Friday, November 16, 2012

Las Vegas Trip 2

I was in Las Vegas, NV for the second time in about a month for my mother's 60th birthday (or as she'd want me to put it, the 32nd time she's celebrated her 29th birthday).  This time I really didn't do much but eat, which is pretty much fine by me; after all, that's what Las Vegas is good for if you don't feel like doing much gambling.  I arrived on Friday evening, and left Monday morning, and in that short four days I ate some very good food.

Friday Night

On Friday night after arriving, I went straight to d.vino,  a moderately fancy Italian restaurant at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino.  This was probably the worst meal I had with the family, though it wasn't bad at all.  We started with the Shrimp and Artichokes appetizer, which had probably the best artichokes I have ever had, with perfectly cooked hearts cooked in a lot of butter, tender but with a little bit of "tooth" to it, and it was clearly very fresh produce.  The shrimp were cooked properly, but lacked flavor despite supposedly being butter braised as well, being overshadowed by the artichokes.  I tried a little salad that my mom ordered, the d.Vino Salad, which was pretty good, but nothing special, certainly nothing compared to the salad I had the next night.  My cousin's Roasted Beet Salad, on the other hand, was fantastic, the beets perfectly roasted and the goat cheese combining nicely. 

Seafood risotto; those little balls are the confit tomatoes
For an entree, I had Seafood Risotto, which was only okay; while it was creamy, it appeared to be more from using heavy cream than the actual cooking process of the rice contributing to the texture.  Essentially, they appeared to add a lot of fat unnecessarily instead of taking the time to do it properly; I could be wrong, but that was my impression of the dish.  The shrimp, clams, mussels and calamari were all really well cooked, which was nice, but they didn't have a huge amount of flavor, nor did the confit tomatoes. 

Panna Cotta
My dessert choice was the Panna Cotta, which tasted a little weak, but having never had it before I don't know if that's normal or not.  It was served with a couple raspberries and a raspberry sauce drizzled on it, though not enough to make any real difference in the taste or overall experience.  I enjoyed it, but probably wouldn't recommend it.

The most disappointing thing was the beer; I was excited when I arrived to find that my brother had ordered a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, among my favorites, but upon ordering it I was informed that the keg was empty.  I instead ended up with a Full Sail Brewing beer, that may have been their IPA, but certainly didn't taste like one.  This was one of the worst craft beers I have ever had, having almost no flavor whatsoever.  This was equivalent to Bud Light, but three times the price.  Avoid at all costs.

After dinner we went to see Blue Man Group, who I also saw several years ago in Boston.  I was completely exhausted, having barely slept in the previous 24 hours, but it was quite fun, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a chance to see them.


I spent Saturday with my brother, watching football mostly after sleeping for a solid ten hours (don't judge, it was great), and we grabbed lunch at some Chinese/Vietnamese combination restaurant, that also had a couple of Thai dishes.  I went with pho, which was good, though honestly, it's kind of hard to mess up.  He had some approximation of pad thai that he thought was only okay.  Thankfully, this was just the beginning of the day's meals.

My mom's scallop dish; perfectly seared scallops
Saturday night was when we officially celebrated my mother's birthday (which was actually on Wednesday), going to The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino for dinner at Bouchon Bistro, a Thomas Keller creation, one of three of the same name.  My mom and step-dad had eaten at the Yountville, CA restaurant a few years ago and loved it, so she felt this would be the perfect choice.  There were eight of us in all: my mother, step-father, my mom's first cousin, my uncle, aunt and cousin, and of course me and my brother.  The restaurant experience was incredible, from the food to the atmosphere to the decoration to the service, it was impeccable.  The only complaint anyone could make was that the restaurant was a little dark, though this was not a problem for me.  Our waitress, Julie, was wonderful, funny and engaging, and really making the overall experience perfect. 

My step-father and I split the Salade Maraîchère au Chèvre Chaud, with mixed greens, herbes de Provence, and goat cheese with a red wine vinaigrette.  It is pretty simple to make a good salad, but tremendously difficult to make a great one.  This was a great salad, with incredibly fresh greens, bright and vibrant, with a perfect little disc of goat cheese, really high quality product, presented beautifully atop the mixed greens.

Short ribs
There were two specials that night, one with seared scallops that my mother ordered, and was perfectly cooked and delicious, and a slow braised short rib dish that I ordered. Braised for 12-14 hours according to Julie, the short ribs were fork tender, with a deep, rich beef flavor that was only enhanced by the braising liquid on the plate.  Those little white balls are confit chestnuts, which I could not identify while I was eating them, but which were really quite nice, with a woody, earthy quality that is unique to them but quite pleasant.  There were also bits of roasted quince that reminded me of pear, but rather less crunchy; very tasty.  The short ribs were placed upon a nice pile of wilted collard greens that tasted great with the braising liquid.  As good as all this was (and the short ribs were the best I've ever had, by far) the best part was what they labeled a "pain perdu," though this was a bit of a play on the term.  It was really more of a savory bread pudding, only very slightly sweet, with a flavor that almost reminded me of really good pumpkin pie (you know, not the stuff from a can), with some cinnamon flavor really coming through.  I don't think I could even ever hope to replicate it, but I would love to find a recipe.

French fries
We also ordered a side of frites, or french fries.  They don't look like anything particularly impressive, but they were incredible.  Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, with just the right amount of salt.  I'm not sure what they were fried in, but it was a stronger flavor than normal fries, and there was no greasiness.

Crème Caramel
For dessert I ordered the Crème Caramel, a classic caramel custard that was, to keep up the trend, perfect.  Smooth, gelatinous, and a little creamy, with just a mild caramel flavor, and not too much sweetness.  Among my favorite desserts of all, this was really quite fantastic, and I highly recommend it. 

The beer list wasn't bad at Bouchon, though their focus is clearly on the wine list.  I went with the Chimay Trippel, a fantastic trappist ale that I enjoyed for the first time.  Mild, slightly hoppy, with a nice citrusy flavor, served in a goblet like glass bearing the Chimay name.  This was a great beer to have with this meal, as it complemented the short ribs nicely but was not so strong as to overwhelm even the salad.


Sunday was a fairly lazy day as well, which consisted mostly of my step-dad and I reading by the pool (until it got cold) and wandering around CityCenter and checking out some of the many shops containing clothes we could never afford (including an $8700 leather jacket at Kiton that my step-dad wanted until I told him the price, and a $4400 Ermenegildo Zegna wool jacket that I may have considered selling my car to buy), before grabbing a beer and some food at the Aria Resort and Casino (also home to the previously reviewed Julian Serrano, where my family went on Thursday night...I am still displeased with them for that) where the family was staying.

After wandering around CityCenter, my step-dad and I adjourned to the wine bar at Sirio Ristorante, another moderately fancy Italian restaurant not entirely dissimilar to d.vino.  They have a "happy hour" menu from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, which includes "cheap" (it's a relative word) drinks and small plate options.

For beer I went with a Birra Moretti Lager (picture on right), a beer similar to that old standby Stella Artois, extremely crisp and light, with no hops to speak of.  The head dissipates quickly, like a lot of these super light beers, and there was no aftertaste.  This was nothing to write home about, but if it weren't imported (aka, expensive) it would be a great session beer.

There were five options for food (mozzarella bites, pork cheeks and tomato bruschetta, salted cod croquette, chicken meatballs, and spinach and ricotta ravioli), and we picked three initially.  Once the rest of the group arrived we ended up having all five.

All three of the original "bites" from Sirio's wine bar
The pork cheeks and tomato bruschetta were amazing, with thin, crisp slices of baguette topped with fresh tomato and slices of fried pork cheek that were incredibly salty, fatty, and crisp.  It was a little too fatty for my step-dad, but I loved it; after all, fat is flavor, right?  It was my favorite of the night.

Better view of the ravioli

The ravioli, which came in a sage butter sauce, were unremarkable, less impressive than the similar ravioli my mother occasionally makes from scratch.  They tasted fine, but I really doubt there was anything homemade about them.  There was a nice earthiness that almost tasted of mushroom, but that is really it.

The chicken meatballs in a tomato-Gorgonzola fonduta were more successful, as they were still moist, with a mild chicken flavor that really should have been stronger, but was pleasant nonetheless.  The fonduta was the best part, tasting (and looking) rather more like a roasted red pepper sauce than tomato, but was really fantastic, with just the right amount of salt imparted by the cheese.  These were a great option.

The mozzarella bites were nothing special, with virtually tasteless cheese on skewers with delicious oven roasted tomato and some basil pesto.  The salted cod croquettes were better, crispy and moist, and the puttanesca coulis was nice for dipping.  It did not match up with the pork cheeks, but it was pretty darn good.

We ended up having dinner at Sirio as well, which had a slightly better result than the bar food.  I went with the gnocchi, served in a very heavy green sauce that I can't really describe too well.  The gnocchi were fine, having a good flavor, but they were a bit too light.  I know that lightness is a virtue in gnocchi, but these had almost no substance to them, and a little more density would have been nice.  Dessert was a platter of small Italian doughnuts, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and served with three dipping sauces.  Happy Birthday was written out in chocolate on the side of the platter.  These were actually pretty awesome, though a little overly sweet with the sauces, which included a caramel sauce and a "tropical" sauce (aka, lemon).  Overall, this was not my favorite meal, but it wasn't the worst either, and I would not object to going back, though there are certainly better options both in the Aria and in the surrounding casinos.


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