Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Las Vegas: Jean Philippe Patisserie

World-renown pastry Chef Jean Philippe Maury indulged our eyes with his French patisserie at the Bellagio's Spa Tower. Earlier this month he opened yet another opulent outpost at the new Aria Hotel and Casino at CityCenter.

If you haven't guessed, building CityCenter is a step forward toward a new age of luxury and entertainment. Chef Maury's new outpost is much larger than the original and has a refined, yet higher level of opulence at every corner.

The first thing you'll notice is the beautiful cakes in various sizes on display throughout the patisserie.

The layout is different from the original but similar to Payard's Patisserie at Caesar's Palace. This time around, there isn't a large chocolate fountain but instead ample seating where guests can enjoy their desserts right away as well as a chocolate display of Chef Maury's signature chocolates. Guests can now hand select their favorite chocolates and create a custom box of delectable treats.

Where do you start? It seems overwhelming, but we're here to guide you through this maze of sweet madness.

On the far left next to the chocolate display, you will find gelato/sorbets and freshly made crepes.

As you move closer to the desserts, you'll find a selection of gourmet salads, sandwiches, paninis and fresh fruit.

But before you indulge your sweet tooth with exquisite pastries, be sure to check out the many breakfast pastries on display. The cheese danishes tend to sell out quickly.

Ah, the pastry cakes. Aren't they lovely? Why buy a whole cake when you can come here and select many exquisite cakes. Sort of like a pastry tasting. My birthday is coming up in a few months so guess where I'm getting mine :)

Afterthoughts: I like the new outpost and I hope to see the traffic between both outposts to even out. The Bellagio Patisserie is always crowded and I can't seem to get what I want there. The pastries may not look as delicate as Payard's but the selection is much larger. So what would I choose?

Here are my selections:
  • Opera: Chocolate Ganache, Coffee Cream Butter, Expresso Syrup - $6.50
  • Exotic: Candied Pineapple, Lime Dacquoise, Crispy Coconut - $6.50
  • Strawberry Tart: Mousseline Cream, Almond Macaroon, Almond Buscuit - $6.50
  • Imperial: Cream Brulee, Crispy Nuts, Dark Chocolate Mousse - $6.50
  • Key Lime: Key Lime Emulsion, Almond Dough, Whipped Cream - $6.00
  • Rose Macaroon: Raspberry Macaroon, Rose Infused Cream, Fresh Raspberry - $6.00
Things to know:
  • The patisserie is located at the Aria Hotel & Casino near the Buffet.
  • Business hours: 6am to 11pm.
  • You can not order at the register. First go to the pastry counter and have the staff take down your order. The staff will hand you your order sheet to take to the register. Pay for your items and depending on how much you order, they will box it up and hand it to you.
  • You have the option take your goodies to go or enjoy them in the seating area.
  • Desserts: $6.00 to $6.50, Average spend $15.00
Jean Philippe Patiesserie
3730 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, 89109

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Las Vegas: Raku

Aburiya Raku Restaurant, also known as Raku, is a Japanese charcoal grill house in Las Vegas. Raku uses a rustic form of grilling called robata which grills meats and vegetables on bamboo skewers with expensive charcoal imported from Japan. The charcoal used here is oak binchotan which burns at a higher temperature and contains less moisture than other charcoals (Source: Raku). Binchotan is essentially smokeless and said to bring out the umami in ingredients.

The owner chef is Mitsuo Endo and he opened Raku in 2008. The following year, the restaurant was a semifinalist of a James Beard Foundation award for Best New Restaurant in the West. This is an impressive feat for Chef Endo being his first owned restaurant.

So where is this place? Why haven't you heard about it? Well, you won't find this hidden gem on the Las Vegas Strip or in one of the many luxury hotels throughout Las Vegas. It is located in a small strip mall off of Spring Mountain Road.

The restaurant's decor is simple with modern flare. Various condiments are displayed on wooden tables and are all imported from Japan. Chopsticks rest on oak binchotan charcoal which is used to barbecue the skewers. The setting is casual and friendly. As soon as you enter the restaurant, you are greeted by a server and quickly seated.

Seating is very limited. There are probably about seven tables serving between 2-4 diners each as well as a small bar area. Raku has an extensive sake list and offers a monthly sake sampler of three great sakes from Japan for $14.

Aside from the grill menu, Raku offers its diners various types of courses such as hot and cold appetizers, Oden, Rice/Noodle/Soup and Dessert. Marc and I do our best to come here every time we are in town. Here is a listing of our favorite dishes:

Hot Appetizers:

Crispy Fried Shrimp - $6.00

Steamed Egg Custard with Foie Gras - $9.00

Juicy Deep Fried Chicken - $8.00

Fried Homemade Tofu in Hot Broth - $9.00

Robata Grill

Chicken Breast Wrapped with Chicken Skin - $2.50

Potato with Corn - $3.00
The center is filled with potato which resembles a corn core. I was amazed at how this was created.

Kurobuta Pork Cheek - $3.00

Daily Specials

Manila Clams in a Hot Pot

Deep Fried Kamasu Rockfish


Fluffy Cheesecake - $5.00

Afterthoughts: WOW! Who would have thought you would find well-executed dishes off the strip. C'mon foie gras in an egg custard? This dish was probably the highlight of my meal, until I had dessert. Fluffy cheesecake sounded like a fancy name for cheesecake. Well, this was not your ordinary cheesecake. If you look above in the second photo, the texture was definitely unique. Light, airy and simply delicious. Marc and I had to fight over the last bite.

It took some time to figure out what to order on the menu but after a few times, you'll find your favorites. I absolutely love this place especially the restaurant hours (its open until 3am). I wish we had one closer to San Diego. Raku, you got me at moshi moshi.

Things to know:
  • Reservations are highly recommended. I don't think you can get a table without one. Call-in more than a day in advance. The restaurant is opened from 6pm-3am, Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday. Call 702-367-3511 to make a reservation.
  • Raku is located in a small strip mall off the strip on Spring Mountain. You will pass about three main lights on Spring Mountain. The strip mall is on your right side after passing S Decatur Blvd.
  • You have to order a hot appetizer, some skewers on the Robata grill, a daily special and save room for dessert.
  • Appetizers are big enough to share between two people. You get two skewers for each order from the Robata grill menu.
  • Price Range: $$$.
  • Do look at the daily specials, don't be afraid to ask questions.
5030 W.Spring Mountain Rd #2
Las Vegas, NV 89146


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Berkeley: Chez Panisse Cafe

Chez Panisse located in Berkeley, Ca is known to be the birthplace of California cuisine as credited by Chef Alice Waters. I always wondered what California cuisine or California Modern cuisine was. Apparently, it's a style of cuisine of utilizing disparate cooking styles and the use of freshly prepared local ingredients. This style of cuisine just screams "organic". There's nothing wrong with organic. It usually translates to extra $$$'s.

Chez Panisse is located in the northern Berkeley neighborhood known by locals as the "gourmet ghetto". The restaurant consists of a downstairs dining room with a daily prix fixe menu and an upstairs cafe with a less expensive menu and more 'relaxed' atmosphere.

The decor of the restaurant has a modern rustic feel with great attention to detail. From the engraved water pitcher to the charcoal grill and wood-fired brick oven, it feels like you're dining in a home than a restaurant.

The highlight of the room was the open kitchen layout. The kitchen is located upstairs next to the bar area. The atmosphere was like a bustling bistro with servers rushing back and forth to the kitchen picking up entrees. You can walk past the kitchen and see all of the action without any obstructions.

Since it was cold and rainy outside, I decided to go with their selection of tea. Pictured above is Tisane, an herbal infusion of basil and mint ($5.50).

It took awhile to decide on what to order so I eavesdropped selections from other diners. Here is what we ordered:

Bob's Yellow Tomato and Pepper Bisque - $8.00
with creme fraiche

Annabelle's Puntarelle - $9.00
with anchovy, green garlic, and Parmesan

Grilled Local Opah - $28.00
with broccoli di ciccio, Meyer lemon, and black olive relish

Buttermilk-fried Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit - $25.00
with green beans, persimmons, chicories salad, and little potatoes

Passion fruit, pineapple, and candied orange ice cream bombe - $8.75
with tangerine compote

Afterthoughts: The food was solid, but there were some incidents that occurred that made my experience less stellar. I'm not going to go into details but a word of advice: Good food but expect the unexpected. For a restaurant listed within the top 100 restaurants in the world, be open to anything in terms of atmosphere. It's Berkeley, the third most liberal city in the U.S.

It's also interesting how a one-Michelin-star restaurant can end up being the 59th best restaurant in the world in 2009. Does this place deserve its merits? The food was good, but not palate changing. At least we can say we've been here.

Things to know:
  • No valet parking available, street parking only. Bring change and adhere to the parking signs. We advise that you arrive 30 minutes prior to your reservation to search for parking.
  • For Restaurant reservations, call (510) 548-5525 Monday through Saturday, between 9 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Click here for the restaurant reservation policy.
  • For Café reservations, call (510) 548-5049 Monday through Saturday, between 9:00 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. The Café upstairs accepts reservations for lunch and dinner up to one month in advance, to the calendar date.
  • The cafe is located upstairs. Wait for the host to seat you (near the bar area). A host desk is not available upstairs.
  • Chez Panisse is known to be the first place to make "California pizza". Ask your server about the house made pizzas.
  • If you like to watch the chefs cook, request to be seated in the booths in front of the kitchen. It's not the same as a chef's table but it's better than sitting in the back of the room.
  • Cafe Price Range: $$$
  • The cafe a la carte menu changes daily. It is moderately priced for lunch and dinner compared to the restaurant downstairs. The restaurant is a daily prix fixe dinner menu for $95 while on Monday it is moderately priced at $60.
  • Some of the cafe entrees are large enough to share. We recommend sharing salad and main course dishes.
  • A 17% service charge is automatically added to the bill.
  • Using a cell phone or computer at the table is not allowed.
  • Corkage is $25 per bottle. $45 per magnum.
Chez Panisse Restaurant and Café
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709-1516

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Las Vegas: Gallagher's Steakhouse

Gallagher's Steakhouse, a New York original since 1927 makes its home at the New York New York hotel & casino in Las Vegas. It's a franchised business with four other outlets in Denver, Tampa, Atlantic City and the Newark Airport.

When Marc told me he was dining here with his coworkers, I was skeptical. It wasn't until he told me it was located at the New York, New York hotel that I got excited. I remember seeing this steakhouse over ten years ago when the hotel first opened in 1997. I always wanted to dine here since my 20s but I didn't have the means to splurge on a meal. Fast forward to the present where business travel pays for the meal.

Gallagher's is best known for its Meat Aging Room filled with USDA Prime Dry-Aged Beef. From outside the restaurant, you will get a glimpse of the Aging Room.

Gallagher's signature flavor is based on being grilled on an open mesquite grill and no additions such as clarified butter.

Shown above, the dining room and a copy of the menu. In the evening the dining room is well dimmed so Marc's photos didn't come out as nice as we hoped.

Cowboy Rib-Eye Steak - $38.00

King Cut Prime Rib of Beef - $37.00

Afterthoughts: Our photos didn't do this place justice. The steaks were HUGE and known by the locals as the second best steakhouse in Las Vegas (#1 is The Steakhouse at Circus Circus). When I dropped by to scope out this place, I would overhear guests stating this was a "very good" steakhouse. How could you go wrong when out of town guests are buzzing about this place.

Things to know:
  • Hours: Sun - Thurs 4pm - 11pm, Fri - Sat 4pm - 12am; Lunch Hours: 12pm - 4pm served at the bar.
  • Price Range: $$$, Avg Check: $60-$70 per person.
  • Dress code: Casual.
  • Reservations are highly recommended. Call 702.740.6450 or book on OpenTable. Even if you have a reservation, expect to wait a few minutes. This place can get packed.
  • If you can't get a table inside, try seating at the bar.
  • Serving sizes are huge, come with a gigantic appetite.
  • Salads: Warm Spinach Salad.
  • Gallagher's signature cut is the Dry-Aged New York Sirloin for $39.00.
Gallagher's Steakhouse
3790 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chicago: Hot Doug's

Ahh, Hot Doug's.

The infamous encased meats emporium. You know, the place where Anthony Bourdain went to during his 'No Reservations' trip to Chicago. Yes, that's the place. Basically, you HAVE TO come here if you're ever in the Chicago area.
I was fortunate enough to drop by here before my flight home to San Diego. Knowing that the shop opened at 10:30am, I checked out early from my hotel and drove a few miles to a neighborhood called Avondale. After finding a parking spot two blocks away from the shop, I arrived at Hot Doug's at 10:40am. This is what I saw:

A line out of the door.

Luckily it wasn't snowing or too cold outside so the weather was bearable to stand in and wait in line for one and half hours. Yes, folks. That's 1 hour and 30 minutes waiting in line for a hot dog. It's insanity, but well worth the wait.

Once you get into the shop, you have to go through two doors to view the menu. You have a number of options to choose from such as, Game of the Week (a rotating selection of game-animal sausages), Daily Specials (a selection of gourmet sausages) and other notably hot dogs with famous names attached to them.

Can't decide on what to order? Have no fear, Doug is here.

Doug Sohn himself is there to help you. He takes all of the orders and he's such a great guy. I was very impressed that he was able to spell my name correctly on my order without having to ask for its spelling.

He commented, "I didn't let that college education go to
waste." and we both laughed. He went to Kendall College (a few block down from Alinea).

After I ordered, I quickly found a table which to my surprise was even possible given the number of people outside waiting to get in. I mean, there was a seriously long line outside. I think Doug has a strong sense of anticipating the traffic coming in and out of the shop. Like a commuter traffic light. He knows how many orders it takes to fill a room and how long it takes a diner to finish eating to open up a table. Ingenious!

Since I was dining alone and just finished a 23-course dinner the night before, here is what I ordered.

The Sally Vega (formerly the Ace Patrick and the "Psycho" Ronnie Raines) - $1.50
Corn Dog: Deep fried to a golden splendor

Today's Specials: Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage - $9.00
With Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse a
nd Sel Gris

Duck Fat Fries - $3.50
Pommes frites deep fried in duck fat

Mmm, scrumptious! So good. Who would've thought a sausage or an 'encased meat' for that matter can be so good. I don't know what else to say but you have to come here. This place is even on Anthony Bourdain's list of 13 Places to Eat Before You Die (see link). I think Bourdain said it best:

"This place convinced me the Chicago red hot is, in fact, superior to the New York hot dog. And it's home to two great innovations in American gastronomy: the "foie gras dog" and the weekends-only practice of cooking French fries in duck fat. It's proof that food doesn't have to be expensive to be great."

Touché Mr. Bourdain. Touché.

So for all of you foodies out there. If you walk up to the shop...

...expect to wait in this (roughly 1 and a half hours). Bring some reading material, please.

Things to know:
  • Hot Doug's is located on the corner of W Roscoe St. and N California Ave. in the neighborhood of Avondale.
  • The shop is open Monday-Saturday from 10:30am to 4:00pm. It's closed on Sundays and on the holidays. Call the shop to make sure they're open if it's a holiday.
  • Expect to see the line form prior to 10:30am.
  • Approximate waiting time on the weekend: 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  • Parking: You can find parking on W Roscoe St. or N. California Ave. Be sure to pay attention to the parking signs.
  • Price Range: $
  • The most important thing to know: CASH ONLY. No credit cards or ATM machine on site.

Hot Doug's
3324 N. California Avenue, Chicago IL 60618