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Dec 4, 2013 06:46 PM

Las Vegas, the first of many reports by uhockey, late September 2013

Now living and dining frequently in Las Vegas I figure I should begin to provide some feedback on the places I've been, on strip and off, pricey and cheap. As always, verbiage will be transcribed direct from the blog while photos and a complete listing of plates experienced can be found there.

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  1. Coco Donuts -

    A new spot in the bourgeoning Las Vegas doughnut scene I originally took notice of Coco Donuts on my interview trip a month prior but with the shop not yet open I followed their development closely, happily seeing them not only open their doors a few days prior to my house-hunting trip but also receiving good word of mouth for an old-school menu gussied up with the fashionable cronut. Featuring friendly service and owners more than happy to discuss their craft plus a pre-order system that guarantees one can arrive to truly fresh doughnuts it was just after 7:00am on a Friday when I entered the store and having used the aforementioned system my order was ready to go along with a complimentary yeasted donut with sprinkles and three donut holes piping hot from the fryer. Using oldworld recipes for their cake donuts my first tastes were the buttermilk bar and the Strawberry old fashioned and with both featuring a dense crumb and glaze that is surprisingly subtle I was excited to next see what the fritter had to offer – a great exterior crunch and supple center, though somewhat sparse in apples. With the raised donut very traditional with light yeasty notes and the blueberry far more naturally flavored than most as I proceeded to the finale I will simply say that although these ladies may not have invented the cronut they have perfected it with crispy layers shattering to the tooth and a light, airy interior far superior to those at Dominique Ansel without the two hour wait, at 3/5 the price, and in no less than 18 varieties if you order in advance.

    1. Sambalatte Torrefazione -

      Located in Boca Park and representing one of the best artisan coffee shops in a city where such places are only now beginning to emerge Sambalatte was self-selected as an ideal meeting place with my Real Estate Agent early Friday morning, a substantial departure from his suggestion of the Starbucks just down the street but one that has since ‘changed his whole approach’ to coffee (and given me a great place to relax, drink good coffee, and enjoy the free wi-fi.) Featuring a large, open floor plan with both patio seating and a loft filled with books, lounge chairs, and a communal table plus an impressive selection of scratch pastries and house-roasted coffees predominantly hailing from Central and South America ordering decisions were placed squarely in my hands, the subsequent 90 minutes covering a good variety of cakes, cookies, scones, muffins, and Viennoiserie plus the shop’s oft raved Nutella latte which is every bit as good as the rumors. Speaking to the quality of the pastry much of what we tasted at Sambalatte was well made save for an almond croissant literally oozing with frangipane and a caramel macaron that had clearly been refrigerated, but taking into account the price none were truly ‘rave worthy’ save for the blueberry riddled scone and complex Craquant de Cuba which managed a delicate balance of decadent and dainty; each layer presenting something new and the sum far greater than sum of its parts.

      1. Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen -

        Sharing a city with one of the most highly acclaimed Thai restaurants in the United States cannot be easy but with Lotus of Siam’s largely traditional menu routinely garnering hour-plus waits for both lunch and dinner it could also be said that Las Vegas is an ideal locale for something small, intimate, and innovative – a description defined by Chef Nittaya Parawong and her Secret Kitchen. Featuring a style described as “Thai Tapas” alongside traditional curries and noodles with each dish made by Nittaya herself and served by friendly Taiwanese servers in a modern yet elegant space a meal at Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen is a relaxed and refined affair beginning with complimentary flavored water and although the menu featured no less than a dozen items I’d have liked to try, the decision was made to start with a variety of tapas, appetizer, and curry plus dessert – each item prepared to order, ample in portion, and served with impeccable pacing. Intentionally incorporating fish, vegetable, and meat before progressing to dessert and focusing on the more innovative options both the crispy fish cakes and the tender duck breast would prove delicious and well prepared with light sweetness acting to temper the heat and moving on to the “famous” salad I really have no idea how the chef manages to produce a batter so light and a flavor so vegetal but whatever the method it should be embraced, the dish one of the best things I’ve eaten at a Thai restaurant and without a doubt the most innovative ‘salad’ I’ve had in years. Moving on to the dessert menu there was never really a question as to what I would order and with tender pineapple pudding rife with coconut milk custard topped off with both ice cream and caramel of the same I really cannot think of a better ‘Thai’ dessert, traditional or not, nor a better thing ever done with a coconut.

        1. Sweets Raku -

          A firm believer in Ernestine Ulmer’s quote that “Life is uncertain, Eat dessert first” and more than aware that Vegas darling Aburiya Raku had recently opened the 3pm-12am desserts only location in the shopping center Mecca on West Spring Mountain it was with a bit of surprise that I arrived at Sweets Raku at 5pm to find myself the only restaurant’s only patron – a feeling that lingered as I sat down at the small counter and one that bloomed into amazement as the evening progressed. Small and intimate despite the brilliant white backdrop and with excellent service that is formal yet friendly the basic format of Sweets Raku is that of a three course dessert tasting with a few supplemental savories and after ordering the Sakurambo suggested by my server the evening proceeded with the clever candy menu paired with rich raspberry sauce before proceeding to palate cleanser of light strawberry sorbet amidst refreshing mint gelatin and then a supplementary course of creamy duck liver brilliantly paired with items sweet, savory, and acidic plus buttery laminated pastry made to order in the open kitchen. Progressing next to the main course, one of five selections on a frequently changing menu, I can only say that if a picture is worth a thousand words then the combination of presentation and flavor displayed by “Ringo” was exponentially greater, the candy apples hand-blown before me and piped with apple mousse resting besides a perfect apple ladder and creamy honey ice cream made in house. A beautiful night already in motion long before heading to dinner with friends it will not be long before I return to Sweets Raku and next time it will likely be without plans for afterward so that I can further explore the menu, or at least linger with coffee to accompany the sizable molten chocolate ‘mignardise.’

          1. Gordon Ramsay Steak -

            Admittedly not a ‘steakhouse’ guy nor particularly fond of ‘celebrity chef’ entrepreneurs who loosely oversea their restaurants it was with cautious optimism based on palates I trust that I recommended Gordon Ramsay Steak at The Paris Casino to a group of friends and colleagues visiting for The Olympia and with a menu featuring more than a few of my favorite things I have to confess that aside from some oddities in the restaurant’s décor and the costumed hostesses both the food and the experience exceeded all expectations. A large space, both as boisterous and as brash as the chef from which it is derived, our party of six found ourselves in the more formal of the upstairs dining rooms and with a server not just capable but happy to trade jokes with us as the night went on one might say that we ate and drank too much, but with three courses each plus a quintet of shared sides plus a few plates of the complimentary bread I’d suggest we ordered just right – each of the restaurant’s signature items making an appearance and all well deserving of the substantial praise. From supple foie gras and one of the more impressive takes on pork belly onward to perfect Beef Wellington and gamy lamb accompanied by rich shepherd’s pie each and every savory to land on the table was well conceptualized and perfectly prepared to medium or rare and with coffees and cocktails equally well-crafted nothing less was expected as dessert, the sticky toffee pudding perhaps the best dessert currently served in Sin City and reason enough for anyone to at least pull up a seat at the bar downstairs.