Trip report: a fish lover's perspective
I just made a short trip to Las Vegas to catch up with my cousin from Vancouver. While he is a die-hard meat eater, I am 90% pescetarian. We managed to share quite a few meals together and greatly enjoyed the company, without sharing much food :-)
Raku: This is the first time I am in Las Vegas with a car. I always wanted to eat at Raku, and dragged my cousin there on our first evening in Vegas. I wanted to start with sashimi, but was informed that I can get one of the daily special whole fish prepared 2-ways: half sashimi and half grilled. I chose that route and ordered an opal-eye from southern Japan. It was a small white fish, and had the texture between a snapper and bream, really nice. The next comes the half-and-half homemade tofu. It is a great hit, and I preferred it to Napa Morimoto’s version of tofu. Now that foie gras is banned in California, I am happy to get the satisfaction in Las Vegas. We debated as Raku has multiple preparations, and decided on the robata grilled version to share with my cousin. It was excellent and we both liked it. To round it up, I added a couple of skewers of vegetables (asparagus and mushroom), both nicely done. Meanwhile my cousin was having a lot of fun with different parts of kobe beef, and stole a few bites of tofu from me. We both agreed it is worth renting a car just to eat here.
Chada: In addition to Raku, we took the advantage of the car to eat at the new Thai place off strip in the early evening, this time dragged by my cousin. I never liked Thai food, even though I love the neighboring cuisines from China, Vietnam, Burma and India. This is the first time I enjoyed Thai food. The restaurant is still working on the license, but has a nice tea selection. I had 3 dishes to myself: the Shitake and Shimeji mushroom, lettuce wrap with crab, and sea bass tod krueng, all very tasty and balanced. Although it is marketed as small plates, the portion is quite generous.
RM Seafood: One night we decided to dine solo at different restaurants. You can only keep my cousin from a steak house for so long. While he eats at Mina’s Strip Steak, I went to Moonen’s RM downstairs. I started with a sample plate of 6 mixed oysters, 3 from west coast and 3 from east coast. They are carefully selected to provide a nice contrast of different characteristics. It was followed by one of the best composed fish dishes I ever had: Turbot with spaetzle in mustard sauce. As much as I like the food, the service is rather amateurish, albeit friendly. Upon seated, I was given a wine menu but not food menu. Only when the server turned up to take the order, she realized and remedied it immediately. However the situation was repeated for the table next to me a little later. Another issue is wine service. I has a crispy California Albarino with my oyster. It was pretty much gone when the turbot arrived but I was not asked for another wine. I had a bite of the fish and it begs for a nice burgundy. It took a while for me to make eye contact with the server to order a Chablis. The wine arrived when my fish is 50% finished, and it was too cold for my taste. It was actually a very good wine and I enjoyed it later after it warmed up to a nice temperature, but my fish has long gone by then. While I understand this is the more informal (although quite expensive) cousin of his upstairs fine dining room, I expect the staff to be better trained and not all white wines are stored in ice code condition.
Scarpetta: Scott Conrad now has restaurants on both coasts, but not in San Francisco nor Vancouver. For our final evening in Vegas, we took the opportunity to taste some of his signature dishes: polenta, foie gras ravioli, and spaghetti. The pasta dishes are very satisfying, and neither of us had room for secondi. Instead we shared a nice cheese plate to end the meal. For a hotel restaurant, it is quite intimate, a contrast to its neighbors Jaleo and Comme Ca that we walked by. If Chef Conrad expands his empire to San Francisco and maintains the same quality, I will be very happy.
Overall we really enjoyed the trip. I hope my cousin can write a report some day from the meat lover’s perspective.