Cleo, Las Vegas NV

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Cleo

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Babaganoush

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Lebaneh with Feta

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Laffa Bread

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Kibbeh

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Spanakopita

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Falafel – Tahini, Tabouleh

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Mushrooms – Dates, Hazelnuts, Puffed Rice

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Lamb Tagine – Apricots, Silan, Couscous, Sesame Seeds

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Moussakah – Layered Eggplant, Bolognese, Bechamel

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Kale Flatbread – Crème Fraiche, Parmesan, Garlic Oil

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Sticky Toffee Pudding – Butterscotch, Walnut Feuilletine, Vanilla Gelato

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Fig & Almond Pannacotta – Amareto and Almond Brittle

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Small French Press – LAMill

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Generally blasé as it relates to Mediterranean cuisine but always hopeful for something to change my mind it was with guarded expectations that I sat down with a friend at Cleo, and although both the room and the crowd veer trendy and loud the food can best be described as bold – each of the eleven plates we experienced featuring textbook execution, beautiful presentation, and the sort of flavor profile rarely embraced in an upscale environment. Located inside the SLS, under the gleaming guise of the Greek Pharaoh and Starck designed through-and-through, our 6:30 seating started with pleasant greetings at the podium and quickly swept away to a small two-top flanking an open kitchen the service could not have been better, drinks kept brimming throughout the evening and plates arriving in a slow, measured fashion – exactly as requested. Beset by tagines and spice jars juxtaposing slick surfaces and sparkling chandeliers beneath a lively soundtrack that only rarely interrupted conversation our meal began with a quartet of $7 ‘mezzes’ and with both spreads silky smooth and teaming with flavor atop pillows of Laffa the Kibbeh and creamy spinach puffs were no less special, the former balancing ground lamb to nuts and spice beneath a golden shell. Moving next to larger plates under simplified headings like “Vegetables” and “Meats” it was with some disappointment that we were informed the coveted Duck Bastilla was unavailable but making due with four more items both the elegantly paired mushrooms and equally well conceived tagine were quite good while the still-bubbling moussakah was my favorite plate of the night. A touch underwhelmed by crispy balls of falafel that had trouble standing up to the sauce in which they sat it was in flatbread that our savories finished and with a crisp, charred crust from the central oven likely to make any topping taste better the bitter kale amidst pools of tangy crème fraiche was wonderful, an elegant and light dish I could see playing well to the pre-club crowd heading to LiFE. At this point approaching nine o’clock, with every seat in the space filled, our meal concluded with coffee alongside a duo of desserts and as much I liked the somewhat out-of-place pudding it was the pannacotta that stole the show – each creamy bite flooding the palate with milky-sweet tones while Amareto soaking the figs lingered at the end.

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FOUR STARS: Although higher priced than the typical ‘mom n’ pop’ or Greek festival setting, almost every single item we tasted at Cleo was reference standard, the total bill with tax and tip clocking in just under $160 for nearly three hours of great food, service, and ‘scene.’ Certainly not a place for quiet conversation but definitely a spot where both the ‘club’ crowd or the local looking for a nice night out can be equally comfortable I commend the team at Cleo for bringing something totally new to the scene – it is original concepts like this and Yusho that The Strip really needs.

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RECOMMENDED: Lebaneh with Feta and Laffa Bread, Kibbeh, Moussakah, Kale Flatbread, Fig and Almond Pannacotta.

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AVOID: Falafel was a bit heavy handed and low in flavor, thus allowing the tangy tahini to entirely overwhelm.

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TIP: Unable (or unwilling) to offer an explanation of why the Duck Bastilla was unavailable just thirty minutes after starting service I’ve been told by a friend that he encountered a similar problem with two seafood items on the night of his visit and, as such, those targeting a specific item or items may be best served to inquire in advance.

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

http://slslasvegas.com/dining/cleo

Cleo on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Cleo, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, LA Mill, Las Vegas, Nevada

JinJu Chocolates, Las Vegas NV

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JinJu Chocolates

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Fig-Red Wine

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Honey, Matcha, Cappuccino, PB&J, Fleur de Sel Caramel, Hazelnut Praline, Espresso Crunch, Tahitian Cream, Vanilla Dream, Espresso Caramel

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Gluten Free Brownie

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Chocolate Covered Pretzels

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Milk Chocolate Lollipops

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Pecan Caramel Turtle

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White Chocolate Raspberry Rocher

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Berry Mascarpone, 72% Dark, Citrus, Vanilla Dream

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Milk Toffee Chocolate Covered Almonds

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Midnight Downtown Bar

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Translated to ‘treasure’ or ‘pearl’ and featuring the considerable talents of Jin Caldwell I was fortunate enough to attend a meet-and-greet at JinJu Chocolates on Saturday afternoon and with the young chocolatier present to answer questions about her career path, product, and passion throughout an hour long stay I can say with assurance that both the brand and its founder fit the moniker on the label. Every bit artisan with well selected beans forming the base of inspired bars, bob-bons, truffles, and confections crafted by a team of eight in an offsite professional kitchen the JinJu storefront on the second floor of The Container Park is the chef’s first true brick n’ mortar and although many have seen her work over the last three years featured at various hotels, including The Venetian, the full collection in such a cozy space is truly something to behold. Admittedly benefitted by the ‘event’ and thus afforded the ability to sample widely as Ms. Caldwell smiled on and educated the crowd it would truly be difficult to decide exactly where one would be best advised to invest on a first visit to JinJu but, with items all trending more affordable than Strip legends like Jean-Philippe or Vosges, the truffles are definitely a good start – each $1.75 bauble beautifully crafted with flavors like Honey, Matcha, Figs-Red Wine, and Tahitian Cream set to tantalize even the most sophisticated of tastes. Equally gifted In crafting whimsical items including pretzel rods, chocolate covered Twinkies or cookies, nut-clusters, and a decadent gluten-free brownie another focal point for those seeking something special are Jin’s bars – the 702 Mob particularly impressive – and most of all the collection of Fortunato 4 wafers, each piece of the single origin chocolate a slowly melting tribute to exactly what can happen when exquisite ingredients meet the hand of someone with so much skill and passion.

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FIVE STARS: Clasically trained with skills honed at Ethel’s, Bellagio, Mars, Wynn, and more suffice it to say that the chocolates at JinJu may be the first real reason for culinary enthusiasts to trek to the Container Park and with a business model built on wholesale but customer service more than capable of meeting the demands of a retail storefront I strongly encourage both visitors and locals to stop by for a taste, a duo of bars available to taste for those stopping in throughout our visit and the prices easily off-setting the cost of parking or transportation from casinos on the strip.

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RECOMMENDED: Fig-Red Wine, Honey, PB&J, Tahitian Cream, and Matcha Chocolates were all quite special while the Fortunato 4 Sea Salt and Fortunato 4 Honey Comb Meltaways were truly exemplary, the brownie and pecan studded turtle also both warranting the cost and calories.

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AVOID: N/A.

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TIP: Offering several options through her website and soon to begin a seasonal line I was particularly impressed by the offer of ice-packs to keep items from melting on the car ride home – just one more example of the stellar sort of customer service that one gets from shopping at such a great local business as opposed to some big-box retailer or pricey boutique on the Strip.

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

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http://www.jinjuchocolates.com/

Posted in Dessert, Food, JinJu Chocolates, Las Vegas, Nevada

Nosh & Swig, Las Vegas NV

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Nosh & Swig

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Nosh Crack Corn

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Peas & Carrots – Sweet Carrot Rangoon, English Pea Puree

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Beeten Apple – Warm Goat Cheese, Grilled Honey Toast, Micro Greens, Beet & Apple Sauce

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Monte Cristo – Black Forest Ham, Gruyere Cheese, Fried Egg, Wild Berry Compote

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Cocka-Waffle-Doo – Cornflake Crusted Chicken, Belgian Waffle, Blueberry Maple Reduction

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Gimme Sa-More – Fried Chocolate, Brulee Marshmallow, Banana Puree

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Churrnut Ala Mode – Churro-Style Doughnut topped with Oreo, Pistachio Ice Cream

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Self described as ‘a food festival of funzies’ and offering an ‘express train to Flavortown’ I was admittedly a bit leery as I entered Nosh & Swig but with a menu that at least seemed willing to take some risks and myself already in the area I decided to take a peak – my meal as unwieldy as the options themselves in a room that seemed to suggest some sort of spiritualism beneath the blare of Top-40. Apparently part of some recent food-television contest, at least according to the only other diners present during the first half of my hour-long stay, and featuring the sort of service where patrons are frequently referred to a ‘buddy’ or ‘bro,’ it was just a few minutes prior to noon that I entered the sizable strip-mall space and seating myself after grabbing a menu it would not be long before ‘crack corn’ and water arrived – the former a relatively straightforward salty-sweet combo with that wasn’t particularly addictive, though a bit more interesting than boring bread-service to be sure. Clearly a kitchen where tongue-in-cheek and whimsy are part of the show it was in a duo of vegetables that my meal began and although the Peas and Carrots was decidedly delicious with plenty of vegetal sweetness amidst the crisp wontons, the “beeten apple” was mostly forgettable – a stacked pseudo-bruschetta compromised by lifeless bread with honey and apple mostly overwhelming both cheese and thinly cut beets. Moving next to options from the pork and chicken parts of the menu it was the Monte Cristo that arrived first and griddled rather than fried the sandwich was far lighter than usual, a fact furthered by far too little filling to go with just a drizzle of jam. Moving next to a clever presentation of Chicken and Waffles that proved to be the best savory of the meal as both the waffle and chicken showed well, it was here that my server inexplicably tried to end the afternoon by offering the check and acting as if I’d eaten ‘a lot’ despite each plates’ modest portions I assured him I would like to go on – a duo of desserts again representing a hit-and-miss proposition as the enormous Chinese-donut-come-churro was excellent on its own – and even moreso when crumbled into the ice cream – while S’mores were poorly executed with marshmallows not warmed through and the chocolate a dense chunk inside the oily outer shell.

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TWO AND A HALF STARS: Probably a space better suited for large-group sharing, particularly if paired with enough drinking to make the ‘funzies’ seem more fantastic, Nosh & Swig almost seems to be trying to out-Fieri the Mayor of Flavortown himself – a half-hearted attempt that seemed to fall on deaf ears when I mentioned the flaws in execution on both the ‘bruschetta’ and the S’mores – the later actually garnering a “yeah yeah, I can see that, bro” when I pointed out what seemed to be a half-dissolved Hershey Kiss inside the remaining wonton I sent back to the kitchen untouched.

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RECOMMENDED: Peas & Carrots, Cocka-Waffle-Doo, Churrnut Ala Mode.

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AVOID: Gimme Sa-More, Beeten Apple.

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TIP: Offering a daily happy hour with several menu selections offered at a fraction of the price those interested in checking out Nosh & Swig would be best served to go between 3:00-6:00pm, the ‘standard’ menu not exactly the deal it seems when you take into account the ingredient quality and portion sizes of the items I received.

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

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http://www.noshandswig.com/

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Posted in Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Nosh & Swig, Pork, Waffles

KD Donuts & Kolaches, Henderson NV

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KD Donuts and Kolaches

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Blueberry Cake Donut

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Cinnamon Sour Cream Old Fashioned

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Apple Fritter

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Considering myself a bit of a donut connoisseur I found it somewhat surprising that I’d not heard of KD’s Donuts and Kolaches when browsing local eateries down in Henderson, the small shop with more than a handful of Yelp! reviews and a fair number of Foursquare Check-Ins, as well. Located on Sunset with clever signage and clean décor it was to an admittedly amusing display that I entered the small store and left with plenty of time to peruse the options as an elderly couple attempted to speak English to a store clerk lacking knowledge of even the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ I took a simple point-and-nod approach, my three item order tallying just $3.47 as I sat to dine-in. Admittedly a skeptic based on an already diminished selection as early as 9:00am it was with a small fritter that my sampling began and as the lone one remaining my early suspicions were quickly confirmed, the doughy disc either a day-old or the result of a base entirely lacking anything but flour. Discarding the fritter after only one bite it was onto the old fashioned that I moved and although a step in the right direction the results were not much better – a bit of tang amidst a decent crumb beneath a sugary glaze flecked with dark bits of unidentifiable taste. Last, and thankfully not least, a basic blueberry cake donut was clearly artificially flavored but at least offering some semblance of freshness it was the only option of which I ate more than a bit, the server staring blankly from behind a small television as I discarded the rest and made my way to the street.

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ONE AND A HALF STARS: Failing at even the most basic task of serving fresh donuts while presenting the sort of language barrier I’d assumed only present by crossing a border I cannot fathom why anyone would visit KDs except out of convenience, and even then I’d much rather spend the money on gas than suffer such a lackluster experience.

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RECOMMENDED: N/A

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AVOID: Stopping at KD.

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TIP: $5 minimum on credit cards, and unless you’re a glutton for punishment I’d strongly recommend not investing that much.

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

https://www.facebook.com/pages/KD-Donuts-Kolaches/140076866168646

KD Donuts and Kolaches on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Henderson, KD Donuts & Kolaches, KD Donuts and Kolaches, Las Vegas, Nevada

Weiss Restaurant Deli & Bakery, Henderson NV

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Weiss Restaurant, Deli & Bakery

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Cinnamon Raisin Bagel with Butter

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Short Stack Pancakes

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Challah French Toast with Strawberries and Whipped Cream

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Bread Pudding

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Black and White Cookie

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Chocolate Brownie

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Located in Henderson and an old-timer on my breakfast ‘to-do’ list it was finally this Saturday that I drove down to Green Valley Parkway and although many may claim Weiss Restaurant, Deli & Bakery to be the ‘best’ Jewish Delicatessen in the city my experience was a mixed one – the prices right, but the food and service both hit and miss. Admitting up front that I’m neither Jewish nor particularly fond of smoked fish and thus leaving judgments of authenticity or the quality of their Lox at the door, it was just short of 8:15am when I entered the deceptively large space and with a young Hispanic gentleman shouting ‘sit anywhere you want’ I did just that, a quick perusal of the deli and bakery confirming some selections for later before sitting down to a menu already in place. Declining potted coffee in favor of water as I was already quite awake from my early morning run I was soon informed that the daily-special French Toast with apples and walnuts would not be ready until an indefinable ‘later’ and equally denied a single buttermilk biscuit side-order because “they come in threes” I instead stuck to the menu, my three part order beginning with a nicely toasted bagel featuring great chew and plenty of plump raisins. Moving next to a two-part pile of pancakes alongside housemade challah griddled golden brown and eschewing Kraft ‘pancake syrup’ in place of maple brought from home it was surprisingly the fluffy flapjacks teaming with buttermilk that outshined French toast not particularly well penetrated by custard and settling the bill quickly for a Jackson inclusive of tax and tip I quickly stepped next door, another $10 paid to a smiley young woman for three items consumed over the next couple hours while enjoying college football and coffee in a nearby lounge – the brownie a touch artificial with mouthfeel compromised by paraffin while the Frisbee sized Black & White was pillowy soft and the re-warmed block of bread pudding presented everything the French Toast did not, each bite soft with custard and equally eggy as it was sweet.

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THREE STARS: Equal to Carnegie Deli at half the price but only outshining Bagel Café / Del Mar Deli in the Bread Pudding and Black & White I’d gladly stop by Weiss in the future to check out some more of their baked goods or perhaps a sandwich and soup, but given the nearly 30 minute drive from my home in Summerlin I’ll probably revisit Bagel Café first and recommend others do so as well – the selection, quality, and value all combining to put it a few steps above the rest…enough so that even if I lived in Henderson I’d make the drive northwest.

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RECOMMENDED: Bread Pudding, Black & White Cookie.

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AVOID: French Toast, Brownie.

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TIP: With no website or online menu those seeking more information should check out the restaurant’s FaceBook page – the bill of fare able to be pieced together from photos and ‘weekend specials’ often featured in snapshots…though not necessarily ‘available’ even minutes after opening if my visit is any indication of the norm.

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

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https://www.facebook.com/pages/Weiss-Restaurant-Deli-Bakery/140825119265426

Weiss Restaurant Deli and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Henderson, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Weiss Restaurant Deli & Bakery

Carnevino [3,] Las Vegas NV

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Carnevino

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Peach Bellini

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Gougeres with Gorgonzola

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Rosemary Rolls with Lardo and Salted Butter

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Grilled Octopus with pickled vegetables and limoncello

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Insalata Caprese with burrata and basil

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Bruschetta di Stracciatella with charred summer squash

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Carne Cruda Alla Piemontese – chopped to order steak tartare

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Tagliata di Manzo with BBL beef, arugula, parmigiano

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Beef Cheek Ravioli with aceto balsamico

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Gnocchi with summer vegetable ragu

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Ricotta and Egg Raviolo with brown butter

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“Creamed” Corn with pickled peppers

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Sauteed Mixed Mushrooms with spring onions

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Fried Eggplant with tomato & ricotta

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Mascarpone & Guanciale Mashed Potatoes

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Cider and Salt Brined 20oz Bone-In Pork Chop

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240+ Day Dry Aged 2.5” Riserva Porterhouse

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240+ Day Dry Aged 2” Riserva New York Strip

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90+ Day Dry Aged Bone-In Ribeye

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90+ Day Dry Aged Fiorentina

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Gorgonzola Mascarpone Sauce (see photo of table, below)

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Chocolate & Peanut Butter Torte with peanut brittle, salted caramel

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Cannoli – pistachio brittle, chocolate chip ricotta

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Chocolate Cake with bing cherries and candied pecans

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Pumpkin Spice Gelato

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Pear, Melon, Pink Lady Apple Sorbet

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Vanilla Bean Gelato Afogatto

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Grappa Soaked Raisin Cookies

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In a town where “Whales,” “Ballers,” and “High Rollers” command comps at many Top-Tables it should come as no surprise that the opportunity to indulge on exotic ingredients is available to those willing to pay, yet when it comes to Sin City’s very best beef the question becomes even more complicated – an answer involving not just cash, but time. Known by the term ‘Riserva’ and nowhere present on the restaurant menu our eight-top’s 240+ day dry-aged steak experience actually began years prior with selective sourcing, breeding, feeding, butchery, as well as storage – an aged bacteria direct from Italy driving the latter – and with each stage described at length throughout the course of a 3.5 hour meal that entailed no less than twenty other outstanding plates plus far too many drinks it can only be said that nothing could have prepared us for the meal’s apex, four different steaks plus a chop offering an education in things few will ever have the opportunity to taste. Having already visited Carnevino twice, with wowed results each time, it seems almost a crime to gloss over items like a textbook bellini thick with white peach or tartare so tender it simply dissolved on the tongue but with all apologies to tender pastas including the famous beef cheek ravioli as well as the “super chicken” egg raviolo suffice it to say that only a single side of mushrooms was less than exemplary…but not a one of them could match the meats, the younger steaks and chop easily on par with those from last year while the Riserva was almost unimaginably tender with a flavor profile that ranged from walnuts to stilton to truffles as a buttery basenote lingered in each bite. Undoubtedly a big budget event in a space not unaccustomed to such things it was finally with a table of desserts followed by a small plate of cookies that the evening would end and visited by head chef Nicole Brisson before our departure each of us said our thanks – an invite to tour the aging facility something I look forward to doing soon and a return visit already in the planning stages for when my friends are next in town.

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FIVE STARS: Considered by some, including myself, to be the best steakhouse in the country even before this meal suffice it to say that Carnevino upped the stakes (and steaks) for all future meals here in Las Vegas – the private room, the exquisite services, the specially requested soundtrack of Pearl Jam’s Ten played throughout the restaurant, more than a handful of ‘gifts’ joining each course, and especially the Riserva all making a special meal truly world class.

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RECOMMENDED: If you can afford it the Riserva is unlike any other beef out there, though with aging no less than 90-days guaranteed even the Ribeyes are better than all but perhaps the city’s best Wagyu. Additional winners were the off-menu (but always available) beef cheek ravioli, egg and ricotta raviolo, mashed potatoes with mascarpone, cannoli, and chocolate cake.

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AVOID: Mushrooms were simply overburdened with acid and the ‘steak sauce,’ although delicious, was entirely unnecessary – why would anyone want to add or change the flavor of steaks and chops so well selected?

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TIP: Not guaranteed even if requested in advance, due to the possibility that steaks may prove spoiled when cut away from the mold, those interested in trying the Riserva should contact the restaurant approximately a month in advance. For those requesting a private room, no “extra cost” is entailed, though a contract must be signed guaranteeing a pre-tip minimum of $1800 for a party of eight.

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

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http://www.carnevino.com

Carnevino on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Carnevino, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Italian, Las Vegas, Nevada, Octopus, Pork

Art of Flavors [3,] Las Vegas NV

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Art of Flavors

Samples included: Orange Crush with PopRocks, Black Sesame with Edamame and Caramelized Soy Sauce, Fluffernutter, Pistachio, Red Velvet, Passionfruit, and more

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Oreo Birthday Cake/Dark Chocolate/Banoffee

Having made a special request of Banoffee gelato for an ice cream obsessed friend from England who was visiting for The Olympia it can only be said that Desyree and team came through again, the quality and innovation of her creations continuing to shine in that tiny space in the shadow of the Stratosphere. Clearly a spot earning it’s accolades with an ever-present owner who seems to remember 3/4 of the patrons by face or by name it was just before 3:00pm that our group of four arrived at 1616 South Las Vegas Blvd and nabbing the last parking spot we were greeted on entry, a fair bit of tasting followed by an order of three flavors each. Impressed by samples ranging from soda to sesame it was with nearly-bitter dark chocolate and whimsical cookies n’ cream studded with sprinkles, sparkles, and bits of cake that my trio began and rounding things out with our special request I couldn’t help but be amazed, the robust flavor of ripe bananas with only the slightest bit of additional sweetness afloat in a creamy base as pockets of rich toffee added both its characteristic topnote and texture, a bit of caramelized sugar even getting stuck in my teeth.

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FIVE STARS: One of those rare places that really does live up to the hype Art of Flavors remains on par with the nation’s best producers of frozen treats, the small-batch production only serving to improve an already high-quality product while the owner’s innovative spirit seems to know no end.

RECOMMENDED: Tasting everything and then ordering too much of whatever you like best.

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AVOID: I simply couldn’t bring myself to try the smoked salmon flavor, though I give them credit for trying.

TIP: Check out the daily specials on social media…provided you have the willpower to avoid the resultant temptation…or, for those of weaker resolution, do so on Monday when the store is closed.

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

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Art-of-Flavors/471084119630341

Art of Flavors on Urbanspoon

Posted in Art of Flavors, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada

Roly’s Bakery, Las Vegas NV

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Roly’s Bakery

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Pan Con Croqueta – Ground Seasoned Ham Croquettes with Swiss Cheese Served on Toasted Bread

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Guava and Cheese Turnover

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Cappucinno

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Flan

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Located on East Tropicana Avenue and as such driven past thrice weekly en route to work it was largely an effect of location and ongoing intrigue that led me to Roly’s Bakery on Saturday afternoon and opting for a small selection due to otherwise substantial eating plans my experience was fine, though certainly not without flaws. Obviously a small space, and one not particularly easily identified from the street despite large billboards located down the street, it was just prior to 2:00pm that I entered the small Cuban bakery and with several folks seated and eating I took my time to peruse the options, a middle-age woman keeping a watchful eye on me until I was ready to go, my $10 order of one savory and three seats delivered to the table with a cup of water just five minutes thereafter. Beginning first with the pork croquette sandwich, a pair of fried sticks filled with what I can best describe as ‘pig puree’ proving an acquired taste beneath tomatoes and Swiss cheese, I only ate one half before satisfying my curiosity and moving onward the guava-cream cheese pocket was indulged in similarly – a nice enough flavor, though most would find bottom of the wastebasket as I’d have simply preferred it more flaky and warm. To this point largely underwhelmed it was onward to the meal’s two best selections that I moved and although the ‘cappucino’ was two lovely bites of sponge cake rife with simple syrup it simply could not compare to the eggy custard flan, a world-class example with a lightly browned top and pockets of raisins amidst a sea of lightly sugared eggs.

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TWO AND A HALF STARS: Small, cozy, and pleasant in service Roly’s is one of the few places where locals are able to indulge in Cuban baked goods, but with a limited selection and too much focus on ‘everything to everyone’ items like crème brûlée, cupcakes, and tiramisu I’d have rather see them focus on more esoteric specialties like Porto’s in Los Angeles – the lack of several items, including the tres leches, in portions smaller than a full tray was particularly disappointing.

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RECOMMENDED: Flan is impressively yolky and just a touch sweet, a textbook example.

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AVOID: Guava Cream Cheese had obviously been sitting out for a while as it was neither warm nor particularly flaky, a fair bit of sog already set in.

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TIP: With items prepped at varying times throughout the day, those looking for a best selection are advised to arrive early for things best eaten warm or to call in advance regarding availability of the rest.

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

http://www.rolysbakery.com/

Roly's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dessert, Food, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, Roly's Bakery

The Griddle Cafe at SLS [2,] Las Vegas NV

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The Griddle Café at SLS Las Vegas

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Medium Roast Coffee

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“Good Ol’ Fashioned” Our original buttermilk recipe, griddle-cooked to perfection!

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The Golden Ticket panCAKE Shake – Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Griddled Buttermilk Cake, Giffard Banana Liqueur, Kissed Caramel Vodka, Cinnamon Sugar Vodka, and Whipped Cream Vodka

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“Tis The Season” ~ Our “Good Ol’ Fashioned” recipe mixed with our own pumpkin pie filling. Topped with vanilla whipped cream and powdered sugar

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“Room Service” ~ Champagne, Chocolate, and Strawberry filled pancakes will fill you with Uncontrollable Love, Desire, and Passion! Topped with powdered sugar and vanilla whipped cream

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“Saturday Morning Fever” ~ Live it up with Bailey’s and Kahlúa swirled into our buttermilk batter. Topped with vanilla whipped cream and powdered sugar

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“Barry Yellow” ~ Raspberry and lemon folded into our buttermilk batter

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“Peanut Bubba” Crunchy French Toast ~ Our “Mom’s French Toast” dipped in a peanut butter crunch, then grilled to perfection. Topped with powdered sugar and vanilla whipped cream

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“Addicted to Noisella” Stuffed French Toast ~ Can’t live without chocolaty hazelnut spread, stuffed between a stack of our “Mom’s French Toast!”

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“Chocolate Chip Cookie” Crusted French Toast ~ You won’t get caught with your hands in the cookie jar with our Chips Ahoy-covered French toast! Topped with vanilla whipped cream and powdered sugar.

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Utterly astounded by the low quality of service offered during my first visit to The Griddle Café at the SLS Las Vegas but vowing to return it was with seven other adults plus one child that I sat down to breakfast on Saturday and while food remain TGC’s strongest draw the service has improved dramatically. Eating in a group of locals and visitors, the later a big group of guys in town for The Olympia, it was largely with intentions of touring the menu that our order was crafted and although a few plates of proteins such as eggs and bacon were ordered the ‘main event’ was five stacks of pancakes and three piles of French Toast served in two rounds – a creamy panCAKE shake lightly tinged with boozy bananas plus plenty of coffee to wash it all down. Obviously an absurd order, better suited to a table nearly twice our size, it was in the fluffy Good Ol’ Fashioned, Peanut Bubba, Chocolate Chip Cookie, and Barry Yellow that we began and with Vermont Maple Syrup gilding many bites both the toasts went quickly, the standard buttermilk flapjacks nearly finished as well. Moving onward with table cleared and more coffee poured as newly announced GM Adam Scholten watched his team work, round two began with the rich Nutella laden bread again a fan favorite, though the piping hot five-pound plate of flavors spot-on for pumpkin pie was quite delicious as well. Finding the Barry Yellow a touch too lemony and not particularly well paired to syrup while Room Service and Saturday Morning Fever both fell victim to “good, but not as good as the rest” verdicts at a table approaching food-coma it should be obvious to anyone that leftovers were abundant and all packed individually with big bags to be carried the bill was paid, a smile on every face as we waddled back to vehicles with no plans to eat until late that evening.

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS: Having now found its footing with a service staff that seemed perpetually in motion I’m happy to say that The SLS Griddle Café is now finally showing promise to be as good as its big brother in LA – the lack of “off menu” specials such as the Sweet Fantasy Baby Carrot Cake Pancakes and slow replacement of leaky French presses being resolved by steel replacements the only thing holding them back.

RECOMMENDED: Peanut Bubba, Chocolate Chip Cookie, ‘Tis The Season, Good Ol’ Fashioned.

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AVOID: N/A, though those who really want to (ab)use the 100% Maple Syrup may wish to pass on the lemony Barry Yellow and Room Service, a delicious combination harkening chocolate covered strawberries beneath a bitter-sweet top note that really does taste like a bottle of bubbly.

TIP: Seeming to have righted the ship one month in and at this point generating a line of approximately 20-30 minutes for a four-top during breakfast hours those looking to sample more options with a smaller group are advised to go with short or single stacks – the case above was ordered as it was for the sheer audacity of it all.

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

http://sbe.com/restaurants/locations/the-griddle-cafe/

The Griddle Café on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Griddle Cafe, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, The Griddle Cafe at SLS

Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, Las Vegas NV

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Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres

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Parker House Rolls

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Foieffle Air waffles, foie espuma, peanut butter, honey

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Foie Gras “Floating Island” Foie gras soup, fresh corn espuma

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Morcilla with Uni – Spanish blood sausage, fresh sea urchin

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Clover Club – Gin, Raspberries, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup

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New York Sour – Rye Whiskey, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Red Wine Float

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Wood and Fire – Tequila, Benedictine, Maple Syrup, Angustura

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Truffles & Honey – Pear Vodka, Honey, Truffles, Lemon, Bubbles

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S’mores Foie Gras, chocolate, marshmallow, graham crackers

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Pork-Skin Chicharrón Greek yogurt, za’atar spices

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West Coast Oysters – Mignonette, Hot Sauce, fruit vinegar

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Beef Carpaccio & Parmesan Grissini – Washugyu beef, espuma, caramelized onion purée

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Callos a la Vizcaína – Beef tripe stew with half Maine lobster

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Braised Lamb Neck Fried oysters, oyster catsup, fried potatoes

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Robuchon – Butter, butter, more butter, some potatoes

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Setas al Ajillo – Button mushrooms, garlic, lemon, arbol chile

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Catalan Spinach – Apple, pine nuts, shallots, raisins

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Spanish-style bone-in rib eye, oak-wood fired from Harris Ranch, CA (4.5lb)

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Suckling Pig with Ensalada mixta, lettuce, onions, tomatoes

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Bazaar Iced Espresso

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Dark Chocolate & Aged Rum Cake, Tiramisu Cream Puff, Tahitian Vanilla & Raspberry Cream Puff x2, Praline Inspired by Pierre Herme Caramelized Puff Pastry, Chocolate/Caramel/Sea Salt Caramelized Puff Pastry, Bacon/Strawberries/Cream Caramelized Puff Pastry, Milk Chocolate/Peanut/Caramel Tart

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Salted Caramel Ice Cream over Praline Crunch

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Self described as a “tapas-style” Steakhouse with an enormous footprint at the recently opened SLS Las Vegas, Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres is perhaps the Spaniard’s most daring concept to date – a sprawling dining room with mismatched furniture and obscure pseudo-taxidermy surrounding a kitchen eschewing any semblance of tradition with simple roast meats and cold shellfish set directly next to high concept tartare, offal, and several plates featuring the chef’s modernist twists. Truly a daunting menu, both in actual size and scope, it was with seven friends that I sat down just moments after 7:00pm and opting for a wide variety of items marched out by a staff that only once failed by forgetting a buddy’s beer I’ll simply say that for such a space, particularly in Las Vegas, the service was superior – a strong credit to GM Yassine Lyoubi who greeted me during the early part of the stay. Perhaps a bit expensive in items listed as starters, snacks, soups, and sandwiches but quick to make up for quantity with quality it was with a few small bites that I began before the rest of my group arrived and with a crispy ‘air waffle’ seemingly made of glass shattering to foamy foie tinged in honey I soon found myself swooning, the aggressively spiced blood sausage topped in creamy urchin that followed an equally restaurant-defining dish. Moving next to things more substantial as I sipped a cocktail of lime, raspberry, and gin it should be abundantly obvious that S’mores laced with creamy duck liver were two-bite bits of decadence but far more surprising was the crispy pigskin, a nearly 2×2 foot sheet cracked at the table with a mallet to be dipped in Greek yogurt heavily spiced in sumac and thyme. Moving next to a dozen fresh oysters as more drinks arrived with another “wow” moment delivered by warm cheese-sticks draped in thinly sliced beef that may have represented the meal’s best bite. Onward we went, to a bowl of tripe that quickly silenced skeptics at the table with snappy lobster juxtaposing soft stomach and then to braised lamb neck paired to fried oysters that drew a similar stunned response, and with both dishes quickly finished serving platters arrived – a trio of sides including “life affirming” potatoes a la Robuchon presented alongside four pounds of steak and 1/4 suckling pig with skin that crackled to the tooth. Felt by some to be ‘underseasoned,’ but particularly impressive from my perspective for allowing the meat’s natural flavors to shine, it was only after polishing off nearly every ounce of the scraps that we ended in espresso and dessert – the later a bit of an afterthought considering the pricetag, though the Chocolate and Aged Rum Cake and Pierre Herme inspired pastry are certainly worth the splurge.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Undoubtedly one of the year’s splashiest openings, only time will tell whether Bazaar Meat can maintain its early momentum but with an innovative menu and service that shines it already represents one of the best “Steakhouses” in Sin City, the 25+ percent price hike on nearly every item stemming from a Las Vegas Boulevard location aside.

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RECOMMENDED: Beef Carpaccio, Lamb Neck, Uni and Morcilla, Chicharrón, Potatoes, Praline Pastry.

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AVOID: Bang for the buck on S’mores, Foieffle, and Quarter Sucking Pig are questionable, though all were excellent, while the “floating island” is just over a single, dull mouthful for $8 and the spinach side dish was exceedingly bland. Speaking to dessert, save for the tiny $7 Caramelized Pastry and $8 Rum Cake none of it was any better than the sweets at Bacchanal Buffet and as such another cost versus quality conundrum.

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TIP: Featuring no less than 250 seats yet booked to capacity on a Friday night diners are well advised to make reservations or be prepared to wait, the far more limited menu at the bar not a ‘bad’ option, but very much focused on items carrying a hefty upcharge for a few small bites.

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

http://sbe.com/restaurants/locations/bazaar-meat-las-vegas/

Bazaar Meat by José Andrés on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bazaar Meat, Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, Bread Basket, Coffee, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Lobster, Nevada, Pork, Truffle, Waffles

Pot Liquor CAS, Las Vegas NV

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Pot Liquor CAS

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Pork Belly with Country Grits

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Slow Smoked, Hand Sliced Texas Style Brisket, Louisiana Hot Links, Spicy ‘Cue, Sweet ‘Cue

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“Spare Me Baby” – Dry Rubbed Spareribs, Mopped Baby Back Ribs, Cornbread with Honey Butter, Mac n’ Cheese

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Brownie Bread Pudding – Bourbon Glaze, Sea Salt Vanilla Gelato

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Strawberry Shortcake Sandwiches – Pound Cake, Strawberry Cream Gelato

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Occupying a large space at Town Square and still in ‘soft opening’ stages it was nearly 9pm when myself and two friends arrived at Pot Liquor Contemporary American Smokehouse and although the hip-hop soundtrack trends a bit too loud while service is still green as well as a bit off-kilter I’m happy to say that nearly everything we tasted was quite excellent, a wide variety of barbeque styles represented with sauces and rubs drawing influence from Alabama and the Carolinas to the Lonestar State and even Kansas City. Described by director of development Flip Arbelaez as a ‘fusion’ of styles, both in food and décor, with design concepts ranging from reclaimed barn wood and mason jar chandeliers to a slick marble bar at the restaurant center the majority of our meal at Pot Liquor CAS was paired to sounds far more ‘urban’ than Southern but looking squarely at the ‘cue from a tightly regulated indoor smoker burning a blend of woods low-and-slow at 250°F there was nothing at all to suggest the cuisine to be that of some city-slicker. Unfortunately sold out of the pulled pork given our late hour of arrival and additionally limited on desserts which, save for a few, are not yet available it was with a focus on the remaining variety of smoked meats that our order was crafted and with our server literally cheering us on in phrases like “yeah, I like that” or “that’s totally what I’d do” it was not long before our order arrived, a single appetizer of crisp but under-seasoned pork belly over buttery ground corn plus a large pair of plates featuring more than enough meat and sides to be shared. Beginning first with tender sliced beef featuring a substantial waft of smoke but otherwise seasoned in only salt and pepper I’m confident in saying that Pot Liquor already offers the best brisket in Sin City and moving onward to snappy house-made hot links that paired beautifully with the mayonnaise and horseradish white sauce I was again impressed, the somewhat dry spare ribs a small step in the wrong direction though falling-from-the-bone baby backs were a return to form and easily on par with Rollin’ Smoke, though commanding nearly twice the price even without accounting for the AYCE option at the longstanding Vegas favorite. A bit underwhelmed by sides, particularly the skimpy portion of cornbread that commands a $5.95 menu price, it was in a duo of the three available desserts that we rounded out the night and with each option carrying a $6 pricetag the brownie-beneath-a-croissant style bread pudding proved unquestionably a must order, the nearly molten chocolate base well suited to blend nicely with slowly melting ice cream rife in vanilla amidst ample amounts of butter.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Clearly more corporate than the traditional Southern Smokehouse yet innovative in their scientific approach to barbeque with a controlled temperature in-house smoker it will be interesting to see just how Las Vegans respond to Pot Liquor CAS, the high tariff likely to turn some away in a city where good barbeque is sorely underrepresented and many seem satisfied by the swill being turned out by Famous Dave’s at less than half the price. With everything made in-house including brines, bacon, hot links, and a wide array of sauces it should go without saying that these guys are dedicated to what they do and with a high likelihood to only improve with time and customer feedback I look forward to a return visit sometime before year’s end – hopefully to find the ‘cue consistent, if not bettered by a well seasoned smoker, with sides and the music turned down…or at least tuned to something more befitting the sort of cuisine being served.

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RECOMMENDED: Hand Sliced Brisket, Baby Back Ribs, Brownie Bread Pudding. The Alabama White Sauce and Pot Liquor’s Sweet Barbecue Sauce were also excellent.

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AVOID: Cornbread is small, though quite moist even before adding the honey butter while mac n’ cheese was decent, if not particularly memorable. As noted above, Pork Belly was sorely lacking in seasoning or salinity and all told I’d have rather received a portion of grits in a mac n’ cheese sized bowl and let the kitchen keep the pig.

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TIP: Currently in soft-opening mode some of the items listed on the menu are not yet available but with the culinary team and ownership all present, accounted for, and eager to inquire about the customer experience I’d advise all but those most curious to hold out for the October Grand Opening – this is a place I expect will only improve as they learn the nuances of the smoker and their customer base, the potential for something that is already ‘good’ to become a new reference standard is exciting to say the least.

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

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http://www.potliquorcas.com/

Pot Liquor Cas on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Pudding, Cornbread, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, Pot Liquor, Pot Liquor CAS

Japanese Cuisine by Omae, Las Vegas NV

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Japanese Cuisine by Omae

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Matcha

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Sakizuke – Ikura and Mushrooms with Grated Daikon, Ponzu Sauce

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Zensai – Amaebi Tartar, Celeriac Puree, Tomato Sorbet, Shrimp Chips

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Mushimono – Steamed Scallop, Mozzarella, Grated Turnip, Golden Brown Sauce

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Sashimi – Salmon, Horse Mackerel, Red Snapper, Scallop from the Tsukiji Fish Market with Japanese Plum, ginger, wasabi

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Sumiyaki – Charcoal Grilled Cod with Truffle Soy Sauce over Rice

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Teppan – Grilled Wagyu Steak with Roasted Onion and Wasabi Mashed Potatoes with Shallot Soy Sauce

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A5 Kobe Upgrade +$80

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Cold Drip Coffee

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Dessert – Greet Tea Tiramisu, Mochi Coated Strawberry, Assorted Berries, Yuzu Cream Spoon, Vanilla Cream Puff, Passion Fruit Gelee

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Toqued by Takeshi Omae, a man bestowed stars from Michelin in Japan and one with plans to expand his culinary concepts stateside, Japanese Cuisine by Omae originally launched at 3650 South Decatur a few months back and with early praise lavished on the $20 lunch it was finally in September that the twelve seat space debuted its true vision, a $100 Omakase to which myself and four friends sat down on Saturday night. Intimate in size with a pair of four-tops and a duo of two seaters set beneath subdued chrome lights in hushed dining area decorated with kimono and koi it was just moments before our 5:30 reservation that our group settled in and with beverage service currently limited to non-alcoholic options green tea and sparkling water ordered, our one-man service team keeping cups brimming throughout our seven-course experience while presenting each dish in great detail. Measured in pace with portions trending small as the two-man kitchen turned out edible works of art without a single detail overlooked it was with a textbook bite of delicate tempura set next to briny baubles of salmon roe that our meal began and progressing next to dishes melding sweet shrimp with tomato sorbet and briny to soft mozzarella the team’s creativity took the spotlight early, a large bowl of elegantly plated, though unfortunately common, sashimi selections reigning things in before moving to plates more substantial. To this point impressed, though not particularly ‘wowed’ by any single course, it was finally the Sumiyaki that saw all five of us swoon as umami-rich rice provided a crispy juxtaposition to flaky fish and finishing up with reference standard beef, simply prepared with a light kiss from the grill, alongside aromatic mashed potatoes preceding a board of small, elegant desserts plus Japanese 6-hour drip coffee the evening ended strong, no one particularly full but everyone discussing how Las Vegas needs more restaurants of this kind.

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FOUR STARS: Undeniably a dining ‘experience’ as opposed to a simple meal it will be interesting to see how well Omae fares in its current format, the pricetag apparently prone to an increase of $50 at the end of the month. Oddly located, though really no more-so than Raku or Kabuto, and easily on par with the skill-set of any Strip-based omakase while proving quite capable of sourcing premium ingredients including A5 Kobe direct from Japan the longevity of Omae will be dependent, largely, on the support of locals and in a city where the ‘next big thing’ is never more than a week away I truly hope the restaurant finds it audience early on and word of mouth spreads quickly, though I must say even the current pricepoint makes me leery.

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RECOMMENDED: The tasting menu is your only choice, though supplements will reportedly vary depending on season and sourcing.

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AVOID: For myself, the difference between well sourced Wagyu and the perfectly marbled A5 Kobe did not justify the $80 surcharge, though the difference was notable from the bite I was offered by a tablemate.

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TIP: Open for two seatings, one at 5:30 and another at 8:00, reservations are most easily made online through the restaurant’s website and confirmed via text-messaging system that alerts you of the event on the day of. Also, with liquor license pending, Omae is currently non-alcoholic.

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DISCLOSURE: Obviously hands-on in all aspects of his business Shinchiro Tanaka contacted me via e-mail prior to our meal and stated he wanted to ‘comp two of the five covers,’ an offer I kindly rejected until the Chef insisted he would have it no other way. Still uncertain as to why this was offered, though the obvious possibilities have been considered, in no other way was our meal any different from that of the surrounding tables.

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

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http://takeshi-omae.com/

Japanese Cuisine By Omae on Urbanspoon

Posted in Coffee, Dessert, Food, Japanese Cuisine by Omae, Las Vegas, Nevada, Omae, Sushi, Tasting Menu, Tiramisu, Truffle

TC’s Rib Crib, Las Vegas NV

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TC’s Rib Crib

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Sliced Brisket, Pulled Pork, Spare Ribs, Cornbread

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Spare Rib Close-Up

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Mac n’ Cheese

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Sweet Potato Fries

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Biscuit

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“New Orleans” French Toast with Sliced Bananas

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Banana Pudding

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Red Velvet Cake

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Praline

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Located near Norm’s Eggs Café in a strip mall off South Durango and featuring “World Famous” ribs with awards in 2007 and 2010 for the city’s best barbeque it was with tempered expectations that I entered TC’s Rib Crib and although I will say the Motown soundtrack and service were quite pleasant as I watched the Buckeyes obliterate Kent State, little else of my experience was even remotely good – a small, buttery biscuit and a jumbo praline the lone exception. Obviously the sort of place willing to cut corners as condiments include Aunt Jemima and ‘honey’ cut with glucose syrup and starch it was in a wide selection of meats, sides, and sweets that I invested and although costs were quite low for most items, so too was the quality – the ribs clearly parboiled without a note of smoke while thinly sliced brisket and pulled pork were nearly indistinguishable beneath artificially saccharine sauce. Mostly ignoring bland elbow noodles from which I consumed only a few bites and fries that arrived almost at meal’s end as well as the $4.50 French Toast was flat and flavorless even with the $1.50 banana and whipped cream upgrade…the latter not supplied as they were apparently ‘out’…and moving on to dessert, suffice it to say that the boxed vanilla pudding with only a hint of banana beneath ‘nilla wafers is not worth $5.99 and although the frosting on a tiny sliver of red velvet cake was tangy and smooth the cake was so dry it literally crumbled to fork pressure – the majority of it joining nearly half the rest of my order in a waste basket when servers were otherwise occupied so as not to offend.

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ONE AND A HALF STARS: Literally the only patron present just past noon on a Saturday it is shocking to me that a business like TC’s can sustain and as much as I try to support locals I cannot fathom a reason to return, particularly given a pricepoint higher than Rollin’ Smoke despite quality on par with Famous Dave’s.

RECOMMENDED: Biscuit, Praline…maybe the ribs, though the taste more closely resembles slow cooker than barbeque.

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AVOID: Everything else I ordered, particularly the pulled pork, red velvet cake, and absurdly priced banana pudding.

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TIP: Offering a $20 certificate for $10 on Yelp! the cost was slightly less appalling after the discount, but even then entirely not worth it – not when $25 will net you all the quality ‘cue you can eat up at Rollin’ Smoke.

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

http://www.tcsribcrib.com/

T.C.'s Rib Crib on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Cornbread, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, TC's, TC's Rib Crib

Mr. Mama’s, Las Vegas NV

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Mr. Mama’s

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Buttermilk Biscuit

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Jumbo Cinnamon Roll

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Double Chocolate Chip Pancakes

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Two Eggs and Bottomless Coffee Served with Pancakes (Daily Special)

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Single Serving of French Toast

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One of the longest standing members on my breakfast ‘to-do’ list and a place to which I’d purchased a $20 discounted gift-certificate some six months prior it was finally on Saturday that I drove down to Mr. Mama’s and although the small breakfast and lunch spot is unlikely to win any awards for innovation it can only be said that this truly is a place committed to putting a smile on each patron’s face. Undoubtedly a locals institution in which nearly every other customer was a regular with orders frequently anticipated by staff it was just past 7:15 that I was invited to seat myself and with no less than three servers offering to get me coffee as I perused the menu it became immediately apparent as to why the restaurant was filled to capacity by eight o’clock. Focused mostly on diner staples with a whiteboard of specials just left of entry while prices trend far lower than almost anywhere else in the 702 my meal began with Mr. Mama’s oft-raved $3.50 cinnamon roll and with a soft, yeasty base rife with cinnamon and butter beneath sweet frosting the hype proved justified, a smallish biscuit proving less worthy its $2.75 tab, though still quite good. Preceding next to plates more hearty it was with a thin slice of French Toast that my meal moved on and opting this time to bring my own maple syrup from home the result was improved, though still nothing to write home about, particularly when compared to fluffy flapjacks studded with dark and white chocolate, a daily special matched with two eggs and at least six cups of coffee for less than $9.

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THREE STARS: Likely generating its fan base more through low prices and friendly service rather than by location or particularly excellent food I cannot say I’ll be rushing back to Mr. Mama’s soon, but for locals on a budget or those with little one’s looking for a good breakfast at a great price the restaurant definitely fills a niche – the open-kitchen of blazing-fast line cooks and televisions tuned to college football providing a bit of entertainment for those interested in such things, as well.

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RECOMMENDED: Cinnamon Roll, Pancakes.

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AVOID: French Toast and arriving after 8:30am on weekends.

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TIP: Currently offering $20 gift certificates for $15 through Yelp! (and previously as low as $10 for the same) savvy customers are advised to take advantage, though for solo diners such as myself one may be hard pressed to spend the whole amount, my whole meal ringing up for a mere $16.25 after tax.

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

http://www.mrmamaslv.com/

Mr. Mama's on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Mr. Mama's, Nevada, Pancakes

Purple Door Ice Cream, Milwaukee WI

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Purple Door Ice Cream

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Samples of Rum Raisin, The Honolulu, Peanut Butter, Lemon Cardamom, Raspberry Green Tea, Baileys

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Tasting of Toffee Butter Pecan, Trail Mix, Maple Nut, Salted Caramel

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Named to several local and national ‘best of’ lists for their artisan approach to ice creams featuring almost nothing but locally sourced ingredients a stop at Purple Door Ice Cream’s 2nd Street scoop shop was mandatory for my visit to Milwaukee and with owner Lauren Schultz helping at the counter during my visit the whole experience couldn’t have been smoother – a sentiment applying to both the lovely customer service as well as the product itself. Focusing on a fairly modest 14% milk-fat base with flavors ranging from expected to exemplary it was first to a substantial tasting that I was treated and although I only requested a few bites the rest were insisted upon, the Lemon Cardamom a particularly memorable bite that just barely missed the cut in my ‘flight’ of four flavors, the $6 tab a veritable bargain when compared to other artisan operations across the United States. Clearly focusing on a theme of sweet-meets-salty in each of my selections it was in creamy salted caramel that my tasting began and moving next to toffee butter pecan I was immediately impressed, one of my childhood favorites upgraded with swirls of molasses that tickled the palate while providing a subtle transition to toasty nuts studding ice cream that tasted of syrup-soaked buttermilk pancakes. At this point already impressed enough to support the business further by buying a whimsical shirt to be worn back home it was with a flavor titled ‘trail mix’ that my visit to Purple Door would end and while all the other flavors were indeed quite good it was this one that stole the show, the cream itself imbued with the flavors of grain while raisins, nuts, and even M&Ms added their characteristic textures, tastes, and colors too.

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RECOMMENDED: Tasting with abandon, then ordering a flight of whatever tastes best.

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AVOID: N/A.

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TIP: Additionally offering ice cream sandwiches, shakes, and sundaes with house-made toppings plus several pints to go suffice it to say you will be tempted – several of the items and flavors additionally offered at any number of local markets and restaurants begging the question of when this small company will finally launch nationwide.

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www.purpledooricecream.com

Posted in Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Milwaukee, Purple Door Ice Cream, Vacation, Wisconsin

Karl Ratzsch’s, Milwaukee WI

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Karl Ratzsch’s

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Bread Basket with Buttered Rolls and Garlic Crisps

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Potato Pancakes – Served with Apple Sauce and Sour Cream

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Duck & Goose in Combination – One Half Goose Shank and One Quarter Roast Duck served with spatzel, Red Cabbage, Old Fashioned Dressing, and Natural Gravy

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Viennese Apple Strudel

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Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

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Returning to Milwaukee with my sights set on one of the city’s most storied dining spaces it was just moments after 11:30 that I entered Karl Ratzsch’s and quickly settled at a large table in a room beset on all sides with steins, antlers, porcelain, and painting from an era long past it would not be long before I was greeted by an elderly woman – a server potentially as old as the restaurant itself and as such a lovely historian, if not particularly exceptional in terms of expediting an order or keeping water glasses full. Unapologetically resting on a menu of German classics, many present on the menu for greater than 40 years, it was largely with my order pre-planned that I sat down with a mix of local businessmen and tourists alike and with a basket of soft rolls atop large croutons studded with garlic to whet my appetite it would not be long before my first course arrived, a duo of $8 potato pancakes proving thin and crisp, though admittedly a touch oily for such a steep tariff while applesauce proved no better than the stuff from a jar. Moving next to things more interesting, a dinner-only item prepared at my request during lunch, it was with wide eyes that I was greeted by the “Duck & Goose in Combination” and requesting buttery spatzel in place of wild rice I’d be remiss to say which of the plate’s five parts was best – the crispy skinned shank proving moist yet lean while duck was gamey and rich, each tender morsel falling from the bone and melding perfectly with sage-tinged stuffing in a thick gravy that was savory but not ‘salty’ in the least. At this point already anticipating dessert despite the substantial day of eating ahead it was in a duo of items from the tableside platter that I decided to invest and with each item served piping hot from the kitchen suffice it to say that no matter how “famous” (and delicious) the flaky puff pastry surrounding apple and spice was it simply could not compare to the bourbon soaked ‘bread,’ a veritable poundcake already laced with butter yet more than capable of soaking up plenty of sauce…the rest eaten with a spoon while still warm on the plate.

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RECOMMENDED: Duck and Goose in Combination, Bread Pudding, Spatzel.

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AVOID: Potato Pancakes are too oily and the bread basket is simply so-so, the later served gratis but not particularly enthralling none the less.

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TIP: Offering a more limited menu at lunch than at dinner, those interested in dinner-only items are advised to call the restaurant in advance – my request for the goose requesting no deposit and served with no delay save for that of the leisurely service, an issue not particularly limited to my table and something the ‘business lunch’ crowd may want to keep in mind if there are any constraints of time.

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http://www.karlratzsch.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Dessert, Food, Karl Ratzsch’s, Milwaukee, Vacation, Wisconsin

Daisy Café and Cupcakery, Madison WI

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Daisy Café and Cupcakery

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Bottomless Coffee

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French Toast Strata (eggs, cream cheese, bread cubes, maple syrup) with oven roasted potatoes and fruit

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Morning Bun

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Lennie Small – Chocolate Bacon Bunny Face on Maple Buttercream Frosting, Baked Bean Cake with Coffee Filling

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Carrot-Walnut Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

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Scarlett O’Hara – Buttermilk Hoopskirt Frosting on Red Velvet Cake with Pecan Filling

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Santiago – Sea Salted Toffee Scale in Caramel Buttercream Frosting on Caramel Banana Cake with Banana Pudding Filling

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Following up 4&20 with a few more pastries for the road the last stop on a recent trip to Madison was Daisy Café and Cuppcakery, a kitschy spot on Atwood Avenue where neither cuisine nor customer service experienced in-store was particularly remarkable, though ‘back-to-school’ themed cupcakes would later save the day. Undoubtedly a spot for locals with the former part of the phrase ‘shabby-chic’ best describing the décor it was to a luke-warm greeting from the restaurant’s lone server that I was greeted on entry and invited to seat myself that was precisely what I did, a minimal amount of effort expelled in re-filling both tepid coffee and water making me wish these things, too, were do-it-yourself. Eventually allowed to order, a pair of two-tops already well into their meals apparently too much for one to handle, it would not be long before my pastry arrived and proving far less impressive than the standard set by 4&20 most of the morning bun was discarded, a similar situation occurring in the strata – a mundane bellybomb of flavorless bread soaked in eggs with only the slightest bit of sweetness to be found. Utterly disappointed in the experience thus far it was only the presence of a man I presume to be the owner at the register and his interest in my Interpol T-shirt that prevented me from walking away with empty hands but after our short conversation I couldn’t help but invest in a few cupcakes, the carrot cake a bit heavy handed but all three of the filled $3.00 specials showing great flavors and innovation amidst cakes of a delicate crumb.

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RECOMMENDED: With the Scarlett O’Hara expectedly delicious it was actually the Lennie Small that shined brightest of the group, the smoky baked bean base melding well with the coffee cream as bacon amidst frosting delivered a sweet and salty finish.

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AVOID: Admittedly preferring sweet to savory at breakfast I thought the strata was awful, and absolutely nothing like French Toast.

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TIP: Open at 8:00am and featuring an “Award Winning” egg sandwich I’ve been told by others, including a server at dinner in Milwaukee, that not only is service usually better, but that the egg sandwich really is “that good.” Your Mileage May Vary.

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http://daisycafeandcupcakery.com/

Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, cupcakes, Daisy Café and Cupcakery, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Madison, Pork, Vacation, Wisconsin

4 & 20 Bakery & Cafe, Madison WI

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4&20 Bakery & Cafe

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Blackberry Scone

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Cranberry Orange Scone

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Morning Bun

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Cinnamon Walnut Streusel Coffee Cake

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Big Ol’ Oreo

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Raspberry Bread French Toast – Raspberry Compote, Orange Curd, Local Raspberries, Struesel, house whipped cream

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With a return trip to Milwaukee set to land me at lunch by noon it was after another early morning run that I showered, packed my bags, and headed out into the suddenly rainy weather for the first of two breakfasts – my first stop at 4&20 Bakery & Café, the small shop on North 4th Street sprung from a duo of L’Etoile alumni. Cozy and clean with modern décor borrowing from the CB2 catalogue it was just as the doors unlocked at seven o’clock that I made my way in and with nearly every pastry still warm from the oven a sizable order was placed, one item requiring kitchen preparation while the some were started on at a small table with the rest saved for upcoming drive. Obviously benefitted by an early morning arrival with a full selection of fresh pastry it was in a duo of scones that my tasting began and featuring a soft crumb far more “American” than most Brits would prefer I’ll simply say that in this case I fully support the stars and stripes, each buttery bite only lightly sweetened with berries allowed to shine. Moving on to a golden morning bun tightly wound about a springy center of cinnamon with more than enough sugar to spare and next to coffee cake that literally melted on the tongue it was finally here that my entrée arrived and with house-made raspberry bread rendered crisp by custard plus a hot pan my tastebuds swooned, a duo of fruits dueling for center stage while streusel added a bit of crunch. Taking halves of each scone to the car along with chocolate wafers sandwiching smooth cream it was perhaps my lone regret that I did not order more – the “World Peace” cookie, Blueberry Pie, and Oat Fudge bar all appearing tempting as well.

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RECOMMENDED: Everything I ordered. Probably a lot of other things, as well – the French Toast and Morning Bun amongst the best of each I’ve tasted to date.

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AVOID: N/A.

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TIP: Located adjacent to a school zone with strict speed limits and substantial traffic those familiar with local roads would be best to take a different route rather than follow the GPS during school hours, a parade of students crossing streets on foot delaying my arrival by nearly 20 minutes.

http://4and20bakery.com/

4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in 4 & 20 Bakery, 4 & 20 Bakery & Cafe, 4&20 Bakery, 4&20 Bakery & Cafe, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Madison, Vacation, Wisconsin

L’Etoile, Madison WI

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L’Etoile

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Sanguine Spritz – Deer County Montmorency Cherry Juice and L’Etoile Orgeat Syrup

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Summer Vacation Fizz – Fresh housemade limeade and strawberry topped with charged thyme fizz

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Local Beet with Fennel Pollen and Goat Cheese Cream

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Red Pepper Gazpacho with buttered croutons and basil oil

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House made rolls with local unsalted butter

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Cape Cod Grilled Scallops – Corn, Hen of the Woods, Charred Scallion Vinaigrette

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La Belle Farms Foie Gras Ganache – Apricots, Mustard Seeds, Peach Strawberry Jus, Brioche

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Neah Bay Sablefish – Porcini Cream, Dried Veal, Bok Choy

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Blue Valley Gardens Duck Breast – Beets, Red Mustard Greens, Cocoa Nibs, Lavender Jus

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Pinn Oak Ridge Lamb Loin – Borlotti Beans, Roasted Peppers, Lamb Tongue, Swiss Chard, Rosemary Jus

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Three Month Pleasant Ridge Reserve – Hash Brown, Grey Shallot, Blackberry

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Barnard Donut Peach Sorbet – Cinnamon Sugar Beignets

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Caramel Corn, Blackberry Gelee, Blackberry Truffle

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Considered by many to be the best restaurant in Madison, and by some to be the most elegant dining experience in the state, I’d be lying if I stated L’Etoile wasn’t a large part of the reason why I decided to drive to Wisconsin and after a rather pleasant experience at Graze that afternoon it was just minutes past 7:00pm that I again entered the doors of 1 S. Pinckney Street, a table set for one at the restaurant’s center mine for the night. Toqued by Chef Tory Miller and similarly focused on locally sourced proteins and produce as the space next door it was once more that I found myself seated amidst floor-to-ceiling windows but with the capitol now illuminated and tables clad in white linen the mood was decidedly different, the majority of other diners clearly celebrating special events as any number of candle-lit desserts emerged from the kitchen throughout the night. Offered in two formats, prix fixe or tasting, it was without hesitation that I opted to enjoy L’Etoile’s signature experience and although service was a bit off-kilter as my captain often interrupted me to repeat descriptions of plates already well presented it was without a single flaw in execution that each plate arrived, the flavorless house-bread and ice-cubes of butter a lone exception to the rule. Starting off with the first of two elegant mocktails as a canapé and an amuse whetted the palate it was after a bit of delay that my first course arrived but with the thinly sliced scallops finding even more sweetness in late season corn atop an anchor of mushrooms and bright tomatoes one could hardly complain, a textbook terrine of foie gras melting into a sweet, rich soup quick to follow on its heels. With another short stoppage between plates it was onward to flaky sablefish with crispy skin atop earthy mushroom puree that the meal progressed and rounding out savories with a rosy strip of duck amidst pleasant aromatics followed by a thick cut of lamb atop early winter beans cooked to a cream-like consistency not one of the five plates would prove anything short of stellar, a thin wedge of cheese no less impressive when plated against crispy potatoes and aromatic onions tempered by house-made jam. Admittedly coveting several of the desserts listed in the prix fixe and almost requesting a supplemental course (or three) it was mostly with a mind on the late hour and another full day to come that I showed some restraint and with two brioche beignets arriving alongside no less than four presentations of peach I perfectly satisfied, the trio of mignardises a final send-off with the fruit-filled truffle stealing the show from fresh popped corn lacquered in caramel that was also quite good.

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RECOMMENDED: Offering a seasonal experience I’ll simply say that nothing but the bread was less than excellent, Chef Miller showing a particularly strong skillset with fibrous items like mushrooms, beans, and assorted local greens.

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AVOID: The bread that night was dreadful while the butter, particularly given the state’s dairy industry, was an insipid, icy block.

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TIP: Featuring one of the most innovative mocktail lists I’ve seen to this day even those not wishing to imbibe will be impressed by the drink menu at L’Etoile, most of the options featuring seasonal fruits and house-made elixirs or bitters with a multitude of techniques employed in their craft.

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http://www.letoile-restaurant.com/

L'Etoile Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, L'Etoile, Madison, Tasting Menu, Vacation, Wisconsin

Forequarter, Madison WI

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Forequarter

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Coffee Egg Cream – Cold Brew Dogwood Coffee, Cream, Honey, Lemon, Egg White (replaced by Cold Brew Dogwood Coffee)

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Goat Sausage with Crispy Baguette, Mustard, and Olives

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Galantine of Poussin stuffed with cabbage and almonds – Mustard Greens, Pickles, and Olives

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Caramelized Carrot Cavatelli and Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano

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Malt Ice Cream with Crushed Potato Chips, Crystalized Kumquats, White Chocolate Crisp, and Hot Fudge

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Ostensibly a sequel to the oft-lamented Underground Kitchen with a meat heavy menu featuring daily specials from Madison’s heralded Underground Butcher it was for a few pre-dinner bites that I sat down at a tiny two-top at Forequarter and although my pending reservation at L’Etoile would indeed limit my order I’d be hard pressed to say which experience was more impressive. Without doubt a trendy space, heavily wooded with tiled ceilings and taxidermy, it was just after 5:30 that I entered the dimly lit dining room and with the bar already buzzing as several tables dined on charcuterie it would not be long before a menu was in hand and selections were made, the service proving exemplary in both keeping my water glass full and presenting each plate with ample descriptions of sourcing as well as technique. Unfortunately beginning the night on a sour note, literally, as lemon ruined an otherwise delicious sounding egg cream it was with the beverage stricken from the bill and replaced by cold brew that the meal was reset and although perhaps a bizarre ‘pairing’ for charcuterie I’m happy to say the bitter contrasts surprisingly worked – a board of boldly spiced goat sausage first perfuming my palate with smoky notes only to be followed by tender poultry imbued with earthy aromatics and extremely subtle brine. Realizing coffee would overwhelm my main course and thus cleansing my palate with pickles plus tiny olives that packed some seriously salinity it was onward to a vegetarian-friendly bowl of pasta that my meal progressed and with hues of purple, orange, and green in full effect the flavor was even more impressive than the visual display – each tender noodle rife with natural sweetness while butter-roasted Purple Knights and decisive pesto melded into a nutty, rich sauce. At this point unable – or at least unwilling – to eschew dessert it was between a plate of cookies or a housemade sundae that I was left to decide and deferring to my waitress as to which she preferred I opted for the later, fond childhood memories of the movie-snack “Whopper” brought forth with every bite.

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RECOMMENDED: Any of the house charcuterie is likely to impress, but if the cavatelli and pickles are any indication these folks also know their way around produce – the dessert was pretty darn good, too.

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AVOID: While your mileage may vary I was personally put off by the coffee egg cream, an otherwise lovely concept ruined by far too much acid – a flavor I dislike in my coffee in any form.

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TIP: Currently obscured by construction with limited street parking there is a small lot just up the hill with great views of the lake, the lack of spots otherwise clearly not hurting business though as the restaurant was packed to capacity when I departed at 6:45.

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http://forequartermadison.com/

Forequarter on Urbanspoon

Posted in Coffee, Dessert, Food, Forequarter, Ice Cream, Madison, Vacation, Wisconsin