Maude, Los Angeles CA

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Maude

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Fermented Black Garlic and Asparagus Financier

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Santa Barbra Spot Prawn with Meyer Lemon Sabayon and Asparagus Paper

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Foie Gras Mousse with White Asparagus Pain Perdu

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White Asparagus Custard with Pickled Kohlrabi and Braised Beef Cheek

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Grilled Asparagus with Smooth Buttermilk and Fermented Black Walnut Vinaigrette, Wild Greens

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Kingfish Crudo with Avocado, Shaved Asparagus, Pickled Green Figs, Thai Basil

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Pee Wee Potato in Forms, Geoduck, Tempura Asparagus, Mussels, Green Garlic

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Tai Snapper with Brioche Crust over Fava Bean and Yuba in Asparagus-Oyster Emulsion

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Asparagus Miso with Scallop Tofu, Crunchy Brown Rice, Asparagus Ribbons

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Parmesan Soup Dumplings, Pork Belly, Peas, Asparagus Tips

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Rolls with Onion Butter

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Ribeye Cap, Sauce Bordelaise, Asparagus Puree, Braised Lettuce

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Idiazabal Cheese Shaved on Goat Yogurt Asparagus Tart

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Asparagus Sorbet with Strawberries and Opal Basil

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Bitter Chocolate with White Asparagus Mousse, Pine Nuts, Frozen Yogurt

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Asparagus Fondant, Gelee with Coriander Sugar, Asparagus Nougat with Honeycomb

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Asparagus Curd with Rhubarb and Granola

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Located amidst the fanciful shopping of Beverly Hills, and undeniably one of Los Angeles’ most coveted reservations since opening its doors, a visit to Curtis Stone’s “Maude” was a sort of serendipitous thing resulting from a pair of calls the day after seats for April became available, the monthly theme of Asparagus showing the kitchen’s proclivity for highlighting Southern California’s seasonal bounty with over a dozen courses presented across one-hundred and forty minutes at a cost of $125.

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By now a known entity – the elegant space, old-timey tunes, celebrity chef, and monthly ingredient concept all discussed almost as much as the difficulty of securing a seat – our arrival at Maude was greeted by pleasant, if flippant, service and following the tasting menu only format without any dietary discretions it was mere minutes after deciding on no wine pairings and still water instead of sparkling that the flurry of four ‘snacks’ began, the aromatic financier and vegetal custard beneath braised beef and pickled starch proving the best of the bites while creamy duck liver and snappy spot prawn were ‘asparagus’ only in name, neither the pain perdu nor paper hinting at the ingredient’s flavor, though both admittedly tasted good.

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Progressing, predictably, to salads and lighter flavors before featuring heavier plates like soup, pasta, protein, and bread, it was with simply grilled spears tinged in buttermilk and funky vinaigrette that the ‘proper’ menu began and transitioning from plate to plate in brisk intervals a follow-up of crudo meant to resemble the flavors of a fish taco proved to be amongst the night’s most inspired dishes, the pickled figs and light heat acting to enliven the meaty and mild white flesh.

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Already discussing the fact that, although present in every plate, asparagus featured far less prominently than tones trending more sweet, it was unfortunate that both the geoduck bowl and the brioche crusted snapper could have just as easily featured chicken or tofu considering the masking of both proteins by all of the accoutrements and a bit too much sugar, but thankfully turning a corner with asparagus miso after the last bean beneath the fish was consumed each dish that followed was nothing shy of memorable, the asparagus often emerging as the star – or at least sharing the spotlight equally with bold seasoning and complex flavors galore.

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No doubt moving to more ‘filling’ plates, both in size and constituents, course six featured two pockets of pasta, and warned that these were to be consumed either a la XLB or in one bite to avoid making a mess, the liquid parmesan interior immediately flooded the palate on mastication with the sort of pleasant linger that only seemed to enhance each subsequent bite, the briny belly finding its foil in fresh peas much as the final savory’s fork-tender ribeye and rich bordelaise did in the combination of gently warmed lettuce and silky asparagus puree.

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Curious to see how desserts would play out, Stone’s pastry training and palate having already come to light with previous plates, it was with flakes of cheese over yogurt and asparagus tinged pastry that the menu progressed and unexpectedly highlighting the earthy notes of asparagus sorbet with icy berries and sweet basil in ‘pre-dessert,’ the night’s final dessert instead took the opposite approach as bitter chocolate ganache found extra ‘ooph’ when set against tangy yogurt and mellow white asparagus mousse with a flavor replicated by the mignardise described as nougat, which actually tasted quite a bit like vegetal marzipan.

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Inspired, albeit imperfect, the night at Maude ended with a small parfait that diners were warned to refrigerate if it weren’t devoured that night, and although sated and smiling as we walked out the door with a souvenir menu in hand there was little doubt plenty of capacity left to sample the creamy curd topped with rhubarb, as well as a few pastas and pizzas with friends at Sotto just a few blocks away.

http://www.mauderestaurant.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, California, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, Maude, Pork, Tasting Menu, Vacation

The Gadarene Swine, Los Angeles CA

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The Gadarene Swine

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Sourdough with Crushed Tomato Oil

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Lemon and Pistachio Kale Chips

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Blackened Cauliflower – Puree, Stem Crisps

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Peanut Butter and Jelly – Vegan Sourdough, Port Poached Figs, Fresh Peanut Butter, Arugula, Pickled Mushrooms, Balsamic

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Roasted Mushrooms with Burnt Sweet Potato – dehydrated pea tendrils, English peas, sugar blistered tomatoes, pickled mushrooms, cinnamon, nutmeg

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Buckwheat Banana Pancakes with Almond Froth, Brulee Bananas, Raspberry Puree

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Deconstructed Roast Pear Tart – Malt Rocks, Graham

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Vegan Tres ‘Leches’ – Grapefruit, Olive Oil, Cotton Candy

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Having yet to visit Scratch Bar, but quite intrigued by Phillip Frankland Lee’s decision to take on Vegetarian and Vegan cuisine, it was just moments before my noon reservation that I sat down at a small two-top inside The Gadarene Swine and although I was unfortunately informed the tasting menu could not be accommodated until “2pm, at the earliest” I was assured that most of that night’s menu was included in the a la carte menu, itself quite large and recently joined by a more limited brunch menu offered until 2pm.

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Not entirely trending vegan in its offerings, something my knowledgeable young server made sure he addressed immediately on greeting each table, the ‘simple’ descriptions of each plate on The Gadarene Swine’s menu belie the kitchen’s vast creativity and working in full view from a limited space behind the counter at which tasting menus can be ordered the observant diner will quickly realize that this isn’t simply a place where ingredients are arranged and plated, but rather a kitchen hard at work – vegetables being chopped, trimmed, washed, and prepped as ordered to ensure maximum freshness and taste.

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Admittedly a bit saddened by my inability to place myself at the whims of the Chefs, but at the same time intrigued by almost every item offered between the two menus – not to mention dessert – it was only after asking a few questions that a large order was crafted, and warned that I’d be receiving “a lot” of food I confidently assured my server I would be okay, only a few bites here and there going uneaten in the interest of preserving space for what was to come not only at The Gadarene Swan, but at Maude a later that night.

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Eventually filling to perhaps a quarter capacity during the course of my ninety-minute lunch, expediting at The Gadarene Swine follows a sort of ‘tapas’ approach in that plates are delivered as they are readied from the kitchen, and with the first two items obviously requiring less work than others a small bowl of Kale Chips brightened by citrus soon arrived alongside a board of griddled housemade vegan sourdough paired to sugar blistered tomatoes pureed in olive oil to form a vibrant, mayonnaise textured spread.

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Just barely beginning to dig into the snacks, it was only a few seconds later that the server again appeared tableside with two more plates, and quickly explaining to him that I was there to enjoy the experience rather than be rushed out the door an agreement was reached, the rest of the menu put on hold until requested as I set aside the opening volley to focus on a plate of warm cauliflower in four bold colors and at least as many textures followed by an open-face PB&J that completely reinvented the lunchbox staple into something at once sweet as well as savory, crunchy atop creamy, and defiant of convention in its use of pickled mushrooms amidst bitter greens to add intrigue and levity without once seeming superfluous or ‘fussy’ in the least.

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Rounding out savories with a large bowl clearly intended to ‘hide’ certain ingredients, “Roasted Mushrooms with Burnt Sweet Potato” arrived in a portion more than sufficient to share, and offering a sort of ‘choose your own adventure’ experience bolstered by the vessel a large list of ingredients and techniques were put into play with some bites decidedly sweet and aromatic while others were tinged in acid, smoke, and earth without a single uninspired forkful to be found.

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Never one to slight the sweets, in this case two items recited from my server as no actual ‘dessert’ menu exists, it seemed only logical to order both upon hearing a description of ingredients, and adding on the brunch-only Buckwheat Banana Pancakes, which ultimately proved far too heavy so late in the meal despite the toothsome texture and top-notch toppings, suffice it to say that while the deconstructed tart was somewhat ordinary the tableside presentation of ‘tres leches’ was anything but – a hulled out grapefruit with rind pulled into a wick serving as a citrus ‘candle’ from which warm, infused olive oil was drizzled over cotton candy atop the thick and creamy cake.

http://www.thegadareneswine.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Breakfast, California, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, Pancakes, The Gadarene Swine, Vacation

Creme Caramel, Los Angeles CA

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Crème Caramel

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Samples – Ube Vanilla Bread Pudding, Vanilla Bread Pudding, Banana Nutella Bread Pudding, Vanilla Crème Caramel, Honey Espresso Crème Caramel, Pandan Upside Down Pie

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Chocolate Almond Croissant Bread Pudding with House Caramel

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Ube Bread Pudding with House Caramel

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Pecan Crackle

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Brookie – Brownie Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar

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Salted Caramel Polenta Cake

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Uninspired by The Nook, but in a way happy that I’d have more stomach capacity to explore another sweet spot, it was still early morning when I entered Crème Caramel and greeted by some of the friendliest service in all of Southern California I was almost immediately assured I’d be exiting the small space sated and smiling, a whole bunch of samples sealing the deal well before an order was placed.

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Originally a food truck, but now inhabiting a brick n’ mortar home for just over a year on Burbank Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, it was originally in the restaurant’s eponymous item that the business was founded and still using the rich vanilla custard base in several of its dishes those fancying the French classic will be happy to know that each $5 iteration is a silky masterpiece on par with versions twice as pricey in ‘fine dining’ establishments, while those topped with streusel described as ‘upside down pies’ are perhaps even better, a seasonal screwfruit sample showing great balance between fruit, butter, and spice atop the creamy pudding base.

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Impressed enough by the crème caramels, but satisfied enough by tastes to invest in items even more beguiling, it was after perhaps ten minutes of conversation that an order was placed and continuing the chatter while one item was warmed and plated a steady stream of traffic trickled in an out, the young man restocking shelves also taking a sizeable phone order for some sort of party over the weekend.

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Taking four items in a box, and sitting down at a small counter to indulge in one more, it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my tastes that the steamy slab of chocolate almond croissant was a must-order and with the steamy square served piping hot beneath a tablespoon of house caramel a first bite immediately found bliss – the newly melted butter melding with dark chocolate amidst a custard soaked base that still maintained some semblance of layered lamination, a nearly impossible task I’ve not seen since visiting San Diego’s Extraordinary Desserts placing Crème Caramel on a high pedestal alongside bread pudding I continue to rank as ‘best ever.’

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Admittedly remiss to have not ordered more after exiting the space and driving a few miles Southeast, it was after some shopping along Ventura that I later sat down to experience the rest of the bounty and rewarming the Ube bread pudding slice my palate was soon treated to soft notes of purple yam providing a mellow counterpoint to sweet custard and caramel, a similar statement befitting the toothsome polenta base of a cake drenched with salty caramel – the large wedge amongst the city’s best dessert values at a total tab of just $2.50.

Transitioning next to heavier flavors, and still regretting breakfast that cut into how much appetite I could have invested in Crème Caramel, it was with a cup of coffee nearby that I tucked into the Pecan Crackle and finding the item somewhat akin to Gooey Butter Cake strewn with caramelized nuts I couldn’t help but wish the square had been just a few inches larger, though considering the heft of cocoa amidst the brownie-cookie hybrid “Brookie” perhaps I’m fortunate it wasn’t as there was far more dining to be done that day – and a return to Crème Caramel already planned for the not-too-distant future.

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www.cremecaramella.com

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Posted in Bread Pudding, Breakfast, California, Creme Caramel, Dessert, Food, Los Angeles, Vacation

The Nook, Encino CA

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The Nook

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Coffee

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Monte Cristo – Fried ham and cheese French Toast Sandwich on Egg Bread

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King Kong Cakes – Buttermilk Cakes, Bananas, Chocolate Chips, Topped with Peanut Butter and Whipped Cream

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Already garnering praise from locals in Encino, it was just after 8am on Friday that I parked in front of The Nook and entering the recently opened space to find smiling owners ready-in-waiting amidst cozy décor it was mere moments before I sat down at a sizable four-top as an I-Heart-Radio station played quietly overhead.

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More sizable than one would expect from the exterior, a large dining area with bucolic themes divided from the kitchen by a long bar, it was with coffee poured that the menu was perused and after a few questions confirmed fears of no WiFi and a lack of pure Maple Syrup the decision process became much simpler, a pair of plates tallying $30 after tax and tip along with the copiously refilled brew.

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Friendly enough, and near 1/3 capacity by the time I exited the establishment some sixty-minutes later, it was after a somewhat lengthy delay that my pair of plates arrived, and beginning first with the ‘Monte Cristo’ suffice it to say that the sliced French Toast was good, if not memorable, the addition of ham, cheese, and a touch of Strawberry Smucker’s equally competent though certainly not artisan or destination worthy, at all.

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Moving next to one of several varieties of pancakes, it was with high hopes based on the menu description that the buttermilk cakes would gussied up enough to avoid the use of a sidecar of Log Cabin quality stuff, but unfortunately relatively lacking in bananas or chocolate chips within the batter a large dollop of whipped cream and perhaps a tablespoon of Skippy only went so far – the fluffy triple-stack eagerly sopping up ‘syrup,’ though only the top cake proved worth eating, thus sending me forth unsatisfied and looking for more…

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http://www.breakfastatthenook.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, California, Coffee, Encino, Food, French Toast, Los Angeles, Pancakes, Pork, The Nook, Vacation

Redbird, Los Angeles CA

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Redbird

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The Devil’s Cocktail – Vermouth, Port, Lemon

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Dinner Roll, Tapioca Flour Roll, Butter

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Chicken Pot Pie – Hearts, Thighs, Thyme, Hen of the Woods

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New Caladonian Shrimp – Grits, Cocoa Nib Chipotle Mole

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Burrata Salad – Sweet & Sour Pears, Duck Prosciutto, Pistachio, Red Watercress

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Braised Goat Gemelli – Rapini, Fresno Chili, Garlic Bread Crumbs, Poached Egg

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Gnocchetti Sardi – Maine Lobster, Nettles, Black Trumpets, Tomato Confit

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Thai Style Dungeness Crab Soup – Cauliflower Flan

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Aged Liberty Farms Duck Breast – Duck Leg Chorizo, Hopping John, Pedro Ximenez

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Rabbitchetta – Anson Mills Polenta, Pea Tendrils, Thyme Sauce

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Day Boat Scallops – Peas, Morels, Orzo Perlato

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Pommes Aligot – Point Reyes Toma

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Creamsicle – Vanilla, Murcott Tangerines, Mint, Chile

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Crème Catalan – Citrus, Tarragon, Marcona Almonds, Blood Orange Sorbet

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Strawberry Tart – Harry’s Berries, Meyer Lemon, Passion Fruit, Crème Fraiche Ice Cream

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Cream Biscuits – Rhubarb, Strawberry, Pink Peppercorn Ice Cream

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Iced Double Espresso

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Continuing the recent reinvention of Downtown LA’s dining scene with a fresh modern American concept inhabiting a former religious space, Neal Fraser’s Redbird was tapped for an early Thursday rendezvous with four friends and locating nearby meter parking with minimal difficulty our entry to the stylish space just moments after our 6:00pm reservation the scene could only be described as bustling, the low-lit foyer packed with a boisterous cocktail crowd while the main room sat awash in sunlight, a sizable four-top far from the open fire-pit ours for the better part of the next three hours.

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Without a doubt one of Los Angeles’ most impressive dining rooms, the retractable ceiling and large windows surrounding several banquets, tables, and serving stations packed with bottles, glassware, and plates it was after a somewhat perplexing delay that a young man stopped by with menus and an ‘amuse’ cocktail, the water only available ‘on request’ and requiring frequently prompting throughout the evening, as did requests for more bread, share plates, and even a waiter from whom to order – the service surprisingly still green and undoubtedly burdened by a room in which no a single seat was empty for more than five minutes.

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Reprinted each day, the menu focused on all of Southern California’s seasonal bounty with a few ‘signatures’ already beginning to emerge, it was with the dietary discretions of one at our table taken into consideration that options were weighed and after discussing portions with our captain over a dozen plates were selected, a total of four courses served in succession with intervals to chat plentiful between each.

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Starting off with the sort of butter that immediately made me want to overindulge in a duo of rolls, the gluten free Tapioca flour iteration memorable as much for its flavor as for its composition, it would not be long before opening courses would arrive, and featuring two emerging signatures, as well as a creamy burrata salad that stood out as a result of pickled pears and duck prepared like a ham, one would be hard pressed to decide whether the ‘shrimp and grits’ or pot pie was more impressive, the former perhaps underserving the starch beneath textbook prawns and rich mole while the small-ish pot pie was the sort of thing we all shared reluctantly, the puff pastry featuring a golden crackle that stood up nicely to intense stew that balanced quite a bit of salt with herbal aromatics and the richness of offal.

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Moving next to mid-courses, both sharing plates and bowls presented on request, it was to somewhat mixed results that two pastas and a soup arrived – the Thai-inspired potage a bit too spicy for my palate, though favored by others, while the shredded goat dish was unfortunately a bit muddled by chilis melded to slightly overcooked pasta by egg; the Gnocchetti Sardi more than happy to steal the spotlight with tender dumplings juxtaposing butter poached lobster, pan seared mushrooms, and blistered tomatoes with just enough acid to highlight the nettles, a dish that truly spoke to Spring and as such one that will likely not be on the menu for long.

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Moving on to entrees, a trio selected along with a huge vessel of mashed potatoes fortified with Toma cheese, suffice it to say that higher prices on the menu’s third section are matched by portions far less dainty than those that precede, and although the buttery scallops were arguably a bit overcooked atop a delectable ragout of morels, peas, and pasta both the roulade of rabbit and the crispy skinned duck showed signs of a highly qualified kitchen, the former resting atop a base of creamy polenta while the fowl’s Southern themed starch dressed ‘beans and rice’ up in reduced PX to a sweet yet subtle effect.

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Never one to forgo desserts, and dining with those of a similar mindset, it was with a double espresso over ice that a quartet of options were at long-last selected and following the recent trend of putting herbs and savories in unexpected places it was admittedly unsurprising that such experimentation yielded both highs and lows – the former exemplified by tangerines tinged with heat but mellowed by vanilla and mint while both the Catalan custard and Cream Biscuits would have been better off prepared more traditionally, the Strawberry Tart exemplifying the art of not overthinking top tier ingredients as Harry’s exemplary berries shined atop a buttery crust with just enough tang in the ice cream to offset passion fruit puree and Meyer Lemon curd.

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http://redbird.la/

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Posted in Bread Basket, California, Coffee, Crab, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Lobster, Los Angeles, Redbird, Vacation

icdc, Los Angeles CA

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icdc

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Ice Cream Samples – Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Tangerine Vanilla Sherbet, Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet, Tcho Chocolate Sorbet

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The “Icdc” – Salt and Pepper Caramel Donut, Dulce de Leche Ice Cream, shot of Vittoria Espresso

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Buttermilk Brown Butter Doughnut

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Butterscotch Doughnut

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Fluffernutter Doughnut

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Rocky Road Doughnut

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Previously a pop-up at BLD, and officially opening brick and mortar at noon on Thursday, icdc – an acronym for ice cream, doughnuts, coffee – instantly found itself atop my ‘must visit’ list for this trip to LA and after a few hours of shopping nearby it seemed only logical to visit Neal Fraser’s newest concept for some pre-dinner bites before sitting down at Redbird, the Chef’s red-hot DTLA eatery, later that night.

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Small in size, a maximum capacity of five per the fire marshall’s decree hanging high above the door, icdc is entirely a grab n’ go affair and arriving to surprisingly find no line just moments before 4:15 it was to friendly service that I was greeted, a tasting of ice cream samples proving impressive in both texture and flavor with both the chocolate sorbet and tangerine vanilla sherbet amongst the best of their kind, the later reminiscent of my childhood favorite but upgraded in a fresh, juicy, and substantial way.

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Notably pricy, the ‘simple’ selections ringing in at $2 with filled and fancies priced at $3 and $4 for doughnuts no bigger than three-bites, it was after a few moments of indecision that selections were made and unable to resist the $8 signature ‘sundae’ a total of just over $24 inclusive of tax and tip was paid, “The icdc” consumed as I chatted with the staff and well worth the price of admission as the bitterness of ground-to-order espresso found more than a little levity in creamy dulce de leche atop a still-warm donut rife with yeast and salty caramel, the faintest hint of pepper lingering on the tongue following each slowly melting bite.

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At this point taking the party outdoors, the al fresco seating at BLD not yet occupied for dinner service, it was with box opened and doughnuts photographed that the tasting progressed and although the brown butter topped buttermilk was an oily disappointment all the flavors that followed resonated with the sort of creativity and ingredient quality to justify the cost, the fancies absolutely decadent though admittedly quite messy while the butterscotch filled iteration is poised to become a signature, the crystalline sugar crusted shell and wispy crumb wrapped around the sort of pudding oft imitated but seldom replicated from spots like Mozza, Gjelina, and Trotter’s To Go.

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http://bldrestaurant.com/

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Posted in California, Coffee, Dessert, Food, icdc, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, Vacation

Bricks & Scones, Los Angeles CA

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Bricks & Scones

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Chewy Roll

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Fig and Rosemary Scone and Buttermilk Cream Cheese Scone with Strawberry Jam

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Located on Larchmont, but far from the rapidly evolving hipster scene dominated by Salt & Straw, Go Get ‘Em Tiger, and stores selling everything from upscale sweatpants to hand crafted hats, Bricks & Scones was selected as a late afternoon snack largely based on positive word of mouth and sedate environs – the Free WiFi an additional perk along with house-baked goods that unfortunately proved to be less than impressive, particularly when accounting for cost.

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Undoubtedly a locals spot, the focus mostly on tea and sandwiches as well as the eponymous baked goods, it was just after 2pm that I entered the small space and perusing the options as the woman before me complained about the lack of ‘marmalade’ instead of jam it was not long before a three-part order was crafted, the pleasant young lady behind the counter offering to warm my options before I too found myself wondering aloud what sort of place featuring scones opted against offering some form of whipped or clotted cream.

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Rustic in décor, and even perhaps a bit too ‘dark,’ it was at a solo high-top that I eventually sat with my wooden tray and having opted for two small servings of strawberry jam to pair with the pastries my tasting began with a sesame chewy roll, the exterior crisp with a nearly hollowed out interior of tapioca flour soft and moist – the savory flavor quite good on its own, and a pleasant foil to jam that was unfortunately no better than Smucker’s, and doubtfully house made.

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Moving next to a duo of scones, each smallish round steeply priced at $3.75, suffice it to say that for a ‘signature’ item, the results were average at best, the external similar to those offered throughout England but the crumb trending a bit too dry, the cream cheese version lightly tangy while the fig and rosemary was pleasantly aromatic, the application of glaze pushing both into ‘sugary’ territory whereas a more authentic accoutrement of butter or cream could have solved the texture issue without marring the natural flavors in such a misguided way.

http://www.bricksandscones.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, Bricks & Scones, Bricks and Scones, California, Dessert, Food, Los Angeles, Vacation

Guelaguetza, Los Angeles CA

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Guelaguetza

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Red Fruit, Walnut, and Melon Horchatta

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Fresh Tortillas with Sweet Mole and Queso Fresco

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Tamal Oaxaqueno de Mole Negro con Pollo – Banana Leaf wrapped Corn Dough Tamale with Shredded Chicken in Black Mole

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Tlayuda Guelaguetza – Imported Tortilla Tlayuda layered with Asiento Paste and Black Bean Paste with Queso Fresco, Cabbage, Tasajo, Cecina, Chorizo, Oaxaca Cheese

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Quesillo Fundido – Mixed Oaxaca Cheese with Chorizo and Mushrooms

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Festival de Moles – Black, Red, Estofado, Coloradito, Sliced Chicken Breast, Rice, Handmade Tortilla

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Taco de Barbacoa de Chivo – Huge Handmade Corn Tortilla rolled around Young Goat cooked in Broth with Dried Chiles, Avocado Leaves, Herbs, Goat Broth

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Slated to take away an American Classics award from the James Beard Foundation in 2015 for cuisine that could not be less “American” if it tried, Guelaguetza had long been on the culinary radar, and finding two locals who also had surprisingly never ventured inside the large orange building a reservation was set – our noon arrival finding the space perhaps one-quarter full with staff entirely unstrained and service, thus, exemplary throughout the ninety minute stay.

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Mostly focused on Oaxacan fare, with a particular focus on Mole and imported crispy Tlayuda, it is to a nearly one-hundred item menu that diners are greeted, and with a small retail store as well as pastry case up front plus traditional décor beneath exposed ventilation the setting is slightly more upscale than several similar spots, but at the same time still quite ‘homey’ with the occasional stain or damaged table covering never far away – the open kitchen, however, entirely spotless with a team of at least eight working diligently crafting plates from grills, griddles, and fryers in plain view.

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Acknowledging large portions, and starting off with a smooth rice milk horchatta gussied up with fruit and nuts, it was eventually on four plates and one platter that our decisions would land and starting with house tortillas dressed in sweet red Mole appetites were piqued with expectations of good things to come.

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Perhaps unexpectedly the sort of place to serve ‘family style,’ and neglecting to ask for dishes to be coursed out, it was after a mere fifteen minutes that the glut of our order arrived and nearly overflowing a sizeable fourtop it was obvious from the start that someone would be taking leftovers home – the festival of moles alone large enough to feed a party of our size with all five varieties coming across entirely different from one another, the tomato based version with peppers certainly the most ‘vibrant’ while the black iteration strewn with shredded chicken was so earthy and aromatic up front that it almost came as a surprise when the linger was that of dark chocolate – this version particularly well paired to the rice, though the spicy pink version also necessitated such balance while the sweet version proved best slathered on the included soft tortilla that doubled as wrap for bubbly Quesillo Fundido teaming with snappy mushrooms and spicy house-made pork.

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Continuing with classics, it was next in the eponymous Tlayuda that we indulged and although the tortilla topped in cabbage, beans, and cheese was quite good on its own the simply grilled meats were far too thin to have spent so long over heat – all but the sausage decidedly dried out and although flavorful enough, almost jerky-like in texture, especially when compared to the tender young goat rolled into an enormous taco served adjacent to a bowl of spicy stew, the braise on the meat nothing short of textbook with just enough heat to make all the flavors pop.

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Unknowingly saving the best for last, already getting quite full by the time we unwrapped the steaming hot parcel, those looking for a completely new take on the tried and true tamale would be well served to order one of the Tamal Oaxaqueno de Mole Negro con Pollo, for as good as the black mole from the ‘festival’ was, an entirely new level of complexity was found when blending it with sweet, ground corn dough and a large portion of juicy shredded chicken, nearly a pound of comforting flavor rendering dessert entirely unnecessary, especially considering the fact that tres leches has been eliminated from the menu leaving behind only a few simple flans, gelatins, and fried plantains.

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www.ilovemole.com

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Posted in California, Food, Guelaguetza, Los Angeles, Pork, Vacation

Coffee Commissary, Burbank CA

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Coffee Commissary

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Morning Bun

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Salted Caramel Rice Krispy Treat

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Chocolate Chip Cookie

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OUR Biscuit with Butter and Rhubarb Jam

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Temple – Sonora Venecia Costa Rica Pour Over

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Making way to Burbank after breakfast, the hour still early but plenty of dining still to be done, it was just before 9:00am that I entered Coffee Commissary and although they were apparently ‘all out’ of the French Toast Sticks I’d coveted a small order was still rather easy to craft, the decidedly hipster employees, soundtrack, and setting surprisingly quite convivial with all sorts of folks holding meetings or tapping away on laptops with free WiFi as Dirty Projectors played on speakers overhead.

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Apparently one of four locations, this one featuring a bakery to compliment the small kitchen and high-quality barista brews, it was with a pour-over rich with notes of honey and bitter fruits that my experience began and waiting for one kitchen item to be prepped the flavors of the brew proved a nice match to not only a reference standard morning bun rife with cinnamon, but also to a chocolate chip cookie that was fresh from the oven with large pockets of chocolate and a nearly soufflé soft center surrounded by a rim that was golden and crisp – a textbook cookie and perhaps the best of its kind that I’ve tasted outside of fine-dining environs in the last twelve (or more) months.

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Still a bit miffed about the French Toast, but having heard remarkable things about a biscuits proudly proclaimed on the menu with an all capital “OUR,” it was with great interest that I watched the young lady in the kitchen remove the small round from a baking sheet and proceed to sear it on a hot griddle with more butter and although I cannot say the biscuit was at all “traditional” the extra time, attention, and cost of $4 proved entirely worthwhile as each half featured crunchy flakes on all sides with a soft buttermilk center quite perfect on its own, but all the better when spread with just a bit more butter and house-made jam potent with roasted rhubarb – my personal preference for biscuits with honey cast aside, for once, without regret.

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Presumably saving the best – or at least most talked about – item for last, it was finally in the Salted Caramel Rice Krispy Treat that I partook and although not the “wowing” experience that was the biscuit or cookie I can certainly see the item’s appeal to loyal fans, all the ‘expected’ aspects of the lunch-box staple present with a shellac of sticky caramel and sea salt serving to upgrade the item to ‘adult’ status, or at least to the sort of ‘throwback’ nostalgia that Coffee Commissary’s hirsuit and inked up audience seem to know and love.

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http://www.coffeecommissary.com/burbank

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Posted in Breakfast, Burbank, California, Coffee, Coffee Commissary, Dessert, Food, Los Angeles, Vacation

Aroma Coffee & Tea, Studio City CA

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Aroma Coffee & Tea

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Fonte Coffee

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Chocolate Bread Pudding

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Morning Sticky Bun

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Carrot Cake

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Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Cowboy Cookie – Pretzel, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip

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Monster Cookie – Oatmeal, Peanut Butter, Reese’s Pieces, M&Ms

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Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Bar

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With a last minute change of plans causing me to leave Las Vegas on Thursday morning as opposed to Wednesday night it was with a 2am wakeup call and four hours of driving under my belt that I approached Aroma Coffee and Tea, and with the proper breakfast menu not beginning until 7:00am the decision was made to instead indulge in pastries – a baker’s half-dozen selections plus coffee tallying a steep $38 after tax and tip.

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Set in a large former house in Studio City, on the very edge of Burbank, Aroma features no less than thirty daily cakes and pastries in addition to a menu of breakfast and lunch plates, and with a strong following of local retirees or work-from-home sorts already partially filling the patio surrounded space it was only after long perusal that tough choices were made, a large cup of Fonte coffee prepared to my liking while two items were warmed and plated, the cookies and bars individually wrapped and bagged.

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Opting to take my goods indoors as the lovely al fresco dining was still a bit chilly, it was with no difficulty that Free WiFi was accessed and starting with hot items it should come as no surprise that the $7.95 Bread Pudding was an early favorite, cubes of brioche crispy on the exterior with a good custard infusion and plenty of Chocolate Chips standing in stark contrast to a spiraled morning bun that unfortunately came off a bit underwhelming, the light sweetness and spice coming through on first bites but subsequently giving way to a core that was flavored only of yeast and butter with nary a note of cinnamon to be found.

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Moving next to the Pecan Bar, it was perhaps my lack of attention to the description of the small square that led to some disappointment as the chocolate completely dominated the flavor profile, and casting the majority of this item aside for the birds enjoying the backyard birdbath it was onward to a wedge of carrot cake that the tasting progressed, the moist cake coming across quite dense and extremely natural with no lack of shredded carrots juxtaposed by raisins, nuts, and the sort of cream cheese frosting that makes you wish every kitchen were willing to sacrifice sweetness in favor of a more tangy approach.

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Taking a bag of cookies to the road, but not really waiting more than an hour or so to let temptation take hold, suffice it to say that while several places in Los Angeles are turning out a superior Chocolate Chip one would be hard pressed to not smile at either the Cowboy of the Monster – the former punctuating sugar-sweetened oats with salty pretzel crunch and dark chocolate while the later was all sorts of chewy goodness, the peanut butter perhaps a bit heavy handed when taking into account the candy, but pretty darn delicious with a cup of coffee none the less.

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http://www.aromacoffeeandtea.com/

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Posted in Aroma Coffee & Tea, Aroma Coffee and Tea, Bread Pudding, Breakfast, California, Coffee, Dessert, Fonte Coffee, Food, Los Angeles, Studio City, Vacation

Allegro, Las Vegas NV

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Allegro

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

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

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

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Fried Calamari – Cherry Peppers, Spicy Tomato Sauce

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Beef and Pork Meatballs, Sausage, Tomato Sauce

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Eggplant Parmigiana

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

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

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

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

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Tiramisu

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Baba au Rhum with Bluberries

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Bread Pudding with Rum Raisin Ice Cream

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Pear Frangipane Tarte

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Double Espresso on Ice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allegro on Urbanspoon

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

Grand Café at Palace Station, Las Vegas NV

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Grand Café at Palace Station

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Cinnamon Roll

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Banana Nut Muffin

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Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

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Buttermilk Biscuits

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Blueberry Lemon Cupcake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECOMMENDED: Pancakes, Cookies, Cinnamon Roll.

AVOID: Banana Muffin, Cupcake.

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

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

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

Grand Cafe on Urbanspoon

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

Hexx Kitchen + Bar, Las Vegas NV

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Hexx Kitchen + Bar

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Peete’s Coffee

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

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

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Chocolate Pancakes – Caramel Syrup, Fresh Banana, Powdered Sugar

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Cinnaroll Waffle – Cream Cheese Frosting, Cinnamon, Sugar

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

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Baked Cheese – Carr Valley Wisconsin Cheese, Fig Jelly

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

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

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Pineapple Upside Down – Pineapple Compote, Vanilla Ice Cream

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

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Crème Puff – Chocolate Cream, Toasted Marshmallow, Graham Cracker

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

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

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Single Origin Chocolates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.hexxlasvegas.com

HEXX kitchen + bar on Urbanspoon

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

Le Cirque [3,] Las Vegas NV

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Le Cirque

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Souffle de Saison – Raspberry Vanilla Swirl, Crème Anglaise

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Raspberry Parfait, Champagne Gelee, Lychee Guimauves, Hibiscus Consommee

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

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

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

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

Lago, Las Vegas NV

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Lago

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

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

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

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

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

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Risotta Alla Trippa e Funghi – Tripe, Mushroom, Mint

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Risotto al Vino Rosso – Red Wine, Burrata

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Gnocchi Alla Romana – Flat Semolina Gnocchi, Blue Cheese

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

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

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‘Nduja Crostini – Spicy Pork Sausage, Gorgonzola

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

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

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

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Polpette di Carne – Tomato Braised Beef Meatballs

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Viteello Tonnato – Chilled Thin Slice Veal, Tuna Caper Dressing

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Scaloppina di Vitello – Veal Piccata

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Costa di Manzao – Slow Cooked Short Ribs

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Quaglia Saltimbocca – Boneless Quail, Prosciutto, Sage

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

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Garganelli – Squid Ink Garganelli, Whole Lobster, Tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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Double Espresso on Ice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AVOID: Canneloni, Malloreddos, Desserts.

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

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

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

Lago - Bellagio on Urbanspoon

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

Tapas by Alex Stratta, Las Vegas NV

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Tapas by Alex Stratta

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Sangria

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Spanish Osetra Caviar – Bottarga Stuffed Egg, Pimenton

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

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Potato Tortilla – Caramelized Onions, Eggs

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Roasted Eggplant Dip – Romesco, Chickpea Crisps

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Baked Monte Enebro – Pistachio Crust, Caramelized Onions

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Valenciana Paella – Rabbit, Snails, Broad Beans

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Fried Oysters – Crisp Bacon, Lettuce Cups

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Seeded House Lavash

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

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Medjool Dates – Crispy Pancetta, Apple-Mustard Sauce

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Bacalao – Olives, Oranges, Fennel

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Grilled Octopus – Garbanzos, Celery Hearts

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Bone Marrow Dip – Chimichurri, Serrano Crisps

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Chicken Croquetas – Greens, Raspberry Crisps

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Patatas Bravas – Chile Sauce, Saffron Alioli

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Saffron Alioli – Sweet Onion Cocas, Pimenton

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Fresh Churros – Chocolate, Spices

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Arroz Con Leche – Vanilla, Almonds

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Frozen Nougat – Pistachio, Citrus, Turkish Apricot

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Chocolate and Almond Cake – Cajeta, Sweet Sherry

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Bunuelos – Vanilla Cream, Powdered Sugar

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Lustau, Pedro Ximinez PX Sherry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.alexstrattagroup.com/

Tapas by Alex Stratta on Urbanspoon

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

CREAM, Las Vegas NV

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CREAM

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Peanut Butter Cookie

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Snickerdoodle / Royal Caramel Swirl / Salted Caramel / Oatmeal Raisin

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Chocolate Chip / Toasted Almond / Butter Pecan / Red Velvet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AVOID: Red Velvet Cookie, Butter Pecan Ice Cream.

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

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

http://www.creamnation.com/

Cream on Urbanspoon

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

Billy’s Bar-B-Que, Las Vegas NV

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Billy’s Bar-B-Que

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Fresh corn bread with homemade honey butter

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Brisket Baked Beans

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Mac & Cheese

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Free SoftServe

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Spicy Beef Sausage

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Half Rack Babyback Ribs

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Brisket

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Pulled Pork

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Pulled Chicken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RECOMMENDED: Brisket, Baked Beans, Cornbread, Sausage.

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AVOID: Smoked Chicken, Pulled Pork.

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

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

http://www.billysbbq.vegas/

Billy's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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

Griddlecakes, Las Vegas NV

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Griddlecakes

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Buttermilk Biscuits

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French Toast

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Short Stack of Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Pancakes

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

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

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

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

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

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RECOMMENDED: Buttermilk Biscuits.

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

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

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

http://www.griddlecakeslv.com/

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

Searsucker, Las Vegas NV

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Searsucker

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Cheddar Puffers (jalapeno)

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Brie “triple” + Strawberry jam (toasted baguette)

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

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

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

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Shrimp “spicy” + Bacon grits (red pepper)

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Mushrooms + Burrata + Toast (bitter green salad)

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

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

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

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Brussel + Walnut (fried garlic)

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

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Duck – White Bean + Confit + Fig (tomato)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searsucker on Urbanspoon

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