Maggiano’s Little Italy – Las Vegas, NV


Maggiano’s Little Italy
3200 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 732-2550

This gambling and entertainment mecca probably has the best and worst of what America has to offer from a culinary perspective.  From absurdly priced, high end celebrity chef fronted establishments to the ultra cheap diners and fast food stands, there is no shortage of food in Las Vegas.  It all depends on what you are wiling to pay, the level of your palate, and perhaps even the level of success (or lack of) you’ve had in the casinos.

Strangely enough, I’ve dined at Maggiano’s in an entirely different city – Orlando, FL, just last year.  By chance, I came across it again on a hurried trip to the Fashion Mall to pick up something before jumping in a taxi to head to the airport and leave town.  I had some mates in tow who were also in a rushed state to do some last minute shopping for the folks back home, and so we dipped in for a late lunch.  As I wasn’t feeling overly hungry and did not want to feel bloated while sitting in an airplane for the next few hours, I chose just from the appetizers list.

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Nobu – Las Vegas, NV


Nobu -  Las Vegas
4455 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89169
Tel: 702.693.5090

Nobu, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant chain following in the footsteps of the original ‘Matsuhisa’.  This chain – was created by Nobu Matsuhisa and Robert deNiro.  This high-end chain of restaurants has a presence in cities across the globe.

My first ever visit to Las Vegas was work related – to attend one of their massive conventions.  Lucky for me, my boss (at the time) shared a love for Japanese food, which resulted in my required attendance for dinner at Nobu.  Located inside the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel, Nobu is tucked away just off the main floor casino.  I didn’t have much time to peruse the menu – as we had decided prior to arriving that we would be having the ‘omakase’ (Chef’s choice) dinner.

They offer two different versions of ‘omakase’.  The first ~$100 included a selection of regular menu items, filtered by preferences and general likes/dislikes as questioned by the server.   The second version ~$150 included some more exotic items, and higher quality ingredients.  This posting covers two separate dining experiences about a year apart – covering both.

BASIC OMAKASE:

After enjoying a round of cocktails to get the evening started, the fun began:

The first dish to arrive was a bluefin toro tartar with black caviar.  Chopped toro sashimi, formed in a circle mold, sitting in a sauce of soy, wasabi, garlic and onion.  This was by far – my absolute favorite!  (My dining companion had issues with caviar, which they gladly accommodated.)

Bluefin toro tartare with (and without) caviar

Bluefin toro tartare with (and without) caviar

Second to arrive was kampachi sashimi, each slice topped with thin slices of jalapeno pepper.  I’ve had this (since) prepared both as-described, and with the ‘new-style sashimi’ twist – where the sashimi is drizzled with smoking-hot oil.  In both cases – the cool buttery kampachi and kick from the jalapeno, match spot-on.

Kampachi sashimi with Jalapeno

Kampachi sashimi with Jalapeno

Third dish, was a seared tuna salad.  Specifically – I believe this was seared ahi-tuna, with two small pieces of maki (snow crab wrapped with daikon), dressed with a ponzu & daikon dressing.  Unanimous decision –  this was superb.

Seared tuna salad

Seared tuna salad

Fourth, was announced as Nobu’s signature dish – black cod in miso.  Baked black cod in a sweet miso sauce, garnished with a fried shiso leaf, and umeboshi.  My dining companion selected this as their favorite at the end of the evening.

Black Cod with Miso

Black Cod with Miso

Fifth to arrive was the rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce.  The sauce is a spicy mayo, where the spice heat-level is quite low.  Of all of the dishes – this was the least interesting.  Still very addictive, but it seemed a little too common for this setting.

Rock Shrimp in creamy-spicy sauce

Rock Shrimp in creamy-spicy sauce

Next a plate of Nigiri Sushi arrived – with a basic selection of items.  Well made, and presented – as expected.

Nigiri Sushi

Nigiri Sushi

Lastly – a small bento box arrived containing the dessert course.  Removing the lid, uncovered a flourless chocolate cake, green tea ice cream, and a white chocolate sauce.  The photographed dish was the special birthday presentation they provided – containing the same items – but with a nice birthday flair.

Flourless chocolate cake with green tea ice cream

Flourless chocolate cake with green tea ice cream

Overall – this dining experience does sit as one of the more memorable.   Each dish was very well done, tasted great, and all parties enjoyed every single dish!

SPECIAL OMAKASE:

Again, starting the meal with a round of cocktails, we eagerly awaited the food tour to begin:

Trio of Ceviches:  An oyster shooter (fresh oyster with a citrus sauce and an egg yolk), Lobster Ceviche & Caviar:  (not my favorite – it seemed as though they forgot to add a sauce), and bluefin toro tartar with caviar (similar to the basic omakase – one of my favorites)!

Trio of Ceviches

Trio of Ceviches

Next was a kampachi sashimi, dressed with diced shallots, grated daikon and yuzu.

Kampachi Sashimi

Kampachi Sashimi

Another sashimi dish arrived next, containing seared salmon with micro greens, dill, and a light miso dressing.

Seared Salmon

Seared Salmon

Then came the sharkfin.   I don’t have a photo of this dish, but probably for the best as I’m sure this may trigger some comments that eating this promotes cruelty to sharks.  It was prepared in such a way that it looked like a semi-opaque, gelatinous noodle, served in a shallow dish coated with a similar looking sauce.  No real discernable flavor – just a unique texture.   Not something I’d ever intentionally order or crave to eat.

Next, we started moving to some more substantial eats.  Lobster, seared fois-gras, shiitake mushrooms, and white asparagus puree.  Superb!

Lobster, Fois-gras, shiitake, and white asparagus puree

Lobster, Fois-gras, shiitake, and white asparagus puree

Then came the wagyu beef, grilled asparagus and ponzu.  Believe it or not – I was on the fence with this dish.  Was it good –  definitely yes.   Does wagyu beef taste better than all other beef – this is where I have trouble answering yes…      However, the tender, fatty beef and ponzu sauce – was an absolute perfect match.

Wagyu Beef

Wagyu Beef

Next, we were served a small bowl of asari miso (soup with baby clams), and an offering of nigiri sushi.  Compare this selection against the basic omakase, and it’s clear how they step-up to a completely different league – amaebi, escolar, giant clam, kampachi, o-toro (amazing).

Nigiri Sushi

Nigiri Sushi

Finally – the dessert course.  A nice (not too sweet) selection of biscotti, and caramel flavored quenelles of what I thought was marscarpone.

Biscotti & caramel quenelles

Biscotti & caramel quenelles

Overall – the special omakase seemed as though it was a parade of expensive ingredients, for the sake of nothing more than to try and use them…  If I’m faced with the decision between the two options again – I am almost certain I would choose the basic omakase, as there wasn’t a single item that I didn’t like.

Las Vegas is now full of celebrity-chef endorsed restaurants – but if you win a few on the casino floor and have a couple hours to enjoy a nice meal – I’d suggest giving Nobu’s omakase a toss of the dice.

Nobu (Hard Rock) on Urbanspoon

Baja Miguel’s – Las Vegas, NV


Baja Miguel’s
@ South Point Hotel and Casino
9777 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 796 7111

Baja Miguel's on Urbanspoon

Earlier in some other posts, I alluded to the fact that I was not in an overly hungry mood during my recent trip to Las Vegas, often sticking with just one big meal and a snack to carry me through the entire day. On one of those days, my main was a shocking one, especially when it came to volume. I often have to remind myself when going to the States, how large portions can be and to remember to downsize any order whenever possible (e.g. large to a medium for instance in the case of a soft drink).

Baja Miguel’s is located on the second floor inside the South Point Hotel and Casino. As I knew nothing about the building, I thought I’d take a chance and do a walk through to see if there was anything special about it, as I kind of felt sorry for it being located so far south of the main action on The Strip. As a result, I can confidently report there was nothing significant about the casino floor, and clearly no special attractions that would interest those non-gambling visitors either.

The customers that were inside the restaurant seemed to be a different group from what you’d find in the core of the city’s gambling area. A lot more roughly dressed, older (eg. over 40′s), and clearly tourists from mainly other American states, and with looks on their faces that they were here to grab a quick bite before heading back to the main floor gaming areas. At this point, as we were getting shown to our booth seats, I figured it was too late and frankly I was not that overly energetic to do a 180 degree turn and go find something else in the city. Decor-wise, it reminded me of a late ’80s chain restaurant that could use a serious renovation, though it was quite spacious and well lit.

I suppose one nice immediate touch was the delivery of a big basket of tortilla chips that were accompanied by a trio of dips (guacamole, another liquid-y bean sauce, and salsa). I think for the Latino man who brought it out to our table, this was his primary task, as I saw him make the same drop off at other tables when customers arrived, but never any of their food orders. Our server was a pleasant middle-aged woman with a rich Southern accent, I’m guessing she was from nearby Texas. Our glasses of water (with lemon wedges) and other drinks were asked for and brought out promptly by her as we started into the menu.

Scanning the large lunch menu booklet, it was divided up into sections labeled Botanas (Appetizers), Sopas Y Ensaladas (Soups and Salads), Platos Combinados (Combination Platters), Burritos, and what they called Traditional Favorites. Nothing really stood out for me, so I went with what they dubbed a Burrito El Patron, which included the choice of either chicken or charbroiled steak, added with jack and cheddar cheeses, rice, beans and sour cream and rolled in a flour tortilla.

When it came to the table, I was in awe at how big it was, covering the width of the entire plate and as thick as a generously stuffed sub sandwich. As I selected the steak, I was pleased to find they were generous with it, and the nice smoky, charcoal scent coming from them was nice as I was fearful of something just seared on a hot plate in the kitchen. The cheese that smothered the burrito was also not light handed, and I was happy that the tortilla was plenty soft and not stale nor brittle from being heated up too long. The overall flavor though I felt was weak, just not bold enough in the seasoning of the meat and the sauce was just as bland.

My dining companion went with a much more simpler plate in the Chicken Quesadillas, grilled with cheddar cheese, and served with sides of sour cream, guacamole and salsa. I had a few bites of it, and while the tortilla was again very nice, the chicken was quite stringy and when eaten alone, you could tell it was not really seasoned. Now to me, there is nothing worse than flavorless chicken meat, even if it is wrapped in a good tortilla and they expect you to eat it with the supplied sides to give the added flavor. Lastly, I did appreciate they did not overly compress it in a hot press as you find in a lot of bad North American chain Tex-Mex places, and it becomes the thickness of a centimeter.

It was not until we started eating, that we noticed a small card inside one of those clear plastic table stands, that showed there was a daily lunch special for just under $9. In hindsight, I had wished our server had mentioned this, as quantity-wise (soup plus choice of two entrees among an enchilada, flauta, taco or chili relleno), I think this would have been a much more palatable option.

To conclude my thoughts on Baja Miguel’s, I would say that it was not horrible, but just an average place in the true sense of the world. Clean, decent service and attitude, and plentiful servings but not overwhelming tasty. A step back from the down-home, but more glamorous restaurants in the more well known casino hotels. Basically, a first visit will be your last, unless you are actively seeking mediocre…

Baja Miguel's on Urbanspoon

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant – Las Vegas, NV


Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant
3765 South Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 891 8403

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Along The Strip, you can still find a proper non-hotel affiliated, family-run, ethnic restaurant… if you look carefully. One of them can be found in a building recessed behind a small mall housing some shops selling tacky Vegas trinkets, beside the MGM Grand and across the street from the Monte Carlo. Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant is not visible from the street, and if it were not for the large digital signage that flashed Korean Hangul that I saw while driving by on the first day of my recent stay, I would not have know there was a restaurant back there. I noted it in my memory and revisited the area on foot the following day.

Once inside, I asked the waitress why the “II” was noted in their name; she remarked that they have their first establishment in Los Angeles, and this is their second venture. Being the entertainment city that it is, I immediately noticed that some of the handwritten autographs tacked to a wall near the front cashier were for some of the biggest names in Korean entertainment, such as one from the actor Jang Dong-Kun. A far cry from the B-list actors and singers you see on the same autograph boards in Vancouver’s Korean restaurants.

Seated in a comfortable booth that could easily seat six people, we ordered from the menu a pair of dishes. Yes, I decided to continue my hunt for my most favorite edition of Soondubu outside of South Korea. At Ginseng, their creation was surprisingly good. I’d say I would rate it up there with my current favorite (from Insadong in Coquitlam, BC), with its depth of seafood flavor in the rich spicy broth, and plenty of delicious soft tofu adding that delicate texture to the mix. The only factor that would take them down a notch in the rankings would be the volume of various seafood bits inside, Insadong has a slight edge here.

The Yukejang (spicy beef soup) comprised of a watery and slightly sour but mainly spicy broth that included shredded beef, tang myun (clear noodles) and an assortment of vegetables such as gosari namul (bracken fiddleheads), and green onions was as expected. A relatively straightforward dish, that is less fiery in comparison to the Soondubu, begins to taste overly “beefy” if eaten to the very last drop. For me, this begins to be a turnoff towards the end of the meal, as the meatiness of the dish just lingers on my taste buds. No complaints though on how it was prepared, as there was nothing out of the ordinary from versions of this that I’ve tasted in Seoul.

Should you ever find yourself on Las Vegas Blvd., looking for a reprieve from all the casino buffets, and having a craving for barbecue meat Korean-style, Ginseng is your place as well. The table of tourists next to us were cooking up a flaming storm and the aromas were very enticing. Meat on a grill though, how could you go wrong? I am aware of other Korean restaurants off the Strip, but I have not visited any of them. Perhaps I’ll save that for another trip…

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Café Gelato – Las Vegas, NV


Café Gelato (Ice Cream & Sweets)
@ Bellagio Las Vegas
3600 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV
1 888 987 6667

Café Gelato (Bellagio) on Urbanspoon

You’d think that in December in Las Vegas, one would probably avoid cold sweets, especially when we actually had snow in the city – a rare occurrence for Sin City. But after a lot of walking around in heated buildings, something cool was highly sought after. Café Gelato with its large glass display case showing an assortment of tantalizing gelato flavors, appeared like an oasis in the massive Bellagio hotel.

I have to admit, ice cream and gelato are probably my most favorite dessert. As bad as it is for you, I have a hard time controlling my cravings when it comes to this stuff. I even have a bad memory of attempting (and finishing) the legendary “4×4″ at Baskin Robbins back in the day – which included four scoops and four toppings in one single serving. So I surprised myself by just asking for a single scoop ($4.75) of the refreshingly cool mango flavor.

For me, the balance of just how soft gelato is makes a big difference to me. Too soft and it reminds me of a slightly runny milkshake, too hard and its just ice cream. Thankfully Café Gelato had it down pat. Still solid enough that it wasn’t like soft serve ice cream, and a strong intense natural flavor that reminded me of the ripe mango fruits that I have eaten in places like southern India and Thailand this past year. Despite its appearance, the single serving cup was more than enough due to the richness and density of the gelato. Either that or I am slowing down in my ice treats consumption as I get older – there is no way I could even face that 4×4 today.

The Raspberry Brownie ($6.00) was pleasantly not overwhelmingly sweet as if often the case. Again, as with gelato, I am a bit fussy when it comes to how “thick” brownies are. Here, it was pretty good in terms of that contrast between the sticky moist goodness of the inside and the crumbly exterior. For those who don’t like their brownie way too sugary, this is a good option.

Being that it is Vegas and in one of the more expensive casino hotels, the price point was a big high. The small latte I had also went for a generous $5.50, making me think I should have gotten my caffeine fix at the better looking café across the hallway at Palio. But for those fortunate to have some winnings at the tables, I suppose it really doesn’t matter what you pay in this town.

Café Gelato (Bellagio) on Urbanspoon

IHOP Restaurant – Las Vegas, NV


IHOP Restaurant
7490 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 617 0077

IHOP on Urbanspoon

I recently read that approximately two-thirds of American adults are considered obese. That’s a pretty striking statistic.

I know that Las Vegas cannot seriously be considered an accurate sample of a population, given that a good part of it that you see in public, are visitors from out of state, or out of country. For anyone who’s ever been there, you know that the availability of large quantities (and varying quality) of food in “America’s Playground” is a 24/7 proposition. Being responsible, meaning not overeating, can be a challenge with the never ending temptations from the numerous restaurants and all-you-can-eat buffets especially along Las Vegas Boulevard. And with most people staying awake for longer hours each day, it also leaves the possibility of sneaking in a few more snacks than usual. All a deadly combination for those who want to avoid gaining significant weight during a vacation.

With that in mind, on my recent trip to Sin City, I tried to keep an eye on what I was eating. For some reason, during my whole stay, I didn’t feel like having more than two meals a day – which was probably helped by my getting up a bit later each day than I usually do at home. I had in mind some potential places to eat during the time I was there, but in the end, I completely ignored my list and just ate when I was hungry, someplace close by at the time, and I tried to keep it simple and affordable. I can hear the Foodosopher groaning at me already for passing on some of his suggestions (although the Burger Bar in Mandalay Bay was shut down due to lack of power). (SMILE)

The International House of Pancakes (better known as IHOP) has been in business for fifty years and according to their website, they have 1,375 IHOP restaurants located in 49 US states, Canada and Mexico. 14 of those are in Las Vegas, and I was surprised to learn that 12 exist in British Columbia. Until this trip, I have never stepped foot in any of them. In fact my only exposure to it was probably seeing it appear in the feature film staring Sean Penn, “I am Sam”. My breakfast choices, when I even choose to have this morning meal, is usually a combination of some toast and coffee. Not since my high school days have I really had a huge appetite in the morning, and thus this bare bones combination tides me over til lunchtime. Driving up the Strip at the noon hour in search of some caffeine to start my day, I spotted the distinct sign and decided I’d make my virgin visit to the place that boasts serving up “700 million pancakes per year”.

Believing that the crepes at least would be on the lighter side, I chose something off the “international crepes” section of the menu in the Danish Fruit Crepes. I should have stopped it right there, but when asked for what topping I wanted, I looked down and said “cool strawberry”, with the warm blueberry, and the cinnamon apple being left aside. What was a light meal turned into a heavily sugar coated mess, as the strawberry compote just overwhelmed the more delicate crepes. I wish it had come in a separate pouring container rather than lathered on top by the kitchen. Add in the squirts of cream cheese, and the dollop of whipped cream, it was a sucrose bonanza that I would have preferred to have avoided.

Also at our table was the Double Blueberry Pancakes, which I had a taste of and frankly don’t see what the fuss is about. If this place is known for pancakes and this is their offering, I am puzzled by the apparent success of this franchise which uses this as their flagship dish.

Lastly, the simple combination of eggs and hash, was the most comforting dish that I had some bites from. Perhaps its my advancing age, but for breakfast, I am into more savory items rather than anything sweet anymore. And will remind myself of this the next time I am having my morning meal outside. IHOP sure was a popular place though, as the room was packed with people, and with all the other breakfast/brunch places in town, this was pretty surprising. I suppose its capitalizing on its strong name value in America, and the de facto choice in some households for their breakfast fix. With the size of servings, heavy influx of sugar in many of their dishes, I think this is working to contribute to that obesity figure that is plaguing modern day society in this part of the world.

IHOP on Urbanspoon