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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 - http://endoedibles.com/?p=12961

    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 - http://endoedibles.com/?p=12990

      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 - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13021

        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 - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13041

          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 - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13066

            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.

            1. Al's Donuts - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13096

              A mom n’ pop spot now dabbling in the bourgeoning cronut (or, in this case, Krossant) market Al’s Donuts has been serving Las Vegas since the 1970s and although perhaps not as well-known as Ronald’s the shop proved a very convenient stop on a Saturday morning prior to a tour of my new workplace and more real estate shopping. A rather small space with a decent selection of classics cake and yeasted donuts plus fritters, cinnamon rolls, and the aforementioned novelties my eventual order entailed a half dozen selections and taking them to enjoy with a friend the results were as mixed as the selections. Beginning first with the raised options, my pal’s preferred variety, both of us felt that the texture of Al’s were far less fluffy than necessary – likely the result of over-kneading the dough – and moving onward to my personal choices of a buttermilk bar and a tiny apple fritter the results were better, but still not on par with Ronald’s, Coco, Pink Box, or Friendly Donut House. Hoping for the ‘krossants’ to save the day I will admit that both versions featured an excellent crunch with good lamination and separation of the interior layers, but with a relative dearth of filling the flavor was largely lost once past the glaze – though the strawberry glaze was admittedly quite excellent.

              1. Rise & Shine a Steak & Egg Place - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13116

                Always on the lookout for a great local breakfast spot and already in Henderson for business reasons I decided to make my way over to “Rise & Shine, a Steak & Egg Place” largely based on the fact that anyone willing to go out on a limb and sport the website www.bestbreakfastvegas.com clearly warrants judgment; my verdict suggesting blatant false advertising. Featuring a kitschy design with floral umbrellas hanging from the ceiling and servers in their pajamas plus a menu of breakfast and lunch classics ranging from classic egg dishes to more novel options such as red velvet pancakes service was spot on despite the early morning rush and with my order placed within moments of seating coffee and water remained filled to the brim at all times. With good service and fun décor it was my hope that the food at Rise & Shine would indeed shine but perhaps because I didn’t order “Steak & Eggs” the selections I tasted were average at best, the sort of place where big portions trump high quality ingredients – the chicken crispy but largely flavorless over a hotel lobby quality waffle and the pot of bread tasting mostly like yeast, something that Log Cabin ‘syrup’ and butter did not remedy. Better in quality but still marred by low quality ingredients the French Toast would fare the best of the morning’s options but given the location and the cost I can name no less than a dozen restaurants more deserving of the ‘best breakfast Vegas’ title.

                1. Republic Kitchen & Bar - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13139

                  With two disappointing stops and plenty of food left on the table already under my belt an afternoon stop to watch some football was planned at the seemingly well praised Republic Kitchen & Bar $20 All You Can Eat “Jazz Brunch/Breakfast” – a meal featuring approximately thirty made-to-order items served in a large, brick and wood heavy bar located in Henderson. Featuring a pair of televised football games but lacking jazz, patrons, and appropriate descriptions on the menu the meal began with a single cup of acrid and luke warm coffee before I requested a fresh brew that finally arrived over forty minutes later and moving on to food choices the most consistent fact spanning the items selected was simply that of blatant misrepresentation; the Monte Cristo with ‘fresh fruit’ delivered with a Heinz Grape Jelly packet and the “Vermont Maple Syrup” also Heinz – a corn syrup bastadization of maple syrup fresh from Pittsburgh. With overcooked eggs and flavorless ham dominating earlier selections while the chicken and waffles was laughable at best it was only the two sticky buns slathered in ‘syrup’ and the surprisingly soft and delicate lemon pancakes that prevented the meal from total disaster, but even at $20 the whole experience was not one I’d recommend to anyone, ever, especially with Novecento next door.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: uhockey

                    If it wasn't for the fact that these guys own Greens and Proteins, they would have been out of business a long time ago. The $$$ from G&P obviously funds this place which is seriously inferior in food quality to what was there before....Fado's Pub.

                  2. Art of Flavors - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13163

                    Owned and operated by the same team as Viva Las Arepas and featuring the skills of Desyree Alberganti, Art of Flavors had seemingly gotten an inordinate amount of local and national press leading up to my September visit and bringing along a trio of friends including one I can only describe as an ice cream maven the small shop on Las Vegas Boulevard more than exceeded high expectations. Featuring both classic and novel flavors with all natural ingredients, no artificial colors, and a slow churning process that allows for exemplary density and mouth feel each and every sample tasted was a spot on representation of its signature ingredients, the Pear and Gorgonzola and Olive Oil Rosemary truly savory and subtly swet while the fior de latte was one of the most impressive ‘pure’ flavors I’ve ever had the opportunity to taste. Opting for 3 flavors at a mere $6 and sticking to similar flavors harkening breakfast at a great bakery my duo of cinnamon roll and bombolini were similar but distinct, the later with a subtle yeastiness and slightly sweeter than the former, while the extracted white coffee bean flavor was every bit on par with some of the best in the nation, gelato or ice cream, of which a few of us have tried more than a few.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: uhockey

                      As the Holidays near, it is worth noting that Desyree is now making Panettone in house, in three flavors - Dried fruit, Chocolate chip and Chestnut (she even turned the dried fruit into a gelato). And you can get a cup of that thick, rich hot chocolate that we remember fondly from treks through Latin America. Ideal for dipping a biscotti (no churros yet).

                    2. Carnevino - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13174

                      Having visited Carnevino once prior with old friends at lunch I was admittedly excited to return when the same group I’d dined with at Gordon Ramsay Steak the night prior invited me to join in on a meal that expected to trump the prior visit considerably. A large space with soaring ceilings, heavy woods, and smooth marble befitting both a Vegas Steakhouse and the Italian Chef/Restaurateur backing the venture it was at the bar that our evening began while a large table was cleared in the larger back room and with excellent cocktails and a superlative wine list it would not be long before we were seated, drinks in hand – the subsequent two and a half hours awash in food, cocktails, wine, stories, and laughs with servers who kept pace amicably. Beginning with appetizers and progressing through perfectly pastas, lightly prepared proteins, interesting sides, and thankfully dainty desserts with a main course of nearly 8lbs of aged super-prime beef from Adam Lang plus supple duck and a hefty piece of foie gras poached in Barolo it would be difficult to imagine any “steakhouse” putting on a better performance than what we experienced that evening and although such a meal invariably comes with a substantial tab, particularly on the Vegas Strip, this was a night of excess worthy of the expense and without a doubt a night to remember.

                      1. Border Grill (Brunch) - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13214

                        Waking late after the gluttony of Carnevino the previous evening breakfast on Sunday would feature not only the culinary stylings of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger but also new friend and fellow blogger/local gourmand Clint from biteandswitch.com at Border Grill’s all-you-can-eat Mexican brunch. Having visited the original Santa Monica location with family many years ago and coming away impressed by the food but less so by the service the style of the Mandalay Bay location was decidedly different with a large, open floorplan including al fresco dining and typically professional Las Vegas Strip service delivering selections two at a time as we progressed through 90% of the menu, most of it exemplary in quality considering the $35 price. Featuring bottomless coffee and beginning with fresh fruit and empanadas before progressing through plates both sweet and savory utilizing organic proteins and produce plus house-made jams, jellies, sauces, and creams highlights of the menu for myself included the fluffy biscuits surrounding peanut butter, jelly, bacon, jalapenos and a fried egg as well as the quesadilla and excellent shrimp and grits but all-in-all it would also be foolish to overlook the quality of the pork belly atop the crispy waffle, clever churro tots, or creamy French toast either – the only problem with these being that I had a real estate appointment and the combination of limited time and so many other choices prevented the ordering of a second round.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: uhockey

                          We loved the Border Grill Brunch so much that we went there on the Sunday and following Saturday of our week-long stay in Vegas. Delicious and the bottomless mimosas (were $5 I think now are $8) were a nice touch!

                        2. Secret Pizza - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13243

                          A clever idea and much easier to find than many would have you believe, Secret Pizza at The Cosmopolitan is one of those places that seems to get a lot of praise from all the wrong sorts of people yet curious to experience it myself and without dinner plans until 8pm I decided to stop in for a snack while shopping Crystals. A small place with a TV and a couple of pinball machines plus the slice counter down a long hall of records the restaurant was perhaps half full when I arrived and with three pizzas ready to serve my choice was simplified dramatically when a fresh Roma and Ricotta emerged from the oven as I was waiting in line. Friendly in service and low in price for a hefty slice with excellent ingredient quality I’ve heard many compare Secret to New York slice shops and while the foldable structure and gas oven production is similar I’ll simply say that anyone making such claims is a fool – most New York Slice shops are serving low quality ingredients on a subpar crust for ninety-nine cents while Secret is serving top quality sauce without unnecessary sweetness under smooth mozzarella on a crust with a good crunch, great chew, and an excellent crumb. Admittedly bummed that they were completely sold out of canolis that are, alas, pre-filled but still something I’d like to try I’ve no doubt I’ll head back for the square slice sometime soon.

                          1. American Fish - http://endoedibles.com/?p=13255

                            Having made friends with folks in the Mina group and harboring a great respect for the chef himself after many stellar visits to his restaurants in various cities my final dinner prior to becoming an official resident of Las Vegas saw me seated at Aria’s American Fish for a self-selected tasting menu based on classics and seasonal specialties, the newly reorganized kitchen working in full view and servers happy to engage in discussions of sourcing, preparation, and approach. A truly beautiful restaurant, tucked away from the Casino in in typical Mina fashion (Michael Mina Bellagio, Stripsteak, Pub 1842, etc,) I was seated in a corner booth and greeted quickly with a glass of champagne and electing for a cocktail to go with dinner my meal began promptly with Chef Mina’s classic corn bread in a muffin form and doing my best to temper eating these by the dozen I still managed to order a second basket as I progressed through six savory courses and two rounds of dessert inclusive of amuses and palate cleansers, plus sides paired with my final savory. Focused squarely on the sea with fish generally out of the waters no more than 24 hours each and every plate that arrived was prepared to a lightly cooked exterior and delicate rare internal temperature, the tender scallop balancing a creamy piece of foie gras and the shrimp and grits particularly impressive while the lion fish was flaky and light, beautifully complimented by the brine of the mussel chowder and smoky pork. Always happy to overindulge on dessert, even though the hush puppies were like sweet and savory crawdad doughnuts, the team at American Fish continued the trend of very impressive sweets that I’ve seen from Baltimore to Detroit to Vegas and San Jose with a quartet of options where doughnuts and bread pudding both shined and cheesecake wowed; the lightness of the mascarpone something I generally don’t anticipate in the dish but truly impressive in the setting of light vanilla cream and reduced berries.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: uhockey

                              Lovely writeup, hockey. Can I ask you to compare American Fish to Rm Seafood?

                              1. re: rp1760

                                Have not been to RM Seafood, so I cannot compare - they look to be similar dining experiences with AF perhaps being a bit more 'trendy' while RM seems to focus more on the upscale/sustainability concepts. For my dollar, I go to Mina, if only because they know me and I love their desserts.


                                1. re: uhockey

                                  Thank you for the response. I remember from previous posts that you enjoy your desserts. And I seem to recollect that you are also run, as a hobby? So that you can enjoy, without any guilt, those amazing meals you imbibe in and then openly share with us. Thank you for all your posts. It seems that you you perform your reviews because you love it, but you should get recognition for a job so very well done!

                                  1. re: rp1760

                                    Well thank you. :-) Hope you dine very well here in Vegas.

                            2. I'm very excited about your move to Las Vegas, for admittedly selfish reasons, and not just because I hope to share many meals with you in the future. I think it would great to get more locals discussing restaurants on this board, so that the content isn't dominated by the understandable posts about which of two or three upscale Strip restaurants a tourist should visit or which buffet is best.

                              I've never even heard of the two Henderson breakfast places you discussed, but it's always great to read about anything new in the Valley, even if it's just new to me.

                              It's been about a month since my last trip to Las Vegas, and my many visits to Art of Flavors remain a major highlight. Desyree's flavors are always subtle and clean. My mind knows that there is fat in the gelato, but my body feels light and happy.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Dave Feldman

                                Thanks for the comments Dave, and I look forward to more meals with you as well. I also agree that the strip focus is unfortunate but understandable. I hope to do what I can not only to stimulate conversation but also to perhaps give some local chefs a bit more exposure - for instance, an upcoming post will discuss Born and Raised; a 'gastropub' sports bar that chimes in at 1/2 the price of Strip spots with food and service both superior.

                                Speaking to Art of Flavors - I have family in town this week; between it and Sweets Raku we're all set for dessert.