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restaurants: aureole las vegas

there’s a certain good/bad that happens with fine dinning.
the good, obviously is the amazing food.
the bad, for me, is that its so inappropriate to take photos of your food in a fine dinning restaurant.  i want to… but the idea makes me shudder.
so for this post, there are really no good photos, but i’m sure you’ll make do.

this is another restaurant that i have long wanted to dine at.
charlie palmer’s career is one that i’ve followed with interest and awe.
if you’re not familiar, here’s a little blurb for you on the man.

Charlie Palmer’s renowned New York Aureole enjoys a reputation as one of the finest restaurants in the United States. Palmer, honored as the “Best Chef” in New York by the James Beard Foundation, opened Aureole at Mandalay Bay in 1999, earning the prestigious Four Diamond Award each year since.
In both 2008 and 2009, Aureole was awarded a Michelin Star, and also received a Four Star Recipient in the 2009 Mobil Travel Guide.

foodie confession: i have never eaten at a michelin star restaurant.
so this was huge for me.
also, this is one of the best restaurants in north america.  so… yes.  excitement.

to make the most of it, we decided on the parallel tasting menu.
4 courses with 2 dishes on each, highlighting the same ingredient done in a totally different way.
frigging brilliant.

naturally we also opted for the wine pairing.
because if you’re going to do something, do it right dammit.

course one:  beets.
plate 1 – roasted baby beets, fine herb cheese & bourbon maple syrup
pate 2 – golden beet panna cotta, cured scottish salmon & tangerine lace

as the plate hit the table, it was immediately clear that we were in for something special.

the first side of the plate with the roasted beets was a delicate little salad that really highlighted the natural flavour of red and golden beets.  the bourbon maple syrup added an extra sweetness and the fine herb cheese was like if someone made boursin from scratch.

the second side was all fine dinning.  the panna cotta was earthy and smooth as silk and the cured salmon on top provided a salty punch to cut the richness.

course one = success.

course two: asparagus
plate 1 – white asparagus, crispy serrano ham & black peppercorn gastrique
pate 2 – diver scallop & asparagus terrine, wild mushrooms, yuzu foam and trout roe

this one i did take a crappy iphone in candlelight picture of.  because it was beautifully presented.  but of course, this doesn’t really do it any favours.

i believe this was my favourite course.

the scallop terrine was unlike anything i’ve ever eaten before.
that side of the plate was all about technique and it’s tough to describe the flavours and textures on this plate.

the other side was relatively simple in comparison, with the asparagus roasted and the serrano ham somehow made to be like a cracker and the star was the gastrique, which frankly i have absolutely no clue how they made that.
course 3: pork
plate 1- roasted niman ranch pork tenderloin, wrinkle potatoes, roasted baby leeks & romesco sauce
plate 2 – house made pork sausag, rock shrimp, vietnamese steam bun, cucumber salad & nuoc man sauce

ya.  so.  then this happened.
the one side was classic pork.  the tenderloin cooked to medium well, absolutely lovely, with each little slice held up by a baby wrinkle roasted potato… and the roasted leeks and romesco sauce?  come on.
i have a fierce love for romesco sauce.  a well done one is a work of art.  and this my friends, was a freaking picasso.

the second plate was kind of like a riff on a bahn mi sandwich, which while clever, didn’t really wow me like the other plate did.  the sausage was full of garlic and lemongrass and the nuoc man sauce was like a delicate fish broth with obvious careful preparation and refined technique… but i was in love with the more traditional preparation.

somehow… we moved on to dessert although we were so full, it was a bit of a struggle.

course 4: ginger
plate 1 – galangal ginger beignet, poached strawberries & lychee sorbet
plate 2 – coconut ginger vacherin, braised pineapple & vanilla chantilly

for this one, you get a grainy crappy photo too.

and what you see on the right, as described as plate two, was one of the best things i was served all evening..

until this happened…
bonus desert.

this was some sort of chocolate lava cake that was filled with a cayenne chocolate cream from the gods.
and served with an incredible tasting mint sorbet.
it was so mint.  like eating a sprig of fresh mint.  absolutely a wonderful way to finish a meal.

the hard part about consuming a meal this spectacular is doing it any justice when describing it.  there is no combination of words that i possess that can truly describe what was so special about this dinner.

from my experience, true fine dinning is worth the price.
there is a marked difference between having a meal like this and having just another meal.
because this meal falls in the top 5 meals i’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

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restaurants: rm seafood

rick moonen’s rm seafood is a pretty choice little place tucked in to the corner of mandalay bay right by the house of blues.
it has an upstairs fine dinning restaurant and a downstairs casual restaurant with a raw bar.
i’m a huge supporter of this concept… because sometimes you want to go all fancy pants and sometimes its nice to have a bit more of a casual option for your food.
we ate at the downstairs for this occasion, since we had just done a fancy pants meal the night before.  and let me assure you that downstairs did not mean there was any sacrifice in quality or service.

the big underlying focus of rick’s restaurant is sustainability and i can totally appreciate that.
in a city like las vegas, that is so utterly unsustainable, the irony is delicious.

of course, i started with a cocktail.
the menu was mighty and enticing, but i settled on the lehigh.

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and a yummy little drink it was.
i only had the one cocktail, as we ordered a bottle of wine – the kim crawford white for the record.

and then, on to the food.
i really wanted to try something from the raw bar, but my mom isn’t a big sushi/raw fish fan.
we agreed on the ebi-go roll which has tempura prawns in it and just the tuna sashimi on the top like a lovely little blanket of yum.
it also had a little jalapeno in it, which added a nice spiciness without drastically changing the flavour as wasabi would.
like an idiot, i dipped my first piece in soy sauce out of habit, but after that, i just ate it as is.
the flavours were so delicate and balanced, it didn’t need anything else.

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for our mains, my mom had the chef’s daily special, the surf & surf, which was lobster and prawns on toasted orzo.
and man oh man was it ever good.
the lobster was buttery and perfectly cooked – admit it, how many times have you had an overcooked rubbery lobster? it’s so disappointing.
and the toasted orzo was nutty and full of flavour.
i wish i could remember the sauce with it.

i ordered off the menu, the turbot caught my eye right away.
the waiter chris (hi chris! – he asked for my blog address) declared it to be a favourite and really, it had me at dijon-chive spaetzle.  also i LOVE ramps.

turbot – dijon-chive spaetzle, ramp greens, mustard caviar & whole grain mustard butter sauce

seriously?
the turbot was cooked beautifully with a golden crust so crisp that you could knock on it, but the underside of the fish was perfectly done.
the spaetzle was tender and not gooey and the mustard sauce was a bit strong on the first few bites, but once your palate got used to it, it was really lovely.

for dessert, it was a simple choice.  the dessert sampler.
because if you can try more than 1 dessert at a time, you sure as hell should.

blueberry cobler beignets: a-la-minute beignets, blueberry compote, vanilla bean ice cream & brown sugar streusel
vanilla bean cheesecake: cinnamon sugar puff pastry, strawberry coulis & basil sorbet
decadent chocolate: chocolate brioche pudding, chocolate raspberry mouse & chocolate ice cream
key lime pie: swiss meringue & cilantro syrup

ya, i’m not even sure what to say about this.  it was just ridiculous.

the standouts for me were the cheesecake – so thick and rich and the puff pastry was a nice change to the usual crust, but it was the basil sorbet that really elevated it.  it cut through the cheesecake and toned down the richness so that you wanted to keep eating it until it was all gone.  (and we did)

and the key lime pie was my other favourite – to no one’s surprise.
the cilantro syrup seemed like an odd choice for a split second until it hit me, that OF COURSE!  cilantro and limes are perfect partners in all sorts of savoury mexican applications, why wouldn’t they be BFF on the dessert plate?
definite stroke of genius.

and then… as if this meal wasn’t already all kinds of awesome, i actually got to meet rick moonen himself!

i was pretty excited.  (can you tell by my face?)

its an absolutely wonderful thing to be able to tell the chef face to face how much you enjoyed not only the meal, but the whole inspiration for the restaurant.
and he was so nice.
like, legitimately kind and interested in my comments and discussing restaurants in vegas and vancouver that focused on sustainability.
it was a real pleasure to have met him, and big thanks goes out to our wonderful server chris that got him to come out for me.

i also took home his book which is an insanely huge collection of all sorts of knowledge on how to cook, handle, clean and select fish.  it’s a very exciting read thus far, i’m glad i picked it up.  20120528-114006.jpg

(also – he signed is best fishes?  love!)

restaurants: mesa grill las vegas

i have long wanted to try one of bobby flay’s restaurants.
he’s not my favourite chef… his food looks amazing, but there’s just something about his cocky attitude that kinda rubs me the wrong way… but i can’t deny that the man has skills.

mesa grill in caesar’s palace has been at the top of my “i should eat there one time” list for years now.
i’ve had many plans to dine there that have somehow always been shuffled aside… i think its the location. i just never go into caesar’s palace.  i’m not sure why, but it just isn’t a place that i hang out.

anyways.  because we had a spa appointment booked in caesars for this trip, i thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try out mesa grill at long last.
and eating here for lunch works perfectly because you get the same great quality and cheaper prices.  win win.

the first tough decision… the drinks.
i’ve been on a bit of a manhattan kick lately and bobby’s certainly sounded enticing… but in that moment of sobriety, i just couldn’t justify a $22 manhattan.
that being said, i definitely regret not doing it now.
jeremy – if you go there, i’ll give you $22 to drink this for me and report back.

tough decision number two (not really) was when the bread basket hit the table…
since i’ve been off wheat, i have been avoiding the bread basket quite easily… but hot damn, i couldn’t avoid it this time, so i dove right into this little beauty…

its a cornbread muffin with two kinds of cornmeal.
mmmmhmmmm.
it was the first time in the meal that i shook my first with a *damn you bobby flay*

there was also a jalapeno cheese bread that was out of this world and was swiftly consumed by me.
so swiftly, there is no photo.
ohmygodwhitebreadisdelicious

for the real food… we started with a signature bobby flay item, the roasted duck in a blue corn pancake.

oh sweet baby jesus… there are no words.
this little mother fucker is one of the tastiest things i’ve ever eaten.
the duck is smothered in a hoisin kinda sauce and sweet and a little spicy and the pancake is just… ya.
and the sauces are so bobby flay.  pureed and seasoned to perfection and yum yum yum.
enter the second *damn you bobby flay*

next up, we had the chopped salad.
i enjoy a good chopped salad and this one fit the bill.
nothing crazy unusual about it, it was just a well done salad full of tasty morsels.

the other thing that we ordered was the ancho glazed salmon.
this wasn’t our first pick, but the waiter told us it was a signature item and very good, so we decided to take his advice.
and boy, we were glad we did.

besides being perfectly seasoned and delicious, it was also cooked to medium perfection.
really, the only way to eat salmon.

*damn you bobby flay* that was some delicious salmon!

after this, we were very full and very happy…
but, then the waiter came with a dessert menu…

okay, seriously.  *damn you bobby flay*

we were at a loss… even making a short list of what we wanted was hard.
so we asked for advice.
without a hesitation, the server said “sticky toffee pudding”
done.

seriously?  bobby flay, go eff yourself.
this one is not even fair.
the dulce de leche like substance around the plate was made with goat milk and salted, for a sweet, salty tangy sauce.
the cake, like some fucking ridiculous substance that shouldn’t exist in nature.
vanilla bean ice cream.  perfect.

in short, a ridiculous end to a ridiculous meal.
okay bobby flay.  you win.

restaurants: border grill las vegas

border grill in mandalay bay has been my favourite place to dine in las vegas since my husband (then – boyfriend) stumbled across it on our very first trip to las vegas.
we were walking to the shark reef and saw the cantina and decided on a whim to stop in for a margarita.  we started noming on chips and salsa and realized we were kind of hungry, so we ordered tortilla soup.

not just any tortilla soup… the best one i’ve ever had in my life.
and an obsession was born.

this restaurant is owned by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger who i knew from their cooking show Two Hot Tamales.  (side note – remember when the food network used to have actual cooking shows? i miss that)
since then, susan feniger has made appearances on top chef all stars, doing quite well for herself.  and its no surprise, her cooking is masterful.

the restaurant itself has two lovely outdoor areas.  one upstairs that is covered and i’ve dined in a few times, and also the downstairs outdoor patio that housed my wedding reception.  outdoor areas for dining are a rarity in vegas, so i always make note of them for my lists, as i love al fresco dining.
this is where we had lunch on my latest visit… the downstairs outdoors…

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as if the regular menu choices don’t cause me enough distress with all the yummy options, their specials menu gets offered to me.
oh my… what to do…

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well, obviously the pineapple strawberry sangria needs to get in my mouth.

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my mom went with the patron silver margarita, and said she preferred the one at hussong’s because it was simple.  of course, she ordered one with blood orange and other stuff, so its obviously not comparing apples to apples.

while we were waiting for lunch, we enjoyed the chips and salsa… i love their salsa.  all 3 of them.
they haven’t changed the recipes in years and i love them for it.  its perfect. not to be messed with.

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for the meal, we both decided on tacos, since it was lunch time and we were hungry, but not starved and wanted something kind of light since we were headed back to the pool.

i went with the carnitas with no onions.  because it was supposed to have guacamole on it which contained onions, they just put avocado slices on it for me.  which worked perfectly.
you have the option of pinto beans or black beans and i went pinto.

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my tacos were delicious and the pork cooked to perfection, although they were a little greasy.  they could have been drained a little better before going on the tortillas.
but in terms of flavour, preperation, tenderness, ect, top notch.

my mom went with the shrimp creole tacos and they were WOW.
she had black beans, also good, but i still stand by my pinto bean decision.

my mom’s shrimp was cooked to perfection and the slaw on top was crunchy and provided a great contrast for the rest of the taco.
we agreed that these were the superior choice between mine and hers.

stuffed to the brim, we headed back to pool for a lay down.
thanks for yet another amazing meal border grill.  i’ll see you next time.
cheers!

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restaurants: hussong’s cantina las vegas

i am a fiend for mexican food.
and all the awesome mexican and mexican inspired food is one of my favourite parts of traveling to the usa.
hussong’s cantina is a place that we stumbled upon a few years ago and wandered into for a margarita.
it turned out to be the best margarita i’ve ever had, and thus, a love was born.

the food is also not so shabby, although it does lean toward the american penchant for fat & deep fried more than for true mexican style preparations, but hey, there’s a time and a place for everything.

lets start with the margaritas.
this place boasts being the creator of the margarita. their wikipedia says:
Hussong’s is reputedly the place where the Margarita was created—back in October, 1941 by bartender Don Carlos Orozco. He concocted the perfect mixture of equal parts tequila, Damiana (Cointreau is used now) and lime, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass for Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German Ambassador to Mexico.

now, the las vegas location is not the original, obviously, but they still make a damn fine classic margarita.

for those poor souls that don’t know… a margarita is not a slushy sugar drink.
its a salty-sour-punch-you-in-the-face drink.
and this… will punch you in the face.

i like my margaritas with no salt and a sidecar of grand marnier to make a float on top.
and yes, this is a PINT of margaritas that was served to me.
< insert heavenly music here >

this is commonly called a cadillac margarita.  and its my favourite.

the beautiful and special thing about this place is that the bartender stands at the bar and squeezes the limes right into your glass.  there’s no bottled lime juice in this piece.  it’s fresh and simple and it makes a world of difference in the finished product.

we were served chips and 2 kinds of salsa at the table and tried not to stuff our faces too much, but it was damn fine salsa… but what i really wanted was the shrimp stuffed avocado.

ya, this definitely falls into the american style food… but wow is it ever something.
waaaaay too rich for a single human, but wonderful to share with a few people.

it is a half avocado, stuffed with a shrimp and cheese mixture, breaded and deep fried.  its served on a lovely salad with tomatoes, bacon and hominy around the outside.
and friends, it is GOOD.
we only made it about 2/3 of the way through it, but ate up all the salad.  the dressing is really nice on it, i wish i knew how they made it.

we shared this and also got an order of the chicken tacos to split.  mine, without onions, of course.

the chicken was nicely seasoned and i love fresh cilantro, but i must say that these lacked a sauce.  i used the dish of salsa on the table and it rounded it out nicely.
the beans and rice, while nothing special, were tasty.  and i totally dipped my chips into them.

hussong’s also has a restaurant.com gift certificate for them, so we saved $25 on our meal and walked out for about $20.  bargain!  this place is rad because the gift certificate is also good on the liquor.  so you could just come here with a GC and get margaritas.  hooray!

travel: las vegas – trip number 8

on saturday i returned from my 8th trip to fabulous las vegas.
and dare i say, i think it was my most successful one yet.

we flew with westjet… for a few reasons.

flight time was the main one.  we left at 10:15am which really makes the most of your first day there.  and coming home, there’s a 1:45pm flight which meshes nicely with hotel check out time.

second, westjet includes a checked bag, which i appreciate because it equals saving at least $50 in bag fees.
and lastly, the overall price of the flight to begin with was the best.
so westjet won for this one.

the flight itself was pretty uneventful… which is how i like my flights.
my mom and i had a spare seat in our row, so i sat in the window and enjoyed the view and she sat aisle and we had the middle seat free.  wonderful.

the one place where westjet really falls down is their in-flight entertainment.  air canada definitely wins for that.  but, its a short flight and i amused myself with my ipad and vodka.

we arrived and grabbed our bags and hopped into a taxi to mandalay bay.
upon arriving, there was a line up to check in of about 25-30 minutes, but it was well organized and there was a guy passing out bottles of water, which was nice.
the front desk lady gave us a high floor with a great view of the pool and we were off to the 30th floor.

one thing that i really liked about our view was that it was easy to keep tabs on how full the pool was and if it was worth trying to get chairs in which location.

this trip was largely focused on checking some chef’s restaurants off my to-do list.
and i’m pleased to say that i accomplished 3 that have long been residents of said list.  i’m doing a blog post for each restaurant, so more to come on that.  and if you’re on facebook, i did save most of my food pictures for the blog, so there will be new content.

the big success on this trip was the gambling.
not only did we ACTUALLY WIN on the slots… but we won a LOT.  well, considering we were playing penny slots – its all relative.   when your spins are $0.80 each and you hit $300, it’s a big payoff.
for the first 2 days we were in vegas, we could not lose.  we were literally sitting down at machines, playing for 30 seconds and hitting $200 wins.  we won at the luxor, tropicana, new york new york and a little at mandalay bay.
total, we won about $1300.  but once you factor in the losses, we figure we were up about $1000.
this is amazing to me.  in all my years going to vegas, i have NEVER won more than about $70 on a machine.  we were so excited at all this, it was hard to absorb.  we just could not lose.  man, gambling is fun when you’re winning.

so because of this, we decided to up the ante on the trip.
we spent a day at Qua Spa at Caesars Palace which was absolutely out of this world.  The baths were incredible and i had a 50 minute body polish and a 50 minute sweedish massage that were delightful.  we spent a total of 5 hours there and we were hard pressed to leave.  i’ll be back there for sure.

we also check out a show – Zumanity at NYNY.
ummm… so not what i was expecting.  i knew it was “sensual”, but i didn’t expect it to be so overtly sexual.  it was great and i definitely recommend it, but it maybe wasn’t the best pick to see with my mother, haha.  don’t get me wrong, she enjoyed it too, but when the “mistress of the evening” is suggesting that you take your date home to the hotel and fuck their brains out, its possible you didn’t bring the right date if you’re there with your mom.
but yes, excellent show and wow, does cirque ever do an incredible job of making the most insane feats look effortless.  absolutely stunning.

besides that, it was food, gambling and pool time…
i did a lot of this:

…and this…

…and definitely a lot of this…

ah drinking in vegas… free in the right places, and totally effed when you pay for it.
that irony never gets old for me.

so there you have it kids!
my totally awesome 4 nights in fabulous las vegas!

upcoming posts include:
– Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger’s Border Grill
– Charlie Palmer’s  Aureole
– Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill
– Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood
– Hussong’s Cantina in Mandalay Place

learning: back to basics

about a month ago, i came across this book; the back to basics handbook.

it was at costco (ironic?) and when we flipped through it, we were instantly interested.

my husband has a dream of owning a farm.
to be honest, i find this dream slightly hilarious, because as much as i love him, he’s never farmed a day in his life and doesn’t really have a green thumb or a lot of patience.
but, his life aspirations definitely culminate with a plot of land away from society.

for me, its not so cut and dry.
part of me loves that idea and part of me knows i would hate my life if i wasn’t close to the city.
so, i picture more of a centrally located moderately sized house with land to grow stuff on.  and a lot of making my own food and endeavoring to cut out the grocery store.

so this book, i guess i you would call it life porn.

they cover EVERYTHING.  from finding a plot of land (checking for natural sources of water, the proper slopes for crops ect) to building your own house from wood found on the land… and then raising various types of livestock, growing crops, cold storage of crops, preserving ect.

this book is absolutely fascinating to me.
it literally chronicles the “need to knows” for a dying lifestyle.
this is true sustainability.

naturally the front half of the book, about land and farming and raising animals isn’t really applicable to me at this stage in my life…  but the second half of the book is all things that i could use today.
they call it “household skills and crafts”… its a mixture of some skills i know like canning and preserving, but also cheese & sausage making, preserving all kinds of food for long term storage without chemicals, making fermented foods…
and then basket weaving, candle making, tanning leather, natural dyes, soapmaking and more.

and what i love is that it really guides you from the start.  like, for natural dyes, there’s a chart of plants, pictures of the plants and a guide on where to find them growing so you can forage for them.
at no point in reading this, do you scratch your head and think “where the heck do i find X?” because this book has already shown you how to grow it or make it from something else.

i have a huge soft spot for this kind of thing.  clearly.
when i was a young girl, i was absolutely obsessed with laura ingalls wilder books.  i had them all memorized by age 7 and read and reread them voraciously trying to fathom this lifestyle that she described so vividly.
my mom was a little helpful on the matter because she was born and raised in saskatchewan with no running water.  so a lot of things could be explained by her.  but i’ve never forgotten the descriptions of the mill used to grind wheat to flour or churning butter and the soaking of the salt beef.  the things you just don’t see today.

this book made me nostalgic for my childhood visions of frontier life.
and while i’m still very firmly a city girl in many respects, i have an unabated interest in this simple country life where everyone worked their balls off just to keep alive.

maybe its just because i’m super stressed at work lately, and maybe its what happens as you get older… but i find myself dreaming of working hard.  not for a paycheque at an office… but for my household.  raising and growing my food, making my cheeses and soaps and whatever i could.  running away from society and being self sufficient.
these days, that seems like bliss.

the supermarket seems like a scary place to me.  full of poison masquerading as food.
stocked to the brim with faux-foods designed to deceive your body and re-write your natural rhythms.
sometimes i wander the aisles at the “heath food” store next to my office on my breaks.  its row after row of pre-packaged foods and supplements and substitutes… there’s little to nothing that my brain naturally recognizes as actually being healthy.  but yet, its what we accept as health food as a society.
to me, the farm market that sells only produce next door is the real health food store.

these are good reminders to myself.  if a lifestyle of ultimate sustainability is my goal, then it has to be carried out in daily life.  and i have much work to do.
it means that bag of cheesies or chocolate bar that i was craving needs to be forsaken.  and that hangover meal of macaroni & cheese out of the box needs an overhaul.
its a slow process… tough to break a lifetime of addiction… but i’m working on it.

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