Trip report June 12-16, Part I
Sorry for the delay in posting. Thanks to the wonderful folks who provided me with insight and last minute information as we rushed to our "appointments." Now, back in the real world of making mac and cheese, going to work and counting calories, it's almost painful to write this, but I will do my best.
We went straight from the airport to the Windmill location of Bachi Burger. We were really, truly hungry and our first few bites of burger were absolutely sublime. My husband's Miyagi-san, in particular, had the most perfectly fried onion ring whose crunch contrasted with the beef and various ingredients and sauces. But after a few minutes, my husband said, It's just too rich - and that really encapsulated the burgers. My Ronin burger had a myriad of truly lux and rich ingredients -beef, fried egg, caramelized onions, two sauces (miso and a yuzu aoli, coleslaw - that none of them really could shine. The truffle fries were good. I'd never tried banana ketchup and liked it; husband liked the aioli it was meant to go with. Pickles were also a fun starter with six different kinds including whole garlic cloves and what I believe was burdock (very yum). I'd definitely go back, probably pick (maybe customize) a burger to share, and get some of the bao buns for variety. Still, a fun place the likes of which we don't have on the East Coast.
Our dinner that evening was at The Barrymore. Actually, I'd hoped we'd go for happy hour half price apps, but that didn't work out, so we kept our 7pm reservations. We liked getting off the Strip and going to a good to very good steakhouse without paying exorbitant strip prices. The octopus starter was really nice - we liked that the patatas bravas, which obviously stand alone as a dish (we have Jaleo here in DC and these were as good as theirs) really complemented and augmented the octopus in texture and in flavor. I had a kale salad - good - with bites of my husbands rib eye - great - and a side of creamed corn with lobster - not so good; the flavor was great when hot, but as I searched in vain for pieces of lobster, the cream of the corn also started to congeal, and it really wasn't all that tasty after the first few bites. And for $13 I expect at least a *little* lobster. My husband's ribeye was good but fatty, as I suppose that cut tends to be. We skipped dessert but enjoyed the free macarons. The atmosphere is fun, retro, cozy for a steakhouse. It would be great for a cheaper alternative to an on-the-strip bachelor party or group dinner. I'd go back for half price apps - the patio is quite cute, and the view of the parking lot effectively blocked - but probably not for dinner.
We had a virtuous breakfast in anticipation of LOS, where we showed up around noon to a half empty dining room that was packed when we left. Inevitably, starting with the nam kao tod leaves you with little direction to go but down. It is just so good. It's just so flavorful! As we were finishing it we were already plotting to get an order to go. We also got the green chili dip, which we'd never gotten before, and enjoyed it quite a lot.
Here's where things got hairy. We had ordered things at a 4 spice level, and when we ordered our main course - after a LOT of debate, sea bass on drunken noodles, and crispy duck on chili mint leaves - he asked us what level of spice. We said, 5 - 4 had been tolerable and we really like spicy spicy food, especially since we rarely have it at home because of our toddler eaters. In anticipation of the spiciness, and because the list is so celebrated, I got a glass of Riesling, the JJ Plum Kabinett. I don't normally care for Rieslings though admittedly have drunk them indiscriminately; the wine was really, really lovely and balanced, and a powerhouse when eaten with the few remaining bites of the green chile dip. I savored enjoying the rest of it with the main courses.
When they arrived, the sea bass was truly delicious - and heatless. I could have easily served it to my kids. I'd never had any kind of fish on drunken noodles, and the frying and the flavors were brilliant, but the lack of heat was breathtaking, and not in the good way that spicy food is. We debated with each other: did he not hear us? Didn't we clearly say, did we get a four for the appetizers? Because we'd like it a little spicier. Did he not believe us because of our extreme whiteness and obvious tourist-ness? By the time we realized it, we were halfway through the dish and the waiter was so hard to track down, we didn't feel it worthwhile to send it back. The duck was equally unspicy. We were underwhelmed with it. The duck was actually a little mealy-tasting in some parts. The sauce was probably the wrong choice (I KNOW that Dave Feldman and others sang the praises of the cognac sauce but it just sounded so rich for a warm day.) I found it was improved when I really pressed it into the sauce to saturate it with flavor. It wasn't terrible, but not anything I'd ever order again, even at appropriate heat levels. The sea bass I'd eat either way - it was still really delicious - but my lovely mid-day Riesling indulgence was wasted on the unspicy food.
Bonus points to the waiter for being honest with us - when we attempted to order the nam kao tod to go and asked if it would be good later, he told us it truly wouldn't, that it would be soggy by then (which is when it dawned on me that part of the reason it's so good is that it's so fried). We had loved the idea of eating it late night with a cold beer.
My verdict on LOS after this second trip: we probably will go whenever we are in Vegas when we have a rental car; but in a lot of ways, it's only a truly special experience if you are a local, who can pop in once a week; or if you have a large enough party to appreciate the breadth of dishes offered. If they make a mistake (kind of a big one in our case, I'd say) with one or two of your few dishes, it's harder to appreciate the restaurant as special. I've now done my research into nao k t and seeing that it's offered in a Laotian restaurant and Northern Virginia and sometimes at the esteemed Little Serow, which we haven't visited yet, I am somewhat less saddenned not to live in the same town as LOS.
That evening: Raku. Certainly one of the highlights of the trips with one or two special standouts. We loved the cold appetizers: the creamy tofu was truly game-changing, especially for someone like my husband who has only despised tofu his whole life. I had done a bit too much reading for my own good and all the talk about its textural similarity to burrata had me jonesing, without realizing it, for actual burrata, so that I was slightly let down by the first bite or two. But we loved the element of adding ingredients, especially the green tea salt, and then the green onions, bonito and soy sauce. I loved also getting that level of direction from the wait staff (basically, direction to do it yourself and mix it up). I also loved the sparse but warm elements on the table - the four condiment jars lined up just so with information beneath the jars; the soy sauce canter that let out just a drop or two at a time (where can I get that for my house!) Really special and different from the izakayas we've tried here.
The kampachi was my favorite of the night, one of my favorite bites of the trip. I can't really describe it - so fresh that it's sweet, creamy and pristine - I could have eaten it steadily for an hour in between sips of beer. I could have eaten nothing else. Also from the specials, the corn cob with mashed potato center - very good. More visually alluring than delicious if you were to measure the two against each other, but also very good.
From the grill we had the iberico pork: I broke my rule of no pork to try a chunk (when in Vegas!) It was scrumptious. Husband loved both but preferred the steak with Wagyu, was was very good but less primal and juicy than the pork. We got a whole eggplant, which I enjoyed, husband didn't care for; I liked it loaded with bonito shavings. While I hadn't loved them on the tofu, I came to enjoy their chewy, almost Parmesan-like flavor.
I could be forgetting something - I know we decided against the green tea soba because it was more than we could eat (we were still pretty full from LOS lunch). It was all excellent. We will definitely, for sure, return again next time.
Next up: poke lunch, appetizer crawl, Le Cirque and what I did for love (hint: sandwiches.)
I'm sorry that LOS was a little disappointing this time. It's hard to tell whether the problem lay in the kitchen or with the waiter. It has happened to me a couple of times in more than 100 dishes.
I'm curious how the nam kao tod compares in the DC area. I've had the dish at perhaps five different places, and have yet to try one that compares, particularly on texture.
We ate at LOS for the first time earlier this year. Some friends of ours who like spicy food told us they had eaten there and ordered a spice level 7. We also love spicy food, but that seemed a little too scary for us so we ordered a level 5. We found the food to have only a little spice, so we asked the waiter what level spice we actually got, and he told us it was a 3. I think between your experience and ours that they might automatically dial down people's request so you don't get something you can't eat. They probably don't do that if they know you, but visitors from out of town may be automatically down-graded.
I was VERY impressed initially when my friends told me they had a level 7...but now I assume their level was dialed down a bit as well.
Maybe I have cast iron tastebuds but I am perfectly comfortable ordering a spice level of 10 (sometimes coupled with an emphatic "yes, really") these days - levels like 7 and lower seem to have become Americanized