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The Weekly Bad Picture Of Good Food: Eggs Benedict From Payard Patisserie & Bistro

I was sitting on the toilet the other day thinking about titles to the world’s shortest books.  I think a lot when I’m on the toilet. It’s what I do.  Anywho, there’s a few that came to mind:  Intelligent Policies by the Republican Party, Instances of Testicular Fortitude by Barack Obama, The Benefits of Organized Religion by Pope Benedict XVI, Quality Journalism by The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Hilarious Late Night Bits by Jay Leno and Wise Relationship Decisions by The Wife.  Unfortunately for those of us in the 702, another one of those titles is Good Eggs Benedicts in Las Vegas.  While the Eggs Benny book might be thin, it certainly contains this mighty fine example of a perfect croissant, topped with perfect ham, topped with two perfectly poached eggs and smothered in a perfect hollandaise from Payard.  However, another title of a world’s shortest book is Professional Photography Techniques by Mike Dobranski, thus making the Eggs Benedict from Payard Patisserie & Bistro at Caesars Palace this week’s Weekly Bad Picture Of Good Food.

Eggs Benedict from Payard Patisserie and Bistro

Eggs Benedict from Payard Patisserie and Bistro

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Payard Patisserie & Bistro

Caesars Palace
3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702) 731-7849

http://www.caesarspalace.com/casinos/caesars-palace/restaurants-dining/payard-patisserie-detail.html

Follow Chef Francois Payard on Twitter at @francoispayard

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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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast, Ep. 08 - 5 Restaurants In Las Vegas We Think Are Essential But Others Don't

This week on Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast, I’m joined once again with The Wife where debut a new format to the show, talk about some drama that happened last week as well as reveal the much anticipated Next Phase of Tasting Las Vegas.  Then we discuss some Recent Eats and dish on 5 Restaurants In Las Vegas That We Think Are Essential But Others Don’t.  We also have The News With The Wife, the TLV Cheap Eats Of The Week and so much more!

Click Here To Listen To Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast, Episode 08

Check Out Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast On The iTunes!

Andre Rochat - An Essential Chef In Las Vegas

Andre Rochat - An Essential Chef In Las Vegas

Please support our fabulous sponsor VegasMate!

Get more information about the best app for Las Vegas at http://VegasMate.com

Follow Vegas Mate on Twitter at @VegasMate

Joints That We Talked About:

  • Royal Persis
  • Jai-Ho
  • Komol
  • Sunset and Vines
  • Babycakes Cafe
  • Andre’s
  • First Food and Bar
  • Firefly
  • Origin India
  • Peppermill
  • Rao’s
  • Seablue
  • STK Steakhouse
  • The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
  • RM Seafood
  • Botero
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Retro Bakery
  • Tommy Bahama’s
  • Naked City Pizza Shop
  • Fukuburger
  • Wazuzu
  • Social House
  • Trattoria del Lupo

Tha’ Links:

Check out Crossings by Nathan Tanouye and the Las Vegas Jazz Connection on CDBaby.com

Follow The Wife on Twitter at @TLV_TheWife

My post about the Scumbucket incident is found here

My post about Royal Persis’ Ghormeh Sabzi is found here

A shitty picture of the delicious Saag Paneer of Jai-Ho is found here

My First Impression of Babycakes Cafe is found here

My post about Carla Pellegrino leaving Rao’s is found here

My post about Anthony Fusco signing up at RM Seafood is found here

The Las Vegas Restaurants Serving Bluefin Tuna List of Shame is found here

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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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

First Impressions: Babycakes Cafe

If I were to pick one food category that Las Vegas sucked at, I would say it’s breakfast.  We have a whole lot of bad breakfast places, a gaggle of mediocre breakfast places, barely a handful of good breakfast places and two great breakfast places.  I’d put the red hot Babycakes Cafe in the northwest part of town solidly in the mediocre category, and it’s certainly not for lack of original ideas.  When you look at the menu it gives you hope for the future of America.  Unfortunately when it comes down to the execution, you’re reminded that you’re in yet another strip mall breakfast joint in Las Vegas.

Babycakes Cafe

Babycakes Cafe

Everything about Babycakes Cafe makes me think that there are some good minds behind it trying to make the most with zero budget.  For instance, half the seating is on high top tables.  Why the hell would a breakfast and lunch joint have uncomfortable high top tables other than capitalizing off the misfortune of some poor, now defunct bar type place?  The food itself also lends me to believe they’re trying to stretch things a bit, but more about that in a minute.

First I need to say a word about the wait staff,which was spotty at best.  First off, when we arrived, the hostess told us that there was going to be a 35-40 minute wait.  Looking at the 3 or so parties ahead of us, I thought to myself there’s no way in hell we’ll be waiting more than 15 minutes…and I was right.  Unfortunately for them, not all potential customers had my vision, as several parties took flight toward other establishments.  I don’t think we waited 10 minutes before we were seated.  Granted it’s better to over estimate a bit when telling people about the wait time, but mercy.

Not to pile on the lovely young hostess, but also surveying awkward seating situation (obviously not her fault) upon our arrival, I told her that we’d wait for a low top table, but when we were seated we were still brought to a high top.   Keep in mind this is all on only one visit and price point and location of the place doesn’t really deem Michelin-star service.  No excuse for screwing up, but it’s not like the place should be avoided because of it.

Babycakes Cafe features an innovative breakfast menu with a bit of Hawaiian flavor mixed in.  On our only visit to the place, we got the Kahlua Pig Benedict, Loco Moco, Red Velvet Pancakes and Peanut Butter and Banana Pancakes.  See what I mean by an innovative breakfast menu?  Unfortunately the choice of ingredients and the execution doesn’t let the quirky menu turn Babycakes Cafe into a destination restaurant.

Kahlua Pig Benedict from Babycakes Cafe

Kahlua Pig Benedict from Babycakes Cafe

The Kahlua Pig Benedict ($9.75) takes the Hawaiian favorite of slow-roasted pork and cabbage and puts it between the poached egg and English muffin. What ruined the benedict was the hollandaise.  If the hollandaise wasn’t canned, it sure did taste like it. Thick and flavorless.  Also disappointing were the home fries which were basically Big Brown Bag frozen potato chunks deep fried and sprinkled with a little seasoned salt.  Meh.

Loco Moco from Babycakes Cafe

Loco Moco from Babycakes Cafe

The Wife got the Loco Moco ($7.75) which I saw sit at the heated pass for a long while as the kitchen got the rest of our breakfast together.  This long wait didn’t help the undercooked rice one bit as the ok beef patty with ok gravy was placed atop hard, crunchy rice pellets.  Other than the inedible rice, there really isn’t much to talk about the Loco Moco…but then again, how much can you really say about Loco Moco? Meh.

PB and Banana Pancakes (short stack) from Babycakes Cafe

PB and Banana Pancakes (short stack) from Babycakes Cafe

The pancakes may be the highlight category of the menu, although once again they fall victim to execution.  The Peanut Butter and Banana Pancakes ($7.75 tall / $4.95 short) can be gotten as either PB and Banana, Chocolate or Jelly.  They certainly weren’t lacking in the peanut butter department, but the result was this gloppy, cloying texture that filled your mouth as if you were sucking on a spoonful of peanut butter.  It would take a better chef than I to figure out how to harness that same flavor into a lighter, easier to swallow pancake, but it can be done.

Red Velvet Pancakes from Babycakes Cafe

Red Velvet Pancakes from Babycakes Cafe

A signature item on the menu are the Red Velvet Pancakes ($7.95 full / $5.25 short) with Cream Cheese Syrup.  They were red, and I suppose in the ball park of Red Velvet, so I guess they’re successful.  The Cream Cheese icing element would probably be better served in a different format than the smegma-resembling syrup.  My oh my. If man seed only tasted like cream cheese, right ladies?  But I digress.  The Red Velvet Pancakes were by far the best part of the outing, although nothing to make a special trip for.

And this is my judgement after this one and only trip to Babycakes Cafe.  I can’t really say it’s worth a trip of any measurable distance, but it’s certainly good for the neighborhood.  I was seated right in front of the pass, so I got to see each dish as it went out.  Whether it was one of the omelets, crepes or sandwiches, nothing stood out as an item I need to return for.  I can’t bitch too much because the price points certainly match what you’re given.  My problem is that when I finally see something intriguing on a breakfast menu, I hope for that extra mile to be taken to put out a quality plate of food.   If only the ingredients and execution lived up to the concept on the menu, then Babycakes Cafe would really be something to talk about.

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Babycakes Cafe

2400 N. Buffalo Dr. #145
Las Vegas, NV 89128

(702) 541-6708

http://www.babycakescafelv.com

Follow Babycakes Cafe on Twitter at @BabycakesCafeLV

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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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast, Ep. 04 - Chris Palmeri, Chef/Owner Naked City Pizza Shop

This week on Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast, I’m joined once again with The Wife where we declare war on restaurants in Las Vegas that serve Bluefin Tuna.  Then we discuss some of our Recent Eats and reveal our 5 Underrated Restaurants in Las Vegas That Can’t Be Missed.  Then I sit down with Chef/Owner of the Naked City Pizza Shop, Chris Palmeri, where we talk about proper Buffalo-style eating and drinking as well as some inside information on the notoriously corrupt Truffle trade.  Then The Wife returns for The News With The Wife, The TLV Cheap Eats of The Week and so much more!

Click Here To Listen To Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast, Episode 04

Check Out Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast on the iTunes!

Chef/Owner of the Naked City Pizza Shop, Chris Palmeri

Chef/Owner of the Naked City Pizza Shop, Chris Palmeri

Joints We Talked About:

  • Naked City Pizza Shop
  • Lakeside Grill
  • Raku
  • Caribbean Cooker
  • Ernie’s
  • Rare 120 Steakhouse
  • Hussong’s Cantina
  • Hash House A Go Go
  • Fausto’s Mexican Grill
  • Fiamma
  • Paymon’s Mediterranean Cafe
  • Tabú Ultra Lounge
  • First Food and Bar
  • Alex
  • Stratta
  • Bachi Burger
  • Firefly
  • Total Wine and More

Tha’ Links:

Check out Crossings by Nathan Tanouye and the Las Vegas Jazz Connection on CDBaby.com

Follow The Wife on Twitter at @TLV_TheWife

Follow The Official Twitter Page of Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast at @TLV_ThePodcast

Follow The Naked City Pizza Shop on Twitter at @NakedCityLV

The Naked City Pizza Shop’s website is at NakedCityLV.com

Buy the Jaw Dropping Documentary The End Of The Line in Tasting Las Vegas: The Store by Amazon

A scene about the Bluefin Tuna Catastrophe from The End Of The Line on YouTube

Raku’s website is at www.raku-grill.com

You can call Chef Endo of Raku and ask him to not offer Bluefin Tuna in his restaurant at (702) 367-3511

Caribbean Cooker and Ernie’s website is at www.caribbeancooker.net

Follow Hussong’s Cantina on Twitter at @HussongsVegas

Follow Hash House A Go Go on Twitter at @HashHouseLV

Follow Fiamma on Twitter at @FiammaLV

Follow Paymon’s on Twitter at @PaymonsHookah

Follow Tabú Ultra Lounge on Twitter at @TabuLounge

Follow First Food and Bar on Twitter at @FirstFoodandBar

Get more information and print out your free tickets to the Vegas Podcast-A-Palooza at VegasPodcastAPalooza.com

—–
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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

Dish Spotlight: Johnnycakes From Caribbean Cooker

For those wondering what a “Johnnycake” is, imagine that cornbread and pancakes had a child.  A very delicious child.  It’s a staple among the Caribbean islands and much of the Atlantic seaboard.  I’m hard-pressed to think of many places in Las Vegas that offer them, but now there is a legit Caribbean joint in The Hendo.  Yeah…you heard me right…in The Hendo!  The Caribbean Cooker located on Stephanie and Paseo Verde offers up Breakfast / Brunch on Monday – Friday from 8am-11am and Saturday and Sunday from 8am-2pm.

Rolling with an outstanding Banana Rum Sauce, the Johnnycakes at the Caribbean Cooker are good for what ails you.  At first, I thought the Johnnycakes were befallen to their slightly dry stereotype, but then I employed the “Use What Your Mama Gave Ya” technique and used more of the accompanying sauce and butter.   I’m not much of a syrup person, so I usually only use a minimal amount when eating pancakes.  However, I am a Bananas Foster slut, and the Banana Rum syrup tickled me in the place where it counts.  The Johnnycakes can take the syrup like a man, so give it to them.  Then sit back and enjoy the flavors of the islands.

The Johnnycakes with Banana Rum Sauce from the Caribbean Cooker comes in at $6.50 and is available on the Breakfast / Brunch menu.  Go forth and eat.

Johnnycakes from the Caribbean Cooker

Johnnycakes from the Caribbean Cooker

Banana Rum Sauce that Accompanies the Johnnycakes at Carribean Cooker.

Banana Rum Sauce that Accompanies the Johnnycakes at Carribean Cooker.

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Caribbean Cooker

65 S. Stephanie St.
Henderson, NV 89012

(702) 888-6565

http://www.caribbeancooker.net/

—–
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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

Monday Mise en Place: Hash House A Go Go To Open At The M Resort

Hash House A Go Go: Home To Big Ass Pancakes (photo: HHAGG Facebook Page)

Hash House A Go Go: Home To Big Ass Pancakes (photo: HHAGG Facebook Page)

Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No…it’s a pancake the size of Mars! And yes, you will be able to get that planetary-sized pancake at the M Resort as of October 7th when Hash House A Go Go officially opens its third Las Vegas location.  Sunday – Thursday the Hash House M Resort location will be open from 7am-11pm, and on Friday and Saturday they will sport some late night hours and be open from 7am-2am.  With the M’s 32 Bar packed with all sorts of beer on tap, this will prove to be a very fun, possibly dangerous combination.  Oh, and speaking of big ass pancakes, The M Resort location will have a special M&M Pancake just for it.  M&M Pancake at the M.  Get it?

31 Years of Cuteness! Happy Birthday to The Wife!

31 Years of Cuteness! Happy Birthday to The Wife!

31 years ago today, October 4th, a very important moment in world history happened; The Wife was born!  Please join me in wishing The Wife (sometimes also known as Kerry) a very Happy Birthday! Also, please send presents as I forgot to buy her anything.  Don’t feel bad for her…she’s used to it.

Good Times Guaranteed At the Naked City Pizza Shop!

Good Times Guaranteed At the Naked City Pizza Shop!

Starting this Tuesday, October 5th, there will be a weekly hang geared towards Las Vegas’ restaurant industry folks at the Naked City Pizza Shop!  There will be food, drink and shot specials.  The hang starts at midnight and the kitchen will stay open until at least 3am!  A hang that starts at midnight on a Tuesday (technically Wednesday…let’s say the hang starts at 11:59pm on Tuesday so there’s no confusion)….I love Las Vegas.  And I love the Naked City Pizza Shop.  Remember, the NCPS is located inside Moon Doggies Bar on the corner of Desert Inn and Arville.

I love Beiruts too! (photo: habeeb.com)

I love Beiruts too! (photo: habeeb.com)

Tis the season for ethnic festivals and now the Lebanese are having their turn with The 3rd Annual Lebanese American Festival hosted by the St. Sharbel Maronite Catholic Mission from Friday, October 8th - Sunday, October 10th.  All of the food is made from scratch by real live Lebanese people.  Apparently one family is making 1,500 kibbe balls.  That’s a lot of balls.  The St. Sharbel Mission is located at 10325 Rancho Destino Rd. Las Vegas, NV 89183. For more information you can call (702) 616-6902 or visit www.lebaneseamericanfestivallasvegas.org.

Jean-Louis Palladin (photo: grapeseedoil.com)

Jean-Louis Palladin (photo: grapeseedoil.com)

It’s not this week, but just a heads up, on October 17th, RM Seafood is hosting one hell of a sick dinner to benefit the Jean-Louis Palladin Fund for the James Beard Foundation.  The whole menu will be cooked from Palladin’s book, “Cooking With The Seasons.” Here’s who’s cooking the food:  Rick Moonen, Adam Sobel and Gerald Chin (Rick Moonen’s rm seafood), André Rochat and Gary LaMorte (André’s and Alizé), Mark Hopper (Bouchon), Luciano Pellegrino (Valentino), Vincent Pouessel (Aureole), Barry Dakake and Geno Bernardo (N9NE/Nove), David Werly (Le Cirque), Martin Heierling (Sensi/Silk Road), Hugo Coudurier (Restaurant Guy Savoy), Jean Joho and Joung Sohn (Eiffel Tower Restaurant), Michael and Wendy Jordan (Rosemary’s) with desserts by Megan Romano (Aureole) and Michelle Lee (Rick Moonen’s rm seafood) and wines provided by Wirtz Beverage.   That’s pretty sick.  Tickets for this amazing event roll for $295 a person.  For more info about the Palladin Fund for the James Beard Foundation, visit http://www.jamesbeard.org/index.php?q=education_jlp_about. For more info about this extraordinary dinner call RM Seafood at (702) 632-9300 and ask about the Palladin Dinner.

The Other Good Part About Football (photo: whitemeat.wordpress.com)

The Other Good Part About Football (photo: whitemeat.wordpress.com)

I don’t really give a shit about football, but I’m sure glad for the specials it brings to just about every restaurant with a TV and a barstool.  RM Seafood is sporting some nifty specials, such as; select half-priced sushi rolls, $5 Stella Artois and Asahi Drafts and a $12 RM Burger special which I have now had three weeks in a row and I can’t get enough of it.  Easily one of the best burgers in town…yes…at RM Seafood.  Also rolling with footyball specials is Rao’s at Caesars Palace.  Rao’s is doing something cool where they are taking some of their classics on the menu and transforming them to tailgating food.  Uncle Vincent’s Lemon Chicken Wings, Meatball Hoagies and a Flatbread Steak Melt to name a few.  Also joining in on the fun is the Vin Bar and Lounge at Valentino’s in the Venetian.  They’re putting together antipasto platters of all sorts of charcuterie, salumis and cheeses.  Also, there are crudo platters where you can choose from a number of raw items like Blood Orange Lobster Tail or Green Apple Scallops. For the crudo plates, you can either order a la carte or have your choice of three for $12 or six for $24.

A New Low In The History Of Eating Out

A New Low In The History Of Eating Out

Hopefully with the technology gods at our side, the very first Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast will be online and ready for your enjoyment sometime in the afternoon on Wednesday, October 6th! Yes, I have polluted your eyes enough with this mess…now it’s time to get to work on the ears!  Joining me on this momentous occasion will be Michael Manley (remember him?) and, of course, The Wife! I’m also very excited to announce that that very first interview was with the one, the only, the fighter and the lover….Executive Chef of Wazuzu, Jet Tila! Jet has had, and continues to have, an extraordinary amount of shit going on, so we had plenty to talk about.  We covered everything from Schwan’s to Wynn rolling vegan-style to cooking for James Beard’s groupies to his thoughts on Vegas in general.  Good times were had, you’re not going to want to miss this one!  Make sure you also follow The Official Twitter of Tasting Las Vegas: The Podcast at @TLV_ThePodcast!

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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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

Behind The Scenes: How My 2010 7 & 7 Restaurant Picks Were Picked

I don’t know about you, but when I see Top (insert number here [that's what she said]) Lists, my blood usually starts boiling.  I often find myself thinking, “Are these people fucking stupid, corrupt, or a little bit of both?”  Whether it’s a Top 5 Greek Restaurants in Vegas list that doesn’t have The Fat Greek (yes, I’m still breaking your balls on that, Vegas Chatter) and a restaurant that hasn’t opened yet in a hotel that hasn’t opened yet, no less; or, a Top 5 List of Late Night Eats that have places that close by midnight at the latest and/or serve utterly heinous food (yes, I’m looking directly at you Haute Living)…it usually takes all my willpower to not throw my laptop across the room when I see these awful lists.

Oh…and while I’m here…..can we PLEASE get rid of the word, “haute”?!? Enough is fucking enough with everything being haute.  First of all, the god damn word is pronounced “oat,” so trying to be clever by substituting “haute” for “hot” either means you’re ignorant or you sound like a retarded Scotsman.  Balls, that just irritates the shit out of me.  Yes…I know…I’m an angry man.  Ok…back to the subject at hand…..

Always Thinking Of A Way Out...

Always Thinking Of A Way Out...

So obviously these lists, more times than not, piss me off…and now here I am, doing one of my own.  Oh boy.  I was ready to take the heat as karma was cracking its knuckles getting ready to do work.  However, much to my surprise, the overall reaction to the list was overwhelmingly positive.  People really dug the list.  The restaurants picked (obviously) REALLY dug the list.

By the way, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a direct link to The 2010 Tasting Las Vegas 7 & 7 Restaurant Picks for the Blogworld and New Media Expohttp://www.blogworld.com/2010/09/21/the-2010-tasting-las-vegas-7-7-restaurant-picks/ If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out first and then come on back.  A few of you have asked how I settled on the restaurants I settled on and the thought process behind it, so I thought I’d try to share what was going on in my brain when I put it together…

Tasting Las Vegas Panel Discussion is on October 16 @ 2:45pm!

Tasting Las Vegas Panel Discussion is on October 16 @ 2:45pm!

As an invited speaker to the 2010 Blogworld and New Media Expo to be part of the “Tasting Las Vegas” panel discussion along side the Queen of Buttercream, Kari Haskell of Retro Bakery, The Strip Podcast himself, Steve Friess and Ms. Vegas Chatter, Julia Buckley; I was asked to do a post for Blogworld’s blog as well as a dining guide.  I decided on killing two birds with one stone.

My goal with the 7 & 7 list was to come up with as diverse of offerings as I could that really showed off the special culinary offerings we have here in Las Vegas.  I wanted to show off our different cuisines, price points, locations, meal times, etc. and approach the whole thing from a visitor’s perspective.  If I’m a visiting a place, I want to have an experience that I can’t have at home.  Originally I was going to do 5 restaurants On The Strip and 5 off, but I couldn’t narrow it down that much….and technically I didn’t really narrow it down to 7 and 7 either with all of the little bonus mentions…but I did the best I could.

Some people have asked why I included Off The Strip restaurants on the list if it’s intended for visitors.  My answer is that I think there’s enough people out there that want to stay away from the resort corridor and drive through the neighborhoods to see where us locals eat.  It’s a weird town.  Visitors need to know that there’s good eats off The Strip, and locals need to know there’s good eats on The Strip.

The two most difficult things about putting the list together was (obviously) deciding on the final 7 & 7 and also not using dick and fart jokes.  It was a self-imposed ban on my trademark dick and fart jokes with varying degrees of foul language.  I don’t know how real writers do it.  I figured without my dick and fart jokes, people won’t even get past the third suggestion!  I suppose that’s why I rarely get through an entire restaurant review in a “legitimate” publication. So boring.  Oh well…here’s to hoping…

Lobster Pot Pie from Nobhill Tavern: Tastes A Lot Better When It's 2-for-1

Lobster Pot Pie from Nobhill Tavern: Tastes A Lot Better When It's 2-for-1

Settling on the final list was agonizing.  There were restaurants that were on the list until I slept on it overnight, then took them off.  Two On The Strip joints that didn’t make the final edit was Nobhill Tavern at the MGM Grand and Payard Patisserie & Bistro at Caesars Palace.  I wanted to find a place on there for Nobhill Tavern, but if I put them on, then why not all of the other Mina restaurants, Bradley Ogden, Sage and the list goes on and on.  What ultimately decided why Nobhill Tavern didn’t make it, is because I see it more as a restaurant on The Strip that is better for locals.  The 2-for-1 entree deal they used to run for locals upped its appeal and since the true extraordinary nature of their service is seen on multiple visits, it stayed off this list for once-a-year convention goers.

Payard Patisserie and Bistro: Good Macarons Made Here

Payard Patisserie and Bistro: Good Macarons Made Here

Payard was tough.  They have a fabulous 3-course prix fixe for lunch that hovers in the $20 range.  They also have the best macarons in town, and also would have given the Harrah’s empire some recognition on the list.  If Silk Road wasn’t so damn magnificent, it would have been on there…but by limiting myself to 7-ish picks on The Strip, there wasn’t enough room for two Breakfast and Lunch joints.  Also, having Silk Road on there gave me an angle to throw out a bonus shout out to Sensi with the Heierling connection.  I almost said fuck the whole 7 & 7 angle and included Payard, but with this being Vegas, 7 being lucky and 7 & 7 being the well-known adult beverage that it is…I couldn’t pass it up.

Yes, a few pointed out that while the individual properties were diversified on the list, MGM Resorts had a landslide victory.  That’s because MGM Resorts have better restaurants.  I can’t help that.  Take away Caesars Palace and Harrah’s is a steaming pile of shit when it comes to restaurants.  I can’t put Guy Savoy on there when there is Robuchon. Rao’s is decent, but the prices are too jacked for me to send a bunch of bloggers there, and while Bradley Ogden is fine and dandy, I can’t have a restaurant on there just because they make the best burger in town.

Fabulous Pistachio Crusted Lamb Chop from Sirio Ristorante

Fabulous Pistachio Crusted Lamb Chop from Sirio Ristorante

Another glaring omission is that there was no On The Strip Italian joint.  This was more due to a diversity in property rule I tried to adhere to, and there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to have Julian Serrano on the list to make room for Sirio Ristorante.  Sirio is fabulous, though, and when people ask me for a suggestion for Italian on The Strip, that’s always where I send them.  The Goat Milk Ricotta Ravioli with Sage Butter and Pistachio Crusted Lamb Chops are out of sight.  If it wasn’t for Silk Road, Sirio would be the must underrated restaurant in all of CityCenter.

Funky Toro from Raku

Funky Toro from Raku

Off The Strip was just as agonizing, if not even worse.  I could have easily put Ichiza, Archi’s, Raku and Soyo on there, but four out of seven slots be Asian (five if you include Bachi Burger)?  That ain’t right.  Some may argue that Raku deserves to be there over Ichiza, to which I say this;  Raku is overrated. There, I said it.  Yes, the guy has brilliant knife skills and is an artist when it comes to presentation, but sometimes the best, most fresh ingredients aren’t used.  I’m not saying that Ichiza does either, but Ichiza never pretends that it does.  And I’m not saying that Raku is bad by any stretch of the word….but I think it’s about time to stop giving Chef Endo the neverending blowjob that so many in our restaurant community give him.  Give your tonsils a break, boys!

Fukuburger: Good Food and Good Times Served Here Nightly

Fukuburger: Good Food and Good Times Served Here Nightly

Another tough call was if I should give a nod to a food truck on there or not.  Fukuburger is most deserving and does wonders considering they’re cooking that shit in a truck, but comparing flat out burger-to-burger, there’s no contest between Fukuburger and Bachi Burger.  Like I said, it was a tough call.  It really comes down to personal values in dining out, and I guess when it comes down to it, for me….food trumps the hang.  Fukuburger is indeed made of awesome.  Great hang, great guys working it, great prices, certainly one of the best burgers in town.  Like I said…tough call.

Marche Bacchus: Good, but there's probably Better

Marche Bacchus: Good, but there's probably Better

If I have one regret on the list, it’s putting Marche Bacchus on there.  It’s another overrated place.  Don’t get me wrong, the food is good there, although inconsistent.  I’ve had a perfect pork chop there and I’ve had a raw one.  If the setting wasn’t so nice and if there was anything else in the vicinity that I knew better, it probably would have been on the cutting room floor.  It’s my own fault for not knowing the non-Asian restaurants on the west side enough to be able to recommend something else.  Yeah yeah yeah…I’m working on it, damn it!

Like I said, I’m surprised more people didn’t give me shit about the list.  Maybe this post just opened up the can of worms…who knows.  I’m glad it was so well received and that it went viral in a hurry on Facebook and Twitter.  I hope the people that read it eat well from it.  Many thanks to Babette Pepaj of Bakespace.com fame for including me in on the fun.  I’m looking forward to this Blogworld and New Media Expo and getting to hang with Kari, Steve and Julia.  Good times are inevitable!

—–
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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

First Impressions: Republic Kitchen & Bar

Usually my First Impressions posts are based off of only one visit, obviously not enough time to do a qualified full review.  Some of the “professionals” in town apparently feel that a full review can be done with only one visit…I guess that’s why they must be “professionals,” right?  However, I’m breaking my own rule with this First Impressions post, as this first impression is based off of three visits.  My reasoning for still calling it a “first impression” is because of how brand spanking new Republic Kitchen & Bar is, and I feel that they are very much in a tweaking / feeling-out-what-their-customer-base-is phase. They must be, they’ve only been open for a little over a week.  I write all of this knowing that it is a terrible setup to this post as it kind of sets a tone of “what you’re about to see is the complete annihilation of a restaurant,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  I like Republic Kitchen & Bar.  I like it a lot.  I think you should go there, but be prepared to have an occasional dud along with some really great food as Republic progresses from mostly great food to all great food.

Republic Kitchen & Bar - Good Food Is Made Here

Republic Kitchen & Bar - Good Food Is Made Here

While I like much of what is happening at Republic, one of the big changes I hope to see is actually more of a philosophical difference.  It’s one of the most miniscule actions in the kitchen that make the biggest world of a difference on the plate.  It’s often the number one thing that stands between a miserable plate of food and a fantastic plate of food… Salt.

Upon our third visit, which was for the Sunday Jazz Brunch (more on that later), I was approached by Jeff Kovatch, one of the owners.  Jeff recognized me on our 2nd visit there, so my whole weak attempt at anonymity is shot to hell at Republic.  After our brunch, he asked what I thought and I gave him the “It was ok,” complete with face wince and hand twist.  He was further inquisitive of my body language and I told him that the number one gripe I have about the food so far, and this wasn’t just with the Brunch but in all three visits, was a lack of salt.

In many of dishes I’ve had there I’ve had to add salt to brighten it up.  And just so you know, I rarely put salt on food.  Especially since I’ve stopped eating factory-made fast food back in January (with only one set back, thank you very much), my salt tolerance has gone way down in food.

Jeff replied (something to the effect, not an exact quote), “I’ve heard the same thing from friends and family that come in, but we want the customer to add salt to their personal taste.”

It’s a profound idea, to which I immediately dismissed and told him that when food hits the table, I want to taste what the chef wants to taste. I don’t think salt and pepper should even be at the table.  But, since Sunday I’ve thought about it quite a bit.  With the health conscious continually waging a War on Salt, with people’s personal preferences so varied, and with the fact that you can always add but you can’t take away, maybe Jeff and Chef Josh Green were on to something.  A chef that is humble enough to let the customer season food to their own personal taste? Interesting.

But now, even after thinking about it quite a bit, I still shake my head and say bullshit.  I want to taste what the chef intends us to taste.  It’s an interesting debate to have of which I’m not sure there is a correct answer.  So when you go there, taste it first and if you think you need a little bit of salt…you know why. This is really my main gripe about the place which spans from the Burger to the Beef Carpaccio to the Mozzarella Squares and a few others.  To get all the negative out of the way now so I can end on the positive, which really, this place is mostly positive, let’s talk about the Sunday Jazz Brunch.

An OK Chicken with Very Good Waffle

An OK Chicken with Very Good Waffle

The Sunday Jazz Brunch needs a lot of work, most of it will be ironed out as time goes by.  How Republic has it set up is they have three different levels of brunch offered; Continental ($7.99), Continental & Hot Dishes ($12.99) and Continental, Hot Dishes & Specialties ($16.99).  It is an All You Can Eat setup, but the dishes are made / plated to order and thankfully not buffet style.  With each level up, you get to have everything on the menus that are below in price, so the $16.99 level gets you everything on the menu.  I think All You Can Drink Mimosas and Bloody Marys were offered for an additional $14 or somewhere around there.

The pacing was pretty rough, although certainly expected at this stage in the game and perfectly acceptable at this incredibly reasonable price point.  I like to think back on when Bachi Burger first opened and how rough service was and how discombobulated the back of house was.  It was the food that kept us going back to Bachi which allowed them to fix what needed to be fixed.  I see Republic as much of the same.  Now Bachi Burger is running like a machine, and so will Republic.

I think this was the first Sunday that Republic has even been open, so only an asshole would let them live or die by this meal.  But as an asshole, I’ll now publicly list off the things I think need to happen to make the Jazz Brunch at Republic Kitchen & Bar to be the best one in the Hendo.

Over-Poached Eggs + Foamy "Hollandaise" + Stank Lobster = No Bueno

Over-Poached Eggs + Foamy "Hollandaise" + Stank Lobster = No Bueno

The Monte Cristo That's Not A Monte Cristo at Republic Kitchen & Bar Sunday Jazz Brunch

The Monte Cristo That's Not A Monte Cristo at Republic Kitchen & Bar Sunday Jazz Brunch

First of all, I think the overall quality of the food and the pacing of the brunch would be greatly helped if the menu was simplified a bit.  There’s over 30 items on the menu, and I don’t think there needs to be.  I can see the middle level being completely eliminated and combining the Hot Dishes and Specialties Menus to offer only the best they do and make it more reasonable to focus on the quality of what is being put out.  Over-poached eggs, funky lobster meat, underdone potatoes and oil-soaked Monte Cristos do not make people come back for more, no matter how cheap the price is.

Truffle Eggs Sans Truffle

Truffle Eggs Sans Truffle

If you’re going to put expensive sounding items on a cheap menu, they still have to taste good.  No one with half a brain would expect shaved truffles on eggs for a brunch that only costs 17 bucks, but when it’s advertised as shaved truffles on the menu and none are present on the dish, that is where the problem lies.   Also, there’s no reason to have lobster on a $17 brunch if it’s going to taste like lobster on a $17 brunch.

Outstanding Lemon Ricotta Pancakes at Republic Kitchen & Bar Sunday Jazz Brunch

Outstanding Lemon Ricotta Pancakes at Republic Kitchen & Bar Sunday Jazz Brunch

Tasty Banana Wrap at Republic Kitchen & Bar

Tasty Banana Wrap at Republic Kitchen & Bar

And although I’m being tough on the brunch, it’s not like it was all bad.  The Lemon Ricotta Pancakes were fabulous as was the Banana Wrap with strawberries, peanut butter and granola.  Two really outstanding breakfast dishes, I think those two alone were well worth the $17.  And remember, it isn’t just called Brunch, but it’s called Jazz Brunch, another big (surprising to me) positive of the outing.

As a professional musician that pays for all of this damn food I write about because of live music, I almost feel guilty to say that I usually hate live music in restaurants.  It’s almost always too fucking loud and more often then not it’s some self-trained twat that can’t tune his guitar, nor has a discernible connection between his mouth and his ear.  I’m pleased to say that Republic has hired two very fine musicians that play at a perfect background level so you can both enjoy what they’re playing and still have good conversation with your friends and loved ones.  And what a nice space they get to play in.

Speaking of the space, Republic Kitchen & Bar took over the space that was vacated by Fadó Irish Pub just a short while ago.  Fadó had an abrupt end and by all accounts…how can I put this…did not go gentle into that good night.  What Republic has done to that space in such a relatively short turnaround time is nothing short of miraculous.  It’s a really nice space to be in.  One of the big draws for the late night crews will be the upstairs loft that features a whole slew of board games, a pool table and even a Wii to play with.  Walls were moved, the decor is totally overhauled and all that was ripped out has been replaced.  I think Republic will become a space full of regulars, so if you want to claim your plot of land in your new neighborhood bar and restaurant, now would be the time to do so. Like a dumbass, I forgot to take pictures of the interior, so you’ll either have to take my word for it or go see it yourself.

The Best Rendition of Tuna Nachos I've Had - Republic Kitchen & Bar

The Best Rendition of Tuna Nachos I've Had - Republic Kitchen & Bar

The ultimate success of Republic, however, will be in the food.  And the food here is good, some of it spectacular.  One of the most impressive dishes are the Tuna Nachos ($12.95).  Very fresh tasting fish with a perfect balance of spice and acidity, this plate of food is incredibly addictive.  The fried wonton rounds are perfectly light and crisp. My only thought was that the rounds could stand to be a tad larger so it’s easier to handle the dice of tuna, but I was quickly shot down by both The Wife and The Dave who said it was just fine.  Once you taste this dish, you’ll understand my desire to fit as much of it as I can in my fat mouth. They’re good. Really good.

Buffalo Chicken Bites, and yes, they're already been a Weekly Bad Picture Of Good Food

Buffalo Chicken Bites, and yes, they're already been a Weekly Bad Picture Of Good Food

Another big winner for me are the Buffalo Chicken Bites ($8.99), which are bits of chicken and I think carrot in a buffalo sauce wrapped in a wonton and deep fried.  They know how to fry food here at Republic.  Everything we had fried, which being the bar-food-centric menu it is, has a lot of deep fried items, still remained light and not greasy.  The creamy Maytag crumbled over the hot wontons gets perfectly melty and makes for a fabulous late night gorge dish.

Key Lime Pie Martini at Republic Kitchen & Bar

Key Lime Pie Martini at Republic Kitchen & Bar

Speaking of late night, Republic is open until 2am (so far everyday) so it makes for a good stop for industry people getting off the late shift.  They also have a happy hour that goes from midnight to 2am, and the drinks are pretty good.  They have a decent selection of beer on tap at a reasonable price and their specialty cocktails are tasty.  They’ve got Dogfish Head 60-Minute on tap as well as Stone I.P.A.  For my personal tastes I wish they would get one more boutique brown or dark ale on the list.  There would be no complaints if local favorite, Tenaya Creek Nut Brown Ale made it on the list, although they do already have Newcastle.  Deschutes Black Butte Porter would be a good bridge from the Newcastle to the Guinness and I think round out an already great draft beer list perfectly.

Jesus H. Nom - PB&J Bites. So. Good.

Jesus H. Nom - PB&J Bites. So. Good.

It’s not all boozing and bar food at Republic as dessert looks to be slamming here.  What is it with kick ass pastry chefs popping up all over the place these days?  The PB&J Bites ($6) are a destination dessert, meaning that you need to get in your car, drive down to Republic and eat these immediately. Pure crack. Lovely crack.  I promise you that no matter how stuffed you are, you will eat every single last crumb of these bad boys. A kind of deep fried peanut buttery pound cake sort of thing with strawberry, grape  and chocolate dipping sauces.  Nothing but love.

Even though I’ve already been here 3 times, there’s much of the menu I have yet to try.  They have a whole gaggle of entrees that look tasty, including riffs on TV Dinners and other staples of American comfort foods.  At its core, Republic is a very good place to eat.  It’s safe food, but it’s decent food and at very reasonable prices.  All knocks I have against the place are easy fixes which I think will be ironed out in a short matter of time.  Henderson needs a place like this; an independently owned joint with good food and a good hang. It’s up to us to support it.  I say go forth to Republic Kitchen & Bar…eat, drink and be merry.  Remember to taste first, salt later in case they take the advice of yours truly, a lowly know-nothing amateur that can only aspire to be at the level of talent usually only reserved for Children’s Museum PR Directors. (we all have day gigs, don’t we, asshole?)

—–

Republic Kitchen & Bar
9470 S. Eastern Ave.
Henderson, NV 89074

(702) 463-3500

http://www.republickitchenandbar.com

Follow Republic Kitchen & Bar on Twitter at @republickitchen

—–
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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

You Have The Chance To Turn This Lowly Know-Nothing Amateur Into  A Lowly Know-Nothing Professional! You can vote once per day from now through 09/30/10! Thanks!

You Have The Chance To Turn This Lowly Know-Nothing Amateur Into A Lowly Know-Nothing Professional! You can vote once per day from now through 09/30/10! Thanks!

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Mike and The Wife Do California, Part I: Reflections Among The Big Ass Trees

For the first vacation The Wife and I have taken in over three years, we decided a road trip through California was in order.  Yeah….I know….three years.  When greedy scumfuck banks decide to jack your credit card rates up to 30% for no reason at all other than they are greedy scumfuck banks, sacrifices must be made.  And besides, we live in Las Vegas, it’s like living in a vacation anyway…except for the whole work part.

Big Ass Tree in Sequoia National Park

Big Ass Tree in Sequoia National Park

But I digress, it was good to get out of the heat and see something new.  We took 8 days to drive first to Sequoia National Park, then up to San Francisco, then a quick day in  Yountville, then down the coast to Santa Barbara where we would then come home.  Not only was this a vacation, but it surrounded The Wife and I’s 5th Anniversary, which we celebrated while in Yountville.  Why the hell that woman has stayed with me for 5 years is beyond me, but who am I to question.

Another part of the trip was to get away from Tasting Las Vegas for a bit, which a few of you noticed.  It was indeed nice to look into The Wife’s blue eyes during meals instead of FourSquaring and taking notes.  It was also nice to have a conversation with her rather than say, “Get the hell away from me, I’m writing.”  And while I could use another 2 or 3 years..I mean weeks away from the Bill Payer, I missed TLV and you fine folks dearly.

So it was off to the open road we were, cooler packed with lots of water, lemonade and cranberry juice and a bag full of chips, pretzels and other processed foods one should only eat while on a road trip or in the middle of a bout with deep depression (Oreo Cakesters, FTW!).  I finally subscribed to XM / Sirius Radio or whatever the hell they call it now.  The soundtrack to this trip was provided by the 80′s on 8 and Howard Stern.  Unfortunately, Howard was on vacation the very same week, so they had a “Gayest Week Ever” thing which was all of his offensive, homophobic shit about gays from over the years.  Most of it wasn’t funny, especially the sketch bits, however I almost drove off the road from laughing listening to George Takei pick who has The Prettiest Penis or hearing Artie Lange’s story about getting spooge on his chest during a threeway.

The Mad Greek

The Mad Greek

Our first pit stop was the one made by countless other travelers on I-15 between Vegas and LA, The Mad Greek in Baker, CA.  Eating at the Mad Greek brought on thoughts of a growing concern within myself, and that is since I started to write about restaurants and food, constantly thinking about it with my Holier-Than-Thou Judgment Cap (patent pending), I’m starting to enjoy shitty, greasy roadhouse food, less.  The diners, drive-in’s and dives are starting to appeal to me less and less, and it’s not just because Guy Fieri makes the hair on my balls curl even more than it’s supposed to.

Where in my youth the gut rot from a greasy spoon used to be worn like a badge of honor, it now just pisses me off.  Now I look for shitholes that make good food and use good ingredients.  The days of Sysco Whipped Imitation Butter and chemical eggs are way behind me, which unfortunately makes 90% of American breakfast joints now suck.  It’s not just that I don’t like it anymore, I can’t really eat it anymore. Period.  If I eat that poison, now it feels like my gut is on fire, there’s a vice on my chest and it only goes away once I do a scatological imitation of the Bellagio Fountains out of my ass.  It sucks getting old.

Gyros From The Mad Greek in Baker, CA

Gyros From The Mad Greek in Baker, CA

Anywho, I got the obligatory Gyros at the Mad Greek, and where it was once a dish that I would scarf down and ask for more, it was now just another roadside plate of shit that’s going to give me The Agita in about 20 minutes after consumption.  I must say though, it was sort of worth the burn.  The Gyros at the Mad Greek is certainly nothing special in and of itself, but it’s one of those rites of passage travelers in our little corner of the Earth should do.  And if you’re hungry and in Baker…it’s not like you have many other choices.

All of the Middle of California Looks Like This

All of the Middle of California Looks Like This

We pressed on from the Home of the World’s Largest Thermometer to Three Rivers, CA, the entrance to Sequoia National Park.  For those not familiar with driving through the guts of California, it’s something you really need to see.  The rolling golden hills look so soft from a distance that you want to pet them.  Once you get off the exit on your way to Sequoia National Park, much more of the greens come in with jagged rocks jutting through.  The winding roads were a wake up call for this Pennsylvania hick now turned Certified City Boy….well…maybe Certified Suburbia Boy.

Three Rivers is a cute no-traffic-light town that appears to solely exist to be one of the entrances to the park.  No one in the history of big ass trees (and that’s a long history as many of the trees are over 2,000 years old!) has ever gone to Sequoia National Park for the food, so I’ll try not to shred the food too much, but it was certainly something that made me reflect on life in Vegas.

One reflection is that where Las Vegas might not have the baseline of produce (more about that in Part II where I’ll talk about San Francisco) found elsewhere and while the prices in Las Vegas might be jacked up for mid-range joints on up, Las Vegas kicks the ass off of any town’s service across the board.  Whether you are rolling 3-Star at Robuchon or whether you are getting a quick nosh at a place like the Weiss Deli, service in Las Vegas is MILES beyond most other comparable establishments elsewhere.  Is it because the jacked up prices attract the cream of the crop?  I don’t know.  But it’s just better.  A good side effect from living in a town built on the service industry, I suppose.  It shouldn’t be rocket science to keep a water glass full, check on the table every now and then and for shit’s sake to pick up the damn check once we stick the credit card in the folder…but in many places, it is.

Buckeye Tree Lodge at the entrance to Sequoia National Park

Buckeye Tree Lodge at the entrance to Sequoia National Park

The view from our balcony

The view from our balcony

We stayed at the Buckeye Tree Lodge which I would recommend to anyone thinking about hitting up Sequoia National Park.  We had a stunning view from our balcony of a mountainside whitewater creek running in the backyard of the inn.  There’s no food at the Buckeye, but next door was the closest place and by looking at a selection of menus in our hotel’s office, the fanciest place in town, the Gateway Restaurant and Lodge.

Spiders Come Free!

Spiders Come Free!

“Rustic” doesn’t quite describe the Gateway.  More like infested shed.  The Gateway also has a fabulous view from their back balcony outdoor seating area.  Unfortunately the tables were strewn with bird shit on the tablecloths and spider webs, complete with the spiders that spun them, riddled the railing along side the table.  Needless to say, we didn’t sit out there for long and relocated to their indoor dining area.

Surf and Turf, or Suffer and Tough

Surf and Turf, or Suffer and Tough

Once inside, we ordered our food, The Wife going for Ribs and I springing for the $30 Surf and Turf of Shrimp Scampi and Filet Mignon.  Isn’t that cute?  I don’t think I’ve ordered Surf and Turf since living in Upstate NY.   I should say that beforehand, even the nice lady running the office at our hotel warned us of The Gateway, however I assumed it was because of the exorbitant-for-the-area prices, which were half of what we’re used to in our Little Twinkle in the Desert.  However, I didn’t take into account that the quality of the food was below a Village Pub, thus making the meal twice as expensive as a comparable meal in Vegas.  Needless to say, the fanciest restaurant in Three Rivers, CA is a far cry from the fanciest restaurant in Las Vegas, NV.  The evening was capped off when a spider came down on a web from the ceiling and crawled into the bread basket.  Hilarious!  For the rest of the trip, the Gateway was officially known as “the place with the spider bread.”  I wonder if they’ll add that line to their advertising!

The view on the way up to the Big Ass Trees in Sequoia National Park

The view on the way up to the Big Ass Trees in Sequoia National Park

The next day we made the trek up to the star of the area, Sequoia National Park.  The difference between Sequoias and Redwoods is that Redwoods are taller and found on California’s coast, Sequoias are thicker and found more in-land.  These are some big fucking trees.  It’s about a 45-minute twisting, winding and stunningly gorgeous drive from the entrance to the park to the Grove of the Big Ass Trees (I think they call it the Giant Forest, I’m partial to my version).  I can’t even count the number of times I nearly drove us to our ultimate demise off the side of the mountain due to being awestruck by the scenery.  I’m not even much of a nature person, and this is something I’d recommend anyone to do at least once in their lives.

Makes for a nice Commemorative Paperweight!

Makes for a nice Commemorative Paperweight!

As I said before, no one has ever gone to Sequoia National Park for the food, and the Lodge at Wuksachi Village certainly won’t buck the trend.  I knew before even entering the restaurant that there must have been something called a Sequoia Burger with my name on it, and not to disappoint, the Giant Sequoia Beef Burger was nearly top billing on the menu for $10.25.  I think the namesake trees might be easier to chew and swallow, but I didn’t expect anything less.  A half-pound incinerated gray puck of despair.   Strikingly flavorless, however, was the Onion Soup.  I didn’t know that it was possible to make beef broth and onion to have no flavor, but they figured out a way.  I’d like to imagine a world where food served in the middle of the wilderness didn’t have to suck, but I guess I’m going to have to keep imagining.  The moral of the story is…if you’re going to Sequoia National Park….pack a sandwich.

The General Sherman, A Really Big Fucking Tree

The General Sherman, A Really Big Fucking Tree

Sequoia National Park is home to the largest tree in the world by volume, The General Sherman Tree.  Many of the trees in the park were named in the Civil War era, so there was the General Grant, the General Lee and so on.  Neither words, nor pictures can appropriately describe the size of the General Sherman.  It’s a really big fucking tree. That’s about as good as I can do.

The path to the General Sherman from the nearest parking lot is about a half mile, but it is very steep and at over 7,000 ft.  If you wanted a good laugh, you should have seen my fat ass struggling to make it back up the mountain to the car.  I thought I was going to die.  If you want an even better laugh, I present to you an (as far as we know) unnamed tree that is still pretty big which The Wife and I named The Lance Armstrong.  Behold…

The Lance Armstrong Tree

The Lance Armstrong Tree

That's my girl!

That's my girl!

Exhausted from the walk back up to the car, we said goodbye to the land of the Big Ass  Trees, drove back down the mountain and retreated to our hotel room before going to a restaurant that’s name tugged on my Vegas-centric heartstrings, Serrano’s.

Far From Julian...

Far From Julian...

The Don Jesus Burrito from Serrano's in Three River, CA

The Don Jesus Burrito from Serrano's in Three River, CA

The Three Rivers version of Serrano’s however is of course a far cry from our hometown hero.  This Serrano’s is a Mexican joint.  I won’t knock it too bad, as it was the best food we had by a landslide thus far on our voyage.  Again, it was a name on the menu that dictated what I ordered and the Don Jesus Burrito it was.  It was a huge carne asada burrito with all the fixin’s.  While anyone that is of Mexican descent or has ever seen a person of Mexican descent will think that Taco Bell is closer to the truth, the food was certainly edible and met my needs just fine.

No Bueno.

No Bueno.

A Plate of the Unchewable and Flavorless

A Plate of the Unchewable and Flavorless

Unfortunately, the some of the worst food of the trip was had the following morning on our way out of town and onto one of my favorite places on Earth, San Francisco.  Breakfast at the We Three Bakery & Restaurant was brutal, and no matter how bad you expect the food to be at such an out of the way place, this is one to pass as you’re on your way to some other hole.  I went for the Steak and Eggs and I wish I didn’t.  The restaurant itself looked like the Republican Party exploded all over the walls.  Military, America and Apple Pie.  While I’ll certainly always support our troops, it’s a rarity that I support the people that support our troops, if ya know what I mean.  Regardless of the politics, the food was inedible.   It’s from this Tea Party Hookup House that we left the woods and made our way to civilization once again.  Good civilization.  Civilization with good restaurants.  San Francisco.

Home of Unmatched Beauty, Not So Hot Food

Home of Unmatched Beauty, Not So Hot Food

Our trip to Sequoia National Park not only had me reflect on the majestic beauty of Mother Nature, still un-raped by mankind, but it also made me reflect on how sorry I feel for people that don’t live within a reasonable distance of a good restaurant.  It’s such a joy that I take for granted living in one of the premiere restaurant towns on Earth, it takes moments like these to remember not everyone has our luxury.  And sure, people can’t imagine people living in a place with billboards about starring in internet porn, but everybody eats, and it’s too bad some people can’t leave the pots and pans in the cupboard and go out once in a while to eat well.

I suppose ignorance is bliss to a certain degree, but it still makes me sad. My desire for everyone to experience the best in life almost makes me want to help these fine folks like a Red Cross Doctor would aid a poor child stricken with malaria in the African bush.  A Restaurants Without Borders, if you will.  If only I could put Rick Moonen in a backpack and have him whip up some Cioppino at some distant, Middle American land.  Move over American Cancer Society, I think I’ve just founded the greatest charity. Ever.

I guess I’ll split our California Road Trip up into three parts. The next will be solely dedicated to San Francisco and I’ll round out the series with Yountville and Santa Barbara being the third.  Stay tuned for more adventures.  I promise, the next one will be more about food.  Good food.  Until then, to my fellow Las Vegas valley residents, go to your favorite restaurant soon, kiss the chefs and toss a few extra bucks into the tip jar for the servers.  Be thankful for what we have.

—–
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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

You can vote once per day from now until 09/30/10!  Thanks for your help!

You can vote once per day from now until 09/30/10! Thanks for your help!

Breakfast at Heierling's: Great Food and Conversation at Silk Road

When I was approached via e-mail to do a story on the breakfast menu at Chef Martin Heierling’s Silk Road in Vdara, I jumped at the opportunity.  Not just because I know Chef Heierling does good work and because I’ve already eaten two very tasty and satisfying lunches at Silk Road unannounced, but because I was curious as to how the hell he was going to take his fusion concept of walking along the Spice Trade Route of the Silk Road from Asia to Europe and apply it to eggs and pancakes.  As I found out, he does it very carefully.  But before I delve into the whirlwind of food that was laid before me, a little bit about the chef…

Chef Martin Heierling of Silk Road

Chef Martin Heierling of Silk Road

Martin Heierling has the typical roots of most master chefs; he was born and raised in Germany, then lived in New Zealand.  Wait!  Huh?!? Yes…you read that right.  Born and raised in Germany, then lived in New Zealand.  One may make the assumption from this information alone that his menu consists of nothing but sauerkraut topped lamb sausages, but it is the globe that happens in between these two distant lands that set Heierling apart.

As we sat in a booth at Silk Road, Chef Heierling told me that living on the isolated island in the South Pacific was very beneficial as he was able to experience many different cultures due to a necessity to travel, visiting various parts of Asia and returning every now and then to Europe.  Heierling talked of the inseparable bond between food and culture that was a common thread through his travels, saying, “Food is always about culture.  The most representative aspect of any culture is when you go to people’s houses and eat.”

Chef Heierling’s American debut as an Executive Chef came with his much acclaimed Sensi in the Bellagio’s Spa Tower.  Heierling credits mezza9 at the Grand Hyatt Singapore for inspiring his concept of Sensi, which in turn plays a major role of the concept that is Silk Road.  mezza9 features nine different stations in the restaurant, each featuring a different ethnocentric cuisine.  Sensi takes the most popular of these cuisines by fusing the flavors of Asia, America and Italy in such a brilliant way that the food defies borders.  It is from this melting pot of cuisines that the concept of Silk Road was developed.

Map of the Silk Road, Courtesy OrexCA.com

Map of the Silk Road, Courtesy OrexCA.com

One thing I found out from our conversation is that Martin Heierling is a man that knows and appreciates history.  Heierling went on at length talking about Marco Polo and the history of traveling the Silk Road. The namesake of Heierling’s restaruant was the trade route that connected all the corners of Asia to the Middle East, on to the Mediterranean and points in Europe and Northern Africa.  As the Silk Road itself was vast, so was the diversity of local flavors picked up along the way.

The influence of this robust mix of exotic spices forming a cuisine in and of itself seems to be the juice that gets Heierling in his happy place.  A stint he had cooking for the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia (who hasn’t had that gig?) is what truly opened his eyes to using these spices.

His duties with the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia had him walking along the marketplaces of Middle Eastern bazaars (the Middle East’s version of Whole Foods), seeing the vibrant colors and smelling the enticing scents of the exotic spices.  Chef Heierling grew his familiarity with these flavor enhancers and discovered ways to use spices from different parts of the globe in harmonious dishes.

Table Centerpiece at Silk Road

Table Centerpiece at Silk Road

With Silk Road being the only restaurant in Vdara, the condo-hotel that sits in between Bellagio and Aria, what is a boy to do to make a restaurant that will stand out among a crowd of high end Italian, Japanese, Chinese, French and Steakhouse joints?  Chef Heierling’s answer is to do something unique, do it well and with substance behind it.

Also with Silk Road being the only restaurant in Vdara, it needs to double in the role filled by the “cafes” found at other hotels located up and down The Strip.  My curiosity, dare I say suspiciousness as to how in the hell Chef Heierling is going to take his concept and apply it to what us egg eating, pancake chewing Westerners have for our morning meal is echoed by Heierling himself as he told me, “Breakfast is the most difficult aspect of the whole menu when you want to present this philosophy.”

Entrance to Silk Road

Entrance to Silk Road

When Silk Road was to open back in December of 2009, Heierling took some at-first-reluctant staff from Sensi to work at Silk Road.  The big complaint among his workers was, “I don’t want to do breakfast, I’m a fine dining cook.”

Heierling squashed these concerns by demonstrating to the staff that “Fine dining is not associated with dinner only.”  I’ve heard gastronomic icons from Jacques Pépin to Bobby Flay echo Heierling’s sentiment that, “You can set a lot of chefs apart from them knowing how to cook an omelet properly or not.”  Heierling added, ” I think it’s all coming down to techinque and philosophy.  It doesn’t matter if it’s late at night or early in the morning, the philosophy of cooking, and cooking good food with fine ingredients is always the same.  It doesn’t matter if it is eggs or if it is foie gras at night.”

So how does Chef Heierling put his griddle where his mouth is?  He brings out Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes with an Orange Blossom Syrup and Candied Rose Petals.  Stick that up your Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity Ass, IHOP!

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes with Candied Rose Petals from Silk Road

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes with Candied Rose Petals from Silk Road

While it is so unfortunate that so many of us associate breakfast with cheap bacon and Log Cabin, or worse yet, a McMuffin and dirty dishwater coffee in the car on the way to work, I am now a firm believer that everyone, at least once in their life, needs to eat a  Candied Rose Petal.  Fresh, clean, unique…it was a remarkable awakening to a totally different way to think about a morning meal.

Tasty Tower of Breakfast Love from Silk Road

Tasty Tower of Breakfast Love from Silk Road

When doing this tasting, I was on my own as Chef Heierling had other business to attend to.  I was presented with a tower of food prepared by (I think assistant chef) Chef Jennifer Murphy.  This tower came with a myriad of tasting-sized portions of the aforementioned Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes along with Crispy French Toast, Turkish Eggs, Eggs Benedict, Fresh Fruit Parfait and Banana-Vanilla Compote Oatmeal.

Crispy French Toast from Silk Road

Crispy French Toast from Silk Road

The Crispy French Toast is out of this world.  With caramelized apples, cinnamon custard and cider reduction, the flavors may be less exotic, but they are just as memorable.  The brilliant execution of the French Toast makes you forget you’re eating a breakfast item and allows you to bask in “fine dining” done well.

Turkish Eggs / Free-Range Turkey Hash from Silk Road

Turkish Eggs / Free-Range Turkey Hash from Silk Road

Chef Heierling’s favorite, as well as my favorite are the Turkish Eggs, (which I believe on the menu is listed as Free-Range Turkey Hash).  Heierling claims this to be the most authentic item on the breakfast menu and I’ll take his word for it with me never stepping foot in Turkey (the country).  The hash is made from roasted and shredded turkey (the bird) and potatoes.  The hash is cooked with a Turkish spice paste called Kirmizi Biber, which explained by the chef are red bell peppers roasted and cooked down to a paste with a blend of spices.  Also adding some punch to the flavor are salt-cured preserved lemons and slivers of a julienne of olives.

This Free-Range Turkey Hash now stands side-by-side in my heart with Julian Serrano’s Huevos Estrellados as the breakfast food I want to eat everyday for the rest of my life.  Absolutely delicious!

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Even if your tastes aren’t suited to the exotic, there is the American Breakfast which is the standard choice of egg, choice of meat, choice of toast fare, or the twist on Eggs Benedict which has the Poached Egg and Canadian Bacon resting on spinach and a potato cake.  Keep in mind too, that when I say “exotic,” the exoticism is subtly and brilliantly done.  Nothing here is going to slap you upside the head, it’s more of a sensuous kiss on the cheek.

View of the Kayak Clusterfudge from Silk Road Dining Room

View of the Kayak Clusterfudge from Silk Road Dining Room

Like so many fine establishments in Las Vegas, the economy has taken its toll on Silk Road, with Chef Heierling having to make the tough decision to temporarily suspend dinner service there earlier this year.  With how outstanding the food is at Silk Road, I yet again find myself cursing the most inaccessible $8.5 Billion Project on Earth, which is CityCenter.   Tough economy aside, CityCenter has shot itself in the foot with the locals market due its over-promised and under-delivered amenities for residents.  It’s a shame that truly fine restaurants and the truly fine people that work in them have been, in my opinion, disrespected by this collection of miserably planned and plotted buildings.

It may help to picture your winding, twisting journey through the clusterfudge (only I didn’t say fudge) that is CityCenter as your personal journey along the real Silk Road. Silk Road is a definite worthwhile destination for a special breakfast, or lunch for that matter.  I also have good word from the chef to keep our eye open for a Family Style Brunch (as in dish-to-pass, not Mickey Mouse Gummi Bear Pancake “Family” Style) coming out sometime in May.  The Wife and I will certainly be with fork-in-hand waiting for that to start!

Thanks to Shawn Mikus with Kirvin Doak Communications and Suzie Rugh with MGM Mirage for putting this together, and of course my sincere gratitude to Chef Martin Heierling for taking the time out of his incredibly busy schedule (in addition to Executive Chef duties at Silk Road and Sensi, he’s also Food and Beverage Director for Vdara) to chat with me as well as host me for a sampling of his delicious, unique food.  It was a truly fascinating conversation (we talked for over 45 minutes) that has greatly amplified my admiration for the dishes he presents, which was already quite high in the first place.

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Silk Road

Vdara Hotel & Spa
2600 W. Harmon Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702)  590-2111

http://www.vdara.com/amenities/silk-road-restaurant.aspx

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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 Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.