Lazy Ox Canteen, Los Angeles CA

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Lazy Ox Canteen

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Polenta – roasted mushrooms, creamed greens, yellow curry oil

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Pig Ear Chiccharones – pickles, tomatillo salsa, harissa

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Croque Madame – ham, gruyere cheese, fried egg

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Rice Pudding – cinnamon, caramel, crumble

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Butterscotch Budino – salted caramel, whipped cream, cookie

Reportedly having fallen off since its heyday, but still a spot on my map for the few remaining signatures of Josef Centeno’s tenure, Lazy Ox was selected for lunch largely as a matter of convenience…a generally terrible reason to dine anywhere, and no different in this instance. Several years departed from hour-long waits it was just moments to noon when I arrived at the heavily wooded L-shaped dining room and as the only person present both then and 75 minutes later I’d suggest it is fair to say Lazy Ox is hurting for business. Treated to lackluster service that clearly did not know the menu, and later tried to charge me “dinner prices” in a maneuver I’m not so sure wasn’t intentional, my meal began with a small bowl of creamy polenta teaming with rich flavors of the earth and admittedly impressed by every aspect of the dish round two would fare nearly as well, each bite of crackling pork almost entirely greaseless with levity found in bold salsa plus fiery harissa. At this point happy to see the food has remained competent with little knowledge that my meal was about to be ruined by unannounced ballpark-quality mustard slathered on a croque madame, suffice it to say I was not amused by the chef’s reinterpretation nor the fact that I actually had to suggest it be stricken from the bill. Nearly walking out until I recalled why I came in the first place it was with two desserts that my meal concluded and with the oft-photographed rice pudding pasty and flavorless it was only the budino that proved worth the wait, though it’s not as if this cribbed concoction cannot be found elsewhere with a far better experience alongside.

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RECOMMENDED: Pig Ears, Polenta

AVOID: Croque Madame, Rice Pudding

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TIP: More than once trying to confiscate the menu from me despite my verbal request to hang onto it I almost feel bad assuming the worst of waitstaff trying to upcharge at lunch, but that certainly seemed to be the case. With the heralded ‘specials’ board of past years relegated to a few boring items available only at dinner these days and an empty dining room even during ‘cheaper’ lunch hours one must wonder just how long Lazy Ox can keep limping along until it finally shutters.

http://lazyoxcanteen.com/

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Posted in California, Dessert, Food, Lazy Ox Canteen, Los Angeles, Pork, Vacation

eggslut, Los Angeles CA

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eggslut

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g&b coldbrew

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Bacon, Egg & Cheese – Hardwood Smoked Bacon, Over Medium Egg, Cheddar Cheese, Chipotle Ketchup in a Warm Portuguese Bun

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Slut – Coddled Egg on Potato Puree with Seasoned Crostini

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Elevated to foodporn status by bright yellows that contrast against nearly any backdrop, eggs are clearly having ‘a moment,’ the breakfast staple formerly relegated to later day salads and sandwiches now finding its way into appetizers, entrees, and even…well…eggslut, the Alvin Cailan concept that some may say started the trend. Originally a food truck, but truly finding its footing nearly one year ago with countertop service in Grand Central Market, a visit to eggslut is a relatively simple affair and with only six options available at breakfast I opted for two, a bottle of G&B coldbrew plus tip bringing my total to $22 as I sat down to wait with oppressively loud Katy Perry tunes playing approximately ten feet from my face. Impressed by g&b’s robust earthiness without a hint of acidity and amused each time a patron requested a “slut” it would not be long before I received a slut of my own and popping the yolk before giving it a quick stir the amalgam for instagram was first tasted from the spoon and then spread on bread, the results pretty much as expected from quality eggs and a buttery base. Moving on to the less-spendy sandwich that nearly soiled my shirt when the first bite ruptured soft yolk, it was finally here that eggslut really impressed and although surely the eponymous ingredient had something to do with it I’m also confident in saying the supple bacon, sharp cheddar, and smoky ketchup would have been pretty darn good on their own, as would be most things served on that sweet toasted bun.

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RECOMMENDED: Bacon, Egg & Cheese

AVOID: …sorry kids, the slut isn’t worth $9.

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TIP: Apparently working on new things for the menu in year two the oft-raved biscuits are only available “sometimes,” a term loosely defined by their social media streams from what I was told.

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http://www.eggslut.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, California, Coffee, eggslut, Food, Los Angeles, Pork, Vacation

California Donuts, Los Angeles CA

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California Donuts

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Blueberry Cinnamon Toast Crunch

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Matcha Green Tea Croissant Donut

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Oreo Panda

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The Snickers Bar

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Apple Fritter

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Buttermilk Bar

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Located on 3rd, and open 24/7 with a steady trickle of traffic throughout the day for freshly fried treats, California Donuts has been doing what it does for over 32 years; the evolution of ‘artisan’pastry, ‘foodie’ culture, and instagram suddenly seeing the tiny window with even smaller seating space elevated to cult status for a few audacious options along with a rather comprehensive collection of the classics. Undoubtedly a place one could mistake as just ‘another’ curbside stop in a city with no lack of such things, my 8:30am arrival found a team of at least five working diligently and after a brief wait to scope out what was most fresh I stepped up to the window – the smell of yeast and sugar instead of oil a welcome surprise. At first a bit flummoxed by language barriers, but able to eventually able to procure a half-dozen to the sum of $12.90, I quickly carried my box to a lot next door and surveying the goods my tasting began with the classics; a still-warm fritter unfortunately too oily despite ample apples while the buttermilk bar fared far better with good glaze playing off light sours. Moving next to more ‘visual’ options, neither the Oreo-embedded panda nor the yeasted Blueberry Cinnamon Toast Crunch are going to win any awards for subtlety given the substantial sugar shellacking, yet with each tasting quite good I’d not hesitate to recommend either, that reluctance instead saved for a ‘croissant donut’ that was oily and insipid, though earthen green glaze was an interesting change of pace. Saving the best, or at least most famous, for last as I shared halves (and conversation) with a homeless gentleman who’d approached me as I was taking pictures, suffice it to say that in a world where you often can ‘have too much of a good thing’ this was not one of those cases – the classic candy bar providing a molten core to fluffy dough with glaze and toppings replicating Snickers timeless flavor profile nearly spot-on.

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RECOMMENDED: Buttermilk bar, Snickers.

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AVOID: Apple Fritter, ‘Croissant Donuts’

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TIP: Apparently the site of a grizzly parking-lot murder years back, and still the temporary home base for several unfortunate individuals today, I’d probably not venture into the area alone at night…though I certainly can see appeal of 24/7 Snickers-and-dough after a long night out while the man I encountered was entirely pleasant and thankful for both the conversation and food (he too thought the ‘cronut’ was “nasty,” by the way.)

http://cadonuts.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, California, California Donuts, Dessert, Food, Los Angeles, Vacation

Alcove Cafe & Bakery, Los Angeles CA

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Alcove Cafe & Bakery

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Almond Croissant

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Polenta Raspberry Scone

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Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

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Brioche French Toast – Vanilla, Rum, Crème Fraiche, Berry Reduction, Vermont Maple Syrup

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Almond Pear Tart

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Red Velvet Cupcake

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Carrot Cake Cupcake

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Located in Los Feliz and one of those spots that had been on my radar for years, imagine my surprise when the first steps of my early morning run led me right past the patio of Alcove Bakery and Café, my early breakfast plans for Langer’s again derailed by the promise of warm pastries. Open at 6am, with my arrival timed to 7:00 given the duration of my path, it was just minutes before the kitchen opened for full service that I arrived and speaking to a pair of youngsters behind the counter who helped guide me through myriad options a sizeable order was crafted – a some for now, some for later approach the only way to manage a restaurant where no less than three dozen pastries beckoned behind glass. Taking a seat while the kitchen worked on my entrée it was mere moments before the first round arrived and with an almond croissant still hot kicking things off with a crisp break giving way to subtly sweet filling I was immediately impressed, the juxtaposition of polenta and fruit an equally pleasant experience amidst the warm scone. Moving next to chocolate chip bread pudding that was rendered hot by a quick trip to the oven suffice it to say that the 8+oz mini-loaf packed a whole lot of butter, chocolate, and brioche into a small package and with that same brioche utilized to make the plated French Toast I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, the later already custardy beneath the griddled crisp but all the better with crème fraiche, reduced berries, and pure maple syrup. Taking parts of the pastries to go, along with another trio of treats, there are undoubtedly better places to obtain cupcakes in SoCal than Alcove as the Gluten-Free Vegan Carrot option was a touch too chewy while the Red Velvet’s cloying frosting completely undermined light coca, but finishing on a absolute high note I’d be hard pressed to name a better use of frangipane in recent memory than the butter-crusted tart – nearly a half-Anjou per slice melting into a puffy, almond cloud.

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RECOMMENDED: Bread Pudding, French Toast, Pear-Almond Tart.

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AVOID: Cupcakes…and going alone as it’d be nice to take a small army in order to sample more of the menu.

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TIP: Located in a neighborhood where parking is limited and many signs indicate they will tow you specifically for parking there and walking to Alcove (there is apparently a market for these signs as no less than 3 neighboring properties had them,) those willing to walk a block are advise to check out Rodney. Additionally, with a small kitchen and everything made to order wait times can be excessive even if you are the first to arrive – all the more excuse to grab a pastry, sit back, and enjoy.

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http://alcovecafe.com/cafe

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Posted in Alcove Cafe & Bakery, Alcove Cafe and Bakery, Bread Pudding, Breakfast, California, Croissant, cupcakes, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Los Angeles, Vacation

Huntridge Pharmacy and Soda Fountain, Las Vegas NV

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Huntridge Pharmacy and Soda Fountain

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The Elvis – Peanut Butter and Bananas, Grilled, with Onion Rings

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Bye Bye Love Bananas Foster Pancakes – Sauteed Bananas, Walnuts, Caramel, Whipped Cream, Thrifty Vanilla Ice Cream

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Closed on Saturdays in observation of Shabbat, and the sort of place I imagine to have changed little since opening in 1962, it was on a rare Sunday dining expedition that I finally visited Huntridge Soda Fountain – the sizable restaurant tucked inside Huntridge Pharmacy where several families already sat enjoying any numbers of shakes, sandwiches, and diner favorites offered at prices harkening an era long past. Every bit a reminder of a Woolworth’s back home in Ohio, with short-order cooks overseeing a menu of classics frequently tinged in whimsy, it was to a service team of one that I was greeted on entry and with a floor polisher whirring in the background as its driver weaved amidst aisles of toiletries, tablets, and even some toys a two-part order was crafted – the total bill less than $14 even after tax and tip for food that was served not only piping hot with a smile, but also surprisingly delicious despite its simplicity. Admittedly a bit strained in service as my empty beverage languished it was with the $3.95 Elvis Sandwich that my meal began and although buttery Texas Toast surrounding ripe bananas plus ample peanut butter was as tasty as expected the basket of onion rings proved far less foolproof, the flavor of questionably fresh oil rendering the batter entirely off-putting – a $1.50 upcharge eliminated from my bill when I mentioned the issue to its cook. Moving on to something far more decadent it was after only half of my sandwich had been consumed that the $5.95 stack of pancakes arrived and although impressive on their own with soft notes of buttermilk imbuing each bite it can only be said that the addition of bananas sautéed in butter represented a significant upgrade, the drizzle of caramel and mountain of whipped cream atop a generous scoop of ice cream and walnuts pushing the whole thing into dessert territory in the very best of ways.

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THREE STARS: Touting a menu far more interesting than several other local diners with prices that rival many chains for ‘bargain’ status Huntridge Pharmacy & Soda Fountain is a truly authentic experience in a city that many bemoan for being entirely too fake, the food far better than you’d expect given both the price and the locale. Admittedly a bit lackluster in service given the skeleton staff, hand-written bills, and orders that occasionally back up when cooks are asked to prepare kosher options suffice it to say that the Soda Fountain is one of those spots everyone should visit at least once, and one that only stands to gain if and when the Huntridge Theater renovation finally takes place.

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RECOMMENDED: Bye Bye Love Bananas Foster Pancakes.

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AVOID: Onion Rings, though hand breaded while I watched, suffered from flavors of old oil – a comment I heard the table next to me make about the French Fries, as well.

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TIP: Apparently well known for their Whoppers shake and serving nearly a dozen varieties of Thrifty Ice Cream those visiting early are encouraged to inquire about seasonal flavors, none available during my visit as the team had just returned from vacation to find one of the freezers broken and thus limiting them to only a few traditional flavors.

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http://www.huntridgepharmacy.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Huntridge Pharmacy, Huntridge Pharmacy & Soda Fountain, Huntridge Pharmacy and Soda Fountain, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes

Sweets Raku [3,] Las Vegas NV

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Sweets Raku

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Ume Breeze – Plum Sake with Champagne

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White Sturgeon Caviar – Traditional Condiments, Choux

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Foie Gras – Croissant Batons, Honeycomb, Fruit Puree, Caramelized Nuts, Balsamic

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Lobster Tomato Soup

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Potato Salad with rice wine vinaigrette

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Iberico bacon and Potato Croissant Sandwich

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Mango Sorbet, Mint Jelly

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Stella – Strawberry Tiramisu

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Vanilla and Black Currant Cream Puff with passion fruit and raspberry marshmallows

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Asked by a man who many would say has dined better than anyone they know to join him for brunch during a one day stay in Las Vegas it was my pleasure to suggest Sweets Raku on Sunday afternoon, my third visit overall but the first time during a lunch service that sees the predominantly dessert menu expanded by a duo of sandwiches plus soup, salad, and the occasional quiche. Small, spotless, but now rendered less sterile by light Japanese music playing overhead it was just prior to noon that we arrived, and seated on the corner as soon as the restaurant unlocked the doors it would not be long before an order was crafted – a six-course meal plus supplements rolling out over the course of the next hundred minutes at a slow, but deliberate pace. Beginning first with cocktails, the light sake and bubbles pairing nicely to a both creamy foie gras with laminated pastry batons and caviar that could have used a little more crème fraiche to balance the brine, it was largely conversation about food that passed the time between courses and with a shooter of soup and crisp salad balancing light vinaigrette with creamy potatoes both pleasant enough, our ‘main courses’ each impressed – for him the salmon and ikura while I opted for fatty bacon crafted of iberico belly matched to crisp potatoes inside of a crispy, hot croissant. Transitioning from savory to sweet with mango sorbet dressed in mint jelly that unfortunately got lost in the sweetness it was onward to better things that the meal progressed and while my friend enjoyed the Mont Blanc I opted for the seasonal Stella, a star of strawberries served over an almond-soaked financier with cream melding the two into a designer ‘strawberry shortcake’ with texture and nuance to spare. Wrapping up the afternoon in puffs of choux offered with options for both cream and jam it was with little hesitation that both of us selected vanilla and black currant, the shell giving way in a crisp break to just a touch of pressure and melting on the tongue leaving me to wish they offered profiteroles by the plate.

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS: A bit underwhelmed by the caviar presentation but again impressed by everything else, including a croissant and cream puffs that made me think Raku should consider a bakery style counter as its next conquest, I still contest that Sweets Raku should be a destination for everyone who loves pastry and anyone looking to impress an out of town guest – a genuinely un-Vegas experience mere miles from the strip where passion and artistry matter much more than publicist noise or the name on the door.

RECOMMENDED: Definitely the dessert prix-fixe, none of the main courses or mignardises I’ve had yet less than impressive.

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AVOID: Caviar is pricy at $30 for a small tin and although high quality, the accoutrements were a bit skimpy – a bit more crème fraiche and more robust sour notes would have been welcomed.

TIP: Empty when we arrived at noon but featuring a full bar by 1:00pm while a few table seats remained it is advised to arrive early as some items reportedly do sell out, the brunch running from noon to 5:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays while nighttime hours change on occasion – updates frequently offered on both their social media feeds and recently rennovated website.

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https://www.facebook.com/sweetsraku

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Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Lobster, Nevada, Pork, Sweets Raku, Tiramisu

Le Cirque [2,] Las Vegas NV

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Le Cirque

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Le Framboise – Raspberry Puree, Grand Cuvee Champagne

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Golden Osetra Caviar – Salmon Rillette, Vodka Crème Fraiche, Chives

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Fall Salad – Artichoke, Avocado, Jamon Iberco, White Truffle, Foie Gras Snow

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Bacon Cheddar, Rosemary, Sourdough, Pretzel, White Chocolate Walnut, Salted Butter

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Potato Gnocchi – White Truffle, White Truffle Cream

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Mint – Rock Sugar, Club Soda, Cucumber

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Scallop – Potato and Apple “risotto,” White Truffles, Potato Chip, Lobster Puree, White Chocolate Sauce

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Rabbit – Saddle wrapped in prosciutto, offal ravioli, confit loin, Riesling sauce, crispy spatzle

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Canard a L’Orange – Caramelized Endive, Fava Bean Puree, Maitake Mushroom, Foie Gras, Duck Confit, Potato Gnocchi Pot-Au-Feu

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Tomme de Chevre, Epoisses, Roquefort – Accoutrements

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Delice de Framboise – Raspberry Milk Shake, Light Mascarpone Crème, Crunch of Feuilletine, Champagne Foam

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Petite Boule de Chocolat – Chocolate Ball, Praline Mousse, White Chocolate Ice Cream, Hazelnut Caramel Crunch, Chocolate Sauce

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Strawberry Souffle – Strawberry Cream, Strawberry Sorbet

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Mignardises

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Double Espresso

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Having last visited Le Cirque as an inexperienced intern on vacation in Las Vegas it was finally the invite of a friend that brought me back to The Bellagio’s hidden gem and bellied up to the bar with nearly the same service team in place that wowed me six years prior I can only lament the mediocre meals I’ve eaten elsewhere in between…and promise that my next visit will be far less delayed. Admittedly unable to fairly assess the ‘experience’ under the circumstances in which I dined – carte blanche, truffe blanche, vin blanche, gratuit – but instead opting to focus on the skills of 28 year old chef Wilfred Bergerhausen and what he placed on our plates it was with a glass of the restaurant’s signature cocktail of raspberry puree and brut bubbles that the evening began and although perhaps an ‘expected’ pairing I’d be hard pressed to name a better amuse than the briny eggs over creamy salmon that chives that arrived next, each of four bites slowly savored from the only utensil fit for such a job. Asking for a mix of the new chef’s plates to be served alongside longstanding classics both the salad and pasta courses showed Le Cirque’s dedication to quality of sourcing and although the modernist-kiss of shaved torchon atop a texturally compelling salad proved a brilliant carrier for the early season truffles it was the follow-up plate that quickly stole the show – a mountain of Tuber magnatum the only thing holding down dumplings so light that they threatened to float off the plate. At this point abandoning any attempt to stay my hand from further trips to a bread plate that rivals the city’s best it was a tender scallop over fall-fruit ‘risotto’ that arrived and liberally ladled with white chocolate sauce the flavors popped, even the scallop-skeptic in the group relishing the experience as I mopped the terrine clean with warm white chocolate and walnut bread. Transitioning here to heartier flavors it was to a stack of rabbit saddle, confit, and offal ravioli that we were treated and with a finishing touch of crispy spatzle the longtime classic was reborn, the grand finale of duck a l’orange equally timeless with novel twists finding it stuffed in lavender and rosemary while a small bowl of duck consommé featured slowly melting slices of foie gras, the semi-sweet red served at its side a brilliant pairing with light acid and smoke lingering on the end. Bridging savory to sweet with a trio of aged cheeses, more bread, and fruit puree I’d have gladly eaten by the spoon it was in a trio of desserts and a tower of mignardise that the meal ended and although both the chocolate sphere and champagne parfait were lovely, neither could hold a candle to the soufflé – a classic soon to be remastered under the talents of a new pastry chef by month’s end, and a reason in and of itself to warrant an expedited return.

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UNABLE TO RATE: Despite several offers to pay the bill we were refused at all turns but lumping together a pile of cash to at least compensate the remarkable service I’m confident to say that at this very moment Le Cirque’s kitchen is executing on the level of most Michelin 2* restaurants I’ve been to in Europe or The United States, a statement I reserve for less than a handful of restaurants in Las Vegas and one that becomes even more impressive when you look at the price point – the tasting menu under $150 with service from a team that has largely been in place since the restaurant opened its doors 16 years ago.

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RECOMMENDED: Canard a l’orange, rabbit, soufflé, gnocchi.

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AVOID: Unless you possess substantial eating prowess or have far more willpower than I, shoo the bread man away immediately without even taking a taste…otherwise be prepared to find yourself asking for seconds…and thirds…maybe fourths.

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TIP: Odd as it may seem, sitting at the bar was one of the most enjoyable aspects of a meal that lacked in no way for great moments – the small size allowing for all sorts of chat with the bartender as well as extensive interaction with other patrons, the majority well-cultured epicures with extensive travel resumes and stories of great meals around the world to be shared.

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

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Posted in Bread Basket, Coffee, Dessert, Foie, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Le Cirque, Nevada, Pork, Souffle, Tasting Menu, Truffle

Eis Cream, Las Vegas NV

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Eis Cream

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Samples – ube, macapuno, peach cobbler, burgundy cherry, pralines and caramel, coffee and toffee

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Warm Double Chocolate Brownie

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Ube on Chocolate Chip and Macadamia Nut Sandwich

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Owned and operated by Alexis Gonzaga, a charming young lady who was (wo)manning the small shop solo when I arrived shortly after the 2:00pm opening on Saturday, Eis Cream is not exactly the artisan experience some might expect, but with cutesy décor including Hello Kitty merchandise paired with good sourcing and a few housemade items the overall effect is quite nice. Small in size but sizable in selection, with ice creams imported from Treat in No.Cal matched to locally baked goods from Al’s, Valerio’s, and more it was with pleasant conversation about flavor profiles and why specific vendors were chosen that I chatted with Ms. Gonzaga during the course of my visit and sampling several ice creams with results ranging from bold (burgundy cherry, ube) to overly icy and sweet (peach cobbler, macapuno) I eventually opted to invest in the ube alongside the only three items made in house – a duo of cookies and a chocolate brownie, each served hot from the tray. Beginning first with the ube, apparently oft mistaken for taro by guests, I was immediately taken by the starchy potato textures admixing with cream plus subtle sweetness and pairing this with cookies and crushed peanuts the ice cream sandwich shined, my favorite bites coming at the end as the melted ice cream melded with butter and macadamia nuts with a decidedly tropical tilt. Moving onward to an option without ice cream, I could not help but order one of the restaurant’s brownies when I saw the pan procured fresh from the oven and with dark chips strewn amidst a semi-sweet base the result was decidedly decadent, the sort of thing that would have gone excellent with milk…or as the base of a sundae, the pralines and coffee a seemingly brilliant pairing though I imagine vanilla would work quite nicely as well.

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THREE STARS: Not quite as impressive as Sweet Addictions if only due to overall lack of house made cookie options I can definitely see Eis Cream improving with time and customer feedback provided the small store can generate enough foot traffic and staying power given its tucked away location on the backside of a strip mall on South Eastern. Potentially a bit overpriced given the quality of the goods, the upcharge on Al’s already sub-par Kronuts particularly perplexing, it is a good option for those in the neighborhood or those seeking something different – the hand packed half-gallons potentially a tempting proposition for those picking up a cake from nearby Freed’s.

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RECOMMENDED: Ube Ice Cream, Brownie

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AVOID: Fruit flavored ice creams, Al’s Kronuts

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TIP: With hours recently changed and the store closed on Mondays customers would be well advised to call in advance to make sure the shop is open – the current listing indicating 2p-8p on Tuesday and Wednesday with Thursday hours 2p-10p. Yelp users be sure to check in for 10% off.

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http://www.eiscreamcafe.com/

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

Rincon de Buenos Aires, Las Vegas NV

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Rincon de Buenos Aires

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Toasted Bread with Chimichurri

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Ham and Cheese Empanada, Corn Empanada, Chicken Empanada

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Provoletta – Grilled Imported Provolone, Oregano, Olive Oil, Chili Oil

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Parrillada Argentina – Short Ribs, Skirt Steak, Sweetbreads, Sausage, Blood Sausage

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Flan Con Dulce de Leche

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Alfajor Cookie

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Milhojas – Puff Pastry, Condensed Milk, Cardamom

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Pasta Frola – Quince Pie

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Located in the same Spring Mountain plaza as Cathay House and featuring signage indicating both their Argentinean roots and Italian influences, Rincon de Buenos Aires is the sort of spot that one could easily overlook in an area so heavy in Asian influence, but with strong endorsement from an out-of-town friend and another from Chowhound I finally decided to visit the sizeable space on Saturday with results more than exceeding modest expectations. Undoubtedly a spot where ‘regulars’ are expected while newcomers are welcomed with open arms it was just after 11am when my friend and I entered the Argentinean barbeque doubling as bakery, deli, as well as gourmet market and quickly seated beneath an LCD television displaying futbol while the rest of Las Vegas buzzed about the American collegiate variety it was as though we’d instantly been transported many miles away, our smiling server just efficient enough in English to guide our hand to a baker’s dozen of options served alongside toasty bread and herbal chimichurri that eschewed heat in favor of earthy notes and smoothness that complimented everything on which it was poured. Beginning first with a trio of empanadas that featured flaky puff pastry around intensely spiced chicken, cheddar studded in pork, and shucked corn with sweetness tempered by onions and cream one would be hard pressed to choose a winner amongst the group and turning next to the Italian Provoletta a similar theme emerged, the texture intensely creamy while diverse aromatics and just a hint of spice tickled the palate with each balanced bite. Unable to ignore the tabletop barbeque, presented still sizzling with pre-set options or choices a la carte, it was after perhaps thirty minutes that our enormous entrée arrived and featuring more than enough for a family of four to share we each sampled widely, the blood sausage particularly noteworthy for myself with a spice profile and texture on par with artisan sausages I’ve paid double for elsewhere while the tender sweetbreads were also beyond reproach. Transitioning to dessert I was fortunate to be dining with a friend who was more than willing to take the overindulgent approach and although I’m rather certain I consumed the majority of what was ordered there is no doubt that we were both invariably impressed by everything that arrived – the milky flan smooth yet rich while both the Milhojas and Alfajor presented a more restrained sweetness and textural juxtapositions of cream amidst crunch, a slice of quince pie rounding out the quartet with the fruit’s intense sweetness finding its foil in a buttery golden crust.

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FOUR STARS: Every bit as good as the rumors, and the very definition of ‘hidden in plain sight,’ Rincon de Buenos Aires is the sort of place anyone looking for something ‘new’ or ‘different’ should investigate, the prices trending a bit higher than much of Spring Mountain but quality of product, preparation, and service far outperforming most of them as well. To the best of my knowledge the only Argentine barbeque in Las Vegas and one of the few places where blood sausage and sweetbreads can be bought by the pound even vegetarians will be safe here as the restaurant offers a number of unique pastas, pizzas, and produce driven options…not to mention prepackaged goods, ready-to-bake empanadas, and desserts that are well worth the effort even if you decide to take them home for later and skip the sizzling meats.

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RECOMMENDED: Blood Sausage, Sweetbreads, Corn Empanada, Milhojas, Pasta Frola.

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AVOID: Utilizing the tableside grill that allowed for additional cooking after arrival the short ribs were unfortunately cut a bit too thin to handle the heat, the results a bit dry and chewy compared to the fattier meats which all presented moist and nearly melting to the tongue.

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TIP: Filling to 2/3 capacity around 12:00pm wait times from the small kitchen were being quoted at an hour to a table of six that had just sat down when we exited at 12:30pm, so those planning on a ‘quick meal’ may wish to plan accordingly and order in advance – both phone and internet options apparently offered as I saw one young man enter, pay, and exit with a sizeable bag of barbeque wrapped in foil.

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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/Rincon-De-Buenos-Aires/

Rincon de Buenos Aires on Urbanspoon

Posted in Barbeque, Bread Basket, Dessert, Food, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, Rincon de Buenos Aires, Sweetbreads

Egg Works Summerlin, Las Vegas NV

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Egg Works Summerlin

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2 Buttermilk Biscuits

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Ham, Egg, and Cheese Stuffed French Toast with Strawberry Jam and hash browns

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Candied Walnut Buttermilk Pancakes (seasonal special)

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With household chores needing attention it was largely a matter of location combined with a buy-one-get-one coupon that led me to Summerlin’s relatively new Eggworks on Saturday, and having visited sister restaurant “Egg & I” nearly a year ago I’m happy to say that its fifth spin-off replicates the formula well, a very competent breakfast served amidst friendly confines fit for any age. Obviously not the sort of place looking to reinvent the wheel, but rather a locals-only kind of spot where nearly all the patrons present during my early morning meal were ‘regulars,’ it was with nothing but smiles that I was greeted at the hostess podium at 6:45 and offered a seat at the kitchen-side bar or a table I opted for the later, a small two-top amidst spacious confines already loaded with condiments, menus, and utensils as College Gameday played on televisions all around. Never shy to over-order, even as my waitress informed me that two entrees was “a lot,” it was mere moments after seating that I made my selections and starting with two doughy, $3.49 biscuits finding slight salvation in butter plus honey I quickly realized I should have again ordered the signature banana bread, though things would soon improve, my BOGO coupon yielding a duo of plates nearly overwhelming my small table. Beginning first with another item dubbed ‘signature,’ the stuffed French Toast is offered with an option for bacon, sausage, or ham and doing my best to recreate the Monte Cristo the results were admirable – the fluffy eggs loaded with cheddar and chopped pork beneath slices of vanilla scented, golden bread ready to be gilded with syrup or jam. Moving next to an item from the seasonal menu, a $9.75 three-stack of pancakes was next in line and topping the fluffy discs with pure-maple syrup brought from home plus a few pats of butter I’ll be honest when I say these could just be the best buttermilk flapjacks in town, each bite surprisingly light with ample buttermilk tones punctuated by pockets of melting brown sugar and rich caramel with toasty walnuts through and through.

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THREE STARS: Far larger and brighter than the original Egg & I location with similar smiling service and a 6am opening every day of the week Egg Works Summerlin is a great addition to the neighborhood and with coupons frequently offered in the local mailers serves as a great place for families to enjoy a good breakfast without breaking the bank or succumbing to big chains like Denny’s or IHOP. Certainly not a ‘destination,’ but a great spot for a leisurely morning while reading the paper, watching gameday, or just sitting on the dog-friendly patio I only wish they advertised specials more prominently, the only indication of those lovely pancakes found on a laminated menu left at the table.

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RECOMMENDED: Candied Walnut Pancakes, and (from previous visit) Banana Nut Muffin.

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AVOID: Biscuits.

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TIP: Unlike Cracked Egg, who limits their coupons to weekdays only, Egg Works offers their deals every day of the week. Pay attention to the mailers, as well, since certain ones offer buy-one-get-one on entrees while others are only buy-one and get the other half-off.

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

http://www.theeggworks.com/

Egg Works on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Egg Works, Egg Works Summerlin, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Pork

Sweet Addiction, Cookies & Ice Cream, Las Vegas NV

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Sweet Addiction, Cookies & Ice Cream

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Samples = Chocolate Malted Crunch, Mocha Almond Fudge, Medieval Madness, Birthday Cake, Circus Animal Cracker, Pumpkin, Butter Pecan, Pecan Praline

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Snickerdoodle – Circus Animal Cracker – Oatmeal Butterscotch

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Chocolate Chip – Pecan Praline – Brownie Cookie

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Located on Fort Apache with a second location further Southeast, Sweet Addiction had long been on my list of places to visit and with dessert at Hakkasan not quite enough I finally decided to stop by, the simple concept of fresh-baked cookies and Thrifty ice cream proving an entirely enjoyable pairing of America’s two favorite treats. Small in size with white tile set against pastel paints as top-40 played overhead it was just after 8:30pm that I entered the store’s cozy confines and with a few families in line at the counter I took my time to peruse the options, my order coming only after I’d sampled several spoonfuls of “cult favorite” signatures – the Chocolate Malted Crunch and Medieval Madness particularly impressive with the later a spot-on match for a 3 Musketeers candy bar while the former harkened Whoppers in taste and texture, both. Generally fancying a vanilla base to chocolate, particularly when pairing with accoutrements, it was with the mash-up of pink-frosting and Iced Animal Crackers between a warm Snickerdoodle and seasonal Oatmeal butterscotch that my tasting began and with pronounced sweetness found at each turn one couldn’t help but feel like a child at heart, the scoop of subtly salted Pecan Praline ice cream a far more nuanced ‘adult’ flavor that proved a perfect counterpoint to a dense chocolate brownie while pairing marvelously to the buttery notes of a textbook chocolate chip cookie, the edges just crisp while the interior remained chewy and soft.

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FOUR STARS: Perhaps not as ‘artisan,’ yet far less spendy than the ice cream sandwiches at Monte Carlo’s BLVD Creamery or Sprinkles at The Linq, Sweet Addiction is the sort of place both ‘foodies’ and families can enjoy without breaking the bank, each cookie ringing in at under $1 with discounts on larger orders available as items are baked fresh to replenish supplies throughout the day.

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RECOMMENDED: Everything I ordered was quite good and the service was friendly, efficient, and eager to offer samples – go in with an open mind, taste a lot, and order with confidence.

AVOID: N/A.

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TIP: Offering 50cents off each cookie sandwich with Yelp, Foursquare, or Facebook Check-In while coupons at the register offer discounts on individual scoops the average family of four can enjoy Sweet Addictions for less than $15 – an absolute bargain compared to strip based options and all the better for ease of parking and number of options available, even if many were not *quite* as unique, ‘organic,’ or Instagram-ready.

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

http://sweetaddictionlv.com/

Sweet Addiction Cookies & Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Posted in Cookies & Ice Cream, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Sweet Addiction, Sweet Addiction Cookies & Ice Cream

Hakkasan, Las Vegas NV

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Hakkasan

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Crab meat and sweet corn supreme soup

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Peking duck with Tsar Nicoulai reserve caviar, hoisin

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Dim sum platter – har gau, scallop shumai, perch dumpling, black pepper and pumpkin duck dumpling

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Braised whole seabass and egg tofu in claypot

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Fried rice with diced abalone

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Crispy prawn with dried chili and cashew nut

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Spicy Szechuan rib-eye beef with enoki mushrooms

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Roasted crispy chicken with wild mushroom in oyster sauce

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Black sesame and chocolate dumplings with ginger tea and finger lime

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Yuzu Macaron with Chocolate Cream

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With Michelin stars decorating locations in New York as well as London, and a similar menu of modernized Cantonese cuisine from Chef Ho Chee Boon offered here in Las Vegas, it was only a matter of time before I visited Hakkasan at The MGM and with the 2014 “Golden Week” menu proposing an opportunity to experience a number of plates without investing in a $250+ Peking Duck or $35 fried rice it was with a friend that I finally sat down to dine amidst the darkened labyrinth beneath America’s most lucrative club. Grand in size, with soaring ceilings and dark woods juxtaposing white leather and signature styling, a meal at Hakkasan begins with check-in at an outer atrium and soon to be led between several dividers that serve to break the room into a series of alcoves it was expectedly the wine and cocktail list that arrived first, the upsale on from the start and continuing as the a la carte menu was presented with no mention of Golden Week to be found. Pleasant and competent in service, despite obviously ignoring the notes in my reservation requesting the special menu and a seat with good light, it was with a single a la carte option that our meal began and with the intricate broth surprisingly vegetal to balance the sweetness of fresh crab I only wish we’d have had more time to enjoy it – the first course of dim sum and duck arriving hot on its heels with no more than two bites enjoyed. Opting to set aside soup in order to focus on the progression of tastes it was with a sampling of the aforementioned duck that Golden Week began and essentially using the briny eggs to offset the fatty bird’s sapor each bite was pure indulgence, the skin so thin it seemed razor cut and the attention to detail soon found to be duplicated in a steamer basket of dumplings from which both the spicy duck and creamy scallop shined. Moving quickly to round two as I again attempted to enjoy the now-cool soup it was here that a trio of plates was presented and with promises that the ‘rest’ was soon to come I finally explained that the kitchen needed to slow down, a request thankfully met by allowing us to focus on what was present – the aromatic clay pot and fried rice loaded with tender abalone amongst the very best plates of the meal while the spicy shrimp in an admixture of peppers and nuts was the sort of thing I knew I’d regret later as beads of sweat burst forth from my brow. At this point only fifty minutes into the meal it was thankfully after a short break that round three arrived and with both dishes using mushrooms as a base to impeccable proteins it was something of a surprise that the tender beef proved to be the best dish of the meal, a melting mouthfeel amidst innumerable spices and light acid that fully engaged the palate without coming off as ‘hot’ in the least. Rounding out the evening it was in a bowl of six glutinous rice dumplings that we indulged and with melted dark chocolate bursting forth to mix with cells of finger lime and a broth of light ginger one could not help but swoon, a similar citrus and cocoa experience offered in a duo of golden macarons presented in a take-home box at the meal’s end.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Decidedly expensive for a meal that lasted just ninety minutes I remain perplexed to this moment as to why the kitchen felt the need to send plates in clusters at such a rapid rate but with that issue aside I’m happy to say that both ingredients and preparation were exquisite, the opportunity to experience the duck without investing in a whole-prep particularly welcomed considering the sizable scoops of caviar while every other plate was delicious and surprisingly well portioned considering the tasting menu format.

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RECOMMENDED: Braised whole seabass and egg tofu in claypot, Fried rice with diced abalone, Spicy Szechuan rib-eye beef with enoki mushrooms.

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AVOID: The Dim Sum was good but certainly not justifying the normal menu price of $24. Similarly, while admittedly decadent and delicious, all but the most serious caviar lover would be foolish to spend nearly $300 on the whole Peking Duck – an equally delicious version offered at 1/3 the price at both Blossom or all-you-care-to-eat on the Jasmine Sunday brunch.

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TIP: With tasting menus and prix-fixe options frequently offered with several options in each course those looking to experience Hakkasan at its best are advised to bring a few friends, each person opting for something different and thus allowing ample sampling of portions that trend far larger than one would expect on The Strip.

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

http://hakkasan.com/locations/hakkasan-las-vegas/

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

 

Posted in Crab, Dessert, Food, Hakkasan, Las Vegas, Macaroon, Nevada, Tasting Menu

Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen Summerlin, Las Vegas NV

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Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen Summerlin

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Beignets

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Cinnamon Roll

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Baked French Toast with Norris Cane Syrup

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Andouille Sausage

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Leidenheimer Grilled Garlic Bread

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Fried Chicken and Fresh Baked Waffle with Roasted Pecan, Fig, Strawberry Butter

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Bronzed Catfish over Gouda Grits with Andouille Sausage and Mushroom Ragout

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Bronzed Shrimp over Gouda Grits with Andouille Sausage and Mushroom Ragout

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Sweet Potato Pecan Pie with Chantilly Cream

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Louisiana Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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Owned by Lola Elizabeth Pokorny, with one successful spot already located downtown, Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Summerlin opened without much fanfare amidst the hubbub surrounding the ‘new’ Downtown, but with the mall mobbed by crowds a short drive up Town Center Drive found Ms. Pokorny’s renovated space to be a pleasant experience – the truncated and unannounced ‘weekend brunch’ menu aside. Apparently once a Ruby Tuesday, with a sunny patio offering an al fresco option to those not sold on modest Mardi Gras décor, our party of three was sat quickly at a cozy four-top and with the dining room mostly empty while the bar bustled with football our service could not have been better, a duo of young ladies eager to answer questions and seek feedback while beverages remained brimming. Happily conversing beneath upbeat Cajun instrumentals it would not be long after ordering that the first round of food would arrive and although beignets were a bit too ‘bready’ while Leidenheimer French Toast proved overpriced and underwhelming compared to the restaurant’s signature bread pudding both the supple cinnamon roll and spicy sausage were excellent, the later a recurring theme in round two. Admittedly a bit disappointed in the lack of oysters on the brunch menu, but soon to find solace in items offered as “signatures,” it was with two plates of creamy gouda grits that the meal moved on and with the stick-a-spoon-up-straight base punched up by rich mushroom gravy and snappy Andouille both the shrimp and flaky fish equally shined, an order of chicken and waffles entirely forgettable in the face of such greatness as I mopped the bowls clean with complimentary grilled bread loaded with garlic. At last arriving at dessert, the full menu offered in addition to two specials, it seemed only proper to select the items designated as Lola’s signatures and although the soft chocolate cake was light yet intense while the hybrid pie was truly a ‘best of both worlds’ amalgam of sweet and savory neither could compare to the bread pudding – a steamy block of custard teaming with cinnamon beneath praline crunch and brown sugar sauce tinged with rum.

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THREE STARS: Long lamented for being a cookie-cutter planned community where PF Changs and Olive Garden continue to generate long lines, Lola’s is a welcome addition to the area and the sort of place I can only hope continues to proliferate West as “Downtown Summerlin” develops. Obviously new and still finding its footing, particularly with regard to a ‘brunch’ menu that seems muddled and poorly conceptualized in its lack of NOLA favorites like oysters or crawfish, I look forward to seeing how the restaurant evolves over time and only hope that the unwieldy location does not prove too daunting for those preferring to stick to the same ol’ same ol’ spots further south.

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RECOMMENDED: Bronzed Catfish or Shrimp with Gouda Grits, Cinnamon Roll, Sweet Potato Pecan Pie, Bananas Foster Bread Pudding.

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AVOID: Beignets, Waffles.

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TIP: Brunch is offered 10a-2p on Weekends while a daily 4-6pm Happy Hour offers a few bites at discounted prices.

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

http://lolaslasvegas.com/

Lola's Summerlin on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Lola’s, Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen, Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen Summerlin, Nevada, Pork, Waffles

Beau Monde Bakery, Las Vegas NV

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Beau Monde Bakery

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Banana Bread

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Pumpkin Cake with White Chocolate Icing

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Callebaut Chocolate Brownie

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Pecan Pie

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Brought to my attention by a truly inspirational young woman entrusted to my care for two autoimmune endorinopathies in addition to biopsy proven Celiac disease I decided to take a look at Beau Monde Bakery on Saturday morning largely as a point of reference, the rumor of “really great” gluten free baked goods something I simply had to see to believe. With a retail shop located on North Buffalo and items featured in several of Sin City’s most celebrated resorts it was just past 8:30am when I entered the small storefront and immediately greeted by a young woman happy to engage in conversation, answer questions, and offer samples I must say I was immediately impressed – the cozy confines with shabby chic seating awash in sunlight reflecting off stainless steel cases and glass domes beneath rustically styled crystal chandeliers. Amused by anecdotes of customers who drive excessive distances to get their gluten-free fix and pleased to hear that the recent trend of ‘intolerance’ and fad diets has only served to help raise awareness for those who truly suffer from the disease it was with bites of rich chocolate cake and coffee soaked tiramisu that my impression of Beau Monde began to form and eventually crafting a small order of personal favorites to the tally of $16.72 I took my items to go, the quartet consumed with coffee throughout the hours between breakfast and lunch – neither of which were remotely gluten free. Taking into account my personal predilection for cakes over cookies and quick breads over savory options such as Beau Monde’s oft-raved flatbreads or tortilla it was with a small banana muffin that my tasting began and unfortunately finding the fruit’s flavor far too subtle while the texture was somewhat akin to a sponge I was happy to quickly discover that this was the exception rather than the rule, each of the following selections proving every bit as good as more ‘traditional’ versions – the pumpkin cake dense and full of spice beneath lightly sweetened frosting while the brownie was rich and creamy with the tooth of a flourless chocolate cake draped in bold, bitter ganache. At this point appropriately impressed it was finally the Pecan Pie that I approached with wide eyes and utilizing a thin, crisp shell to house toasted nuts tossed in molasses laced with brown sugar the result succeeded where so many others fail, the sweetness present without overwhelming the subtleties of smoke and butter while the texture was not ‘sticky’ in the least.

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FOUR STARS: No more expensive than the artisan goods at Bouchon, Payard, Chocolate and Spice, or several other local bakeries while entirely outperforming overrated spots like Patisserie Manon it is truly a challenge for someone who isn’t afflicted with some form of gluten intolerance, whether real or assumed, to appreciate just how important a bakery like Beau Monde truly is, yet try as I might I’m happy to say that all-in-all the results were impressive…and not just for ‘gluten free’ products either, but for baked goods as a whole.

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RECOMMENDED: Pecan Pie, Dark Chocolate Cake, Pumpkin Cake with White Chocolate Frosting.

AVOID: Banana Bread

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TIP: Open at 7:30am, with items baked throughout the day, those looking for something special are encouraged to contact the restaurant directly – special requests generally honored with 48-72 hours notice and customized cakes in several sizes available for any number of events.

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

http://www.beaumondebakery.com/

Beau Monde Bakery on Urbanspoon

Posted in Beau Monde Bakery, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Las Vegas, Nevada

The Original Pancake House, Las Vegas NV

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The Original Pancake House

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Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Short Stack

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Challah French Toast

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Baked Apple Pancake

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Technically a chain, with origins in Portland OR and the famous Walker Bros location in Wilmette IL, it was only when Groupon offered a discount that I realized Las Vegas even had an Original Pancake House and although I guess it could be said that the $8 discount was the impetus for my visit, in reality it was fond childhood memories that drew me through the doors. Located on Fort Apache, and thus less than ten minutes from my door, it was after another long morning run that I arrived at the sizeable storefront and although the clock had just ticked past 7:15am I entered the restaurant to find the place already lively, a quartet of tables already seated while two couples before me checked in with a friendly hostess soon leading them to their seats. Eventually finding my place at a booth best suited for four it was mere seconds before my server stopped by and with my order pre-decided based on past experience a simple request that plates arrive in two courses was granted, the long cooking time of the later assuring a fifteen minute delay between rounds. Sipping on water as the restaurant continued to fill it would not be long before first plates arrived and although the restaurant’s eponymous buttermilk batter was fluffy as ever beneath a mountain of whipped cream it was the house-baked challah that truly impressed, the exterior rendered crispy while the center was soaked in sweet custard playing counterpoint the rich egginess of soft bread. Admittedly a substantial start, and nearly enough to use up my gift certificate, there was simply no way I was leaving Original Pancake House without ordering one of their signatures and this time opting for the Baked Apple Pancake over the Dutch Baby I’ll simply say that one cannot go wrong with either, the piping hot pile of thinly sliced Granny Smith’s teaming with cinnamon and sugar atop a buttery golden base proving as much a ‘pie’ as it does a pancake, but absolutely delicious regardless of what it is called.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Individually owned and operated but similar in menu from coast-to-coast there is simply ‘something’ about Original Pancake House that makes me smile – the service ever pleasant, the space always bustling, and the apple pancake always served so hot that you *know* the first bite is likely to end in a blistered mouth. Obviously a bit more expensive than IHOP or Denny’s but also using superior ingredients including 93-score butter, pure whipping cream, and free-range eggs it’s good to know that every once in a while you can indeed find a taste of ‘home,’ even a thousand or more miles away.

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RECOMMENDED: Baked Apple Pancake, Challah French Toast

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AVOID: The coffee is pretty bad and the provided ‘pancake syrup’ is a far cry from the real deal.

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TIP: Previously one of two Original Pancake House locations in Las Vegas the manager told me that the Fort Apache location has become far busier since the Charleston store burned down, a small line already forming when I exited the restaurant at 8:05 and 30+ minute waits nearly guaranteed for those arriving after nine o’clock.

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NOTE:  Pure Maple Syrup for the French Toast and Break-Up Potion from Dude, Sweet Chocolate in Dallas for the Pancakes was brought from home.

http://pancakehousesofnevada.com/main.html

Original Pancake House on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Original Pancake House, Pancakes, The Original Pancake House

Ku Noodle, Las Vegas NV

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Ku Noodle

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Thai Iced Tea

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Snow Pea Leaf Salad – Orange, Lily Bulb Petals, Mint, Walnut

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Lucky 12 – Shrimp & Pork Siu Mai with Jicama, Mushroom, Peanut / Pork & Scallop Siu Mai with Bamboo, Shiitake Mushroom, Sesame / Chicken & Cloud Ear Mushroom Siu Mai with Goji Berries, Oyster Sauce, Soy Sauce / Huhhot Siu Mai with Lamb, Cumin, Scallion, Onion

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Crispy Bao Bun – Pork, Pickled Vegetable, Peanuts, Cilantro

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“Strange Wonders of Shaanxi” – Wheatbelt Noodle, Braised Lamb, Pickled Daikon, Cumin

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Congee – Chinese Sausage, Lily and Lotus Bulbs, Chickpea, Peanut, Poached Egg

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Malted Milk Taiwanese Shaved Ice with Almond Jelly, Caramelized Peanuts, Crunchy Chocolate Pearls, Caramel

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No stranger to Chef Jose Andres or the concepts born from thinkfoodgroup it was with great curiosity that I entered Ku Noodle on Saturday evening and with a menu largely selected by GM Ceilidh Lamont along with her team in kitchen I’m happy to say my expectations were exceeded. Sparsely decorated but brightly lit, with white porcelain and leather beset by mirrors on both sides, it was just after 5pm that I found myself seated at a table near the back of the space and soon greeted by the first of several servers I couldn’t help but be impressed, each smiling face possessing both knowledge and opinions on the cuisine plus a whimsical professionalism far too infrequently seen in Casino dining these days. Beginning first with dark tea liberally sweetened by coconut milk alongside a light salad, vibrant with mint playing off the sweetness of peeled orange segments, it would not be long before the table was flooded with heavier hitting flavors and presented as a four-part feast the only question was where to start – an answer soon found in the appropriately named “Lucky 12” and its four triplets of innovative Siu Mai as each delicate wrapper was stuffed to bursting with poignant flavors set against accoutrements including tobiko, goji berry, and even gold leaf. Not to be outdone by dim sum the next bites of Ku were of the signature noodles and although future visits will be required to sample other styles I have to say the texture of the thick wheatbelt variety speaks volumes, each tender bite teaming with spice in a broth rendered from lamb neck as pickled radish helped to temper the spice. Having already heard good things about the bao and happy to confirm that the fist-sized umami-bomb on deep-fried bun is every bit as delicious as its ingredient profile would indicate it was finally in lowly congee that I indulged and although most will eschew such a pedestrian option in a place like this suffice it to say that this is not your mom n’ pop rice porridge, the silky stock itself teaming with vibrant spices and all the better for bites imbued with egg, tender vegetables, peanuts, and a whole lot of funk-meets-sweet meat. At this point quite sated but unable to resist dessert described as ‘can’t miss’ by nearly everyone in the restaurant my final decision of the evening was which of the eight flavors of Taiwanese Shaved Ice to choose and eventually opting for Malted Milk with a trio of toppings plus one sauce I’ll simply say that anyone who thinks Snowflake is ‘amazing’ needs to stop by The SLS ASAP, the $9 bowl more than enough for two to share with rich flavor amidst a stunning texture that you are actually encouraged to experience with chopsticks in order to focus on each snowy crystal…at least until you give into temptation and grab a spoon to fully indulge in a mouthful and never look back until scraping the bowl clean.

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FOUR STARS: Undoubtedly facing an uphill battle in a city where cheap meats and ramen shops speckle Spring Mountain Road, Ku Noodle presents an upscale option for those willing to invest in quality ingredients, innovation, and presentation. Perhaps my favorite thinkfoodgroup experience to date, outside of ‘e,’ every single plate at Ku Noodle proves Chef Andres dedication to both quality and creativity while the staff is every bit as well trained, efficient, and pleasant as that at Bazaar – something you surely aren’t going to find on Spring Mountain where service is often an afterthought, at best.

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RECOMMENDED: Taiwanese Shaved Ice, Crispy Bao Bun, Congee.

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AVOID: N/A.

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TIP: With most plates presented in sharing portions those looking to maximize their experience are advised to bring a friend (or 4,) but for those dining solo a “Lucky 8” version of the Lucky 12 is offered on request and although ‘half portions’ are not yet available there is talk of a tasting menu to come.

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DISCLAIMER: Having relied on the culinary team and Ms. Lamont to craft my menu after originally speaking with the GM during her pre-promotion tenure at The Griddle Café my meal did include a few uncharged items, a 50% tip left to try and compensate for the team’s unexpected generosity.

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http://slslasvegas.com/dining/ku-noodle#!

Ku Noodle on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Ku Noodle, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork

Park on Fremont, Las Vegas NV

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Park on Fremont

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Mac & Cheese Balls – House made bacon mac & cheese balled up in Panko breadcrumbs and golden fried

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Fried Chicken and Waffle Sandwich – Fried Chicken with Applewood Smoked Bacon Waffles and Wild Turkey Maple Syrup served with Sweet Potato Tots

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French Toast – Vanilla Bean Soaked Brioche topped with ‘drunk’ mixed berries, syrup, powdered sugar

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Located on the corner of trendy East Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard, with raves received from hipsters since its inception, it was just minutes before noon that I sat down with a friend for lunch at Park on Fremont and although I’m happy to say the service far outperformed similar spots in Chicago, Brooklyn, or Portland the food itself left much to be desired – a seemingly well-culled menu instead proving limited in not only options but quality of execution, as well. Clearly the sort of place where cuisine is considered less important than booze and décor suffice it to say that the beer list and creative cocktails far outnumber the options for food and even with the extended brunch menu it was only in three items that myself and a friend could muster enough interest to indulge, the plates arriving in two rounds as we sat amidst a room awash in faux-taxidermy and paintings ranging from humping animals to possessed children with neither rhyme nor reason to be found. Opting for one starter to precede a duo of entrees it would not be long before the best bites of the meal would arrive and served as a quintet the Mac & Cheese balls each proved not only sizable but also quite delicate, the crackling panko overlying supple pasta with briny bits of bacon imbuing each bite plus a sidecar of cheese sauce for those desiring even more cream. At this point happily conversing about recent events as background music played on it was after only the slightest of delays that three trays would arrive and with the kitchen opting to split our French Toast while the sandwich was served whole it can only be said that neither dish tasted as good as it looked, the brioche too lightly soaked and thinly sliced to allow the exterior to be rendered crisp without burning it while the waffle was chewy and lifeless, a bready detriment to otherwise pleasant chicken and bacon served alongside entirely forgettable, yet all too trendy, ‘tots.’

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TWO STARS: Not exactly a disaster in that the service was pleasant while the Mac & Cheese Balls were far better than standard pub-grub suffice it to say that for those not interested in being upsold on cleverly named cocktails or craft beers Park on Fremont has little to offer – a quick walk down the street to MTO, eat, S+O, Carson Kitchen, or DuPar’s offering far more extensive selection with equal or better value on the dollar at each.

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RECOMMENDED: Mac & Cheese Balls.

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AVOID: Fried Chicken and Waffle Sandwich.

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TIP: Those convinced that Park on Fremont is worth their time and effort are encouraged to look for parking somewhere around 6th or 7th, the $1/h meters a veritable bargain compared to flat-rate lots ranging anywhere from $5-$10, though for those planning to stroll the Fremont Experience or Container Park afterwards the later could certainly present a viable option without the need to drive around waiting for a space to open up.

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

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http://parkonfremont.com/

Park on Fremont on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Park on Fremont, Pork, Waffles

Della’s Kitchen, Las Vegas NV

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Della’s Kitchen

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Coffee

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Buttermilk Biscuits – Local Aged Cheddar, Smoked Bacon, Whipped Butter

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Cinnamon Pecan Roll

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Croque Madame – Black Forest Ham, Gruyere, Mornay, Crispy Hash Browns

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Custard Pancake with Vanilla Butter

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Pecan Raisin French Toast – Granello’s Cinnamon-Raisin Brioche, Caramelized Banana, Coconut Butter

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Chicken and Waffles with Smoky Bacon

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Located in the recently rebranded “The Delano” at Mandalay Bay, a 9:00am breakfast at Della’s Kitchen proved to be just-the-thing after attempted brunch at Ri Ra went belly up, the “historic farmhouse meets urban kitchen” serving up a two-course, six item feast amidst soaring ceilings as passers-by looked on. Formerly known as THEcafe, with upgraded décor befitting any number of farm-to-table spots in the current culinary landscape, it was quickly upon checking-in at the podium that we were seated at a large 4-top and, although servers proved a bit overzealous to take orders while coffee and water refills languished, it would require a whole lot of nit-picking to find any fault in the cuisine. Beginning first with a triplet of tiny biscuits that wowed with complex flavors amidst softly separating layers it was onward to sweeter things that we soon progressed and, although the fluffy pancake was itself quite pleasant, it was the spiraled pecan pastry that stole the spotlight – a veritable deep-dish pecan pie beset on all sides by the buttery cinnamon roll. So far impressed it was fast-on-the-heels of appetizers that our entrees arrived and although artificial ‘pancake syrup’ slightly marred the experience one would be hard pressed to pick a winner amongst the three, the savory open-faced ham sandwich adrift in creamy Mornay atop toasty bread while the custard-soft French Toast and supple waffle beneath a crispy brined breast were each reference standard, the later amongst the best found in Las Vegas to date.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Commanding a pricetag commiserate to its location, and open with the full menu offered as early as 6:30am, Della’s Kitchen is a welcome addition to the local breakfast scene and the sort of place I can see only getting better with time. Already cooking at a high level with ingredients including a lot of local produce, organic meats, plus breads from Granello Bakery I find it rather disappointing that syrup was not pure and that service is not yet up to snuff, but with a few small tweaks this is a place that could finally represent not only a good breakfast to those confined to the south end of The Strip, but one worth traveling to.

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RECOMMENDED: Chicken and Waffles, Pecan Raisin French Toast, Cinnamon Pecan Roll.

AVOID: Pancake was run-of-the-mill, syrup is artificial, coffee is tepid and slow to fill despite the $5.50 tab.

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TIP: Located along the major walking route connecting The Delano to Mandalay Bay seating places the majority of diners in direct view of those passing by – a great people-watching opportunity to some, but not particularly favored by others. Those wishing for a more secluded breakfast would be well served to request a seat along the wall closest to The Delano where pillars, banquets, and booths offer a break in the lines of sight.

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

http://www.delanolasvegas.com/dining/dellas-kitchen.aspx

Della’s Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Della's Kitchen, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pancakes, Pork, Waffles

Palio, Las Vegas NV

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Palio

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Almond Croissant

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Dulce De Leche Croissant

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Vanilla Glazed Cake Donut with Lime Zest

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Nutella Pocket

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Cinnamon Roll

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Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Oatmeal Cookie

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Bearclaw

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Triply benefitted by the new autumn display in the Conservatory, free passes to the Painting Women show at the Gallery of Fine Art, and the fact that I was picking up a friend from Columbus for brunch it was with nearly fourteen miles of early morning running already under foot that I entered Palio Café, the recently renovated space never to be confused with the concept of ‘paleo-friendly’ in any way, shape, or form. Located across the hall from the aforementioned gallery, in a flag and tile clad space featuring outdoor dining offered for those lustful for fresh air, it was just minutes after the restaurant’s 6:00am opening that I entered a small queue and with a plethora of pastries gleaming behind glass a substantial order soon took shape. Obviously far less famous than celebrity-backed bakeries touting the names of Keller, Payard, Buddy, and Jean-Philippe but no less innovative in its offerings my experience at Palio began with a duo of croissants and although the explosively flaky almond rendition instantly set a new standard for The Strip it was the overstuffed Dulce de Leche version that soon stole the show – each delicate bite through arches of crisp lamination yielding a burst of creamy caramel that my early arrival found still-warm. Quickly devouring both croissants before scaling back to a “some for now/some for later” approach to the rest it was in the doughnut and cinnamon roll that I next partook and although both were nicely made, the former sporting a pleasant looseness to the crumb beneath light notes of citrus, neither were ‘must orders’ compared to what followed – a toasty gold pocket chock-a-block full of hazelnut spread that I’d strongly advise sitting down to enjoy as a grab-and-go approach is almost assured to end in a trip to the laundry for shirt, pants, or both. At this point turning to more portable items as I slowly wandered the tourist-free serenity of Sin City’s early morning hours it was next in a bearclaw that I indulged and although nicely textured I personally found the results far too sweet, the lacquer of glaze entirely overwhelming sparse nut filling and thus leaving me to instead focus on a duo of cookies, the Chocolate Chip a textbook rendition with crisp edges surrounding a soft center but the Oatmeal Raisin far better with buttery notes playing off cinnamon and softly set oats as a mountain of golden raisins added just enough sweetness to taste equally breakfast and dessert.

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FOUR STARS: Undoubtedly underrated due to the lack of celebrity signage and a location slightly off the beaten path, suffice it to say that Palio Café is executing on just as high a level as Bouchon, Payard, and even Bellagio’s own Jean Philippe. While some may say that prices are high, at $4.25 the croissants are no more expensive than the inferior versions at other on-strip vendors while other options actually represent a bargain compared to its peers, both here in Las Vegas and across the nation.

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RECOMMENDED: Almond Croissant, Dulce De Leche Croissant, Nutella Pocket, Oatmeal Cookie.

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AVOID: Bearclaw is too sweet while the cinnamon roll was pedestrian compared to the rest.

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TIP: Open from 6:00a-6:00p and generating a good-sized line by 7:00, those desiring a faster experience may wish to walk across the hall to Café Gelato where more limited pastries are offered all day while those looking for something late at night would be well served to check out Palio Pronto, a smaller spot open 10a-midnight just down the escalator, near the doors of the Via Bellagio shopping center.

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https://www.bellagio.com/restaurants/quick-eats.aspx

Palio on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Croissant, Dessert, Food, Las Vegas, Nevada, Palio, Palio Cafe

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