should turn their eyes towards the intensely flavorful roasted eggplant with dainty chickpea crisps or the deceptively described “Saffron Alioli” that seamlessly pairs soft bread and caramelized onions to light heat and aromatic sauce that saw both bowls eventually wiped clean.

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Denied the ‘daily specials,’ which are not yet ready to roll out on their pre-specified days of the week, it was with much anticipation that one of the restaurant’s four signature paellas was presented to the table and showing the gusto of a chef willing to take chances the Valenciana iteration of the dish proved to be the undeniable star of the evening, an enormous portion priced a bit aggressively at $26/pp with both the bunny and escargot shown off in full form, with little done to mask their characteristic flavors, while rice ran the gamut from a fluffy top-layer rife with aromatics right down to the blistered bits that stuck to the pan, a bit of scraping well rewarded with plenty of concentrated flavor that added even more texture and just a touch of char.

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Transitioning to sweets with a double espresso on ice that saw itself, like water refills, long delayed it was perhaps unsurprising that desserts at Tapas were mostly authentic old world recipes with top-tier ingredients and skilled staff serving to add panache, and although the airy Bunuelos, perfect churros, and cake tinged in chocolate and sherry were all admittedly quite good it was a trio of spoon soft delicacies that undoubtedly stole the show as rice pudding proved a textural masterpiece rivaled only by Border Grill for best in the city while a chilly semifreddo speckled with fruits and nuts was everything a holiday fruitcake is not – soft, smooth, and something craveable year round.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Still new, with kinks in service and pricing yet to be worked out, Tapas by Alex Stratta faces an uphill battle selling traditional tapas in a development where Brio has wait-times while more innovative spots sit empty or shut their doors, but clearly harboring the sort of passion and talent ready to reward those willing to take a chance with some of the city’s best Spanish Cuisine this is the sort of place that Tivoli and Summerlin needs, whether it knows it or not.

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RECOMMENDED: Valenciana Paella, Frozen Nougat, Baked Monte Enebro, Bone Marrow Dip, Saffron Alioli, Arroz Con Leche.

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AVOID: Rarely one to quibble price, provided the quality is on point, I was absolutely shocked at the portion of Foie Gras offered for $25 – undoubtedly the highest per ounce I’ve ever seen, Michelin 3* tables overseas included.

TIP: Currently open at 5:00pm there is rumor of brunch to begin soon, the promise of lunch dependent on customer feedback given the challenges of the surroundings.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.alexstrattagroup.com/

Tapas by Alex Stratta on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Coffee, Dessert, Foie, Food, Las Vegas, Nevada, Octopus, Pork, Tapas by Alex Stratta

CREAM, Las Vegas NV

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CREAM

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Peanut Butter Cookie

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Snickerdoodle / Royal Caramel Swirl / Salted Caramel / Oatmeal Raisin

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Chocolate Chip / Toasted Almond / Butter Pecan / Red Velvet

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Hailing from San Francisco, where Bi-Rite, Humphry Slocombe, and several others have been upping the ante on artisanal Ice Cream for several years, CREAM is an acronym for Cookies Rule Everything Around Me, and as much as the cheesy Wu-Tang inspired moniker and early reviews should have dissuaded me from visiting I simply couldn’t resist the urge when wandering Downtown Summerlin after a large lunch, the results certainly not on par with the best of The Bay Area but far better than some would suggest.

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In some ways a ‘do one thing, do it well’ concept, the $3.99 ice cream sandwiches clearly the focal point of CREAM, it was just after 2:00pm that I entered to find a small line and perusing the options before asking a few questions and tasting a trio of flavors it was not long before selections were made, a quartet of cookies and four ‘half-scoops’ of ice cream comprising two sandwiches with a bonus cookie warmed to order for $7.98 after a social media check-in discount.

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Oddly opting to slightly heat cookies before stacking the ice cream and bagging to go, yet not really suffering any sog due to the hard-freeze chests, it was at one of the restaurant’s small tables that I sat down to enjoy and opting to deconstruct each and eat with a spoon my first bites of both chocolate ribboned Royal Caramel Swirl and creamy Salted Caramel spoke to a high milk-fat base, the flavors better than most-store bought varieties though certainly not on par with top-tier selections, nor Gelato Messina just down the street.

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Moving next to more ice cream, in this case a less-than-memorable butter pecan set next to toasted almond that tasted both smoky and sweet, it was with the cookies that the tasting would end and although the Red Velvet and Snickerdoodle were no better than the stuff straight from Toll House or Pillsbury the Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and Oatmeal Raisin were every bit as good as scratch-made, the later particularly impressive with restrained sweetness save for the dried fruit and loaded with plenty of chewy cinnamon tones.

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THREE STARS: Competently executing their mission of serving made to order ice cream sandwiches at a price that seems more than fair for the quality of the goods, CREAM is a nice option for those wandering Downtown Summerlin, though save for the cookies that outstrip Wonderland in both price and texture and the slightly lower price-point than Messina I’m not really certain there is any impetus for frequent returns.

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RECOMMENDED: Oatmeal Raisin Cookie, Peanut Butter Cookie, Toasted Almond Ice Cream.

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AVOID: Red Velvet Cookie, Butter Pecan Ice Cream.

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TIP: Offering a free 99-cent cookie for social media check-in to those spending more than $5 and plenty of free samples to those willing to ask, be aware that seating is limited – particularly as the summer temperatures climb.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.creamnation.com/

Cream on Urbanspoon

Posted in CREAM, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada

Billy’s Bar-B-Que, Las Vegas NV

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Billy’s Bar-B-Que

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Fresh corn bread with homemade honey butter

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Brisket Baked Beans

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Mac & Cheese

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Free SoftServe

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Spicy Beef Sausage

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Half Rack Babyback Ribs

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Brisket

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Pulled Pork

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Pulled Chicken

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Truly a story of following one’s passion, owner Billy Palmer a former lawyer turned pit-master at the bequest of legions of local fans, it was just prior to noon on Saturday that myself and two friends stopped into Billy’s Bar-B-Que, and finding a large menu with no less than five smoked meats on offer it was with an ‘all-in’ approach that we invested our appetites, a half pound of each ordered along with three sides and drinks for just over $50 inclusive of tip and tax.

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Founded on the motto of “Real Smoke, Real Flavor” and featuring what the small restaurant refers to as “Competition-Style” ‘cue, the process at Billy’s is much like that at recently launched Downtown Summerlin’s Ribs & Burgers with counterside ordering and tableside service, but with more focus on BBQ than branding the experience is decidedly different, drinks freely refilled at a nearby fountain instead of languishing for water with All-You-Care-To-Eat Soft Serve replacing boozed-up, overpriced shakes.

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Clearly focused on the ribs, a lightly mopped dry-rub variety ready to be treated to four additional house-made bottles of sauce including hot, original, smoke, and white, one would be hard pressed to name a better baby-back in the city and although both the pulled pork and chicken proved to be a bit of a disappointment with the former dried out and the later too modestly flavored to be memorable at all the beef options and sides to follow sang an entirely different tune…

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Beginning first with the sides, suffice it to say that any beans that include almost as much beef as sauce are likely to be a success and with supple chunks of brisket juxtaposing the creamy red legumes the smoky sweet bowl was amongst the best I’ve ever had, the creamy macaroni also a well made rendition while the piping hot cornbread was the best ‘slab’ version in Las Vegas discovered to date – even before the addition of honey butter than further wet the crumb and brought both sweet and savory flavors to a head.

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Saving the best to last, though in reality it was the first thing each of us consumed, both the house made beef sausage and, more so, the brisket were of reference standard quality – the former cited as too greasy by one member of the party but to my tastes absolutely perfect while the brisket, offered lean or fatty, was imbued by a thick smoke ring with light char on the surface giving way to the natural sort of flavor that did not require even a drop of sauce to shine – the sort of stuff that would make even a native Texan raise an eyebrow, whether they’d admit it or not.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Like several other Sin City BBQ pits, Billy’s is the sort of place where selective ordering can yield the sort of smoked meat likely to impress purists and locals alike, and while not every option is equal the same can be said of any place in America – it’s not like anyone is singing the praises of North Carolina Brisket, Texas Pulled Pork, or Kansas City sausage with any regularity either.

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RECOMMENDED: Brisket, Baked Beans, Cornbread, Sausage.

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AVOID: Smoked Chicken, Pulled Pork.

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TIP: Having already mentioned the ice cream and beverages, Billy’s really does offer AYCE Soft-Serve free of charge, and for those fancying such things the option for making a coke or rootbeer float is definitely valid – something I saw no less than two surrounding tables partaking in, though for my money a cornbread sundae proved an equally excellent bet.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.billysbbq.vegas/

Billy's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Posted in Billy’s Bar-B-Que, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork

Griddlecakes, Las Vegas NV

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Griddlecakes

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Buttermilk Biscuits

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French Toast

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Short Stack of Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Pancakes

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Locally owned and operated, with two locations stretching the Valley from Southeast to Northwest, it was to Griddlecakes North Jones location that I pointed the GPS on Saturday morning after a late Friday night out, and arriving just prior to 9:30am to a packed house it was to charming youthful service that I was greeted, a small two top on the fringe of the kitchen my seat for the next hour of traditional American breakfast fare.

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Clearly a popular choice of locals, the space brimming with folks aged seven months to seventy plus years, water was delivered simultaneously with a menu upon seating and deferring on coffee that smelled just a touch overroasted it a brief perusal of the menu that saw three items ordered, the restaurant’s free WiFi keeping me occupied during a twenty minute wait in which I was checked on frequently with water topped off twice.

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Not a place to reinvent the wheel, though a few novelties are offered, it was entirely with personal favorites that I decided to test the Griddlecakes’ kitchen and after eschewing the warmed pseudo-syrup in favor of good stuff brought from home my first bites of the restaurant’s French Toast spoke to a classic presentation really no different than that which can be made at home, the bread a store-bought eggy sort with just enough cinnamon and vanilla in the batter to tickle the palate with the center was still just a touch doughy, a longer soak perhaps overlooked by a line-cook facing the weekend morning crush.

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Moving next to a short stack of pancakes, billed as ‘large,’ by my young server and topped with a $1.99 surcharge of chocolate chips, suffice it to say that pancakes double the size of those offered at Griddlecakes are offered at no-less than a dozen spots in Las Vegas and although preparation was ‘good enough’ given the $5.99 tab these too were nothing special, the meal’s lone standout a pair of buttermilk biscuits that were undoubtedly house-made given their oblong flattened shape and all the better for it with ample notes of buttermilk still notable after a lacquer of butter and honey, both.

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TWO AND A HALF STARS: A competent breakfast kitchen serving up American standards at a fair price, Griddlecakes is a good locals spot for those in the Northwest, and presumably the Southeast, but certainly not a destination – similar fare found at a similar price at not only several other mom n’ pop places, but also in the cafes of several major casino cafes 24-hours a day.

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RECOMMENDED: Buttermilk Biscuits.

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AVOID: Nothing is particularly ‘bad,’ but neither the French Toast or Pancakes are particularly memorable either.

TIP: Persons looking for a deal are advised to keep an eye on any number of local papers and magazines, a buy-one-get-one-half-off coupon frequently offered without weekend restrictions or need to purchase a beverage (or two.)

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.griddlecakeslv.com/

Posted in Breakfast, Food, French Toast, Griddlecakes, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes

Searsucker, Las Vegas NV

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Searsucker

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Cheddar Puffers (jalapeno)

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Brie “triple” + Strawberry jam (toasted baguette)

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Eggs + Bacon “pork belly” (brioche + chive brown butter hollandaise)

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Short Rib “the harlot” + horseradish + fried onion (polenta + demiglace)

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“Cowboy caviar” (fried greens, caramelized onions jam + mustard vinaigrette)

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Shrimp “spicy” + Bacon grits (red pepper)

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Mushrooms + Burrata + Toast (bitter green salad)

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Spinach + Bacon + Mushroom + Sweetbread (egg + buttermilk)

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Strawberry + Champagne + Walnut + Goat Cheese (balsamic + streusel)

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Jalapeno-chorizo “corn off the cobb” (cream)

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Brussel + Walnut (fried garlic)

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Mahi “baja” – Drunken cherries + Smokey almonds (citrus + greens)

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Duck – White Bean + Confit + Fig (tomato)

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Pork butt – Whiskey apples + Bacon Emulsion (fruit puree)

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The “ermahgerd” sundae – Peanut butter gelato + Peanut coffee “rocks” + Caramel + Brownies + Bruleed banana

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S’mores bar – Graham + Salted caramel ganache + Honey chocolate mousse + Marshmallow + Chocolate ice cream + Cookie crumble

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Warm apple crostata – Caramelized grannies + caramel + Oat crumble + Vanilla ice cream

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Warm toffee pumpkin pudding cake – Pumpkin tuile + Butter pecan gelato + Gingerbread crumble

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Located in Caesars’, and opened by managing partner Hakkasan to coincide with nearby Omnia, celebrity chef Brian Malarkey’s fourth (actually fifth if you count the shuttered Scottsdale experiment) Searsucker bills itself as New American Classic Cuisine, and although the ebb and flow of such restaurants in major Casinos has become a virtual game of ‘who’s who, and who’s new’ an early visit seemed perfectly suited to a nearby concert, myself and three friends sitting down at the end of the open kitchen away from the hustle of a three-deep bar.

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Undoubtedly courting the cool kids from the nightclub nextdoor with all sorts of clever libations and a late night menu that goes until 3am, but surprisingly pulling a wide demographic despite loud music ranging from VAST to Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, it was with greetings from a server ported direct from the San Diego flagship that our dining began and with complimentary cheese puffs tinged in peppers whetting the palate it was not long until Chef JP Labadie stopped by to discuss the menu, a few of our desired items from the online version already culled as the kitchen ramps up to full speed.

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Energetic, if not a little bit ‘cramped,’ with plenty of eye candy both on the walls and amongst the service staff it was with appetites gauged and questions answered that an order was formulated and requesting that items be sent out in trios so as not to overwhelm the service was nearly spotless from beginning to end, a high piece of praise in a city where such a thing is quite rare.

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Starting with ‘smalls’ before progressing to greens, ocean, farms, ‘and’, and ‘all milk + sugar,’ it was in a trio of Malarkey’s signatures that original opinions were formed and although the brie presented pasty and bland beneath the jam with a substantial delay for an extra piece of bread further marring the experience, no fault could be found in either the ‘harlot’ or the ‘belly,’ both of the expectedly rich proteins featuring great depth of flavor and textbook texture amidst accoutrements lent levity through the utilization of restrained herbs and spice.

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Continuing the small plates it was once again a ‘toast’ that proved least impressive of round two, and although the burrata got lost amidst all the fungus and spongy bread just like the brie beneath strawberries both the Searsucker signature Shrimp and Grits as well as the Rocky Mountain Oysters were better than expected, the first for somehow finding a way to reinvent a dish done countless places as a spicy sort of cioppino while the second plated the lightly fried gonads with crispy greens and a tangy vinaigrette plus onion jam that was both smoky and sweet.

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Taking a lighter approach, albeit only slightly, course three consisted of three plates focused around vegetables and although prior plates were good it was here that the first two ‘stunners’ arrived, the Strawberry salad a nice and refreshing share plate but the sweetbread salad and spicy pork-infused cream corn undoubtedly stealing all the thunder, the spinach beneath buttermilk and a poached egg with bacon selling itself like an gussied up Lyonnaise with the creamy bits of offal adding just enough funk to let you know they are there.

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Onward to mains, savories concluded with a somewhat mixed bag, for as much as I commend the kitchen for serving the duck nearly rare I only wish the effort would have been rewarded by accoutrements that served to accent rather than overwhelm, a theme of sweetness and smoke also found in the braised Pork Butt and seared Mahi, though with far more restraint – the fish in particular perhaps the best of its kind with boozy cherries finding a deft dance partner in charred white flesh.

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Unwilling and unable to forgo sweets, particularly at a place so routinely celebrated for its pastry program, it was with some restraint that I avoided requesting ‘the lot,’ but still investing heavily in 4/6 of the selections one would be hard pressed to name a single plate that failed to shine, even the seemingly overwrought sundae presenting a lovely blend of textures and flavors with more than enough to share while both the crostata and pumpkin cake were unassuming yet perfect, the heavy hitting S’mores bar a dish best shared, though so compelling as a result of the combination of honey, caramel, and chocolate that none will be left on the plate regardless of stomach capacity or party size.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Already functioning at a high level, and seemingly willing to take *some* chances without going ‘all in,’ Searsucker enters a market crowded with several similar restaurants and with longtime Las Vegas Chef Labadie at the helm an early look gives one hope that this won’t just be another absentee landlord hotspot for pre-and-post-club noshing, a decision likely to be made by the powers that be in upcoming months as feedback and finances curate the cuisine.

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RECOMMENDED: Mahi “baja,” Spinach + Bacon + Mushroom + Sweetbread, Jalapeno-chorizo “corn off the cobb,” Eggs + Bacon “pork belly,” S’mores bar, Warm toffee pumpkin pudding cake.

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AVOID: Brie “triple” + Strawberry jam, Duck, Mushrooms + Burrata + Toast

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TIP: The online menu contains many fallacies and fails to mention that the happy hour deals are only offered to those seated or standing around the bar, a ‘buyer beware’ to those looking to order specific things or dine at a deal.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://searsucker.com/las-vegas/

Searsucker on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, Searsucker, Sweetbreads

Portofino, Las Vegas NV

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Portofino

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Warm Focaccia, Olive Oil, Balsamic

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Caprese Salad – Heirloom Tomatoes, Bufala Mozzarella, Basil, Roasted Garlic Crumble

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Meatballs – Kobe Beef and Duroc Pork, Fried Squash Blossom, Goat Cheese, Bacon, Beer Batter, San Marzano Tomatoes, 24 Month Parmigiano Reggiano

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Crab Cake Arancini – Lemon Saffron Risotto, Tarragon-Pesto Aioli, Fresno Pickles, Cornichon

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100 year Balsamic Glazed Grilled Octopus, Calabrese Peperonata, Fingerling Crisps, Salsa Verde, Capers

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Spaghetti Carbonara – Pork Belly, Sweet Peas, Caramelized Onions, Guanciale

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Burrata Agnolotti – Lobster, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Roasted Corn Butter

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Gnocchi – Forest Mushrooms, Arugula, Truffle Fonduta, 24 Month Parmigiano Reggiano

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Ripatelli – Lamb Bolognese, Roasted Red Peppers, Mint Pesto

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Shrimp Fettuccini – Pancetta, Grilled Leeks, San Marzano Cherry Tomato Pomodoro

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Veal Osso Buco – Saffron Risotto, Bone Marrow, Gremolata

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Chicken Rollatini Parmesan – Chicken Ripieno with Housemade Chicken Sausage Stuffing, Housemade Marinara, Melted Mozzarella

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Mediterranean Sea Bass – Roasted Cauliflower, Golden Raisins, Cauliflower Puree, Crisp Polenta, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Nutella Semifreddo – Banana Rum Cake, Double Chocolate Gelato

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Traditional Tiramisu – Cognac Crème, Lady Fingers

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Limoncello Crème Brulee – Seasonal Berries, Strawberry Prosecco Sauce

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Cannoli Napoleon – Creamy Ricotta Cheesecake, Shortbread Crust, Amarena Cherry Compote

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Gelato – Strawberry Cheesecake, Double Chocolate, Vanilla Milkshake

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Rebranded in mid-2014 under the direction of GM Chris Zadie and Chef Michael LaPlaca, with pastry contributions from the team at nearby Heritage Steak, Portofino achieved a lot of recognition over the last few months thanks to stories of their ‘diamond and gold’ lasagna, but a closer look at the menu and words from friends in the know indicated there was much more to the story than savvy marketing, the native Ohioan toque reportedly turning out some of the best Italian food in the city with nearly everything from pastas and sauces made in house.

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Previously known as Onda, and still sporting much of the original space’s design, it was just moments before 6:30 when myself and two others sat down at the bar in wait for two more and with a friendly bartender offering up drinks and fluffy focaccia alongside lightly grassy olive oil blended with balsamic it would not be long before our group was complete, a white linen table on the upper level of the main dining room seemingly miles away from not only the Casino beyond, but also the Wildcats and Badgers playing on silent televisions in the lounge.

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Large in size, with a palate of beige highlighted by lines of cursive decorating the walls, it was mere seconds after seating that Mr. Zadie greeted our table and with wine from one friend already decanted the party’s likes and dislikes were discussed, a family style tasting to follow as light music played overhead.

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Divided into four courses, specifically antipasti, pasta, secondi, and dolci, it would not be long before the first round of food arrived and with Chef LePlaca personally presenting all four plates the descriptions were lengthy discourses clearly showing the young toque’s passion for everything from sourcing to plating, each dish putting a unique spin on something traditional and familiar in order to show the concepts and ingredients in new light.

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Starting with salad and progressing to more substantial things, antipasti began with a Caprese punctuated by sundried rounds of tomato and garlic that acted to accentuate, rather than hide, the musky funk of fresh buffalo mozzarella and moving on to the signature crabcakes feigning as arancini one couldn’t help but smile at the whimsy or diversity of flavors, a far more ‘serious’ composition found in the upcoming spring starter of tender octopus glazed in old balsamic atop spicy hash while the supple meatballs topped in stuffed squash blossoms made a strong case for best in Sin City, the pungent duo of cheeses melding effortlessly to bright tomato puree below.

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Repeatedly celebrated for their pastas, at least two now considered Strip-side staples, it was next in a quintet of family-style plates that we would indulge and eschewing a trend for undersaucing that seems more and more pervasive these days not a single option was less than superlative, the gnocchi so light they threatened to float off the plate were it not for the rich fonduta while tender agnolotti were every bit as creamy and decadent as ingredients would suggest, the rest of the lot textbook al dente with both the carbonara and fettuccini textbooks renditions while the signature wide-noodle ‘ripatelli’ performed a rarity with lamb, rendering it aromatic and vegetal as opposed to so rich as to overwhelm.

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At this point allowed to choose secondi as dictated by hunger, a total of three entrees were selected and although the seared Branzino with two types of cauliflower alongside crispy mushrooms and polenta was flawlessly prepared it simply lacked the lust-inducing satisfaction of two other proteins, the osso buco defining the phrases ‘fall off the bone’ and ‘cut with a spoon’ atop creamy risotto while the upscaled take on Chicken Parm is a destination dish for any fan of the classic, a housemade sausage of leg and thigh wrapped inside a roulade of Mary’s Free Range breast coated in the lightest of breadings beneath marinara and melted mozzarella.

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Admittedly full at this point, the veal substantial enough to go around the table twice, it was finally in desserts that the meal concluded and with the hour just past 9:00pm as coffee was served my joke about ‘all of them’ proved a case of being careful what you ask for, five plates of dolci arriving at once with the semifreddo undoubtedly the most well conceptualized while the tiramisu was a surprising delicate take on the classic with light notes of cocoa, espresso, and cream lingering on the palate long after a meal that ranks highly amongst my favorites this year.

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS: Not yet a complete vision, the décor and desserts yet to be fully realized for an entirely new name and brand, Portofino is perhaps the most interesting take on “American” Italian food I’ve seen attempted to date and with a young and passionate team operating both the kitchen and front of house the question simply becomes one of filling a large dining room tucked away in the back corner of The Mirage, a gem becoming less hidden as more people discover the creativity and sing its praise.

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RECOMMENDED: Gnocchi, Meatballs, Agnolotti, Osso Buco, Chicken Parmesan, Nutella Semifreddo.

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AVOID: The Cannoli came off a bit overly complicated with the ricotta a touch too thick and sweet while the Shrimp Fettuccini was well done, but simply not on par with the other four pastas that rival the city’s best.

TIP: Tasting menus are not specifically offered, but available on request, our total $65pp with corkage comped, but normally $25/bottle. Those looking to score a deal are encouraged to sign in to Mirage Free WiFi on arrival, a special discount code for 20% currently available at the end of the welcoming video.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.

http://www.mirage.com/restaurants/portofino-by-chef-michael-laplaca.aspx

Portofino on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Coffee, Crab, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Italian, Las Vegas, Nevada, Octopus, Pork, Portofino, Tasting Menu, Tiramisu

Tony’s Slice House, Henderson NV

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Tony’s Slice House

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New York Slice with Pepperoni

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Sicilian Grandma Slice with Teardrop Tomatoes and Fresh Basil

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Following the lead of Dom Demarco’s new slice shop in the Caesars’ Food Court with a celebrity chef of their own, Green Valley Ranch launched “Tony’s Slice House” to coincide with the opening of the second Pizza Rock location and although early word of mouth and better judgment certainly gave me pause I simply couldn’t help but take a taste for myself…the results far worse than I’d ever thought possible, and not at an insubstantial cost.

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Purportedly featuring the works of Tony Gemignani, the eleven-time award winning pizzaiolo whose multiple ovens and unique pies have been making believers of folks visiting Downtown Las Vegas ever since the original Pizza Rock opened up shop, it was just after 1:30pm that I approached the long counter and ignored for a good five minutes as the lone employee milled about aimlessly I admittedly nearly walked away, his eventual greeting of “what can I getcha,” answered by inquiry about the freshness of several options and an order eventually settling on two slices billed at a steep $9.75.

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Obviously requiring a quick trip to the oven as not a single pizza was proclaimed as less than 45 minutes old it was perhaps three minutes that I waited after paying the bill and soon porting the two paper plates as far away from nearby smokers and slot machines as possible a quick fold and first bite told all the story one should need, a slick of pepperoni grease quickly coating both plate and forearm while the flavor was not one bit superior to Sbarro, let alone any number of Manhattan haunts charging 1/4 the price.

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Taking one more bite of the flimsy slice before discarding the rest in disgust it was onward to the Grandma Slice that the tasting progressed and, although nowhere near as oily, the minimal oven time left the thick square merely luke-warm as half-melted cheese of average quality melded with thankfully robust sauce and basil while teardrop tomatoes dislodged at each bite and simply fell to the table, no aspect of this Sicilian nearly as impressive as that of Cugino’s or Montesano’s regardless of branding, pedigree, or ‘major award.’

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ONE STAR: Certainly not as ‘wowed’ by Pizza Rock as many others, and generally annoyed by New Yorkers who cite the ‘slice’ is some sort of landmark dish, it should go without saying that I approached Tony’s Slice House without substantial expectations and yet somehow the Celebrity Chef money grab underperformed them all, the combination of shoddy service, subpar ingredients, a smoky casino, and high prices making this place one of the worst dining experiences found in Las Vegas thus far.

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RECOMMENDED: Saving your money and moving along.

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AVOID: Off hours seem particularly prone to failure, the team clearly unaware that the oven time for a New York Slice and a square of Sicilian are substantially different.

TIP: Located along Green Valley’s Casual Dining Corridor, most easily accessed by entering from the main entrance facing The District and taking the escalator upstairs from the movie theater. Open 11a-11p, 7-days a week.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.

http://slicehousegvr.com/

Pizza Rock on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Henderson, Italian, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pizza, Pork, Tony's Slice House

Whist Stove & Spirits, Henderson NV

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Whist Stove & Spirits

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French Onion Soup – Sweet Onion, Gruyere, Crouton

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Mac and Cheese Omelet – Swiss, Cheddar, Elbow Macaroni with Fruit

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Pretzel Sticks – Cheese sauce, peanut butter, mustard

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Fresh Made Biscuits and Daily Strawberry Jam

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Blueberry Muffins and Raspberry Coffee Cake

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Peanut Butter Pancakes – Toasted Nuts, Peanut Butter Sauce

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French Toastowitz – Challah Bread, Frangelico Bourbon, Maple Syrup

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White Chocolate and Walnut French Toast – ‘maple syrup…if needed’

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Serving as a last-minute substitution when plans for Green Valley Ranch’s new Pizza Rock fell through it was admittedly not my first visit to Whist Stove & Spirits on Saturday, but having walked out due to truly disastrous customer service without tasting a single thing that first time around it seemed only fair to actually sit down to a proper meal this time, the waitstaff still spotty at times but the cuisine proving far better than any of us had anticipated at a pricepoint that puts many Las Vegas Boulevard brunches to shame.

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Owned by the group behind Park on Fremont, but far larger in size with an outdoor patio that was completely full on our noon arrival, Whist features a similar feel to the overhyped and underwhelming DTLV spot largely as a result of décor but with both lunch and brunch menus available on weekends from 10a-4p one would be hard pressed to find any similarity between the two as it relates to food, an actual Chef at Whist infusing the menu with quality to match creativity while service proves informed enough, though perhaps stretched a bit thin.

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Opting to order in two courses, a quartet arriving at each as a result of the complimentary muffins and coffee cake being forgotten as the meal began, round one of the experience was a mix of plates from both the lunch and brunch menu and although opinions on the subtle Mac and Cheese Omelet as well as the crock of surprisingly vegetal French Onion soup ranged from ‘delicious, great texture’ to ‘odd, but not in a bad way’ not a single word short of praise was due for the pitch-perfect pretzel sticks with cheese fondue and fresh-ground peanut butter nor the trio of buttermilk biscuits with house-made jam, the latter particularly impressive in a city where good biscuits are finally starting to become a ‘thing.’

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With the missing muffin basket issue remedied by the General Manager, who later brought the chef by to say hello, those interested in excellent coffee cake would be well advised to make sure that they are not shorted of the brunch-only gift, and yet as good as this was it was much to the surprise of everyone at the table that actual menu items proved even better, the substantial stack of pancakes absolutely riddled with peanut butter while both styles of French Toast offered up entirely different, yet equally well crafted, experiences – the chocolate imbued bread of the light and crispy variety while challah was dense with custard beneath roasted fruits and boozy notes minimizing the need for slightly-better-than-average pseudo-syrup to a light drizzle.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Sometimes a backhanded compliment, but in this case a well intended bit of praise, Whist Stove & Spirits is far better than it ‘needs’ to be and while a few more servers plus a bit more attention to details like refills, syrup, and expediting could really make a difference the concept is already far better developed than the disastrous Park on Fremont ‘brunch’ with a price that more than justifies getting off the strip for good food in a space every bit as splashy as those charging twice the price.

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RECOMMENDED: French Toastowitz, Biscuits, Coffee Cake, Pretzel Sticks

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AVOID: Fans of traditional French Onion soup may be put off by the use of tomatoes and a more vegetal broth in Whist’s iteration, but for myself I found it far less cloying than other versions with more nuance and less pungency or heft.

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TIP: Technically open 24/7, but with limited offerings both late night and early morning, those with their eyes set on specific items would be well served to call the restaurant in advance as no online menu is posted save for the one found through Opentable which is frequently out of date.

http://whiststove.com/

Whist, Stove & Spirits on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Breakfast, Food, French Toast, Henderson, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Whist, Whist Stove & Spirits, Whist Stove And Spirits

346 Patisserie, Henderson NV

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346 Patisserie

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Chocolate Chip Cookie / Croissant Gelato / Guayaquil 64% Valrhona Chocolate Gelato/ Double Chocolate Cookie

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Pistachio Éclair

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Vanilla Éclair

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Raspberry Croissant

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Black and White Truffle Macaron

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Hazelnut Macaron

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Cadbury Macaron

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Cherry Gateaux Basque

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Already on my short-list, with interest to drive thirty minute across town enhanced by a $20 giftcard from a friend for my birthday, it was just as the doors clicked open at 11:00am that I entered Henderson’s 346 Patisserie and with chairs still on the tables plus the couple’s young child sitting in a stroller behind the counter my welcome at the small bake shop could not have been more ‘mom n’ pop,’ the clean lines of modern design and gleaming baubles of sugar behind glass notwithstanding.

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Found in a nondescript strip mall, but already with several ‘regulars’ that arrived as I chatted with Front of House Manager Amber Pappageorge as Chef Haynes occasionally emerged from the back to further stock the already impressive shelves, 346 Patisserie is the sort of place where modern meets tradition and while many have cited the use of liquid nitrogen and culinary sorcery in several of the menus novelties the experience I mapped instead focused on items more classic, the total $23.58 for eight a veritable steal compared to similar storefronts found nationwide.

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Clearly a Francophile, the majority of pastries falling under the ‘laborious’ category while most other local bakeries opt for quickbreads and cupcakes, no visit to 346 should go without first sampling some of the store’s handmade gelatos and with each flavor crafted from start to finish without a premade starter or base the flavor profiles are a study in subtle purity, even the Vanilla extremely impressive while my choices of faintly sweet yet buttery ‘croissant’ and intense dark chocolate were delicious on their own but all the better when smashed between two cookies, the chocolate chip in particular amongst the very best in town.

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Moving next to a trio of macarons, it was perhaps an effect of arriving so early that found both the Hazelnut and Black and White Truffle still a bit cool and, thus, somewhat gummy but again with very natural flavorings replacing the standard of sweetness it was quite a surprise that the holiday themed Cadbury proved a spot-on riff of the eponymous chocolate egg, every aspect right down to the cream filling accounted for within a shattering cookie that makes me want to return soon in order to see if, in fact, the off-textured others were mere anomalies.

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Onward to choux, suffice it to say that the small-ish éclairs at 346 meet the standards set by many French Patisserie and although the pastry cream inside the Vanilla iteration was rich and sumptuous the almost-savory center of the pistachio was even more refined, the chocolate not quite ready during this visit but yet another reason to return in short order.

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Rounding out the morning with Haynes two best offerings, a high bit of praise considering the rest, fans of the croissant would be well served to drive down to South Stephanie Street both soon and repeatedly given the wide variety of specials offered throughout the week, and opting for Raspberry only to find the flavor literally fused to the lamination process with a crisp shell shattering to light notes of fruit amidst buttery caverns I can hardly wait until the full line rolls out with the soon-to-be-launched coffee program…though for my $5 I think that java would be even better off paired to the city’s only Gateaux Basque, a dense butter cake with a light layer of housemade jam at its base that substantially ups the ante on any American ‘coffee cake.’

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FOUR STARS: Still an imperfect vision given the limited beverage selection and a few macarons that simply weren’t up to snuff it can only be said that what 346 is trying to do down in Henderson is far more inspired than almost any other spot in Sin City. If this early visit is any indication I anticipate great things to come; ‘mg’ and modernism aside, this is a place that knows its way around classic French pastry, not to mention ice cream and customer service.

RECOMMENDED: Basque Cake, Croissant, Pistachio Éclair, Gelato, Chocolate Chip Cookie.

AVOID: Macarons failed to wow on the level of the rest and $2 ice cream toppings seem somewhat expensive despite the thought that obviously goes into them.

TIP: For those clever enough to offer up their ideas, 346 features ‘customer suggested’ ice creams, gelatos, and sorbets – selected winners gifted a quart of their own to share with friends…or to keep all for themselves.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://346patisserie.com

346 Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Posted in 346 Patisserie, Croissant, Dessert, Food, Henderson, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Macaroon, Nevada, Truffle

Brentwood Cafe & Tavern, Las Vegas NV

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Brentwood Café & Tavern

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Warm Pretzel Bites with Queso

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Two Fresh Baked Biscuits

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Banana Pecan French Toast – Fresh bananas & pecans inside & on top, dusted with powdered sugar, served with maple syrup & butter

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All-star Root Beer Float Pancakes – Root‎ beer baked inside the batter, topped with French vanilla ice cream & whipped cream, served with maple syrup

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Recently under new management, and located slightly adrift of where one’s GPS might suggest on West Warm Springs Road, Brentwood Café and Tavern was brought to my attention by a couple sitting next to me the week prior at Old School Brewing Company and featuring a similar 24/7 format with a family friendly dining area separate from the 21 and older bar and gaming area an early morning visit was planned – my 6:55am arrival finding only a young graveyard shift bartender, line cook, and janitorial staff present in the surprisingly large space.

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Divided into two sections, the larger dining area not open until 8am thus relegating me to thankfully uninhabited and largely smokeless lounge, it was with friendly service from the barman named Jesse that I was greeted and opting for water over booze a few questions about the menu were answered before a two-course order was crafted, the youngster clearly acknowledging the need to confirm items with a kitchen that still managed to botch one half of the four items chose.

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Oddly lit, with red lights overhanging tables and a multi-hued system centered at the bar, it was with a trio of slatted windows open to sunshine that I sat in waiting and although the WiFi was down the combination of SportsCenter and a soundtrack featuring Soudgarden, Nirvana, and Niko Case managed to keep me entertained until savory selections arrived, the fluffy biscuits proving well crafted despite being delivered without any jam or butter while a basket of salty pretzel bites with a pot of creamy queso was admittedly quite good, though certainly not worth $9.49.

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Clearly not familiar with the breakfast menu, having to write down the second half of my order and again relay it to the kitchen, it was only after a fairly sizable delay that plates three and four emerged from the back and although the French Toast was the richly saturated sort that I love, crisp over custard beneath sliced bananas and toasty nuts, the “All Star” pancakes were anything but what was promised – the flavor entirely devoid of root beer and arriving completely stark despite the menu promising both whip and ice cream, the later only arriving once I pointed out the error, my own 100% maple syrup brought from home added to make the fluffy triple-stack much improved.

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TWO STARS: Friendly in service and featuring an excellent soundtrack I only wish the food and overall experience at Brentwood Tavern would have been as good, some of my issues undoubtedly due to the timing of my arrival but others simply due to poor execution with none of it on par with several local competitors in the 24-hour scene.

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RECOMMENDED: Banana Pecan French Toast

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AVOID: None of it was bad, and had the pancakes simply been described as ‘buttermilk’ they actually would have been quite respectable, but alas they were not.

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TIP: While the online menu is not up-to-date, Brentwood Café and Tavern is currently offering a restaurant.com $10 off $20 that can help soften the blow for those looking to score a deal.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.brentwoodsw.com/

Brentwood Cafe & Tavern on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Brentwood Cafe, Brentwood Cafe & Tavern, Brentwood Cafe and Tavern, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Vacation

Public Announcement: To Whom It May Concern

Recently accused by Eater of being a “Scam Artist” for stating that they have previously featured my writing, I will avoid detailing my interactions with the site or its editor and simply state the following.

Never once have I claimed to write ‘for’ eater, merely that eater has picked up my reviews on occassion, a fact clearly proven by searching their site.  The simple fact that Eater Vegas does not even write ‘reviews’ would seemingly make this obvious. http://vegas.eater.com/search?q=uzmann

In reality, what I do is provide unsponsored and self-funded opinions of restaurants both near and far, without the overarching ‘clickbait,’ banner ads, or rumormongering of Susan’s site, all while generating hundreds of thousands of hits per month – something I have done since 2007 and will continue to do. Those interested in following along, referencing the site, or even joining me for a meal are welcome to do so.

To those interested in more back story, a comprehensive list of Emails spanning 8 months from Susan Stapleton, or other details please feel free to e-mail me directly at uhockey@yahoo.com

Posted in Other

Ribs & Burgers, Las Vegas NV

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Ribs & Burgers

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Lamb Slab with Chips

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Pork Bullets with Chips and Slaw

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Original Burger – Midwestern grain-fed beef, grilled, basted and served on a sesame bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickles and BBQ & pink sauces

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Onion Strings

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Kid Friendly Maple Bacon Doughnut – Vanilla Ice Cream, doughnut, bacon, maple syrup / Kid Friendly Pecan Banana Split – Vanilla Ice Cream, Godiva caramel, banana, pecans / Kid Friendly Birthday Cake – Vanilla Ice Cream, milk, sprinkles

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Invited in by Public Relations while the Australian Team was still in town working on issues related to food, service, and design it was just prior to 5:00pm that a friend and I approached Downtown Summerlin’s Ribs & Burgers, and with a line of perhaps twenty snaking out the front door our first impression was one echoed by several previous visitors – pure chaos, several potential patrons taking a pass while we actively had to seek out our liaison, a three person process that took us through two persons who seemingly had no clue what was going on.

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Described (more than once) as a quick casual concept, the focus on quality food without the ‘fine dining’ feel, Ribs & Burgers acts as if their setup is something unfamiliar despite locations such as MTO Café offering the exact same thing, but by shortening the distance from entrance to counter while servers still in-training struggle with a rather limited menu the result is one with peculiar delays and prolonged lingering – the diner eventually receiving a numbered bucket and left to find themselves a seat while food is prepared.

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Spending most of the early visit speaking to Mona, a pleasant brand spokeswoman clearly excited by the prospect of brining the high quality concept to US Shores, it was perhaps a ten minute wait between ordering and receiving our food and having heard so much about the braising process, special sauce, and sourcing of meat and produce it was with high expectations that first bites of ‘pork bullets’ were enjoyed – each bite not exactly ‘falling off the bone’ tender, but decidedly well prepared with nuances of sweetness rounded out by several sorts of spice.

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Having received no water on order, and only two napkins for a meal that was obviously quite likely to be messy, it was on request that the first was delivered while the second never appeared and allowing for the fact that our order continued to arrive as readied from the kitchen with only one mistaken item appearing unannounced it was onward to the burger, ‘chips’, and onion straws that our dining commenced, the fries completely forgettable and really no better than those from the Golden Arches while the piled-high burger and crispy onions were indeed quite good, the former featuring a great grind beneath a good sear while the latter were surprisingly dainty and entirely greaseless with plenty of natural flavor to be found.

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Moving onward to the most intriguing item, the novelty of lamb ribs not lost on someone who loves lamb and finds it far underrepresented on menus here in the States, suffice it to say that the meat’s natural flavor was not overwhelmed in the least by the braise or the baste and although the provided knife was barely capable of sawing through connective tissue adjoining the rack a little elbow grease proved well worth the effort, each saporous bite offering a reason to return even when taking into account the somewhat sizable tab for something served in a ‘quick, casual’ space.

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Rounding out the evening with a trio of shakes, at this point a ‘must’ for any place serving burgers in the 702, we were told by the man up front that the team had recently stopped using gelato from Messina as they wanted something more ‘thick and rich,’ but whether an effect of temperature, prep time, or our decision to eschew alcohol only the Pecan Banana Split proved truly memorable in texture or taste – the birthday cake thin and milky with sprinkles clogging the straw while the Maple Bacon Donut tasted mostly like creamy Log Cabin syrup without a bit of pork or smoke to be found.

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TWO AND A HALF STARS: Still finding their footing in terms of service and structure while already serving up some rather excellent ‘American Classics,’ no matter where the concept hails from, it will be interesting to see how Ribs & Burgers does as other similar speed locations with more local recognition open nearby at a lower price point. Certainly offering something a little different, with high quality ingredients readily apparent, it will require a few tweaks to make Ribs & Burgers really ‘work,’ but if these things can get dialed in I’ve no doubt the concept could succeed in several large markets nationwide.

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RECOMMENDED: Lamb Ribs, Onion Straws.

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AVOID: Birthday Cake Shake, Chips, Expectations of water refills/utensils/share plates/napkins delivered in a timely fashion.

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TIP: While service still needs work, and skimping on napkins seems entirely nonsensical for a place serving ribs at this price, it bears mention that Ribs & Burgers does offer a sink with soap at the center of the restaurant for those looking to clean up…or to refill their own glasses with luke-warm water without ice.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://ribsandburgers.com/us

Ribs & Burgers on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, Ribs & Burgers, Ribs and Burgers

Old School Brewing Company, Las Vegas NV

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Old School Brewing Company

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French Toast – Cinnamon Loaf with Fresh, Tart Berries and Dusted with Powdered Sugar

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Biscuits and Gravy (with gravy on side)

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Momma Bear – Quinoa and Blueberry

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Baby Bear – Buttermilk Cakes with Melting Chocolate Chips

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Garlic Knotty – House Made Dough Brushed with Garlic and Herbs, Baked Golden, Served with Marinara

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Cheese Curds – Tempura Beer Battered Wisconsin Curds, Beer Cheese Sauce

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Amaze Balls – Pork and Sausage Meatballs in Apple Chutney Sauce

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Obey The Pizza – Sausage Meatballs, Baby Potatoes, Garlic Cream Sauce, Mozzarella Cheese, Dash of Sriracha

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New Beet Generation – Goat Cheese Melted over Roasted Beets and Arugula on Marble Rye

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Mayham – Sliced Ham, Ripe Green apples, Havarti Cheese (served as a slider without Honey Mustard, normally larger on grilled sourdough)

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Whiskey Bread Pudding – Bread Pudding with a Pecan Whiskey Sauce

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Stout Cake – Rich Chocolate and Imperial Stout Ale

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Spending extended time in ‘soft-opening’ in order to perfect their brews and nail-down a menu intended to impress both the gastropub crowd and families alike it was finally on Friday that Old School Brewing Company celebrated their Grand Opening and although I could not attend the festivities due to schedule an afternoon brunch the following day showed signs of a restaurant looking to do big things with the brewery in back already turning out beers that had tables around me singing their praise.

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Invited in by one of the owners, an IT-Guy named Nick following his passions into a whole new scene, it was just after noon that I entered the sizable space and greeted by Nick himself as one of the servers had apparently called in sick it was not long before I was seated at a comfy four-top along the restaurant’s outer rim, the decoration still sparse with the center of the room awaiting communal tables while light music played overhead.

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Separating the smoky bar and gaming area from the dining confines, and thus allowing customers of all ages to indulge in the 24/7 eats, it was already having spoken with Nick in advance that my menu was crafted and having requested half-portions of several items in order to better sample the cuisine it was only after a sizable delay due to a surprising number of families filtering in from nearby soccer fields that the meal began, my first bites of a dried out biscuit far from inspiring though the spicy sausage gravy was appropriately rich and stick-a-spoon-up-straight thick.

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Charting a path that allowed me to see breakfast items first, my second round of food arrived amidst the growing din of children in need of something to fill their mouths, and although I personally would have preferred none of the artificial syrup be added prior to arriving at the table one would be hard pressed to find any fault otherwise in the griddled cinnamon loaf from Bon Breads, let alone a duo of flapjacks from which the Baby Bear was pure fluffiness punctuated by chocolate while the toothsome quinoa and blueberry Mama Bear was the sort of risk-taker that made one think of something priced double at a celebrity chef spot located on the strip.

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Clearly forgetting my request for smaller portions, an ‘error in your favor’ later described by Chef Lea as simply getting caught up in the moment as well as wanting the plates to be seen as they’re intended to be served, round three arrived with some of the city’s best garlic knots served up alongside marinara and as good as these were they simply couldn’t hold a candle to the sort of cheese curd treatment one doesn’t even experience in Milwaukee, the squeaky little nuggets just melting beneath light tempura beer batter with sharp beer cheese sauce good enough to be bottled sitting in a sidecar at their side.

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At this point realizing I’d need to scale back my eating in order to save room for that which was to come it was to a truncated portion of the humorously named “Amaze-Balls” that I was treated and with plenty of spice in the porky sausage finding levity amidst carrots glazed in sweet chutney the name proved quite appropriate, that same sausage finding even more spice when paired to Sriracha on one of Oldschool’s personal-sized pizzas, the crust a bit more doughy than I’d prefer but the toppings well balanced allowing several divergent flavors their time in the spotlight while also serving to temper the burn.

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Rounding out the savories, though there are at least a half-dozen more which warrant attention when I return, it was a duo of sandwiches that Lea sent out and with her time at Skinnyfats already apparent in several prior courses both the substantial New Beet Generation and sized-down Mayham were the sort of things one could probably make at home, but most likely wouldn’t – the goat cheese marrying nicely to the thickly sliced beets on soft rye while the briny ham and crisp apples melded beneath a veil of melted cheese.

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Unfortunately informed that the Ice Cream Malt Cake had sold out during the Grand Opening it was with a duo, rather than a three, desserts that the meal would end and while I admit to being an absolute sucker for any form of bread pudding it was actually the chocolate cake that stole the show, the substantial cocoa notes finding a whole new level when paired to frosting imbued with bitter stout…though that isn’t to say I didn’t scrape every bit of the boozy bread pudding plate clean, either…just that the cake is possibly the best I’ve found in this city to date.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Still a work in progress, the décor needing a bit of work while some sort of sound absorption would go a long way in protecting diners from overwrought kids, there is undoubtedly a lot to love about Old School Brewing Company even for those who do not personally favor beer, a strong compliment to a place that could just as easily mail-it-in with the same boring menu as any number of other 24/7 spots but instead chooses to break the mold with a menu featuring no lack of innovation or intrigue.

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RECOMMENDED: Stout Cake, Mama Bear Pancakes, Cheese Curds, Amaze Balls.

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AVOID: Biscuit, Artificial Maple Syrup (a pet peeve.)

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TIP: Featuring ten beers on tap, including 7 of their own, with the brewery in back and available for tour if one of the owners is around, plus Televisions, Video Poker, and Free Wi-Fi there is no lack of things to do and see while visiting Old School, a collection of Table Games soon to arrive for those looking for some good family fun.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.oldschoolbrewing.com/

Old School Brewing on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Old School Brewing Company, Pancakes, Pizza, Pork

Biscuits Café, Las Vegas NV

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Biscuits Café

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Bottomless Coffee and One for the Road

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Buttermilk Pancakes and Thick Cut French Toast

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Cinnamon Roll

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Buttermilk Biscuits

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Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffles

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The only local location of a small chain out of Oregon City, Biscuits Café had long been on my breakfast ‘to-do’ list and with a $5 voucher arriving via E-mail for my birthday I finally decided to play the West Sahara Breakfast and Lunch venue a visit, a seven o’clock arrival finding a few customers already present with the staff bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to say the very least.

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Larger in size than one would anticipate from outside, the space easily capable of seating a hundred with at least half that present when I finally departed at 8:15, it was literally as I was being walked to my table that my drink order was taken and by the time I’d actually sat down a full cup of coffee was present, a glass of water joining later and both kept brimming without once requiring reminder or request.

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Using their own proprietary batters, as well as coffee from Oregon’s Edenway and Sunfresh Organic Jam, but for some reason taking the low-road with artificial syrup where 100% Maple would have been a far more logical choice given the otherwise high commitment to quality, the menu at Biscuits Café does little to reinvent the wheel but with many options for customization including the “Keeping It Simple” Pick 3 it was with little effort that a large order was crafted – the total still less than $30 before coupon, tax, or tip.

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Beginning with the eponymous biscuits, a small and fluffy duo rife with buttermilk that somehow became even more poignant with the addition of butter and raspberry jam, it was these same tangy notes that highlighted a pair of fluffy hotcakes served alongside two pieces of golden-griddled bread, and as much as the custard soaked slices from Wheat Montana Farms and Bakery were indeed delicious beneath butter and Maple Syrup brought from home it was in fact the pillowy pancakes that stole the show, each bite rivaling those at DuPar’s for the best ‘plain Jane’ Buttermilk in town.

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Moving next to the Chicken and Waffles, a quartet of peppery hand-breaded tenderloins served over a crispy Belgian Waffle made with Sweet Potato batter for only $9.99, both the chicken and the waffles proved to be far better than one would have assumed for the price and with good brining to the bird plus the aforementioned spice all of the flavors really ‘popped,’ the savory notes a much needed departure from all the sweetness of the pancakes and waffles, not to mention the nearly 12oz Cinnamon Roll that makes the one at Mr. Mama’s seem pale in comparison, the cream cheese frosting spread so thick that some simply had to be set aside to prevent it from being ‘too’ rich.

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS: Setting aside the syrup ‘issue’ that seems to mar nearly every breakfast joint of this ilk nowadays Biscuits Café is one of those rare chains that feels entirely home grown and ‘mom n’ pop’ in all the right ways. Great food at a great price, smiley service that never leaves the diner for want, and a menu that executes the basics with ease while offering diners any number of ways to customize to tastes – that’s a breakfast worth going out for any day of the week, not to mention the free Wi-Fi and the fact that they were playing Pearl Jam and Soundgarden while I dined.

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RECOMMENDED: Buttermilk Pancakes, Cinnamon Roll.

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AVOID: Artificial Maple Syrup.

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TIP: Featuring an online fan-club with birthday and anniversary coupons, a points system for every dollar spent, plus free coffee just for the first time visitor, those interested in visiting Biscuits Café are encouraged to sign up.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://biscuitscafe.com/

Biscuits Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Biscuits Cafe, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Waffles

Michael Mina, Las Vegas NV

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Michael Mina

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Welcome Champagne

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Michael’s Signature Caviar Parfait – Hash browns, Egg salad, Smoked salmon, Whipped lemon crème fraiche, Osetra caviar

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Joh. Jos. Prum 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese

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Tartare of Ahi Tuna – Sashimi GradeTuna, Garlic, Pears, Lemon, Chilies, Mint, Piine Nuts, Sesame Oil, Egg Yolk served with Toast

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Hamachi sashimi – Ponzu glaze, yuzu vinaigrette, micro shiso

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Honey Wheat and White Roll, Salted and Unsalted Butter

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Heirloom beet salad – Kumquat, endive, Sherry vinaigrette, pistachio puree, “pistachio granola”

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Dungeness Crab Ravioli – Artichokes, Garlic Cream, Burgundy Black Truffles, Black Trumpet Mushrooms

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2012 Niagara Estate Inniskillin Icewine Vidal

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Whole Roasted Foie Gras – Carved tableside with Poached Pear, Pear Puree, Spice Cake, Almonds, Foie Gras Mousse with Pear Gelee, Toasted Brioche, Allspice Dram, Long-peppercorn Pain Perdu

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“Three Seas Tasting” – Tempura Maitake Mushrooms, Pan seared Dayboat Scallops, Bok Choy filled with Ginger Scallops and Mushrooms, Langoustine, Crispy Skin Tai Snapper, Bamboo rice with Dungeness crab and trout roe, Ginger vinaigrette, Radish, Japanese Pickle

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American Wagyu Ribeye from Snake River Farms – Truffle Potato Puree, Braised Beef Short Rib, Cipollini Mushroom, Royal Trumpet Mushroom, Pinot Noir Reduction

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Truffle polenta

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Brussels Sprouts – Crispy Leaves over Tender roasted

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1983 Don Pedro Ximenez Gran Reserva and 2012 Barossa Valley Elderton Golden Semillon

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Blackberry Huckleberry Clafouti – Citrus Crème Fracihe, Macerated Blackberries, Buttermilk Sherbet

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Chocolate Whiskey Cake – Gianduja Cremeux, Salted Caramel, Candied Hazelnuts, Cocoa Nib Ice Cream

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Root Beer Float – Sassafras Ice Cream, Warm Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

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Strawberry Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta – Crème Fraiche Biscuits, Strawberry Basil Sorbet

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Having recently rekindled my fondness for Michael Mina’s Restaurants following a superlative meal at recently opened Bardot Brasserie it was finally on Saturday that I entered the famed restaurateur’s Las Vegas Flagship, the reasons it took so long to visit a combination of factors but the transition from fall to spring flavors more than enough reason to make up for lost time at the side of two friends well known to Chef Mina and the Bellagio team.

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Tucked away behind the Bellagio Conservatory, and as such seemingly a hundred miles from the gaming tables and ruckus outside, it was just prior to 6:00pm that I checked in at the hostess podium and led swiftly to a four-top at the center of the room it would not be long before my dining partners arrived, the service already fawning preceding their arrival but becoming even more on-point once all were seated, a welcoming glass of champagne and an offer for the chef to cook for the table an offer no one in their right mind would refuse.

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Sophisticate in decor but not a bit stuffy, the light from the Bellagio fountains illuminating the space before sunset with the room nearly full by 7:30, it was with conversation and bubbles flowing that service began, and with a team of waiters led by our young captain presenting each dish with detail and precision it in two of Michael Mina’s classics that we each partook, the caviar parfait originally created by the Chef during his honeymoon featuring all sorts of elegance and texture in its signature stack while the tableside prep of tartare was as smooth as satin, though admittedly so mild that the flavors didn’t truly pop without a touch of finishing salt.

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Continuing light with Hamachi Sashimi, best enjoyed with chopsticks in order to appreciate the delicate texture of the flesh juxtaposed by crispy leaves of shiso, and next treated to tender beets atop two types of pistachios with kumquats adding just enough sweetness to accent but not overwhelm it was next to a spring menu teaser that we were treated and although I’m sure the beef ravioli currently featured is just fine and dandy I’m rather certain the soon to debut Dungeness Crab iteration is a significant upgrade, the sweetness of picked crustacean stuffed inside tender pockets kept in check by artichokes and mushrooms with garlic cream and black truffles rising up to bathe the palate with each and every bite.

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To this point trending thankfully light it was at the special request of the table that our next course arrived on a large cart, and served alongside a beautiful Ice Wine it was with nearly the whole room watching that Chef Ben Jenkins carved the 20oz roasted foie gras tableside while a team of four arranged the table with all sorts of accoutrements, each buttery slice every bit as decadent as it would seem while the pain perdu, mousse, pears, and dram drizzle were equally exceptional – more fruit served on request with only perhaps an ounce and half of the liver going uneaten…and only because we were told there was more to come.

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Undoubtedly acknowledging the effects of so much Foie, and as such sending out a plate described as ‘very light,’ it was next in the Three Seas Tasting that our party indulged and true to the captain’s word each bite on the oblong plate was indeed a study of refinement, every bite displaying its ingredients with maximum impact without weighing on the belly more than a bit – the kitchen coaxing all sorts of nuance out of scallop, langoustine, and snapper through proper preparation and pairing with ingredients to accent and emphasize the subtleties of each.

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Still not finished, even with one member of our table ready to wave the white flag, savories would conclude in rare slices of American Wagyu set beside upscale traditional accoutrements and a deep, dark sauce of Pinot Noir and with the small piece of short-rib perhaps even more memorable than the ribeye itself a duo of sides would prove no less impressive, the textural sprouts beneath a pile of crispy leaves amongst the best in the city while the creamy polenta knows no local match in terms of texture or taste, the use of real truffles making all the difference in a city where oil so often is used to please the naive.

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Jokingly suggesting that ‘all’ the desserts would be the best way to close out the night it was perhaps my ‘fault’ that what happened next did occur and with two varieties of sweet wine in hand it was to a quintet of servers that our evening would end, one of Michael’s signature Root Beer Float and Chocolate Chip Cookie plates landing before each diner along with one each of the restaurant’s current seasonal desserts, each an entirely different experience ranging from ethereal panna cotta to dense chocolate cake with the warm clafouti falling somewhere in the middle, each tender bite rife with fresh berries while tangy crème fraiche and buttermilk sorbet slowly melted at its side.

UNABLE TO FAIRLY RATE, BUT FOUR AND A HALF STARS BASED ON FOOD AND DRINK ALONE: Denied a bill with comments that “Michael took care of the check” it would be a fool’s errand to suggest that one could walk away from Michael Mina after such a feast anything less than impressed and although one particular pairing did not sit well with anyone at the table it would be equally disingenuous to say that any of the cooking was less than exemplary, everything from tried and true signatures to items not yet on the menu showing a deft hand with both proteins and produce on par with that at far more expensive restaurants fronted by French-born Chefs.

RECOMMENDED: The tableside Foie Gras is an absolute showstopper while the Caviar Parfait, Crab Ravioli, and Truffle Polenta were all equally memorable.

AVOID: If one truly wanted to quibble, the tartare did not really spring to life until a touch of salt was added, the only other issue being a dry white that simply did not play well with the ginger of the “Three Seas.”

TIP: Decidedly a pricey place to dine, those looking to experience Michael Mina on a budget are encouraged to investigate the $68 Pre-theater menu, a veritable deal for the quality of the cuisine with several of the Chef’s classics offered and even some of the signatures available for a supplemental fee.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.michaelmina.net/restaurants/las-vegas/michael-mina-bellagio/

Michael Mina on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Crab, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Michael Mina, Nevada, Tasting Menu, Truffle