First Saturday of 2014 - Bagels, Donuts, Pizza, Cupcakes, and Wo Fat
The Bagel Café - http://endoedibles.com/?p=15564
Failing to understand North America’s fascination with the bagel despite repeated attempts ranging from New York to Montreal it was admittedly with little surprise that I’d not heard of The Bagel Café prior to its mention in a conversation about local pastry but with a convenient location and breakfast menu loaded with personal favorites I knew it would not be long before gave Savvas Andrews’ New York styled shop a chance to shine. A part of the local community since 1995, with a bakery plus deli up front and full service kitchen behind, it was just prior to the restaurant’s 7am opening that I arrived and with a small line of regulars already awaiting entry it was not long before we were ushered in – many heading straight for their bagels and pastries to-go while the rest found a seat amidst friendly, if not overly attentive service that often left coffee empty and empty plates to pile. A sizable menu with knishes, latkes, and matzo brei that will warrant a return it was with a bagel that my meal began and opting for a selection sliced and toasted I’ll simply reference my statement above and say that for once “I got it;” a light crunch over supple center pairing light eggy tones with fresh blueberries and only improved by rich housemade cream cheese. Moving from good to better, both the enormous pecan roll as well as eggy house baked challah were beautifully presented after a quick treatment on the buttered griddle and although I’d have preferred to see the French Toast offered with pure maple syrup (even if at an additional charge) this is a small quibble for what may be the best simple or ‘traditional’ French Toast I’ve had in recent memory, particularly with a portion big enough to share. Last but not least, a limited sampling of the baked goods yielded a quintet of toothsome rugulah – all textbook – plus a final surprise I’ve not seen in ages; a rich half-pound slab of traditional Vanilla and Cinnamon Bread Pudding with the day-old Challah soaked in sweet milk overlying a near-savory custard base strewn with raisins, each layer delicious on its own but combining to form something wholly satisfying both cold at the counter and all the more so when warmed up later that evening.
Real Donuts / Sunrise Too Donuts / Donut Hut - http://endoedibles.com/?p=15649
Having arranged various “foodcrawls” in the past it was with admitted enthusiasm that I entered Real Donuts to gather provisions for Las Vegas’ first (known) donut crawl and with several glistening varieties fresh from the fryer only two challenges arose, the first limiting my order to a dozen and the second delivering the fried dough to the party without sneaking a bite. A small, clean shop with excellent service and a dozen donuts only $10 after tax and a tip it was up against three other doughnutteries that Real would find itself matched and although the occasional contender from Sunrise Too, Master Donuts, or Donut Hut shined it was Real Donuts that proved most consistent across the board. Featuring crispy fritters rife with fruit and low in oil, a textbook old-fashioned sour cream that literally melts on the tongue, and both yeasted and cake options on par with the city’s best it would truly be hard to name a bad one in the bunch – a task I’ll simply discard and suggest futile as I think back on the Blueberry Fritter, a 95 cent daily special I’d suggest worthy of ‘destination’ status.
Sunrise Too Donuts
Not personally visited but part of the first official Las Vegas Donut Crawl, Sunrise Too would prove to be the mixed bag of the group, a series of valleys and peaks mirroring the local landscape and defined by my two favorite fried treats, the Apple Fritter and the Buttermilk Bar. Beginning first with the fritter it can only be said that this was perhaps the worst I’ve ever found – the texture not only far too oily but nearly inedible with grease I’d classify near-rancid…the sort of thing that could turn a stomach on the pastry forever and such a far cry from the rest of the selections that I wonder if we were peddled a leftover, particularly as the yeasted options were actually quite light; the rise excellent and the texture soft but not ‘chewy’ – a fact highlighted by the juxtaposition of the crumbled cinnamon on the crumb option. Amongst other disappointments I personally found Sunrise’s Bavarian cloyingly sweet and decidedly artificial tasting compared to both Real and Donut Hut, but again finding redemption it was Sunrise’s Buttermilk Bar that proved my favorite item of the tasting, the archetype version loaded with tangy notes beneath sweet glaze and an ethereal texture with obvious visual separation of the cake layer and buttermilk layer on hemisection, a sort of fried coffee cake that makes me want to go back for more of their cake selections…no matter how bad the fritter.
The last of the novel contenders on the first Las Vegas Donut Crawl, Donut Hut would prove to be a middle-of-the-pack sort of experience with a few definite “go to” options starring amongst an otherwise mundane cast of dry cake donuts and chewy yeasted selections bolstered by quality glazes. Focusing on what worked as nothing was particularly ‘bad’ the only two things one truly needs to know here are the words Blueberry Cake and (on the weekend only) Cruller, the former on par with the warm version for which folks wait hours at Orange County’s “M +M” and the later a truly remarkable rendition of something infrequently seen and even less frequently well-made, in this case a perfect fried ring of pate a choux with a custard soft center beneath gentle crunch more than worth getting out of bed early for.
Wo Fat - http://endoedibles.com/?p=15659
Having heard things both interesting and exciting about Wo Fat and its Hawaiian influenced Chinese cuisine but not yet able to coax a large enough group to make the visit worthwhile it was with great fortune that following donuts I not only managed to gather five co-diners to experience the small East side restaurant, but that two of the folks involved were already familiar with not only Wo Fat from a prior visit, but also the restaurant’s style from their years in Hawaii. Located in a less than ideal location and not particularly attractive from the outside or within it should suffice to say that a visit to Wo Fat is based more on the food than the ambiance but with service friendly and efficient throughout the off-hour it was with tea and water that the meal began, soon to be followed by a half dozen menu selections – most novel, all well prepared, and a few truly outstanding. Sampling far and wide with suggestions from everyone including our server it was with plethoric portion that each dish arrived and with both the pork and shrimp stuffed kau gee as well as the beef chow funn excellent while cake noodles and shrimp were commendable if not memorable it was in the pork and the duck that the meal truly shined – the former a complex sort of mild char sui with more aromatics and less sugar proving irresistible on soft bao while the later was simply divine, a tender confit of duck beneath crackling almond paste that added just a touch of sweetness for a mere $9.95.
Pop Up Pizza - http://endoedibles.com/?p=15663
While New Yorkers or the New York-centric seemingly love to tout the excellence of the “slice,” it can only be said that I don’t get it – a greasy pile of low quality pepperoni on overly sweetened sauce topped with cheap cheese supported by a foldable, dull crust simply is not my idea of pizza and no matter how many try to defend their favorite slice shops or memories of slurping down a 99 cent hunger stop-gap at 2am the fact of the matter is that most of it is no better than Sbarro…a few exceptions noted…and one of them right here in Las Vegas. Dubbed “Pop-Up Pizza” by the folks at downtown’s Plaza hotel and located just off the gaming floor Pop-Up is not a pop up in any true sense of the word, but rather a traditional appearing joint with white tiles, limited seating, and gas ovens behind a selection of pre-made and fresh pies ready to be fired (or refired) plus a few bonus items and with expedited but friendly service it provides a veritable bargain; my total bill coming to $9.47 before tip and delivered to my hands in less than five minutes. Beginning first with the ‘extras,’ both the supple garlic knot and delicate brioche-style donuts with truly impressive house made sweet cream would prove to be quite impressive at 50 cents each and moving on to the pizza itself I’ll simply offer a ‘bravo’ to the persons in charge of sourcing and the team arranging the pies as each component came together beautifully – the sauce tangy but not sweet, the garlic aromatic but not overwhelming the fresh spinach, and the cheese of a whole-milk variety full of flavor and not with oil while the crust, still foldable, had good crunch but ample chew neither adding or detracting from the composition. Still not even remotely close to the quality of many artisan pies but a step in the right direction, particularly for the slice-shop genre, and offering delivery throughout Sin City I still can’t say I ‘get it’ but for those looking for an improved take on the nostalgia of childhood, or drunken nights in Manhattan, this is about as good as it gets.
Cupkates by Kate - http://endoedibles.com/?p=15668
Never ashamed to admit my fondness for cupcakes as a sort of dessert sampler or ‘tasting menu’ and happy to see the ‘fad’ still going strong despite yearly talk of their imminent demise it was with high hopes that I stopped by cutesy Cupkates by Kate at Tivoli Village late Saturday evening only to be met with resounding disappointment on all fronts. Obviously not the shop’s target audience as I’m neither female nor five and certainly not content to be condescended to by the tiny male attendant who refused to sell me a half dozen – one of each flavor – because they only had two dozen left in the store it was begrudgingly that the little fella even broke conversation with another mall employee to accept a Yelp! check-in lowering the $12 dozen to $10, and taking the small plastic clamshell downstairs to enjoy the frustration continued with each bland bite…the saving grace an impressive “sticky fingers” harkening a moist tres leches cake, though certainly not on par with that at Drago Sisters. First taking into account the obscure location plus a layout suggesting a clothing boutique rather than a bakery and then tacking on limited selection, disinterested service, and $1 selections the size of a Ping-Pong ball I really can’t think of a single reason why anyone would visit this store when so many superior options exist nearby…a sentiment I generalize to Tivoli Village as a whole thus far.
re: cookie monster
Retro is well worth the trip......or the $20 delivery charge to the strip. Their cupcakes are less expensive than Bouchon's on the strip (so if you're getting a dozen or more the delivery charge is moot.)....yet every bit as good and in a wide selection of delectable, imaginative flavors. Can't wait to hear Uhockeys review of Pucker Up, Cookies and Milk, and The Big Kahuna at Retro. Brownie Sundae is my fave rave but only available on Fridays, I think.
Since you're local, uhockey, be sure to sign up for Retro's eclub, they have a special deal every month.