Well Dined


The Much Anticipated Vegas 2011 Post

Every year, Jasper attends a pair of conventions in Las Vegas and I like to tag along. He attends lectures while I lounge by the pool, indulge in a spa, or go shopping. Afterwards, we meet up and head out to eat at one of Vegas's many excellent restaurants. I could write volumes about hotels and shows and sightseeing, but here it is all about the food.

I'll begin with the casual restaurants inside Caesar's Palace, where we stayed (and which I recommend - one of the best pools on the strip, the best spa, and some of the best shopping).

Payard Patisserie

Photo courtesy royallyflushed.com

This bakery and pastry shop was my first stop of the day, every day. With a design that looks like Willy Wonka's factory and a clock that spits out free truffles every hour, this place is a chocolate lover's dream.

Photo courtesy royallyflushed.com

The pastry case is magnificent and filled with artful delicacies that are almost too pretty to eat... almost.

But the reason I came here morning after morning were the crepes. Made right in front of you, these eggy delights could be filled with chocolate, strawberries, marshmallows, whipped cream, and anything you could think of to create huge plates of ridiculous sweetness. Or filled with meats and cheeses for a savory meal. Or they could be made simple, the way I like them, with just butter and a bit of lemon sugar.

The express counter in the chocolate shop offered various breakfast and lunch dishes - bagels, Croque Monsieur, coffee and espresso, sandwiches, salads, etc...

In addition to the cafe/chocolate shop, there is also a (really) small sit down restaurant that offers a fantastic continental breakfast buffet along with breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. I tried the white lasagna with pesto sauce for lunch - an ooey, gooey mess of cheese, bechamel, and basil that was really satisfying. I definitely recommend Payard as a go to breakfast and lunch place if you are staying in Caesar's.

Beijing Noodle No. 9

Photo courtesy Zeke Quezada at about.com

Another of my favorite lunch spots was Beijing Noodle (also in CP's). Their noodles are their signature, and you can watch them being made by hand at the little window in the front of the shop.

I loved the eye-catching design of the place, with its stark white patterned walls, and huge fishtanks - really different, and really cool.

I also loved that they had Thai iced tea and coffee - brewed strong and mixed with sweetened condensed milk - one of my favorite drinks ever since those late nights out in college.

But the real reason I kept coming back here was the Dim Sum - kind of like the Chinese version of tapas. Dim Sum used to be a weekend tradition with my family growing up. More than just the dishes, it was a whole experience - the servers would bring by carts piled with food and we would get to pick what we wanted off of them. Beijing Noodle doesn't have the cart service, but I was happy enough to just order my favorite dishes. In the picture above are steamed sweet bbq pork buns (one of my favorite things EVER) and a scallion pancake.

They offer steamed or pan fried dumplings with various fillings. Just be careful that they are giving you what you ordered - the servers kept giving my dumplings to the table next to me and vice versa.

Flaky baked pastry filled with more of the sweet bbq pork filling that I love.

Jasper is skeptical about Dim Sum, he will have to be taught.

Sushi Roku
Moving away from Caesar's Palace (but not too far), let's talk about sushi. Las Vegas has tons of high-end sushi restaurants battling it out to be known as the best (Nobu, anyone?). We try a new one each time we are in town (eventually we will be able to name our favorite... maybe). This trip we tried Sushi Roku in the Forum Shops (I told you we weren't going very far) - a place that is pretty highly rated with Yelpers. Oddly enough, we didn't end up ordering any sushi. Instead we decided to try a few of the premium (read high quality ingredients and therefore expensive) appetizers.

We started with Kobe beef tataki - a method involving a brief sear, slicing thinly, and marinating in vinegar or, in this case, garlic and ponzu. This was one of Jasper's favorite dishes from the whole trip - he was very tempted to order a second round.

Next we had a salmon carpaccio with truffle soy vinaigrette which was very tasty.

Lastly we had panko crusted salmon with wasabi and tonkatsu sauces. This was one of my favorite dishes of the whole trip. The salmon was warm and flaky and moist on the inside with a crispy crust of panko on the outside. The wasabi cream and the tangy, savory tonkatsu sauce (typically served with breaded, fried pork) worked perfectly together. I could eat this every day and I would be very happy.

Battle of the Steakhouses
Being big fans of the beef, we decided to try out two of Vegas's most famous steak restaurants: Mario Batali's Carnevino and Wolfgang Puck's Cut.


Carne vino - meat and wine, that is what this place is all about. Only the highest quality beef, veal, and pork are served here. The bread is served with not only butter, but also cured lardo. Cheese fritters, almost like gougeres, are served before the meal. And we were delighted to find that they had several different vintages of our favorite wine - Solaia, from the Antinori vineyard we visited on our honeymoon - on the list.

We decided to go with something we had not seen anywhere else before - the beef tasting menu. Four courses of beef - what could be wrong with that? Nothing, as it turns out.

First course - wagyu beef (think Kobe) served raw in a crudo with olive oil, vinegar, coriander, and saffron, topped with fennel. This was elegant and complex - the bright hits of saffron and the warm nuttiness from the coriander lent an exotic feel to a traditionally Italian dish.

Second course (another trip favorite) - beef cheek ravioli. Savory and satisfying slow cooked meat inside perfect pasta (this IS a Batali restaurant, after all), finished with a balsamic aged so long it has become thick and sweet - perfection.

Third course - a wet aged beef served with a breaded quail egg and deliciously garlicky spinach. I love beef paired with egg, so I was very happy here.

Fourth course - dry aged beef with Bearnaise. I didn't particularly care for the potatoes that accompanied this course, but the beef was excellent. Because of the tasting, we had the chance to compare wet and dry aged beef directly which was very interesting. We felt that there was more of a textural difference than a flavor difference.

On to the desserts - I had the the vanilla semifreddo that was listed on the menu; served with pistachio rum sauce and extremely fresh strawberries.

Jasper told the server that he preferred chocolate, and the pastry chef made a flourless chocolate cake with raspberries for him.


Photo courtesy of wolfgangpuck.com

Full disclosure: I have had a massive crush on Wolfgang Puck since I was little - something about the food and that adorable accent - so I was massively excited to try this place.

We each ordered a salad to start, and I had the fresh burrata cheese with prosciutto di Parma, apples & Black Mission figs with micro arugula. I have had innumerable similar variations to this - prosciutto and melon, mozzarella and prosciutto, etc... but this was the single best version I have ever had. Fresh, salty, sweet perfection.

Jasper had the heirloom tomato salad with Humboldt Fog goat cheese, white anchovies, and Tuscan olive oil which he seemed happy with. I wasn't paying much attention, frankly, as I was absorbed in soft burrata goodness.

I ordered the American Wagyu filet mignon - which was FANTASTIC - along with sides of luscious potato puree, and creamed spinach with fried egg (cut in by the server tableside). Jasper ordered the Australian Wagyu - which was even more fantastic - and a green peppercorn sauce that he never ended up using because the steak was so flavorful. I had some creamy horseradish sauce that was divine. Next time (and there will be a next time) I'd like to top my steak with a bit of bone marrow.

The Verdict
The beef tasting menu at Carnevino was innovative and we loved the wine list. However, the steak at Cut was far better than the 2 main courses at Carnevino. I think that for a more traditional steakhouse meal - Cut is the way to go. I think Carnevino is better for Italian inspired dishes (like the crudo) and fabulous pasta.


Photo courtesy findthebest.com

Lastly, we move on to our fine dining selection for this year - 2 star Michelin and AAA Five Diamond award winner Picasso at the Bellagio.

Pots set into the ceiling at the entrance.

The decor of the restaurant is based on Pablo Picasso's artwork. When you enter the main dining room you are greeting by a table that is entirely covered in a huge floral arrangement - different sizes and shapes of glass vases hold one type of flower each for a stunning rainbow effect. This is one of the best uses of floral arrangements I have ever seen. The restaurant sits facing the fountains of the Bellagio, so every half hour you are treated to an amazing view of the water show through the windows. The food is elegant and artfully prepared - just what you would expect from fine dining at the Bellagio.

Please excuse any lapses in memory as it has been a month since the trip. We ordered the Degustation Menu - five courses plus an amuse, petite fours, and a gift for the ladies. We also choose to participate in the suggested wine pairing - which was well thought out. The sommelier did a lovely job of presenting and explaining his choices. The Amuse Bouche consisted of a creamy red bell pepper soup and a cheese croquette. Simple, satisfying, and delicious.

A lobster salad with apple-champagne vinaigrette that was fresh and sweet and light.

Next was a perfectly seared day boat scallop on a smooth potato puree with a thick and rich veal demi glace.

My favorite course: sautéed Foie Gras with pound cake, almonds, and Riesling peach coulis. The sweetness of the peaches and Riesling paired perfectly with the melt-in-your-mouth fattiness of the Foie Gras. Paired with a glass of Tokaji, this was absolute perfection.

Roasted loin of lamb with pisto (a mixed vegetable side similar to ratatouille), mint aoili, and fried zucchini blossom.

I am not usually a dessert person, but this rocked my socks off: a "beggar’s purse" made of phyllo dough filled with chocolate chip risotto pudding, served with a coconut macaroon and banana-passion fruit caramel sorbet. This was dessert perfection for me.

Jasper ordered chocolate truffle beignets with peanut butter ice cream. I couldn't even tell you if he ate it or not, I was so absorbed in my chocolaty banana perfection.

Tray of petite fours served after dessert.

Box that was given to me as we were leaving, containing...

...beautiful cinnamon elephant ear cookies.

That concludes this years Las Vegas post - stay tuned for next year and feel free to ask me questions about hotels/casinos and shows.

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