Apparently part of a growing franchise with several locations located in Virginia and North Carolina, Duck Donuts was the first food-centric stop on arrival to Williamburg and with the donut machine cranking out piping hot pastries to the smiles of several families one only wonders why such places are not far more common given the current trend in artisan doughnutteries popping up across the United States.
Small in size and streamlined in format, the basic premise featuring a single wheat and corn flour base fried in soybean oil with several frostings and topping added to suit each customer’s taste, Duck Donuts lives by the promise of the “freshest donut anywhere,” and true to their word it was only after I placed a four part order that each ring marched down the conveyor-belt, flipped onto the drying rack, and received a quick pat before being dipped, topped, boxed, and placed into my hands – the whole process a mere three minutes from payment to first bite.
Obviously piping hot, something others should bear in mind when considering the three minute comment above as that first bite resulted in one of those ‘oh damn, chewing with mouth open to let it cool off’ moments, it was in four different varieties of toppings that our tasting progressed and although each base was expectedly consistent and downright delicious the frostings were unfortunately a bit one-note, the ‘vanilla’ unfortunately just the flavor of sugar with strawberry mostly the same while the lemon was slightly sour and the maple featured light syrup notes beneath the salted nuts.
With plans to visit Williamsburg during the low point of their tourist season an early morning run alongside the frigid beaches of Virginia started day two of the trip and more worn out than usual thanks to a strong headwind a 7:30am arrival at Citrus thankfully saw us beat the crowd – a throng of hungry Virginians soon filling the lobby with waits for two seats topping twenty minutes while larger parties were quoted delays of up to an hour.
Larger in size than one would guess from the outside, the ‘bar’ area pushed up against the back with endless mimosas flowing while a duo of large dining rooms buzzed with energy and smiles from the young, all-female staff, it was to one of the few remaining tables that our duo was sat moments after entering and with both water and bold, well-roasted coffee filled repeatedly throughout the course of a forty-five minute stay the only question was where best to invest our appetites – the answers coming in part for the extensive menu, but also from a list of daily specials still focused on the Valentine’s Day theme.
Assuredly one of the hottest tickets in town for breakfast, the weekend brunch even more popular with the after-mass crowd, it was at my suggestion that items were sent out as readied by the kitchen and with cakes and pies obviously pre-made the ‘Dreamsicle’ cake arrived merely a minute after our ticket was received, the orange juice imbued cake intensely moist with light sours from grated peel while bold vanilla frosting and whip provide a taste somewhat akin to the Hostess orange cupcakes I loved as a child, yet far more ‘grown up.’
Treated next to a duo of biscuits, both hot from the oven and served with butter as well as honey on request, suffice it to say that although not quite as impressive as those found at various spots in North Carolina or Handsome Biscuit just a few miles away both items were a worthy addition to anyone’s breakfast – the buttermilk trending a bit smaller and more dense while the sweet potato iteration was soft and supple with light sweetness, though a few more minutes in the oven would have been preferred in order to brown the top.
Moving onward to mains, and eschewing the restaurant’s ‘signature’ dish largely because far more interesting items caught our eyes, it was with three fluffy pancakes alongside two cross-cut croissants that our meal reached its peak and although the custard dredged and frosting drizzled French Toast was indeed delicious beneath fresh berries and dark chocolate it was the bright orange pancakes that undoubtedly stole the show, each fluffy disk rife with the flavor of pumpkin pie and all the better when doused in a sauce of liquefied pralines, the large cup more than enough for the pancakes with leftovers equally delicious when mixed into coffee…or spooned directly into one’s mouth.
Corby’s Original Crab Dip – served piping hot with Tortilla Chips
Crab Nachos – Chips topped with Cheese, Crab Meat, Lettuce, Olives, White Salsa & Tomato Salsa
Pork Belly and Foie Gras – Braised Pork Belly, Pan Sauteed and topped with Seared Foie Gras over Olive Oil dressed Baby Arugula with Warm Maple Bacon Vinaigrette
Shrimp & Grits – Large Shrimp sauteed & deglazed in house made Peach BBQ served over Jalapeno Cheddar Grits
Bourbon Bread Pudding
Key Lime Pie
Checked into a Virginia Beach hotel, the area almost barren in the 40-degree chill of February, it was to Tautog’s that we headed for Valentine’s Day dinner and with the long-standing local favorite offering its normal menu plus a few seasonal specials it would be hard to imagine a better spot to enjoy such an over-marketed holiday – the only indication of the event being a few small hearts printed on the menu and salutations from the hostess as no upcharge or cheesiness was otherwise evident in the old, renovated beach house.
Filled to perhaps 90% capacity, mostly with locals familiar to the staff, it was just after 7:00pm that we were seated at a snug two-top overlooking the restaurant’s heated patio and greeted by a somewhat gruff and silent server it would not be long before a four-course order was crafted – the majority of selections considered to be Tautog’s signature items while a seasonal appetizer was selected, foolishly, as my main course – the combination of foie gras, pork belly, bacon dressing, and olive oil every bit as overwhelmingly heavy and unbalanced as it seems, particularly at the end of an already substantial meal.
Speaking to the rest of the cuisine, as well as the restaurant itself, those thinking of Tautog’s as an ‘upscale’ restaurant are likely looking at it only in the context of Virginia Beach as the scene itself is actually quite laid back and with servers in T-shirts and a television playing NCAA Basketball behind the bar, and taking these caveats into account a menu featuring dips and nachos seems far more appropriate, as do prices with a meal for two unlikely to break seventy-five dollars without substantial alcohol consumption as not a single item from the menu crosses the Andrew Jackson mark while several are available for less than $10.
Beginning first with the $3 bread basket, a toasty composition buried in garlic and herbs, the first round of food consisted of a $4 bowl of creamy soup tinged in sherry and chock-a-block full of fresh crab alongside a bargain-basement half-dozen plump oysters prepared with butter, bacon, and spinach for a mere $9, the flavors far better than almost any preparation found back home at nearly twice the price with locally sourced seafood more than likely responsible for both.
At this point already smiling, not only at the food but at the peculiarities of our waiter who never seemed to move his lips as he talked, it was with the second round of plates that we quickly realized the folly of our four-course approach and with both appetizers arriving in portions better suited for a group of four the only thing more impressive than the $8 and $10 pricetags for the dip and nachos, respectively, was the quantity of crab in each – the still bubbling dip ever so slightly sweet beneath the sharp cheddar topnotes while the crunchy nachos featured at least half-a-cup of picked crab meat dispersed amidst a mountain of chips topped with two types of salsa and plenty of fresh produce that left us each picking at the plate even as we acknowledge the fact that there was much yet to come.
Having already mentioned the foie, suffice it to say that Tautog’s Shrimp and Grits was a far superior choice for a main course and with eight plump shrimp atop a pile of sticky grits tinged in heat and topped with sweet one wonders how the restaurant even makes money on the $17 plate, each stick-to-your-ribs bite compelling you to say ‘just one more,’ no matter how full, and much like the rest of the menu a dish best shared.
Unable to resist dessert, the house-made list changing daily and recited tableside by our server, it was undoubtedly a gluttonous choice to select two plates as a finish, but thankfully far more forgiving in portion that the savories one would be hard pressed to decide on just one – the creamy key lime pie certainly not as tart as the versions served down in Florida, and at least for me all the better for it, while the flan-style bread pudding was dense with butter and custard beneath a mountain of whip, a spoonful of boozy pan sauce upgrading the plate to a whole different level without pushing things too far and making the dish ‘too’ rich.
Cinnamon Rolls – Made this morning, loaded with cinnamon, brown sugar and golden raisins, drizzled with tullamore dew icing
White Cheddar Pimento Cheese – drizzled with spicy honey and served with crackers
Sweet and Savory Corn Pancakes – loaded and served with salted honey butter
Public House Chicken and Waffle – Belgian Waffle loaded with pulled southern fried chicken, a fried egg, house slaw and roasted poblano maple syrup
Originally targeting No Frill Bar and Grill, only to discover a 35 minute wait in the most cramped restaurant foyer I’ve seen in some time, it was with a quick reroute that our party of two found seating at The Public House, a new-ish gastro-pub in the Ghent district where a plethoric beer and spirits selection was eschewed in favor of hot, albeit slowly refilled, coffee and a menu of brunch options that proved far more impressive than one would have guessed – a duo of appetizers followed by two mains while college basketball played prominently behind the bar.
Perhaps not a ‘typical’ choice on Valentine’s Day, and as such less than 1/4 full just after 1:00pm, it was mere seconds after arrival that seating was procured across from the LCD and with several hipsters, two families, and an elderly couple seated throughout the largest of three rooms the crowd was decidedly mixed – the menu showing similar diversity as items ranging from burgers and two styles of mac n’ cheese to pancakes and waffles all showed a surprising degree of creativity, the appetizers no less interesting with the chunky pimento cheese truly exemplary beneath spicy golden honey while the undersized cinnamon rolls proved a bit pricey considering the portion, though the flavor profile was quite memorable with light boozy notes and plenty of butter providing a nice foil to the sweetness poached raisins and bubbling cream cheese icing.
Having already mentioned the pancakes and waffles it should be obvious to anyone familiar with my preferences and predilections that the chicken and waffles were a ‘must order’ and although the waffle was a tad too soft for my tastes the crispy brined bird, slaw, and berries all presented a beautiful balance of flavors, the mélange melded together by a lightly poached egg that helped temper the heat from poblano spiked syrup without making the plate too ‘heavy’ – an act not even attempted by the toothsome cornbread pancakes which, although nothing short of a belly bomb, proved absolutely irresistible beneath a lacquer of honey-tinged butter with additional honey requested in place of a sidecar of unfortunately artificial ‘maple’ syrup.
Ringo Sundae – Vanilla Ice Cream with Hot Fudge, Crushed Cone, Whip Cream and a Cherry
Original hand-rolled pure food cone with one scoop Custom Made Butter Pecan Ice Cream
Said by some to be Norfolk’s most famous spot, and targeted as part of a trip that would later include much of Eastern North Carolina’s celebrated Barbecue scene, it was just after noon when we approached Doumar’s Cones and Barbecue and with several cars taking advantage of the old-school curbside service it was instead indoors that we dined, the small counter entirely full on arrival but a four-top in back open for seating in a room decorated with trinkets and photos from Doumar’s storied past.
Perhaps more celebrated for their ‘cones,’ the original machine used at the St. Louis World’s Fair still on display, than their ‘cue’ the menu at Doumar’s is a rather well-culled affair and mostly wanting to focus on the signatures it was only the slow, disjointed service that delayed our order – the eventual selection of two sandwiches and two desserts treated only to a grunted “no fries?” before being sent to the kitchen, a pair of bagged white buns arriving just a few minutes later along with a small sundae and one “Doumar’s” stamped cone topped with a small ball of Butter Pecan no better than what can be found from the likes any non-premium brand at the local grocery.
Generally unimpressed by the “Ringo,” a few scoops of substandard vanilla ice cream mixed with crushed cone, good chocolate fudge, and Redi-Whip, it was onward to the sandwiches that the meal progressed and initially slapped in the face with a big hit of vinegar from the chopped pork that was far more evident that anything found throughout the rest of the trip, the sliced barbecue thankfully proved to be far more palatable, the unfortunate lack of crispy skin leaving the texture a bit ‘one note’ though the protein itself was exceedingly tender – easily the best bites of a meal where little proved compelling other than the history of the space itself.
PB&JB Peanut Butter, Mixed Berry Jam and Salted Butter
Hella Fitzgerald Fried Chicken with bacon, cheddar, and red eye sausage gravy
A.C. Slawter Pulled Pork BBQ, apple coleslaw and Lupo hot sauce
Red Velvet Funfetti Whoopie Pie
Lemon Bars bruléestyle
Double Chocolate Sea Salt Pecan Cookies
Biscuit Pudding with honey and sorghum molasses
Located in a tiny standalone storefront on Colonial Avenue, Handsome Biscuit is perhaps the most written about restaurant in Norfolk, and with a succinct menu of Sweet Potato Biscuits with a variety of creative toppings alongside a few desserts and the occasional seasonal special the super-specialized space is perhaps the city’s only “can’t miss” dining destination, the frequent 20+ minute line a minor annoyance exclusively due to the size of the kitchen as the staff themselves are as friendly and efficient as can be.
Truly a cozy space, seating for a dozen (at most) inside with an outdoor patio found to be quite chilly on a Valentine’s Day visit, it was to a mere ten minute wait that our arrival was met and perusing the menu board as we slowly approached the counter it was eventually on three biscuits and a quartet of desserts that we settled – the items prepped and plated in rapid-fire fashion with piping-hot biscuits soon steaming up the February air as we contemplated where to begin.
Beginning first with the biscuit, each pumpkin-orange example a perfect balance of lightly tanned exterior and soft crumb, it would be an error in judgment to think that the use of sweet potatoes was any sort of gimmick as the smashed spuds added even more moisture to the already supple center and with all three toppings proving not only well conceptualized but exceedingly generous in portion one merely needs to decide where their interest lies when placing an order – the Peanut Butter and Jam incredibly rich when slathered on to the point of excess while equally overflowing piles of spicy pork and crispy chicken with a thick coat of country gravy were equally well apportioned, none of them ‘grab n’ go’ one bit, but instead a fork and knife affair entirely necessitating a plate and the diner’s full attention.
Moving on to desserts and beginning with the restaurant’s signature ‘bruléestyle’ lemon bar, suffice it to say that these tangy triangles are decidedly deceptive in their small size and with each bite laced in creamy curd tinged with lemon rind a puckered face is almost guaranteed, the rich chewy cookie no less impactful in its utilization of chocolate while the daily special whoopie pie and ‘not available every day’ biscuit bread pudding were far more subtle in their approach, the later teeming with butter beneath a dusting of cinnamon-sugar that harkened the flavor of chess pie with a texture that was sometimes crunchy, other times creamy, and undeniably worth seeking out.
Toasted Blueberry Bagel with Blueberry Cream Cheese
Peanut Butter Cookie
Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
Chocolate Chip Cookie
Challah Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce
Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwich
Located in Norfolk’s historic Ghent district and owned by Greg Peterman since 2006, Yorgo’s Bageldashery is considered by many to be the best Bagel Shop in all of Virginia and although it was indeed the only bagel shop visited during a prolonged stay in the state of my birth I can attest that the bagels were indeed quite excellent, as was nearly everything else sampled as part of Valentine’s Day breakfast following a redeye out of Las Vegas.
Small in size and friendly in service, the sort of place where even first timers are likely to be welcomed like old friends, ordering at Yorgo’s follows a grab-and-go or counter-side order format and with several items available at each the most onerous part of the process is deciding which items sound best, a “bakers’ half-dozen” providing plenty of carbs for our party of two…and likely several more.
Beginning first with the restaurant’s signature item, suffice it to say that each hand crafted and housemade ring proves a substantial upgrade on the doughy pseudo-desserts at Panera or the flavorless prefabrications at Einstein or Great American and with several house-blended schmears only serving to upgrade the crunchy exterior overlying a soft, stretchy core the best bet is to simply follow one’s gut – the sesame seed iteration eggy and pronouncedly nutty while the blueberry bagel was only lightly sweetened by fresh berries, the berry-imbued cream cheese slightly less subtle with the combination conveying a lovely balance of savory and sweet.
Moving from breakfast to things trending far closer to dessert it was perhaps an effect of the early hour and questionable ‘day-old’ status that saw a carrot cake sandwich cookie trend far too soggy to be properly enjoyed but moving onward to three other cookies, all confirmed as fresh baked, one would be hard pressed to decide which of the trio was best but at only $1.80 each one would be best advised to explore the options for themselves, though certainly not at the expense of the house-made Challah Bread Pudding – a rich, eggy block, heated to order, and doused with boozy caramel sauce that proved to be not only the highlight of the meal but also one of the best deli-style bread puddings experienced to date.
Bananas Foster’s Bread Pudding – Cinnamon Banana Brioche Bread Pudding, Bourbon Pecan Ice Cream and Banana Rum Sauce
Campfire “more-than-a” s’more – Fire roasted homemade marshmallows on a warm chocolate fudge cake with Graham Cracker Cookie and Peanut butter Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Milk Chocolate and Coconut Soufflé with Mango Compote
Republic Of Tea Service with lemon juice, candied orange, candied lemon
Double Espresso on ice with dark and milk chocolate shavings
Located in Luxor with nearly three-hundred seats and the sort of pandering service that describes everything as ‘beautiful’ or ‘amazing,’ despite evidencing zero knowledge of the province or preparation technique involved in the cuisine, it was finally on Saturday that myself and two friends sat down at Tender – the combination of a gift certificate and one of the few menus in Las Vegas to offer wild game making up for everything service and the humid, stagnant space lacked.
Heralded by some as a hidden gem, while others find the entire Luxor property almost entirely irrelevant to Sin City’s culinary landscape, it was just after 5:30 that our trio sat down in one of several dining rooms and with heavy wood speckled with rustic décor beneath low lighting the upsale specials were largely ignored, a focus on the cheese menu showing far less unique options than those suggested online (and described, oddly, as only available ‘at the bar’,) leading to a three course menu – one friend’s Oysters Rockefeller completely forgotten when the waiter tried to push ‘outstanding’ tuna tartare while the rest of the order trickled out slowly with minimal description, but excellent execution from the men and women behind the grills.
Having reached out through social media in order to understand how the wild game menu had come to be in such an unexpected space it was not long after warm bread and aromatic pesto arrived that GM James Clare stopped by to say hello and subsequently fetching Chef K.C. Fazel, a gracious man with obvious passion for his products and preparation, the story of Tender’s relationship with farmers up north as well as the Chef’s Midwestern upbringing soon had me all the more interested in what was to come – not even the frequently empty water glasses, 80F+ temperature, or ongoing “beautiful,” “wonderful,” “excellent” verbiage being fed to each and every table around enough to bring me down.
With the aforementioned oysters forgotten, course one began with two appetizers, and as one friend was treated to a rich broth teaming with tender oxtail, caramelized onions, grilled bread, and cheese that ranks amongst the best I have ever tasted my $19 slice of duck liver a true first glimpse of things to come – the foie gras’ sapor more intense than generally seen amongst steakhouse fare with the crispy rice cake providing a texture-rich base more than amicable to sopping up both the offal’s residual oils and a drizzle of port wine and juicy red fruit.
Moving on to mains and sides, it was after some delay that seven plates arrived tableside and although presentations were sorely lacking, save for the young man who described the seafood tasting, it would be nearly impossible to find fault in anything save for mundane potatoes – the smoky bone marrow portion exceedingly generous given the $6 tab while both the crispy duck bacon and thick, cheese-imbued rice were equally well prepared, all of them dishes best shared.
Speaking to entrees, for myself the beef was a bit humdrum, though the sear and center were both on-point medium rare, while both tastings were every bit as good as the quality of sourcing, the whitefish admittedly a touch fishy thus allowing both salmon and scallops to steal the spotlight while each constituent of the wild game trio was peerless, the Osso Buco tender and full of funk while both elk and boar delivered on the chef’s promise that even his leaner cuts were bound to impress, the latter particularly impressive as smoky saline notes met a perfect foil in housemade chutney.At this point feeling the effects of a full stomach combined with the restaurant’s toasty temperature it was in an elegant iced coffee presentation that I indulged while my tablemate fancied tea and genuinely unable to resist dessert the team at Tender had me at the words “Bread Pudding,” the sizable round swimming in a pool of boozed up bananas beneath slowly melting ice cream – an excellent dish its own right but certainly no match for the torched s’mores cake, an absolute stunner that was neither too sweet nor too heavy, something I only wish could have been said for a fallen-on-arrival soufflé that was worth neither the twenty minute preparation nor the calories involved.
THREE AND A HALF STARS: Flying well below the radar given its gaming-floor adjacent location in Luxor, Tender is at once the sort of ‘big meat’ place that many envision when thinking of the typical Vegas steakhouse AND the sort of place where a largely unheralded chef has been allowed to carve out a niche that few would expect – if only the front of house could be brought up to speed with the team in the kitchen there is little doubt that this diamond in the rough could shine amongst the city’s best.
AVOID: Deep Fried Potatoes, Souffle, Wearing Warm Clothing, Asking Questions That Require An Educated Response.
TIP: Occasionally offering $75-off-$150 deals via MyVegas to Out-of-Towners, those looking for a deal would be well advised to read the fine print – like most deals on the popular application locals are excluded and not even able to see the deal when browsing offers in the 702.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Owned and operated by a former employee of Pink Box with a counter manned by his own flesh and blood it was just after 2:00pm that I noticed Donut Mania’s “Grand Opening” sign when driving down South Durango, and first scolded by the middle-aged owner for snapping a few photos for fear of me being a “spy” for his former employers it would be difficult to say that first impressions were favorable, though after brief conversation the smoky smelling man’s tune slowly changed.
Purportedly opening the new space simply out of his longterm love of donuts, first honing his skills at mom n’ pop spots before working at Winchell’s and then helping to establish Pinkbox, it was with faint praise tinged with disdain that conversation was held regarding other local donut purveyors and stating his total agreement with my assessment of Pinkbox’s cronut as an oily mess a free sample of the Donut Mania version was procured free-of-charge, the exterior glistening with glaze with well separated layers incredibly light, though not as texturally compelling as that of Ace, Coco, America, or Press.
Amused by creations contained in a duo of glass cases it was eventually on a half-dozen that a decision was made and offered 20% off the $6.80 total was admittedly a bargain, though the young woman who haphazardly slopped donuts atop one another inside the pink box could stand to learn a thing or two about presentation and the use of wax paper – the flavors of peanut butter and jelly all over the bottom of a rocky road bar not particularly desired, nor particularly fanciful for those wanting to take pictures of Donut Mania’s wares.
Getting into the flavors and textures, it perhaps goes without saying that the man who helped set-up Pink Box features a base quite similar to the slowly expanding chain and with the same bready consistency pervasive in all three filled options it was all the more unfortunate that toppings as well as fillings were extremely heavy handed – the cocoa cream inside the rocky road a lone exception while both the King and artificial grape PB&J were so heavily strewn with peanut butter that neither proved edible beyond a few bites.
Frankly appalled by the dryness of a buttermilk bar, perhaps an effect of ordering it so late in the day, it was onward to Fritters that the tasting progressed and although certainly not ‘typical’ with large bubbles of yeasted dough wrapped around a decent amount of fruit it was finally here that Donut Mania found its groove, both apple and cherry iterations decidedly delicious – though perhaps better termed a ‘pull-apart’ rather than fritter, the later achieving near-perfection at Ace Donuts, just up the street.
TWO AND A HALF STARS: Happy to see another mom n’ pop donut shop attempting to do interesting things it is unfortunate that thus far Donut Mania only seems to be another Pink Box outpost with a few small tweaks. Interesting for their take on the fritter, and offering a fairly interesting selection of daily specials as well as enormous ‘party donuts’ there is no doubt I’ll be back to reevaluate in a few months – hopefully finding service issues and paranoia to be remedied, or at least scaled back.
RECOMMENDED: Fritters, nontraditional but delicious none the less – cherry moreso than apple.
AVOID: Anything featuring Peanut Butter and a worst-in-city candidate buttermilk bar.
TIP: Currently offering 10% with Social Media Check-Ins and early morning hours 7-days a week, those looking for a good deal and best selections are advised to arrive early with Smartphone in hand.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Largely unaware of the prevalence of a Buddhist or Muslim beliefs in China, let alone the latters particular contributions to the country’s culinary diversity, it was with great curiosity that five friends and I sat down amidst the colorful confines of Dumpling King and with friendly service paired to one of the most cleanly spaces on Spring Mountain Road the dozen plates that followed were every bit as surprising as the relative lack of praise the space has received since opening its doors nearly one year ago.
Truly a decorative space, with red florals covering each seat and several shining ornaments arranged in the foyer as well as alongside the bar, it was at one of the large turnstile tables that the group was sat and with full view afforded of each dumpling being made by hand suffice it to say that the surprisingly low priced menu is an even bigger bargain when taking into account the painstaking effort involved in each piece, a single order of ten broth-soaked beef soup dumplings taking the team of three nearly five minutes to mix, roll out, fill, and twist fourteen times before arranging to steam.
Treated to tea, as well as water that unfortunately required frequent prompting to be refilled, it was in a pair of items considered to be Northern Chinese specialties that the tasting began and with tender potatoes sliced like noodles beneath a drizzle of vinegar presented alongside richly spiced lamb mixed with shoots, onions, and peppers the opening volley traversed the palate adeptly, the light heat of dried peppers occasionally peaking through with a touch of unexpected sweetness lingering on the end.
Moving onward to the dumplings it was largely at the discretion of our server that the table placed its faith, and opting to see what could be done in a variety of fillings and styles one would be hard pressed to say which presentation was ‘best’ as not a single one lacked – the steamed beef “XLB” more meaty than most with an intensely flavorful broth while both the ‘stone dumplings’ amidst their golden lattice and the rich venison variant were chockablock full of flavor, the later almost as juicy as the soup dumplings with more than enough aromatic nuance to help even the most timid palates conquer their fear of game.
Personally impressed by the soft pumpkin fried beneath salty egg yolk, while others felt the flavors too mundane, it was again a ‘vegetarian special’ that wowed in the next round of plates and although the robust heat was an early challenge to my somewhat timid tongue subsequent bites of the Laoganma eggplant proved more and more accessible, a mild numbing effect perhaps contributing to somewhat off-putting ‘oily’ flavor prevalent in sizzling leek pancakes that were otherwise lightly fried and creamy beneath the exterior crunch.
Admittedly taking a chance on Peking Duck, considering the heritage of the space in which we dined, suffice it to say that neither tepid flesh nor flaccid skin was well received yet with eyes at this point glazing over from the sheer volume of delicious food it was the final plate of the afternoon that proved the most interesting of all; a pile of chopped taro boiled soft beneath a shattering lacquer of caramelized sugar that necessitated a quick bath in iced water in order to avoid severe burns, each cube harkening a creamy one-bite crème brûlée.
FOUR STARS: Undoubtedly unique, not only in its heritage but also with regard to the cleanliness and friendliness of the staff, Dumpling King is perhaps the very definition of ‘hidden gem,’ the dumplings themselves undoubtedly on par with the best in the city while other unique plates such as the potatoes, eggplant, pumpkin, and taro are the sort of things I’ve not seen since trips to Toronto and Richmond, BC.
TIP: Absolutely Pork-free due to their religious beliefs but with more than enough menu items, as well as specials, to please any palate those interested in visiting Dumpling King are advised to do so with a large group as portions trend quite large – a ‘two plate’ per person approach deemed “too much” by our server, though by the end of the meal everything was indeed (just barely) consumed.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Whole Hog Omelet with Ham, Bacon, Sausage, Cheddar Cheese
Frozen Greek Yogurt Parfait with Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberry, and Granola
Red Velvet Pancakes topped with Shaved Dark Chocolate and Cream Cheese Frosting
With The Griddle Café unceremoniously shuttered by its Los Angeles based owner, who simply couldn’t deal with not being involved in the day to day operation of her SLS Las Vegas off-shoot, it was on the invitation of TGC’s GM that I visited the newly rebranded Northside Café on Saturday morning where I was treated to a twelve-plate tasting of new plates created by Chef Juan Villa and Culinary Director Luke Forzano, the results showing that little has changed in terms of culinary direction aside from portions, though even those remain quite robust for the price.
Now truly a 24/7 spot, and still sporting a packed house with a fifteen to twenty minute line when I left at 9:45, little save for signage and branding has changed in the décor of Northside Café and with 100% Maple Syrup still on each table with everything from Foo Fighters to Violent Femmes playing overhead it was a young woman named Lisa who took care of the table throughout my nearly two-hour stay, the plates sent out in trios at the kitchen’s discretion in order to highlight the items they felt to show the menu best.
Still featuring two sizes of French Press, the coffee a bold medium local roast with smooth mouth feel and light caramel top notes, it was not long after seating the GM Adam stopped by to say hello and explaining the kitchen’s plan it was mere moments before the first round arrived – a total of four plates when accounting for the crunchy-yet-pliable housemade bagel accompanying a smoky onion laced omelet beneath a veil of velvety lox, the two additional plates some of the best of the morning with the pillowy pancakes heavily imbued in both buttermilk and berries while Huevos Ranceros showed a surprising degree of restraint, the heat dialed back compared to most in order to let the quality of both the chorizo and creamy beans beneath cheese to shine.
Tempering my predilections to clear each plate, thankfully warned by both Lisa and Adam of what was to come, the second threesome arrived in the form of two savories alongside one sweet and although the Chilaquiles Verdes proved rather uninspired with far too little meat and a degree of acidity I personally found to overwhelming, both the forearm-thick burrito and reference-standard waffle were the sort of plates worth getting out of bed for, the first densely packed with at least a pound of rich flavors and satisfying textures while the later featured a caramelized exterior that crackled to fork pressure before giving way to a yeasty, soft center that paired beautifully to fresh berries and thick whipped-cream plus a drizzle of maple.
At this point transitioning to 2:1 sweets to savories for the second half of the morning it was three items designated as “Northside Favorites” that arrived and although the ‘hash’ was decidedly non-traditional, with two perfectly poached eggs atop thick-cut griddled spuds beneath a tangy blend of sauteed Jalapenos and salsa verde, the flavor profile worked very nicely – particularly in contrast to thick-cut French Toast that was rendered incredibly rich by a slathering of whipped cream, chocolate, as well as Nutella and a stack of shredded carrot pancakes studded with nuts as well as raisins beneath sweet yet tangy creamy cheese, the later a strong contender for the city’s most delicious pancake and better than any served at The Griddle Café in both texture and taste.
At this point plenty sated, but happy to experience a few more things, suffice it to say that the ‘Whole Hog’ Omelet is not for those looking for something light and with what I can only assume to be a 50/50 balance of meat and cheese to eggs the flavor profile is exactly what one would expect, a lot of salt and sapor with just a touch of spice, the perfect counterpart to cocoa-rich Red Velvet pancakes as well as the menu’s undeniable hidden gem, a stunning and surprisingly healthy sundae comprised of frozen layers of Greek yogurt intermingling with fresh berries and crunchy granola – each slowly-melting bite demanding yet another until one is left scraping the glass clean.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (Based on Food alone): Admittedly a bit disappointed in the rapid departure of The Griddle Café, but happy that Jodi cares so much about her vision that not being involved in day-to-day operations proved a risk she was unwilling to take, an overall appraisal of the Northside Café breakfast menu speaks volumes about the team still involved, more than 75% of the items as good as any comparable spot on the strip with prices and portions both better than average, as well.
AVOID: Chilaquiles Verdes were far too acidic while Red Velvet Pancakes are simply done better elsewhere.
TIP: Operating 24/7 with certain items available only available during breakfast or dinner those interested in specific dishes are encouraged to check out the online menu, a return visit for desserts (not available during breakfast) remains on the short list as bread pudding and banana cream pie both beckon.
Stating from the day it was announced that I felt MTO Café was the most relevant restaurant on the list of eateries at Downtown Summerlin it is with some shame that it took so long to visit after the store’s opening, but having enjoyed Chef Johnny Church’s breakfast creations at the Downtown location several months prior I’m happy to report the dinner selections in the shadow of Red Rock are just as well done.
Eschewing traditional tableside service and instead implementing a system similar to that of Panera, where guests order and pay at a counter before waiting briefly at their table for Made-to-Order creations, it was with a specially requested tasting menu that my experience at MTO Downtown Summerlin took place and leaving selections to Midwestern Chef’s discretion the plates presented frequently took me back to my childhood – memories of roadtrips espoused by some things while upgrades on traditional comfort foods were found in several more.
Beginning with flavored waters from the restaurant’s FreeStyle machine – the Peach Dasani particularly lovely, round one began with a sharable tray of Mediterranean dips as well as salads and while the tabbouleh was not particularly my style all three of the dips were absolutely top notch, the smoke-imbued eggplant amongst the best I’ve ever tasted while edamame added a crisp, vegetal tinge to hummus atop piping hot pita.
Conserving capacity to maximize the experience, round two consisted of three soups served in espresso-style shooters and although the clam chowder may have benefitted from just a touch more brine the cream-style tomato and heavily cheese-topped French onion were both reference standard, a similar compliment applicable to the KFC Breakfast, a juicy breast of chicken beneath herb tinged double-crisp batter atop a pile of pan-seared mashed potatoes all beneath a veil of country gravy and an over easy egg.
A bit leery of rumors that the Chicken Pot Pie was substandard as the biscuit-topped version represents a favorite for myself and pretty much everyone outside of Dutch Amish Country (and those who consider Swanson or Banquet to be quality cuisine) I’m more than pleased to say that the version served by Church and Co. is something many Southern Grandmas would be proud to call their own and with both the stock and chicken teaming with herbs while the carrots offered sweet balance an equally deft plate was executed in the case of Meatloaf that opts not so hit diners with a sledgehammer of false flavors from truffle oil, but rather to dig deeper and provide an aromatic topnote to tender veal beneath flavors both smoky and sweet alongside tender orange gnocchi.
At this point admittedly getting a bit full it was thankfully a downsized portion of the vegan spaghetti squash that arrived and again focusing on nuance, with the sweetness of grapes and carrots used to offset the earthy flavors of beets and curry, one would be hard pressed to find any fault in a plate adhering to such dietary standards – the side-dish of fresh sprouts perfectly cooked, though a bit too spicy from horseradish for this diner’s tongue.
Not particularly focused on plated desserts, but instead offering fresh-baked cookies and several pastries available throughout the day, it was with two boxes of goods that I took my leave after a long chat with the Chef and his team and indulging in some after the walk home with others saved for the following morning it was somewhat disappointing to find the poppyseed muffin almost inedibly dry, though the rest was just as good as the majority of the savories – both the brownie and almond pecan scone particularly memorable with soft texture and bold flavors while each of the cookies were far better than those offered at Wonderland Bakery…at less than one-half the cost.
FOUR STARS: Admittedly a bit pricey for a ‘quick casual’ place, yet at the same time far friendlier in service with both produce and proteins sourced from local sources as Chef Church is a regular at the local farmers markets, MTO Café is precisely what Downtown Summerlin visitors should support – a local business committed to doing things right, not another offshoot from elsewhere willing to mail it in and make bank.
RECOMMENDED: Baba ghanoush, Chicken Pot Pie, Truffle Meatloaf, Caramel Salted Brownie.
AVOID: Poppyseed Muffin (though, to be fair, this was a day old by the time I tried it,) and Clam Chowder.
TIP: Open at 9am and offering dinner options from 4pm to close, the rest of the menu available all day.
CHOCOLATE MACARON – french chocolate cookie, chocolate mousse, salted caramel
APPLE TARTE TATIN – warm caramelized apple tart, puff pastry, vanilla bean ice cream
MILLE FEUILLE – caramelized puff pastry, vanilla crème patisserie
LAMILL – double espresso, ice
A longtime fan of Michael Mina’s restaurants, but gunshy of a Chef often seen as an absentee landlord after a subpar meal at Pub1842 and the embarrassment that is StripSteak it was with mixed emotions that four friends and I entered American Fish Re-Brand “Bardot Brasserie” but with an old friend setting up the reservation for us just two weeks after the restaurants opening I think it is safe to say that the team in place at Bardot is every bit on par with the experiences of old while the cuisine represents a textbook rendering of plates coming out of the kitchens in France.
Truly a stunning room, the $5.7 million investment obvious from the slick looking bar up front and highly polished tile alongside dark woods throughout, it was at a makeshift banquet near the front of the dining area that we were sat clearly doing their homework on everything from the branding font on plates to the styles of glassware for each drink it was by both the General Manager and his Assistant that questions were answered, the captain then taking over with great suggestions and perfect pacing offered by both he and the restaurant’s back-server staff.
Comped free-flowing Rose as well as an iced bowl of crisp crudite to begin the meal, but paying $55/pp for the other sixteen plates served over the next three hours, it was with warm baguette paired to salted butter that the meal began and at the bargain basement price of just $6 each two baskets of bread were selected – the Kouign Amann and Croissant a touch flaccid despite good flavors while the raisin snail and canele were both excellent, the later a large scale rendition with crisp shell and custard center that I’d suggest is the best in the city and something I’d love to taste warm and just set.
Presented next with two styles of pate, the first a rough cut pork composition rich with funk and nuts while the foie was pure velvet beneath a port gelee glaze, it was with extra crunchy bread that each bite was enjoyed, and following up with a crispy crust topped in pork and onions with a smoky top note the first true ‘showstopper’ of the morning arrived in the form of a crab-topped crepe – the hearty buckwheat base, tender mushrooms, and copious serving of sweet crab all noteworthy but the tableside addition of beurre blanc melding it all together and putting it over the top.
Pleasantly surprised by the beefy sapor and balanced sweetness of the onion soup, a ‘must order’ item for one of my friends, and more than a little impressed by snails served out of their shell in the form of garlicky ‘popcorn escargot’ beneath light breading entirely devoid of grease it was onward to more brunchy items that the meal progressed and with the soft malted sourdough waffle proving a stunning foil to the crispy confit duck while the Croque was nothing short of the high standard set at Bouchon it was the thick-cut French Toast that undoubtedly stole the show – a custard soaked masterpiece with golden edges reminding me of the landmark version served at LeMeac in Montreal.
Admittedly a bit lacking in pastas as the meal moved into entrees and sides, the cleverly presented macaroni unfortunately a bit too salty while tender gnocchi and mushrooms were a bit muddled beneath a touch too much garlic, one should pay close attention to the chicken at Bardot just as they should at any of Michael Mina’s restaurants, and with comments speaking of Peking Duck as relates to crackling skin the flesh of the brined bird was equally impressive, each herbaceous bite tender and juicy with snappy beans and rich mushroom pudding at its side.
Ending with dessert, three of the menus’ six options selected to be shared, it comes as no surprise that a Mina restaurant finishes strong with sweets and although both the macaron and tarte tatin are excellent with a tableside finish it is the mille-feuille that steals the show, each flaky layer of pastry shattering to the fork as delicate pastry cream presents silky, sweet, and almost as light as air.
FOUR STARS: Already impressive at just a few weeks in, and executing French classics at a level as good or better than any similar Stateside restaurant, Bardot looks to raise the bar for mid-range French cuisine in Las Vegas – a tall order when up against names like Keller, Boulud, and Meyer, but one the Mina empire seems ready to take on with a great team in a dazzling space.
RECOMMENDED: French Toast, Foie Gras, Blue Crab Crepe, Mille Feuille
AVOID: Gnocchi, Kougn Amann, Macaroni Gratinee
TIP: Located in the much maligned Aria ‘restaurant row,’ Bardot is unlikely to generate a lot of foot traffic from those who aren’t in the know but with the bar open throughout the day on weekends those who are so inclined can stop by for a drink and a few bites at a relative bargain considering the quality of the space and the cuisine.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Newly opened in a renovated Marie Callender’s on West Flamingo near Yonaka, it was in forgoing one last stop at The Griddle Café that I entered the newest location of family owned local favorite Blueberry Hill Family Restaurant, and with service as friendly and efficient as ever it was a five-part order that constituted breakfast as well as later-day snacks – some items absolutely delicious, while others decidedly lacked.
Located on a busy corner, with a parking lot nearly filled to capacity by 9:00am though the enormous restaurant was only perhaps 2/3 full, it was with the first of several cups of 100% Arabica coffee that the meal began and with bold flavor and a smooth finish one must say this is an area where Blueberry Hill excels, a statement no less justified in describing the ‘limited’ run of Blueberry Muffins, baked fresh each day and served warm with a streusel top and sidecar of butter, quick to sell out and “gone when they’re gone.”
Having sampled the Monte Cristo and Oreo Pancakes on a prior visit to the Decatur location it was once again in two entrees that appetite was invested and with a rich buttermilk recipe handed down since 1966 the supple texture of a 3-stack of pancakes was only improved by smooth whipped cream and a handful of melting chocolate chips, a chocolate fudge drizzle requested in place of the included syrup making things all the more decadent at absolutely no additional charge.
Moving next to something somewhat savory, suffice it to say that Blueberry Hill’s Chicken and Waffles is nothing like that which one will find down South, yet having watched a young line-cook hand batter each strip in the kitchen, roll it in coconuts, and then toss it in a fryer the attention to detail was appreciated as each piping hot piece paired nicely to a pliable golden waffle well suited to soak up a drizzle of honey and plenty of butter soaked in the same.
At this point happily sated, but with a long wait at the car dealership ahead, it was with two slices of cake made in the on-site bakery that I took my leave and although the carrot cake was dry, spongy, and almost entirely devoid of flavor aside from sweetness from the cream cheese icing the Blueberry Crumb cake was a masterful composition with moist yellow cake, buttery crumbles, and bursting blueberries beneath bright blue frosting that tasted surprisingly natural, and not overly sweet.
THREE AND A HALF STARS: A bit more expensive than chains such as IHOP, but obviously committed to using better ingredients and taking extra steps to assure customer satisfaction, Blueberry Hill remains one of Las Vegas’ best 24/7 locally owned stops – the sort of place I’d probably never eat dinner, but one where breakfast is never a bad choice.
RECOMMENDED: Warm Blueberry Muffin, Honey Coconut Chicken and Waffles
AVOID: Carrot Cake
TIP: Open 24/7 with a total of five locations throughout the Valley those interested in specific items should note that only a few Blueberry Hill’s are licensed to serve alcohol, while this new location is the only one with a full bevy of cakes and pastries made in-house, the others receiving shipments from this location at varied times throughout the day.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Selection of Freshest Oysters Available – Blue Hill Bay, Black Bear, Nautilus, Snow Creek, Diamond Point + Spicy cocktail & Celery black pepper mignonette
Jar of Crispy Bacon
Whole Roast Suckling Pig – Mustard + Apple Butter + Pork Jus + Creamy Polenta + Cheesy Eggs + Hatch green chili sauce + Tortillas
Thrice impressed by Chef Jordan and Brian’s cuisine at Hearthstone it was for the final meal with a well-traveled visiting gourmand that we sat down at a long high-top at Hearthstone, and having requested a “Whole Beast Feast” be prepared on the tail end of lunch service it can only be said that a Sunday visit to Red Rock’s crown jewel was the most impressive visit yet – a group of eight staggering away, smiling and stuffed, just after 3pm.
Previously visited just after opening, again with friends, and then for opening day brunch service just a few weeks ago, the dining experience at Hearthstone remains an upscale, homestyle affair once again and with Chef Massie receiving a well deserved rest it was Jordan and a familiar service team that took care of our table throughout the afternoon – the pig roasting on a spit when we arrived, and set to rest as appetizers were ordered – the city’s best sticky bun and a Chef-selected plate of charcuterie soon arriving with options that even an established cheesemonger felt to be well sourced and aged.
Joined by a local restaurateur, a fellow from the world of wine, and two septuagenarians more extensively traveled than almost anyone I know, plus two friends familiar with Hearthstone from meals prior it was next in bowls of crispy potatoes beneath squeaky curds and silky pork jus gravy that we partook and quickly followed by a Georgian – appropriately renamed Canotto – showing off the smoke of the wood oven – several were immediately debating ordering a couple of pizzas, something fortunately not done considering the glut of food to follow.
Choosing to show friends the smooth tang of Massie’s yogurt from FIX, faithfully reproduced at Hearthstone and delicious atop crisp buttered bread, it was at the request of one friend that the quinoa salad was ordered and again proving a ‘wow’ to those unsold on the superfood with its variance in tastes and textures two six-packs of oysters were next presented, my selection of a briny Black Bear rich and mineral beneath spicy mignonette.
At this point taking time to watch Jordan and his sous-chef butcher the suckling swine at the center of the room, a spectacle gathering as many eyes as the tableside Bacon + Eggs at The Fat Duck in Bray, it was at the request of the table that both the head and neck were served along with the tender pork, a bowl of skin presented separately, with both brunch and dinner sides including a sticky bowl of polenta, savory pork jus, housemade apple butter, and those luxuriously buttery “Robuchon-eggs.”
Easily offering enough food to feed eight, and more than likely a couple more considering three couples took some pork home, it was in deferring dessert that the meal would eventually end, and sipping a double espresso poured over ice as we sat in a room now empty it was only the flickering of the NHL All-Star Game on television that distracted from conversation – that and the tireless efforts of staff arranging for an upcoming dinner service, the chef hand packing porchetta for the spit while others chopped vegetables at another station with intermittent pauses to stoke the oven’s fire.
FIVE STARS: All in all a stunning meal from beginning to end, and one enjoyed by persons whose palates I’ve grown to know and trust.
AVOID: Over-ordering when opting for the Suckling Pig – an estimated pre-cook weight of ~18lbs more than enough to feed six when counting for accoutrements, a veritable steal at $250 all-in.
TIP: Those interested in the Whole Beast are advised to contact the restaurant in advance, particularly at brunch when it can easily be accommodated, though the menu offered Porchetta for two is almost as good at less than 1/4 the portion and price.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Invited by Chef Harrington, and graciously offered gifts as well as a suite at the Venetian by the folks in PR, it was with a +1 along for the ride that I attended the Yardbird Grand Opening and although generally preferring my restaurant experiences to represent the location in its full-service state the show that 50 Eggs put on was one to be remembered, a DJ-Gig by ?uestlove paired to several signature items and drinks with plenty of revelry to be had.
Cleared of tables, aside from a few hightops and seats in the lounge, with lights dimmed aside from those in the gleaming kitchen it was with passed drinks as well as appetizers that each guest was greeted on entry and as showgirls as well as wait-staff strutted their stuff there was no shortage of eye candy or cuisine to be had – a smile on every face as the watermelon infused G&T whet whistles while three styles of fried chicken joined the pork belly “BLT” and spiced watermelon alongside a plethora of deviled eggs served fresh from the kitchen round-after-round.
Taking time away from the counter, but always keeping one eye on the pass, it was with greetings from Chef Harrington that my friend marveled at the in house pickling process before paying a visit to the Bourbon tasting room and returning for more bites, including reformulated donuts that proved a substantial upgrade on those from an earlier brunch it was also in small bites of bacon butterscotch cake that guests indulged, a large Miami-meets-Vegas mockup later cut to reveal a more traditional vanilla variant beneath boiled frosting and fondant.
Co-headling the night with The Venetian’s newest attraction, a Sinatra themed show named Frank, it was in skipping the show that we took a brief break to meet friends for a meal off-strip, but returning around 10pm to find the staff finally letting their hair down as music took over the lounge it was the mini red-velvet trifle and bourbon milk punch that stole my heart – a passed platter of nutella ice cream sandwiches paired to Hendrix rounding out the night before I went back to the room only to find more goodie bags, a good night’s sleep between me and a trip to Canyon Ranch Spa for a morning run and weights before attending the prix-fixe brunch.
At this point joined by two others, the friend who attended soft-opening and his son, brunch was a far less frenzied affair than the night prior yet with several of the same staff members – including the Chef – looking as fresh as the new day with all the furniture replaced the meal that followed was as good each 50-Eggs experience prior, a few service snafus that were partially our fault for ordering additional items a la carte notwithstanding, particularly considering the quality of the house-smoked brisket and aforementioned pickles as well as one of the city’s best benedicts featuring a 63-degree egg ready to burst beneath bruleed hollandaise atop sweet biscuit crumbles and crispy vegetables playing foil to butter, cream, and yolk.
Located just off Spring Mountain Road, cattycorner to Kuma Snow Cream, it was as part of a group of seven that a baker’s dozen plates were ordered amidst the cozy confines of Izakaya Go and although palates I trust have recently offered the freshly opened space high commendations, our experience would prove to be just short of a disaster – the sort of meal that left one wondering how anyone could find such a place palatable, let alone worthy of praise.
Admittedly jam-packed, each seat in the house filled at the time of a 7:30 arrival, it was with advanced reservations that the group squeezed into a makeshift table best appointed for six, and with Izzy and Katie playing a bit too loudly from behind the bar a large menu was surveyed as water and hot tea were filled freely – the restaurant fresh out of green, but offering matcha or black over ice at $2.50 per glass.
Optimizing orders so as to cover a large swath of Izakaya Go’s offerings it would not be long before first plates arrive and with creamy balls of fried octopus beneath bonito setting an extremely high bar it was unfortunate that no other plate would even come close to the quality of those tender fried orbs – least of all the grilled collar of tuna that was essentially charred dry leaving one to wonder whether the kitchen possessed any skill or integrity at all.
Essentially ruining a unagi bowl by burying the eel under too sweet a sauce over dried out rice one could say that the crispy salmon skin atop greens mixed with more bonito was the star of round two and with two small bowls of miso soup no better or worse than any other the box-sushi battera was additionally quite good, the savory smack of mackerel finding balance in vinegar and shiso, both.
Admittedly impressed by lightly fried agedashi tofu in more of the miso broth, but less so by fried chicken that was nearly as much batter as bird, it was onward to par-for-the-course egg custard that the meal progressed and with the previously forgotten tuna belly arriving with texture similar to the collar at the meal’s beginning a single bite was more than enough for most – nearly half of the $12 order remaining on the table at meal’s end.
Rounding out the evening in three bowls, the soba literally flavorless even when dipped in dressing while tempura served alongside was fairly competent and entirely full of grease, it was only at the meals end that both the mushroom porridge and hot udon topped with sticky yam would approach the level of the Takoyaki, but at this point bored with belabored service and annoyed by so much mediocrity all one really wanted to do was ‘go.’
TWO STARS: Perhaps suffering from high praise begetting a full house, maybe besmirched by a grill burning too hot, or – and I hope not – possibly deeming our table expendable as we were the only Caucasians in house the only real positive of dinner at Izakaya Go was the friends involved and $30/pp price – nothing save for the Takoyaki better than can be found elsewhere on Spring Mountain without the pop music, sub-par service, or overall lack of quality control.
RECOMMENDED: Takoyaki, Tororo Udon, Agedashi Tofu
AVOID: Anything Grilled, $2.50 per glass cold tea, Ten Zaru Soba
TIP: Closed on Sunday and open from 5:00pm until 2:00am or later the rest of the week, reservations recommended on Fridays and Saturdays during peak times.
Nova Scotia Deep Sea Lobster Pasta – Light Tomato Sauce
The Real Greek Yogurt
Karidopita – Walnut Cake with Kaimaki Tree Sap Ice Cream
Located in The Cosmopolitan, and offering a lunch deal long-hailed as one of the best in the city, it was finally on Saturday afternoon that I sat down at a posh four-top in the center of Estiatorio Milos and with both old friends and new gathered ‘round telling stories of food and travel one only wonders why it had taken so long to finally stop by.
Formally decorated, with white tablecloths and good cutlery surrounded by an airy Mediterranean theme with balconies overlooking The Strip, it was after a small mistake at the hostess podium that seats were located and although service seemed stretched and perfunctory due to the noon-time crunch the three course format plus one supplement proved timely in presentation – each plate arriving with precise plating and appropriately temperatured, the pasta particularly notable as it was served still-steaming hot.
Beginning with crusty bread and fresh-pressed olive oil rich with grassy funk, it would not be long before Milos Signature appetizer would arrive and although seemingly nothing special in its ingredients the crispy layers of eggplant and zucchini were simply irresistible surrounding a core of tangy tzatziki while four pockets of lightly battered Kefalograviera proved a significant upgrade on any other local ‘fried cheese.’
With three of us opting for the $10 upgrade Octopus at course two while the fourth instead invested in Meze, suffice it to say that this is one place where the upgrade is well warranted and with each bite of charred cephalopod tender beneath the blackened grill marks both onions and capers served to compliment, rather than overwhelm – a rarity for both ingredients, the olive oil infused with their flavors immediately commanding more crusty bread.
Again biting on the upgrade, this time $15 to put a whole lobster atop the aforementioned house-made noodles, it would prove impossible to find fault in either the portion or flavor of the tender crustacean’s flesh and although simple grilled fish generally is not my thing, the Mediterranean bass was also exquisitely prepared while shrimp were unfortunately overcooked and overwhelmed by sauce, the large-grain cous-cous instead stealing the spotlight on a friend’s plate.
To this point more than a little impressed by Milos’ cuisine, though a bit off-put by a frequently empty water glass, dessert was a simple decision between three options and with two opting for tangy Greek yogurt draped in fruit myself and one other opted for the dainty walnut cake, itself texturally compelling and just-sweet-enough while the mint tinged ice cream proved a pleasant juxtaposition in flavor despite a texture slightly marred by some sort of binding agent or gum.
FOUR STARS: Undoubtedly a lunch bargain, particularly given its location and dinner time price, Estiatorio Milos is one of the rare places where refined food can still be found for lunch on Las Vegas Boulevard – a veritable steal for the $25.15 three-course prix-fixe price (excluding upgrades) in pleasant environs that feels miles away from Sin City or the Casino floor.
RECOMMENDED: Milos Special, Lobster Pasta, Grilled Octopus, Real Greek Yogurt
AVOID: Shrimp Saganaki
TIP: Open for lunch from 11:00 to 2:30 seven days a week, reservations are recommended for weekends and conferences – the restaurant full to capacity throughout our 90 minute stay, save for a balcony reserved for a private party set to occur during the transition from lunch to dinner service.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Andy’s sage fried chicken benedict with fresh spinach, hardwood smoked bacon, market tomato, griddled mozzarella, chipotle cream and scrambled eggs
Buttermilk Biscuit with Peach Preserves
Hot oatmeal w/ milk & mixed fresh fruit
Having visited the Linq location during its Imperial Palace days and also partaking in early morning breakfast at The Rio during last year’s Winter Olympics a visit to West Sahara’s Hash House A Go-Go was mostly for the amusement of a well traveled guest from out of town, and with absurd portions the rule and smiling service entirely amused by my old friend’s antics one would be hard pressed to name a more appropriate experience to show what the San Diego import is all about.
Undoubtedly more “Vegasy” than its Midwestern roots or So. Cal. origins would suggest, it was just after 8:15 that we entered the sizable spot and opting to switch to a four-top after originally being seated at a two-seater it would not be long before coffee was filled for the first of several times, an enormous menu next navigated with the resultant order entailing four items – one a daily special, and the rest restaurant signatures all arriving at once to quickly flood the table.
Ever bubbly in service, with subtle pop tunes and country floating overhead, it was with great amusement that my pal bantered the server about her Energizer Bunny personality as I began to tuck in and although the oatmeal was nothing particularly special the fresh fruit and berry-streaked plate details did not go unnoticed, a little extra effort elevating an old standard while the buttermilk biscuit with housemade peach preserves remains one of the best in the city – a soft and savory center beneath a top baked golden brown.
Moving on to things more interesting, it was next in the Man vs. Food favorite of Sage Fried Chicken beneath smoky pepper cream that the meal progressed and although the heap of griddled mashed potatoes was far too much to be enjoyed in its entirety every bit of the juicy chicken, fluffy scrambled eggs, and crisp bacon was devoured by the time the meal came to an end.
Finishing the morning with a hubcap-sized pancake, equally soaked in buttermilk as the biscuit but receiving a substantial upgrade from toasted pecans and butterscotch chips, it was beneath a lacquer of butter, light whip, and brought-from-home maple syrup that a first bite was taken, and although the edges proved a bit dull when lacking all the accoutrements, the center of the flapjack was as good as any griddled novelty in Sin City, particularly at a mere $10.
FOUR STARS: Chastised by some for portions felt to be irresponsible, and reportedly varying in quality depending on kitchen staff and time of day, all three of my visits to HHaGG as well as San Diego’s Tractor Room spin-off have been memorable for not only the food but the service – a Midwestern vibe for a Midwesterner at heart, no matter what state the drivers license says.
RECOMMENDED: Flapjacks, Buttermilk Biscuits.
AVOID: Obviously going for ‘over-the-top’ I personally found the Fried Chicken benedict to be a bit overly complicated when compared to the Pounded Pork Loin version or the Chicken and Waffles, largely a result of the substantial heap of potatoes but also due to unnecessary mozzarella where a bit more acid from the tomato would have seemingly been far better placed.
TIP: Completely full with a 20+ minute line snaking out the door by 9:30 those looking to dine at the Sahara location would be best served to arrive early or at off hours on weekends, the casino locations at The Plaza, Rio, and Quad generally less crowded and a Henderson location soon to join the fray and perhaps thin the crowd more.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Caramel Panna Cotta – Vanilla poached pears, candied pecans
Vanilla Semifreddo – Citrus, caramel sauce
Double Espresso over Ice
Attempting to craft a memorable Las Vegas weekend for an old friend who has been everywhere and eaten almost everything it was to Nicole Brisson and the staff at Carnevino that my mind turned when looking for something ‘unique,’ and two weeks following a tour of the aging facility on Dean Martin with the Chef and her team a group of six sat down in the grand dining room for an $1100 meal crafted by Chef Brisson and head server, Shep, the man who’d arranged the tour and easily one of the city’s best front of house staff.
High ceilinged and energetic as ever, with Batali’s eclectic mix of rock playing just-loud-enough overhead, it was in two bottles of affordable wine that the group partook (after cracking some jokes about the general absurdity of the list) and placing ourselves in the hands of the restaurant a four-course feast unfolded, the opening volley of creamy gougeres proving as good as ever while lardo and butter gilded many rosemary rolls.
Moving onward to antipasta, as the White Stripes churned overhead, a six-pack of plates began the meal proper and with stretchy stracciatella, tender tartare, and prosciutto as well as house made charcuterie all shining strongly none of them could trump Mario’s signature charred octopus splashed in spice and acid, nor the off-menu reference standard pastrami served with two sunny side duck eggs – a plate that left us mopping the plate clean and requesting more bread.
Next offered a pair of primi, the $80 white truffle supplement added to signature beef-cheek ravioli proving a pricey and unimpressive upcharge that was additionally unrequested, it was additionally interesting that the tender gnocchi saw only one slice of fig offered with one plate while a trio graced the other – a skimpy portion either way, considering the cost of the four pastas alone trumped $180 inclusive of tax and tip.
Moving onward to the main event, a trio of meats that were hand selected by Shep and the Chef, suffice it to say that the grill is where Carnevino again showed its ‘stuff’ and with several calling the olive-oil drizzled Veal Chop the best they’d ever tasted it was straight to the steaks that other’s attention turned – the sizable 90+ day dry-aged ribeye every bit deserving its signature status while a 2” Strip, aged nearly 9 months, was supple and aromatic – the top notes of truffle melting to flavors of beef and butter and ending with a blue cheese linger unlike any other steak on the market.
Impressed somewhat by sides, mostly by the potatoes and eggplant but less so by spinach that was lost amidst bold spice and garlic, it was with a double espresso refresher that the palate was transitioned to dessert and although the signature bombolini were not served this time around there was a different favorite for everyone at the table amongst the four items served – the crispy chocolate and peanut butter torte as good as ever while both the winter citrus semifreddo and delicate cheesecake were exercises in refinement, each presenting bold flavors amidst light textures and perfectly suited to end a meal so heavily invested in meat.
FOUR STARS: Not quite as impressive as my last two visits to Carnevino, largely as a result of the exceedingly disappointing and pricey pastas, the restaurant still stands as one of the most unique experiences in Las Vegas and although the Riserva is indeed a pricey piece of meat, the care and effort involved cannot be overstated as everything from sourcing and selection to aging and presentation is unquestionably world class.
AVOID: White Truffles in late January, Spinach Side Dish.
TIP: Those interested in seeing the aging facility would be best served to contact the restaurant directly as public visits are generally not offered, though for those willing to invest the effort I can certainly say it is a learning opportunity like no other.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor