Trip Report - Julian Serrano, Kabuto, Milos, Michael Mina, China Poblano, Scarpetta, LOS, Bartolotta, and Beijing Noodle #9
A few quick notes from our latest trip:
Julian Serrano - I was a bit less enthused by this place this time around. The white ceviche was monotonous and lacking some kind of contrasting texture/flavor element, the fresh calamari was skimpy and the caramelized onions provided an odd contrast, and the albondigas, black rice with shellfish, and stuffed peppers were solid but unexciting. The only thing that really elevated this meal was a final splurge on a plate of Pata Negra ham and some interesting and hard to find sherries. I remain impressed with the wine list, but I'm not sure I would return for a full meal.
Kabuto - the highlight of the trip for me. I found the nigiri to be superior to anything I've had at Yasuda in NYC (including being served by Yasuda-san himself), and the overall experience was just about perfect. The Omakase menu for two with a full bottle of sake and some pricey extras we added on at the end came to around $300, which is really a bargain for this kind of meal. All of the buzz surrounding this place is well deserved.
Milos - the famous $20.12 lunch again. The lavraki was even better than I remembered from last time, but I would advice against ordering the crab cake - it is tiny, really nothing special, and certainly doesn't justify the $10 supplement. Still one of the best deals in town.
Michael Mina - being former New Yorkers/current New Mexicans, Michael Mina has never really been on our radar screen, but we decided to try his LV flagship after reading some recent praise on the eatinglv.com site. We went for the signature tasting menu, which had some ups and downs - my wife wasn't crazy about the caviar parfait (I believe she thought the potato layer overwhelmed some of the other ingredients), and the creative preparation and unusual ingredients in my tuna tartare didn't quite overcome the inherent blandness of the tuna. The lobster pot pie deserves most of it's acclaim, although I had a few nits with the execution (slightly underdone vegetables and incongruous green beans). The Wagyu beef dish was appropriately tiny given how rich everything else was, and while the beef was excellent the accompaniments didn't quite make sense. Probably not fair to evaluate dessert given how full we were at that point. I have to give special praise to our sommelier, who handled the two bottles of wine we brought extremely graciously. Good overall, and I would consider returning to sample the a la carte menu.
China Poblano - similar to our previous visit - six tacos, two orders of dim sum, three beers, $100. We preferred the lengua and barbacoa tacos to the cochinita, and especially enjoyed the sui mai beef, which had some interested creative touches (dusted with lime zest!). Next time around I'd cut back on the tacos and try one of the more original dishes on the menu.
Scarpetta - two very excellent pastas (duck and foie gras agnolotti and the famous spaghetti with tomato and basil) followed by two pretty mediocre veal chops (cooked well beyond the "pink all the way through" promised by our waiter and marred by an unnecessary bread crumb coating). The pastas were served in very generous portions, making it easy to share, so I would consider returning here and constructing our own tasting menu of three pasta dishes with maybe one antipasti course to start, but after that veal chop I'm not too excited about the entrees.
LOS - I'm not sure what happened here, but to start off we ordered the green papaya salad and the charbroiled prawns with fresh chili, garlic and lime sauce and specified a medium heat level (which is usually a little tame for me but a better fit with my wife's palate). The green papaya salad was OK, but the prawns literally blew the tops of our heads off! My wife ate one and spent the next half hour trying to revive her palate. I ate the rest of the dish and actually loved it, but I have never experienced such an endorphin high from chilis in my entire life. Either something got crossed up in the kitchen or this preparation is inherently hot and can't really be scaled back to a more modest heat level. I hardly remember the rest of the meal (nam prik noom and khao soi short ribs).
Bartolotta - we frequently visit in the winter, so it was a special treat to be able to sit in one of the cabanas facing the outdoor lagoon. This is a truly remarkable setting, and although they require a certain minimum spend to reserve a cabana it's not a difficult number to hit given the prices here. We had our usual meal of two antipasti (mixed fried seafood and sauteed clams), two pastas (eggplant/scorpion fish and a very delicately flavored shrimp pasta), and a whole fish, and although everything was brilliant as usual I am starting to rethink the whole fish - I try to ignore the bill here, but it's really getting expensive (they tell you to expect $75/person), and the actual fish on the plate (ignoring all the other trappings) probably wasn't quite as good as the lavraki at Milos. Bartolotta will always be part of our itinerary but it may be time to tinker with our ordering strategy.
Beijing Noodle #9 - we ended up here by accident in the course of trying to find Rao's (which was closed anyway), and while the service remains a bit haughty and chaotic I liked the food a little better this time. Their soup dumplings are different than the rendition I'm accustomed to (all pork rather than a pork/shellfish mixture), but still quite good, and the hand stretched noodles with tomato and egg and the five spiced beef shank were both excellent. I would return with a bigger appetite and sample a wider range of the menu.
On a slightly off topic note, I have to acknowledge the talent and generosity of the bartenders at the Cosmopolitan - they're not consistently great (given the scope of the operation they couldn't possibly be), but the good ones are churning out bona fide hand crafted cocktails, and being comped with drinks that good while playing $.25 video poker is a unique and wonderful experience. Looking forward to our next visit in January!
re: Dave Feldman
I'm not an expert on Mediterranean fish, but I believe scorpion fish is one of the species considered to be essential to the creation of an authentic bouillabaise (and frequently cited as one of the reasons you can't accurately recreate bouillabaise in the US). They are also exceptionally ugly - they had one in the glass case they wheel around at Bartolotta. Do a Google image search and you'll get an idea. I wouldn't be surprised if they are related to the smaller aquarium fish, since there seems to be a bit of a family resemblance.