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New Menu Brings New Thoughts on Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar

From our very first visit just days after its opening in January to our recent invited tasting of new menu items last week, we’ve experienced many hits and misses with Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar.  Granted, there have been far more hits than misses, and the majority of misses have been found in the beverage department, but these inconsistencies have placed me on the fence on whether to profess a deep love for Caña or not.  With prices closer to Julian Serrano territory than the more wallet-friendly Firefly land, expectations are increased and these expectations of consistency have prevented me from gushing sweet verses of Caña’s virtues.

Super-Server Joy with Chef Kevin Lew of Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar

Super-Server Joy with Chef Kevin Lew of Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar

Just when I’m blown away with a Tuna Ceviche, I cringe at overly-salted Crispy Shrimp.  One night I’m disappointed with an under-stuffed Beef Empanada, then the next night I gleefully dredge a fabulously stuffed Beef Empanada through the savory Avocado Crema on the bottom of the plate.  Some days I’d leave with a smile from ear to ear, and other days I’d have the “what the hell did I spend so much money on” feeling.

However, upon further reflection, the inconsistencies have had a bandwidth from “Extraordinary” to “OK,” which has made me re-evaluate the way I judge restaurants entirely.   We must keep in mind that a Grand Slam should not diminish the value of a triple or even bloop single.  In reality, the only thing over these past few months that I’ve gotten at Caña and haven’t at least liked were the cocktails.  Even when I felt the Crispy Shrimp were salty, I still ate them, and The Wife loved them.  The under-stuffed Beef Empanadas were still tasty, but in my book for the simpler things (and I put meat-stuffed pastry in the “simpler things” category); meat = value.  To put things in perspective, Caña charges $11 for two empanadas cut in half, and Firefly charges $4.50 for one.  Above value, when the empanadas are more fully meat-packed at Caña, the dish is far more memorable, satisfying and complete.

Watermelon Mojito from Caña

Watermelon Mojito from Caña

Out of the entire TLV Crew, when ordering cocktails, I usually order the girliest one.  Yes, out of a group that consists of a woman, two gay guys and myself…the drink on the table with the umbrella in it usually belongs to me.  Michael and The Dave seem to like their drinks a little more dry than I like, ordering scotch on the rocks or gin-based martinis.  The Wife will at times get a girly drink too, but she’s also been known to throw back a Jack and Coke or two (or twelve) in her day.  I say this, because even I think the cocktails are way too sweet at Caña.

It’s not just that they don’t offer a wider variety of specialty cocktails to appease the rainbow of palates from dry to saccharin, but even the cocktails that are supposed to be sweet are to the point where you jerk your head back and make a funny face.  Yes, Caña is Spanish for “sugar cane,” but that isn’t just cause to send people into a diabetic coma.

Xingu Black Beer

Xingu Black Beer

Truth be told, I’m a beer guy.  My first Xingu Black Beer (pronounced shin-goo), a fantastically delicious dark beer from Brazil, was at Caña a couple months ago, but unfortunately it appears to have disappeared from this newest incarnation of the menu.  This saddens me a great deal that such a fine beer wasn’t consumed enough to the point for it to make the cut for the next beer.  To this I say; Dear Caña – please bring back the Xingu Black Beer and I will do everything in my power to encourage the imbibing of this special product by the masses of Las Vegas.

Malbec Sangria from Caña

Malbec Sangria from Caña

Although my beloved Xingu is on a leave of absence, I’m happy to report that there is a new Malbec Sangria ($8/glass, $32/pitcher) on the menu.  As much as my famous wine stupidity knows, the Malbec grape, although originated in France, is now much more popular in Argentina. It’s red.  That’s about all I got.  The Malbec Sangria is good, not great, but will be quite refreshing once the temperature goes up.  There really isn’t much of a depth of flavor to the sangria, maybe it needed more marinating time or an extra citrus kick somehow, I’m not exactly sure.  Also, the barkeep needs to be cautious with how much tonic water (or whatever sparkling water they use) to mix it with.  In my opinion, less is more when it comes to tonic water in sangria.

Ok, enough with the criticisms, now it’s time to gush for a while…

Spicy Tuna Ceviche from Caña

Spicy Tuna Ceviche from Caña

One thing that sets Caña apart from the pack is the quality of ingredients they use.  The beautifully clean, remarkably fresh, Spicy Tuna Ceviche ($14) is one of the best examples of that quality.  Caña uses Big Eye Tuna.  I don’t know if it is of the sustainable friendly Atlantic Ocean variety, and I’m not going to ask.  Just like how a guy shouldn’t ask a hot-blooded female sitting and purring on his couch if she’s Republican, I’m not going to find out if this fine product is unsustainable goods either.

Beef Tenderloin Tiraditos from Caña

Beef Tenderloin Tiraditos from Caña

The dish from this new menu that totally knocked me off my feet were the Beef Tenderloin Tiraditos ($14).  Tiraditos are also mostly raw dishes, but instead of the cubed up cut of ceviche, the proteins are sliced sashimi style.  Tiraditos have Peruvian roots, showing once again an Asian-influence in South American cuisine.  The beef tenderloin was exquisite.  The inter-muscular marbling gave the beef the essence of Wagyu, and quite honestly was a far better cut of meat than what some other establishments pass off as wagyu.  Also to be noted, along with the Spicy Tuna Ceviche, is the magnificent blade work done by Chef Kevin Lew (I’m assuming he did it), formerly of Bradley Ogden.

Truffle Chips from Caña

Truffle Chips from Caña

I don’t know how “Latin” they are, but the Truffle Chips ($6) were tasty.  Seeming to take the place of the Yucca Frites (a wise decision with how thin the cut was on the yucca), the Truffle Chips are Pommes Gaufrettes (fancy schmancy way of saying waffle fries) with the essence of garlic and drizzled in truffle oil.  It might not be “Latin,” but who am I to argue with potato chips covered in truffle oil.  By the way, I think there is a place in the menu for the Yucca Frites, but yucca needs to be a thick cut for it to work.  Pour some truffle oil on that! (nom)

Empanadas Stuffed with either Chicken or Duck from Caña

Empanadas Stuffed with either Chicken or Duck from Caña

There are two new additions to the Empanada family at Caña that join the already much talked about Beef ($11); Chicken ($10) and Duck ($14).  We didn’t try the beef this time around, but did roll with the Chicken and Duck varieties and found them both to be fabulous.  I know it isn’t “traditional” to use puff pastry for the empanada shell, but I don’t care.  It’s friggin delicious.  The Chicken takes on more of a citrus role with tequila and lime and the Duck plays the role of savory sweet with fig and an aguardiente (sugar cane based liquor) infused cream.  I am pleased to report that both empanada varieties were splendidly filled.

Another new dish (that I inhaled before I remembered to take a pic) that I hope stays on board for the long haul is the Chorizo Rice ($9).  This to me was the ultimate in comfort food, as it brought me back to something I’d make back in my college days.  A big plate of rice with chorizo, pancetta, peppers, tomato and all held together with some unidentified gooey cheese, it was like I was cuddling with my blanky all over again.  Someday I will release to the world my recipe for Chicken Wing Rice that was conceived and perfected back in my tiny studio apartment overlooking the mighty Cayuga Lake on days of extreme hangovers (which were all days ending with “y”).

One more point of note with our Caña experience was the return of Joy.  Not just the emotion, but the super-server.  We haven’t had Joy since our first outing, and while other servers have done an adequate-to-fine job, no one is in the same league as Joy.  She knows her shit.  She knows the menu inside and out, is fabulously descriptive with both drinks and food items and is prepared to give substantive opinions should a request for one be made.  I don’t know if this is her ultimate desire of career choice, I could only hope it is.  I would say that she is more than ready for the bigs should a Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse come knocking on her door.

The dishes Chef Kevin Lew presented before us were all expertly done and showcased food that featured precise technique with bold flavors.  If the level at which these dishes were done were cranked out consistently with or without Chef Lew’s presence, I would easily put Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar among my favorite restaurants in town.  On a side note, best wishes to Kevin on his upcoming nuptials and jealousy-inducing honeymoon to Spain.

Thanks to the PR firm that represents Caña (name removed at request of said PR firm) for putting this tasting together.  In the spirit of full disclosure, the deal with this invited tasting of new menu items was that we could order at will with a $100 tab generously supplied by the fine folks at Caña.

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Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar

Town Square Las Vegas
6599 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89119

(702)  722-6060

http://www.canalasvegas.com

Follow Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar on Twitter at @CanaLasVegas

Cana Latin Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

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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.

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1 comment to New Menu Brings New Thoughts on Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar

  • I cut my teeth on Venezuelan empanadas and still prefer that variety, i.e. corn flour based dough and fried. I never could get as execited about any other method and have not found anyone here making my preference.

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