Tasting Las Vegas

Retro Bakery: Two Years of Buttercream Love and Counting!

February 6, 2010 · 2 Comments

Like so many epic tales begin, it all started in a Red Robin. Two servers brushing up against each other at the beverage station, complaining to each other about the pain in the butt seated at table 27 (probably was me) and walking each other to their cars after a long shift’s work, a romance sparked between these two hard-working dish jockeys and some 12 years later are now sharing with the world the ultimate symbol of their love; The Cupcake.

Those two servers were none other than (the now) Kari and Brian Haskell, owners / proprietors / founders / chefs / artists / bookkeepers / delivery-people / cleaners / builders / developers / marketers of the Retro Bakery in the Centennial Hills neighborhood in the northwest edge of the Las Vegas Valley.

We pick up the story when Kari and Brian were about to have their first little cupcake of their own. Kari decided to be a stay-at-home-mom (the really tough job) and Brian went on to work his way up the corporate ladder with Red Robin to the point where he was a manager that traveled to open new locations.  After getting sick and tired of pulling up the stakes every couple of months and always moving from town to town, they decided to settle down in Las Vegas.

With Brian doing the ins and outs of the restaurant trade at work, Kari was at home; being a mom, baking because she loved it, surfing the internet and watching plenty of Sex in the City.  She began to notice the booming trend of cupcakes and thought to herself, “Hey, I can do that!”

She began furiously researching locations, competition and recipes.  Finding out that a competitor was moving in on her turf and taking into consideration the meteoric boom of Las Vegas real estate at the time (whoops!) Kari kicked it into high-gear and opened the front door of the Retro Bakery on February 10, 2008; just three months from her Sex in the City induced eureka moment.

Literally on their hands and knees building the business, Kari developed her flavors and concepts in times between both her and Brian laying tile on the floor and painting the walls.  An avid fan of the art and style from the Atomic 50’s Pop era, Kari brainstormed names for the store with her friends, stressing that she wanted something that conveyed a “retro” feel.  Finally a friend just said, “Why don’t you just call it Retro Bakery?” and a brand was born.

The “retro” in Retro Bakery goes far beyond the name and the 50’s-era looking refrigerator behind the counter.  With flavors inspired by favorite desserts, cereals and other divine guilty pleasures, the cupcakes at Retro Bakery evoke memories of simpler, some would say happier, days-gone-by.  Remember the days where you didn’t have to worry if a food item was once in the same building as a peanut, gluten flowed like champagne on a yacht in the Riviera and the liquid that surrounds lactose made a body good?

You’re not going to find a Sun-Dried Tomato Cupcake with Balsamic Reduction Foam at the Retro Bakery, but you will find a cupcake based on a Drumstick, in all of its chocolate-covered, peanut-drizzled, ice cream coned glory.  You’ll also find a cupcake based on Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, neon-green like Mother Nature meant for it to be, but just forgot. And yes folks, there is bacon. Original Pancake House inspired Maple Bacon cupcakes that give you sweet maple in the beginning, and blissful piggy in the finish.  At Retro Bakery, the buttercream (the icing of choice at Retro) is plentiful and the flavors are bold.

Starting out two years ago, primarily in the art of cupcakes, Retro Bakery has since expanded to cookies and custom cakes.  Delivering their goodness to all over the Las Vegas valley, Kari estimates that 85% of their cake business comes from tourists on the Las Vegas Strip.  With weddings, bachelorette parties and baby showers leading the way, Retro Bakery has quickly become the dessert of choice for many entertainment spots and other special events on the Strip.  From Opening Night parties for shows like Jersey Boys, cast member birthday celebrations for shows like The Lion King and a display of pure temptation for the beauty queens of the recent Miss America pageant, Retro Bakery has quickly become part of the unique and vibrant fabric that is Las Vegas.

As Kari and Brian’s dedication and commitment continues to bring in rewards, expansions to the business are being developed, some already realized.  With Kari and Brian doing just about everything in their 85-90 hour work weeks, they have two more employees that are temporarily at full-time status; Raegen as a baker and Margeaux identified as “cake girl.”  With the time between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day being the cake world’s busy season, it’s all hands on deck to get the tasty treats out to the public while still maintaining the superior quality that has helped Retro grow so quickly.

In the works is figuring out a way to ship the goods to their fans from all over the globe.  Buttercream this light and fluffy ain’t that easy to mail!  One of Kari’s primary goals with the bakery is for it to be a Las Vegas destination.  Tourists are realizing there is so much more to our beautiful valley than what is on Las Vegas Blvd., Kari wants Retro Bakery to be a part of their travel plans.  Already, Retro has fans that make the trek up the I-95 from Hawaii to London.  That’s a hell of a long way to get a cupcake, a true testament to the fun and flavor!

Almost in a Field of Dreams If-You-Build-It-They-Will-Come mindset, Retro Bakery has no PR firm representing them, and really no commercial advertising to speak of.  What Retro does have is a website, a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter page.  Virtually doing a clinic on how a small business capitalizes on Web 2.0, Kari’s almost unintentional savvy use of the internet brings in new business everyday and the quality of the product keeps the customers loyal.

The last two years have brought a lot of laughs and a lot of tears for Kari and Brian.  With burns on her arms proudly displayed as battle scars, and 3am shouting matches in the parking lot after an almost insurmountable struggle with a hexagon cake, the passion they have of their craft has allowed them to persevere and savor the many great moments they have.

One of the funniest stories from the past two years comes from their very first delivery, which Delivery Boy Hat goes to Brian.  The first delivery Brian ever made was a cake to The Palms, one of the hipper, sexier resorts in town.  Proudly getting the goods to its destination in one piece, Brian knocked on the door of the room it was going to, only to be answered by a woman, completely naked, wearing only body paint! (have I mentioned recently how I love Las Vegas?) A shocked, blushing Brian returned to the store, only to carve in stone that he would make every delivery from then till eternity. (ok, so I embellished that last part, but he really did see the naked chick!)

On February 10, 2010, Retro Bakery is celebrating their 2 Year Anniversary with a Free Cupcake Day, where everyone gets a free cupcake from the time until they open at 8am until the very last cupcake they have, which will hopefully be until they close at 6pm.  Some other exciting upcoming events to note is that from February 11th – 13th, the Valentine’s Day decorated cupcakes will be available at no extra charge.  Also, although no specific date has been set, Johnny Cupcakes will be visiting Retro Bakery with his Suitcase Tour sometime in April.

Where some people may scoff at paying around $2.50 for a cupcake, you really shouldn’t when it comes to Retro.  These are special products you won’t find in your neighborhood big box store.  In each bite, you can taste how Kari has baked for her entire life and enjoy the good-spirit and personality that comes along with it.

Retro Bakery is not fancy, it’s not pretentious; it’s fun and it’s good.  Retro Bakery is an inspiration to not only home-bakers with big dreams, but anybody with that sparkle in their eye to be their own boss and do their own thing.  You can’t help but notice that sparkle in Kari’s eyes as she talks about how her love of Cinnamon Toast Crunch was translated into her favorite Cinnamon Toast Cupcake, or how proud she is of Brian and the beautiful designs he does on the cakes.

Whether you live next door, have to drive across the entire valley (like me) or have to travel over an ocean to get there, I suggest you do it.  Retro Bakery is a Las Vegas destination that shouldn’t be missed!


Retro Bakery

7785 N. Durango Dr. #130
Las Vegas, NV 89131

(702) 586-3740


Follow Retro Bakery on Twitter at @RetroBakery

All photographs in this post were taken by photographer, Kevin Stout. See more of Kevin’s work at http://KevinStoutPhotography.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 him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.

Categories: Las Vegas Bakeries · Las Vegas Food News · Mike Dobranski
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The Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food: Walnut Shrimp from First Food and Bar

February 5, 2010 · Leave a Comment

Although it’s obvious that the iPhone and low-lighting don’t mix, there may very well be no camera on Earth that can truly capture how good these little bites of love are.  Behold the Walnut Shrimp from First Food and Bar; bet you can’t eat just one!


First Food and Bar

The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino
3327 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702) 607-3478


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.

Categories: Las Vegas Restaurants · Las Vegas Strip Restaurants · Mike Dobranski · The Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food
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First Impressions: Sage – Mike’s Review

February 3, 2010 · 1 Comment

One of the restaurants I was anticipating the most at CityCenter was Shawn McClain’s first Vegas outpost in Sage in the Aria resort.  Knowing of Chef McClain’s dedication to locally grown, sustainable organic foods, I couldn’t wait to see what masterful things he does with the ingredients.  However, my great expectations were somewhat disappointed as the evening turned out to be a Culinary Alpine Skiing event; starting at a very high place, speedily going downward and ending at the low point.

Arriving at Sage on a Friday night without reservations is a no-no. It is popular, and deservedly so. It’s a very hip looking restaurant with a very hip menu.  The lovely hostesses graciously squeezed us in a spot an hour from our arrival, so The Wife and I decided to sit at their beautiful bar, which colleague Michael has already gushed about ad libitum.

The bar is indeed beautiful, with the best barstools my wide ass has ever sat upon. Big, round and cushy, the barstools cater to a long evening of imbibing.  Three wonderfully attentive, knowledgeable and talented barkeeps manned the bar, pouring cocktails made from the most premium of ingredients, to pulling draughts of some not-so-common micro brews (not an Anheuser-Busch product to be found!)

At the bar you can order from the full menu, or choose from a selection of bar foods, some of which are just smaller portions of the appetizers on the full menu.  We were starving, yet still wanted to enjoy the romanticism of a table on one of our rare date nights, so we ordered Chef McClain’s already famous, Foie Gras Custard Brulee ($25 regular, $18 bar-sized), to hold us over until the main event.

The Foie Gras Custard was a velvety textured flavor explosion. The Wife aptly noted how stunningly quick the finish was on the taste, considering the intense flavor burst as tongue touched liver.  I know going into my next statement that it is complete sacrilege, but it is what I tasted so I’m going to report it; but the flavor to me was that of an incredibly controlled and refined Bacon Cheddar Easy Cheese.  I mean that in the best possible way, as it was quite enjoyable, with only the trademark mineral-ish flavor of liver happening at the very end as the taste quickly dissipated.

Another bit of sacrilege while I’m at it, my only gripe is that I could have used less custard, more brioche. (yes, really!)  It’s our fault that we turned down the bartenders bread offering before the appetizer arrived (as we were still a half hour away from the main event), but the little Brioche mini-muffin that came with it wasn’t enough for the healthy portion of duck liver cloud that was presented.

Before we knew it, the lovely hostess got us from our cozy barstools and lead us to the main dining room which continued the comforting vibe of deep purple berry colors, warm woods, dark stones and lush fabrics.  The dining room was filled, and the general noise level from the myriad of conversations was high, although thankfully muted enough by the massive purple draperies along the walls.  I only bring up the noise level now as it is a key to an apparent lack of training of the wait staff that I’ll go on about later.

First up was an amuse bouche. Thank you, Sage, for still rolling with an amuse!  I’ve found amuses have died off in recent times, so I was happy to get that little token of appreciation.  The amuse was a small piece of grapefruit in a sort of bacony vinaigrette with a Chardonnay foam.  Please pardon my French, as I am at a loss for words with enough emphasis that accurately convey my feelings; but it was Fucking Brilliant! (capital “F”, capital “B”)

The amuse goes down as one of the best bites of food I have ever put in my mouth.  Words can’t truly explain its perfection.  Once my eyes unrolled from the back of my head and my heart rate came back down to a safe rate, I thought to myself, “Holy crap, we’re in for one hell of a night!”  I know it’s a tough act to follow when the kitchen just hit a Lead Off Grand Slam (yeah, I know that’s impossible to do, but you get the point), but everything we’ve experienced thus far set the stage that it could happen.

Good news, the appetizers did the amuse proud with Waygu Beef Tartare ($18) and Grilled Hawaiian Blue Prawns ($19) (and of course don’t forget the Foie Gras Custard Brulee from earlier).  The Waygu Beef Tartare was exquisite in all of its lush, rich, sumptuous glory.  The slow poached egg yolk that rested on top taught us why you would want to spend 30 minutes cooking an egg. The crushed caper aioli and pickled mustard seeds perfectly accented the Waygu, which is always the star of the show as the crispy chocolate tuile-type wafer added yet another dimension to the richness, hardly just showing up for a fancy presentation.

The Blue Hawaiian Prawns made me want to cook everything from here on out with Meyer lemon, artichoke hearts and salami. This appetizer is an “I-Want-To-Eat-This-Everyday-For-The-Rest-Of-My-Life” kind of dish.  The puckery tartness of the Meyer lemon was so well matched with the artichoke and dry-aged salami. I almost forgot there were prawns in the dish, which isn’t a knock on the prawns, which were delicious and perfectly prepared in their own right, but the icons of flavor in the other ingredients stole the spotlight.

Speaking of spotlights, I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, and can only speak for the table at which we were seated, but the lighting was brilliantly done.  Two spotlight shone perfectly at the middle of the table where the appetizers were presented to the two of us, giving the plates of food a well-deserved highlight.  If this was intentional, kudos to the design team for giving the food the proper stage it deserves.  If it wasn’t, then they should pretend that it was.

Next up were the entrees, and after the impossible-to-match amuse and tingle-in-our-special-place quality appetizers, the entrees had it so easy that it was like Don Rickles and Robin Williams was their warm-up act. Or was it?

I got the Roasted Loin of Iberico Pork ($42) and The Wife ordered the Mishima Ranch Kobe Flat Iron Steak ($42).  To say the entrees were a fail would be disingenuous, as they were very good, but they paled in comparison as to the quality and ingenuity of what was presented before them.

The Iberico Pork Loin was splendidly prepared and flavorful, but not to a degree where it was all that memorable.  Along with the pork loin came a Pork Shoulder Cannelloni which brought the first true fail of the night.  The pork shoulder confit-ish filling was molto tasty, but it was wrapped in an over-cooked sheet of pure boredom.  It’s like how the Las Vegas Sun comes wrapped in the middle of the Review-Journal; a really nice center wrapped in horror.  I would much rather a chef break out the Barilla or De Cecco box than half-ass a homemade noodle.  Overcooked and under-seasoned, it really brought down the whole dish for me, especially when I’m paying $42 for 6-8 oz. of pig.

The Kobe Flat Iron Steak brought on another developing pet peeve of mine, which admittedly one can argue, “Why the hell did you order it in the first place?”  For one, I didn’t order it, (The Wife did) and two, Chef Martin Heirling’s Silk Road at neighboring Vdara shows that a Kobe Flat Iron Steak can work.  Chef Heirling, however, figured out a way to do it at half the price and twice the flavor as the Sage edition.

My beef (get it?) with Kobe Flat Iron Steaks, along with Kobe Hamburgers, Meatballs, etc. is that the Kobe “brand” name is getting slaughtered by chefs eager to put the Kobe stamp on their menus to appease customers that watched one too many episodes of Iron Chef.  I would much rather see the tenderloin of Colorado’s Finest Grass-Fed Moo Cow on the plate than the leftover ass scraps of a Japanese Waygu steer.  Unfortunately, domestic grass-fed beef doesn’t have the headlining status of Kobe (yet), so the unmatched quality of a GOOD cut of Kobe cow gets its armor dinged with the lesser, cheaper cuts.

Don’t let my usual abundance of snark paint too bleak of a picture of the entrees.  They were good. They weren’t $42 good, and they were nowhere near the same league as the amuse and apps, but…they were “good.”  And while my trademark snark may very well be overly harsh for the reality of the entrees, it lines up just right for the desserts and the service.  Both tremendously drag down what should be, (and what some already consider) a front-runner for a James Beard Award.

First, the service.  As previously mentioned, the three bartenders on duty were magnificent and are deserving of accolades in everything that is bartending.  The hostesses were also very accommodating, and even tracked us down at the bar when it was time for us to be seated and were very patient with us as we settled our business with the bar.  The dining room staff (that we had, at least) was a different story.

Our main server, which I’ve made the last minute decision to not include his name, should quite frankly not be working at a restaurant of this caliber.  Sure, everyone has a bad day, and it may not be fair to judge based off of one experience, but after you go to enough restaurants, it’s easy to sniff out and differentiate between “bad day fails” and “incompetence fails.”  This particular server may have had an unfortunate mix of the two.

It started off when he mumbled through the specials. I caught a “potato oxtail croquette” being mentioned as a side, to which my now drooling mouth asked if we could get the croquettes somehow.  This is where the server arrived at his first fork in the road. A.) Use basic decent people skills and say something to the effect, “Let me find out if I can do that for you.” or B.) Look at me like I had some kind of fungus pouring from my nose and say, “Well, I don’t know if they made enough, probably not.” then proceed to not follow up with me for what I thought was a relatively simple request.

Oh…follow up.  Did I just say, “follow up?” Yes, that is something a server with at least 2 days of Applebee’s experience typically does, however not this server, or more appropriately should be deemed “order taker.”  There were a flurry of people running around the busy dining room with plates, baskets and pitchers, none of which, other than the water guy, seeming to actually arrive at our table.

No basket of bread left at the table here, they have an actual bread guy bring the fresh baked delights out to you, which is common in dining establishments of a finer quality. When given the choice between Potato Herb or Olive, I’m of course going to say yes to both, which I did, and then apparently that same fungus that was pouring out of my nose after I asked about the croquettes happened as I was the recipient of yet another look.  Is it really that out of the ordinary to ask for two pieces of bread?  I don’t think so.  And it’s a good thing I got it while the getting is good, because we never saw Bread Boy again at out table for the remainder of the night.

The runners who brought out the food neatly placed the plates before us, and then proceeded to mumble through what was actually on them.  Another mumbling episode in a busy room with substantial conversational white noise happening in the background.  Am I just this much of a picky jerk, or is it a basic point of training to emphasize clear diction with a solid voice if part of their gig is going to be talking to the customers.  Of course the mumbling isn’t a Should-We-Go-Here Dealbreaker, but it is a point of concern I want to highlight should anybody from Sage actually read this.  And if this was the kind of place that the servers need to wear “Pieces of Flair,” this would be a total non-issue, but it becomes one when I’m spending $300+ on a dinner for two.

The biggest serving mistake of the night came at the end, where my coffee was completely forgotten.  The service went from mediocre in the beginning to downright abysmal by the end of the night. There was a longer than standard wait time from when our dinner plates were cleared to when the dessert menus were presented, then a significant wait for the dessert orders to be taken, and then at least another 20 minutes to get the desserts.

Once we got the desserts, there was NO ONE to be found to ask the simple question, “Where the hell is my coffee?”  We actually finished the desserts by the time the main server came back to the table.  It was at this point where he faced another fork in the road. A.) Bring the French Press over and say something to the effect, “Our deepest apologies for the confusion about the coffee, here it is, it’s on us.” Or B.) Bring nothing and say, “They screwed up with the coffee, you still want it?”

At this point, I probably gave the server the look of fungus coming out of HIS nose myself, as I was shocked that a server with this prime gig would be so remarkably bad at his job.  A server takes the order, conveys that order to the kitchen, brings the food out, sees if you like it, and then takes your empties away…and kitchen runners and bus boys even alleviate some of those tasks.  It’s not rocket science, of which apparently to this server, it was.  But there is that X-Factor in servers that can’t be trained; it’s just basic people skills, of which this guy had none.

Speaking of the desserts, they were by far the low point of the food side of the evening.  Very pedestrian offerings that took a ball-peen hammer to yet another one of my pet peeves: Weird Ice Cream.

Weird Ice Cream has its place in the world, but if you are going to have the stones to put Browned Butter or White Pepper Ice Cream on the plate, you best do it well, and these weren’t.  My main gripe with weird ice creams is that ambitious chefs want to make their menu all fancy and convey that Iron Chef vibe to their patrons, but they don’t have the fortitude to actually make what they say they made.  If you are going to make Browned Butter Ice Cream, I want to be able to taste Browned Butter with out closing my eyes and swirling it around in my mouth until for that briefest moment I think I might have tasted the essence of Browned Butter.  Forget the White Pepper Ice Cream, I even squeezed my eyes shut for that one and got bupkis.

Granted the ice cream tasted ok, but it didn’t taste as advertised. They just tasted like an average sweet cream ice cream.  The Browned Butter Ice Cream was part of the Venezuelan Dark Chocolate Cremeux ($12) and the the White Pepper Ice Cream was part of the Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding ($10).  Both desserts were nowhere near the city limits of the sophistication the amuse and appetizers showcased.  Worlds apart in both concept and execution, the Cremeux was atop a dry piece of banana bread, and the Toffee Pudding was just, well, Toffee Pudding.

It’s almost as if Sage is having an identity crisis, going between “Potential James Beard Award Winner” to “Beautiful Purple Tourist Trap.”  This is understandable with it only being a month or so in operation, and who knows what to do these days given the economic climate.  My hope is that Shawn McClain and his staff can find that spark of magic they made with the scenery, the bar, the amuse and the appetizers and apply it to the rest of the restaurant.  If they can do that, watch out world, Las Vegas will have another one of the top culinary destinations on the planet!



Aria Resort & Casino
3730 Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109



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.

Categories: Las Vegas Fine Dining · Las Vegas Restaurant Reviews · Las Vegas Restaurants · Las Vegas Strip Restaurants · Mike Dobranski
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Monday Mise en Place: RM Seafood Re-Opens Upstairs as Chef Andrew Weiss Heads For Battle at Bocuse d’Or USA

February 1, 2010 · 2 Comments

Before we dive into the week of food news that lies before us, I need to clear up a question I have been getting from a few of our faithful readers: “What the hell is a Mise en Place?” Mise en Place (pronounced meez ahn plahs) is French for “put in place” and is the culinary term used when chefs chop up vegetables, butcher the meat, get the spices ready, etc. and “put in place” so they can have an easier time when it comes to preparing the whole dishes during a frenzied service.  You know, so you don’t have that “Oh crap, I forgot to chop up the garlic!” moment as your butter burns browns in the frying pan. Ok, get it?

The day us Desert Dwelling Seafood Fanatics have been waiting for arrives on February 2nd, as Chef Rick Moonen re-opens his upstairs fine dining room at his much acclaimed cathedral to all that is sustainable seafood, RM Seafood at Mandalay Place in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort!  Using “all new pots and pans,” as touted on RM Seafood’s Twitter Page (@rmseafood), Chef Moonen offers his much championed sustainable seafood in a more sophisticated setting in a more sophisticated way than his downstairs bar and lounge area.  Welcome back!

It’s time for all of us in Las Vegas to put on our rally caps, paint bacon on our stomachs and get the foam fingers and air horns ready to cheer on Chef Andrew Weiss as Las Vegas’ only representative in the Bocuse d’Or USA Finals on February 6th at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NYTasting Las Vegas desperately tried to get a full interview with Chef Weiss ahead of the competition, but with two busy schedules (ok, his is busy, mine is just strange) we couldn’t quite get there.  Look for a more detailed post about the Bocuse d’Or later this week!  The winner of the battle on Saturday will represent the United States in the 2011 Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France! Best wishes, Andrew!

Two days before Chef Weiss sharpens his knives in Hyde Park, S. Pellegrino’s Almost Famous Chef Competition holds its Mountain Regional qualifier on February 4th to see who gets to represent our piece of North America in the Finals in Napa Valley, CA in early March.  The Mountain Regional will be held in the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas.  The Grand Prize Winner of the Finals in March will receive a $10,000 cash prize, a one year position to work with “a nationally recognized chef” and media tours throughout the U.S. and Canada. The Mountain Regional which starts at 5:30pm PST on Thursday will stream live updates via their Twitter Page at @AFChefComp

Hard to believe, but Tasting Las Vegas will be celebrating its One Month Anniversary on February 5th!  This first month has truly flown by!  I remember like it was yesterday trying to come up with a name that didn’t sound too much like John Curtas’ wonderfully done, Eating Las Vegas, but everything else I could come up with sounded lame.  I mean really, what the hell was I going to use? Vegas Soup? Vegas and Eggs? What’s Shakin’ Vegas Bacon? It can be said that Tasting Las Vegas was born out of an homage to those that have stuck their flag in the ground first and blazed the trail of gastronomic righteousness.  Come to think of it, it would be much easier for us (and economical) to copy and paste John’s work over here, but he might get annoyed at that.  Even more annoyed than he gets at jazz music.

Thank you to those that have joined us at our beginning! Much more fun awaits before us!

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.

Categories: Las Vegas Chefs · Las Vegas Restaurant News · Las Vegas Restaurants · Mike Dobranski · Monday Mise en Place · Sustainable Food · Tasting Las Vegas News
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Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market Offers Pride, Variety and Quality

January 30, 2010 · 3 Comments

“I’m not gonna put horseshit on my product and then sell it to you to eat.”

That brilliant statement by Jim King, owner of King Ranch in White Hills, AZ pretty much sums up why I have quickly come to love the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market so dearly.

While Jim was speaking in a more literal tone, as he was referring to his policy to not use animal manure as fertilizer on his ranch, his statement can certainly be used in the figurative sense to get at the heart of what makes the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market and other Farmer’s Markets like it so important: you will get food the way food was meant to be; without chemical treatments, genetic modifications and hormonal enhancements.

Small but strong, the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market is tucked away in what appears to be an industrial storage facility for Mario Batali’s restaurant’s knick knacks.  Odd for this boy born and raised in the Northeast to see a Farmer’s Market indoors, it makes perfect sense as the blistering, herb-wilting Vegas heat is just around the corner.

Keeping in mind this is the end of January, what fresh produce there actually is at this time of year was indeed fresh and bountiful.  From the largest display in the market by Kerry Clasby and California Family Farms of Westlake Village, CA to the more intimate selection of the handful of items by Kerr Farms in Sandy Valley, NV, there was an extraordinary variety of products and personalities at this Farmer’s Market.

The most local of the local growers of the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market (near the corner of Warm Springs and Dean Martin) location was Gilcrease Orchards.  Located in the far northern end of the Las Vegas Valley, the 68-acre local orchard brought some of their delicious Apple Cider and Pecans, as obviously we’re still a few months away from the bulk of their fresh fruit offerings.

Boulder City, NV was well represented with Herbs by Diane and Colorado River Coffee RoastersDiane Greene has been growing herbs and practicing organic growing methods for the last 30 years. Diane introduced me to something I haven’t had before, Sunflower Sprouts, and I can tell you, they make quite a flavorful, nutritious addition to any salad.

Colorado River Coffee Roasters know their beans. Whether the beans are from Sumatra, Ethiopia or Guatemala, Colorado River Coffee Roasters micro-roast the beans to the point of “caramelization and not carbonization” so the discerning taster can truly experience the subtle difference between each region. He is a true master at the art of all that is coffee and is a wealth of information eager to share with inquisitive listeners.

Coming from what the pictures he showed me was one of the more beautiful places on Earth, was Brian Brown with China Ranch Date Farm in Tecopa, CA.  For a guy who thought dates came off the tree wrapped in bacon and stuffed with almonds, I was amazed at the variety of dates presented with origins from Iraq to Algeria, but now grow abundantly on the grounds of the magnificent China Ranch.

It’s all about the Pistachios at O.U. Nuts in Pahrump, NV.  Winner of the most adorable person at the market, Meili Ou proudly presented her pistachios with partner (not quite as adorable, but just as proud) Ron Thaxton.  Showing the shakers that harvest the tasty nuts, Meili used just about every English word she knows to talk about her family farm and the quality of the product that comes out of it.

The reason why I can’t wait to eventually add a podcast to our little Tasting Las Vegas venture is the chance to interview people like Jim King of King Ranch in White Hills, AZ.  Hilarious, direct and full of pride, Jim loves what he does and he certainly isn’t quiet about it.  I’d be hard-pressed to find another person who would as emphatically boast about his radishes as he does, but with the care, time and dedication he puts forth, he more than deserves it.

While the market was diverse in what it offered, both in produce and personality, many recurring themes were present.  One of which is the concerning cost and red tape a farm has to go through to become U.S.D.A. Certified Organic.  I asked many of the vendors that claimed “organically grown” if they were actually certified, and universally their look of pride turned into a look of frustration and disgust.

Across the board, the sentiments of attaining the U.S.D.A. Certification was labeled as a massive pain in the ass that isn’t worth it.  Where some of the bigger outfits have the people and resources to jump through the government’s hoops, the smaller guys get buried in paperwork and costs. I was encouraged by everyone, however, (just as you would be, too) to visit their farms and ranches to witness the “organic” process which they believe in and adhere to.  I’m certainly going to take each and every one of these fine people up on their offer, as it is important to myself and the Las Vegas community to do whatever I can to present the great things these people are doing to our growing Tasting Las Vegas audience.

Fortunately, getting the fancy Organic Stamp from Uncle Sam is no big deal to them, because the chefs they sell their products wholesale to know better. One of the primary purposes of the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market is for Las Vegas’ top culinary industry professionals to meet what Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich already know as world-class quality producers of produce.  Shawn McClain of his new Sage restaurant at the Aria resort was reportedly there scoping the scene out before I arrived.  The fact is, these pros know better.  They don’t need a government stamp to see the remarkable quality these dedicated farmers and foragers have to offer.

This leads me to another point about the Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market.  It gives us kitchen hacks at least a snowball’s chance to be on par with the masters.  We might not be able to cut the food like they do, or pan-sear the food like they do, but this Farmer’s Market allows us to buy the radishes, mushrooms, pomegranates, garlic and chervil they do.  Even Truffle Dealer to the Stars, Mikuni Wild Harvest had a table at this Farmer’s Market!  Sure, we might scorch our risotto unlike a Batali, but we can still put a couple hundred dollars worth of the same White Truffle on top just like Mario can!

The most important common thread in this market is a word that has already come up several times in this post; pride.  I can only dream to have as much pride and love for my job like these people do.  Whether it is Mark from Gilcrease Orchards or Diane from Herbs by Diane talking about the compost they use, or whether it is Brian from China Ranch telling you about the subtleties between Halaway and Khadrawy Dates, or Jim from King Ranch telling you about hoeing the weeds rather than using chemical poisons, there is an unmatched pride in what each of these champions of quality health share with us.

I can not stress enough the importance of supporting this market and the people who are a part of it.  Enough is enough with big corporate food factories (yeah, I’m talking to you Monsanto and ConAgra) stuffing genetically modified, chemically packed food mutations down our gullets.  Supporting our local, sustainable and organic farmers will make us as a community grow stronger and healthier.  From a town of strippers, gamblers, Elvis impersonators and other social misfits (musicians), we can and will come together as a community bound by cultural awareness.  Supporting our local talent is just the first step.

A big round of applause to Chef Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich for using the pedestal of their celebrity to shine a light on the hard-working little guys out there that not only make them look good, but promote a healthier, higher-quality way of living. Bravo! Now if we could only do something about those Orange Crocs….

The Molto Vegas Farmer’s Market is open every Thursday from 10:00am-  11:00am for an Industry Preview (although I was told everyone is let in, shh!) and then for the Public from 11:00am – 1:00pm.  Address is 7485 Dean Martin Dr. Suite #106, Las Vegas, NV  89139.


Websites of Participating Vendors (January 28, 2010)

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.

Categories: Green Eating · Healthy Lifestyle · Las Vegas Chefs · Las Vegas Restaurant News · Las Vegas Restaurants · Mike Dobranski · Organic Food · Organic Food in Las Vegas · Sustainability in Las Vegas · Sustainable Food
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The Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food: Corn Dogs from Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar

January 29, 2010 · Leave a Comment

Yes, those are the delicious slices of chorizo, battered and deep fried to a crisp golden brown and put on a stick, known as the Corn Dogs at Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar. No, they are not on a runaway train in the middle of the restaurant.


Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar

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

(702)  722-6060


Follow Caña on Twitter at @canalasvegas

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.

Categories: Las Vegas Restaurants · Mike Dobranski · Tapas · The Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food
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A Brief Response to Two Idiots in New York

January 28, 2010 · 4 Comments

Looks like I’m already late to the party to fire back at David Landsel and Andy Wang’s seemingly unresearched display of Manhattanite Superiority Complex Idiocy they wrote for their 3rd Rate Rag (a.k.a. – The New York Post), as Eating Las Vegas’ John Curtas has already brilliantly responded in his blog.  However, with the magnitude of ineptitude Landsel and Wang showcased in their article-of-wrong, there is plenty of room in the pool for a few additional thoughts.

If you haven’t read Landsel and Wang’s slop yet, you can read it here.

(Pretty stupid, huh?)

And now; my humble response…

There’s only one thing that pisses off a New Yorker more than when someone takes something of theirs and makes it better (Rao’s), and that is when someone else got what they want first. This would explain the incomprehensible digs of Guy Savoy and Charlie Trotter.  New York writers also seemingly get their rocks off by rounds of Vegas bashing.  Moments like these always bring me back to Robin Leach’s response to some forgettable NYC snob bitching about Vegas restaurants getting Michelin Stars a few years ago, and I’m paraphrasing; “Last time I checked, truffles don’t grow in Central Park either.” (Ain’t that Robin funny!)

In regards to Landsel and Wang’s snark about why would people go to Julian Serrano’s world-renowned Picasso at the Bellagio when they can go to Jöel Robuchon down the road at the MGM Grand, well that to me just displays a level of ignorance one can only find in such a “reputable” rag of the New York Post’s caliber.  It’s the equivalent of saying why would someone eat an apple when they can just eat an orange. Sure, they’re both French, just as the apple and orange are both fruits, but they are different concepts that come in different packaging.  People pay for experiences at restaurants, not just nationalities.

Putting Wolfgang Puck’s Vegas outpost of Spago and CUT in the same category lends me to believe that Landsel and Wang visited neither. Granted, Wolfgang Puck doesn’t help his reputation much by being the Ultimate Food Whore that he is, but CUT makes a very fine steak and in no way should be grouped with the mistakes at our Spago and whatever Wolfy has next to the Cinnabon at McCarran International.

What had to be the biggest display of stupidity, however, was their decree to avoid “Anything at Mandalay Bay.”


Are Landsel and Wang really trying to tell us that there isn’t ANYTHING worthy of our hard earned money and discerning palates at Mandalay Bay?  You know, the resort with Hubert Keller’s Fleur de Lys and Burger Bar, Rick Moonen’s superb homage to sustainable seafood at his RM Seafood, Michael Mina’s Stripsteak and Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s Border Grill, just to name a few.  It appears Landsel and Wang at least conceded Aureole at Mandalay Bay, but probably because they have sculptures of boobies on the front wall and not because of the magnificent food and unique dining experience.

Sure, Wazuzu’s Jet Tila (who also got slammed by the NYP’s Dynamic Duo) got all up in our food-blogging grill with his kvetch about people who haven’t worked in a kitchen writing about food…but this is what you get when you have “professionals” at the keyboard?!?  And people wonder why the newspaper industry is dying…

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.

Categories: Las Vegas Chefs · Las Vegas Restaurant News · Las Vegas Restaurants · Las Vegas Strip Restaurants · Mike Dobranski · Random Musings
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Dish Spotlight: The 837 Club Burger from The Palm Restaurant

January 26, 2010 · Leave a Comment

Beloved by the carnivorous, mover and shaker power-lunchers across this great land of ours, The Palm Restaurant has their Las Vegas outpost located in The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.  One of the highlights on The Palm’s lunch menu is The 837 Club Burger.

The 837 Club Burger gets its name from The Palm’s 837 Club, which in turn gets its name from The Palm Restaurant’s first location, 837 2nd Avenue in New York.  Going strong at this location in New York for over 80 years, the 837 number is fabled as lucky, so they created a club. The 837 Club is The Palm’s version of a rewards club, where members (for a one time fee of $25) can accumulate points towards food for every dollar they spend, as well as get exclusive access to other special amenities.  The good news is that you don’t need to be a member to enjoy its namesaked, tasty burger.

The Palm Restaurant’s prime location in The Forum Shops just beyond the entrance to Caesars’ casino floor provides for a premium people-watching spot if you choose to be seated “outside” (which in reality is in the main corridor of The Forum Shops).  Inside they have the trademark caricatures of the celebrities that have dined there.  Somehow my picture is still missing…must be an innocent oversight!  However, for the people watching alone, my suggestion is to sit outside.  (Men: there’s both a Coach and Jimmy Choo store nearby.  It’s like mosquitoes going to the light. Trust me, sit outside!)

The service has always been top-notch, with very attentive servers giving you that extra old-school steakhouse server kind of charm.  As many of you are well aware, the fastest way to my heart is to not let my water glass go empty for too long, and I don’t think I ever saw the bottom of the glass.

The burger itself is mighty tasty.  The 837 Club Burger features; Prosciutto di Parma, Roasted Red Pepper, Pesto Aioli and Fontina Cheese atop a house ground beef patty.  The prosciutto does little more than give you the personal satisfaction that there is pork on your burger as the bold flavors of the Roasted Red Pepper and Pesto Aioli (punctuated with the addition of a full fresh basil leaf) take charge.  The Fontina cheese has a wonderful lush richness that evens out the flavor punch of the Peppers and Pesto.

The beef patty itself is splendidly seasoned and was perfectly prepared.  My sweet spot for beef (for both burger and steak forms) is the Medium-Rare side of Medium.  For me, it gets the meat to be broken down through the cooking process just enough to achieve maximum tenderness, yet is still rare enough to retain that juicy flavor of love. For those that care about your clothing, consider yourself warned; the first bite was a juice explosion!  Beef fat running down your arm (but in a good way), you don’t care who’s watching, you just want to lick it off. Mmm….cholesterol

The only downside to the plate of food were the fries. The hand cut fries were limp and grease soaked.  Methinks the oil wasn’t hot enough, but whatever happened in the kitchen, it made for some French Fries that did the magnificent burger no justice.

Almost piercing the Burger Price Threshold many people have, this particular burger (and crappy fries) is priced at $15. I can tell you that the 837 Club Burger more than delivers and is appropriately priced.  For people that say, I can get a burger at Applebee’s for $9, I say to you: You CAN’T get The 837 Club Burger at Applebee’s! Trust me and go eat this burger, then you can shower me with gifts after you do!


The Palm Restaurant

The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace
3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702) 732-7256


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.

Categories: BURGERS! · Dish Spotlights · Las Vegas Restaurants · Las Vegas Strip Restaurants · Mike Dobranski
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Tasting Las Vegas Proudly Adds Photographer Kevin Stout to Our Staff

January 26, 2010 · 1 Comment

Tasting Las Vegas is thrilled to announce a brilliant new addition to our staff, photographer Kevin Stout!

Kevin is an accomplished musician and a gifted photographer.  While I know most of you love Tasting Las Vegas’ trademark awful pictures taken with a cell phone, we are excited to now be able to present high-quality photographs of the stories behind the food we love in Las Vegas!

Don’t fret, however, we’ll still give you the bad cell phone pics that make proud chef’s cringe from the disrespect of their hard work in our reviews and dish spotlights.

Check out some of Kevin’s fine work at http://www.KevinStoutPhotography.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 him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.

Categories: Kevin Stout · Mike Dobranski · Tasting Las Vegas News
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Monday Mise en Place: Batali and Bastianich Put the Spotlight on Locally Grown Food at Molto Vegas

January 25, 2010 · 3 Comments

Yes folks, Vegas DOES have Farmer’s Markets, only one of ours is presented by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich! (Who lives like us?) Molto Vegas features fresh products from locally grown sources. Molto Vegas is open for business every Thursday with an industry preview starting at 10am and then the doors open to the public from 11am-1pm. Molto Vegas is located on 7485 Dean Martin Drive Suite #106, Las Vegas, NV 89139.  Committed to sustainable, locally grown ingredients, Tasting Las Vegas will have many articles on Molto Vegas and all of the other Farmer’s Markets in the Las Vegas Valley in the time to come.

Vegas Uncork’d 2010 just released a whole new round of tickets for some of their events. The Vegas Uncork’d Festival presented by Bon Appétit runs from May 6-9. Tickets are sure to sell out fast, so log on to http://www.vegasuncorked.com and to check out the many events and book your tickets soon! We’ll see you at the Grand Tasting held in Caesars Palace on May 7th!

On a personal note, a very sincere thank you to all of our readers and supporters! In the almost 3 weeks we’ve been live and online we already have 200 followers on Twitter, almost 100 on Facebook and the traffic on TastingLasVegas.com increases almost everyday!  Thank you for supporting our little venture and for getting the word out!  If you haven’t visited our Facebook page yet, please join us at http://facebook.com/TastingLasVegas.  Our Twitter page is located at http://twitter.com/TastingLasVegas.

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.

Categories: Green Eating · Las Vegas Restaurant News · Mike Dobranski · Monday Mise en Place · Organic Food in Las Vegas · Sustainability in Las Vegas · Sustainable Food
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