Located down the way from Central Provisions, the walk-in only favorite generating a 75-minute wait for Sunday Brunch, Gorgeous Gelato proved an admirable stop for a frozen snack on Sunday afternoon as temperatures approached the 90°F, small batches of housemade gelato being turned out fresh as our party arrived with Chefs working intently within a kitchen visible through doors made of glass.
Hanging clever signage of inspired quotes to compliment several cases of gelato, cakes, tarts and frozen confections, Gorgeous Gelato promotes using old-world Italian techniques to craft each of its frozen concoctions and with no flavor more than a few days old at the time of service there is little chance for error no matter which is selected.
Unlimited in terms of samples, the two young men behind the counter working well together as one slings scoops while the other works coffee and cash register, it was after tastes of several traditional flavors including an exceedingly natural Pistachio that two small bowls and a “gelato cannoli” were paid for, the total of $12 a touch pricy but well justified by the craftsmanship entailed.
Going for the flavors of Hazelnut and Salty Caramel in bowl one, the former a spot on representation of the nut without trending into the more commonly seen realm of “Nutella,” cup two dialed up the creativity with the eponymous flavor featuring ribbons of caramel and chocolate amidst the sweet cream base while the “oreo” tasted identical to the cookie’s wafers without trending overly sweet as though it entirely lacked the cream filling.
More than a bit intrigued by the lemon tart and whoopie pies, but even moreso by crispy shells packed with flavors not offered in the case, final tastes of Gorgeous Gelato came by way of smooth ricotta and figs rolled inside thicker-than-typical cannolis, the texture not exactly what one might expect from experiences with the traditional version but all-in-all just as pleasing with the blended cheese and base providing a delicate backdrop for chopped figs whose texture remained surprisingly soft despite the freezing.
Lemon Zucchini Bread Whoopie Pie with Blueberry Cream
Red Velvet Cupcake with Mixed Berry Cream
Blueberry Oat Scone with Lemon Cream
Said by some to be the best bakery in Portland, if not all of Maine, Two Fat Cats has been pleasing locals with old-world baking techniques ever since opening the doors in 2005, the passion of four friends exemplified in a well-culled daily variety of pies, cookies, whoopies, tarts and cakes.
Located at 47 India Street, a fortuitous space near to the water, tourist corridor and most of the city’s best dining spots, Two Fat Cats beckons would-be patrons at a distance with the smells of yeast, flour as well as spices and for those fortunate to stop in and descend the staircase the temptations prove substantial whether the interest is sweet or savory, some items stored behind the counter while others rest in a chilled case or cooling on a wooden bakers rack.
Friendly in terms of service, a sort of co-op feel embraced by staff and patrons who all seem to understand the bakery’s place in the community at large, early arrival is advised for those hoping to snag hand pies, daily slices or individual servings sizes, the seasonality of the menu on this day offering late-season Rhubarb mixed with strawberries in the former while the ‘signature’ black and blue omits any extra sugar or filling in favor of all-natural berries cooked just past bursting inside a flaky all-butter pastry.
Unfortunately faring poorly by way of a cupcake, the light cream topping pleasant while the red velvet base was unfortunately quite dry, better bites were found amidst two styles of Maine-favorite Whoopie Pie, the Chocolate version more-or-less expected with a good cake-to-filling ratio while the combination of Lemon and Blueberries was downright delicious whether presented by way of the sandwich cookie or buttery scone loaded with toothsome rolled oats.
Baker’s Dozen including Honey Dip, Triple Chocolate, Blueberry , Boston Cream, Maple Cream, Apple Fritter, Apple Bacon Fritter, Blueberry Fritter, Butter Crumb, Patriotic Sprinkles, etc.
Doubling back from Portland for one of Maine’s most iconic eateries it was with a twenty-five minute drive to Wells that the car was parked out front of Congdon’s Doughnuts and greeted by what appeared to be a substantial queue both inside and at the outdoor window a long wait was quickly circumvented by opting for breakfast at one of several indoor tables.
Proudly flying a banner of family owned and operated since 1955, the now-expanded store earning national accolades for their fried dough throughout the years, Congdon’s story is proudly presented on the restaurant website and now a destination for both locals and tourists the experience is like that of many famous diners multiplied ten-fold, the service efficient and genuine with an unexpectedly high quality of craftsmanship found in the food.
Undoubtedly most famous for their Doughnuts, the July 4th weekend particularly busy with “thousands of dozens” being fried throughout the day and night to meet demands, those fortunate enough to sign up for Congdon’s Rewards Program will be treated to a free bakers-dozen at the time of their first visit, the items carefully boxed and holding up well for those wishing to deliver (or devour) them elsewhere in the North East.
Seated at a tight four-top, coffee in hand with refills rapid to arrive, it was after brief perusal that a collection of three entrees plus two “appetizers” were chosen and willfully overordering it was perhaps fifteen minutes before the dining got started, the Chocolate Whoopie Pie far lighter than its enormous size might indicate while the griddled muffin was an exquisite specimen rife with butter and sweet boozy tones.
Turning attention to larger plates, the $20 Lobster Benedict surprisingly loaded with knuckle, claw and tail atop toasty English Muffins with a proper Hollandaise, a desire for more sweetness saw both the seared Honey Bun and Buttermilk Stack with Wild Maine Blueberries arrive simultaneously, both tasty on their own but even better when dressed in Pure Maple Syrup available at a supplemental $2.25 fee.
Not leaving much at the table, but at the same time undoubtedly soon to be overwhelmed by thirteen doughnuts, those looking for ‘novelty’ are encouraged to head North or South for their fried dough fix, the options at Congdon’s following a more traditional line of thinking with the yeasted versions puffy beneath layers of sweet glaze while cake options are heavier without being greasy, the ‘second best’ bites a toss-up between Butter Crumb, Maple Cream or the classic Honey Dip while the best of the best was undoubtedly a powder sugar dredged pocket of stewed Blueberries more than justifying the inevitable mess.
Dark Cornish Hen, Fricassee ‘aux Printemps’, Turnips, Potatoes, Brussels Flowers
Basil Variations, Crème Fraiche, Duck Egg, Maple Meringue
Beets, Mint, Watercress, Pine Needles, Black Tea
Foie Gras Madeline, Beet Macaron with Parsnip Cream, Popcorn Truffle with Maple Cream, Mocha Truffle with Loganberry
Suggested by in-the-know diners as a “must visit” destination in the small town of Dover New Hampshire, Stages at One Washington features the culinary skills of Evan Hennessey, a man with as impressive a pedigree as any US-Trained Chef in the nation’s biggest cities, and perhaps the only one practicing what the Chef himself describes as “progressive New England Cuisine.”
Tucked away in an unlikely space within a large industrial building, the kitchen and dining room organized around a menu of locally sourced products offered as a four course prix-fixe, eight plate surprise or twelve round tasting focusing on individual elements, those fortunate enough to land a seat at the counter are treated to a feast for the senses with Hennessey and his lone assistant making and plaiting course after course from a variety of induction griddles, convection ovens and sous-vide contraptions, each course as beautiful as it is delicious and all delivered with descriptions as in depth as the diner may desire.
Dining with those less agreeable to “surprise” than myself, but at the same time agreeable to ordering distinct tastings allowing our trio to taste every item on the prix-fixe plus an amuse and quartet of mignardises, it was with the dining room empty but the kitchen counter full that Chef Hennessey and his Sous started the evening promptly after a 6:00pm seating, a small crisp giving just a sense of flavors to follow while course one offered supple oxtail amidst mushrooms and purslane for the meat eaters, the charred Pea Pods and Beets showing the hand of someone equally capable of eschewing meat entirely.
Doing everything possible in house, a small indoor garden of herbs and no lack of aged or fermented items included, course two saw the duo behind the counter present fresh fettuccine juxtaposing sliced squid beneath a veil of cured pork versus a plate of supple headcheese balanced by radish and pungent greens, the decision as to which was better a toss-up though those opposed to the texture or sapor of tete de cochon would be well advised to note that Stages is not the sort of place to shy away from funky flavors in some half-hearted attempt to please.
Progressing at a good pace, no more than fifteen minutes between courses despite each item being composed a la minute, entrees continued to show the kitchen’s predilection for bitters brought into focus alongside sours and earthy flavors, the local Halibut a generous portion with crispy Sunchokes standing in for skin while the juicy Guinea Hen was further enriched by a stuffing of forcemeat alongside tender root vegetables atop pan juice and herbal cream.
Not exactly sure how dessert would unfold considering the ingredients, the sous-vide Duck Egg apparently a new addition to the menu with basil syrup, foam, flowers and meringue all contributing individually to the creamy yolk and smooth semifreddo of Crème Fraiche, it was actually the textures of Beet that proved to be the better of the two concepts, the black tea notes contributing just a lingering hint on the palate without being overwhelmed by the concentrated sweetness of dehydrated rounds nor the up-front flavors of mint.
Truly a marvelous meal, both dining partners marveling at how they had originally been ‘worried’ about the menu, even the mignardises at Stages at One Washington refuse to take the easy way out, the chef instead offering made to order beet macarons and Foie Gras Madelines next to a duo of delicate bon-bons from which the Mocha with Loganberry was anything but an afterthought.
Another Route One favorite of Food Network fans, the promise of “World Famous Food like Grandma Used to Make” brought to the masses when Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives decided to visit during a trip to New England, The Maine Diner has been serving locals in Wells for over thirty years and although options including Baked Beans, Pot Pie or All-day breakfast may beckon the real calling remains that of the Atlantic Ocean.
Bustling at all times, a gift store next door providing distraction to those awaiting the call of a vibrating pager, it was just past two o’clock on Saturday that seating was found in a corner alcove, part of the offerings displayed on the placemat while more interesting signatures are presented via rather substantial menu.
Offering diner-style service, our particular waitress working at the restaurant for over 15 years, it was after long perusal of several ‘named’ specials that meals were selected, the bill’s total not much different than that at Bob’s Clam Hut with far better service and a significantly larger amount of food.
Opting for coffee and water, the brew strong if not particularly well-paired to seafood, it was after perhaps twenty minutes that the table was flooded and beginning first with two styles of soup plus a corn muffin and biscuit the “oldschool” approach was immediately noteworthy, the Sherry-infused She Crab a full-on cream potage while the chowder was of a thinner variety, both rife with seafood and made to be wiped clean from bowls with breads that are difficult to stop eating.
Taking a different approach to the lobster roll by presenting a butter poached beauty tucked into a toasty roll with more butter at its side it was with glee that each diner took two-bites before tasting the crispy cod cake, the texture similar to Brandade as opposed to a fish stick, but still not in the same league as Maine Diner’s signature Lobster Pie that sees a half-pound of sweet meat baked till bubbling in a sauce of butter and crumbled golden crackers.
Stuffed but finding it inconceivable to forgo desserts, the in-house bakeshop presenting no less than a dozen styles of cookies, cakes, puddings and pies, it was with deference to novelties that the table passed on ice Blueberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream or Bread Pudding, the trio presented highlighted by bursting Mane Blueberries in an all butter crust alongside a thick block of Grapenut infused Custard and New England’s creamy Cornmeal and Molasses Indian Pudding.
Rococo Ice Cream – Honey Vanilla and Speculoos Pretzel
Chocolate Whoopie Pie
One of the rare Lobster Shacks, Clam Huts or Fresh Seafood purveyors open all-seasons, Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery Maine is in the midst of celebrating its 60th year serving up the regions bounty of fish and shellfish, a summertime stop on the weekend prior to Independence Day delayed by nearly two-hours due to sluggish traffic out of Boston showing the place to be jammed packed with both locals and tourists.
At this point sort of a phenomenon, the place already quite popular before Guy Fieri turned it white hot by stopping by with Triple-D, Bob’s has been a family owned operation since day one and adapting to newfound masses by way of several delivery windows outside the ordering area the process itself is actually quite simple, selections made from a big board of Market Prices with a short wait separating payment from the calling of a number listed on the receipt.
Expanding parking to a nearby shopping center, seating likewise grown to fill a backyard of picnic tables with more chairs offered out front or in a small sheltered area inside, it was with nearly $70 exchanged for an order that the tray was taken to an outdoor table and with ice-cream poorly stored and thereby quickly melting dessert actually preceded the meal, the Honey Vanilla largely wasted (and making a complete mess in the process) while the Cookie Butter and Pretzel fared slightly better, the sweet and salty balance still appreciable despite drips rapidly falling to the floor.
Using several wet-naps throughout the afternoon, most before first bites were even taken of the savories, suffice it to say that Whole-Belly is definitely the way to go when ordering clams at anywhere that they are available and although the flavor may not be for everyone the ones served at Bob’s are undoubtedly textbook, as too are the freshly shucked scallops that maintain their meaty sweetness after a quick trip to the deep fryer following the light application of batter.
Not particularly impressed by Bob’s Chowder, the clams and potatoes plethoric but the broth trending too thin, it was onward to the Jumbo Lobster Roll that the meal progressed and although a touch pricy at $24 there is no doubt that both the crustacean is as fresh as any out there, the light mayo dressing just barely perceptible atop the toasty roll’s liberal application of butter.
Surprisingly finding Boston to be a bit resistant to the idea of fancy doughnuts, several locals and review sites bashing the three most well-known purveyors based on little more than distaste for the price, Blackbird Doughnuts seems to have taken up the mantle for the whole genre by dubbing itself “Boston’s Finest Artisanal Doughnuts” and with a layout similar to Chicago’s Doughnut Vault or Bluestar in Venice California the Grab n’ Go only location turns out some pretty exquisite fried pastry, though perhaps not quite as good as the best of the best.
Opting to use the bulk of its floorplan as a bakery rather than point of sales, the small queue giving patrons a few minutes to peruse the options before reaching the front of the line, Blackbird offers a dozen daily options plus Monkey Bread at a cost of $3 each and with coffee, tea and ice-cream also available the line actually moves fairly quickly with customer service that was all smiles and helpfulness just past 9:20am.
Taking choices to the curb, the reversed pizza-box packaging eliciting a chuckle when opened, tasting began with a small round of baked Monkey Bread that unfortunately saw caramel melted and hardened at the base of it, but quickly moving on to the eponymous cake doughnut with Vanilla glaze a far better standard was witnessed as the base melted with a soft crumb and rich buttery notes.
Rare to find a place where both yeasted and cake options fare equally well it was with admitted surprise that both Blackbird’s Salted Toffee and Strawberry Honey were reference standard in terms of texture as well as taste, the first doing a nice job of balancing sweetness to savory while the latter trumped Dunkin’s pink ring by a country mile, the Triple Chocolate a touch dry and almost *too* rich while the PB+J Bismark was stuffed just shy of bursting with lightly sugared Strawberries and a core of smoothly ground peanuts.
A favorite of South Boston with “Huge Portions, Great Food,” Mike’s Diner has been pleasing the local populace for years with diner-style favorites, a recent look showing the food to be consistent with similar spots in elsewhere, no one item particularly ‘standout’ though everything was well priced with service and line-cooks that exemplify what it takes to stay relevant for so long.
The sort of place with a laminated menus of offerings, some no more elaborate than eggs and toast while others get a bit more innovative without reinventing the wheel, entrance to Mike’s City Diner is likely to be met by a wait for any arriving after 8am on weekends and with specials written on a small blackboard the decision process is expedited, coffee and water continuously refilled with dishes arriving no more than fifteen minutes later.
Tightly packed at tables, the entirety of the space probably not advisable for seating of more than fifty at most, those looking for a bit more room are encouraged to sit at the bar on unbacked stools and bearing in mind a cash-only sales policy the warning of big plates should make all but the most hungry diners consider an approach focused on sharing, the housemade muffins not particularly enormous but delicious after a brief grilling.
Celebrated for three things, the Pilgrim Sandwich unavailable before 11am on Weekends but the other two unquestionably worth an order, plates all arrived simultaneously to quickly flood the small four-top and although the daily special pancakes were indeed good with rich notes of buttermilk they simply could not stand up to either the side of crispy Turkey Hash or the full-sized French Toast that sees the outside griddled golden while the center remains soft and custard-laden with the option to order pure Maple syrup offered at a supplementary charge.
Vegetarian Pakora – Nepali appetizer prepared from mixture of different vegetables coated with spiced grain flour batter, and then deep-fried crispy
Onion Bhajji – Free structural onion cake, deep-fried and served with chutney
Aaloo Jeeraa – Well steamed potatoes re-fried with light spices and cumin seeds
Fry Chicken Momo – Fried Version of Nepali steamed dumplings, featuring spiced minced chicken, served with Sesame Sauce
Dhindo – Made by boiling hot water and continuously mixing and stirring millet flour. Served with Ginger and Mango, Gundruk (pickled and dried Mustard Greens) and Goat Curry
Tandoori Mixed Grill Platter – Mixture of chicken, lamb and shrimps cooked on skewers in tandoor, fashioned with Onion and Bell Peppers on a sizzling plate
Tandori Roti – Whole-wheat flat traditional bread backed in clay oven with butter
Paneer Kulcha – Cheese. Flat soft wheat bread stuffed with chopped cheese with mild spices
Goat Bhootan – Special nepali dish where stomach, liver, intestine and lungs of goat will be fried along with nepali spices, fashioned with onions and cilantro
Suji Haluwaa – Semolina is sauteed in the fat while a syrup is being made of the sweetener and water, the two are mixed carefully while hot, and finished with cashew nuts and other aromatic spices
Kheer – Popular dessert rice pudding is a dish made from rice mixed with milk and other aromatic ingredients such as cinnamon, cashew and raisins
Located on West Desert Inn Road, directly across from I-Naba which oddly features a South Decatur Boulevard address, Saino Indian Nepali Kitchen is not the sort of place patrons ‘stumble upon’ as the storefront is hidden well off both Streets behind a Sinclair Gas Station, yet claiming to be the first Nepalese/Himalayan Restaurant in all of Las Vegas the concept seemed worthy of investigation.
Thus far gathering much of its attention for a $9.95 lunch buffet, the still-labeled hot and cold tables showing the selection to be “good, but mostly traditional Indian” by a friend familiar with such things, the decision to partake in dinner at Saino was driven largely by the staff’s inability to answer E-mails or explain by phone whether A la Carte options were offered from 11a-3p, the 6 o’clock arrival seeing five sat at a round table without a single other patron present until a quarter past seven.
No doubt a sizable menu, all items detailed with lengthy descriptions that often proved inaccurate as pictures of some helped guide choices both at the table and on the wall, those looking for attentive service are probably best to avoid Dinner at Saino as the waiters seem more intent on standing about chatting with colleagues or adjusting Indian Pop-Music than they are with refilling beverages or assuring accuracy to the tickets, water requiring repeated requests on more than one occasion while double charges were made for items not received – some sold out and another never requested.
Not an expensive place, the waiter’s reference to Sysco and US Foods during a discussion not unexpected but at the same time not “brag-worthy” as he made it seem, the meal started off predictably with crisp Bread served alongside Tamarind and Mint Chutney, the first courses delayed due to difficulty firing the Tandoori despite an arrival almost an hour after opening, another odd statement as the crispy Pakora and Onion Bhajji were both fried, anyway.
Ignoring the ubiquitous spelling mistakes on the menu, but more perplexed by the number of items with inconsistent pricing online versus the menu versus the bill, follow-ups to the tasty fried vegetables were delivered as a slow rollout with Garlic Naan that was typical, if not particularly memorable, a large plate of Aaloo Jeeraa providing the meal’s first ‘wow’ moment by way of texture and the complexity of the spice profile while Chicken “Mo-Mo” was served fried as opposed to boiled, as requested, though perusal of the menu after leaving would show the table was charged for both.
Told that the signature Dhindo would take an hour to prepare, high heat and constant stirring turning Millet into a sort of mashed Root Vegetable texture that may not look all that appealing but springs to life when mixed with Bone Marrow fortified Goat Curry and pickled Vegetables, the Mixed Grill of Tandoori skewered Meats was tender, moist and well flavored with sizzling Bell Peppers and Onions that made vaguely resembled Fajitas, a particularly amusing association as the arrival only shortly preceded a basket of soft Roti that had been ordered much earlier in the meal.
Not served the Vegetarian Curry advertised with Dhindo, listed pickles omitted with several other plates, it was not really a shock that no rice arrived with the Goat Bhootan and although the very concept of this dish will likely be met by disgust by most diners the diversity of flavors and textures found amidst stewed Goat Offal was actually quite exemplary, the minerality of liver at times a touch harsh while alveolar tubes presented like well cooked calamari, all beneath a bold veil of spicing.
Particularly impressed by Paneer Kulcha, soft pockets of cheese baked right into the soft bread, desserts were a bit disappointing, particularly as Saino was “sold out” of Gajar Halva that the table was still charged for, the Suji Haluwaa something never seen prior but faintly resembling polenta in its texture while Rice Pudding was watery and just fair-to-middling.
THREE AND A HALF STARS: A very worthwhile stop based only on the quality of cuisine, Saino Indian Nepali Kitchen’s failures by way of service even prove a challenge to those expecting nothing more than the basics. Not particularly ‘shocking’ in some ways, but at the same time not at all acceptable considering the omissions, overcharges and general lack of speed, one must assume the Lunch Buffet precludes some of these problems, though a la carte is the only way to order most of the more interesting and authentic Nepalese plates.
AVOID: Kheer, leaving without thoroughly perusing the bill.
TIP: Social Media offers 15% off discounts which just might cover all the overcharges. Dhindo should be requested in advance as the quoted cook time is 60 minutes, though given the general speed of service this should be fine provided a few plates are ordered at the same time.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.
Chef’s Platter – Olli Fennel Salumi, Prosciutto di Parma, House Cured Pork Loin, Barely Buzzed, Sea Scape, Rogue Smokey Blue, Pickles, Crostini, Calabrian Pepper Spread
Egg Panino with Spinach, Roasted Peppers, Goat Cheese, Potato Bun and a Side Salad
Short Rib Lasagna with San Marzano Tomatoes, Onions, Ricotta, Mozzarella
Brioche French Toast with Smoked Maple Syrup (+ Sweet Buffalo Milk Ricotta with Pistachios)
Nutella Panino with Dulce De Leche Crème and Grated HeXX Chocolate
Recently expanding an already impressive lunch and dinner menu to Sunday Brunch it was much to the surprise of the waiter when a request was made for the Brunch Menu on Saturday at 11:00AM, but confirming with Chef Carlos Buscaglia that the five extra items had indeed been promoted for both weekend days by Social Media another great afternoon was spent at the oft overlooked gem on Town Center Drive just South of Downtown Summerlin.
Recently informed that Pizzas are made by gas ovens and not wood, something few would have ever guessed given the perfect crust on his Pies, those familiar with Chef Buscaglia’s history in Las Vegas kitchens will probably be surprised by the fact that Due Forni has now been open for over five years and, despite the small size of the kitchen, that the menu continues to evolve seasonally with the team going so far as to craft some of its own sausage and charcuterie.
Unable to pass on the Chef’s Platter, on this day three Domestic Cheeses including a personal favorite in the Espresso-rubbed Barely Buzzed, Carlos’ House Smoked Pork Loin dazzled alongside imported Prosciutto and Salumi from Olli and whether eaten solo or stacking on grilled crostini the flavors of each ingredient met high expectations with a truly generous portion for just $20.
Taking notes from the lunch menu by offering a new Sandwich at Brunch the Egg Panino shines by way of a tender Omelet of Spinach and Goat Cheese that seems to have smoky Peppers infused into it rather than being dotted with diced vegetables, and although a scalding cast-iron skillet of Lasagna is obviously a much more decadent concoction the result is perhaps even more impressive as the edges are charred dark and crunchy with vibrant Tomatoes more than capable of standing up to the shredded Beef and two Cheeses.
Having seen Facebook posts of the French Toast, Brioche brought from Bon Bread, it was with delight that Chef Buscaglia also announced a new dessert offered by way of a Nutella Panino made from similar, the decision between them largely a matter of preference, and to which “both” is a perfectly acceptable answer as the Panino is rich with Hazelnut Spread and delicious when dipped in the creamy white side car while the former offers a good sear overlying soft custard center with even more intrigue added by adding a small order of Due Forni’s Sweet Ricotta in order to create a truly wholly desirable breakfast Cannoli.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS: Continuing to evolve and improve in a space many seem to have forgotten as ‘newer,’ ‘fancier,’ or more trendy places have opened around town, Due Forni is that ‘neighborhood’ place that you always pass by but rarely think to visit…perhaps something worth considering next time you get hungry shopping up the street instead of spending more for less at some mediocre burger joint or imported ‘theme’ restaurant.
RECOMMENDED: French Toast, Lasagna, Chef’s Platter.
AVOID: That Calabrian Pepper Spread on the Chef’s platter is not for the weak of heart.
TIP: The Dessert Pizza previously offered has now been replaced by the Nutella Panino, but can still be requested as an off-menu special for those in the know. Brunch is 11a-3p Saturday/Sunday beginning June 25th.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.
Smores – White and Dark Chocolate, Marshmallow, Graham Cracker
Avalanche Bar – White Chocolate, Nougat, Peanut Butter, Puffed Rice
Cinnaroll and Cookies and Cream Popcorn Mix
A source of intrigue since it opened on Fort Apache, across the street from ACE Donuts as well as Sweet Addiction and in the same cluster as Panera, Frozen Frog finally beckoned on Saturday and although not particularly fond of Shave Ice the addition of Dole Whip, Popcorn and Handmade Confections offers a rather solid diversity of options for guests of all ages.
An oddly shaped space, perhaps a Fro-yo spot in a former life given its layout, Frozen Frog is a locally owned concept with friendly service and requisite IHeartRadio tunes playing a bit too loud given their target demographic and with samples of several items offered while a long list of choices warrants perusal the cost-per-item generally seems North of other similar spots speckled around the Valley, by no means ‘expensive,’ but better described as disproportionate to the quality.
Spending approximately ten noisy minutes in the store, no other patrons present and the young server smiley with plenty of advice, it was after a few samples of well crafted popcorn plus a smooth Dolewhip blend that I emerged $14.59 lighter and taking the rest elsewhere to enjoy with coffee the results were both hit and miss, both styles of popcorn as tasty as expected while the S’Mores unfortunately highlighted an overall waxiness to the chocolate that was undetectable when wrapped around the airy kernels, the Avalanche Bar admittedly interesting but a bit too large a portion as neither Peanut Butter nor Puffed Rice did much to balance out a sweetness level that hovered between “too” and “cloying.”
TWO AND A HALF STARS: Sort of a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ place, Frozen Frog is probably fine for families looking for a fast, affordable treat, but with places like Popcorn Girl doing their craft with more quality as well as variety and plenty of places for better chocolates the only real driving factor here is the Dole Whip, one of those “nostalgia” items that seems to have great appeal to many in Sin City.
RECOMMENDED: Dole Whip, Birthday Cake Popcorn, Cookies and Cream Popcorn.
TIP: Customer Loyalty Cards, Social Media Check-Ins and several daily specials are offered.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.
Petit Fours – Coffee, Vanilla, Lemon, Pistachio, Raspberry Macarons, Pate de Fruit, Marshmallows
Short in Spring, but lengthy in hot weather months, the concept of a truly ‘seasonal’ menu is at times obscured in Sin City, but with a menu that transitions with slow subtleties the best of the best continue evolve on a daily basis, Le Cirque having now done just that for nearly eighteen years.
No doubt a place where fine dining continues to be defined, Ivo Angelov and his team as close knit as Europe’s very best after all these years, Summer 2016 sees Chef Wilfried Bergerhausen continue to progress in terms of balancing classical flavors with an obvious flare for plating and although classics like “Le Crabe” are now indispensible signatures the menu continues to entice locals, high rollers and gasto-tourists to the small room where the Bellagio fountains can be enjoyed in the comfort of a plush seat without all the heat and craziness of the Strip.
Continuing to offer an impressive array of dining experiences, everything from a $300+ 10-course Degustation to the $72 Pre-theater steal treated with the utmost care, bar seating remains the best way to watch the service team function and treated to a total of twelve courses including Amuses and Mignardises the quality continues to impress even though some of what was served was described as a “work in progress.”
Dining with another talented Frenchman, the three and a half hours breezing by as Ivo, Gene and Wilfried all are consummate professionals and gracious hosts, Summer at Le Cirque began with a small amuse of Tuna bathed in Asian broth and with several winks to Robuchon presented including a bonus gift from the kitchen the word that continues to come up when describing the Chef’s hand is nuance, every ingredient discernible despite complexity and nothing really “extraneous,” except perhaps the Gold Leaf.
Still turning heads with the Crab and Quail, the former with its smoky tableside presentation and the later sprinkled with flower petals for the summer, Wilfried has again managed to create a seasonal soup worth seeking out in the Baby Corn Veloute poured tableside over creamy Ricotta and the earthy aromatics of Popcorn and Buckwheat, the Foie Gras with Black Cherries and Almonds and Truffle Risotto also standout in their own right.
Going light with summer’s fish, the Wild Cod topped in a thin cap of toasted bread with croutons bathed atop Ratatouille in a clean Olive Oil sauce desserts started creative before turning classic, the one-bite Watermelon and Mint Bon-Bon refreshing the palate before a Raspberry Parfait followed by Mignardises and the tall, proud and fluffy Chocolate Souffle.
FIVE STARS: Seemingly recession-proof and completely unbothered by the “slow” season that leaves several restaurants empty Le Cirque remains Las Vegas’ crown jewel for fine dining, even a recent trip through every Michelin 3* restaurant in Belgium doing little to change my opinion that the place executes on par with places given far more attention by the worldwide dining community.
RECOMMENDED: Make a reservation. Sitting at the bar for the majority of my visits I’m always astounded how many folks show up looking for a last minute table despite the concierge and Opentable listing the restaurant as completely booked…
AVOID:…giving up too soon as I’m also frequently impressed by how often the team somehow manages to squeeze them in and still offer such an elegant experience to each and every guest.
TIP: Chef Bergerhausen will be taking over the Snack Cart at Harvest by Roy Ellamar in early July. Keep your eyes peeled.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.
Chicken Liver Mousse with Grilled Pita, Sea Salt, Cornichons
Roasted Hatch Chili and Bacon Johnny Cakes with Butter Poached Lobster, Beet Chips, Foie Gras Confit, Salad of Asian Pear and Jicama
Seared Duck Breast with Carrot Ginger Broth and Roasted Root Vegetables
Macadamia Nut Blondie with Malted Vanilla Milkshake
Stepping forward in the setting of a nearly cancelled event, the sense of “community” in Las Vegas’ food culture and integrity of other local Chefs questioned by a man who has admittedly achieved something admirable by making his own rules, Jon Vanhusen may not be a name on the radar of many local critics or ‘influencers,’ but judging from two meals plus his contributions to our Potluck there is no doubt of the young man’s passion and commitment to the scene.
Having originally met VanHusen when invited in to Elements, ironically similar to the manner in which our self-interested prior host had first chosen to showcase his food, suffice it to say that Chef Jon currently has his work cut out for him in reinventing a restaurant long seen as lacking an identity, the locals from across the street limited in number but seemingly happy to indulge in food falling under the “modern American“ umbrella and completely lacking in creativity or flare.
Asking the Chef to craft a tasting menu for ten, new faces and old gathered at the table, it was with one Sous and a lone waitress that the dinner took place and creating every plate for the first time the results were by-and-by quite impressive, the lone flaw largely as relates to plating an opening Asparagus salad on slate with a poached egg in a porcelain cup, the question as to what purpose it served still undetermined as was how to use it since the texture made it unnecessary as a dip while the slate would have created quite a mess if used as a sauce.
Stepping up with course two, the creamy mousse of Chicken Liver and butter lacking any sign of minerality and instead presenting like a true “Foie Blonde” on par with the likes of Michel Richard or Daniel Boulud, course three saw VanHusen reach for Hatch Chilies and Bacon to further enrich his famous Cornbread by way of a stack of Johnny Cakes, the Butter Poached Lobster a bit difficult to extract from the shell without proper silverware but the flavor rich and succulent alongside confit Duck Liver beneath an Asian Pear and Jicama Slaw.
Taking time with pacing, the meal lasting just over two hours with much conversation had as music turned down from last visit played overhead, savories wrapped by way of gently Seared Duck Breast with Root Vegetables in textures atop a splash of Carrot and Ginger Pan Sauce, the Macadamia Nut Blondie and Malted Vanilla Milkshake making for a delicious one-two combination of mellow flavors, though a previous visit would show that the Chef is certainly capable of doing much bolder sweet stuff.
FOUR STARS: For an impromptu sort of thing, stepping up to fill big shoes, Jon and his small team put together a great meal that only lacked in a missing narrative and small plating issues, the restaurant still in need of some work if it wants to reengage a community beyond its current clientele but a Chef that could undoubtedly do so if given creative license and marketed reasonably well.
RECOMMENDED: Chicken Liver Mousse was Best in Town and the Duck was textbook.
AVOID: Still not sure on that poached egg, but having just been in Brussels for a week I’m sad to say that most of America’s Asparagus seems like a cruel joke.
TIP: Elements new menu is promised soon, stay tuned.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.
Recently returning from Belgium, several incredible patisseries and boulangeries experienced from Brussels to Bruges to Gent, it was on the suggestion of a local Chef/Friend that Saturday breakfast was planned to show one talented young man the work of another – Rosallie Le French Café on South Rainbow, owned by Jonathan Pluvinet.
Already a fan of the Frenchman, even having met his family during a great dinner at Bardot Brasserie, those who know me and my fondness for pastry are well aware that I consider Chef Pluvinet’s baked goods to be not only the best in Las Vegas, but also a reference standard Stateside, and treated to no less than a dozen items ranging sweet to savory the results were not diminished at all by recent experiences, rather they were validated to a significant degree.
At this point upgraded a lot from humble beginnings, the brickwork along the bar and wine-room coming along nicely, Rosallie still sports a “Now Open” banner hanging over an outside patio and with several ‘post-morning-rush’ diners still present and lingering over coffee the temptations have expanded to match the interior, favorites like the Nutella or Almond Croissant already sold out by as early as 11:30.
Beginning with warm viennoiserie, our arrival actually timed to when Jonathan was due to have a fresh batch of croissants, suffice it to say when it comes to laminated pastry there is no better place in Sin City than Rosallie and whether one chooses the Raisin Snail, Pain Au Chocolat, Almond Croissant or Butter version the shattering shell is guaranteed to make a flaky mess of everything surrounding, the Palmier equally prone to doing so by way of Sugar while the Madeline is a buttery textbook example that is unmatched aside from those served warm from the pan at restaurants where the cost is escalated dramatically.
Impressed by Pluvinet’s “Crème Brulee” Latte, Instagram photos unable to do justice for smooth coffee tinged in cream beneath a lightly caramelized cloud, a taste of Pluvinet’s Quiche furthers Rosallie’s legacy as heads and tails above places like Baguette Café or even Bouchon in terms of texture, the clean edges of crust commented on by the Chef at the table while I personally was impressed by just how light the eggy pie ate despite the very obvious use of quite a bit of cheese.
Moving to more “dessert-like” options, Jonathan’s Choux previously only seen in Éclairs now featured in a textbook Paris Brest that breaks to fork pressure without disrupting the cream, Profitteroles prove equally competent when paired to airy whipped cream and housemade Chocolate Sauce, the most impressive fact being that each half still maintained its crisp texture even as the ice cream slowly continued to melt.
FIVE STARS: Adding a few Frangipane Tarts to a Walnut Pie that is not only delicious, but rarely seen anywhere else in America, any who have not visited Chef Pluvinet are doing themselves a serious disservice unless they really have no appreciation for great food from a local restaurant going above and beyond what is necessary to raise the bar for a city that has been waiting a long time for this sort of Café to come along.
Bread Basket – Focaccia, Rye, Tomato and Herb, Rustic Italian
Cold Antipasto Platter – Mortadella, Prosciutto, Eggplant Caponata, Salmon Crostini, Seafood Salad, Mixed Olives, Panini and More
Spicy Scarpariello Wings
Double Espresso on Ice
Opened in the Forum Shops at Caesars’ by Artie Cutler and the team behind two New York City locations, one in Atlantic City, DC and even the Bahamas, Carmine’s is cut from the same Southern-Italy-by-way-of-NYC cloth as chains such as Bucca di Beppo or Maggiano’s Little Italy, yet by doing ‘the little things’ right the experience is upgraded at least two-fold while still maintaining its customer-friendly prices.
Assuredly a tourist gathering point, though a fair share of locals have been heard to say they enjoyed their visits, Carmine’s Las Vegas location opened in Summer of 2013 and closing in on three years with Chef Michael Ingino involved since doors opened the very concept of a “scratch kitchen” feeding a room that seats up to eight hundred from 11:00AM to 11:00PM weekdays (and till Midnight on weekends) may seem exhausting, but in reality the attitude of everyone in the place remains not only pleasant but downright exuberant.
Currently managed by Anthony Esparza, a pleasant man whose enthusiasm for a big job seems contagious to his staff, it was as part of a party of four that seats were taken under one of the colossal menus mounted amidst black & white photos not dissimilar to any number of Italian-American restaurants and with portions as outsized as the restaurant’s character the phrase “Family Style” rings true from the onset, our waiter warning that each plate was meant to serve anywhere from “two to four” guests.
Skipping the grandeur of a place like Carbone, casting aside stereotyped Italian phrases and an absurd check in favor of a sort of “Sunday at Grandma’s” vibe, feasting at Carmine’s commences with an ample Bread Basket likely to tempt all but the most carbohydrate conscious and with Sinatra, Dean and Sammy playing overhead in not-too-loud fashion the question of where best to begin is a daunting one, the fact that nearly everything but Pasta and imported Charcuterie is made on-site further complicating the decision.
Acknowledging from the start that over-ordering at Carmine’s is a virtual guarantee, “two to four” better translated as “four or more,” it was to a large platter of Antipasti that the table was soon treated and although the phrase “something for everyone” is often a dicey proposition it would be difficult to call the smorgasbord anything less as everything from simple meats and cheese to a complex seafood salad are presented elegantly with a price not dissimilar to what such a spread would cost from Whole Foods Market.
Told that the Spicy Scarpariello Wings were something crave-worthy, two dozen plump pieces of Chicken cooked crisp before a bath in vibrant sauce teaming with garlic, lemon and peppers, suffice it t say that the housemade Blue Cheese Dressing alone would make this plate worth ordering instead of lesser versions at the local Sports Bar, a followup of Lasagna and Eggplant Ptarmigan showing the former to not be quite as crisp as one might hope across the top while the 9-layered latter outperforms any other version in town by a significant degree as each hand-sliced and stacked piece is baked soft without turning mushy around what could easily be a pound or more of Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella Cheese.
Joking with the server about his description of Strawberry Shortcake, the desserts all tempting but that one sounding particularly odd when accidentally described as being served on Rye, it was in good humor that the actual dish was served complimentary alongside a block of Cinnamon and Chocolate Bread with fresh Whipped Cream and three filled-to-order Cannolis, the Bread Pudding actually almost *too*dense at the end of such a meal while Marble Cake beneath Cream and Strawberries was soft and light, the citrus-tinged Mascarpone filling each Chocolate-dipped Shell equally convincing of Carmine’s commitment to quality.
FOUR STARS: Accounting for the fact that Carmine’s is positioned to compete for the ‘average’ tourist dollars and not those looking for an ‘event’ meal or fine dining there is little doubt that what Michael, Anthony and their team is doing at Carmine’s goes a step beyond to make the overall experience a worthwhile outing, and one that tourists as well as locals may equally be likely to enjoy.
AVOID: The Lasagna could have used a bit more time in the oven for my preference, but otherwise everything was as well executed as any other ‘red sauce’ joint in town with prices that compare favorably to many off-strip Mom n’ Pop places when taking portions into account.
TIP: Open 365 days a year, those looking for a real deal and far less work at Thanksgiving are encouraged to contact Carmine’s in November about their Family Feast – an 18-lb Turkey and all the fixings fully prepared and even offered for curbside pickup at the Caesars’ Valet.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.
Serving as a send-off to Belgium, plane set to leave just twelve hours later, Laurent Gerbaud was selected largely based on location and a reputation for excellence previously seen by way of Chocolate Speculoos at Maison Dandoy, an 18h10 arrival finding the staff in the midst of cleaning up with the café already closed but Chocolate Shop and Counter still open.
One of Belgium’s new wave Chocolate Makers, his shop and Atelier at Rue Ravenstein a short walk from all the famous mass-market shops at Place de Grand Sablon, Laurent Gerbaud has become something of a celebrity in recent times due to his high standard of imported ingredients to pair with milk and dark cocoa made from some of the world’s finest beans and although prices trend slightly higher than the usual the texture is beyond compare, even the 76% cocoa tablet intensely creamy.
Further upping the ante by way of pastries from Brian Joyeux, a late arrival finding the selection largely diminished but still with a Brioche and small Kugelhopf that was every bit as good as the medium one a day prior *despite having sat on the counter all day,* suffice it to say that the Brownie made from Gerbaud’s own cocoa is one of the best money can buy, the fact that Joyeux’s Fondant Cake filled with Caramel was so good further explained by the fact that it too was made from Gerbaud’s Dark Chocolate.
*The* go-to for Liege Waffles in Bruges, and perhaps Belgium as a whole, it was having passed Chez Albert in favor of Go.fre on Tuesday that I noted the small storefront’s location, the idea of saving the “best for last” paying off well as the texture of this Gaufre really is quite special.
Now spreading its fanbase to Gent, the original at Breidelstraat 16 always seeming to have a line of at least one or two, Chez Albert’s space actually spreads quite a way back from the window at which customers are encouraged to ‘order by number’ and with as €2.50 invested one can walk away with a piping hot piece of dough with a perfectly crisp exterior and stretchy center pocked in Sugar Pearls.
Deciding eventually on a few upgrades, melted Chocolate offered as Milk or Dark, it was at a cash-only cost of just €4.50 that the small cardboard tray was filled by the famous result of yeast, flour, eggs, salt and butter, a light Vanilla note detectable even beneath all the toppings as the silly little fork was cast aside in favor of making a mess of hands and pavement, eating straight from the liner.
Trained at De Karameliet, where he met wife Sandra, Filip Claeys’ De Jonkman has held two Michelin Stars since 2011 and now poised to become Bruges top table when Geert Van Heecke closes the doors at year’s end the small restaurant at Maalse Steenweg 438 seemed a perfect way to finish a trek through the best of the best in Belgium, a lovely seat overlooking the courtyard offered for Saturday lunch.
No doubt a skilled man, several years of training with some of Europe’s finest Chefs teaching Claeys a respect for the garden, soil and sea that is evident in plates where sizable proteins find themselves paired to the season in full bloom, De Jonkman is housed in a renovated home that sits far off the road and with whimsical art including such oddities as penguins with rocket packs the primary dining room looks outward where floor-to-ceiling windows bathe the space in light.
Leisurely in pace, like most upscale restaurants located throughout Belgium, lunch at De Jonkman began with a total of six small bites followed by an amuse in two services, the Beef, Chicken Stew and Croquette all setting a high standard for the plates that followed while service was a little bit stiff, the younger staff members at least friendly and gracious while the woman later identified as the restaurant’s matriarch was rarely seen without a scowl on her face.
Having opted for the “Market Menu” plus two supplements, the cost about €40 more than the restaurant’s longest degustation but turning into more courses by way of a three-part Goose Liver presentation, proper plates began with a meaty filet of Mackerel served alongside Lovage and Radishes with Sourdough from “a Big Green Egg,” the fish nicely balanced by way of the marinade while the bitter vegetables played well off smoky notes as between-bite refreshment.
Nibbling on Bread while awaiting more, the music spanning Top-40 American tunes from recent years past, the supplementary course got started by way of Goose Liver Terrine served with a warm Brioche for spreading, the accoutrements ranging bitter, sweet and sour with the following Barbeque presentation continuing the concept by way of not only its Sauce but also Beets and Coffee while the generous baked lobe was smooth and rich alongside bold flavors of Morels, Artichokes and ‘Earth.’
Ordering all fish from local purveyors, the Haddock line-caught just the night before, savories wrapped with another large filet accompanied by traditional flavors brought to new light by the broth of crushed Sand Crabs, the decision not to offer any sort of ‘pre-dessert’ or palate cleanser an unfortunate one as water did little to cleanse the lingering umami for the sweets that were soon to follow.
Told that De Jonkman’s ‘Pancake’ was something worth seeking out, the Crepe Normande crisp on the exterior with Apples caramelized into the buttery dough by way of cooking at a very high temperature, those looking for a boozy dessert will be glad to know that Claeys does not skimp when it comes to the addition of Calvados, the actual menu dessert of Garden Strawberries with Lime Sorbet and Speculoos cookies sweet yet nicely balanced by Rhubarb while the meal was sparred of any sort of Mignardises because “classic restaurants only offer them with coffee” according to Sandra…a strange comment considering her previous employer with Three Stars just down the road serves them to each and every diner.
Located down a small staircase in the winding tourist streets of Bruges, Chocolatier Dumon finally answered the question of where was best to acquire gifts for friends back home after a relatively extensive look at Belgium’s artisan Chocolate scene, the range of Tablets, Pralines, Truffles and even Low-Sugar options really quite astounding.
Started by Stephan Dumon in 1992, a small workshop outside Bruges slowly growing into a House with shops in three countries, Dumon ‘Eiermarkt’ occupies a medieval space set below the city streets and now cited by Gault & Millau since 2013 as one of Belgium’s true artisans the quality of the cocoa beans and fillings shows in every item while prices seem bargain basement compared to other internationally expanded places.
Certainly not ADA friendly as relates to disability, but far moreso if discussing the American Diabetes Association, Dumon is one of the few spots seen overseas with a specialty line of low-sugar confections and tasting a few after discussion with the elderly woman who was surprisingly well-versed in medical jargon the taste is really no different from the more traditional treats which were purchased in greater numbers, though those paying attention to texture may notice an overall reduced degree of smoothness.
Opting for Tablets and Truffles for friends back home, Pralines and a few more Truffles saved for a post-lunch treat, Dumon excels as relates to the smoothness of the exterior layers of its creations as much as it does by way of creams, marzipan or ganaches, the options trending a bit more traditional than The Chocolate Line or Darci’s with the Caramel, Pistachio Marzipan, Speculoos and Strawberry Cream particularly impressive.
Getting away from the tighter medieval part of Bruges, streets opening up and more populated by locals than travelers, Patisserie Academie at Academiestraat 4 serves as a sort of ‘melting pot’ in a city that occasionally seems rather rude, the service perhaps not quite as friendly as that found amongst Brussel’s greatest artisans when it comes to those speaking English, but more than good enough to warrant a look at the pastries natives have grown to love.
Offering a sizable dining space, windows letting in the rare sunlight seen during Belgium’s late Spring, deciding where best to invest one’s appetite at Patisserie Academie is the sort of ‘first world’ problem that different sorts may fear or embrace, and with several items unlabeled with any number of exotic ingredients the Staff’s willingness to answer questions may seem a little brisk at times, yet for those persistent the answers come fluently as all three clerks on Saturday were sure-footed in French, Dutch and English.
Eventually settling on a Double Espresso and three pastries to dine-in, an equal number boxed and kept at the counter to-go, suffice it to say that Patisserie Academie’s Bread Pudding rectangle fails to execute on par with most as nuance is lost in density while the Almond Croissant sets the bar high by way of open arches of butter beneath a golden exterior with light almond filling at its center.
Pulling better shots than several, the Coffee roasted ‘nearby’ according to the clerk, those wondering about the oddly ‘wrapped’ Éclairs should rest assured that this is no ‘trick’ to make-up for lack of the Choux’s quality, the dark chocolate adding to the pastry’s crunch rather than masking it while Cocoa infusing the Custard base of an Apricot Flan was surprisingly restrained yet decadent.
Laminating a pocket in which to pour and bake Stewed Cherries, the tartness here actually quite bracing yet enjoyable as it did not trend too sweet, final tastes from Patisserie Academie included a textbook Mille-Feuille that had actually just been finished minutes before, the crisp break and soft custard offering a brilliant juxtaposition undoubtedly benefitted by fresh stacking.