Friday, August 28, 2009

Las Vegas: Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak, Stone Crab

I am a stone crab lover. Ever since our trip to Miami last spring, I can't seem to get Joe's Stone Crabs off my mind. They are so good, I'm borderline obsessed with them. We can't leave Vegas without stopping for lunch at Joe's in Caesar's Palace. Even Iron Chef Bobby Flay has claimed he is 'obsessed' with Joe's stone crabs on a recent airing of the Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab establishment in Las Vegas is a partnership between ICON LLC, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprise and Joe's Stone Crab. It does not try to duplicate its infamous Miami counterpart (no one can) rather it builds upon its traditions.

Let me show you how:

The bread basket: An assortment of bread (six to be exact).
My favs: The Pretzel roll and Raisin Pumpernickel bread.

Cup of Stone Crab Bisque - $4.50

Fisherman's Platter - $21.95
Fried Shrimp, Scallops, Calamari and Cod

3 Large Stone Crabs
with Famous Mustard Sauce

Hashed Brown Potatoes - $4.95

Joe's Cole Slaw - $4.95
best accompaniment!!

Joe's World Famous Key Lime Pie - $6.95
best key lime pie..EVER!

Things to know:
  • Complimentary valet parking is available. The entrance of the valet lot is located off of Las Vegas Blvd near the Forum Shops.
  • The prices in Vegas are more expensive than Miami. Expect to pay a pretty penny to dine here. Lunch is your best option.
  • The best value for your buck is the Joe's Classic - Stone Crabs. The special comes with 5 Medium Stone Crabs, Hashed Brown Potatoes, Joe's Cole Slaw and Key Lime Pie for $21.95, upgrade to 3 Large Stone Crabs for $29.95.
  • Stone Crabs are in season in months that have an "R" in it. Basically, stone crabs served between June and August are frozen. The stone crabs in Vegas are absolutely not as fresh as the ones in Miami regardless of the time of year.
  • There is no other Key Lime Pie in this world that can top Joe's. You can also make it yourself. The recipe can be found here.
  • The Joe's Cole Slaw is awesome as well. If you don't like cole slaw, the one from Joe's will make you a fan.
  • Reservations can be made through OpenTable.
Joe's Seafood, Prime Steaks and Stone Crabs
3500 Las Vegas Blvd, South
Las Vegas, NV 89109


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Napa: French Laundry Attempt #2

Napa Valley - a culinary haven for adventurous foodies and wine connoisseurs. Marc and I grew up in Northern California, yet we've never stepped a foot at this food & wine mecca. Why? At one point in my life I didn't like cooking (shocking!) and I hated wine ever since I got a sip of it at church. Times have changed and now I'm a full on foodie with culinary aspirations.

Anyways, one day while at work I decided that we had to go to Napa (so random!). It's just one of those things that you do. Besides, I'm still trying to land that darn French Laundry reservation. I'm not sure if it would top my experience at Alinea but for the fact that the French Laundry called a day before my 30th birthday to offer up a reservation just haunts me 'til this day. I didn't bother calling back because it was too painful to bare to decline a reservation. Awful experience, yes, but I'm still determined to go there at least one time (to get it over with).

After mastering the FL phone system (see details below), we are on the waiting list for FL on the weekend of Sept 26-27 (I didn't call two months on the day). I do have a back up plan in case we don't get the reservation.

Here is the line up:

[image by V. Sattui Winery]
V. Sattui Winery

[image by bunrab]
Pastry snacks at Bouchon Bakery
Owner: Chef Thomas Keller

[image by USA Today]
Dinner at Ad Hoc Restaurant
Owner: Chef Thomas Keller

Opus One Wineries

[image by solano mag]
Light lunch at Dean & Deluca

Schramsberg Vineyards

[image by sf]
Dinner at La Toque
Owner: Chef Ken Frank

How to master the French Laundry phone system:
  • Make sure you are on a LAN line and have two additional lines available (e.g. second LAN line and cell phone).
  • Program the French Laundry number on your phones. Make sure you know the functions of your phone for redialing.
  • Open up your computer clock. Begin to speed dial the French Laundry number 5 seconds before 10:00 AM. Basically 9:59:55 AM.
  • At exactly 10:00 AM, call the number again with another line. If you get a busy signal, call the number again.
  • You know you've got into the queue when the phone rings and you get the recorder. Select 1 to make a reservation.
  • If you don't get a live person, STAY ON THE LINE. If the phone starts ringing as if you've been cut off, STAY ON THE LINE. This means you're the next call waiting to be taken by a live person.
  • All of a sudden, you hear Jessica's voice and you've made it.
  • Fastest time I got on the line: 7 minutes.
Things to know:
  • The French Laundry no longer takes walk-in reservations. You have to call or go online at OpenTable.
  • Weekend reservations are hard to come by. If you don't get a reservation, request to be put on the waiting list. Be sure to give them a reliable phone number such as your cell number.
  • Don't give up :)
French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

Monday, August 24, 2009

Anniversary Dinner at Daniel Boulud Brasserie

On August 8th, we celebrated our first year anniversary dinner at the Michelin-starred French brasserie of Daniel Boulud. The restaurant is situated on the renowned Lake of Dreams at the Wynn Resort & Country Club. I selected this restaurant because I liked the romantic atmosphere alongside French comfort food.

The restaurant is located on the first floor where you have to take an escalator down to the lower level. As you're going down the escalator, you see these whimsical umbrellas.

We had the option to sit out on the patio or indoors. We decided to sit indoors since we didn't want the Vegas heat to affect our dinner. This is the view from our table overlooking the Lake of Dreams (see the little person/statue in the lake). I liked where we sat since the table was secluded from other diners. It seemed like we were dining like royalty.

Cocktails! On the right is a Watermelon Mojito and to the left is a Blueberry Lavender Lemonade. Before we decided on our entrees, our server brought out a basket of a variety of breads. I thought I took a photo before we devoured the entire basket.

Here is what we ordered:

Lobster Bisque - $20

Foie Gras au Torchon - $20
fleur de sel, four spice, armagnac

Something unexpected popping out from the lake. Yah, that's a full blown alien head with no facial features. Love it! I tell you, only in Vegas.

Scottish Salmon - $34
asparagus, meyer lemon, breakfast radish

The Original NY DB Burger - $32

9 oz. sirloin burger stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffle

parmesan bun, french fries

Lastly, dessert! I had the Wynn Cake Room design a custom cake to fit the occasion. I didn't want to mimic the top tier of our wedding cake because I wanted to see how creative their cake artisans can be. They definitely blew us away with what they came up with. The pleating symbolized the pleating on my wedding dress and the phalaenopsis orchids were similar to the bouquet I carried.

Here is a close up on the orchids. I requested that the entire cake be edible. The orchids were done in gum paste.

After taking hundreds of pictures of the cake, the server took it back to the kitchen to have it cut. The kitchen was nice enough to plate the cake slices with a quenelle of raspberry sorbet. The cake flavor was similar to our wedding cake: Vanilla Sponge with vanilla creme and fresh raspberries.

The cake was a nice touch to a completely perfect anniversary dinner and weekend. Can't wait to plan next year's anniversary dinner. Each year will definitely top the previous year. Someday we hope to try out the Menu Degustation at Joël Robuchon at the Mansion.

Things to know:
  • Complimentary valet at the Wynn & Ensore resorts.
  • You must call Wynn Concierge or the restaurant to make reservations at 702.248.3463.
  • A Tasting menu is unavailable. Appetizers range from $12-$20. Entrees from $28-$95. Menu found here.
  • Cocktails are pretty expensive, ranges from $12-$14.
  • Custom cake orders can be made through the Wynn Cake Room. Call the Wynn Concierge or email the Wynn Catering department at: 6" cake round with fondant costs $50, additional customization starts at $19 and up.
  • Book reservations after 7pm or at dusk to view the show on the Lake of Dreams.
Daniel Boulud Brasserie
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109-1967

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Las Vegas: Bouchon

On the morning of our anniversary, we stopped by Thomas Keller's Bouchon for brunch. Bouchon has two other locations in Yountville and New York. The one in Vegas is located at the Venetian Resort and Casino. This restaurant is hidden in the Venezia Tower which you have to take a special elevator to get to.

Once you find the elevator, you will take one flight up. As you step out of the elevator, you walk into a whole new world of luxury. You will see these elaborate fresco paintings on the ceilings along with decorative chandeliers and marble throughout the area. To get to the restaurant, you head down a long hall way which the restaurant is located near the end.

We got to the restaurant fairly early around 9am. There were only a few diners there so we were seated immediately. The dining area had a French bistro-feel with vaulted ceilings and lots of natural light coming through the windows. You have the option to be seated inside or on the patio.

While we waited for our server, we were given a small portion of the EPI Baguette. This is the same one that you'll find at their bakery downstairs near the casino floor. According to their website, it is a classic Parisian baguette, shaped to resemble a wheat stalk. They use a Poolish which is a yeast-based starter made from equal parts of flour and water. It imparts a nutty aroma, open texture and crisp crust. The accompaniments were butter and an orange marmalade which were tasty.

Whenever I see "beignets" on a menu, we have to order it. I'm a beignet kind of gal (move over donuts). That day they had a special for raspberry beignets which were basically a fancy version of a raspberry-filled donut topped with granulated sugar. Also tasty, but I wish they served more than two pieces.

Now comes the main entree. If there was ONLY one thing you had to order here then it would be the Chicken & Waffles. This was the only reason why we came here. Don't get the corn beef hash or the eggs benedict. You must order the Chicken & Waffles, period. I know that says a lot for Chicken & Waffles but the chicken is not fried and it is probably the best darn rotisserie chicken I've ever had. I love it as much as KFC. It is definitely finger-licking good. The bacon & chive waffles were delicious as well. Nice and light. It held the vanilla syrup quite well.

Overall, the chicken & waffles were yummy. Bouchon in Vegas is known for brunch. If you need a variety of choices, go to a buffet.

Things to know:
  • To get to the restaurant look for the entrance of the Venezia Towers toward the right of the Venetian registration desk.
  • The entree prices are quite expensive and range from $12-$33.50. Chicken & Waffles are $25.00.
  • Bouchon does not take reservations for brunch. Get there before 10am to avoid the crowds. Brunch is served between 7am to 2pm.
  • A full description of the kitchen and decor can be found on eG Forums.
The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, Venezia Tower
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Suite 10101
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Las Vegas: Lawry's The Prime Rib

Marc and I arrived in Las Vegas on a Friday evening, a day before our official wedding anniversary. Marc had always wanted to dine at Lawry's for a long time but we could never get a reservation without planning ahead. Since this was a very special weekend, I made sure we had a reservation at Lawry's.

Lawry's is located off the Strip, on the corner of Flamingo and Howard Hughes Parkway. Since this was the first time we've ever been to Lawry's, we had no clue what to expect. All we knew was they served Prime Rib.

Basically, you pick a cut and how you want it cooked. The cuts range from the smallest (California Cut) to the largest (Beef Bowl Cut). Each meal includes:

  • Famous Original Spinning Bowl Salad: Crisp romaine and iceberg lettuce, baby spinach, shredded beets, chopped egg and croutons, tossed with our exclusive Vintage Dressing.
  • Yorkshire Pudding: Baked in small skillets until puffy and golden brown.
  • Mashed Potatoes: Whole potatoes, cooked, then whipped with milk and butter.
  • Whipped Cream Horseradish: Lawry's famous recipe of grated fresh horseradish and seasoned whipped cream.
What I thought was cool was the spinning bowl salad. Your server comes to your table with a cart and two bowls. One is filled with ice and the other sits on top of it. The server tosses the salad and drizzles their famous dressing while the bowl spins on top of the ice. Here is a video:

The salad was surprisingly good, given you have no other option in terms of dressing (take it or leave it).

So where's the beef? What makes Lawry's so unique is it serves their beef from a cart. The carver comes around your table with a cart full of beef and cuts the meat by size and preparation preference (rare, medium rare, medium, medium-well, and well-done).

I got the smallest cut (California Cut) and Marc got the Lawry's Cut which is their most popular cut. We also added two lobster tails to make our meals a surf and turf. There are other entrees and accompaniments but why would you want to get something else other than Prime Rib.

Since Marc raved about how good the meal was, we will definitely come back. I think the next time we're in Vegas, we'll try their Ale and Sandwich Bar which serves their signature hand-carved sandwiches, signature side dishes and their famous Lawry's Prime Ribs of Beef. Overall, a must-go place to dine at while in Las Vegas.

Things to know:
  • Valet and self-parking available.
  • Prime Rib entrees start from $32 to $49.
  • We recommend adding two Lobster tails for $22, one tail is $14.50.
  • If dining for two, request for seating in a booth.
  • Lunch: If you take it to go, they will package your meal so that it's as hot and fresh as it is in their restaurant.
  • Lawry's Famous Vintage Salad dressing is available for purchase on their site. One case minimum, four bottles to a case for $30.00.
4043 Howard Hughes Parkway
Las Vegas, Nevada 89169

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chicago: Alinea - The Tasting

It's been a over a month since I dined at Alinea but every time I look at the Alinea cookbook or blog posts from other diners, it brings me back to that eventful night of suspense, awe and genuine playfulness. When was the last time you got to "play" with your food? Or watched over something in amazement with your "mouth hanging open". For once I came to a place where the cost didn't dictate my expectation of the meal (such as, "this better be a great meal because I spent x amount, blah blah blah"). I came here without knowing what to expect, how I would feel about the food, or even how I would finish all of the courses. I now present to you, "The Tasting".

This is the final installment of a three part series on my Alinea dining experience. The series started with "Arriving at Alinea", followed by Table 33 and now ending with my thoughts about my meal. Disclaimer: I will NOT give you a play-by-play description of each dish that was served and how it was prepared. There are so many food bloggers out there that can do a better job at describing the food. Besides, it's not my style. I'm a researcher, not a food critic. I do recommend two blogs that have excellent descriptions and food photography (Alinea at Home and KevinEats). I will be referring to these blogs throughout this post.

Ok, let's get started. Here is the menu. The size of the bubbles indicate the size of the portions, the color of the bubble refers to the intensity of the dish, and the further away the bubbles are from the edge of the left side of the paper, the sweeter the dish (Source: KevinEats). I opted for the 12 course tasting menu which ended up being 16 courses. You have the option to select a 12 course Tasting or 24 course Tour. Keep in mind, your menu will differ from another diner. Each course is catered to your specific dietary needs and the Chef will dictate what will be served. Foodie Advice: Eat alone, have an open mind.

What about the Wine Pairing? Options: No, I'm allergic or Yes, bring on the alcohol!

Best Option: Yes, I'm driving, please reduce my pairings to smaller portions. You must do the wine pairing. I can't express this enough. The pairing is roughly 1/3 of the cost of the meal but you can ask for smaller pairings for a prorated price and still get the full dining experience.

Before the tasting begins, you will be asked a final time for food allergies or basically what you don't want to eat. For example, if you can't eat watermelons because it makes your throat itchy or you can't see yourself eating Bambi (aka venison), put it on the list. No one is going to judge you unless you have some OCD food disorder (aka "picky eater") then you need to stay home. Seriously! I'm just setting up expectations.

Through out the meal, I've noticed there were more than one server attending each table. There was always someone on-hand to answer your questions or even chit chat with you if you are dining alone. I didn't feel so bad dining alone because I ended up getting the "mat plate". The idea: Chefs would come out to the dining room and plate the courses right in front of the guests (from Pulling Back the Kitchen Curtain, Grant Achatz). Here is a link to a video describing the "mat plate" concept. This was the coolest thing I've ever seen. It was the best seat you can ever have to watch the chef plate your course in front of you. Foodie Advice: If you have a D90, you should definitely bring it to the restaurant.

Course descriptions with wine pairing:

Course #1: Roes - traditional garnishes
Wine Pairing: Cocktail of Henriot Brut with Charteuse, Akvavit, and Orange Curacao

Course #2: Foie Gras - daikon, shiso, yuzo

Course #3: Pork Belly - iceberg, cucumber, thai distillation
Wine Pairing: Abbazia di Novacella Kerner Valle Isarco, Alto Adige 2007

Course #4: Green Almond - juniper gin, lime

Course #5: White Asparagus - arugula, white peper honey
Wine Pairing: Tentaka 'Silent Stream' Junmal Daiginjo Sake, Tochigi, Japan

Course #6: Lilac - scallop, shellfish, honeydew
Wine Pairing: Albert Mann 'Vieilles Vignes' Auxerrois, Alsace 2006

Course #7: Soft Shell Crab - carrot, five spice, duck
Wine Pairing: Gustave Lorentz Grand Cru Pinot Gris 'Altenberg de Bergheim' Alsace 2004
*Note: This is the 'mat plate' course.

#8: Blue Crab - carrot, five spice, duck

Course #9: Black Truffle - explosion, romaine, parmesan

Course #10: Wagyu Beef - powered A1, potato, chips
Wine Pairing: K Vintners 'Milbrandt' Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Washington 2006

Courses #11, 12, 13:
Bacon - butterscotch, apple, thyme
Yogurt - pomegranate, cassia
Bubble Gum - long pepper hibiscus, creme fraiche

Course #14: Rhubarb - goat milk, onion, lavender air
Wine Pairing: Elio Perrone 'Bigaro' Piedmont, Italy 2008

Course #15: Chocolate - blueberry tobacco, maple
Wine Pairing: Smith-Woodhouse 1994 Vintage Port

Course #16: Sweet Potato - bourbon, brown sugar smoldering cinnamon

I must admit, I failed at taking pictures of each course but my camera battery died at course #7. Another excuse to pay Alinea another visit. Drop by Alinea at Home and KevinEats to get a full play-by-play description of each dish.

Here are my highlights of the entire evening:
  • The table centerpiece, a black vase, was later used in Course #10 and kept me amused the whole time. Apparently it was filled with dry ice because every few minutes I can see the outside of the vase crystalize.
  • The sommelier attending to me always had an interesting story/description about each wine pairing. This guy knew his stuff! I forgot his name but you can't miss him. He's the guy with the curly/teased hair in the shape of an afro (not sure if his hair looks like this every night). I wish I got his name because I would love to have him as my permanent sommelier every time I come to Alinea. Top notch, such a nice guy.
  • Chef de Cuisine, Dave Beran held down the fort while Chef Grant Achatz was away. Was I disappointed that 'the' chef was not in the house? Not one bit. Everything turned out great and I came home amazed. Maybe next time I'll get to explore the kitchen
  • Did I mention the wine pairings were killer? Sure was awesome. I thought I couldn't drive back to the hotel which was 30 minutes away. Foodie Advice: Take a cab!
  • Between savory courses, I was served several types of bread accompanied by two butters (light goat's milk and creamy cow's milk topped with Hawaiian Black Lava Salt). All of the bread varieties were delish.
  • If I had to pick my best courses based on taste and "playfulness" it would be:
  1. Course #7: Soft Shell Crab - "Mat plate"
  2. Course #14: Rhubarb - "Lavender infused pillow"
  3. Course #10: Wagyu Beef - "Cloud of aromatic vapor"
  4. Course #9: Black Truffle - "One bite wonder from a bottomless dish"
  5. Course #11, 12, 13: Bacon/Yogurt/Bubble Gum - "Take a shot, suck on a glass tube and tear off hanging bacon"
  6. Course #16: Sweet Potato - "Fire-burning cinnamon stick"
  7. Course #8: Blue Crab - "Blue crab ice cream"
  8. Course #15: Chocolate - "Liquid spheres"
  • I was happy to take home a signed copy of the Alinea cookbook. See detailed post here.
  • The service overall was top notch. I was even afraid to leave a water mark on the bathroom counter since it was perfect. When I left the restaurant, I didn't have to wait for my car since it was already there when I got out.

Alinea has secured it's place as one of the best restaurants in the world. Grant's innovative approach to American Contemporary cuisine will continue to evolve and I look forward to seeing Alinea move up in the ranks of elBulli and The Fat Duck. I can best describe my Alinea experience as "Cirque du Soleil on food steroids".

1723 North Halsted
Chicago, Illinois 60614