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The Best 10 (+1) Things I Ate in 2009

This is a repost from Mike’s personal blog to give you a little something to nibble on as we get Tasting Las Vegas fully up and running. Thanks! -MD

The following are the 10 (+1) Best Things I Ate in 2009.  2009 for us was so full of excellent eating that I couldn’t pare it down below 11 top experiences, so hence the +1.  As a disclaimer, I only use dishes gotten in a restaurant or prepared by a professional chef, as to remove any personal bias from my palate. I’m pretty sure that Kerry’s Pork Chops and her Pulled Pork would have made this list fair and square, but it’s probably best I keep it to strictly restaurants / professional chefs.  Also, I have tried to not let the influence of alcohol persuade me that something was better than it actually was, otherwise you would probably see the Sliders from Alain Ducasse’s Mix, the Fried Ravioli from The Bootlegger Bistro or especially the Linguica, Goat Cheese, Olives and Caramelized Onion Pizza from Sierra Gold.  And one final note, I have not been paid or in any other way compensated by any of the following establishments, although I am always in an accepting mood!  Without further interruption…..behold….

10.) Pollo Sarandeado Estila “Tia Esther” from Lindo Michoacán

Don’t go to Lindo Michoacán expecting a Rick Bayless-esque Fine Mexican Dining experience.  Lindo Michoacán is more of a Mama-Making-the-Tortillas restaurant, and that’s why I love it. Just good, down home Mexican food.  As most gringos such as myself will just call the Pollo Sarandeado here the “Chicken Tia Esther,” in my opinion, it is the best thing on the menu. Both rich and flavorful, this pounded thin chicken breast in a mayonnaisey spicy dried chile sauce will make you sing with the live Mariachi band that goes from table to table.  Also one of my favorites that comes with this and every entree at Lindo Michoacán is the simple and incredibly satisfying Fideo Soup, which if given the opportunity, I would eat a few gallons of at each sitting.

9.) Lobster Fra Diavolo from Stratta

While the Fra Diavolo sauce was ok, and the pasta itself kind of “meh,” the exquisitely perfect lobster was more than enough to give this dish the needed boost to make it to this list.  Located at Wynn Las VegasStratta is Chef Alex Stratta’s more casual restaurant offering, with Alex being his James Beard Award winning, Mobil 5-Star ratedMichelin 2-Star earning war horse, also located at the Wynn.  A perfect lobster that was perfectly prepared, it was almost a shame it was amongst such uninspired pasta.  It could have also been that such a magnificent ingredient made everything else around it pale in comparison, but in any event, it was still good enough to make this list in a year of some excellent eats.

8.) Lunch Buffet at Namaste Indian Cuisine

Just like in the 10 Worst List, price is also in consideration when putting this list together. With that said, I can’t imagine spending a better $8.95 than the Lunch Buffet at Namaste.  Located in one of the more skeezy parts of town at the Commercial Center on Sahara, right next door to Lotus of Siam, holds one of the best kept secrets in the entire town.  The service is bad as you’ll probably have to wait about 3 years to get your check, but no matter at the buffet.  Featuring some of the greatest hits from Northern India such as Butter Chicken, Chicken or Lamb Curry, Chicken Tikka Masala and a delicious Green Tandoori Chicken, the food is outstanding and almost unbelievable at the $8.95 price.  I have to give special thanks to local food guru John Curtas at http://www.eatinglv.com for hipping me to this gem. Also, you can follow John on Twitter at @eatinglasvegas. Namaste is on Twitter too at @NamasteLasVegas, but they never use it.

7.) Beef Wellington from Chef’s Palate

I am a self-admitted puff pastry slut.  I’ve been known to do ethically questionable things to get me some puff pastry. Wrap it around some beautifully executed beef tenderloin and I will commit heinous acts to get at it.  Luckily, all I have to do is fork over a modest chunk of my paycheck at Chef’s Palate to get some.  Chef Rex George brings his experiences cooking in the Napa Valleyand Lake Las Vegas to an establishment of his own on Eastern on the way to Anthem.  Flavorful and tender, this Beef Wellington is of the best I’ve had. The cocktails are also quite good at Chef’s Palate, featuring homemade syrups, liqueurs and sour mixes.  Try a sweet and fruity Snozzberry, you won’t regret it.

6.) Curry Beef Bites from Fado Irish Pub

The grand injustice of the Curry Beef Bites from Fado is that they are not on the regular menu, just on the Happy Hour menu.  The best way that I can describe the Curry Beef Bites is that it is a perfect bite of food. Everything you want in flavor and texture is contained in each of these little bites.  The savory spice of the braised curried beef versus the sweet crunch of the red onion confit brought all together with the smooth richness of the potato boxty and drizzle of sour cream, it is truly the perfect bite.

5.) Scallop Vindaloo prepared by Chef Kuldeep Singh

A little while ago, our local Whole Foods Market hosted the 1st Annual Whole Foods Market Quickfire Challenge featuring local culinary masters. Competing in this event was Chef René Lenger of Switch at EncoreChef Jet Tila of Wazuzu at EncoreChef Jean-Paul Labadie of Marche Bacchus (eventual winner), Chef Bianca Freeny of Whole Foods Marketsand Chef Kuldeep Singh of Origin India.  Each chef was given a protein to use at random, with the idea being they needed to prepare something with that protein that would pair well with one of the new Quickfire Wines that Top Chef is promoting.  Given an absolutely stunning collection of scallops by Whole Foods, Chef Singh prepared a masterful Vindaloo that had just the perfect amount of spice and boldness to let you know it was a Vindaloo, yet not too much to overpower the extraordinarily fine scallop.  After the chefs gave their offerings to the judges, the extras were handed out to the hungry onlookers, and Kerry and I were lucky enough to have a taste. You can follow Las Vegas area Whole Foods Markets at @WFMLasVegas.

4.) Walnut Shrimp from First Food and Bar

First Food and Bar has quickly become one of my favorite late night noshes in Las Vegas.  First Food and Bar combines a twisted bar food concept with a tapas concept by presenting small plates of well-prepared, good-ingredient bar food standards with a twist. A menu that features items, like Philly Cheesesteak DumplingsChicken Parmesan Stuffed Garlic Knots, and Pastrami Reuben Tacos , Chef Sammy DeMarco presents great flavors through great ideas.  The Walnut Shrimp stand out among my “Must Have Every Time I Go” list.  The Walnut Shrimp; shrimp with walnuts in a sweet honey based sauce with a touch of mayo, are incredibly addictive. You can follow First Food and Bar on Twitter at @FirstFoodandBar.

3.) “Piggyback” Burger from Society Café Encore

The Society Café Encore at the Encore resort headed by Chef Kim Canteenwalla was named by Esquire Magazine as one of 2009’s Best New Restaurants, and for good reason. It’s tasty.  The Mac & Cheese Bites with Truffle Dipping Sauce are a must have appetizer, but there is a relatively new addition to their menu in the “Piggyback” Burger that is a game changer.  The “Piggyback” is a triumph in all that is Burgerdom. A deliciously seasoned ground beef of good quality, Andouille sausage, caramelized onion, 1000 Island dressing and a tasty BBQ sauce, this burger makes you think the only way to ever have a burger again is to put a piece of Andouille on it.  You can follow the Society Café Encore on Twitter at @societycafe.

2.) Double Cut Kurobuta Pork Chop from Switch

This was the best piece of pig I have ever eaten in my life. Sadly, this was a special and is not on the main menu, but Chef René Lenger out did himself with this PERFECTLY prepared piece of piggy.  Kurobuta is often regarded as the Kobe of pigs, and this fine example proved exactly that. But as we know, it’s not just premium ingredients that make for a memorable meal, they have to be cooked well too.  So often I’ve had a double cut pork chop that was either too rare in the middle or like pork jerky on the outside, but this was exquisite from inside to out.  With the perfect evenness, it leads me to believe the chop was at least partially cooked sous vide.  Combine the wonderful chop with a jawdroppingly good demi glace, this was one of the more memorable meals I’ve ever had.

Tied – 1.) Freshwater Jumbo Prawns with Grilled Artichoke Hearts and New Potatoes from Table 34

Table 34 is one of my favorite places to eat in town, and it doesn’t even need a multi-million dollar Las Vegas Strip location with a celebrity chef’s name plastered on the door to be so.  Chef Wes Kendrick of Table 34 has mastered the two most important aspects to cooking; buy high quality, seasonal groceries and prepare those groceries well.  Chef Kendrick has mastered showcasing his food in a simple sophistication that allows us to truly experience the essence of each ingredient.  While I’m a fan of his work, such as his extraordinary Duck Confit Quesadilla with Spicy Blackberry Syrah Coulis that makes your heart sing and a Lime Tart with Lemon Curd that is of the best I’ve ever had, there was one plate of food this year that was leaps and bounds beyond everything; Freshwater Jumbo Prawns with Grilled Artichoke Hearts and New Potatoes.  This dish embodied everything that Table 34 and Chef Kendrick is all about, taking advantage of superior available ingredients and preparing them flawlessly.  The flavor of the prawns were perfectly highlighted with the exact amount of lemon and salt they needed and the masterful preparation provided such a tender, practically silky texture rarely found in prawns of this size.  The charred artichoke hearts and seasonal new potatoes provided an excellent compliment, although could stand alone in their own light all the same.  It was one of those meals that I’ll come back to in not just reflecting on 2009, but for many years to come.

Tied – 1.)  Everything from Julian Serrano

Ok, so we didn’t eat “everything” at Chef Julian Serrano’s brand spanking new, self-titled tapas restaurant at the also brand spanking new Aria resort, but we damn sure came close.  After a 3 hour orgy of gluttony and 12 dishes later, I can safely say that there are no weak spots in Chef Serrano’s offering of the very best of Spain.  The Michelin 2-starred, multi-award winning renowned chef ascended to culinary legend with his restaurant Picasso at the Bellagio.  Chef Serrano offers both traditional and some non-traditional Spanish tapas and paella at his new restaurant.  Here at Julian Serrano you can have a simple chorizo dish right next to a molecular gastronomic reconstruction of a raspberry.  The Red Sangria has a depth of flavor I haven’t found before with the unique (to me at least) use of bay leaf and cinnamon.

I want to say there were highlights within the 12 plates we had, but they were all extraordinary in their own right. The Coca Chorizo hit all of my happy places with chorizo, puff pastry, caramelized onion and piquillo peppers. The Huevos Estrallados introduced me to the breakfast I want to eat everyday for the rest of my life with egg, fried potatoes and chorizo. The Beef and Cheese, which is a baby tenderloin, brie cheese with this sweet walnut sauce on toast made my eyes roll back in my head.  What might have been the biggest surprise were theTraditional Spanish Chicken Croquetas which in my opinion were far from traditional.  Kerry best described them as “deep fried chicken soup.”  Think about the most flavorful chicken soup you’ve ever had, condense it and then deep fry it in a way were you get a crispy outside and a silky inside and there you have it.  Extraordinarily delicious.  Also, with prices hovering around the not too wallet busting $10 per plate, I’m confident that we’ll be frequenting Julian Serrano quite a bit in 2010 and the many years that follow.

—–
Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.

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