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The Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food: Camarones a la Diabla from Firefly

I’m too lazy to check, but I’m pretty sure the Firefly is by far the most represented restaurant in our little Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food series.  This particular gem, however, is the first one taken at the newer-ish location downtown at The Plaza.  I don’t know if it was the view of the canopy-covered freak show that is the Fremont St. Experience, the four pitchers of Red Sangria or if it was just a superior product, but the food across the board was even better here than at the original location on Paradise Rd. That’s saying a lot, because until this visit, I didn’t think there was a better bang for your buck in this town than the Firefly on Paradise Rd.  With a similar seductive low-lighting, the iPhone sucked just as much at this location as it does at the other, thus having the extraordinary Camarones a la Diabla from Firefly be this week’s Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food.

Camarones a la Diabla from Firefly

Camarones a la Diabla from Firefly

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Firefly*

The Plaza Hotel & Casino
1 Main St.
Las Vegas, NV 89101

(702) 380-1352

AND

Firefly*
3900 Paradise Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89169

(702) 369-3971

http://www.FireflyLV.com

Follow Firefly on Twitter at @FireflyLV

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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

Las Vegas Weekly Announces Their Own Best Of List for 2010

The alternative weekly magazine, Las Vegas Weekly, announced their own Best Of lists for 2010 today. Thankfully, the LVW list is miles beyond the R-J’s joke of a list in terms of accuracy / common decency.  I’ll give LVW props for naming Julian Serrano at Aria as Best New Restaurant and The Palm Restaurant at the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace for Best Lunch Specials, both of which would be deemed by many as controversial choices, but I will say good ones.  Certainly one could argue for the sort-of-new $19 prix fixe lunch at Payard Patisserie and Bistro (also at Caesars Palace) and of course the best lunch deal in town (which I would certainly call “special”), the $8.99 Lunch Buffet at Namaste Indian Cuisine.

Las Vegas Weekly 2010 Best Of List (courtesy: lasvegasweekly.com)

Las Vegas Weekly 2010 Best Of List (courtesy: lasvegasweekly.com)

I can live with Shawn McClain of Sage being called Best New Chef, although I would give the title to Shawn Armstrong at MOzen Bistro at the Mandarin Oriental. No one in this town kicks the ass off of so many diverse cuisines like Armstrong.  I’m amazed how he does it.  He’s good.

While I thought most of the nods were justifiable, if not spot on, there were a few in the Land of the Ridiculous.   I was shocked to not see First Food and Bar take the Best Late Night Eats on The Strip category.  No other place is even close to First when it comes to the Late Night Nosh.  Also, whoever put Smashburger and BLT Burger in the same league as Bradley Ogden and Burger Bar for Best Burger needs to have their head examined.  I, myself, can’t make up my mind between Bradley Ogden and Burger Bar for Best Burger in Vegas, but I do know they are both in a league of their own. Smashburger and BLT belong in the burger category that also holds Wendy, Carl, The King and The Clown.

However, the burger debacle wasn’t the only Crime Against Bovinity on this list.  Once again Carnevino gets a nod for Best Steak, and once again I call shenanigans.  Both N9ne Steakhouse at The Palms and Wolfgang Puck’s CUT at the Palazzo know how to roll with things that moo far better than the over-priced, over-hyped Batali attempt.

To check out the picks and see what you agree or disagree with on the 2010 Las Vegas Weekly’s Best of Food List, visit: http://www.lasvegasweekly.com/news/vegas-best/2010/food/

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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.

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.

First Impressions: Barcelona Tapas & Bar

I try my best to avoid Southern Highlands like I do the plague and motion pictures starring Larry the Cable Guy.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but every time I enter the gilded gates of The People’s Republic of Southern Highlands, I leave hating both city planners and white people in general just a little bit more than I did before visiting the faux Summerlin (also a significant ick).  However, in the spirit of good journalism and a current infatuation with tapas and all things Spanish, we decided to go forth to the Land of the Entitled and visit the new Barcelona Tapas & Bar.

Barcelona Tapas & Bar Menu

Barcelona Tapas & Bar Menu

Having a coveted corner in a strip mall location, Barcelona Tapas & Bar is an inviting space, even with its holdovers from the previous tenant, one of those Hurricane Chicken Wing joints.  The Wife and I were greeted with smiles and happiness. Obviously the workers are still in the honeymoon phase before they become bitter and jaded by prick customers with lofty demands.

Bread with Fire Roasted Chick Pea Puree

Bread with Fire Roasted Chick Pea Puree

Slightly buttered, slightly toasted bread came to the table with an unremarkable orange-colored sweet pseudo-butterish kind of thing, and also what I can only describe as a Fire Roasted Chick Pea Puree. It was fabulous.  The charred smokiness flavor combined with the chick peas was really quite yummy and thankfully continued a hot streak I’m on of going to places that give you uniquely tasty things to slather on bread.

Estrella Damm Beer from Barcelona

Estrella Damm Beer from Barcelona

Instead of going for the sangria, I decided to change things up by going for a new-to-me beer in Barcelona’s (the city, not the restaurant) own, Estrella Damm.  It’s a lager style beer which I found to have a bit of an apple taste to it.  I usually hide under the table when it comes to fruit in beer, but I found the Estrella Damm to be tasty and a good alternative to sangria if one should ever have the rare desire to not have sangria.

Our very attentive server took the first round of our food order which included; Pan Fried Dates, Stuffed Piquillo Peppers, Camarones Ajillo, Mar y Monte, Albondigas, Mac and Cheese and Boquerones (White Anchovies).  While the menu also offers a few entree sized dishes, including the requisite paella ($20), we stuck to the tapas since that’s why we want to go to a tapas restaurant.

Pan Fried Dates

Pan Fried Dates

The Pan Fried Dates ($5.50) are a favorite of The Wife and I, and a must get at every tapas restaurant we go to.  This variety was stuffed with almonds, wrapped in bacon and in a merlot reduction with blue cheese crumbles.  Well made and very tasty, we eventually wound up getting a second order of these.

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

Another favorite of mine were the Stuffed Piquillo Peppers ($7.50). Stuffed with a luscious blend of Goat, Feta and Cream Cheeses, these were quite good and a must get for every return visit here.

Boquerones from Barcelona Tapas & Bar

Boquerones from Barcelona Tapas & Bar

In the continuing efforts to eat shit that I would normally not eat, I ordered the Boquerones ($5.50) which were White Anchovies on a French bread slathered in a spicy aioli then topped with a balsamic reduction and some peppers.  One of the ingredients desperately needed to be taken away (my vote is for the spicy aioli), as the flavors of everything obliterated all tastes of the anchovy except for the fishy finish, which I wouldn’t think is the desired effect.

Camarones Ajillo from Barcelona Tapas & Bar

Camarones Ajillo from Barcelona Tapas & Bar

Another total miss for me were the Camarones Ajillo ($10), which is also usually on my must get list at any tapas establishment.  The shrimp, although had god flavor to the shrimp themselves, were overcooked and stringy.  The garlic butter sauce was in desperate need of acid and salt.  Usually it is done with lemon or lime or a combination of the two, and this one even proclaimed lemon on the menu but none was to be found.  Without the lemon and adequate salt, the sauce just tasted of faint garlic and blah.

Mar y Monte

Mar y Monte

The Surf and Turf Skewers, or Mar y Monte ($10) featured chorizo, shrimp and steak with a tomatillo sauce on it.  The shrimp here were much better prepared than our previous dish, although the steak portion was also suffering from the under-seasoned bug.  It was less of an issue here with the pungent chorizo and flavorful tomatillo, but just a pinch of salt would have elevated the Mar y Monte from an okay dish to a must get.

Mac and Cheese from Barcelona Tapas & Bar

Mac and Cheese from Barcelona Tapas & Bar

Albondigas

Albondigas

When you put manchego cheese, bacon fat and noodles in a bowl, you really can’t go wrong, and the Mac and Cheese ($7.50) didn’t disappoint.  The Albondigas ($5.50), however, could have used a few days vacation to loosen up and get a little more tender.  Flavor was ok, just a few notches too high on the toughness scale.  Keep in mind too that I’m a demanding prick when it comes to meatballs, and I’m sure they’d be perfectly acceptable for most, and for $5.50…why not!

As if this wasn’t enough food, we insisted that our lovely server scribble down a few more items for us to pick at.  While the food came out fast and furious during our first round of gorging, the second round was a different story.  We ordered another round of the dates and two new things; Spicy Pork Scaloppini ($8.50) and the Tilapia with Lime Juice and Capers ($6.00).

Spicy Pork Scaloppini

Spicy Pork Scaloppini

The dates came out fast, and were even better than the first round which were delicious.  We waited a while for the pork, which really, pork is usually worth any amount of wait time.  For my personal tastes, this pork wasn’t, with the seasoning heavy on the oregano and rosemary.  To me, oregano and rosemary are like pubic hair on a female; I prefer none, although just a tiny bit is fine in certain situations.  The Wife enjoyed the pork as her tolerance for oregano and rosemary is much higher than mine.  I will not speak as to her preference in pubic hair for fear of spending the rest of April sleeping on the couch.

After the long-awaited pork came out and was eaten, we still had no Tilapia.  With a marathon of Sex and the City pulling at us to leave, we gave up on the Tilapia at about the 25-30 minute mark and told them to not bother.  It wasn’t a big deal to us, and we tried to not make it a big deal, we just figured we’d part ways for the evening and give the tilapia a shot on a return visit.  The owner however took a round of drinks off our bill and personally came over to the table an apologized.

I found this to be remarkable and for it to speak volumes as to the quality of the experience the owner wants his guests to have.  He had no idea who I was (and even if he did, really…who am I?) but he was sincerely apologetic for something that was no biggie and even went the extra mile by comping us a couple drinks.  The Wife and I would have made a return visit regardless of the generous gesture, but it’s things like this that stick with you and give you hope that self-accountability really still exists in America.  If we weren’t fidgeting to see Carrie and Mr. Big run into each other all over again, as well as quite satisfied from our bountiful feast of tapas, the extended wait for the fish probably wouldn’t have even made the brutal spotlight of this post.  I almost feel guilty for the free rounds, but if there is anything I learned in college, it is to never turn down free beer.

For its great service, spot on pricing and mostly good food, I say unto you; go forth, brave the pretentious assholishness of Southern Highlands and eat at Barcelona Tapas & Bar.

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Barcelona Tapas & Bar
10690 Southern Highlands Pkwy. #100
Las Vegas, NV 89141

(702) 483-5764

http://www.BarcelonaTapas-Bar.com

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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 him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

An Open Letter to Match Restaurant: Mike's 7 Steps to Achieve Greatness

Two days after their soft opening on the 20th, Michael and I decided to check out the brand spanking new Match Restaurant in the Silverado Ranch area of town. I really liked some things about it, I really didn’t like some things about it.  I admire their attempt to present a diverse menu, yet I find it is in desperate need of focus.  I love that the prices are incredibly affordable, yet I leave desiring a higher quality food.  Match needs work, but it has a good base, and unlimited potential.

Match Restaurant

Match Restaurant

Match confused me so much, I don’t even know how to approach this post.  Fighting with myself for a couple days now on how to write this, I’ve decided to lend my unsolicited, verbose and opinionated helping hand by doing a Top 7 list (because 10 is so ordinary) of things that I think need to happen at Match for it to become one of the top late night dining destinations in town.

Respectfully submitted…

#1) Servers Need To Know the Menu Inside and Out

Sea Snails from Match

Sea Snails from Match

As you’ll see this as a recurring theme through these seven points, Match’s menu is all over the map (literally). If the menu is going to pride itself in offering not-so-common, exotic items like Sea Snails and beer from Tibet (Lhasa), the servers are REALLY going to need to know the menu inside and out to answer the inevitable parade of questions that will come along with it.  It’s going to take a good amount of work to bring everyone up to speed, but it is invaluable time spent as the servers are on the front lines of the diner’s experience.

Tibetian Beer, Avoid At All Costs

Lhasa, The Budweiser of the Himalayas

In the mean time, as the learning process is still happening, make sure the servers don’t pull answers out of their ass when they don’t know something.  A simple “I’m not sure about that, let me check with the kitchen and I’ll let you know” goes a long way in my book.

#2) Greet With Confidence

Welcome your walk-ins with confidence.  When I walked in the other night, the place was completely empty, three people sort of stared at me and instead of saying, “Welcome to Match, will there be anyone joining you tonight?” I was received with an almost sheepish, “Would you like to see a menu?”  This to me exudes a tone of “Are you sure you want to eat this shit?”  As they say; fake it till you make it (TLV’s credo)!

#3) Smell and Lighting Go A Long Way

There’s so much more to just the food for a diner to have an experience where they’ll want to keep coming back.  A successful restaurant will be pleasing to all five senses.  Two of the senses that took a dive in our first experience at Match were sight and smell.

It’s an overall dark feeling with black granite tables with charcoal pits and huge stainless steel hoods over them, an apparent throwback to the previous Japanese shabu-shabu tenant, Honmachi (thanks to TLV reader who goes by DittoToo for pointing that out), and where Match intends on using for Korean BBQ.  There needs to be some tinkering with the lighting to warm up the mood.

Also, there was a stink emanating from the men’s bathroom of backed up sewer and unfortunately spilled out to the main dining room.  This Vegas Stench is often unavoidable, but some kind of extra ventilation and partitioning of the dining room from the bathrooms will help it out.

#4) Offer Introductory Late Night Specials

These days, people need some kind of incentive to try something out.  The whole, “This place is new and you should be excited to try it out” era has been temporarily suspended with the great tightening of wallets.  The problem (and it’s in some ways a good one to have) is that the prices on the menu are already at rock bottom.  Both of our jaws hit the table when we saw how cheap the food is.  Marking down the prices from where they are at isn’t going to do much, so maybe offer something like a “Get To Know Us” Tasting Menu.  They already have tasting menus on the menu representing three of the many regions they represent (more on that later), but to get people in the door, maybe offer a three or four course tasting at around $10 – $15 that spans the regions and is specifically billed as an Introduction to Match.

I know people can just do that on their own and build their own introduction (as Michael and I did), but it’s all in the packaging and showing John Q. Public that they are getting something special that’s a value and at a limited time.

#5) Don’t Hesitate A Bump in Price For Higher Quality

Huevos Estrellados from Match

Huevos Estrellados from Match

I’ve talked about the cheap prices, and they really are cheap. So cheap in fact that they can stand a bump by a dollar or two if it means an upgrade of quality of ingredients.   The french fries, while only $3, were the factory cut Sysco-style Big-Brown-Bag-O-Frozen-Fries variety.  Meh.  They especially drug down one of my favorite Spanish dishes they offer, Huevos Estrellados, which was a mere $8.  The Huevos Estrellados could have used less fries, more chorizo and non-sweat shop eggs.  It’s good for the price, and will appeal to John Q. Public, but if the target audience is fellow food industry peeps as they get off their shifts, then I think they’ll be better served by a little bit higher quality for a little bit higher in price.

I know, I know…you’re saying, “Mike, you’re complaining that the prices are too low in this economy?!?”  I think the prices would be still dirt cheap, even with an increase if it meant better food as a result.  Tough call on this one….one I’m still wrestling with myself.

#6) Execution, Execution, Execution

Pork Belly from Match

Pork Belly from Match

Of course you always want to cook your best for any customer, but Match is really inviting the devil through the front door by billing itself as this food industry hang.  Make sure temperatures of the food are where you want them to be upon serving is a big one.  The Chinese-Spiced Pork Belly dish was billed as a “Cold” item, but it came across tepid.  Tepid + Pork doesn’t necessarily evoke good emotions in me.

Some of the dishes just flat out didn’t work.  For instance, we didn’t order it, but the chef sent out a chilled wilted spinach dish with sesame seed oil.  It was chewy and tough to swallow and the infamously powerful sesame seed oil completely dominated and stayed on the tongue for way too long.  It needs to be re-worked or scrapped entirely.

Salt and Pepper Calamari

Salt and Pepper Calamari

On all of the dishes we ordered, I felt the seasoning was very good on all of them.  The Salt and Pepper Calamari ($5) was a great example of spot on seasoning for me, and it was also masterfully fried.

#7) Focus What You Are

Match defies description.  Well, at least a description that can fit on one storefront.  Match is an Asian / European / American / Tapas / Korean BBQ / Paella / Karaoke Bar.  Yes…really.

The Menu at Match

The Menu at Match

While I love that they are attempting such a diverse menu, when you see dishes from Korea, China, Spain, Belgium, Japan, Russia and the USA (just to name a few), your head starts to spin.  The spinning process is not helped by Match’s gargantuan menu (it’s physically immense).  The items on the menu are so spread apart and grouped together in such a confusing way that it adds to the perception of an unfocused restaurant.  A smaller, tighter menu will help.

With everything from paella to Korean BBQ on the menu, it evokes a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” kind of vibe.  My opinion…axe the Korean BBQ…you don’t need it.  Find a more creative way to use the left over table hardware from your shabu-shabu predecessor or change out the tables all together, which would be my preference.   Oh, and please; no karaoke! At least offer dining space that isn’t in earshot of it.

Although the menu offers food from many different cultures, it is Asian intensive and I wish it weren’t.  It’s almost as if it is a Pan-Asian restaurant, and someone at some point wanted to throw in these other dishes.  I’d love to see more of the European influence on this menu.  If there was a place that offered a decent homemade Potato Pierogi cooked the real way with butter and onion in this town, I just might cry.  Either way, this menu can certainly use a good dose of balance in its broad diversity.  (More Spanish! The piquillo pepper is your friend!)

In Conclusion

I know these changes are quite drastic, some going against the very essence of what Match projects itself to be.  My fear is that if some of these significant changes aren’t implemented, Match isn’t going to be around to celebrate a 6 month anniversary.

Above the moral obligation of wanting to see a small business owner do well and all of his or her employees to have secure jobs, I want this place to work purely for selfish reasons, as we are always looking for good late night eats.  My suggestion is to give Match Restaurant a week or two discover itself, give it time to tighten up some loose ends and get in more of a rhythm.  That’s what I’m going to do.

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Match Restaurant
1263 E. Silverado Ranch Blvd. Suite 106
Las Vegas, NV 89183

(702) 629-4444

Follow Match Restaurant on Twitter at @MatchRestaurant

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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 him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

The Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food: Coca Chorizo from Julian Serrano

Even the iPhone can’t take a really bad picture of the beautiful food at Julian Serrano.  But, partially because half the picture is blurry and partially because no camera on Earth can truly capture how tasty the mind-blowing tapas are at Julian Serrano; behold the Coca Chorizo from Julian Serrano at Aria as our Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food.

Coca Chorizo from Julian Serrano

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Julian Serrano

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

(877) 230-2742

http://www.arialasvegas.com/dining/julian-serrano.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 him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.

The Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food: Corn Dogs from Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar

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.

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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 on Twitter at @canalasvegas

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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 him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.

First Impressions: Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar – Mike's Review

Following a media event on January 20, 2010, Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar opened its doors for the general public to see on the 21st, and Tasting Las Vegas was there to give the new South American Tapas concept a test drive on their first full day of regular business.  First impressions: It’s good. Really good.

For what was their first day fully open, there were only a few minor burrs in what was overall a very enjoyable experience.  One thing that I’m sure they are working on is that it isn’t the easiest place to find. On the 2nd floor above The Grape and next to the Blue Martini, you think it would be a great location, and it will be, but there needs to be some kind of signage to highlight that it is there as it is set back and not even noticeably visible when you reach the top of the escalator next to the Blue Martini.  I point this out now because I don’t want to see Caña suffer from what I call “First Food and Bar Syndrome” which is great food in an almost unfindable location. (a full review of First will be coming soon)

The decor is hip, warm and inviting. Sugar Cane (Caña’s namesake) is used for an interesting woven texture on the ceiling and is also used as a sweet way (get it?) to achieve space separation.  From the looks of things, there are a lot of sliding glass doors and windows which will allow the restaurant to have a refreshing open-air feel.  There is a balcony with seating over looking the center of Town Square which will no doubt be prime real estate in the warmer months.

The seats inside are fabulous, and were commented on by each of the five of us in our party.  The wide, extra cushy seats lends itself to a comfortable long graze of the delectable small plates.  The only thing prohibiting a relaxing time of drinking and eating was that the music was too loud, causing most attempts at conversation to be strained.  The music seemed to soften as the night went on though, so hopefully it was corrected on the spot.  And while we’re on the music, it was really a perfect compliment to the food. It was pretty much a musical version of the food we were about to eat: hip, modern versions of South American classic style.  Keep the music, turn down the volume knob.

Before I talk about the food and drink, there was only one more point of concern, and that was the bathroom.  It’s interesting that they have a unisex common area to wash your hands which leads to individual rooms for men and women, but what unnerved me a little bit was the very attentive Restroom Attendant.  First of all, the Restroom Attendant was a very attractive lady that first opened the door to get to the common area, and then led me one of the private toilet rooms.  As I started tinkling, I couldn’t help but think that there is some lady outside the door waiting for me to come out. Heaven forbid I should be stricken with a sudden #2 on deck!  As I opened the door to go wash my hands, she was very attentive indeed, turning on the water, pumping the soap in my hands, handing me a paper towel, turning off the faucet and then opening the door for me so I can leave.  I would never want to see someone who does their job well lose their gig, but something about that whole situation needs to be done.  If it took me over a month to fart in front of The Wife, how can I do the vile things that happen in a bathroom in front of a girl I just met?

Now that your appetites are surely piqued after that story, let’s talk about the food and booze!

I started off the night by ordering their take on Brazil’s favorite cocktail, The Ultimate Caipirinha ($9). The Ultimate Caipirinha has Leblon Cachaca (rum-ish sugarcane based spirit), Velvet Falernum (sugarcane based liqueur infused with lime, almond and clove), sugarcane and lime.  If you like sugar, booze and lime, then this is the drink for you.

Between the five of us, we ordered a sizable portion of the menu.  First to arrive to the table were the Yucca Frites ($6). We felt they needed a more traditional thicker cut to them, as they were too hard with the thinner cut.  Also the Cuban Sliders ($10) were one of the early dishes. They were good, and would be great with one little tweak that the pickle should be much thinner as it almost overpowered the slider.  It said pork on the menu, but I could have sworn the patty part of the slider was at least partially ground beef, although the seasoning and myriad of other flavors might have thrown me off.

They have a whole list of Ceviches on the menu, we ordered two of them, the Hirame ($12) and the Hamachi ($14). The fish was very fresh and as noted by Michael and agreed upon by the rest of us, perfectly cured.  I wish I could get a picture of the beautiful presentation, especially of the Hamachi, but the animals I was with dove into it before I could snap off a pic.

A side note about the presentations. While there was an obvious careful consideration as to how the food looked on the plate, a very minor observation, but I think would bump everything up to the next level.  From the dishes we ordered, it seemed like the chef was a little “paint happy,” meaning that the saucing for a few of the plates we ordered was that fast, fat brush stroke on the bottom for the main attraction to rest upon.  Keep the Soy Paint for the Hamachi, (it was beautiful) but maybe change it for something like the Avocado Crema of the Empanadas. Again, a minor observation, but I think that one extra step in innovative presentation would put the restaurant into a different league.

Speaking of the Empanadas with Avocado Crema ($10), they weren’t really Empanadas, but they were pretty damn tasty.  Instead of the typical dough that is the hallmark of an empanada, they used a super buttery puff pastry, which made the Puff Pastry Slut in me sing with glee. With maybe just a touch more of the beef filling inside, these “Empanadas” might be one of my favorite plates of food in town.

Another big hit were the Meatballs ($9). With this beautiful grayish Callampa (Spanish for mushroom) sauce and a slice of pickled jalapeño pepper on top, these were really magnificent little bites of food.

The prices for the most part were very reasonable considering the quality of the ingredients and the care that went into each dish. I might knock a dollar off the Corn Dogs ($10) which were slices of chorizo, battered and deep-fried with an habanero-mustard.  The only thing I saw that was one exit away from Outrageous Town were the Piggy Back Dates ($9) which were the standard bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed dates and goat cheese quite often found at tapas restaurants. I think $6 would hit the mark much more appropriately. They were very good, but it’s still just 5 dates wrapped in about a slice and a half’s worth of bacon.

Upon the suggestion of our magnificent server, Joy, we decided to end our night with the Banana Bread Pudding, and we tacked on an order of Churros, too. Before I tell you about how right Joy was about the Banana Bread Pudding, I really need to tell you about Joy, herself.

Ok, so it doesn’t hurt that Joy happens to be a knockout, drop dead gorgeous girl, but more importantly (no, really) I was beyond impressed with her mastery of the menu.  She knew the drinks and the food inside and out. When we would ask for a suggestion or her thoughts on a menu item, she immediately responded with detailed information about what it was that she suggested and why she suggested it. She was incredibly attentive and just a Joy to be around (because she’s NEVER heard that one before)!  I know by the time this gets posted, Caña will only be in its 2nd full day of operation, but Joy deserves a raise.  I can’t even imagine being that good on the first performance of a new show. Bravo, Joy, bravo!

The much lauded about Banana Bread Pudding ($8) was deservedly so. It was delicious, and for my money, the best thing I ate among a plethora of good eats. With the perfect balance of flavors between the banana and rum, you shouldn’t be allowed to leave the building before trying this. The Churros ($7), like how the Empanadas were not empanadas, were not churros, but they were still tasty. Twists of that same super buttery puff pastry with a cinnamon / brown sugar mix more in the style of Cinnabon than the traditional grainy goodness.  I should clarify that I can appreciate a good twist on a standard dish just as much as the next guy, but both the Empanadas and the Churros were a few clicks past a “twist” and into the realm of an entirely different dish. A delicious dish, but a different dish.

With some minor tweaks here and there, Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar can easily catapult itself to one of the premiere hot spots in town. The biggest adjustments I would make would be in some of the cocktails. I also had the Sweet Tea ($9) which was rum, black tea and sugar cane. It was way too rummy and it just tasted like booze and sugar.  They use all fresh produce and homemade syrups, but the goodness of that was regretfully overpowered by the booze. Personally, I think if you are going to go through all the trouble to use premium ingredients, let them shine and don’t bury them with rum.

All in all, it was an extremely impressive first day on the job by all involved. We’re thrilled they have late night hours posted, being open 5pm – 2am daily.  Tasting Las Vegas wishes Caña Latin Kitchen & Bar great success and highly recommends it to everyone!

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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 on Twitter at @canalasvegas

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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 him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.

The Weekly Bad Picture of Good Food: Artichoke Toasts from Firefly

We at Tasting Las Vegas often provide harsh criticisms to others, but let it be known we reserve the harshest of criticisms for ourselves.  Due to our laziness / cheapness / forgetfulness, we often will only take pictures with a trusty iPhone.  Much of the food we are so fortunate to eat is served a great injustice by the horrid, amateurish, bleak pictures we take.  Our sincerest apologies to the chef’s who cook these fine dishes as well as the plants and animals that made the ultimate sacrifice for our gluttonous pleasure.  When a food item is featured in this new series, please remember that it tasted (and probably looked) a hell of a lot better than the picture dictates.  First up: Artichoke Toasts from Firefly* (Paradise Location).

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Firefly* Tapas Kitchen & Bar

3900 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89169

(702) 369-3971

http://www.fireflylv.com

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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 him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas.