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May 14, 2014 06:36 PM

5/10/14 Dining Report - Original Sunrise Cafe, Caked Las Vegas, Cugino's, The Cookie Bar, TWIST by Pierre Gagnaire


Suffice it to say that I’m a known entity at Twist and with my predilections to Chef Ryuki’s interpretation of Pierre Gagnaire’s cuisine well known a meal on Saturday night would prove just as thrilling as those prior, a showering of plates with mostly stellar service lasting over four hours in the butterfly adorned Spring dining room. With Gagnaire himself present in the kitchen – as well as the dining room, bar, and even lobby – tending to details both small and large it was to an array of innovative canapés plus a quintet of breads with butters from Isigny and Echire that we began and moving next through six courses of meticulous sourcing and style rare would be a lull, a full emersion in the kitchen’s stream of consciousness with a leisurely flowing pace. Opting for one tasting and courses a la carte to match ‘Spring’ began with flavors smacking of the season and although mushrooms both here and later were slightly over-seasoned everything else showed fresh and vibrant, a concept that carried right along to the course that followed – a flood of foie gras comprising seared, salad, torchon, terrine, and even ice cream. Transitioning to ‘surf n’ turf’ in an eight plate third course of butter poached lobster juxtaposing aggressively peppered beef before progressing to five cheeses novel to even the experienced it was at last in two separate courses that sweets arrived and with Gagnaire himself overseeing the pastry preparation that evening every item arrived with a flourish; a garnish here or an extra plate there to cap another stunning meal.

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  1. The Cookie Bar -

    Not a drinker save for the occasional cocktail or rare glass of wine with dinner yet thoroughly intrigued by the crowd-funded mother/daughter project entitled “The Cookie Bar” it was the smiling face of owner Wendy Baumgartner that welcomed me to the small Cannery West kiosk, but it was her infectious passion for the project that truly won me over. Opened early this year after a trekking the catering and festival scenes the concept of The Cookie Bar admittedly seems a bit kitsch up front but with boozed-up riffs on classic American confections befitting the moniker of Sin City lining the shelves and comparatively low prices by 702 standards it can only be said that “bar food” jokes aside these ladies can really bake. Featuring intoxicating flavors both alcohol-infused and virgin it was with a duo of tender triple-chocolate ‘Buzzkill’ cookies that I began and with soft centers amidst crisp edges the classics tasted oven fresh, a characteristic no less notable in the red-hot cinnamon snickerdoodle, both individually bagged options a mere $3 and just as delicious as upcharged versions found on-strip. Moving next to a similarly priced beer-brownie punched up with a tablespoon each of Guinness and Bailey’s before transitioning to the actual ‘Punch’ of the densely spiced and cakelike Drunk Pumpkin it was last that I turned to a veritable ‘best of both worlds’ in The Kitchen Sink, a 6oz block of flavor with textures harkening fudge while flavors hollered Reese’s – an Oreo version also available and beckoning me back along with the Vodka kissed Krispies and signature Booze Munch.

    1. Cugino's -

      Located in a small complex just steps off the UNLV campus and part of my regular workday walking route Cugino’s Italian Deli had long been on my “to do” list; a Saturday afternoon visit with two friends proving the rumors of pricy yet good East Coast Italian classics to be quite accurate. Small in size and curt in customer service it was with admitted indecision that our group approached the Cugino’s counter and ordering on-the-fly a six-part meal emerged, the $66 meal presented in four courses with plenty of leftovers and mostly impressive results. Undoubtedly a red sauce joint despite a multitude of housemade salads and sandwiches it was with fried pillows of ricotta gnocchi that the meal began and with each creamy morsel crispy on the exterior but virtually oilless I was immediately impressed – a trend continued in the tender rice ball buried in house-pulled mozzarella and tangy marinara. Obviously prone to over-ordering, particularly in small groups, our trio next doubled down on a pair of pies and while the thin white pie proved somewhat bland to my tastes with a mundane crust tinged with semolina the Sicilian dazzled as fresh mozzarella formed soft puddles amidst aromatic tomato sauce bright with acid and appropriately devoid of sugar. Breezing through a plate of golden garlic knots aggressively seasoned with its namesake herb and kissed with butter before finishing the meal with pre-filled cannoli already experiencing some sog it was with a bit of disappointment that I was informed neither house-made rainbow cookies nor tiramisu were available outside the freezer but with stomachs full and leftovers boxed as conversation flowed it would be hard to say I regretted much…except perhaps neglecting the tripe soup or eponymous Cugino’s Special sandwich, both on the short ‘there’s always next time’ list, though a repeat trek to similar-but-better Montesano’s will most certainly come first.

      2 Replies
      1. re: uhockey

        Actually, it was Steve Montesano who first sent me to Cugino's. I asked Steve where can I get really good, made fresh daily, mozzarella.....and, BINGO!!, I was on my way to this little strip mall on Maryland across from UNLV. $100 dollars later, I left with everything that Nonna had made that morning in the include some fresh Italian bread that was flown in from New Jersey (and can be found in their freezer section). I do like Steve's subs and baking...and his pepperoni pie is pretty good....but Cugino's is as close to a neighborhood deli (not restaurant) that you could find in Brooklyn, Staten Island, or Jersey.

      2. Caked Las Vegas -

        Having tried to visit Caked once prior, when a sign on the door pronounced them closed “on 11/28,” during a day that was in fact the twenty-eighth of April, I decided to give the small bakery a second chance on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, the result experience I’ll not soon forget as snooty service, limited selection, and truly awful product collided in disastrous fashion. Citing slow sales as an excuse for a mere four cupcakes and three styles of “Dossant” for sale just ten minutes after opening I stood rather perplexed as the short server glared at me and asked “so, what do you want?” and deciding I’d rather not have wasted the trip a quartet was selected – the low $10.58 tab yielding hastily bagged rings and cakes smashed in a plastic clamshell. Limited in seating and unpleasant in demeanor it was to the Starbucks next door that I proceeded for my tasting and sampling each item in the warm sun a “get what you pay for” theme soon emerged, the copyright-infringement skirting crispy fried croissants tasting suspiciously of old oil while cupcakes proved dry and dull beneath competent, mildly sweet frosting – my unconfirmed suspicion that “slow sales” meant I was purchasing Friday’s unlabeled leftovers from people unhappy to be at work on a Saturday.

        2 Replies
        1. re: uhockey

          I had pretty much the exact same experience at Caked , two and a half years ago. But on a weekday. One wonders how they've managed to stay in business after so many years of "slow sales" and meager offerings.

          1. re: jackattack

            Their custom cake business is my only guess.

        2. Original Sunrise Café -

          Located just off the 215 in the southeast part of town I’d long been looking for a reason to visit Original Sunrise Café and with the Art Festival of Henderson scheduled for Mother’s Day weekend I finally decided to make the trek, my reward a good meal at a fair price with sterling service from beginning to end. As much a “mom n’ pop” spot as any in Las Vegas it was 7:05am when I walked in the café door and with smiley greetings amidst the sunbathed room I quickly found a seat, a full view of the kitchen plus the NFL Draft my amusement as I navigated the two-page laminated menu with the first of several cups of coffee in hand. Always trending sweet over savory it was with gluttony followed by glee that I inquired about half-portions or short-stacks and informed that both could be accommodated it was a quartet that comprised my order, the signature “Snow Caps” of sliced bagels fried in butter under a dusting of cinnamon sugar soon delighting me in its simplicity as I watched the restaurant fill. Ever gracious in service as java flowed free a pair of pancakes arrived next and although improved by creamy dulce de leche the cakes themselves lacked, a mistake thankfully not replicated in either of the French Toasts, The Ultimate a more traditional version with buttery bread soaked in toffee and caramel while the Homerun can best be described as a battered after-school snack griddled to soft and topped with fresh bananas plus grape jam – a concept as simple as the Snow Caps and every bit as worth getting out of bed early for.

          1. Might I ask what one should expect to pay (per person) for a dinner such as you had with (of course) appropriate cocktails, wines, tax and tip?

            1 Reply