Considered by some to be the best of its kind, and open for lunch and dinner every day save for Sunday within a two-story space that speaks to an age long past, Café Comptoir Abel was scheduled for Tuesday lunch after touring several local churches and with an appetite peaked by a long hike in the sun a timely arrival just as the doors opened found the main dining room open to the air outdoors while two tourists plus several locals quickly found seat both on the patio and amidst the cozy confines downstairs.
More a bouchon or bistro than an actual café, and said by some to be the oldest of its kind with an opening date in 1928, the experience at Café Comptoir Abel is without doubt one of the most ‘authentic’ feeling in the city with service that actually seems happy to provide guests with an excellent customer experience, my refusal of the English menu in favor of one written in French perhaps the reason for attentive service that saw a prix fixe ordered with the addition of the Chef’s terrine, every plate served trumping the other iterations served at similar spots within the city’s confines, and one of them better than Michelin starred iterations found in Paris on visits past.
Admittedly a bit muggy during one of the warmest June’s in the history of Central France, it was with several refilled bottles of water plus a crusty baguette that the meal began, and without even time to request a bit of butter I was quickly treated to a duo of cold appetizers, the terrine rich with expected sapor and a bit of minerality while a thick terrine of foie gras came lightly dressed in salt crystals atop a supple slice of artichoke and salad tossed with just a touch of vinegar and pepper to make the whole plate feel unexpectedly vibrant and bright.
Intrigued by the kitchen’s decision to present the quenelle of pike ‘au gratin’ as opposed to with a traditional sauce Nantua, suffice it to say that nothing could have prepared me for what actually came forth after approximately thirty minutes, the puff of fish nearly the size of my forearm served lightly browned from a large skillet with the rest of the sauce left behind to be added as I liked, the bits sticking to the pan not unlike the top of baked macaroni with the richness of Bechamel just reined in by a handful of mushrooms juxtaposing sharp notes of cheese.
At this point almost certain that dessert would be every bit as good as the rest it was only the day’s aggressive eating schedule and dinner at Maison Pic that prevented me from ordering more than one, and generally expecting large portions after everything just experienced there was absolutely nothing to be disappointed in by the housemade baba, the yeasty round served soaking wet in a pool of spiced rum with a scoop of Chantilly that just went on and on, more offered without request as the best bites proved to be those matching a spoonful of cake to an equal part of whipped cream.
Having heard interesting things about Pain & Cie, an artisanal boulangerie known for a simple brunch offering a basket of fresh bread matched to a vast number of jams, butters, toppings, and spreads intended to be mixed and matched to the customer’s delight, a foreigner simply could not help but stop by for the all-you-can eat experience that saw all sorts of novelties offered with a cup of coffee for just 8.50€, the chance to experience some of Europe’s curiosities at a mere fraction of what it would cost to purchase a container of just two or three.
Owned by a middle-aged baker, and frequented by both locals and tourists alike, the scene at Pain & Cie is a rather tranquil one during the early morning hours, but quickly filling with patrons around 09:00 with nearby parking at a premium those looking to best experience a sampling of accoutrements without having to wait are encouraged to arrive early, the warm bread an added benefit, though the woman seated at a table adjacent mine tells me that the supply is baked fresh throughout the morning, the same apparently true of a selection of sandwich rolls featured with meats and other items later in the day.
Admittedly tempted by croissants and other viennoiserie, but sticking to the original plan of a sliced baguette plus rounds of rustic whole wheat paired with several types of Kwatta as well as Cookie Notti plus housemade jams, honey, Pate d’Arachide, Choco Meli, Stroop, and Praline spread plus several types of butter and soft cheese suffice it to say that the value of a meal at Pain & Cie is well justified by the quality of the baked goods as well as the coffee, but for those intrigued by the toppings the cost is almost entirely inconsequential, the best bites from this vantage offered by the White Kwatta with Cappuccino Cookie Notti spread on a piece of baguette followed closely by Praline Butter and Dark Choco Meli that tasted like bitter yet balanced Nutella atop toasty whole grains.
Caramel Donut, Dark Chocolate Donut, Sugared Almond Donut, Dulce de Leche Donut
Red Velvet Muffin
Chocolate Chip with Hazelnut Cookie
With Donuts clearly having a ‘moment’ back stateside, and American culture often creeping over to Europe with mixed success, one couldn’t help but be intrigued by Dorodi Pastry and entering the doors of the small space with donuts, cookies, muffins, cakes, and pies served alongside legit coffee the experience really couldn’t have been more familiar – the young owner from Montreal originally mistaking me for Nordic before giving up conversational French and switching to flawless English with that familiar East Canadian brogue.
Similarly priced to American artisans, and that is to suggest most items topping 3€ each, it was largely with a focus on novelties as well as recommendations before personal favorites that the order progressed, a total bill of 20€ yielding seven items which were boxed and bagged as we discussed dining back across the Atlantic, suggestions for local spots offered and appreciated despite a dining agenda that was already jammed packed.
Taking items to a small park in order to enjoy, parking no doubt a hot commodity before meters engaged at 9:00, it was with little hesitation that first bites were taken of each warm donut and although the yeasty brioche-style base was absolutely immaculate, all but the dark chocolate frosting featured an ‘off’ mouthfeel that came off almost waxy, the sweetness nowhere near that of versions served stateside and not at all on par with Donuts Factory, a place to be visited later on the eating tour of Lyon.
Moving on to the “don’t call it a cupcake – cupcakes are frosted” muffin, suffice it to say that French cocoa studded with Valrhona’s dark chocolate chips is likely to upgrade anything being done with food coloring and Hershey’s throughout most of the American South, and although a dollop of cream cheese frosting may have upped the ante a bit it really wasn’t needed in the setting of such high quality ingredients, the same to be said of a crispy-rimmed chocolate chip cookie dense with nuts amidst a soft center and the best-of-the-morning “Nymy” that featured a puddle of ganache amidst a cocoa base with streaks of caramel, toffee, and hazelnuts making each bite a new experience waiting to be found.
La Cervelle de Canut – au vinaigre de vin vieux, parsley, chives, shallot, garlic
Le Pâté en croute – au foie gras de canard et ris de veau – (Champion du Monde 2009) accompanied by an onion jam
La Quenelle lyonnaise au brochet, sauce Nantua
Pommes de Tere Dorees au beurre et gratin de macaronis
Le Baba maison ivre de rhum St. James
La Tarte Tatin aux pralines de Saint Genix and a collar of cream
Booked for dinner based on the recommendation of a friend whose palate I’ve come to know and trust it was with high hopes that I approached a meal at Daniel et Denise, but beginning with the GPS first landing me at a closed location on Rue Tramassac to the original being ‘sold out’ of foie double just thirty minutes after service began it would be difficult to say any of the savories were otherwise memorable, the meal only proving memorable in its waning minutes while service was a far cry from that offered at any number of bouchons and brasseries experienced in the following days.
Apologetically arriving late at Rue de Crequi, yet nonetheless treated as if I’d committed a great affrontery to a restaurant that was at no point more than 20% full, it was with no choice that outdoor seating was offered as the ‘only’ option and informed shortly after ordering that the main reason for the visit was unavailable a “Plan B” selection was made mostly based on the otherwise limited selection, a basket of warm bread without butter and a small sampling of creamy cheese with crostini offered as if to excuse the fact that the kitchen simply did not want to prepare the tripe, there simply being no way it was sold out when no other table had any present or delivered during my stay.
Watching other tables of locals receive the Chef’s most famous dish gratis, something I can accept as repeat visitors are certainly entitled the benefits of their patronage, it was at full cost that a thick slice of the Pâté en croute was presented to me and although not quite on par with the terrine offered from Café Comptoir Abel the combination of duck liver and sweetbreads with a dollop of sweet onions was still far better than anything one is likely to find stateside, the richness of each bite nicely cut by a layer of aspic that was thankfully not over-salted, thus allowing the voluptuous meaty notes to shine.
Generally lower in price than other places around town, course two featured a small quenelle of pike placed at the center of a low bowl with traditional seafood sauce serving to enhance the flavor of a fluffy yet meek iteration of the Lyonnais classic, and offering two sides alongside all main plates both the au gratin noodles as well as the pan fried potatoes presented a hunt-and-peck sort of experience, the golden top of the former far outperforming the soupy base while the slightly burnt bits of potato were admittedly quite delicious, the less-cooked spuds going uneaten as they were little more than filler in the face of two desserts to come.
Unabashedly approaching every menu in town in search of baba au rhum, and here promised that theirs was ‘the very best in town,’ suffice it to say that those looking for a truly boozy interpretation of the dish would be well served to make their way to Daniel et Denise, and yet as good as the yeasty roll was beneath two types of cream it was actually the signature apple tart topped in a lacquer of pink pralines that proved to be the best dish of the whole affair, each bite featuring a sweet crunch that soon gave way to soft apples atop the flaky butter crust.
Originally targeted for another day, but finding itself slotted in on Monday as an evening walk led directly past its still-open doors, Chokola par Sebastien Bouillet proved every bit what the rumors had alleged of the patisserie now spread as far as Tokyo, the products amongst the very best in any city while the service is so indifferent that one wonders how the stores even manage to make a sale.
Small in size, and in a way ‘overcrowded’ with confections crawling up to the door plus two glass cases featuring macarons and plated desserts sitting to the right and at the back of the store, entry to Chokola is perhaps an intended case of sensory overload as notes of cocoa and sugar permeate the air, the guest at first seemingly left alone to take it all in and peruse the options but later a bit disconcerting when the staff barely acknowledges a “bonsoir” or request for assistance at the glass jars containing caramels just a few meters away.
Undeterred by the ennui, largely as a result of being impressed by the craftsmanship shown in almost every concoction from tablets of chocolate to classic desserts given an upgrade through whimsical inspirations, it was finally after approximately ten minutes of gathering and boxing that 29.45€ was exchanged for nine different selections, and taking the items to the street for consumption later on the first bites of caramel proved a bit less flavorful than expected, the vanilla version a far better investment with a good melt and plenty of butter, a similar flavor profile found in the Butter Caramel macaron while the rest of the small cookies ranged from a jammy and delicious strawberry to Pistachio that was too sweet and almost ‘gummy,’ the latter likely a result of having sat in the case for too long.
Enjoying the rest of the items after dinner while relaxing alongside the river outside the hotel, suffice it to say that by focusing on favorites there was little chance that Bouillet was going to fail in impressing a prone palate, yet as much as I anticipated enjoying the trio selected there was no way to anticipate just how good each of the three items would be – the fully saturated baba using a meringue-like topping to temper the alcohol while both the tarte tatin and St. Honore saw a traditional preparation placed atop a flaky butter crust, the former absolutely packed with caramelized apples while the balls of stuffed choux and light cream rested on a crème caramel that poured forth just seconds after fork cracked the base.
Returning from Roanne with plans to walk the hills surrounding la Croix Rousse before dinner it was another hot day in Lyon that prompted a stop for ice cream, and although entirely disappointed by high prices and subpar product at Rene Nardone a day prior the experience at Regal Glace proved very much the opposite – a vast menu of housemade sorbet, glace, and yoghurt first offered for sampling and then topping a freshly baked waffle cone with flavors and texture as good or better than many well regarded artisans back home.
Originally founded in 1948, but clearly adapting flavors and modern techniques to form a lineup now sold at a few locations throughout the city of Lyon, the layout of Regal Glace is that of an artisanal scoop shop and using rough French to interact with staff’s limited English each of the flavors sampled from small gelato spoons was a spot on rendition of its eponymous ingredient, the eventual selection of four scoops carrying a tally of merely 6€, a relative bargain compared to several other spots around town.
Serving more than 50 frozen varieties, each made throughout the day to replenish supplies as required, flavors such as Pistachio, Hazelnut, White Chocolate, and Nougat were as mild as one would expect from the included ingredients but moving onward to more bold choices the sweetness levels rose as flavor profiles became more robust, a best bite from this limited tasting proving to be either the ‘salty caramel’ with a creamy base streaked in smooth ribbons or butter pecan, a flavor seemingly no longer en vogue back stateside but breathed new life by Regal Glace through the use of cream and butter the likes of which are rarely found outside of France.
Sable a la rhubarb et a la cardamom – Shortbread, rhubarb, cardamom, celery ice cream
Ali-baba au Coing et Gingembre – Yeast cake, quince, cream, ginger alcohol
Entre vos doigts et Espresso – Strawberry and fennel arlette, meringue with cocoa and ginger, coffee and lemon sesame tart
The recipient of Three Michelin Stars in every issue since 1968, Roanne’s Maison Troisgros is considered by many to represent the pinnacle of modern French gastronomy and under the toque of Michel ever since his father’s retirement the restaurant has only continued to evolve as time marched on, the current iteration influenced by the Chef’s substantial travels throughout Europe as well as the East with a Zen-modern approach and clean lines bathed in natural light as opposed to the rich linens and fine silver usually associated with the top tables of years gone by.
Offering a la carte options alongside an ever changing seasonal menu that allows Troisgras’ staff of twenty-five chefs to reinvent the experience on a continuous basis with a focus on balance, freshness, and technique arrival at the restaurant is met with warm smiles at the Hotel’s front desk, and taking some time to relax in the lounge before being led to ones table a wide range of French wines are offered alongside an intriguing list of cocktails, the non-alcoholic beverages showing a degree of creativity not found at any of the regions other awardees of The Red Guide’s highest rank.
Promptly led to a spacious two-top as soon as one was ready, but treated first to a tour of the gleaming kitchen where Michel quietly tutored a young man at the fish station while I chatted with a server who proved far more personable than any other in such esteemed French environs, it was almost immediately on taking a seat that water as well as a Raspberry ‘shrub’ arrived, the light tinge of vinegar amidst light florals and berries absolutely refreshing on a day that pushed 90F in the sun, though a later mocktail of Peach, Pear and Verbena proved every bit as good.
Undoubtedly in for the tasting, but making a special request for the 60€ ‘for two’ dessert that was instead substituted in as a demi-portion for no additional cost at the suggestion of my server, the meal at Troisgros began even before the menu was closed and as if a glimpse into everything that was due to come without in any way ruining the surprise each of four canapes proved the very definition of elegant imagination, the peeled tomato’s skin replaced with a thin glaze of ginger and sesame while the egg’s yolk was replaced with aromatic gelatin, the crostini and cheese filled crisp each impeccably light with robust flavors that quickly peaked before slowly fading away.
To this point the only person present in the dining room, a few others enjoying the sun on the patio with a glass of champagne in hand, it was not long before bread service alongside smooth butter from Normandy arrived, and as irresistible as the crunchy pain au cereal was both warm and as an accompaniment to the rest of the meal it was a single roll of croissant-styled cornbread that proved the first ‘take your breath away’ moment, a lightness almost unimaginable given the Southern roots of the American iteration yet still rife with all the sweetness associated with the very best versions found back home.
Already swooning even before the first proper course of the meal arrived it really came as no surprise that each of the six plates that followed were the very definition of bold and balanced with creative touches elaborating on unsurpassed technique, and with small tubes of artichoke pasta proving an apt foil to smoked fish alongside citrus to begin the follow-up of snails beneath an artistic assemblage of vegetables, leaves, and aromatics virtually reinvented the profile of the mollusk into a creamy bit of sweet-salinity at once able to ‘blend in’ without ever being questioned as the anchor of the plate.
Building in slow waves, course three was presented as composition of white on white on white, and invited to pierce the veil while taking a deep breath the aromatics of earth and outdoors immediately flooded the surrounding air while flavors of light smoke and fermentation washed over the palate in each delicate bite, the absolutely stark appearing dish actually perhaps the meal’s most complex while a slightly more colorful follow-up of monkfish found itself brought to new heights through the use of eastern techniques imparted to a more traditional sauce of cream and white wine.
Amused by the parade of cutlery, each plate featuring a different knife from a collection that includes over a dozen patterns according to the man serving my table, dish five saw the return of color to the meal and again using an innovative sauce of carrots and currants with spices including coriander to meld butter-poached lobster to similarly prepared cabbage the flavor profile was bold without losing track of its constituents, the final savory of crispy lacquered duck relying far less on its sauce and more on the trio of accoutrements including the pickled layer of radish with its center supplanted by sharp citrus gel.
Taking a break to stretch my legs and explore a bit of the property before returning to find the chariot of cheese in wait, I’m remiss to say that I neglected to detail the seven iteration sampled but with several local variants not seen elsewhere those interested in cheeseboards should find no shortage of intrigue to pair with housemade jams and bread loaded with fruit and nuts, the later largely negating the need of a palate cleanser before progressing to a small shortbread cake that saw traditionally savory flavors turned into something that was both elegant and surprisingly quite sweet.
At this point diverting from the scheduled program for a tableside presentation of Chef Troisgros famous reinterpretation of a traditional Baba au Rhum, June’s menu saw the sizable loaf sliced into quarters before being plated with quince and cream, a housemade ginger spirit drizzled liberally adding a heated topnote without overwhelming the yeasty notes found throughout the exceptionally light cake.
Opting to take mignadises in the adjacent garden, where padded lounge chairs and a soundtrack of American Jazz nearly lulled me to sleep beneath the shadows cast by old trees, it was here that the full impact of the meal finally came to a head, for as good as every bite from start to finish had been it was the overall sum of its parts that made Troisgros the very definition of ‘destination dining,’ the rare meal where one immediately waxes poetic about ‘best of all time’ while simultaneously wondering if they’ll ever have the opportunity to visit once again.
Taking advantage of free metered parking until 9:00h while walking the cobblestone streets of the 2eme arrondissement near to my hotel, it was en route back to the car that I decided to stop into Jean-Philippe Nicolle’s Gouth Colore, and although breakfast had already been enjoyed with plans in place for lunch at Maison Troisgros at 13:00 I couldn’t help but sample the goods after speaking with a young female clerk who claimed the small patisserie produced some of the best pastries in town.
Small, but more a café than other boulangeries in that it offers a handful of indoor tables at which guests are invited to enjoy coffee or tea along with the finely crafted confections, Gouthe Colore is decorated in whites plus strips of color that give it a more cheerful feel than other brick-laden locations, and with clean lines alongside smiling service the experience is quite unlike other crowded boutiques like Bernachon or Bouillet where the clerks seem only concerned on making a sale and getting back to other business – a much appreciated gesture to those who are occasionally off-put by what may seem like abruptness despite actually just being the French ‘way.’
Tempted by no less than a dozen cakes, cookies, tartes, and viennoiserie as well as a wide variety of chocolates and ice creams all fabricated in house, it was eventually in a quintet of options that an order was invested, all but a warm almond croissant with a great bit of crunch but a touch too much sweetness nicely packaged to-go and enjoyed en route to Roanne.
Admittedly better enjoyed in a seated environment, but mostly amenable to consumption on the go while minding for crumbs and fillings that threatened to soil clothes more appropriate for the dining environs to come, it was with careful bites that the yeasty baba was first enjoyed and managing to mitigate the impact of alcohol with both fruits and a lacquer of sugar the custard within was an unexpected surprise placing Nicolle’s version a rung above several other local iterations, a compliment equally bestowed on the freshly piped éclair that offered textbook choux and a great degree of bitterness as opposed to several others that trended too sweet.
Admittedly eating in an order that did not particularly take into account the palate dulling effects of rum and dark espresso it was perhaps an effect of this choice that saw the praline brioche prove far less impressive than the version at Boulangerie du Palais just two hours before, but discarding most of the almost stale-tasting roll along the roadside for local birds Gouthe Colores’ Tarte Tatin offered an almost immediate reprieve, the thinly sliced apples halfway between firm and softly caramelized atop an all-butter shell that left shirt, pants, and car covered in flakes that were easily brushed away.
Surprisingly unmapped by food writers or online search engines, day two in Lyon began a rather substantial exploration of the city’s boulangeries as well as patisseries, and always willing to arrive early in order to experience items hot from the ovens it was after a nearly 12 mile run that I approached Boulangerie du Palais to find the doors just opening, a few folks already lined up and waiting to gather their baked goods en route to the week’s first day of work.
Potentially the most ‘famous’ bakery in the city, at least in part as a result of its location just steps away from much of the main tourist corridor, Boulangerie du Palais features both tartes and viennoiserie focused on Vieux Lyon’s famous pralines de noix, yet attempting to sample a rather wide swath of what the small space had to offer only one of the rosy tinged items was selected, the rest of a five part order featuring more traditional pastries to the tune of just 7.70€ from a young woman whose English was just good enough to compliment my rudimentary grasp of conversational French.
Entirely devoid of indoor space for indulgence, and not yet set up for al fresco seating that a later pass would show to be quite popular for sandwiches and pizzas sold during lunch, it was with warm bags in hand that I proceeded to the banks of the nearby Saone to partake in breakfast and beginning first with a simple butter croissant the wispy center proved a pleasant contrast to the lightly bronzed shell, yet when compared to the double baked almond iteration the flavors simply fell flat as the latter was not only untainted by frangipane, but also far more crisp on the exterior with an even better arc to the supple caverns within.
Progressing onward to richer items, a first experience with the candied pink confection found at almost every eatery within the city limits was offered in the form of an eggy roll densely packed with the sugar-coated nuts, and although admittedly quite sweet both the texture and the flavor were well matched to the soft bread, a similar complement applicable to both the exceedingly messy pocket of molten Nutella dotted with bits of chopped hazelnuts and a springy curl of golden pastry chockablock full of dark chocolate chips.
Canapes – Cold Tomato Soup, Crayfish and Clams a la Niege, Avocado Crème
2011 Sauternes Chateau Villefranche
Scallop of foie gras – pan cooked, passion fruit sauce
Truffle soup V.G.E. (dish created for the French President in 1975) – Beef Consomme, Foie Gras, Black Truffle
Filet of sole – à la Fernand Point
Beaujolais winemaker’s sherbet
Veal sweetbreads – braised, white Ivoire sauce
Selection of fresh and matured cheese from «La Mère Richard» – Reblochon, Tomme de Savoie, Munster-géromé, Maconnais, Fourme d’ambert, Brie de Meaux, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Fresh Cheese with Cream and Sugar, Walnut Raisin Bread
Delicacies and temptations – Traditional baba au rum, Floating island as Grandmother Bocuse made it, Cherry tart. Raspberry tart, Pistachio Diplomat, “President” chocolate cake by Maurice Bernachon, Vanilla ice creams and prunes
Fantasies & Chocolates – Mignardises including Apricot Gelee, Raspberry Macaron, Pistachio Financier, Cream Puff, Chocolates from Bernachon, Chocolate Pot de creme
Described by some as a culinary museum, or even worse as “Disneyland” despite maintaining three Michelin Stars for longer than many of its critics have been alive, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges by Paul Bocuse was nonetheless booked as the first of six “restaurants worth a special journey” and although M. Bocuse is infrequently present in the kitchen at the age of 89 there is no doubt that the restaurant itself remains a temple of Nouvelle Cuisine well worth the expense for those interested in experiencing peerless ingredients prepared to exacting standards with service and setting to match.
Without doubt a ‘celebrity’ chef preceding the era of Food Network, a man awarded the Legion d’honneur and titles including Meilleur Ouvrier de France and Chef of the Century – not to mention the name attached to one of the culinary industry’s greatest awards – the influence of Paul Bocuse remains highly evident throughout the space that bears his name, and although several menus as well as A la Carte options are available featuring many of the chef’s classic dishes, a first time diner is well advised to invest three hours and 250€ in le menu Grand Tradition, a seven course tasting capped on each end by canapés and mignardise.
Expectedly a formal affair, but at the same time not overly stuffy and as such tailored to treat all who enter to a great experience regardless of language, preference, or previous dining experience, dinner at Bocuse begins with the sort of bread and butter that shows a great heritage of sourcing as well as craft, and with both the crunchy baguette and whole wheat chapeau proving absolutely irresistible beneath smears of salted butter from Normandy the biggest challenge is cutting oneself off, the opening round of three well crafted canapés in no way conveying the sizable presentations to come.
Moving onward to the Grand Tradition itself, it seemed only appropriate that the menu began with the Chef’s time-honored take on roasted duck liver, and offered as a sizable steak atop crispy polenta in a sauce of passion fruit, poached apple, and pan reduction the tender foie was absolutely beyond reproach, the texture as creamy as a fine terrine with all the sapor associated with hot preparations fresh from the pan – sips of a 12€ glass of Sauternes proving a perfect accoutrement with the rest to be saved for cheese and dessert later on.
Progressing next to what may be Bocuse’s most time-honored dish, a puff pastry domed broth crafted for Valery Giscard d’Estaing in 1975, suffice it to say that the intervening 40 years has done nothing to dampen the greatness of a soup based on clean and clear beef consommé punctuated with diced vegetables, foie gras, and chunks of black truffles, yet as good as the signature and its golden shell was it simply couldn’t hold a candle to the followup of flaky sole atop tender noodles amidst a lightly tanned sauce of wine, butter, cream – the century old recipe proving anything but ‘nouvelle,’ yet at the same time perhaps the best treatment of sole that I’ve tasted to this day.
Denied the voile a bresse en vessie as a result of dining solo, and instead given the option to select any other plat after a refreshing bowl of red wine sorbet, it was a difficult decision between pigeon, sweetbreads, and duck that presented itself for the meal’s final savory and deferring to my server as to which option he preferred it was to a fist-size sweetbread that I was treated, the substantial nugget reportedly harvested from a 7-month old grass fed calf atop a creamy sauce dotted with pan seared mushrooms and freshly shucked peas, the balance of sweetness and earth proving a brilliant balance to the characteristic taste of the lightly crisped gland.
Told that both cheeses and dessert at Bocuse can get a little bit outrageous as diners are encouraged to sample as much of each as their heart may desire, it was after a short delay and a visit to the kitchen that the boards of cheese were laid out for tableside presentation, and taking the server at his word that one can ‘never sample enough’ a plate of seven selections was made along with a sizable scoop of Lyon’s signature Fresh cheese beneath cream and sugar – each option proving as good as the last, all the way up to an aged munster that proved too funky for even my rather bold tastes.
Having heard stories of the degustation of desserts offered at L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, but not entirely aware of just how immense the portions, selection, and generosity of the staff would be with a selection of over two dozen cakes, tartes, ice creams, fruits, and chocolates presented tableside for the diner’s perusal it was again taking the service at their word that ‘no amount is too much, or too little’ that a truly grand finale was crafted, a total of eight choices presented next to a silver statue featuring just as many mignadises – not one item any less than a textbook take on a French classic, the boozy Baba as well as the Floating island particularly enthralling and the mignardise tower almost immediately reloaded just as soon as it was emptied, even as I continue to delight in the Bernachon’s famous chocolate cake and the smoothest ice cream tasted in all of Lyon.
Undeniably a destination for classic refinement, with a space and service befitting one of the greatest chefs of all time, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges was precisely what those familiar with Bocuse’s contributions to culinaria should expect, and although no longer reinventing itself in a manner like other local Michelin Starred spaces one would be hard pressed to name another experience that feels quite as ‘grand,’ a description to which the themepark comparisons may, in fact, be apt.
Apple Tarte with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce
Dean & Dan – Glace sirop d’erable, cranberry, coulis de framboise, sirop d’erable, pancakes, fruits rouges, Chantilly
Suggested by some to be the best parlor of frozen confections in Lyon, and no doubt a ‘hot spot’ for locals and tourists as temperatures in central France reached record highs throughout the majority of the week, it was just after 15:00 that seating was found within artisan glacier Rene Nardone…and another twenty minutes before anyone even acknowledged my presence as servers seemed absolutely overwhelmed by a growing throng of patrons outdoors.
Founded in 1899, and now with two locations including the updated Vieux Lyon location where parking is best allocated within riverside garages due to a decided dearth of streetside meters, Rene Nardone offers no shortage of flavors or concoctions when compared to other artisanal parlors, and with scoops only served at the outdoor kiosks while sundaes, coupes, fantasies, an more are offered for tableside service it was only after approaching the window to request service that an order was made – the “Tendance” and “Classique” arriving perhaps ten minutes later already part melted, with a snooty young server demanding immediate payment, credit card machine in hand.
Having pointed out the quickly forming vanilla puddles, brushed aside by a statement about the Tarte as well as the weather being ‘hot,’ it was after signing the receipt that I was finally allowed to take a taste and immediately polishing off the subpar vanilla before moving to the better-formed scoops comprising “Dean & Dan” neither the Maple Syrup ice cream nor the cranberry sorbet was particularly memorable, the toppings far outperforming the ice cream itself while the ‘pancake was dense and flavorless aside from the syrup, a return to the apple tarte proving the best bites of a snack that cost nearly 20€ for food I should have skipped or at least sent back.
Pike Quenelles in a Creamy Shellfish Sauce and Mushrooms
Baked Alaska Flambée
Georges’s Special Rum Baba
Continuously operating since 1836, thus the oldest restaurant of its kind in Lyon, many would consider Brasserie Georges the quintessential ‘grand dame’ of Lyonnais cuisine, and with an in house brewery plus more tables than would ever seem necessary the space has been both praised and denigrated for its grandeur – on one hand a place where tourists no doubt flock, yet on the other a place where locals have been coming for ages, the crowd during my 13:30 Sunday lunch leaning far towards the later as nearly everyone in my immediate vicinity was several decades my senior while all seemed known to the house.
Renovated more than once, but maintaining its high ceilings and vast windows harkening La Belle Epoque, it was just hours after landing at LYS that I entered the leather banqueted space, and seated promptly towards the center of the room it was not long before a young waiter approached with menu in hand, the order largely predecided and confirmed after brief perusal to be delivered in five courses with perfect pacing guaranteed by a room less than 20% full.
Known in part for beers paired to sausages with sauerkraut, but equally well regarded for specialties more traditionally associated with brasserie cuisine throughout central France, it was a bottle of water and forgettable bread that the meal began, but as the Maitre ‘D cued the crank organ to serenade a middle aged woman with “Happy Birthday” the dining itself really began with a thick slab of foie gras paired simply to housemade marmalade and grilled raisin bread, the 15.90€ a veritable steal for 3+ ounces of creamy liver that far outdoes nearly anything served stateside at more than twice the price.
Progressing next to a half-dozen snails cooked tender in a traditional sauce of butter, garlic, parsley, and chives it was just as the final bits of sauce were sopped up that a medium-sized quenelle in cast iron was served, and although the texture was slightly less fluffy than a few others experienced during the trip one would be hard pressed to find any flaw in the sauce, a semi-thick shellfish gravy that found a surprising degree of nuance in lightly cooked mushrooms well dispersed throughout the sauce.
A bit disappointed that the restaurant’s signature Baked Alaska is offered only at a two-person minimum, but throwing caution to the wind in ordering both it as well as George’s ‘special’ Baba, suffice it to say that smiles were elicited each time the sparkler topped ice cream cake emerged from the kitchen, and although not flambéed tableside as one might have hoped, both the charred-booze flavor and the creamy texture were every bit as good as any version experienced, the yeasty butter cake topped with cream and candied fruits no less impressive when doused in house-infused rum rife with spices including cinnamon, vanilla, citrus, and cloves.
Described by a friend as “sort of like a French Panera, but way better…and better than most ‘Artisinal’ places in the US as well,” I’d noticed branches of Paul Boulangerie and Patisserie during previous trips to Paris as well as London, and with a two-hour layover at CDG as part of an 18 hour flight the opportunity finally presented to take a taste – the previous 3/4 day of vegetables no longer holding my hunger with another three hours before lunch in Lyon.
Founded in 1889, and since incorporated under the Groupe Holder banner along with nearby Laduree, Paul is presented as a pair of sunken enclaves within the 2E terminal and opting for the smaller location due to the shorter line it was after a few minutes of indecision that choices were made – a mere 12€ exchanged for four selections ranging from merely decent to surprisingly quite great.
Generally preferring sweet to savory, and tantalized by no less than two-dozen choices of the former, it was with a simple tart of apples and almond paste that breakfast began and with an all butter crust that remained flaky despite the substantial filling it was immediately obvious that few shortcuts are taken in Paul’s preparation despite the 400+ stores worldwide, the duo of jumbo-zied macarons perhaps a bit gummy when compared to smaller boutiques but certainly on par with those served at Bouchon back stateside, and cheaper even when accounting for currency exchange.
Transitioning next to savory, an option that simply couldn’t be overlooked as warm loaves had just arrived as I was waiting in line, suffice it to say that at 3.40€ the 12oz Pain Flamand Emmental Mimolette was the undoubted star of the show, and although one cannot be certain as to whether this is the same unpasteurized Mimolette essentially banned from United States import I’m confident in saying the flavor is every bit as nutty and sweet as expected, while the mild Swiss adds just the right bit of brine – a bread that would have shined within Michelin Starred environs, let alone a ‘quick casual’ concept in the middle of a major transportation hub.
Duck Cannelloni – Duck Confit, Ricotta Cheese, Sage & Dried Cranberries Rolled in Fresh Pasta
Cannoli alla Siciliana – Deep Fried Pastry Shell Filled with Ricotta Cream, Candied Fruits, Chocolate
Dessert Platter – Peanut Butter Tart with Graham Cracker Crust and Chocolate Ganache, Traditional Tiramisu, and New York Cheesecake
Double Espresso on Ice
Generally unamused by Restaurant Week, an excuse for infrequent diners to eat dumbed-down menus from restaurant’s they’d not normally visit in the name of a charity that would be better served by direct donations, it was only long-standing New York Import Rao’s at Caesars Palace that seemed willing to do something interesting with the $50.15 prix-fixe, a selection of novelties offered in addition to the restaurant’s fabled fare finally providing a reason to check the space off a long-term list of places as-yet unseen.
Currently toqued by Chef Fatimah Madyun with pastry duties assigned to Laura Augsburger, Rao’s Las Vegas was the second amongst three current iterations of the East Harlem classic whose ‘impossible’ reservations and ‘owned’ tables garner far more attention than the food, yet with the Southern Italian recipes of Frank Pellegino presented true to form the menu itself is a well-culled pick em’ of plates to please any palate, the “On-Strip” pricing and stereotyped Eye-talian service an expected footnote probably best ignored.
Dining as a group of five, and as such able to sample widely from a tasting served in four family-style courses despite initial suggestions that the Restaurant Week option could not be ‘added’ to a larger scale meal, it was in a basket of fresh bread in three varieties paired to peppery tomato cream that the meal began and as much as restraint was attempted given all the upcoming carbs, any resistance proved futile as the warm trio was replenished more than once – the bites not topped with creamy spread proving more than amenable to sopping up any sauce gone astray.
Dividing the meal into appetizers, pastas, entrees, and dessert, with a bit of overlap to balance out courses two and three, it was after a short delay that round one was delivered along with glasses of wine for those choosing to imbibe, and although the well seasoned clams proved somewhat skimpy in portion given the pricetag there is little argument that Rao’s signature meatballs more than justify their legendary status, the balance of meat and breadcrumbs somehow dense and dainty at the same time with a spice profile that melded well to both crushed San Marzanos as well as the special cream sauce rife with blue cheese.
Noting that the large space was perhaps 2/3 full throughout much of the stay, and that waiters appeared stretched across sections that saw them working two-tiers of the restaurant at once, there was again a sizable delay paired to empty glasses prior to pastas presented by a pair of back-servers, yet when the three piping hot plates arrived almost all sins were immediately forgiven, the imported dry bucatini prepared perfectly al dente beneath a smooth lacquer of eggs, pork, and cream while the tubes of Rigatoni were equally well textured amidst an aromatic red sauce, the housemade purses a far more mild option that may have benefitted from a bit of salt or grated Pecorino, though the bites taken with dried cranberries were admittedly quite nice.
Seeing secondi arrive in a much more expedited manner than the prior course, each dish served with an appropriate warning that plates were ‘extremely hot,’ it was here that the Restaurant Week special of Duck Cannelloni was presented and although the composition was perhaps a bit reminiscent of the aforementioned ravioli the utilization of confit duck proved a substantial upgrade to the milky ricotta in terms of both taste and texture, the $51 Veal Parmesan a bit overpriced despite good quality and substantial portion while the lemon chicken was moist and surprisingly restrained, the crispy charred skin proving a more than admirable foil to the citrus.
Already selecting a single cannoli as part of the prix fixe, and adding on a $32 platter with three more options to share, dessert at Rao’s no doubt trends towards the classics and as good as both the dense cheesecake and crisp tube of lightly lemon cream were, neither could outmatch the block of espresso-soaked ladyfingers amidst mascarpone, let alone the peanut butter tart that no-doubt tipped its hat to Reese’s while simultaneously meeting the tongue both rich and as light as a cloud.
THREE STARS: While some purists may suggest that such ‘one-off’ concepts are disingenuous to the original others may consider such things to be a benefit providing the cooking is on point, particularly since most lack the political (or mob) ties required to visit the original and would likely be better served eating somewhere else in The Big Apple instead. Setting aside high prices and service that would benefit from a few more hands-on-deck, Rao’s is a worthy dinner for those seeking rustic red sauce on the Strip.
RECOMMENDED: Meatballs, Bucatini alla Carbonara, Peanut Butter Tart.
AVOID: If you are gluten intolerant or on a low-carb diet…perhaps the Baked Clams as well.
TIP: Daily specials, which are recited tableside, are available per Chef’s whim and can be confirmed by a phone call. Additionally, like everywhere else in Caesars, the Total Rewards Card will save a dollar or two per plate.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Perhaps the most aspiring downtown hotel dining project in recent memory, and one that instantly sparked interest given the 24/7 concept within the historic El Cortez, it was with three friends that a four-course feast was enjoyed at Siegel’s 1941, the sizeable space and immense menu showing promise of great things to come despite only officially being open for five days at the time of our mid-morning arrival.
Inspired by Bugsy Siegel, an early investor in the El Cortez, with a soundtrack that veers vintage as Rat Pack classics float beneath gilded ceilings overhead, Siegel’s 1941 features several touches harkening the era for which it is themed and with Virginia Hill gazing on over wood and red leather the menu is wide-reaching with breakfast, ‘all-day,’ and late-nite versions offered depending on the time, the transition from breakfast occurring at 11:00am proving the impetus for the party’s 10:15am reserved table.
Managed by Scott Farber and conceptualized by ESPLV, a design group behind several local restaurants with varying degrees of value, it would seem obvious that a concept as aggressive as Sigel’s 1941 would be marred by a few issues in its opening days, and fully admitting that staff/kitchen transitions are one of those ‘kinks’ it was no-doubt a pleasant surprise that saw Scott diligently looking over his team throughout the stay, a middle-aged Hispanic woman providing almost universally impressive service given the complex coursing of the order, while a few kitchen delays and errors in execution seemed a bit more egregious – the chicken sent in place of requested eggplant, while a side of meatballs was instead served as the spaghetti centered entrée with a whole lot of watery noodles eventually going to waste.
Beginning with breakfast, a few cups of coffee as well as orange juice, milk, plus a cocktail all brought along with water with refills rarely requiring a request, course one saw four plates delivered and while the flaccid pancakes with a simple spread of nutella could have benefitted from a bit more imagination both the chicken and waffles beneath peppery sausage gravy and the challah French Toast were as good as any served within a local diner, the use of 100% pure maple syrup a definite highlight, as was the quality of house-made corned beef acting to anchor a hash that featured golden-brown potatoes and lightly seared red peppers alongside a pair of poached eggs.
Designating round two as ‘the sandwich course,’ it was on the advice of EatingLV that ‘the city’s best Cuban’ was ordered, and served with fries on a silver tray one would be hard pressed to argue with such an assessment, particularly as relates to authenticity, as each ingredient melded nicely between layers of toasty pressed bread, the ‘Monte Cristo’ equally tasty and loaded with ham despite missing an opportunity to be the only deep-fried version currently offered in Sin City while the ‘Carolina’ pulled pork was unfortunately quite dreadful, a total lack of vinegar in either the pig or the slaw not at all resembling the stuff served in the Southeast while the bun was a soggy mess mere seconds after arrival.
Receiving repeat apologies for a delay that stretched just under forty minutes at the midpoint of the meal, it was almost as though the extra time only served to confuse the kitchen since the aforementioned mistakes were sent out despite being correctly listed on the ticket, but thankfully not meeting any harboring a distaste for animal flesh as the enormous chicken parmesan was an exceedingly high quality rendition with light breading and good sauce while meatballs were unfortunately a bit dry and almost entirely devoid of spice, the pot pie undoubtedly proving a far more worthwhile bite as golden puff pastry formed a buttery dome over a creamy potage chockablock full of chicken and vegetables that outdid many more expensive versions found elsewhere in Sin City.
Not yet dialing in the dessert menu, and as such unable to offer the Strawberry Ice Box Pie while also admitting that breakfast pastries are currently brought in from an outside source, the meal conclude with a duo of Bread Pudding and Turtle Pie, the former a dense block of brioche swimming in bourbon infused sauce beneath slowly melting ice cream while the later was an absolute must-order for those fancying caramel or chocolate, the filling a spot-on rendition of the inspirational candy with a graham cracker crust crisp too the tooth and heavy with spice.
THREE AND A HALF STARS: Already rivaling anything downtown for 24-hour fare, and only likely to get better with time, Siegel’s 1941 is the sort of retro-rebrand that places such Roxy’s at the Stratosphere have long aspired to emulate – a place where tourists and locals alike can get a good meal at a fair price, all while experiencing the old-school Vegas vibe that flows throughout its longest continuously running hotel and gaming space.
Owned and operated by Las Vegas Boulevard veteran Megan Romano, last seen during a December 2012 trip with friends before relocating to Las Vegas, Chocolate and Spice had long been on the ‘to return’ list, and when absolutely atrocious customer service from the new team at Bonjour Bakery quickly turned me off to ever recommending their goods again the timing proved fortuitous, though the simple pairing of the words “Aunt” and “Jemima” soon left me wondering just how ‘artisan’ anything else could be from a pastry chef so bold as to peddle her goods at the Downtown Summerlin “Farmer’s Market.”
Admittedly a hit and miss experience during the previous visit, some items shining while others were texturally compromised or simply over sugared, trip two to the cute West Sahara space saw little changed in terms of décor or execution, the oft-raved scones still as delicious as ever with blueberries in place of cherries while two cookies fared quite well as crisp rims encircled buttery centers that avoided the common pitfall of trending too sweet.
Tempted by a half-dozen cakes, even at the early hour of 7:30am, it was unfortunate that the brightly colored red velvet was fairly faint with cocoa considering cream cheese frosting that was appropriately tangy with a texture smooth as silk, and although the brownie upped the chocolate content plenty there was something strange about the brownie’s overall texture – neither salt nor caramel really prevalent, instead replaced by a cloying sweetness and ‘coating’ sort of mouthfeel that leads one to question the presence of paraffin amongst the ingredients used.
Moving last to one of the restaurant’s prepped-to-order signatures, a “Crème Brulee” French Toast that proves a bit of a misnomer as the bread is never actually torched after being dredged in custard and pan fried crisp, it is here that the main source of my complaints truly came to light – the answer to a question of whether the maple syrup was 100% pure answered with the name of Monsanto’s favorite racially tinged pseudo-syrup making me thankful I always carry my own while putting into question the quality of every single item I’d earlier consumed.
TWO AND A HALF STARS: Considered by some to be one of the city’s best locally owned bakeries, but clearly willing to cut corners despite prices that that certainly aren’t “cheap,” one is left to wonder how Chef Romano has gotten so far with such a business model, an Trotter alumni who would no doubt disappoint her former employer if he were able to walk into Chocolate and Spice today.
RECOMMENDED: Scones, Oatmeal Cookie.
AVOID: Aunt Jemima Syrup, Brownies of equally questionable ingredient sourcing, Red Velvet Cake.
TIP: Open at 7:00am Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Warm Chocolate Banana Budino, Passion Fruit Pearls, Banana Gelato
Chocolate-Olive Oil Spuma
Baba Al Rhum with White Chocolate Cream
Last visited in 2005, under unique circumstances with people who’d rarely splurge in such a space, the only thing that had precluded a return to Paul Bartolotta’s eponymous Ristorante di Mare was the continuous onslaught of newer or ‘trendier’ options, but returning with friend who, shockingly, also had overlooked the restaurant for more than two years one simply wonders why such a gem is so infrequently cited as one of the city’s true destinations to dine.
Recently renovated, now with light whites brightening spaces that once felt more formal, and managed by a gentleman named Warren Richards who went so far as to set up an unannounced Skype with Chef Bartolotta, who was visiting in Italy, for my friend, dining at the Ristorante di Mare still revolves around a selection of fishes and crustaceans sold by price per 100grams and although a la carte pricing is admittedly quite daunting, the option is also available for one of three ‘family style’ tastings – the journey presented to our table a slightly augmented nine-course affair in part selected by Mr. Richards and partly on request, a few fine wines as well as a cocktail, tea, and coffee rounding out an experience that stretched just over three hours.
Beginning almost entirely empty, and perhaps half-full when the meal ended at 9PM, it was largely with tableside service from Warren plus one of his captains that dinner at Bartolotta progressed and after opening bites of lightly fried squid plus bread that proved absolutely irresistible across several rounds it would not be long before the first of several stunners arrived, the duo of Italian Mullet and roasted Ricciola each simply presented with light saucing over vegetables, the brine of anchovies and bitter radicchio particularly inspiring when paired to the sweet, buttery Amberjack.
Diverting from sea-life momentarily on request, plate three featured a dollop of foie gras rendered almost incomparably light through the utilization of butter, booze, plus plenty of technique and slowly savoring each bite trying to recall a better presentation of duck liver in recent memory it was in the subsequent course that the restaurant’s tableside treasure chest truly showed its importance to the experience, both the enormous langoustines and slipper lobster that had been alive just moments prior showing the sort of quality rarely seen on either coast, let alone at the center of a valley without a drop of saltwater in sight.
Again venturing back to the bounty of land for the first of two pasta duos, Bartolotta certainly lived up to its Italian inspirations with both the delicate potato dumplings as well as the cheese ravioli draped in a veil of Pecorino and buttery wine glaze, yet as good as both the small portions were, neither could live up to the quality of a subsequent course of seafood slanted primi, the inky risotto a briny yet creamy composition while the signature ‘rags’ tasted like a textbook cioppino with just enough acid from the tomatoes to balance the fresh crustaceans with hints of herbs and wine lingering on the finish.
Self-selecting a still-blinking San Pietro from the glass case as the culmination of savories, course seven saw the roasted John Dory deftly plated tableside over lightly roasted zucchini and although edges proved ever so slightly parched the center was rich, moist, and absolutely indulgent while a trio of sauces served to silence any talk of over-cooking, the Cruda and Agrumi equally well adapted to the white flesh with the later equally delectable drizzled on wheat bread of which far too much had already been had.
At this point declining an inquiry as to whether anything else was desired to be added a la carte, it was undoubtedly a bit of showing off that saw eighteen of the restaurant’s twenty-four housemade iced delicacies delivered as a palate cleanser to trump any experienced to date, and although I’d like to say restraint was shown the fact of the matter is that little more than a few puddles returned to the kitchen – only the mango proving less than a spot on interpretation of the ingredient’s natural flavor while the Coconut, Amarena Cherry, Black Currant, Pistachio, and Dark Chocolate were all amongst the city’s best frozen bites.
Sipping a sweet Moscato while desserts were readied, and later ordering up an iced Americano to pair with the sweets, it was largely a Chef’s selection that rounded out the evening and having previously been underwhelmed by Italian desserts throughout much of the city the quality of the quintet at Bartolotta proved every bit as inspired as the savorites, the Lemon Cake and Semifreddo each a great option for those favoring fruit-based flavors while the baba and spuma were rich and traditional with bold flavors amidst exceptionally light textures, the budino undoubtedly the heaviest of the finale with rich chocolate pudding finding its foil in sweet passion fruit plus one more quenelle of gelato.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS: Self assured that its patrons are willing to pay a premium for the sort of seafood and exquisite execution rarely seen anywhere outside of the gastronomic temples located in coastal cities, Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare is every bit as memorable today as any restaurant in Las Vegas and taking into account the sourcing, setting, and service should undoubtedly be talked about more than it is as one of the city’s very best.
RECOMMENDED: Imperial Langoustines, Slipper Lobster, Pasticcio di Fegatini d’Anatra, Baba al Rhum, Warm Chocolate Banana Budino.
AVOID: Filling up on Bread, and perhaps the Mango Sorbet.
TIP: Offering the fishes and shellfish on a rotating basis depending on what is most fresh with prices ranging $18-$30 per 3-oz, bone-in/shell on, those interested in specific selections or preparations are encouraged to call in advance, though the langoustines – whose source remains a well guarded secret – are always available in various sizes with costs ranging $30-$45 each.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Considered to be one of the best Steakhouses in the Las Vegas suburbs, and undeniably one of the true success stories at much-maligned Tivoli Village, it was with three friends that dinner at Echo & Rig was enjoyed on Saturday, and although Chef Sam Marvin was preoccupied following his televised win over Bobby Flay the experience, none-the-less, was one of exquisite service and top quality ingredients prepared in a manner no different than some of the area’s best – at a mere fraction of the cost.
Now approaching its third year in business, and outlasting concepts from several more ‘celebrated’ chefs with nearly universal accolades arriving from locals since opening its doors, Echo & Rig pairs the all-too-common farm-to-table concept with in-house butchery in the style of a steakhouse and leveraging the later knowledge of sourcing and artisan cuts to curtail costs the restaurant happily outstrips the likes of nearby Flemming’s while retaining a local sort of feel, the two-story building upscale yet extremely comfortable with a feel that is welcoming whether one is seated in a jacket inside or sporting sandals with a glass of wine in hand under misters on the second-floor patio outdoors.
Admittedly known to the restaurant as a result of reaching out to management with questions regarding the concept and thoughts pertaining to the Echo & Rig’s longterm success in a complex where little else has thrived, it was on arrival that the party was escorted to a sizeable four-top at the top of the stairs and greeted by a handful of the restaurant’s sizable staff the evening started out with a comprehensive rundown of the menu followed by a complimentary plate of housemade charcuterie joining warm bread and butter as cocktails were sipped and an order was put forth.
Served largely by a man named Brian, first described as the restaurant’s best waiter and later as a ‘brand ambassador,’ it was not long after ordering a first course of food that the plates began to arrive and treated to a bowl of crispy cauliflower tinged in spice along with the items that we’d ordered one would be hard pressed to name a single bite that did not shine, the signature Portobello fries probably the weakest of the items as seasoning seemed to obscure more earthy notes while both the housemade sausage and ricotta with fruit and honey were entirely irresistible, the same to be said of vegetables that were simple yet satisfying while the ‘grilled cheese’ was every bit the crowd pleaser that rumors would contend.
Already questioning an order that proved quite large when accounting for portion sizes and enticing presentations that made it difficult to resist finishing each plate, entrees saw four prime proteins paired to a trio of sides and although the “Santa Maria Rub” unfortunately served only to overwhelm one friend’s tri-tip, the quality of an enormous pounded pork cutlet and both the Spencer as well as the Cap were undeniable, the sides a bit of a mixed bag with both corn and potatoes pleasant amidst their accoutrements while the Mac & Cheese featuring “Seven Cheeses” was nothing more than run of the mill.
Unfortunately short-selling on desserts, an odd choice for a place going so far as to bake their own bread, it was in a duo of sundaes that final bites were invested and although both were well comprised of high quality ingredients one can’t help but wonder how much better the experience could be with a dedicated pastry chef, or even a cheese board considering the fact that baked brie is featured amongst the side plates while candied fruits served with the ricotta were also quite good.
THREE AND A HALF STARS: Undeniably a bargain in the Steakhouse genre, and a rare gem in a complex that has seen more than its fair share of closures since originally opening its gates, Echo & Rig excels when sticking to its artisan roots without trying to get too fancy, and with great service in an environment far from stuffy it should be celebrated not just for what it is, but also as the Summerlin destination that pre-dated so many concepts to come.
RECCOMMENDED: Corned Beef Sausage with Roasted Corn / Housemade Pastrami / Country Pate / Ricotta, Dried Fruit Compote & Desert Honey / Rib-Eye Cap.
AVOID: Tri-Tip / Mac & Cheese.
TIP: Offering the same menu at lunch and dinner during the week, plus a truncated Brunch beginning at 9:00am on weekends, those interested in specific items are advised to check out the online menus or call in advance to inquire about specials, another option potentially being to just pop-in and take a look while perusing the downstairs butcher shop where any number of artisan cuts and house cured meats can be found throughout normal business hours.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
Jerk Turkey Burger – mango chutney slaw with spicy tator tots
Pork Belly Cuban – Tasso ham, manchego with spicy tator tots
Seared Scallops – mango habanero beurre blane
Cocoa-Espresso NY Strip Steak – red wine demi
Baked Mac & Cheese – shhhh, it’s a secret
Bourbon Fudge Brownie – brown butter bacon ice cream
Banoffee Pie – organic wheat beer, mandarin orange coulis
Originally visiting Carson Kitchen a few months after its opening to a mixed experience that left me wondering exactly why every critic in town was acting as though the restaurant somehow reinvented American cuisine, or even downtown dining, it was on the invitation of Simon partner Cory Harwell that I returned to 124 S. 6th Street on Saturday, the service far finer tuned on its first anniversary while food continues to mind its upscale and whimsical groove.
Taking into account that the August 2014 visit was likely colored by expectations of something transcendent, a tale propagated by the media moreso than by Kerry Simon’s team themselves, it was with a clearer picture of the restaurant’s place in the evolving local environment that this second experience was had, and although little in the space has changed with regard to decor or denizens the soon-to-evolve spring menu showed flashes of brilliance to go along with plates that have routinely received raves since the concept was debuted.
Allowing Cory, an extremely pleasant man whose passion for the project and heartfelt comments about his friend’s health were on full display throughout the meal, to serve us whatever he felt best exemplified the current menu, it was with a brisk cocktail and natural juice and vodka that the meal began and soon treated to a summer salad similar to that at Hearthstone a few weeks prior the “gateway” dish of supple meatballs with foie gras cream proved the meal’s first true triumph – the descriptive nomenclature offered up by Cory when describing his hopes to use esoteric ingredients not as an upsell or hook, but rather as a means to introduce less adventurous diners to something they may never have otherwise opted to order.
Clearly trying to focus on items not tasted during visit one, while also eyeing balanced courses that would not overwhelm our palates too early on, round two featured Kerry’s personal favorite fried green beans paired with a surprisingly sweet pepper jelly and cream cheese spread inspired by Harwell’s Southern roots, and moving past a strawberry salad that unfortunately fell a bit flat as a result of berries a bit less ripe than one would hope it was here that another exemplary dish arrived, the cast iron crock of creamy crab dip proving absolutely decadent with sharp notes of cheddar carefully melded to the sweet chunks of crustacean spread throughout.
Perhaps overdoing it on the salted pretzel batons served alongside the dip, but admittedly unaware of how much was to come, course three featured two of Carson Kitchen’s seasonal sandwiches and although the turkey burger was pleasant enough with spice offset by housemade chutney it was undoubtedly the Cuban that proved the better of the two, a significant upgrade over several watery versions found elsewhere offered through the use of savory pork shoulder topped with pickles, mustard, and Spanish Cheese – even the bread not far off from the crispy pressed paninis served in Miami, Tampa, and other highly praised locations throughout the American Southeast.
Taking it easy on the tots as the table was told three more savories were soon to come, it was admittedly to rolled eyes that Cory told a tale of Carson Kitchen’s lauded Mac & Cheese, yet despite the genuine ennui of a dish omnipresent on every American menu in the city Harwell’s version achieved the rare feat of truly wowing with both texture and nuance, a similar statement applicable to the seared scallops bathed in citrus and heat though less so to a medium rare piece of beef that seemed to get lost amidst a rich-rub and equally strong sauce.
Somewhat disappointed by the O-Face Bread Pudding and overly-citrus Twinkies from August, but hoping to see Springtime sweets show the same sort of evolution seen in the service, it was with a duo of desserts that the meal would end and again impressed by the richness of a boozed up brownie kept in check by bacon and brown butter ice cream it was unsurprisingly Cory’s accented version of banana pudding that immediately stole my heart, the flavors of both the Southern Classic and toffee-tinged English pie suggested through the use of ingredients one rarely associates to either with a texture that eventually saw full bellies making room to scrape the jar clean.
FOUR STARS: Having finally lost some of the hype as more and more restaurants have opened in DTLV, but still making good on a mission to offer a creative menu of well sourced ingredients at a great price, there is little doubt Carson Kitchen has earned its place amongst must-visit lists for locals and tourists alike – the “Keep Calm and Kerry On” mantra as appropriate now as the day it opened and likely to greet patrons for many years to come.
AVOID: Strawberry Salad, Cocoa-Espresso NY Strip Steak.
TIP: Soon transitioning to a summer menu that Cory promises to feature even more interesting twists, along with several Carson Kitchen staples, those interested in the current options are advised to visit soon.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor
The Loving v. Virginia – the legal marriage between a cookie and a brownie
The Banana Flax Cake
Located within the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, a space more commonly referred to simply as “The Center,” Bronze Café had long been on my list of places to visit and seeking coffee plus free WiFi near downtown on Saturday I finally decided to drop in, the smiling staff greeting me warmly as I entered while several patrons sat throughout the atrium using a bank of supplied computers or looking through literature supplied in a small library toward the back of the room.
Admittedly located in a rough part of Las Vegas, the surrounding environs largely comprised of rundown housing with no shortage of panhandlers to be found on the streets, the interior of The Center seems to act as a sort of sanctuary to those in the community and with free services available ranging from HIV-testing to prevention and sex education the environment is both open and inviting, the electronic music overhead perhaps a bit of a distracter but certainly not so loud that it cannot be ignored.
Offering a selection of soups, salads, sandwiches, baked goods, and smoothies running the gamut from mundane to esoteric with options for vegetarians, vegans, and those dining gluten free in addition to several options featuring meat, it was entirely in the pastries that my investigation of the café’s goods was undertaken and treated to a vegan smoothie shot as I waited for coffee to be brewed I’ll admit I was pleasantly surprised, the apple and banana with light vanilla doing an admirable job of offsetting the bitterness oft associated with the greens.
Sipping the espresso over ice, a bold brew with a nutty finish at less than half what one would pay for Starbucks on the Strip, it was with seven items plus a gifted Fruity Pebbles Treat from owner David Mozes that the tasting took place and beginning the rainbow treat a theme of strong flavors and excellent textures quickly arose, any ‘artificalness’ associated with the commercial cereal completely lacking in a vegan strawberry cookie with a jam center that ranks amongst the best in the city with a pudding smooth mouthfeel and light creamy top-notes.
Trying best to progress light-to-rich it was next in the slightly dry oatmeal cookie that I partook and setting this aside in favor of hopefully better things a bite of the bacon-jam scone proved to be far softer than one might expect from the British tea-time staple, though the savory jam and ample use of butter was none-the-less quite delicious beneath a light sprinkling of sugar with subtle sweetness dispersed beneath.
Entirely impressed by the peanut butter riff on a Snickerdoodle with ample cinnamon and sugar helping to mellow the otherwise rich base it was with equal balance that fruits and vegetables interacted to create the ultra-moist chocolate zucchini bread with the sort of richness that spoke to high quality cocoa, the similarly soft banana-flax cake perhaps a better choice for those desiring something more subtle with a light nuttiness from the fractured seeds coming through on the finish but not a bit of oil or bitterness to be found.
At this point seeing the soundtrack transition to upbeat Spanish dance music as a large group of teens plus a young family with grandparents in-tow sat down to breakfast it was finally in “The Loving v. Virginia” that I indulged and having previously tasted no fewer than a dozen takes on the cookie-meets-brownie including Brooklyn’s famous “Brookie” from Baked I’m confident to say that the version at Bronze Café may be the very best of them all – the chocolate base reminiscing of my childhood afternoon snack while the dollop of dough at the center was just seconds short of fully set, the whole far greater than the sum of its parts and something probably best shared, or at least enjoyed with a cup of coffee, milk…or in the case of Bronze Café, perhaps some almond mylk.
FOUR STARS: Setting aside a location that some may find a bit intimidating for any number of personal misperceptions, Bronze Café is the sort of place that is likely to go overlooked by all but those who walk through the doors of The Center, but with strong sourcing, friendly service, and a menu as inclusive as the building in which it is housed it can only be said that there is a whole lot more here than meets the eye, and a whole lot of things to tantalize the tastebuds as well.
RECOMMENDED: The Loving v. Virginia, The Strawberry Cookie, The Peanut Butter Snickerdoodle Cookie.
AVOID: The Oatmeal Craisin Cookie comes off quite dry and the scone, although quite tasty, is unlikely to amuse those looking for something more traditionally textured.
TIP: Already offering low prices considering the quality of the goods, those looking for an even better deal are encouraged to check in via social media for 10% off, or to look into restaurant.com for $10 off $20 coupons.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor