March 2010

Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels29 Mar 2010 07:45 pm

Sinatra opened with the rest of Encore in December 2008. It is, for all intents and purposes, a themed restaurant, based around: you guessed, Frank Sinatra.

I remember reading about it and Switch (a restaurant that changes decor several times as you eat) and thinking how insane it was that Steve Wynn was building something so tacky and tasteless.

However, after eating there I can only say it’s done in the classiest of ways. Sure, there is a constant hum of Frank Sinatra tunes as you eat (there is a three or four hour loop of his hits playing), and he looms over your table on larger-than-life portraits, peers at you along side Steve Wynn from the menu and is the namesake of a few menu items (for instance the Sinatra Smash cocktail or Osso Bucco “my way”), but these are all small details compared to the delicious Italian classics that come from the kitchen.

The restaurant is an homage to Frank Sinatra, and would go down very well with super fans. I am not a fan. I mean, I know of him, and I can name at least two songs, but I did not want to dine at Sinatra because I love Ol’ Blue Eyes. I went for the Italian, and suspect many of the other diners did as well.

The restaurant was but 50 steps from our hotel room door, and was an extremely busy place. You could barely make out the strains of Frank over the buzz of diners. We had to wait a few moments for a table, and grabbed cocktails in the lounge while we waited. Extremely strong cocktails. I always say this about Vegas drinks, and maybe it’s because I’m a light weight, but maybe it just because they know how to pour a drink there.

Mike’s limoncello-raspberry cocktail and my modern Manhattan.

Packed! With many large parties.

It was still too chilly in February to sit on the patio, but I heard it’s quite lovely.

Lasagne bolognese: Screaming hot layers of pasta with a rich meat sauce and creamy cheese. I kind of felt like it could have used some spice to kick it up a notch, but it made for a very satisfying dinner. It’s also piqued my interest in making lasagne at home sometime soon.

The menu is well cultivated, with a cross section of the most famous Italian dishes, but nothing extraneous. Four kinds of pasta, a smattering of fish and meat dishes, and that’s it. You’d think it would be easier to pick meals, but we still struggled.

Mike got the osso bucco, which was outstanding. The marrow turned into a beefy jelly inside the bone, with the meat staying succulent and tender outside. It came with a refreshing gremolata.

One of our appetizers was crab risotto cakes, on a tomato sauce. Extremely tender seafood set in a crisp risotto case. Just the right size to balance the two, but three on a plate for two people made fighting over the last one necessary.

Pannacotta. I haven’t had truly memorable pannacotta since last year, but these were a reminder of how good it could be. Even the fruit was a reminder of how good fruit could be. (Ugh, is summer here yet?)

Overall, I enjoyed our visit to Sinatra. Considering we were waffling over where to go that evening and eventually just went with the closest restaurant to us we were interested in, our decision turned out to be a good one.

Service was well practiced, and I really enjoyed our server. She was friendly, helpful when we needed her to be and just brash enough to have made Sinatra proud. Although I admitted I was not a Frank fan, she still brought over some books the restaurant keeps on hand for fans. It was kind of cool to see what the Rat Pack used to get up to in Vegas. I think they’d have kept well-worn seats at a place like Sinatra.

Although I’m not sure I would elevate Sinatra to the “must visit again” list on the Vegas restaurant compilation, it was a memorable, romantic meal. I would definitely return to the bar again for a nightcap before stumbling up to the room at Encore.

Sinatra (at Encore)
Las Vegas, Nevada
open for dinner only, 5-11pm

Food and work (kinda)26 Mar 2010 06:06 pm

While I spend my evenings trying to perfect calligraphy on wedding invitations (not very well, I might add), my colleague and blogging buddy Ben Gelinas has generously provided a post for my blog. As I have blogged for his video game blog Button Mash once or twice, I was happy to have him reciprocate here on Crazy White Girl with a Kitchen.

Ben (who happens to be vegetarian) recently spent a few weeks on the road in his little Nissan sedan, visiting friends across the United States on an epic road trip from Edmonton through Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Nevada to name a few states. Fittingly, he ate some interesting food along the way.

A 9,500 km road trip across the belly of the United States took me to friends living in random cities like Chicago and Vegas in March. Along the way, I visited eateries where all manner of strange regional delights were plated. They said a vegetarian would have trouble finding good food in the less-populated parts of the country. They were wrong. Here are some highlights:

In Minneapolis, I walked the chilly University of Minnesota campus and found a malt shop called Annie’s Parlour on the edge of the Dinkytown strip. (ed. note: I once at at Annie’s as well, many moons ago! Place is epic.)

Peanut butter banana malt at Annie’s, a University of Minnesota institution

Annie’s had malted milks: a thicker, sweeter milkshake with malt powder, the server said. She recommended mixing peanut butter cup with banana. I ordered the half-size, which was still more than any shake I’ve ever finished. It was a treat, when I was able to suck any up of the speckled goo up the straw. A bubble tea straw might have worked better.

As I continued on to Chicago in the dark, I rolled into a suburb of Madison called Monora, and stopped for dinner at Noodles & Company. This expanding American franchise basically does for pasta what Quizno’s does for subs.

Powerade as a fountain drink choice alarms me. A noodle based restaurant sounds comforting, though.

The menu’s only rule: the dish must have noodles. It was split into three categories: American, Italian and Asian. Think mac & cheese, spaghetti & meatballs and pad thai from the same line. I had the mushroom stroganoff with blue Powerade. This place was incredibly vegetarian-friendly and the stroganoff wasn’t bad. Not like mom makes. But decent considering it came four minutes after I paid.

In Chicago, my friend Sean and I ate first at Hot Doug’s, a trendy hot dog restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

A very busy day at Hot Doug’s in Chicago

I had a veggie Chicago dog (mustard, onion, sweet pickle relish dyed neon green, pickle, tomato, and celery salt). The second veggie dog I loaded up with sauerkraut, pickles and mustard. Sean and I each took a trip to the bathroom before we ate to discreetly take a swig of Pepto from a bottle he smuggled inside his man-purse.

Vegetarian hot dogs? Say it ain’t so!

Dinner at Jerry’s in Wicker Park was a wise choice. The Baba R sandwich is unlike anything between bread. Ingredients: peanut butter, apple, basil, fried onion and chipotle chutney. Don’t make that face.

A sandwich called the Baba R. Included ingredients: Peanut butter, apple, basil, fried onion and chipotle chutney

The Baba R. is delicious, one of the best vegetarian sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.

There was also the Chicago deep dish pizza at Exchequer downtown, one of poor Ebert’s favourite until, y’know.

A “small” deep dish pizza.

I couldn’t finish it all (I expected a small to be manageable. This was a tourist moment) so I gave three pieces to a homeless guy outside. He was thrilled.

Then I ate a burrito in Pilsen, a Hispanic neighbourhood that was historically inhabited by Chicago’s Czech population.

It was overwhelming.

In St. Louis, my friends and I explored Soulard Market, where they had crocodile for sale. Also, this booth, which is self-explanatory:

(ed. note: The format of my blog makes it difficult to embed images of any decent size, but those are ducklings in the cage and one of the sizes of beaver available is “jumbo”)

Somewhere between Amarillo and Tucumcari, in the village of San Jon, I came upon the Dhillon truck stop, which I first thought closed because the gas pumps were torn up. But an open sign buzzed in the window.

In the parking lot, I met an Indian trucker running his rig. He said he comes to Dhillon every time he drives the old Route 66. They serve great Indian food, he said.

Inside, a dirt-coated old man with dark red eyes sat at one booth scratching lottery tickets, as an Indian soap played at high volume on the television in the corner.

For a vegetarian, Indian food is heaven because there are so many options. The woman who runs Dhillon with her husband made up a special meal for me when I told her I didn’t eat meat.

I wish gas station food was always this good.

What you see here is fresh roti, a black bean sauce, yogurt and aloo gobi masala, with rice. I was thankful for the yogurt. This was spicy stuff.

On the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona, I scratched another must-try food off my list. I’d eaten a hot dog in Chicago. Now I would eat a green chili in the southwest.

In the small town of Kayenta, south of Monument Valley, I found the Golden Sands Cafe. The decor was distinctly western and the food was simple. I ordered the green chili omelet with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Green chili omelet

The green chilis were at first so mild. But the more I ate, the more kick they packed. I enjoyed the combination of egg and chili. Great dish.

And I’ve gone on long enough. I could also talk about how easy it is to get a good vegetarian meal in midtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, or how I had one of the last meals ever at Restaurant Charlie in Vegas. The menu lacked a veggie entree, so I challenged the talented kitchen to surprise me. They made turnip, my least favourite vegetable. It was honestly the first time I’ve ever enjoyed turnip. I’m not sure exactly what they did but it was a small miracle. Too bad the place is closed now. R.I.P. Restaurant Charlie. You were too expensive.

Ben has a blog for the Edmonton Journal called Button Mash. It’s about video games.

Food: Las Vegas and Travels22 Mar 2010 09:29 am

People at work often ask me why I go to Las Vegas so often. Although I have many reasons, the biggest is that each trip, I leave things undone. There is always another restaurant to visit, or revisit. Another round of pinball on the CSI machine to play. Another hotel room to check out. You get my drift.

This trip, we did a few things I’ve been meaning to do for a while

  • eat a great steak
  • visit the famous Lotus of Siam Thai restaurant
  • hit up a spa

We chose Carnevino as the place to eat our steak. After reading about the insane riserva cut: or super long dry-aged steak they prepare, what better place to check out? I was a bit nervous over the Mario Batali name being attached to the restaurant, but seems like every restaurant on the Strip is a diffused celebrity chef owned restaurant these days. They can’t all be bad, right?

Why did I waste a shot on the menu? WHY??

Unfortunately, my camera died half way through the meal. Sometimes I like that though because it saves you all from sad poorly lit photos and it allows me to eat in peace. However, because I have such a poor memory it makes recalling the meal difficult, and I feel like something lacks in my post when I retell it. So, forgive me for this post.

I think the coolest thing about visiting Carnevino is that for one of the first times we’ve eaten in Las Vegas, we had a good sized group. Mike’s parents had planned a trip to Arizona and drove down from Edmonton. They decided to detour for a night and visit us in Vegas. So five of us, including our friend Evan, ate out that night.

We started with some Grey Goose in Evan’s room. He classily chilled it in the ice bucket for us. The beer in our room had unceremoniously been plunked in one of the sinks.
Still: better than the trash can we’ve used before.
Look how good the boys look!

When I walked up to the podium – without a reservation – the hostess assumed it was just Evan and I since Mike had gone to meet his parents and guide them through the massive Venetian/Palazzo hotel complex. “Twenty minutes,” she said.

“Actually, there will be five of us,” I explained.

“Oh, that changes everything!” she exclaimed, and whisked us away to an amazing six person table in a private alcove. The benefits of a group!

In our dining nook. That bottle in front of Mike’s dad is beer, not wine.

The restaurant is cozy, yet huge. There are actually four different portions, split up across a casino walkway. The place was buzzing with people, including several large groups. And that was after the pre-theatre menu rush.

While the cocktail I wanted (“American Honey”  Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, ginger ale, fresh ginger and bourbon infused honey) was out “we need to infuse more honey,” the server said, apologetically; I sprang for a Japanese beer I knew I liked. Although nothing is draught, they do have a fine selection of beer, which Mike’s dad liked.

Hitachino Red Rice ale and Evan’s focaccia. And that’s all she shot.

We received warm cheese croquettes to start, followed by bread with the most flavourful spread I’ve ever had. I know I say that every time I eat some new topping, but Carnevino’s pork lardo grey salt “butter” takes the cake. Real butter cannot compete with pure pork fat. I could imagine it on popcorn, crackers, someone’s body.

Here’s the trick about Carnevino. They bring you a large menu that from the outset seems easy. Appetizers, and steaks. Add a wine menu (okay, novel) I feel confident in tossing right away. But then, the beef tasting menu arrives. Then the special seasonal additions. Soon, you’re lost in a flurry of “we’re getting this” or “did you order that.” They should consider dimsum style carts.

We started with many different appetizers, including Carne Cruda alla Piemontese (Piemontese style steak tartare, with mushrooms), extremely thin but explosively flavoured beef carpaccio, a selection of house cured meats (you know we can’t stay away from the charcuterie!), and some mouth watering pork fritters. Less inspired lentils with guanciale. A small fort of Caesare’s “Tuscan Fries.”

Because we couldn’t decide on main courses, we also got half orders of pasta, just to try them. (All excellent, especially the gnocchi.) I suddenly became happy we were hidden from the restaurant under our mountain of food.

Not yet half way through our appetizers (making this more of a family style meal) the mains arrived. For Evan, sweetbreads. For Mike’s parents, enormous racks of lamb. Mike and I shared a 9-month dry-aged riserva ribeye, 1.5″ thick.

It’s carved tableside, the server deftly slicing it off the bone, which is presented as well. The server need not have told us to be sure and eat it, I’ve been stripping steakbones since I was seven. Thanks, tips.

The steak is so delicate it cannot even be cooked in the same way as a regular cut of beef. It’s gently warmed to the side of the grill. The first bite was…well, weird. It’s an ancient steak, after all. It’s been gently aging in a warehouse off Blue Diamond Road in south Vegas for months, collecting a fine patina of mold, waiting for this very moment.

Not to get too nerdy, I’ll keep it simple. The texture was slightly springy; nearly compressed – like a cured meat or very firm sausage. It smelled of a thousand BBQs, or like the first grilled meats our ancestors ate eons ago. The flavour? Complex. Hints of blue cheese, a certain gamey-ness wild game shouldn’t actually have and such deep meat flavour, I may not have to eat a steak for months to come it left me so satisfied.

All that for just $100 an inch.

Carnevino is definitely a special steakhouse. Thoughtful touches are evident everywhere: housemade everything (even the soap in the washroom is from reclaimed grill grease) as many locally sourced items on the menu as possible in a desert, attention to detail and (mostly) charming and helpful staff.

I can’t say for sure we will be able to return on our next visit, but it’s definitely on the rotation for future visits.

If, like me, you are more interested in the process of dry-aging beef (something a few places in Edmonton do, for example the newly opened Real Deal Meats) here’s a document you might enjoy reading: Dry-Aging of Beef – Executive Summary by Dr Jeff Savell.

in Palazzo Las Vegas
Taverna menu available noon to midnight.
Monday – Friday dinner only, 5 – 11pm.

Crafts etc and Food and General and work (kinda)21 Mar 2010 01:05 am

I once had a pretty great job. (A great job that morphed into an awesome job, in fact.) But, I digress. At the great job I scanned and photographed vintage ephemera. Old scrapbooks, books, cards, diaries. I worked for a research project where we digitized old texts for researchers to use. It was an infinitely interesting job. Sometimes a bit tedious (I come by the nickname Scan Monkey honestly), but still interesting.

Therefore it was with great interest that I checked out the New York Public Library’s digital archives today. They are so much cooler than what I did. What they’ve compiled is a stunning assortment of scans and images from their huge collection, ranging from zoology to science & medicine to “cigarette cards.”

My favourite today is the menus, however. Of course. They all come from one collector: Miss Frank E. Buttolph. Astonishing. From the collection description:

The menu collection originated through the energetic efforts of Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924), a somewhat mysterious and passionate figure, whose mission in life was to collect menus. In 1899, she offered to donate her existing collection to the Library — and to keep collecting on the Library’s behalf. Presciently, director Dr. John Shaw Billings accepted her offer and for the next quarter century Miss Buttolph continued to add to the collection. Her principal method of acquisition was to write to every restaurant she could think of, soliciting menus. When letters failed, she often marched into a restaurant and pleaded her case in person. She also placed advertisements in trade publications like The Caterer and The Hotel Gazette, but just as often, published news of her collection prompted outright contributions of specimens from around the world.

She collected some 25,000 menus before her death in 1924.

Menu from the Farewell dinner for the Japanese Minister at the Arlington in 1887. I love the champagne and cigarette break.

Menu from the Fourth of July dinner at the Bass Rock Hotel in 1888.

Luncheon en route the R.M.S Oceanic in 1900.

New Year’s Dinner at the Portland (hotel) in Portland, Oregon, 1895.

Daily cafeteria lunch menu at 57 Broad Street, New York City, 1900. Look at the prices and the the way the menu is divided.

Wine list from an Elks’ dinner, on a trip en route to Buffalo in 1905.

I could spend all day finding and posting interesting menus from this archive. My only gripe is that many of the menus are for society dinners and high class events. However, they do offer insight into what was fashionable in food at the time: turtle, sauces, cigarettes and cured meats, it would seem.

I also love the design, artwork and attention to detail paid to the menus. They sure don’t make ’em like they used to. As I continue to search for inspiration for the design the of the menus for our wedding dinner, I will be investigating this archive closely, I expect.

Here are all the other archives to investigate. There is something for everyone.

Food: Las Vegas20 Mar 2010 09:50 am

braised miyazaki-gyu strip loin with asian pear and peach.

After his second tour of Las Vegas, Charlie Trotter has once again withdrawn from the food scene there, closing Restaurant and Bar Charlie (via Eating Las Vegas’ John Curtas. If you need more “main stream media” confirmation, NYTimes is reporting the same.)

A swirl of rumours had surrounded the restaurant in recent weeks, with massive changes to the dining hours (Bar Charlie was only open Thursdays and Fridays, recently) and hints that the kitchen team was being broken up and dispersed to other Trotter restaurants.

This saddens me greatly, but I’m extremely happy I had the pleasure of eating there. All the best to Chef Nagahara and his team. I know they’ll go on to great things.

Now, all I have left is sweet sweet memories:

Food: Edmonton16 Mar 2010 11:02 am

You can tell it’s been a while since I have had enough free time just to tool around the city, since I’ve been so oblivious to openings and closings!

Kabuki has opened at what is shaping up to be a very busy food corner near the Garneau Theatre at 109 Street and 87-88 Avenue. In an area already home to a Japanese restaurant (Kyoto), there is also an Italian restaurant (Fiore), Dominos Pizza, Phobulous Vietnamese Soup, Remedy Cafe, DaCapo Caffe, Sugarbowl, High Level Diner and now Kabuki. Soon to come: Transcend Coffee and Whimsical (Cup)Cake Studio. And that’s not even counting even more restaurants not even a block south. Remember the days when Keegan’s 24 hour cafe anchored that strip mall on 109 Street? Yikes!

While at West Edmonton Mall yesterday, I already had a hot cuppa from Starbucks when I saw a new tea studio opened, overlooking the Santa Maria boat. David’s Tea is a Canadian chain with 11 locations that started in Montreal, and is a tea bar. I was intrigued by their “tea martini” but they also offer plain cups of tea, and many retail items, including tea related gifts and loose leaf tea. It kind of reminded me of Teavana in the U.S.

Finally, the tarp seems to be down at Parkallen Restaurant, but renovations continue. Their sign (but not their website) says they are still open limited hours for takeout during their renovations. Good news for my coworker who loves their pizza.

I’ve sent my camera away with Mike who is on a backcountry ski trip, so I apologize for the dearth of photos.

Food: Edmonton15 Mar 2010 10:33 am

I am hoping it has moved but it would seem that vegan restaurant Way of Life/Mode de Vie has closed here in Edmonton.

The house it occupied at the corner of 116 Street and 102 Avenue will soon be filled by an Indian restaurant creatively named Bistro India according to the sign outside. It joins Zaika Bistro & Bar and Karma – The Indian Bistro as Indian restaurants in the city using the “bistro” term.

I hope what it lacks in nomenclature originality it makes up for in quality food, since it is just a few blocks from where I live.

Food14 Mar 2010 06:05 pm

credit: chris govias photography
that’s a fibonacci spiral if i ever saw one

If it isn’t already apparent, I have a real affinity for eight-legged creatures. Spiders. Octopi. Scorpions. I am not sure where it began, to be honest. I do find them intimidating – especially when watching an octopus watch me while diving – but they are also infinitely interesting to me as well.

A fellow coworker from a job I once held moved to London a few years ago, and became a freelance photographer and designer. He also does the photography for his girlfriend Leah’s blog, Curiosity and the Cupcake. As you might suspect London is ripe with food blogging opportunities. But they are busy folk, and do not blog as frequently as I wish they would.

However, quality over quantity. They recently picked up an octopus from the fishmonger, and set off on replicating a recipe Leah had once indulged in while in Italy, while Chris snapped photos. Photographing food is a real challenge, but Chris is a specialist in the field and did an excellent job.

I thought it was a lovely post and wanted to share: How to make an octopus.

Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels12 Mar 2010 10:49 pm

I realize that I probably expend more time and effort researching, eating at and blogging about Las Vegas restaurants than Edmonton ones. I hope this doesn’t irritate my readers. I just simply find Edmonton’s food scene uninspiring and tiresome lately, even with an influx of many new restaurants into the city. But that’s okay. It just keeps me eating at home more often and saving more money for my next trip to Vegas. (Which is in May, by the way.)

This most recent trip was four nights in early March, and with a group of friends and acquaintances. We flew in with our friend Evan, and hit the ground running. Within 40 minutes of landing we were en route to our first restaurant, and the next morning chowing down at M&M Soul Food cafe.

I fluked into finding the place online when I was jonesing for fried chicken one night, and thought I might research places to eat it in Las Vegas for the forth coming trip.

My tweet about the experience read:

Besides the obvious reasons of green cards and a job, the reason I don’t live in Las Vegas is because I would have out of control cholesterol levels and would never stop eating.

Anyhow, our breakfast was amazing. Seven of us crammed into a corner booth and I think we managed to order most everything on the breakfast menu by the end of the meal.

Chicken and waffles. (cinnamony, light and fluffy waffles, that is)
Fried okra.
Ham steak.
Corn cakes. (Don’t get pancakes. Get corn cakes.)
Cornbeef hash.
Muddy water. (sweet tea and lemonade)
Macaroni & cheese.

We were animals.

It’s simple diner food, but it’s done well, and it hit the spot. Their fried chicken is juicy, with a light crispy cornflake batter. Some people think that Tim Horton’s coffee is the bomb, and that it is so good because it is brewed again and again in the same percolators and pots.

I think this is why M&M’s fried foods are so good. The same oil and fryers, used again and again. My fried okra was fresh okra, not frozen. The mac and cheese wasn’t anything too special, but it was creamy and had that special “cheezy” tang you can only get with some kinds of “cheez” sauce. My corn cakes were the real stars of my sides, however. Unfortunately I dug into them last, and they had gotten a bit soggy and steamy by them. Eat them first, is my recommendation.

Of what I tried of the other plates, the waffles were to my liking. Perfect oblong grids, cinnamon flecked, at once crispy and fluffy. The sausage was fried, and a bit greasy, but flavourful and a bit peppery.

Service was splendid. A wrong order was righted right away, and coffee cups were kept full. Our waitress inquired: “Y’all aren’t from around here, are ya?” No ma’am. But we’d like to be.

The bill came to about $100 for all of us, and powered us up for a day of shopping. And now I don’t have to dream about getting my hands on non-Colonel fried chicken every night.

M&M Soul Food Cafe
3923 West Charleston Boulevard (at Valley View)
Las Vegas
Open 7-8pm
Breakfast served til 11am.