Archive for March, 2013

Mitchell in the News! 3 Tips to Tell a Bad Restaurant

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PINOT Envy Times Deux 2: a Good Day to DEUX

An interesting idea, credited to the Keeper of the Keys to this blog – Mr. John Curtas- is two critics taking in the same meal, writing a couple articles blind of each other’s impressions, and seeing where that leaves them.  This was doubly fortuitous, as in the making I learned of a crazy-good restaurant, easily overlooked for lack of PR, Pinot Brasserie.  Judging by our overlapping cares and qualms with the Franco-foods, it makes for an interesting look at things.

Pinot Brasserie, perhaps the most overlooked restaurant on the strip, has been punching out what can only be called “some seriously good food”.  Now I am generally loath to talk about food in the way people usually describe a burger stuffed with bacon and hair gel, but the dishes coming from the hands of Chefs Eric Lhuiller and John Courtney are definitely -seriously- serious.  The menu has a ton of old-school French staples, from escargot to lobster bisque, precicely what you’d expect from a Brasserie but missing the specter of pomp and pernicious hoity-toity-isms so often looming in even the most traditionally casual French concepts.  A “bouchon” is no longer synonymous with friendly home-spun Lyonnaise sausage-huts, and a “bistro” is anything but modest or moderate, but a brasserie still clings to it’s roots as relaxed.


Chefs Eric and John. Dang, them CHOPS!


There are some very VERY strong dishes that would be blowing people away if they were all hip and trendy and new, but it looks like you’d have to cover the walls in graffiti, pump in whatever pop singer my five-year-old niece is listening to, and call it “P” by Morton’s.  But it would be a downright crime to let the fog machines and bass beats cloud your perception of this delicious little langostino bite, poached with black truffles to double up on that richness, and perfectly seasoned by a salty, full bodied, consumme-ish aspic.  It gives what is sometimes felt missing with the better crustaceans, that little hint of the sea that makes oysters or urchin so addictive.


a perfect little two-bite


And their foie gras!  Don’t go telling me about your apricot compotes, or your mushroom reduced sauces, or your candied fig.  In a very inspired move, they go for complimenting flavors by pairing this seared taste of heaven with a smoked sausage coin, but then contrasting flavors with green lentils cooked in some kind of buttery, light, tangy sauce.  Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised by another foie gras, such an iron-clad staple of French dining, I get my perceptions on the stuff challenged.

The “main attraction” of our tasting was a duo of lamb saddle and loin, rolled in a distinctly Moroccan spice blend (paprika-centric, but with some great aromatics).  Along side a sweet date sauce, it was an interesting little side-note from a predominantly “French as French can be” tasting.


the Lamb


I’ll touch on desert last for the sake of chronology, but for the savory courses, I wanted to hit on this lobster bisque.  You guys THIS LOBSTER BISQUE, oh my stars and stripes.  It’s poured into the bowl at-table, around the standing claw meat and the little fresh cream lobster salad crustini, topped with a healthy bit of caviar.  There’s that note again, the sea-flavor of the caviar and the rich, sweet lobster, so perfect together.  That’s all great, but this bisque is mana from heaven.  It’s not the thick canned-soup bisque you get ladled to you everywhere else, but a frothy, creamy, but light concoction.  Fresh minced vegetables, roma tomatoes, a good helping of garlic, and something perceptively smoky (paprika again?).  Downright addictive, I’d buy it by the industrial drum if I could.  I’d have a cup of that in the morning to wake me up, just from pure enjoyment.


Get in your car. Order this. Thank me later.


The desert was something I enjoyed for it’s creativity.  Not the common confectionary of French places, but an interesting pairing between a strawberry and a Humbolt-Fog looking cheese.  The strawberry was sliced up like a hasselback potato, roasted and drizzled with a sweet and tangy balsamic and black pepper sauce.  It was the kind of ending of a tasting that I really prefer, not where it’s looked at like a challenge or prison sentence, but just a little unassuming bite of sweetness and complexity.


Le Fin…?


Of course there was much more to this meal than I can speak to.  The wine pairings were expertly picked (the dessert port especially, WOW), there was a cheese plate, a scallop course with a watercress puree done as well as you’d expect in such a great restaurant.  It’s unusual when a great crime of our undulating restaurant industry isn’t a place closing, but a place just not being a constant reminder of what a semi-casual French dining should be.  Unpretentious, comfortable, and once again, serious food.  Vive le Pinot!


In the Venetian Hotel and Casino

3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109


My FOX5 Spot: Top 5 Places to Eat for NASCAR Fans

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This was a ton of fun!

Cicerone v. Sommelier Showdown at Aureole

Cicerone: Sarah Johnson
Sommelier: Cristophe Tassan

With the importance of craft beer and the profession of a cicerone rising, traditionalists in the wine community may be leaning back on their heels at the hottest new staple in the Food and Beverage scene. While both practitioners of the fermented arts are no doubt dedicated to their service and education exploits, there is something of a friendly rivalry between those who plant their flag on the beer or wine side of the border. While there are so few beer-lovers expert enough out there to call themselves a cicerone, and essentially none that can be called an expert at both, the position of beer as a pairing has been received well by even the neophytes of the scene. And why not? What beer lacks in the pedigree and subtly of wine, it makes up with variety and approachable nature in spades. That said, there is still much debate on the pairings of both, right down to a dish-by-dish basis, with great points and criticisms for both sides. As something of an inauguration for the Mandalay Bay’s new Director of Food and Beverage and our city’s first lady cicerone, Sarah Johnson was charged with making a beer pairing for a five-course meal at Aureole. The twist was that Aureole’s wine director and resident sommelier, Christophe Tassan, made his choices on the same menu, with the diners to decide which pairing is the victor.

Of the five courses, there were stand out winners in both categories, and even a few “too close to call” moments. Wine truly won out on the first course, Charlie’s onion soup with foie gras, truffle and gruyere puff pastry being paired with Pommery “Pop” extra brut champagne, dry enough to cut through the richness, but with a sweet and complex flavor to complement the earthiness. On the beer side, the cheese course of a rock blue and poached pear tart, alongside a fromage blanc with artisanal maple syrup, fit best with the Rochefort “8” Trappist quad. The Oloroso sherry was an interesting match with the sweet portions, but it may have lacked the effervescent and full bodied properties needed to work with both strong aged and creamy cheeses. Dessert was also a big win for beer, mainly carried by the spiced mini-carrot cake with super light cream cheese frosting from the “American dessert sampler” being a nearly perfect pairing with Old Rasputin XV Anniversary Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout. The heavily roasted and chocolaty brew played off the cake so well you’d imagine they were made for each other.

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Chinita Mexican Bar and Grill: Summerlin’s New Meh-xican

In an effort to diversify my reviews, I made sure that this time I wasn’t going to do yet another Asian or Asian Fusion place.  Anyone who keeps one eye on the new openings in town can attest that this is becoming somewhat taxing.  Next week will no doubt be some kind of infused tapas, so don’t get used to this.  Submitted for your approval is one Chinita Mexican Bar and Grill, located in the slowly but surely growing collection of Summerlin restaurants.  As far as sit-down Mexican places, I believe the only real name in the area is that corporate-sterile “Modern Mexican” Cantina Laredo in Tivoli.  Its redeeming quality seems to end at putting something interesting like spinach or pinapple mostly in dishes that deserve it,  maybe avoiding some of the cliches in decor, but not much else.

Fortaleza Flight


Chinita has become something of a polarizing series of experiences, and I think I have narrowed down the reasons for them.  Apart from a few key details, they have really missed the mark on things.  Their tequila list is muy bueno, fair-ish priced, and Vicente behind the bar has a great working knowledge and ability to recommend to your tastes.  The flight of Fortaleza blanco, reposado, and anjeo ran us a bit, but was worth the damage.  Their margaritas seem like they were made with the awkward lunch-date social lubrication in mind (however committing that cardinal sin of making a few anjeo margaritas), but aside from their cucumber one I couldn’t imagine ingesting too much of that sickly sweet stuff.  I can only say that I was happy they were not obliterated in a blender, and I could imagine getting excited over them if I was used to your average World Famous Chili’s ‘rita sampler.

Cucumber Jalapeno was… alright.

There’s one thing I got excited over and will probably find myself going back for is their AYCE tacos tuesdays for only one Zander Hambone.  Their pulled pollo is almost too juicy and flavorful, the pork is delicious little cubes crispified on one side, the steak is… well lets just say I stuck with the chicken and pork after my first round.  Nothing wrong, just nothing special.  I get them Mexican style, just cilantro and onion.  Leave the shredded cheese and lettuce for the plebs!  The best part about it is that it avoided what I disliked the most in the rest of the menu: No nasty rice and beans!  I swear these rice and beans you get at literally every Mexican restaurant must come in a cargo ship because their uniform sadness would make Budweiser jealous.  Next time I’m subbing for their house-made onion rings, and damn any up-charge they may dare!

I put away about three of these plates

Aside from that swell deal, I can’t recommend much.  The Camarones a la Diablo were small, scant, and downright angelic compared to the spice levels I expect from “A La Diablo”.  Twenty two of my  dollars got me a handful of frozen tail-on shrimp, a dollop of a mediocre tomato sauce, but enough beans and rice to craft a life sized bust of myself.  The app sampler came almost entirely out of a fryer, and boy could you tell.  The only thing I found myself enjoying were the nachos, and there were like four!  Next time, getting a plate of those and skipping the rest.

Camarones of a milquetoast, cartoonish Devil

Their Chorizo hamburgesa was about the only redeeming original/special item.  It had all the smoky, spicy, identifiable chorizo flavor in the burger, some of their pretty solid guacamole, and you can get it with those onion rings I mentioned.  Now, it’s not usually a great sign when the burger is the best thing in a Mexican place, but at least it’s a better “tex mex” style burger than danged near anywhere else that’s tried.

Half and half pork/chicken enchilada style burrito: delicioso!

Overall, I’d say you should gamble the ten-spot for Taco Tuesday as soon as you can, get a little education in the tequila for the curious, maybe try a Mexican staple with that tasty pork or chicken or the hamburgesa, but leave the rest for El Diablo.  Until someone steps up the Mexican game in town (or someone gives the so-far best in town Tacos el Gordo a satellite), we’re stuck with Summerlin having two places worth going to satisfy a specific craving, but not much more.

Chinita Mexican Bar and Grill

In Village Square

9440 W. Sahara Ave #165
Las Vegas, NV 89117

Fat Choy: the Skinny On Sheridan Su’s New Digs

“Yum Yum” indeed, sign.

Adherents to Sheridan’s previous venture in the Great Bao food truck and 4-seat salon Bao counter (famously dubbed the Worst Location in Town) may already know about the barely-month-old FAT CHOY.  The man has a following in the throngs of dedicated food lovers, adeptly tuned to the frequency of our town’s unique blend of street food-style eateries.  Here’s the word on Fat Choy: It’s not all Baos (though they have two), it’s in the Eureka Casino (more on that later), and there has been something like a 1000% increase in seating.

The space has some character!

Take heed: there are some hold-overs from the casino diner that inhabited the space before Fat Choy that can bamboozle a less skeptical eater.  The cheesesteak, the buffalo wings, salads, and the breakfast menu (excluding the Kalbi steak and eggs special on the chalk board) are NOT any kind of deconstructed/asian-fusion/re-imagined/[insert buzzword here] version, they are crowd favorites that just need to be there.  The desserts chiller is also mainly items from the casino’s main service, not unique to Fat Choy.  The Eureka casino is definitely a haven for the “regulars” surgically grafted into the slot machines, but honestly I can’t in good conscience (and as a Las Vegas native) complain about them.  Besides, if you want to look at it Machiavelli-style, the means of a small locals casino and a couple of bar food items certainly justifies the ends of Fat Choy.  Besides, there’s a certain novelty to seeing basic hot wings next to menu items like, for example, roasted bone marrow.  A halved beef femur, roasted with just a little bit of salt and pepper, topped with tangy and sweet onion jam and served with grilled sourdough.  Of the few places in town where fans of this buttery rich delicacy can order it, this is easily the easiest way to get your fix.


Maybe Sheridan can do a “Great Bone” food truck.


Ever the perfectionist, I think even the most standard of Sheridan’s arsenal, the Bao, has improved since the salon days.  Observe the pork belly bao, just fall-apart buttery with pickled mustard greens and crushed peanuts, easily head and shoulders above the contenders.  The peking duck bao has big, moist chunks of duck with a crispy skin, sweet hoisin sauce, and a nice double crunch of sweet pickles and scallions.  Both are on fluffy white pillows of bao, and both are worth the trip alone.

Left is duck, right is pork, both are perfect

The short rib grilled cheese, I just can’t recommend enough.  When you end up going, this is a must-have.  It’s braised short rib, cooked down for hours and finished with a bit of teriyaki, with a bit of that onion jam and between cheddar, provolone, and grilled up between buttered bread.  On the side is this interesting tomato dip (made with Roma, if memory serves) and just cooked down with garlic, onion, and herbs.  The acidity and aromatic quality of the dip cuts through and complements the super savory and meaty sandwich, an amazingly simple and hearty meal all together.

I’ll probably get this the next time I come in too, it’s THAT good.

I think the most ‘unique’ thing I tried that day was the shrimp toast.  Now, I was informed that this is a fairly common in Asian-American communities on the East coast, but not so much out here.  It’s as simple as it sounds, just minced shrimp on toast, but Fat Choy does it with an over easy egg, hoisin, and sriracha mayo on top.  There’s a bit of crumbled chinese sausage, but in retrospect I would have asked for a double portion of those tasty little bits.  It’s an interesting little dim-sum type item, but what you see is what you get.  It’s fun, no doubt, and I think it would make a great breakfast staple food, but I suppose this is something of a divisive food.  I’m glad I tried it, but it’s hard for it to stand against all of the other wild stuff on the menu.

Frankly, and I’m a sucker for Chinese sausage, but this could handle much more of it.

Fat Choy is one of the most interesting things in that Paradise/Sahara area, really only competing against Lotus of Siam, but it is definitely the only good place in the area you don’t need a reservation or a special occasion for.  I have a good feeling that if you head down there and try some things, you’ll find yourself addicted to something.  It’s a rare treat for a chef like Sheridan, a guy who opened Robuchon, trained with Jean-Georges, has cooked in kitchens from New York to California, to be putting all this talent into a genre like Asian street-food, a genre that really needs some talent.  I’m looking forward to trying Ms. Wong’s Spaghetti and Meatballs, the Pork Belly+BLT sandwich, and maybe five or six more of those pork belly baos.

Sheridan himself.


Inside the Eureka Casino

595 East Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89104
(702) 794-3464

Fun With Beer: New Belgium Springboard

So there was a time, back when people were crapping into a dry bowl and sleeping with it under their bed, when instead of medicine we had a bunch of witch-doctor herbs and barks and such.  Luckily we have gotten our bathroom situations mostly sorted out (save for a rare camping trip, America’s Funniest Home Video septic tank explosion, or vacation to India) and we rarely have to consider our voiding a serious problem.  Unfortunately, our health, our position in this world escaping the shadow of death that follows us, has only done slightly better.  One’s bullet train to the grave can be slowed down now that we don’t treat a toothache with honey and lard, and all these microscopes and xray spectrometers and controlling the evolution of bacteria to actually solve more problems than they cause has given us an average of 30+ years across the board.  However, there are still people out there, mainly people with a burning desire to bring up something about themselves to smugly lord over us “normal” types, that reject the lifespan increase, reject the logic, reject the droves upon droves upon droves who’ve dedicated their lifetime to helping their fellow man, and instead say, “Naw, the herbs, man.  It’s NATURAL.”

Yes, we can all share a special, intimate shame that we are nearly genetically identical to these people.  Even your average middle-aged forwarded-email-reader (FWD: fwd; RE: THIS IS AMAZING!!!!!.txt) in love with their Acai berries and “superfoods” will still err on the side of the drug store when their river starts to flow the wrong way, but the person who asks the 20-something white-guy-dreadlock sporting, Greatful Dead tattooed, unemployable mouth-breather at Whole Foods for health advice is a whole other beast.  And that mouthbreather?  Oh he’ll give you some advice.  One of them might just be a $13 dollar bundle of “unstressed” rosemary!
 Which brings me to the beer.  It may pain me to say it, but I think New Belgium is jumping the shark with this one.  Springboard is a Belgian Pale Ale, born from a, no joke, “A Dream the Sustainability Director’s acupuncturist had about making a beer with New Belgium.”  An acupuncturist had a dream about someone paying them for something ridiculous?  A “Sustainability Director” had an acupuncturist?  WOAH, the room is spinning, let me sit down!  So the three got together in some herb shop, probably cleared away the bongs and nude mags, and hashed out a beer.  Presumably, it was a brewmaster shooting down the most disgusting tasting of the suggestions, until we have a beer with Gogi berries and Schisandra.  Ever heard of them?  No?  Good.
Now, seeing as how there is so little of these magical fruits, and their bio-availability is so scant already in their whole form, lets not even get into the health benefits of a beer made with them.  As far as the beer itself, it pours a cloudy pale yellow with a big foamy white head.  The nose is pretty indicative of a Belgian style pale ale, mainly sweet bready malts and citrus.  Oddly enough though, there is a hint of some grassy hops, a positive note.  The taste is rather sweet, with a bit of spice that didn’t let on in the scent.  It’s nicely inoffensive, but ends with a bit of a chalky dryness that could have done without.  Otherwise a good beer, but I’m expecting the funky Chinese natural medicines didn’t do it any favors, flavor or otherwise.

Fun With Beer: Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

What’s in a name?  A moniker?  A hashtag even?  So what’s in Rye?  Consider the rye, if you will, and tell me what you see.  Is it a toasty bread with fennel seeds, literally sandwiching a pile of salty pink meat?  Is it a brown liquor, kinda spicy and sweet and filling the glass of a man from the 1950s?  Or is it an IPA with a real animal spirit to it?  Yes, if the world of IPAs was football, I think Rye IPAs would be rugby.  Slightly different, a little more scary, but oddly unappreciated.  Not to mention largely ignored by the media.  Regardless, there are some real honeys of Ryes out there.  One of which are a seasonal release by the famous desert brewery, Sierra Nevada.  While it seems that they don’t get much play outside of their wheelhouse beers, this seasonal is more celebrated than any of them.  I’m particularly fond of their hefe, but that’s neither here, nor there.  You can find this IPA in grocery stores even these days, bought up by the sixer and twelve pack.  Of all the beers that occupy that kind of “no-man’s land” between bottom-shelf gas station fodder and proper bottle shop alums, Ruthless Rye IPA is certainly… one of them.

Ok, I have to admit, to myself and the world, that I just don’t really swallow the hype on this one.  I’m not saying it’s bad or anything, I’m just saying that to judge it as a Rye IPA, it doesn’t really cut the mustard (screw thousand-island, I’ll make my Reuben how I want).  I’m thinking that sometimes these kinds of beers are given a bit of a leeway with how they are judged, considering their middle-market competition.  It’s like the fact that you generally see something next to the shrink wrapped bud lite tall-boy three pack, anything above a “Blah” gets a gold star and a pat on the back and free tickets to a magician.  If Sierra Nevada wasn’t already so big, and the standards for big places so low, Ruthless Rye wouldn’t shake so many money-makers.  Or hell, at least it wouldn’t be a freakin’ ninety-something on review sites.  Alas, let us observe it objectively.
So Ruthless Rye pours a solid dark amber, pretty clear, and has a pretty large, fluffy, and retaining head.  I did mine in a tulip glass, but the aromas coming off of it were strong enough without it.  Very floral, and a good enough hit of a grapefruit citrus note, but all were cranked up to eleven.  It made it a little hard to appreciate the namesake, the rye.  Maybe in the taste then?  Well, the first thing you get is just a ton of resinous hops and a very sweet, almost cloying bready malt.  The overt sweetness I can contribute to the rye, and there was a kind of aftertaste of a spice, but for a Rye IPA to be a fairly one-dimensional IPA with hardly any Rye, I don’t think this is deserving of the praise.  The resin lingers in a kind of chalky dryness, dissuading me from trying more.  I think that is the real Achilles’s Heel here, it just brings down the drinkability so much.  I am sad to say that of the several I drank in this past week, I barely finished the first one, and let the other attempts at trying it out go to waste.