Thursday, November 10, 2011

There and Back Again - Las Vegas Edition

Vegas 2011
Lately, I've found myself becoming a true fan of the road trip.  Some of our best recent vacations have been car trips - Big Sur, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, the Grand Canyon... It's just so easy.  You don't have to worry about the size of your liquid containers, there are no backscatter x-ray machines or overzealous TSA agents to contend with.  You can pack your own food, throw a bottle of champagne or two in the car - or even a couple of stowaways like we did when we took our nieces along  to the Grand Canyon last year.  Like I said.  Big fan.
Vegas 2011
With all that in mind, we decided to drive to Las Vegas this past weekend for a visit with some friends.  (I'm not sure what is says about us that they chose to fly!)  The two photos above were taken at The Mad Greek, a classic roadside stop in Baker, California.  Baker is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and the main street is lined with fast food chains, so at least this was something different.  I wish I could recommend the food, but I really can't.  The menu is strangely complicated and there must be something good on there, but it's not the Gyro or the Greek Salad, trust me. They did have some traditional pastries and cookies in their case that looked nice, and they serve espresso and gelato, so it might be worth a stop for a snack and to take a photo or two, but I'd stick with In n' Out in Barstow or Lynwood for lunch.
Vegas 2011
When we got to Vegas we checked into our room and went out for a little walk.  I took this photo of L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon through the window.  We didn't eat here this time, but it's my favorite fine dining spot in Vegas.  It's no more expensive than the other schmancy options around town, but I feel like they run a tighter ship somehow.  They also have a new three course tasting menu at the Mansion for $120.
Vegas 2011
We walked over to the new Cosmopolitan hotel to check out the "scene."  It is sort of the newest hot spot - something like the Hard Rock or Palms.  This is the "Chandelier Bar" -  located inside a giant 3 story tall crystal chandelier.  The restaurants are located upstairs in a mall-like area - and of course I wanted to check them out.  By far the most happening spot was Jaleo - Jose Andre' Spanish tapas spot, which spilled out onto the upper level (below.)
Vegas 2011 We had plans to eat that night at Julian Serrano over in the Aria hotel next door, but we had a little time to kill so we ducked into China Poblano - the other more casual Andres restaurant there, for a taco and a cocktail.
Vegas 2011
When you walk in, there are two counters on either side of the restaurant.  Behind one ladies are making fresh tortillas for tacos, and on the other side they are folding dumplings, making those little pleats one by one.  The menu features Chinese and Mexican specialities, like dim sum, dumplings and tacos, and several dishes that blend both cuisines. Everything on the menu was appealing, and affordable to boot.
Vegas 2011
We started with a couple of  margaritas, topped with Jose Andres' special "salt foam"  - I am a recent convert to salt on my margaritas, and I absolutely loved this.  Mine was pomegranate and James had the plain.  I recommend the pomegranate.
Vegas 2011
We ordered two tacos, only one of which I remembered to photograph, and some Sui Mai dumplings.  The taco below is "barbacoa" - the other was pork belly.  I preferred the barbacoa - but the sui mai may have been my favorite. I only wished we could have ordered more. The gentleman to my right ordered several things that looked good, including a ceviche of tuna with amaranth seeds, soy sauce and pecans and what I think was the "Ocean Nest" - a dish of fried egg noodles with shrimp and other seafood.  Our friends also went for brunch on Sunday and said they had a great meal.
Vegas 2011
Our dinner at Julian Serrano was good, but not great.   It's not quite "fine dining" but it's a step up from casual, located in a swankily decorated room right off the Aria's lobby.   I liked the style of the place, and a few of the things we ordered were very good - especially this scallop dish with romesco sauce.
Vegas 2011
We also liked the anchovy crostini, below.   The jamon serrano with pan tomate was also good, but James couldn't help comparing it to the Pata Negra from L'Atelier (one of the drawbacks of being spoiled by that place!) The "Gambas al Ajillo" - a usual Spanish favorite of mine - were rubbery, and our server sold us on a strange house specialty of  filet mignon with cheese and honey that turned out to be a terrible waste of a nice piece of meat.
Vegas 2011
The best thing we ordered by far was this relatively inexpensive Rioja, recommended by the sommelier.  Seriously -  remember this label.  It was excellent.
Vegas 2011
Our friends arrived the next day, and we met Lisa for lunch at Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina in the Crystals shopping center in the new City Center complex.  The mall itself is quiet as a morgue, probably because it has only the most ultra high end stores -  but we had a really good meal at this casual spot. My mussels were perfectly cooked and served in a little cast iron cocotte with lots of chorizo and spicy broth with just a touch of cream.  James had the prosciutto and pesto pizza and Lisa had the potato pizza, both of which came with a thin crust and good toppings.  We also shared a butter lettuce salad  similar to a cobb, with bacon, egg, blue cheese and hazelnuts.
Vegas 2011
After lunch, Lisa and I strolled over to the Aria for coffee and something sweet from the Jean Philippe Patisserie while James went to find Luis in the poker room.  We went a little nuts and tried not one, not two but three things - a dulce de leche filled brioche (swoon!) a "snickers" pastry, and a lemon meringue tart.   All were divine - I don't think they have anything that isn't.
Vegas 2011
It's a popular spot, located on the casino floor - hopping all day long with cafe customers getting breakfast, lunch, desserts and snacks.
Vegas 2011
We had breakfast from here two mornings in a row, and all I can say is deca-dent.  It's a good thing we brought gym clothes.
Vegas 2011
Friday night's dinner was our usual standby - Lotus of Siam.  I've written about it before here.  They have expanded significantly since we were there last, at least doubling in size and adding a large wine vault.
Vegas 2011
We always love this crispy rice dish with sausage and lime juice, and we found another new favorite this time, these prawns - separated from their shells and fried - served over spicy drunken noodles and topped with a light chili sauce. I also recommend the green curry duck and the soft shell crab salad.
Vegas 2011
Dinner the following night was at Comme Ca - a French bistro back in the Cosmopolitan.  We had originally had reservations at Twist, Pierre Gagnaire's restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental, but we decided we just weren't up for anything that fancy.  Our meal at Comme Ca started out on the right foot with lovely appetizers - an excellent seafood "plateau" and a really nice beef tartare, but slid steeply downhill with the entrees.  Luis' mussels tasted unpleasantly of dried herbs, Lisa's burger was cold, and both dishes were served with stiff, stale frites.  I had planned to order the steak frites, but James talked me into getting the "Wellington for Two" at $99  (gulp.)  Ordered medium rare it came out blue - to the point of impossible to cut - with soggy pastry and cold sides.  I think I ate two bites. It was so bad  we complained, and they confessed it was their first night serving it as a Saturday night special.  I hope they work that formula out before they ruin too many other couples' date nights.  They comped us one bottle of wine ($65) which was a nice gesture, but I would have rather they comped the more expensive inedible dish.  We skipped dessert.

Lunch on the way back was In n'Out in Barstow.  It always amazes me that their $5.45 cheeseburger combo  (Animal style, add ketchup and mustard, fries well done and a side of chiles!) can be so much better than a $100. meal.  In a strange way, I guess it all evens out in the end.

Recommended Spots:
China Poblano
in the Cosmospolitan - 2nd Floor
3708 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina
In the Crystals Shopping Center at City Center
3720 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89115

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
in the MGM Grand
3799 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Jean Philippe Patisserie
two locations, in the Aria on the casino floor, and in the
Bellagio.
Aria - 3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South Las Vegas, NV

Other Vegas Posts:
My Vegas Favorites, Otto - at the Venetian Shops, The Neon Sign Museum & Luv It Frozen Custard.


2 comments:

  1. I refuse to stop in Baker! I agree, the only place to eat on the 15 is In 'N Out in Lenwood. As for China Poblano, we tried a whole bunch of things on their menu and the tacos were my least favorite. I would definitely go back. The beers paired really nicely with the food and it was also child friendly. Win win! I would've steered you away from Comme Ca if I had known that's where you were going. A good friend of mine ate there a few weeks ago and said it was not worth the money at all. Jaleo is definitely next on my list! Sorry we didn't get to meet up. I have been working nonstop.

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  2. We had an experience similar to yours at Mad Greek at Peggy Sue's diner. It's the same thing, you see the signs up and down the freeway and think, "We always stop at In and Out, let's try something new" and it was awful.
    It's sad to hear that the mall in City Center is still quiet. We went right after it opened and it was totally dead. If you want fancy stores, all the same ones are in the Fashion Show/Venitian/Wynn malls and way better people watching.
    We've had really bad luck with some of the fancier restaurants in the casinos in the past with really bad service. It's one thing to shell out a lot of money for a meal but to be treated as second rate because you're not gambling-meh! That said we love Enoteca Otto Pizzeria in the Veneitan shops.

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