December 2008


Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels31 Dec 2008 08:07 am

On day five, we tired of meat.

“How about something fresh? Light?” Connor inquired, hopefully.

Initially the plan had been to ingest some Texas style BBQ, but I think we had all hit the wall at that point. We decided perhaps something vegetarian or at least lighter would be nice.

While my parents headed for mexican at the Border Grill, we set out to find Ichiza, a small japanese izakaya restaurant I read about on Yelp. The place was on the second floor of a plaza nestled in the heart of an area that seemed to be popular with the Asian community, on Spring Mountain Road west of the Strip.

The third of my birthday dinners, Ichiza was a riot. Friends Amy, Matt, Joyce and Andy joined Connor, Mike and I at a low table. The place is decorated in typical izakaya style, with dark woods, dim lighting, lots of booze and many patrons. While there was an extensive menu, there were also many pieces of paper with hastily written items on them hanging on the wall: wasabi octopus, Berkshire pork sausage, yellowtail, bluefin tuna – specials of the day and week. Many were sold out, however.

Tokyo, or Las Vegas? This photo of the bar makes it hard to tell.

It was very authentic, and a lot of fun. I don’t even recall all of what we ordered since we got so many dishes, but some things included: beef tongue on skewers, kushi katsu (mini breaded pork bites), oshinko (japanese pickles), spanish mackerel, shishamo (fried smelt) and some insanely beautiful inside out roll the waitress recommended with a smile to Mike.

The waitress recommended “roll”. I cannot remember the name, but it had fresh fish, shiso leaf, egg and varaious kinds of fish roe on top of soft warm sushi rice.

We also got a sashimi platter, with well cut, high quality fish. Andy and Joyce got the “roll your own” sushi rolls, which looked fun, and different. But, sushi lovers be warned, izakayas are probably not the best place for people who only like sushi. It’s more bar snacks; food on tiny plates with a lot of variety. Izakaya-style eating rewards adventurous eaters, and we all left happy.

Apparently their honey toast is the bomb (a Yelp reviewer describes it suchly: “a giant, absurdly fluffy hollowed out loaf of bread filled to bursting with honey and ice cream“), but we got the banana crepe, which was cut up artfully into sushi roll style. Not that I had room left.

Taking a picture of Matt taking a picture of the banana crepe.

If you go, order off the walls, get the “mystery greens” shochu, and be prepared to sit and stay a while. The beauty of izakaya is that you eat so you can drink more, then you drink so you can eat more.

Smelt on the left (with spicy mayo) and pickles on the right.

I would be almost certain to return on a future trip, if it wasn’t for news that Raku is the new darling of the Las Vegas izakaya scene. Could it be better than Ichiza? I need to find out. Man, if a desert city can do it, why can’t a prairie city?

Travels30 Dec 2008 10:16 am

Just as proof that I did more than eat in Las Vegas, some photos from the Pinball Hall of Fame. It is 4500 square feet of pinball and other coin operated games in a strip mall off Tropicana Avenue.

Most games were a quarter or two, and it was a lot of fun. I’m definitely going back on future visits.

Cat Scratch Fever, baby!

Playing a 1970s flipper baseball game.

Rows o’ games.

Political correctness, always.

They had some sweet air hockey and dome hockey games.

Peppy is kind of creepy, hey? You put in a coin, and press buttons to operate his limbs. My dad recalled playing this when he was a kid, which I thought was pretty cool.

Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels29 Dec 2008 09:15 am

Often, the only thing that gets me going after a late Las Vegas night is the promise of being able to avoid long lines at bistros serving breakfast. I have yet to take in a breakfast buffet (and probably never will), but the line-ups at the Las Vegas outpost of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon strike fear in my empty stomach. I will do anything to avoid a wait, even if it means waking before 9 a.m. Yikes!

Others may feel that greasy IHOP hash browns help sop up the liquor from the previous night’s debauchery. I, however, subscribe to the belief that airy croissants and strong lattes get me through the pain.

This trip involved two visits to Bouchon‘s dining room, one to the bakery and yet another visit to Lenôtre in the Paris hotel. Yet, this was not enough. I would have gone more, but it seems that the hard working pastry chefs at Bouchon were given a holiday for the last three days of my trip. Damn them. Damn them to hell.

After collecting Mike and Connor at the airport early in the morning, we immediately drove to the Venetian to eat at Bouchon. Some people complain about the stilted service, and while it is true that things can be a little shaky at times, the food and atmosphere make up for it. It’s a pretty decent bargain, with most breakfasts coming in at under $20.

Daily specials are announced by the server and written on chalkboards around the room. Freshly baked items arrive at your table, along with creamed butter and the jam of the day.

I highly recommend the quiche du jour (eggy, light and rich) the frites (fried in duck fat, they are a bit different than most fries you will have and are well worth a side order) and the fresh beignets (bay-nays) which are served with Nutella. Our server suggested them, and wasn’t even finished saying “beignets” when all three of us exclaimed “Yes!”

Bouchon is a good way to start the day, and stretch your stomach for the inevitable flood of eats Vegas has to offer.

Entrance to Bouchon, which is located in the Venezia tower of the Venetian.

Beautiful floors. In warmer weather, there is a patio that over looks the Venezia pools.

Salmon baguette with fresh cream cheese and duck fat fried fries. In front of Connor sits another cloud of fries, which came with his croque madame.

Fresh butter and jam which came with our baguette.

Mike not paying attention to his menu.

Fresh beignets with Nutella and strawberry jam.

By the way: Nutella does not blend well into coffee, in case you were wondering.

*

My dad and I paid a visit to Lenôtre one morning. It took about 10 minutes to collect him at the MGM from the condo, find parking and then find Lenôtre, which is in the shopping area of Paris Las Vegas. Lenôtre is a famous Paris pâtisserie, run by Gaston Lenôtre.

Here is the exterior of Lenôtre.

I had never been in Paris Las Vegas before. Everything was “Le ____”

Le shop. Le Boulevard. etc. Le fromage, if you ask me.

There was a pretty steady line the entire time my dad and I were there, but oddly empty here.

Here, apple-walnut and blueberry “muffins” (more like mini-cakes), some pain au chocolat, apple and raspberry turnovers, pain au raisin, chocolate twists and, of course: croissants.

I honestly expected more selection. There were some small quiches (I got the leek and potato one) and gâteaux in another cooler.

I had dreams of macarons, tartlets, eclairs, baguettes… there was none of those.

The croissant was airy and flaky, with some substance to it. I would go back exclusively for the croissants, but probably not anything else.

My raspberry turnover was deliciously light, but a bit chewy, with a filling that was not too sweet. I normally steer away from sweets in the morning, but this was just right.

My dad enjoyed his “muffin” but thought the caramel was a little sweet and that the treat was a bit dense. He ordered a bear claw to bring back to my mom, but ended up with a fruity turnover instead. They were a bit busy, I guess.

I brought back some quiche, croissant and chocolate twists for the guys, with no screw ups. We broiled some sausages from Whole Foods in our condo kitchenette.

*

Yet another morning, after dropping Connor and Mike off at the Bellagio to play some cards, I went and collected some baked goods for them and myself at the Bouchon bakery. If you do not have the appetite for a full meal at Bouchon’s restaurant, the bakery on the casino level floor of the Venetian may have what you are looking for.

The selection was insane, triple the offerings at Lenôtre. In this photo alone, apple and pecan pie, the focaccia of the day, epi baguettes, sandwiches, eclairs and lemon custard tarts.

There were also macarons (four different flavours!), croissants, almond brioche, pain au chocolat, Keller’s famous “TKO” cookies and even doggie treats. Most items were $2.50-4.00.

Two different varieties of Valhrona chocolate cupcakes. They were the size of those jumbo Costco muffins.

I finally settled on one savoury and one sweet item each for the boys, and a macaron as a treat for myself. After dropping off the treats, I was dismayed to see that my macaron had been forgotten by the clerk. I never got to try one because, as I mentioned earlier,  Bouchon was closed the remainder of our visit.

Next time, Keller, next time.

Food and Food: Edmonton and Travels28 Dec 2008 07:23 pm

I’m so sorry I attacked the shitty US departure lounge of the Edmonton International airport recently. I had no idea that, now, in addition to a water fountain, half-stocked vending machine, magazine stand selling gum and good ol’ TOAST! cafe, there was a new Starbucks. My favourite part is that they face each other, like gangs in some sort of stand off, staring each other down.

They even accept Starbucks cards. I don’t think Safeway bound Starbucks even do that yet. Early morning flights might not be so bad anymore.

Illustrious new Starbucks facing…

… crappy old Toast!

Note Coors Light sign in far left corner.

Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels27 Dec 2008 09:07 pm

Recently I heard that Ruth Reichl (former NY Times restaurant critic and current Gourmet editor-in-chief) did not eat multi-course dinners anymore. After dining at Le Cirque in the Bellagio in Las Vegas, I can certainly understand where she is coming from. However, I would have not given up that meal for the world. (coincidentally the New York outpost of Le Cirque is the  recipient of the famous ‘double review’ from Reichl. One as a common-but-disguised diner and one as a famous food critic; the service differed greatly.)

The first in a set of three birthday dinners, Le Cirque held a sense of excitement for me. I have never really dined in any high end restaurants in Las Vegas. Diego at MGM and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon at the Venetian were about as ‘big name’ (and big budget) as I had gone. After reading glowing reviews on Chowhound about Le Cirque (mostly about it’s value for money and high service standards) I booked a table online for myself, Michael and friend (and former chef), Connor.

I arrived at Le Cirque earlier than my dining companions, laden with shopping bags. As I sat in the lounge for my party to arrive, I was – well – doted upon by the maître d’ and hostess.  It was not forced or over-eager, simply good, attentive service. Would I like some champagne? A cocktail? Perhaps a pomegranate martini? After Connor and Mike arrived, we were whisked to our table; a coveted corner booth/banquette with a view of the famous Bellagio fountains. My  knees melted as I took it all in.

Murals on the wall depicted scenes from a circus, with adorable monkeys playing a large role. Later, the bread server told me, under her breath, that every staff member had a secret assigned character on the walls, picked according to personality. The ceiling was draped in brilliant fabrics. Their plates and table settings were…well, they were fantastic. I contemplated sneaking one into my purse, but the constantly hovering and always watching staff really put a stop to that. Damn.

Bread plate

Full table set

(it wasn’t until reviewing my photos that I realized the servers placed the monkeys at the exact same angle every time)

Their dishes are classic French. As we reviewed the menu, we were asked for our drink orders. I requested the aforementioned pomegranate martini and Mike asked if he might have a negroni. The maître d’ said as he walked away: “You can have anything you want”; a trend that continued throughout the meal. The bread arrived quickly; walnut-olive, mini baguettes and fresh, soft pretzels warm in a basket, served with salted and unsalted butter.

Pomegranate martini (closest) and negroni. Both arrived in shakers which were then poured almost to the brim, tableside.

After perusing the menu and options, all three of us decided to partake in the 5-course degustation menu. At $145 a person, it’s not cheap, but is not the most expensive tasting menu on the Strip. (Robuchon’s Mansion at the MGM probably fills that void; the truffle menu is over $500 and the 16-course tasting menu is $385 )

Also up for grabs: a truffle tasting menu for $300 or so and a three course prix-fixe set for $85. However, its location, ambience and service really catapult Le Cirque into the upper echelons of value in Las Vegas. The restaurant was quietly busy for our 7pm reservation; I’d say it was half full for our entire meal. Many groups of four, although a table of two was celebrating their anniversary nearest to us.

Just to complete the experience, I added on the wine pairing; a glass with each course for an additional $65. And was I glad I did; the sommelier, Freddy, was a treat and filled out the evening. However, he did keep pouring glass after glass of free tastings when he saw I was sharing with Mike and Connor, despite telling him I had to drive later. Other than that, he was charming, unpretentious, and easy to get along with. Overall, the service throughout the night was bang on. So much so, I began to think they had a microphone in our booth, listening to our comments. The portions were enormous given it was a tasting menu, and I was shocked I ate everything. The pacing probably had a lot to do with it. I believe it took us just over 2 and a half hours to dine.

I’ve probably already done enough writing. I will let the photos do the talking.

The draped ceiling at Le Cirque

Adorable monkey motif on the dinner plates

The murals, behind Mike. He is seated on the striped banquette.

Fountains, as seen from my seat.

Amuse bouche:  Komomoto oyster with American caviar, served over crushed ice with blue curaçao for colour.

Unfortunately, Connor’s oyster was not properly shucked and he struggled to detach it from the shell. However, mine slid down my throat like a salty melting candy. This appeared to be one of only two missteps in the dinner service (the later being jus with a skin.)

To start: Lobster salad “Le Cirque

This is one of the signature dishes, and rightfully so. Four large sweet chunks of poached lobster sat on a bed of avocado and green string beans, topped with tender frisée and microgreens and wrapped with cucumber. Spicy mayonnaise and balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Oddly, we did not receive the truffle chip that seems to be customary with this dish. The wine pairing was a 2002 Chablis, Vieilles Vignes from Burgundy.

First: Sautéed Hudson Valley foie gras

This rich slab of foie gras came on a bed of Asian pear, raspberries and topped with microgreens. What made this all the more decadent was the wine pairing: a Hungarian wine from the Royal Tokaji wine company, the 2003 5 Puttonyos. As Freddy, the sommelier said: “I like to serve fat with fat.” It was sweet, thick and rich. Excellent with the foie gras and fruit compote.

Second: Tomato-caper risotto, served with salted cod croquette and a quail egg.

This little pot may  look diminutive, but let me assure you it was not. The hearty helping left me wanting more, and I was almost licking the velvety sauce out of the pot by the end. The salty capers bursting in my mouth paired unexpectedly well with the creamy, almost sweet risotto. Wine pairing: 2004 Domaine Leflaive le Clavoillon Puligny-Montrachet, from Burgundy.

Third: Paupiette of sea bass with braised leeks and red wine sauce.

Again, an enormous portion. Freddy came over with the wine, which was a 2002 Volnay “Vieilles Vignes” Jean-Marc Bouley. He said it was supposed to be the same wine in the sauce, or that he at least gave a bottle to the kitchen to use, and hoped that it made it in the dish. The synchronicity was really neat, and I enjoyed swilling back the wine and sauce at the same time. The crispy potato “skin” around the rich sea bass was a nice touch.

Fourth: Beef tenderloin, on wild mushrooms and pea mousseline, topped with potato “souffle” and dusted with cocoa nibs.

Extremely elaborate. A very fancy way to present a pretty basic meat and potato meal! This dish was very Vegas…the souffle on top was very reminiscent of the “cloud” that hovers over Fashion Show Mall. It tasted like a high end potato chip. The meat was tender, and the mushrooms a treat. The mousselline was the very essence of baby peas, and I couldn’t get enough. Mike was disappointed there was a skin on the jus from it sitting a bit too long. Seconds later, the maître d’ was at our table, confirming everything was alright. When we stated it was, he was insistent well tell him if something was not. This was when I began to suspect hidden microphones at the table. It was disturbing…how did they know?

Our set of silverware for the course included this adorable bee-decorated steak knife.

The wine pairing was a hefty red; a 2004 Chateau Moulin Saint Georges. 

Then…the final stage: dessert.

Pre-dessert: Macerated berries with vanilla (?) sorbet and gold leaf.

The “bowl” was sugar and edible, although it hurt my teeth to eat it. At the start I had informed our server I was allergic to papaya and he was pleased I did, for this dish featured it heavily.  Instead, I got wild berries. This refreshing course was light and cleansed our palates for…the main event, “dessert fantasy.”

Ice bowl with tequila sorbet and various fruits.

Chocolate souffle with crème anglaise and strawberry sugar.

We each received a different dessert, much to my pleasure. Michael received an ice bowl full of fruity frozen delights with tequila sorbet, I believe. (may have been strawberry soup, however) I got the chocolate souffle, which was a disappointment. Not in presentation or execution, though! I was simply more in the mood for a light fruity treat, such as the one Mike received. I later pawned my super rich, yet undeniably airy and light souffle off on Connor and Mike.

Connor’s was the most impressive dessert (although I neglected to ask for a taste of it!) A small black shiny “pearl” bombe the size of an plum was brought out on a plate. Placed in front of Connor, a hot chocolate sauce was poured on the bombe, melting the chocolate shell to reveal layers of praline and white chocolate ice cream. How amazing is that?

The final wine was a glass of 2003 late bottle vintage port.

To finish, petit fours.

I snatched the lemon meringue which was not overly cloying or sweet, and a perfect finish to the meal. Also on the plate, chocolate rice puff, some sort of jelly, raspberry tart, a chocolate praline or some kind and some marshmallowy thing. (can you tell I was growing weary by this point?)

A small memento to bring home. It’s a jewelry box, with two hidden drawers which were filled with two decadent truffles. As if I needed anything after that feast!

While not cheap, and not overly experimental or odd, the food and atmosphere were solid and a real bargain. The service, however, is what will make me consider going back. If not to visit Freddy, then to try their rabbit…

Travels17 Dec 2008 11:34 pm

Predictably, there was a lot of drinking in Las Vegas. Not always the kind you might think of, though.

Oddly, I seemed to take a lot of candid shots of it.

Travels16 Dec 2008 07:00 am

Image via the amazing Gawker. As if I could ever make something that awesome.
General10 Dec 2008 01:00 pm

Will return shortly. Just gone gamblin’ for a few days.

And eating.

And shopping.

General09 Dec 2008 06:25 pm

The time to wait between missing a package delivery and it being ready for pick up at the post office can be unbearable.

The wait was no more. I scurried through the snow tonight to pick up a box addressed to me.

Inside…

Lurking within this beautiful ceramic cup…

A lovely teacup hand painted with a cockroach from “Bailey Doesn’t Bark

So perfect! Thank you Dave + Jenn.

General06 Dec 2008 02:04 pm

credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

An excellent piece on National Public Radio about the homeless population in Las Vegas ran the other day. A majority live in storm sewers directly beneath the casinos on and around the Strip.

Matt O’Brien, editor of the free weekly paper Las Vegas CityLife spent a lot of time in these tunnels and even wrote a book about them: Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. NPR featured O’Brien this week. Link below.

I had originally seen the CNET gallery a year or so ago when I first heard about the book. I found the NPR piece when I heard about the practice of “silver mining” or looking in casinos for machine with unused credits. It’s a better paying version of checking telephone or vending machine coin returns. According to some homeless guys in the NPR bit, it can be hard to do though. Worth the read.

credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

You can listen to the 8 minute piece or read it.

NPR: Sucked into the tunnels beneath Las Vegas

CNET: Gallery of Las Vegas tunnels

Food and Food: Home Cookin'04 Dec 2008 07:45 am

Baby petit pan squash

Costco is really ramping it up with gourmet food items. Online, you can order aged balsamic vinegars and fine olive oils from their “fine foods” section. In store, I’ve recently found moderately priced treats like chanterelle mushrooms (which I used in a mushroom tart) and now, baby petit pan (aka pattypan) squash.

The tiny tender squash are extremely beautiful in their bright yellow and green skins, and several people around me commented on them while waiting in line. I hope they weren’t just admiring, but went and bought some of these delicious and somewhat exotic vegetables.

Pattypan squash have a delicate scalloped edge, edible stem and resemble small flowers. They are well suited for serving as a nice looking but easy to make side dish that will impress dinner guests. After a horrible experience dining at Edmonton’s La Ronde restaurant, I realized how easy it is to fuck that up though. I was thrilled to see the expensive squash on my plate as a seasonal vegetable, but was dismayed when it was undercooked and bitter. Gross.

I simply steamed mine for about 6 minutes, tossed them in a bit of butter and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, cracked pepper and some Maldon salt. They are sweet and buttery, like tiny courgettes, with a bit of an al dente bite. I cannot stop popping them in my mouth. The perfect afternoon snack!

Costco: not just for hot dogs anymore.

Pattypan squash: $7.99 for a two pack (750g) at Costco

Food and Food: Edmonton and Food: Las Vegas and Travels03 Dec 2008 07:32 am

The last time anyone got excited about airplane food.

Everyone knows that the state of airplane food has steadily declined in recent decades, that is no secret. However, what is not as widely discussed is how awesome most airport food options have become.

Well, maybe awesome is an overstatement, but some airports are offering affordable, local dining options with availability to bring your items on board in stay warm to-go containers. Smart thinking, friends!

When I was in Texas earlier this year, I got a pack of Salt Lick BBQ to go from the Austin airport. One of the best hangover cures I ever had was a delicious, fresh breakfast burrito at McCarran in Las Vegas. I still talk about it whenever I get the chance. When at a layover in Seattle later this month, I’ve already planned to go for a wine tasting and have my nails done. Just the option to get a Starbucks tea misto is heaven to me, let alone decent food options and relaxing spa joints. I really love airports.

Food & Wine magazine listed some of the top options for dining at airports in a recent article and the choices include the spacey “Encounter” at LAX with organic salads and custom cocktails and Tamales by La Casita at Denver, serving up authentic Mexican eats.

Some of my favourite dining stops at airports include:

  • San Francisco Soup Company and Gordon Biersch Brewery at SFO / San Francisco.
  • French Meadow Bakery and Ike’s Fish House at MSP / Minneapolis
  • Seattle Taproom for local beer and Vino Volo (a wine bar) and for food, Q’doba (this does not shame me) at SEA / Seattle Tacoma

I would list some international airports, but I usually sit in the airline lounges and am served beer by robots and sushi by pretty ladies.

You think I’m joking?

NO I AM NOT.

100% pure Asahi with intentionally poured head from the Northwest Airlines lounge in Narita, bitches.

And hey, Edmonton has pre-security Harvey’s and post-US-customs “shitty stand that sells old bagels and bruised bananas” aka “TOAST!”

So there’s always that.

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