Archive for April, 2013

Spring Menu Highlights: Starting Off 2013 Right

Over the past couple weeks, as is our position, Mr. Curtas and I have eaten out on our own, and have noted some new dishes of the season’s menu change that deserve their due recognition.  We’ve taken the best of the best and are bringing to you those that really struck a chord with us.

For anyone wanting to take up the fun little occasion of a “Dine Around”, this would be a great guide for it.  Why did I do a top 9 instead of a top 10?  Well, you could say that last spot is for YOU, dear reader, to tell me in the comments your top pick in new spring menu items.  I look forward to reading it, and maybe even trying it out for myself…

Curry Scallops with Cauliflower (Les Saint-Jacques au Chou-Fleur et Curry) - Le Cirque in Bellagio:

New Executive Chef Paul Lee is making full use of his new position as “fine dining guy to keep your eye on” by really veering away from the commonplace, the expected, and the national dining character itself.  While everyone is tripping over themselves trying to chip this and gelee that, Chef Lee is de-complexifying things.  These scallops were indeed scallops, but the specter of a spicy green curry and nutty roasted pistachios added to its natural sweetness and buttery flavor.  Each bite (I took mine with the endive salad) finishes off with nutty roasted Sicilian pistachios and tangy, umami tamarind vinaigrette.   It wasn’t in your face, but it was really in your head.  If I had to really describe it, it would be the difference between a pretty lady coming up and ripping your shirt off, and the same just giving you a wink from across the room.  Paul Lee is really exemplifying the maxim “Less is more”.

Foie Gras with Rhubarb compote - Public House in The Venetian:

Danged near everywhere, I’m seeing this massive influx of rhubarb, especially rhubarb and foie gras.  I think I’ve seen four in the past couple weeks that all had that same formula.  I think this was the best example of it (I have yet to try the Foie Gras w/ rhubarb 3-ways by John Courtney at Pinot Brasserie.) because of simply the quality of the brioche, the range in flavor of the compote and jus, and the technical precision of the foie.  Each bite had that livery richness, a perfect level of salt, not too much sweetness, and a beautiful blend of spice notes from the jus.  While I usually prefer to err on the savory side of the foie gras spectrum, this was a wonderful example of the sweet side.

Grilled Barramundi - The Barrymore in The Royal Resort:

While I do share the skepticism Mr. Curtas has towards the hip new sustainable “Replacement fishes”, and generally consider them about as appropriate a replacement as a clown car is for fire truck, this is the first time I’ve had a Barramundi dish that went for a more traditional Thai style.  It’s done with a ginger-cilantro sauce and some preserved lemon, on top of coconut herb rice.  It’s not exactly a sashimi fish, so it makes for a solid canvass for the exotic palate of flavors.

Dungeness Crab Salad - Carnevino in The Venetian:

I plan on doing a full article on the back-stage tour and beautiful meal I had just recently, but I’d like to include particular dish because of how incredible it was.  Firstly, you have these Dungeness crabs flown in weekly, living just a day or two before it’s on your plate.  Then you have these bizarre variety of avocado called “Surprise Avocado” from a California Farmers Market, which are about the size of an ostrich egg and have a creamy, tangy style to them.  Little bit of kumquat diced in the salad and sliced right on top, bit of butter lettuce, fresh cream and herbs for the crab, and you have one really interesting dish.  It showcases the oceanic flavor of the crab and contrasts it with the sweet and citrus-y bitter kumquat, becoming a fresh and almost addictive dish (Keith the Sommelier paired it with this lovely very northern Italian white: very crisp and minerality, complimented the crab perfectly).

Southern Fried Chicken - Public House in The Venetian:

I’m just not a fried chicken guy, and even less of a dark meat guy, but something about this ale-brined free range bird and the Tabasco Orange-Blossom honey made it so finger-licking good (seriously, it can get messy).  Super moist, so much more flavorful than the supermarket chickens that share more in common with tofu than a hen house, and fried perfectly.  Not oily at all, and the skin didn’t slough off like the Colonel’s will.  It’s rare to see it done well, and even rarer to see it without a DAMNED waffle underneath it, like some kind of superstitious “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” watchers attracting totem.

Chilled Razor Clam Cru - Comme Ça in The Cosmopolitan:

Remember when Comme Ça was going for that strange farm-to-table thing, and wasn’t really pulling it off?  Just a few months ago?  Well somebody wised up and flipped the danged script, because now they are no longer avoiding the Hoity-Toity that comes along with good french food (waiters are still wearing plaid, though).  Served in the shell, this mix of diced clam, diced peppers, citrus (a blend I think, couldn’t quite put my finger on it), and applewood smoked salmon roe had all the markings of unique modern French, and none of the “locavore” pandering.  The few ingredients struck a really nice “chord” of flavor. Refreshing, simple, and just really fun, it’s the start of a good trend at Comme Ça.

Lamb “Pot-au-Feu” (L’Agneau Printanier du Colorado) - Le Cirque in Bellagio:

In the same vein as the scallops, this dish is an interesting turn on the rustic.  A perfect little braised shoulder medallion, a chop, veggies, and a full bodied consomme.  There’s also a bit of sweetbreads (another emerging trend), but done to avoid the overly salty way others can be.  Where the scallops were “complex but subtle”, this was “subtle but complex”.  This is one of those dishes where you can reset, clear your mind, and truly enjoy the natural flavors of well-sourced vegetables and meat.  If you can appreciate the classics, go for this one ASAP.

HONORABLE MENTION


“The Flying Lariat” by Nathan Greene - RM Seafood in The Mandalay Bay:

With the growing, exploding high-end cocktail scene we’re seeing these days, I would be remiss in excluding this.  Nathan Greene just launched his seasonal cocktail menu, and on it his award winning Bols Genever cocktail.  For those of you still skeptical on the culinary versatility and ability of mixology, this is one that will convert you to a believer.  It’s a mix of the Bols, vermouth, aperitif wine, amaro, bitters, and just a touch of absinthe.  It has great balance, a classic dryness, modern complexity, and showcases each of the main ingredients well.  This one is on their bar-only “Secret Menu”, so be sure to come early to dinner or stay late.  Oh, and I found a neato little video of Nathan teaching you how to make it!  On top of a mountain no less…

BEST OF SHOW

Parisian Gnocchi - Comme Ça in The Cosmopolitan:

I wish I got a better picture to do this justice, but the darkest dining room on the strip holds no love for my bargain camera.  Dig this: 50/50 pâte à choux and Gruyère, rolled into little balls and cooked in brown butter, with house-made goat cheese, crisped up braised lamb neck, and mint.  This is Comme Ça being trying to be more French than Charles De Gaul as a mime eating a baguette surrendering to the Eiffel Tower.  Easily the fluffiest, lightest gnocchi I’ve had in town.  It’s beautiful, comforting food, and I really could eat it by the bucket.  Go there, get this, no matter what.

Public House Hosts Beer vs. Booze Showdown

The Public House in The Venetian has many reasons to celebrate, and allowed them to culminate in the popular form of a course pairing dinner showdown. Reason One to celebrate: The grand old time that is the Nightclub and Bar Show was in town, a thing that to liquor professionals is like a week-long bacchanalia. Reason Two: Grant Grill of San Diego Mixologist Jeff Josenhans was in town for the NCB Show, and a friendly competition with hometown-hero Cicerone Russell Gardner seemed like the natural thing to do. Reason Three: Do we really need a reason?It sounds amazing! After the little knot of other food writers said their hellos, the staff wasted no time in getting starting this off right.

The first course was their crispy duck egg roll, with a little bit of apricot jam. This was paired with a truly great beer by Jolly Pumpkin, Bam Bier. The white pepper tastes and funky tartness from their famous wild yeast cut the richness and the oil of the fried roll. Jeff’s cocktail, the Asian Cowboy Sour, did a great job contrasting by using High West White Whiskey, pressed Meyer lemon, purple basil and Cointreau. Right into the second course was a Public House favorite, and a running item in all of Anthony Meidenbauer’s menus, grilled octopus salad. The light salad and sweet charred octopus was paired with a kind of yeast-forward and slightly bitter Grimbergen Blonde Belgian ale and a cocktail called the “Venetian Arrangement.” It was made with Sarpa Di Poli Grappa Moscato, Antica Carpano Sweet Vermouth, a sweet aromatic wine from the barachetto grape, Fee Brother’s Lavender Water, pressed Genoa lemon and muddled rosemary. The cocktail was so complex and so unique, but its execution came off perfectly. It was aromatic, floral, and balanced against the dish perfectly.

The “main” course was a braised short rib, cooked and reduced in Deschutes Black Butte Porter, with a side of English pea mashed potatoes. Now, being braised in a rather smoky porter, both the mixologist and the cicerone went in the direction of smoke. Russell went for something of a wildcard with Aect Ochlenferla Urbock Rauchbier. Smoked beers are often heavy-bodied and semi-sweet, but this kept the smoke but was more clean and crisp, like an urbock lager usually is. Jeff created a cocktail called “Spirit Grocer’s Soiree” using Templeton Rye, smoked dark muscovado simple syrup, Fee Brother’s Old Fashioned Bitters, and a Guinness foam topped with just a touch of smoked paprika. The whole course was smoke-central, and both had their own distinctive qualities towards the dish.

This next course was somewhat obtuse in the description, “Beer, Cheese and Booze Trio.” What it actually was is a trio of cheeses, each one paired with one beer and one small cocktail. The first cheese/beer/booze bite was a St. Andre triple cream, a soft rind buttery cow’s milk cheese, paired with a citrusy trippel-Anchorage Brewing Co.’s The Tide and Its Takers, and a “Little Jig” of Tito’s Vodka, St. Germain, tangerine champagne and cardamom. The aged English cheddar went with a nice malty Firestone DBA and a Beefeater Gin, Graham’s Tawny Port, bruised parsley, lime and Luxardo Syrup Cocktail. Lastly was a slightly salty and in-your-face American style blue cheese, Roquefort Blue, paired with a very American-style Sculpin IPA, and a cocktail of Pusser’s 15 Rum, a sauternes wine, and fresh pressed pineapple juice. The realization that the mixologist went for the classic pairing of wine and cheese, but using wine-centric cocktails, was quite stunning. This one cheese course was like a meal in itself, but there was still dessert to go.

The final course was a dark chocolate mini-tart with a little layer of crumbled peppered bacon. Both masters of pairings went top-notch with the finale, with Russell choosing the very heavy bodied and complex Firestone 16, full of toffee, bourbon, and especially chocolate notes. Jeff went with a cocktail called “Smooth Criminal,” a mix of Breaking and Entering St.George Bourbon, white creme de cacao, Funkin Raspberry Puree, and cinnamon-infused whipped cream. Honestly, dinners like these only have one winner: the diners. Both Russell Gardner the Cicerone and Jeff Josenhans the Mixologist did an amazing job of not only creating a wonderful dinner of libations, but showing to everyone how true masters of their respective crafts operate.

Rollin’ Smoke BBQ: Smoking Section, Please!

The new winner for widest gulf between location and quality, ever since Sheridan Su’s Great Bao no longer occupies Chair 4 at a hair salon, is Rollin’ Smoke Barbecue.

Located right in the heart of an only medium-scary strip club district, almost under a freeway, and next to an AM evangelical radio station, it’s not the most hospitable of places.  Despite this, it’s known by BBQ-experts and Southerner Ex-Pats as the best down-home meat experience money can buy here in town.

Speaking of money, pretty danged cheap too!  Thirteen clams gets you a trio of meats, one of their kicked-up unique sides, and a drink; all of this is enough for one very hearty meal.  There’s even an All You Can Eat (conflicting prices on in-store signs and website, either $18 or $25),  which I’m guessing is a perfect form of suicide.  Death By Meat, but what a way to go!

 

Pulled, link, and brisket

 

Almost everything they make in house, from jalapeno slaw to fried okra, spicy hot links (my particular favorite, but I’m always partial to sausage), catfish fry, and whatever golden ratio of spices they rub on all the meats.  They do about half a dozen different styles of ribs, each just a deep red from smoke and with nearly as much meat as a steak on a 3-bone portion.

The pulled pork shoulder is a smoke-bomb, and goes perfectly with their secret recipe sauce.  The tangy, peppery, and seducingly sweet paints the canvass of a pulled-pork sandwich perfectly.  I’ve noted the brisket can suffer the most from overcooking though.  The slow Tuesday I visited, it was fall-apart perfection, but the busy Saturday was rushed into stew meat.  Sad, but still on-par or above the “famous” chain-style barbecue dotting the landscape.

 

St. Louis rib, brisket, and link

 

In the way of non-smoked foods, sides notwithstanding, they stay in key with the southern tradition of fish+fry.  Cornmeal breaded catfish was a bulls eye,  and it came with these little jalapeno “corn ball” hushpuppies.  Outside of that, it’s all meat all the time.

Sorry Vegetarians.  This place is a addictive good (seriously, I’m getting the shakes thinking about those ribs), and if you need some pre- or post-strip club grub, bub, then you need to make a “pit” stop.

 

Catfish fry, jalapeno corn balls, potato salad

 

 

 

ROLLIN’ SMOKE BARBECUE

3185 S Highland Dr, Ste 2,3

Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702) 836-3621
http://www.rollinsmokebarbeque.com