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GET YOUR FIX: MARYLAND SOFT-SHELL CRABS ARE IN SEASON

For all of the city’s East Coast transplants specifically Marylanders, ‘tis the season for Soft-Shell Crabs and King’s Fish House located in The District at Green Valley Ranch has got your fix. The tasty blue crustaceans are here but more on them in a second.

To get our mouths set for the crab feast to come, we got started with a Jumbo Lump Crab and Bay Shrimp Cocktail. I am pleased to report that the lump crab was as big as the Bay shrimp and so made for a generous and fresh and tasty portion of crab.

Soft-Shell Crab lovers can choose from three preparations at King’s — Southern Fried, Picatta or Tempura style — through September 30. The Southern Fried style Soft-Shell Crab has the heaviest batter. The Picatta preparation is a lighter version as the crabs are dredged in flour and sautéed in clarified butter and accompanied by lemon, butter and capers. Finally, the Tempura version offers the lightest batter of the three and is served with Ponzu, soy vinaigrette.

A former Baltimorean, I was all about getting my mouth around a few freshly molted blue crabs from Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay and I was not disappointed. King’s Fish House does a great job, the tempura was flaky and a healthfully light consistency to really allow the taste of the crabs to seep through. The Picatta was well done too, but more decadently delicious because in addition to the butter sauté they ladle one ounce of lemon butter sauce over the crab.

If you are a seafood lover, September is not only a good month for Soft-Shell Crabs, it’s also the tail end (pun intended) of Salmon season. King’s is serving a variety of Snow Pass Coho Salmon dishes in honor of Wild Pacific Salmon season which also lasts through September. Entrees include Wild Coho Salmon Tataki Roll, Salmon Cakes, Salmon Summer Salad, Hazelnut Crusted Wild Coho Salmon and Cedar Plank Salmon.

Interestingly enough, King’s Fish House makes their own homemade ice cream and one of their delightful desserts was an Ice Cream Sandwich of caramel ice cream served between a hoagie roll with caramel sauce and sprinkled with red Australian sea salt for those who like to indulge in a sweet salty conclusion to their meal.

To get your crab on, call 702.835.8900. www.kingsfishhouse.com

T&T OFFERS A TASTE EXPLOSION

[caption id=”attachment_13054” align=”alignleft” width=”300”] T&T’s Alambre taco of grilled skirt steak, bacon, Oaxaca cheese and chile poblano. [/caption]When I hear a chef fervently wax poetic about the food he makes, my mouth waters and my tongue tingles. So when Tacos & Tequilas Chef Saul Ortiz-Cruz busted out with “cilantro and onions are the cologne of every taco,” I knew we were about to devour some tasty Mexican vittles.

And we weren’t deceived. To start, we dipped into Chef’s Camaron Ceviche, a mix of shrimp, citrus broth, roasted tomatillo, cilantro — and ready yourself for this — anise pickled tomato. The star anise coupled with agave nectar gave the ceviche a coolness that encircled my mouth eliminating any sour taste that plagues some ceviche. “I wanted a liquorish flavor profile for seafood, the star anise makes it aromatic,” relayed Chef Saul of his secret ingredient.

Describing his food as Modern Mexican, Chef went on to say that he likes to “show our identity, our flavors, what the earth is giving us. My flavors are from the corner stand in the marketplace in Mexico City.” And that is certainly revealed in the array of tacos T&T offers.

After sampling 10 tacos, the ones that stood out to us, all had one thing in common – fruit. “Fruit gives undertones of freshness to meat that has been marinating for hours,” Ortiz-Cruz offered. T&T’s Shaved is pork al pastor, grilled pineapple, onion and cilantro; their Carnitas is slow-roasted pork, orange segments and pickled onion; and Camaron is shrimp al pastor and grilled pineapple. Not to say the other seven weren’t good, they just didn’t have that sweet and savory something that simulated a fiesta in my mouth.

The taco joint’s most popular taco is the Alambre which is grilled skirt steak, bacon, Oaxaca cheese and chile poblano. As I was having a big sumptuous bite, I found that it tasted familiar like a hamburger, probably because of the bacon and cheese, and understood why it was T&T’s number one seller. The other taco that got the attention of my palate because it was so juicy, and I usually don’t go in for meat that’s shredded, was T&Ts Tinga — shredded chicken and chipotle tomato sauce. I ate the whole thing.

Chef Saul Ortiz-Cruz summed up his cuisine very succinctly, “how many flavors you can combine in one dish is the secret.” Indeed.

Tacos & Tequila, http://tacosandtequilalv.com, 702.262.5225
Luxor Hotel & Casino
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

WYNN LAS VEGAS’ UNMASKING OF MIZUMI

Mizumi at Wynn Las Vegas has opened to much fanfare, and very well deserved we might add. In June there was an exclusive soiree hosted by Steve and Andrea Wynn to introduce the new Japanese restaurant that’s dining space is as stunning as the exquisite fare. The bright red and gold accented room replete with traditional Japanese Noh masks opens onto a serene lagoon with a waterfall as focal point for a breathtaking eyeful.

Executive Chef Devin Hashimoto has created a menu that includes everything from sushi and sashimi to Robatayaki and, cold and hot plates. Hashimoto’s inventiveness is evident from the salad course with his Japanese version of Caprese Salad that is comprised of edamame tofu, avocado, ume-shiso dressing, and, of course, tomatoes.

Hashimoto wakes up the fresh flavor of Yellowtail Sashimi with a zip of jalapeño gelée along with soy salt, ginger, negi, cilantro oil, crispy onion, and ponzu sauce for a light starter. We also enjoyed Mizumi’s appetizer of Japanese Mushroom salad, a sashimi platter, and chilled Kusshi oysters from the restaurant’s six-course, $125 omakase menu. A dish of Salmon with Soba Noodles picked up a smoky, mushroom flavor to deliver a taste so enchanting it was almost to the detriment of the salmon because it was subsequently overlooked in lieu of the thick, chewy noodles.

A rarity for the Las Vegas dining scene, Mizumi has a Robatayaki Grill which offers some delicious choices like an ever-so-tender American Wagyu Short Rib served atop a puree of fingerling potatoes and wasabi horseradish cream. We are not sure why it tastes so divine but it probably has to do with the charcoal being flown in from Japan. Other Robatayaki menu items are Maya Prawn, Japanese King Quail, and Alaskan King Crab.

As for the next dish, Seafood Inaniwa Pasta, we have been dreaming about it ever since. Strings of delicately thin pasta share the bowl with octopus, scallops, king crab and roasted tomatoes and are bathed in a rich uni butter sauce. If you only order one thing, this is it.

Finally, our meal came to a traditional and tasty end with a sushi roll — Spicy King Crab Roll — of king crab, asparagus, avocado, masago arare, spicy tuna, and tobiko.

Mizumi is open for dinner nightly from 5:30-10 p.m. For reservations, 702.248.3463. www.wynnlasvegas.com/Restaurants/FineDining/Mizumi

LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES

Cherries jubilee or even a cherry pie, tart, or cobbler all quickly pop to mind when debating what to make using the stone fruit. In fact, any number of sweet desserts seems an obvious choice to go with if you were given 40 lbs. of Rainier cherries from which to create a dish. However, in commemoration of National Rainier Cherry Day which fell on July 11, Forte Chef Nina Manchev avoided the obvious route and went for the savory choice.

Northwest Cherries commissioned one restaurant in each state to create a unique menu offering that would feature Rainier cherries, a cross between the Bing and Van cultivars. Forte, a European tapas bar and bistro located at 4180 S. Rainbow Blvd, got the nod for Nevada. Chef Nina decided on a Berkshire Pork Chop with a topping of Rainier Cherry Compote and paired with Truffle Butter Mashed Potatoes. After trying the dish, we wish National Rainier Cherry Day was more than just once a year. The flavor combination of the sweet compote with the savory taste of the protein was a brilliant pairing.

“I had been dying to use the Berkshire (pork chops) so this seemed like the time to do it. And because there’s almost like a sweet flavor to the meat, I knew it would be a good pairing with the cherries,” explained Chef Nina of the fruit famed for its crisp bite and pale yellow flesh bursting with sweetness.

“I wanted to mix sweet and savory. And then the truffle in the potatoes added decadence,” says the 25-year-old chef who is self-taught in the ways of the kitchen. “It was definitely an interesting addition to our dinner menu, it’s a little more unique and stands out. We already have a Berkshire Truffle Sausage on our menu so I thought it would fit in well with our concept.”

Forte opened in August 2009, and is a “fusion concept that ranges from Western European to Eastern European. It is mainly home cooking, stuff I grew up on, I didn’t want it to be one type of cuisine. People have the misconception that it’s heavy, starchy food,” the chef explained of Forte’s menu.

Chef Nina still has a few mason jars of the cherry compote left if you want to go try her dish. And should you want to make your own, Northwest cherry season lasts until the end of August.

To learn more about Northwest Cherries’ Tree-to-Table, visit www.nwcherries.com/treetotable and to find out what’s on the menu at Forte go to www.barforte.com.

FORTE’S BERKSHIRE PORK CHOP, RAINIER CHERRY COMPOTE AND TRUFFLE BUTTER MASHED POTATOES

For the Berkshire Pork Chop:
Instructions: Season four Berkshire Pork Chops with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper; leave covered with plastic wrap aside in the refrigerator until ready to cook. Grill 7 minutes per side.

For the Rainier Cherry Compote:
3 cups Rainier cherries, halved and pitted
3 T-spoons honey
3 T-spoons sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
16 oz. water
Instructions: In small saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes. Take off the fire and chill to release juices.

For the Truffle Butter Mashed Potatoes:
4 medium size potatoes
4 oz. unsalted butter
sea salt
8 oz. black truffle butter
Instructions:
Peel four medium size potatoes. Slice thick and put them in a pot. Add 4 oz. unsalted butter, water and sea salt, boil until fork tender. Mash the potatoes, add the truffle butter, spreading vigorously.

COMME ÇA DEBUTS ‘GASTROPUB MONDAYS’

[caption id=”attachment_12921” align=”alignleft” width=”300”] Roasted Bone Marrow and Oxtail Jam[/caption]

It felt like a trip down memory lane once I was seated in the bar/lounge at Comme Ça’s ‘Gastropub Mondays’ which launched earlier this summer. Reminding me of my grad-school days spent carousing the dives and watering holes lining the cobblestone streets of Fell’s Point near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the live music of Glenn Nowak, Bobby Lee Parker and Rob Whited, collectively known as The Whispering Giants, in combination with the bar’s pub atmosphere offered a classic reminder of my favorite East Coast haunts.

The French brasserie’smenu, however, did not. Introducing a Parisian gastropub menu showcasing a number of specially created dishes that play on classic bar bites with a distinct French culinary twist, diners will find decadent ingredients like escargot, foie gras, lobster and bone marrow rather than the down and dirty bar food I encountered during my Fell’s Point days.

Comme Ça is serving up bar bites like Poutine, a hearty mix of duck fat fries drizzled with oxtail gravy and cheese curds, or Roasted Bone Marrow served alongside the rich gravy of Oxtail Jam. There’s also Foie Gras Sliders on a wine brioche bun, Charred Octopus bathing in a stewlike sauce of black truffle and tomato, and a Lobster Roll with vadouvan mayo, celery and big chunks of lobster. There was one ode to my bygone days as a Marylander, albeit much more sophisticated, Comme Ça’s very tasty Maryland Blue Crab Melt with Vermont cheddar cheese on toasted rye bread.

My palate generally never runs toward a fruit based dessert, but in the case of the French brasserie’s Lemon Tart with a lightly torched lavender marshmallow topping and white chocolate embedded in the crust masterfully accompanied by verbena mint ice cream, I couldn’t put my fork down. Also well received – and with nary a drizzle of chocolate to be found – was the Upsidedown Peach and Almond Tart perfectly paired with Basil Thai ice cream.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from Virginia Wolf aptly adorning Comme Ça’s ‘Gastropub Mondays’ menu: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Comme Ça’s ‘Gastropub Mondays’ is available only in the restaurant’s bar and lounge. For reservations, call 702.698.7910, visit www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com or www.commecarestaurant.com

CHEF AARON KLAFTER-PHILLIPS BRINGS STRIP CRED TO EMBERS GRILLE + SPIRITS

It was 2008. I was on a panel of judges for the sixth annual Las Vegas Regional S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. Six local culinary students competed. We judged them on creativity, presentation, sanitation, taste, texture, aroma, and overall presentation. The regional winner was UNLV student Aaron Klafter-Phillips, and his dish was herb-roasted organic Cornish game hens.

Fast forward to 2012. While dining at Embers Grille + Spirits in Summerlin’s Boca Park, the restaurant’s much touted new executive chef comes out to greet me. Who should it be? Yep, Chef Klafter-Phillips has found his way to the ‘burbs and Embers after stints at the Strip’s Table 10, Bradley Ogden, and Stack Restaurant & Bar.

Although Embers got off to a rough start when it opened last fall, the very recent arrival of Klafter-Phillips will go a long way in fixing most of the eatery’s problems. “I added more robust flavors. I veered away from having so much steak on the menu and I added more vegetarian options,” said Klafter-Phillips of his menu revamp. “Also, I plan to change the menu seasonally.”

His updated appetizers include Roasted Garlic Hummus, Goat Cheese Crostinis with roasted fennel and fig, and Bacon Wrapped Dates stuffed with a toasted almond and blue cheese in a pomegranate reduction. New entrée options are a Grilled Chimichurri Chicken Breast Burger, Pan Roasted Free Range Chicken, Cioppino, a B.A.L.T. Wrap made of smoked bacon, avocado, romaine lettuce, cherry tomato and avocado herb aioli mayo, and Grilled Miso Salmon.

My dining partner and I opted for two of the menu’s most popular entrées: Pan Roasted Sea Bass and a Grilled 8-oz. Filet. The sea bass was served on a bed of eggplant puree, grilled ratatouille, and tomato jam and was prepared perfectly. The filet came with roasted fingerling potatoes, grilled asparagus in a red wine demi-glace and was also a winner.

For dessert, Chef whipped up a trio of Crème Brulee, Graham Cracker Crust ice cream, and mixed berries from the grill. It was a sweet and satisfying ending to Klafter-Phillips’ sweet beginning.

Embers Grille + Spirits, 702.778.2160
Summerlin’s Boca Park, www.emberslasvegas.com
Hours: 3 to 11 p.m. Monday –Thursday, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 1 to 11 p.m. on Sunday.

“Prime” time culture clash at Bon Appétit’s Vegas Uncork’d


A clash of cultures. There’s no other way to describe combining the very differing cuisines of Korea and France. Although seemingly incompatible, renowned French Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his wife Marja, host of “Kimchi Chronicles” on PBS, have found a way to not only make the cuisines work beautifully together, but marriage too.

Vegas Uncork’d attendees were offered a front row seat to the inner-workings of the couple’s relationship in addition to a lunch the duo created combining Korean and French food during Chronicles of A Couple That Cooks Together at Bellagio’s Prime steakhouse.

The first thing Marja ever made for the famed French chef was Mac ‘n Cheese with four cheeses (mild, cheddar, extra sharp and Havarti) with no breadcrumbs or Roux. When asked if Marja was nervous the first time she cooked for Jean-Georges she replied that she told him, “If you don’t like it, I don’t want to hear it.”

One thing the inventor of the Chocolate Molten Cake realized soon after meeting Marja was that “you didn’t have to cook something for 24 hours, you could make something in four minutes and without a ½ lb. of butter,” he jested.

Chef Jean-Georges and Marja learned to combine the food cultures of their two countries and presented us with a taste. Guests began the Korean/French food journey with Herbed Mung Bean Pancakes, which were very much like a crunchy potato latke. Calling it “a very traditional Korean dish that’s peasant food” Chef Jean-Georges offered his influence by adding smoked salmon and caviar.

In addition to the planned courses, guests were treated to Korean side dishes of spinach, seaweed, bean sprouts, daikon, sour pickles, and Kimchi. Of the sides Marja told the crowd “no Korean cooks this at home, forget it, it takes to long.” Chef Jean-Georges jumped in to add, “The first time I opened the refrigerator after moving in with her, I thought someone had died in there,” he reported of Kimchi’s distinct aroma.

For our main course we were encouraged to combine Kobe Ribeye prepared “Bulgogi” style with Marja’s Korean sides and Kimchi fried rice by rolling everything up in lettuce tacos. The Wagyu beef was very rich and the sour pickles and seaweed made a nice complement to its rich taste giving texture and crunch to the beef.

Although Marja prefers a savory way to finish a meal, we had a Passion Fruit Sunflower, complete with crisp meringue and vanilla pastry cream that was like a mousse. Between the citrus of the passion fruit and the sweetness of the vanilla cream it was a very refreshing way to finish a spicy meal. As for dessert at the Vongerichten house, Marja prefers it as her first course so she can go to bed with a savory taste still on her tongue.

DON’T OVERLOOK A THING ON THE BUBBLES & BRUNCH MENU AT THE COSMOPOLITAN

There’s no shortage of fab brunches in this town. You can do Cajun for a jazzy Sunday morning affair at Wynn’s Country Club Grill, have a more refined experience at the Bellagio’s Fountain Brunch, or go off the beaten brunch path for a tour through Asia at Mandarin Oriental’s MOzen Bistro. The newest entry available to the brunch bound is The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas’ Bubbles & Brunch at the Overlook Grill.

A brunch more casual than most but no less chic, the Overlook Grill’s “indoor/outdoor atmosphere with a twist of French Riviera” offers a more carefree way to do brunch, and who doesn’t want that come Saturday and Sunday? Happily ensconced at the base of the Boulevard Pool, we started with a just-out-of-the-oven Monkeybread that was so good we couldn’t stop nibbling on the sweet pecan encrusted pastry. And as Director of F&B Ralph Cautela observed, “if you are feeling peckish after some time at the pool this is a great way to refresh.” Indeed, especially with the grill’s Scotch Egg, a breakfast sausage-wrapped egg served over arugula and grilled tomatoes.

And, of course, the team at Luxury is ever appreciative of a dining experience that makes a champagne – Moët’s Ice Imperial –only available in five cities a centerpiece. You can enjoy your champagne solo or with a fruity dose of mint leaves, raspberries, blackberries and orange zest, which is definitely the way to go.

We also like that Bubbles & Brunch is a small plates experience so we can try a bit of everything. And, trust us, you will want to try everything; there’s not a dud on the menu. It’s a rotating menu but we experienced Char Siu Pork Ribs, Slow Cooked Bistro Steak with Truffle Potato Puree, Diver Scallop in a Spring Pea Risotto, and Jumbo Lump Crabcake Benedict with Creole Hollandaise – all excellently prepared.

To end on a sweet note are adult versions of childhood dessert favorites like Hefeweizen cupcakes, Jello shots in the flavors of Mimosa and Kahlua & Cream, and Rum & Coke Whoopie Pies.

The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com
Overlook Grill, 702.698.7970
Brunch is every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. through summer.
Breakfast is daily from 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Lunch is Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

RICE IS IN GOOD COMPANY AT LUXOR RESTAURANT

Don’t let the name fool you, Rice & Company located inside the Luxor is way more than its name suggests. Whether it’s Pecan Shrimp, Mongolian Beef, Kung Pao Chicken, Pad Thai or sushi, Rice & Company offers a broad spectrum of Japanese and Chinese favorites.

Although Rice & Company was made famous to the foodie nation when the Food Network showcased its Fire Breathing Dragon sushi roll (it’s not on the menu, but if you ask they will make it for you), the restaurant does offer more traditional dishes for diners who aren’t interested in heat-induced high jinks. Beef Tenderloin with black pepper sauce, Peking Crispy Duck, Lobster Cantonese, and Chef’s Selection of Crispy Whole Fish are all listed as chef specialties.

But let me go ahead and narrow things down to a list of essentials that you shouldn’t leave Rice & Company without trying. My number one, Sake Sangria, is a refreshing cocktail made with Gekkeikan Sake infused with triple sec, orange juice, and seasonal fruit. For those who could live without the frou-frou, the restaurant also offers sake in four categories of the more traditional sense: hot, pure & classic, modern and specialty.

If you are a salad person, one in particular that will leave you un-satiated because it’s just that addicting, and is my number two, is the Crab Mango Cucumber Salad of fresh king crab and tobiko caviar tossed in a citrus mango dressing. Both the mango and the dressing give the dish a subtle sweetness that is perfect, especially after a couple of spicy sushi rolls. Another innovative salad that caught our attention is the restaurant’s Honey Pecan Ahi Tuna Salad.

The Hot Dang sushi roll did not live up to its name which is fine by me as I don’t like my rolls terribly spicy. Inside it’s a tuna, salmon, yellowtail and avocado with spicy tuna and a tempura crunch on the outside, and served in a Kabayaki sauce and spicy mayo.

The crunch of the Crazy Mad Dragon (number three, by the way) gives this sushi roll all the necessary elements: taste, texture and sheer pizazz. Shrimp tempura, avocado and cucumber make up the inside of the roll with spicy tuna topping the outside, and a spicy mayo sauce for a bit of zip.
And although my stomach had reached full capacity, I managed to gobble up an Exotic Fruits and Berries dessert (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mango, and Japanese pearls) served in white peach sake and mint yogurt to take the number four spot on my must-have list. Healthy decadence at its finest, Hot Dang, it was good!

Rice & Company, Luxor Hotel & Casino, 702.262.4852
Hours: 5 p.m. until late

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