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Please help me finalize dining plans

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Visiting from Chicago and would greatly appreciate a little help for my upcoming trip. So far, I have the following dinner reservations:

Raku - have been before, and will follow up with first ever visit to Raku Sweets.

Bartolotta - any recommendations? a la carte or prix fixe?

Carnevino - one purpose here, and that's dry aged beef. But I'll listen if you have any recommendations on sides or the like.

Kabuto - another favorite of mine, but I've always focused exclusively on nigiri. Considering expanding my horizons and adding the omakase menu that includes grilled items. Worth it?

So that's it for dinner, but I also need some lunch help. I was thinking of returning to Monta, but how is HinoMaru? Anyone else doing great ramen these days?

And how is Curry Zen?

Finally, I plan on getting some dumplings, most critically xiao long bao, and my current plan is to head to 1900 Asian (never been). What do you think? Worth mentioning is that I'd prefer a place with the best XLB even if the other items might not be as good. But if it's a real close call, then I'll go for best overall spot.

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

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  1. Curry Zen is a must go, don't miss the optional 12-grain rice. The katsu (chicken or pork) topping is passable but the curry itself is fantastic, my favorite being the veggie version at a 4 on the spicy scale.

    Stick with nigiri at Kabuto, go to Yonaka for non-sushi items.

    4 Replies
    1. re: zack

      Hey, thanks zack! I'm probably going to have to make my way to Curry Zen then. And I think I can squeeze it into a lunch in conjunction with a visit to either Monta or HinoMaru since I'm having a very late dinner one night.

      I'm probably not going to be able to make it to Yonaka though, at least not on this trip. I have four nights and four dinners already locked. I'd be up for hearing of your recs at Yonaka though since I usually make it to Vegas once or twice a year.

      Also, were the grilled items at Kabuto just not up to par? I'm kind of leaning towards trying them with the more expansive omakase menu, unless people are really steering me away from them.

      Thanks again.

      1. re: BRB

        Yonaka gets a lot of hype, and I've never been, but it strikes me as a cheaper nobu. I did the Omakase at Kabuto and enjoyed every single dish.

        Carnevino - Beef Cheek Ravioli, Mascarpone and Guanciale Mashed Potatoes with a poached Egg, Foie Gras in Barolo.

        1. re: uhockey

          Thanks uhockey - appreciate the recs for Carnevino. That's an impressive lineup of dishes. Obviously, I'm there for the dry aged beef, but I know they go well beyond that so I'm glad to have some direction.

          And I was leaning towards omakase at Kabuto. Quite frankly, the nigiri I've had at Kabuto on two visits has rivaled some pretty pricey and excellent spots I've been to in Tokyo so I'm excited to see what else they can do.

      2. re: zack

        Made it to Curry Zen. The curry itself was one of the very best Japanese curries I've ever tasted - fantastic. But you were right, the pork itself was rather disappointing. It was crisp and perfectly fried, but way too lean and as a result, largely flavorless. I just got the regular rice, but I was so disappointed with the rice - overcooked, too clumpy, not fitting of a Japanese restaurant preparing curry so well. It just seemed odd. But oh that curry . . . that alone makes it a must visit.

      3. By the way, also considering a stop at I-Naba for lunch (I love noodles). Anyone been? Recommendations? Preference between their soba, udon, hot, cold?

        I would typically lean towards cold soba . . . but would like to hear from those who have been.

        2 Replies
        1. re: BRB

          I-naba was ok but the prices was reasonable. I would definitely go for their soba over their udon, as their udon was very run of the mill.

          1. re: snow78

            Thanks - the plan was soba so I'll stick to that.

        2. I have no recs for you, but I want to thank you for this thread! Husband and I are planning a trip in June and are will have one "mega" dinner on the strip. I had not read about Bartolotta before. The menu looks amazing, but still within a do-able financial range for a special dinner.

          We will have one day to run around off-strip, so we might check out Curry Zen and hunt down some dumplings.

          I am going to piggy back this thread for more recs...:)

          1 Reply
          1. re: Dagney

            You're welcome - and I'll report back.

            For me, the two musts in Vegas are Kabuto (honestly best pure nigiri I've had in the US, in terms of rice, quality of fish and knife work, and seasoning) and Raku (almost everything's fantastic, particularly robata items).

            If we didn't have so much great northern Thai food in Chicago, I'd put Lotus of Siam in this group too.

          2. XLB junkie myself. Have been on the hunt for in Vegas forever and have yet to fall in love. Some decent, never great. Have not been to 1900, would love to know if worthy! My personal favorites are Red Farm in NYC and Nan Xiang in Queens.

            1 Reply
            1. re: LVI

              Agreed on the state of XLB in Vegas, but I'll report back on 1900. I previously had pretty good ones at Beijing Noodle No. 9 at Caesar's and they were quite respectable. I understand that their dumpling chef came from China Mama which would explain why. And if you want to stay on the strip, that's a pretty good option (assuming things are still the same there - been over a year since my last visit there).

              Nan Xiang are the best I've had, and I had Red Farm's at the new UWS location in November - loved them and everything else there. I'm from Chicago and we are rather XLB-deprived . . . several places make them, but not particularly well. And Din Tai Fung's in SGV (CA) were excellent and beautiful if perhaps a bit soup deprived.

            2. I thought I would reply with a little more detail on my dining experiences. As I already noted, I made it to Japanese Curry Zen and although I was very disappointed with the tonkatsu (perfectly fried, but just way too lean and lacking in flavor), the curry was so terrific that I would recommend a visit.

              I also visited Ramen Sora for lunch. Note that I waited for nearly 30 minutes at about 2pm so plan accordingly as the word must be out on this place. In terms of noodles, Ramen Sora is terrific. Thicker than most, chewy, perfect in my book. Slurp all of the noodles quickly, then move on to the rest. The chashu pork was beautifully tender too. And the miso perfumed tonkotsu broth was wonderfully porky, though this is the real thing. So if you're not accustomed to true tonkotsu broths, you should know this is some heavy, fatty stuff . . . almost as if a fatty pork shoulder had melted in your mouth. Sora vs. Monta? Well, a tough call. I might prefer the broth at Monta (tough call - not certain), but without question, the noodles at Sora are superior.

              I-Naba also merited a visit and I came away super impressed. I had the ten zaru with soba and it was outstanding. The soba noodles were expertly prepared - wonderful flavor, nice chew. The shrimp and vegetable tempura were also quite impressive - crisp, very light breading, and minimal grease. The delicious soba-yu and graceful service were the finishing touches that helped me say I love this place. Many prepare the in your face flavors of ramen. Me - I am just as happy with a beautifully prepared ten zaru and I-Naba offers just that.

              I should note that Japanese Curry Zen, I-Naba and Ramen Sora were all lunch visits.

              Raku was as tremendous as always for dinner. Robata every bit as good as you'll experience in Japan. But Raku also does an outstanding job with sashimi so don't ignore the daily specials.

              Dessert at Raku Sweets let me down a bit. It's a cute little spot for sure. But my main dessert featured a pistachio mousse that totally lacked pistachio flavor, and both the chocolate-coffee mousse and pistachio mousse seemed too egg white heavy and thus overly light in texture.

              Also, the 3-course dessert finished with a cream puff and the choux pastry was overbaked and thus, far too crispy. At least the filling was delicious.But based on this experience, I can't really recommend Raku Sweets. Everything looked beautiful, but I expected a lot more given the Raku name.

              We also managed to visit 1900 Asian - not so great. XLB featured beautifully thin wrappers and lots of soup, but they just weren't very flavorful. The very best item was a beef roll, stuffed inside of a pancake, with hoisin and cilantro. It reminded me of a great dish I've had at Nan Xiang in Queens and was every bit as good. But if you're looking for great XLB, keep looking.

              Dinner at Carnevino was excellent. None of my dining companions wanted to share the ribeye so I ended up with the New York Strip. No problem - it was delicious, with some great funky flavor from the dry aging, and prepared to a perfect medium rare. We shared some nicely prepared pastas (including the excellent beef cheek ravioli - thanks uhockey) but I went pretty easy since I wasn't starving and I wanted to focus on the beef. I'll add though that I also thought their Tuscan fries (garlic, parmesan) were delicious.

              Jean Philippe patisserie is located in both Aria and Bellagio and lures you in with dazzling pastries. But after trying one of their croissants, I decided not to venture further. Sure, it was buttery. But layers were a little lacking, and the subtle yet undeniable fruit glaze left me majorly turned off. Maybe the other pastries were fantastic, but the croissant left me with a bad taste.

              Dinners at Bartolotta and Kabuto really stole the show, however. At Kabuto, we ended up going with the middle omakase menu, Yoroi. With this menu, we had the sake apertif, amuse, 8 pieces of sashimi, 3 grilled items, 8 pieces of nigiri, a tuna hand roll, miso with shrimp head and ice cream for dessert. I also added in 3 additional pieces of nigiri. Everything was sensational, but the star here is really the expertly prepared nigiri - pristine quality fish, masterfully prepared and seasoned sushi rice, and appropriately seasoned with real wasabi and soy sauce of various ages and qualities so that the diner does not need to do any work.

              The nigiri was the best I've had in the US and as good as I've ever had, including a recent dinner at 1-starred Kanesaka in Tokyo. I'll admit I have not been to Masa, Nakazawa or Urasawa, but Yasuda certainly has nothing on Kabuto and there's nowhere in Chicago (where I live) that comes close. Just a sensational meal.

              Bartolotta was also fantastic. As a Chicagoan, it was particularly nice to see Paul Bartolotta in the house, and he came over to make sure everything was to our liking. In my opinion, Spiaggia in Chicago was at its very best when Paul was the chef. And the room is beautiful, though I recommend dining outside if you can. I believe there's a minimum $150/person charge to eat outside, but you're probably going to spend this anyway.

              The breads and butter to start the meal were exactly what you'd expect from a top notch restaurant. My pasta with various shellfish was delicious and the shellfish perfectly cooked. I particularly loved the beautiful langoustines. I shared a snapper for my entree and it too was excellent - perfectly cooked and beautifully filleted tableside.

              Amazingly, the highlight was dessert. 6 small scoops of gelato ($14) which were just perfect. Dense yet creamy, great flavors, and maybe the best gelato I've ever tasted. I loved that there was no obvious ribbon effect from gum/stabilizers and the gelato was as smooth as silk. And like the best gelatos, the natural flavors came right through and were not overwhelmed by fatty creams or eggs.

              We did manage to eat at a couple of buffets (brunches, essentially). Sadly, the Wicked Spoon does not appear to be aging so gracefully. I've been there 3 times: WS was quite good on the first visit, still pretty good the second time, but below par this visit. Several items just poorly prepared or overcooked, others cool or lukewarm (when they should have been hot), some just tasted off. Desserts fared much better though and I really loved the flavor of the Thai iced tea gelato, even if several ice crystals marred the texture.

              We also visited the new Caesar's buffet. It might have been around $15 more than Wicked Spoon, but it was so much better. The variety was stunning, easily twice as large as Wicked Spoon, and there were a number of very good items (sure, some clunkers too, including the badly oversmoked ribs). The crab legs were on the disappointing side too in terms of flavor. And though desserts generally looked better than they tasted, overall I much preferred the Caesar's buffet.

              So that's several days of dining in Vegas, and excellent dining at that. Thanks to everyone for helping out.

              8 Replies
              1. re: BRB

                Thanks so much for following through with a complete trip report, and a great one at that.

                I'm with you on Jean Phillipe. Even some of the beautiful pastries have an unpleasant, processed taste to me. The croissants have always scared me -- they don't look enticing to me.

                I've been to Sora twice but I still don't find the broth (or the add-ons, especially the seasoned egg) to be up to Monta's standards.

                1. re: Dave Feldman

                  Thanks to both of you for the compliments. Yes, nothing worse than a pretend croissant. Quite frankly, I had my suspicions just by looking at it in the case, but I thought I'd verify. You could just tell it was too puffy, though I never would have guessed about the sweet glaze - that just seems like a no brainer from a true French pastry chef when making a croissant. Oh well - at least they used real butter.

                  Hard for me to compare Monta and Sora's broths as it's been a year since my last visit to Monta. But I've always thought Monta's noodles are just a little thin (though always loved the broth). I would have liked a fish or fish powder element to Sora's -- something that really set some Tokyo versions apart in my opinion . . . just a little extra I suppose . . . but I really can't complain about either Monta or Sora as both are outstanding. And of course Vegas has much more to offer when it comes to ramen.

                  I'm only sorry I didn't have more time (always am). I had also wanted to squeeze in Twist but it just didn't work out, as well as probably another 150 more Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Korean, Vietnamese, etc. restaurants. The Asian dining scene in Vegas is really spectacular.

                  1. re: BRB

                    ...and yet some, on other sites, seem to dislike the local Asian Scene. It is truly odd.

                    1. re: uhockey

                      That does seem odd. But in fairness, I haven't fully explored it . . . I've never been to any of the Vegas Vietnamese or Korean restaurants, and my experience at Chinese restaurants has been a bit hit or miss. But I've had good experience with Thai food (Lotus leading the pack) and I know the Japanese choices are outstanding. And obviously, with miles of such restaurants, I've barely touched the surface.

                      1. re: BRB

                        When I first started visiting Las Vegas during my college years, it seemed like there were more Vietnamese and Korean restaurants (off-strip) than Thai or Japanese ones. LV has come a long way -- when I visit, probably about 2/3 of my meals are Asian.

                2. re: BRB

                  Top notch review. I keep wanting to go to Kabuto but it always seems to get passed up. I need to remedy this.

                  1. re: BRB

                    By the way, I forgot to mention that I also had a couple of slices of pizza at five50 Pizza Bar at Aria, from Shawn McClain (a former Chicago chef, and the chef at Sage). Interesting side note: there was considerable angst years ago at the since shuttered Trio restaurant in Evanston, Illinois when it was announced that McClain was leaving to open up his own restaurant in Chicago, and that a new chef, Grant Achatz (of Alinea), was coming on board. Well, that turned out pretty well actually.

                    Anyway, the point I really want to make is that Shawn McClain is a very talented guy and he has designed a very good pizza at five50. It's New York-esque in the sense that the thin crust slices are perfectly foldable, though perhaps with less grease on top and perhaps a tad more crisp. But there's a nice chew, just enough char, and plenty of flavor in the crust. And I was very pleased with my 2 slices (very respectable Margherita in particular). Five50 is located just off to the side of the Aria casino, right next to the sports book. Having been to the supposedly secret pizza spot at the Cosmo, I would say I much preferred five50. Having stayed at the Aria, I found it to be the perfect spot when I needed a snack to tide me over.

                    1. re: BRB

                      I did not enjoy five50 at all when compared to Secret, Pop-Up, or Pin Up. Obviously a very subjective thing, but everything about five50 feels like a horrendous money grab.