On a recent trip to Vegas, one of the locals had a craving for Hot N Juicy. Already a Boiling Crab fan, I had little hopes for this place. The friend swears that “Hot N Juicy is better than Boiling Crab.” That is all I needed to hear, and I was on board. Before you read on, before you drop everything and head to your nearest Hot N Juicy, I will tell you right now. Go to Boiling Crab.
I won’t lie, I was a bit excited. To imagine something better than Boiling Crab was beyond me. Two things were telling of things otherwise. One, the wait was only 15 minutes, not 2 hours. Two, the smell inside was fragrant, but not in your face. These two minor details should have been telling enough. Still, I was hopeful, and hungry.
We ordered a bunch of stuff. The shrimp, clams, Dungeness crab, and sausage were all fresh and tasty. But honestly, we go to Boiling Crab for the whole shebang right? Theirs, named Hot N Juicy, was really tasty. It had a nice heat to it and the flavor was there. In the bag, it was more of a soupy sauce instead of a thick pasty sauce at Boiling Crab. This made little or less flavor to cling onto the shrimp and food. Even the corn just tasted like corn. None of the goodies really stuck to the corn. After, eating, my hands didn’t have any garlic stink, nor did my clothes. What was going on?
After the fact, I learned that Las Vegas has Boiling Crab, and that LA/OC has Hot N Juicy. There goes my eating in Vegas rule of never eating anything I can eat back home. I don’t know how deep the rivalry goes, but honestly, nothing can beat Boiling Crab. After coming back home, I had Boiling Crab after a week or so, and it was delicious. Yes, I waited over an hour, and yes I smelled like garlic and spices, but man was it delicious.
As someone who fancies authentic Chinese cuisine form the SGV, I don’t know how I ended up here. Maybe it was the intrigue, or the feeling of homesickness. Ultimately, I just wanted something completely different. I really don’t remember the last time I ate Chinese food or even a bowl of noodles in Vegas, if ever even. It’s always burger this or pizza that, and don’t even get me stated on the number of steakhouses. I took a chance on Noodles at the Bellagio, and I was pleasantly surprised. The prices were definitely not SGV cheap — the “Vegas Tax” essay evident. In the end, I was happy for my changing up the system.
After the Raku agedashi experience, I find myself ordering more and more. As an appetizer, and to be somewhat earthy, we decided to order the agedashi tofu. Theirs were fired in little nugget forms. The texture was quite nice. The warm pockets of hot tofu were silky smooth. Dipping it in the light soy sauce blend was all I needed. Nothing beats the agedashi at Raku, but this little appetizer did just fine.
Comfort food for me is either something really fatty and cheesy, like mac and cheese or a nice loaded quesadilla. Otherwise, comfort food comes in soup form. It has to have meat inside of course. The wanton soup at Noodles was surprisingly delicious. The broth was the star. I wasn’t sure if it had MSG in it or not, but the deliciousness of the broth indicates that it indeed did. The broth was warm, umamic (yes, there’s that word again), and quite savory. It wasn’t necessarily salty, but it had a nice quality to it. The wontons were nothing short of spectacular. Fatty and meaty, the shui mai like dumplings gave this soup bowl some substance. Even the noodles had a nice bite to them. This bowl of wantons and noodles was surprisingly the real deal.
We were on a protein frenzy, so we ordered the BBQ pork and duck. This to me was a mistake. The pork was overly sweet and jerky like. Too much crust and not enough actual tender meat made it difficult to enjoy. The duck, though nicely tender was a bit of a miss. It didn’t have that fatty/salty characteristic I’m familiar with duck. It was mild and a bit boring.
We ordered a bowl of congee to go with our meat. The congee itself was good on it own. The bland taste and blank canvas made it go well with everything. This was indeed a comforting bowl. For dessert, we ordered Thai tea. Milky, and somewhat strong, it was enjoyable — nothing worth mentioning further though.
All this Asian food and I started to wonder why we ate here. I mean, I could have this back home in the SGV, and it would be legit — it would be the good stuff. Why did I just spend almost double the amount for something that wouldn’t even hold a candle to the good stuff? Maybe I was feeling a little home sick. Or maybe I just needed to give it a try to see if I can really find SGV in the heart of Vegas. For a second though, I did forget I was even seconds away from the casino floor. That’s gotta count for something. Basically, I went to Vegas to step away from the SGV, and went to Bellagio’s Noodle to step away from Vegas.
Serendipity 3 is a famous stop for tourists in Las Vegas. Situated central to the Las Vegas strip, it sits just outside Caesar’s Palace. The colorful pink and whimsical design makes Serendipity 3 a fun place to eat. Known for their Golden Opulence Sundae, the $1000 dollar, word record holding as the most expensive dessert, the restaurant isn’t quite high end. The atmosphere is fun and casual. I remember going here when it first opened, and though the decor received an upgrade, the food and service seems to be stagnant. Nothing was out striking or extraordinary. It’s still a fun place to grab a bite and dessert in the form of a frozen hot chocolate. Popularized by the movie Serendipity, the NY base was where it all started.
The ABC burger seemed like the only legit burger here. ABC, meaning Avocado, Brie cheese, and caramelized onions made this burger what it is. The picture really makes it look small, but it was a bit larger than that. The amazing part was the blanket of melted brie over the top. It gave the burger a nice silky texture, as did the avocados as well. The caramelized onions gave a nice savory note, and everything worked perfectly together. They accidentally gave us regular fries instead of the sweet potatoes like we ordered. I liked their version of the sweet potato fries because of its sweetness. Each fry had a nice sugary crust.
We all come here for one thing only — that is their Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. It is a hot chocolate mix, mixed in with crushed ice and topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. It’s not really an ice cream, and isn’t overly sweet. The chocolate flavor shines in this bowl, and the pure cocoa is the star. If you are looking for a sugary indulgence of a dessert, this is not for you. If you like chocolate flavor, and like it cold, then this is perfect!
Serendipity 3 is an awesome place to be. The colorful wallpaper and interesting nick-nacks make it a fun destination. Close to the Bellagio Fountains, Caesars Palace, and anything central to Vegas, it’s easy to “stop by”. Honestly though, not everything was all fine and dandy. Some of the waiters were kind of sketchy. One waiter tried to serve us water from a table who didn’t want them. The burger bun was a bit on the dry side. And honestly, the restaurant keeps getting the interior/exterior changed — that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Fine tuning these things and maximizing this prime real estate could really help solidify this restaurant.
Lotus of Siam is a bit off the strip, and sits in a sketchy area. There is nothing special about this place, inside and out. After reading so much about it, and hearing Andrew Zimmern rave about this place, it was on top of my list for my last Vegas trip. It goes to show, all of the top restaurants aren’t inside the popular casinos and resorts. Most of them are all commercialized and owned by restaurant groups. Lotus of Siam is one of one. It makes it unique and special, and is a part of Vegas as much as any of the popular resorts.
We started things off with something exciting and new. The Koong char num plar, raw prawns marinated in seasoned fish sauce was a favorite of ours. With the spicy fish sauce, fresh garlic and roasted chili paste, the dish definitely had flavor. Ironically, I used a bunch of that fish sauce to get rid of the rawness and “fishy” flavor. Spiciness met sweetness from the shrimp. The texture of this was spectacular. A bit on the sticky side, the texture took some getting used to. Still a great way to start.
My personal favorite was the Nam Kao Tod. It was a crispy rice mixed with minced sour sausage, green onion, fresh chili, ginger, peanuts, and lime juice. Texturally different from the raw shrimp, this had a nice crunch, and the crunch played a great role in this dish. The ginger flavor popped and the citrus was key. It was delicious and refreshing.
The dish of all dishes–the one to get here always Is the Drunken Noodle Prawn. Thick rice noodles are on fried with deep fried prawns. The shell I kept on and the frying process makes the skins edible. The special blend of garlic sauce and Thai basil was perfect. The prawns were cooked perfectly and the crunch of the skin was amazing. This dish is pretty hard to pass up — a definite must order here.
To end everything, we ordered the coconut ice cream with sticky rice. It was a great neutralizer form all that garlic, shrimp, and spices. The coconut flavor was mild and not too overpowering. My favorite was the sticky rice. Everything just had such a delicate flavor and nothing was overbearing.
Back home in Los Angeles, there are a bunch of Ktown style Chinese restaurants that have pretty good food. From spicy seafood noodles to fried pork and beef dishes, they are all delicious, but you won’t find any of these in China. The menu hasn’t changed ever since the first time I went, and that is the quality of the places. You know what you will get, and its the same no matter when you go. Lotus of Siam is kind of like that. The menu hasn’t changed in forever, and the food, though may not be genuine Thai renditions is delicious.
It is so good to see tapas come to the strip. Small plates are trending now in a lot of restaurants. Small plates means people can eat and share more different foods. The variety of it all is what attracts me. I’m not coming here to just eat my meat and potatoes. I can have a little bit of this, a little of that, and in the end of it all, I had a bite of more that what I would normally have in a single day. Julian Serrano made his mark with Masa’s Restaurant in San Fransisco. Opening Picasso in Las Vegas in the Bellagio, his Vegas restaurant was the recipient of 2 Michelin stars and a AAA Five Diamond Award. With all these accolades, it was time for Julian Serrano to venture out into other things. Looking at the trends of restaurants and being of Spanish decent, tapas was an obvious choice. I like tapas because you can order a lot of food at one time, and this we did.
The brava potatoes was a popular item so we started off with these. They were small nuggets of fried potatoes – the outside was golden and crispy, and the inside was fluffy. The spicy tomato puree on top was a nice acidic sauce. The aioli sauce on top was fatty and smooth — It all was a nice combination. Stabbing these fried nuggets with a skewer, the sauce had a perfect taste and balance for the potatoes. I would order these again. They were simple and delicious.
The grilled angus flat iron steak was a nice accompaniment to the potatoes. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the steak was meaty and had a nice chewy consistency — kind of like flank steak. The japanese eggplant was a unique condiment, and the mushroom demi-glace gave it a nice earthy note. It was a perfect cut of meat and the flavors worked nicely.
It seems like every tapas restaurant has stuffed dates. The one at Julian Serrano was mediocre in my opinion. Though the dates were huge, almost too big, all the other ingredients were missing. The almond was barely noticed, and the wrapping of the applewood bacon was lost. With the panko crusted fried exterior, the flavors were kind of single noted, even when dipped in the spicy piquillo pepper sauce. Maybe the dates large size gave it too much of a sweet taste, but the saltiness of the bacon could have been more pronounced.
Yeah, the brava potatoes were delicious, but more fried potatoes couldn’t hurt. The huevos estrellados had a bed of fried topped with imported spanish pork chorizo and eggs. The egg was cooked perfectly. With a crispy outline and egg yolk running everywhere, this dish was very rich. Each fork full had fries drenched in a mix of chorizo grease and egg yolk. The pork chorizo had a nice mellow flavor with a little kick of spice — terrific. with all this grease and pork, I began to think this is a perfect hang over cure in Las Vegas.
Looking for a carb load other than potatoes, we ordered the creamy risotto. This was a nice risotto, though the rice was a little too undercooked. Maybe 30 seconds longer on the fire would have made it perfect. Better to be a tad undercooked that overcooked, I guess. Other than the texture, this was delicious. The wild mushrooms gave it a nice grounded flavor. The shaving of aged manchego cheese worked perfectly with the mushrooms. Manchego, my new favorite cheese, has a resemblance and taste profile of truffles. The rich earthy flavor worked perfectly with the rice. I just wished there was more of it.
Finally, we ordered the beef and cheese. Looking for more meat in our tapas, we figured this would be a perfect candidate. The prime tenderloin cooked to a perfect medium rare was soft as butter. Manchego cheese was on top and the dish was amazing. Topped with the honey and pecans, the sweetness kind of killed my savory steak experience. My mind was confused — was this a steak or was it dessert? Though it didn’t taste all that bad, the off putting sweetness of the honey was surprising. All in all, the meat was soft and buttery, and I preferred this over the flat iron.
Julian Serrano was an amazing experience. Tapas is gaining popularity — it lets you try so many things! Be careful though, you can easily get carried away and run up the bill. Celebrity chef Julian Serrano knows what he is doing. When you are talking about chefs in California, he is the best around, and possibly in the nation. It was great to try his food in such a casual atmosphere. When you are in Vegas, you want to eat nice and splurge. At Julian Serrano, you can feel like you are splurging on a nice meal, but not pay over the top prices. The atmosphere is warm and elegant as is the food. Tapas is on the strip, and it’s at Julian Serrano.