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May 4, 2014 08:07 PM

4/27/14 Dining Report - Culinary Dropout, Cafe Darak, Hugo's Cellar

Hugo's Cellar -

Located in The Four Queens on Fremont and considered by many to be the best “Old Vegas” experience remaining in a city once rife with dens of a similar ilk Hugo’s Cellar had always been on my proverbial ‘to-do’ list and despite the constant onslaught of new spots from celebrity chefs on the Strip a Sunday night visit found the venerable institution packed – the ‘reservations recommended’ sign proving justified as couples attempting to walk-in met a two hour wait. Dimly lit with stone walls, wood beams, heavy linens, and art-glass chandeliers overhead it was to formal greetings and a rose for the ladies that we arrived in the Cellar and whisked away soon to a booth in one of several rooms the action soon commenced, each waiter presented by name as a trio of warm breads with a butter rose plus the famous tableside salad engaged the senses – the later a true crowd pleaser carefully customized for each and every guest. Large in menu with a bar that promised to craft “anything you like” it was with a stiff pair of $7 cocktails that our proper order progressed and soon plucking tender snails under delicate pastry from their dish one really couldn’t help but smile at a classic done so well, a theme continued with each of three superlative entrees following a raspberry palate cleanse – the tableside whole duckling a showstopper gathering looks from around the room while the Wellington rivaled that at Ramsay Steak beneath a pile of mushrooms and foie gras. Truly a class act it was prior to desserts-proper that a trio of chocolate dipped fruits arrived to be dressed in hand-whipped cream and with more sweets offered on the house to celebrate a duo of birthdays it was tableside we turned again – the smolder and burn of booze, fresh fruit, and cinnamon ladled over rich ice cream a refined finish to a true ‘experience.’

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  1. Café Darak -

    Located in a nondescript strip mall with a simple black and white banner serving as the only indication of its existence suffice it to say that Café Darak is all the rage with local Yelpers, the Korean-style shop serving up a variety of coffees, teas, frappes, and desserts in a setting conducive to conversation and relaxing amidst shabby-chic furniture, kitsch decor, and even a pop-up canvas Volkswagen bus. Best described by the term ‘precious’ with stamp cards hung on the walls and toys delivered with each tray of drinks it was to the sounds of Velvet Underground that we entered the small store and although the only ones placing an order as a few customers lingered to utilize the surprisingly slow Wi-Fi the pace of the service was leisurely at best – three drinks and a dessert necessitating nearly twenty minutes’ wait and rousing wonder of what would happen in the case of more business. Left to rest as Lou Reed rambled overhead when drinks finally arrived expectations were perhaps slightly inflated and although the blueberry lemonade proved both tangy and natural neither the strawberry smoothie nor the mocha frappe were memorable in the least – a subpar blender delivering a crunchy iced experience that could not be sipped through a straw with bland flavors harkening subpar fruits and cheap chocolate sauce, respectively. Largely unimpressed by the beverages along with the substantial wait it was thankfully in the toast that Darak found a bit of solace as the crunchy bread yielded a pliable center gilded with honey, ice cream, cinnamon and sliced almonds but with the rest of the desserts made elsewhere and the rest of the experience largely lacking I’d be hard pressed to justify a reason to return with two Sambalatte locations serving up a better vibe, larger variety, quality baristas, and a true in-house pastry program without all the twee and time waste.

    1. Culinary Dropout -

      Arriving at The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in the midst of Rehab with my mother and aunt in tow as Springsteen played overhead one can only call the scene en route to brunch part of the show, a five minute walk from Paradise parking to Fox Concepts’ “Culinary Dropout” bespecked with the scantily clad and already drunken while the restaurant itself proved a comparative sea of tranquility matched to good food and unexpectedly stunning service. Sprawling in size with garage-style doors open to the cool morning breeze of a picturesque patio it was close to the rounded bar with a full view of both stage and kitchen that our trio found itself located mere moments after entry and with coffee kept brimming from seating to finale a six-piece order was crafted, each item arriving individually with smooth pacing and beautiful presentation. Largely focusing on signatures but equally willing to explore seasonal preps and brunch-only items it was with the restaurant’s oft raved pretzel bites that the meal began and with rich fondue gilding golden soft nuggets we all agreed that rare has a pretzel impressed so much, a similar praise heaped on the house burrata with seasonal accoutrements drizzled with aged balsamic. Moving next to things more substantial it was admittedly with some disappointment that neither the $11 French Toast nor the $21 ‘worth the wait’ fried chicken proved nearly as memorable as their respective milk jam or biscuit plate-mates, but with the former too bready and the later far from crispy there are simply better versions to be found elsewhere, particularly at such a cost. At this point sated but certainly not full, the kitchen would quickly rally back with a duo of desserts and while the piping hot monkey bread certainly deserves the attention it has garnered it was the caramel-corn studded budino that stole the show for me, a dense pudding both salty and sweet with crunch and cream taken perfectly with another cup of coffee as Chris Cornell crooned overhead.

      1. We were there a few years ago and it was an unforgettable experience. It is exactly the way you describe it and we can't wait to go again.