Tapas

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.

Julian Serrano (Aria) on Urbanspoon

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La Cave (Wynn) – Wine and Food Hideaway

by Franklin on May 3, 2013

The Wynn and Encore are some of my favorite properties in Las Vegas. Their elegant styling with classic and luxurious design cues all make for a perfect resort. Walking into SW Steakhouse with no reservation, I realized I was being too optimistic. Reservations is a must at SW — lesson learned. Scratching that idea, our dinner plans turned into something more casual but elegant at the same time. La Cave at the Wynn is a wine bar, tapas bar, and hideaway all in one. I don’t know what a food hideaway is exactly, but that’s what it is. Their classic tapas items paired with some interesting wine tastings made for an incredible dinner service. SW steakhouse surely wasn’t on the back of our minds.

We started thngs off with the La Cave Caesar salad. With the Romaine lettuce left whole, we cut into it like a steak. Wrapped in the most delectable, yet really salty prosciutto, I was all smiles. Mixed all together with their lemon anchovy dressing, the salad was a great ice breaker for our meal. The addition of fried anchovy made this Caesar salad a legit one.

Who orders soup at a restaurant, let alone, a tapas bar? This guy! Their onion soup really looked good with the puff pastry “poofed” up on top. With gruyere cheese mixed up all in the puff pastry, the dough had a great toasted cheese taste. The broth in it was rich and addicting. I just didn’t want it to end. Mixing the broth with the cheesy puff pastry made for a perfect bite.

It was time for wine! I opted to try the Spanish wine tasting selection. With four different kinds from specific regions, I was bound to find at least one that I like.

I find myself ordering bacon wrapped dates at every tapas joint I go to. The salty and sweet combo is done all the time and I like to try them all and compare. Most of the restaurants prepare them similarly, but they are never the same. At La Cave, the dates were huge. This meant really big sweet flavors. The bacon’s saltiness wasn’t enough to counter balance the sweet dates, so the help of blue cheese fondue did the trick.

Just as the bacon wrapped dates, every tapas needs to have good flatbread options. Their chicken flatbread was a good option. With Thai basil, chili sauce, and garlic aioli, the flatbread had lots of flavor. For what it was, the dough and crust was decent as well. Possibly, any of the classic flat breads on the menu would have been good as well.

I love a perfectly cooked shrimp, and theirs was just that. Mixed in with chopped piquillo peppers, fingerling potatoes, and roasted garlic, the flavors popped in your mouth. The piquillo peppers made this dish as it was all I could really taste. I think a better crust on the shrimp with the addition of extra salt would have perfected this dish nicely.

Not eating at SW Steakhouse meant we had to find our beef elsewhere. We found it in their beef filet. Siting on top of crostini with some blue cheese melted on top, this was a perfect filet. I felt the beef could have been cooked a little more on the rare. The slightly over cooked meat was forgiven with the 2 sauces that came with it. One was a thickened onion based sauce, and the other was a mushroom/truffle reduced cream sauce. Both were exceptional with this beef, but the white mushroom/truffle cream reduction was just heavenly. I shamelessly just lathered this stuff on each bite.

After seeing the bill, I realized I probably would have spent this much at SW. The only difference is, and it’s a big difference, I would have only eaten beef and some side item of starch. Granted, that beef would have been quite nice, and the bread and butter would have perfect, I had diversity. That is the beauty of tapas. Where other restaurants are all about doing one thing and doing it right, tapas is all about trying new things and repeating that over and over. La Cave was an awesome detour for dinner. The place was busy and the crowd was young and hip. It was dark in there though, hence the crappy pictures. I mean, it is a “hideaway” afterall.

La Cave on Urbanspoon

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The Bazaar by Jose Andres has been on my radar for quite some time. Knowing my best bang for the buck would have been during DineLA, I planned it for a while. One week it was all booked every single day. Another time, DineLA didn’t even have Bazaar. Saddened a little, I was delighted with the news that The Bazaar is coming back for DineLA. Quickly, I tried making reservations, but it was all unavailable except for one spot. 10:45 PM on a Friday — it was set! It was dang late for dinner, but I didn’t care. At this point, I was determined to go.

At first glance, the SLS looked like the hot spot of west LA. Most of the people were out for drinks or meeting people, but I was there for one thing — the food. Entering the restaurant, the design and feel of the Bazaar felt like the Cosmopolitan at Las Vegas. It had random LCDs displaying random things, hip and modern design cues, and played DJ inspired mashups and house music. If I didn’t know any bette, I was in Vegas. Luckily, I was seated comfortably on a bench

Philly Cheese
This was small, but it was redeemed by the flavor. The air bread was filled with white cheddar. Inside was airy and cheesy. The wagyu beef on top was cooked perfectly and soft. The flavors together were perfect and rich. I could easily have a thousand of these.

Tortilla de Patas “New Way”
This was in a egg shaped bowl. Inside was an egg cream kind of custard and on top was some tasty potato foam. The mix of caramelized onions made this soup like dish so delicous.

Mediterranean Mussels
This dish was in honor of Spanish canning tradition. With a deep red color from the pimentón, the olive oil and vinegar created a perfect taste. The dish was served cold, but the mussels were cooked down so well. It wasn’t rubbery at all. Each bite was silky and smooth with a little kick from the Spanish paprika (pimentón).

Wild Mushroom Rice
This was one of my favorites. The dish was risotto like, creamy and heady at the same time. The earthy wile mushrooms have a perfect bite to them and the idiazabal cheese was rich and complex.

Sea Scallops
This was probably my favorite protein. The scallops were cooked perfectly, as the center was smooth and silky. The romesco sauce was perfect with the scallops. It was perfectly mild with a very subtle peppery flavor.

Japanese Taco
This one was interesting, but the taste wasn’t anything exceptional. The “taco” had a thin sheet of cucumber and shiso leaf as a tortilla. The grilled eal topped with a hint of wasabi was nothing spectacular. Even the addition of chicharron on top didn’t necessarily help the dish.

Seared Strauss Veal Loin
This dish came out a bit cold. Topped with local onions, scallions, cippolini, it was obvious the chef wanted this to be very “oniony.” The meet had little flavor and the aromatics were a bit bland.

Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks
This was much better than the veal loin. The texture was similar to that of lengua, but had a beefier taste. Fork tender, the beef was succulent and soft. It was a bit on the salty side, but the california citrus and tangerine helped cut the fattiness of the meat. This was a ultimately tasty eating it together with the wild mushroom rice.

Once we were done with our appetizers and main course, we were offered dessert. We have a choice of moving to the pattiserie or staying at our tables. Never have I ever had a choice of going to another spot to eat dessert. Intrigued, we opted to sit near the pattiserrie. In hind sight, we should have just stayed in our comfortbale, well lit table. The pattiserie area was more of a sit down lounge area. It was dark, and loud because it was next to the bar. The desserts in my opinon were not special. Yes, their small plates and savory dishes were special. The conconctions they made were almost genius. The dessert on the other hand was quite normal and boring.

Traditional Spanish Flan
The Vanila in this dish was prevalent, but the element that stood out the most was the citrus in it. Each bite had a velvely texture, but had a hint of lemon lime. The name states traditional Spanish flan, but I don’t think the recipe calls for any citrus. It was different, but not as good as I had hoped.

Pan Con Chocolate
This dessert was a little better. I love choclate in almost anything, and this had a lot of rich flavors. The chocolate flan had caramelized bread on top with olive oil and brioche ice cream. The brioche ice cream was dusted with chocolate crumbles, almost like oreos. This was rich in chocolate flavor, and wasn’t too sweet. This was a good end to our amazing meat at The Bazaar.

The SLS hotel is hip. Located in Beverly Hills, it attracts the rich as well as the middle class, like me. José Andrés has restaurants all over the world. In Las Vegsas, é by José Andrés inside The Cosmopolitan is my next go to spot. After trying his food at Bazaar, it is a no brainer. He is inventive and passtionate and named “Outstanding Chef” by the James Beard Foundation in 2011. His Spanish roots are prevalent in the dishes that he creates. Since opening in 2008, The Bazaar received multiple awards from best restaurant of the decade to Top Newcomer. From then until now, the restuarnt still remains popular. The food in itself is delicious. The unique approache and fresh new styles is exciting. Thanks to Dine LA, I was able to try a lot of different items on the menu for a set price. I do want to say that some of the items are not stellar, but the ones that are are spectacular. I am excited to see what new items will be created in the near future.

The Bazaar By José Andrés on Urbanspoon

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Firefly – Snack Time With a Little Tapas

by Franklin on July 11, 2012

It seems to be that everywhere you go, tapas is the hot new topic. Small plates are awesome. You can have as many plates as you want, and variety makes us all happy. You don’t have to order 1 dish and be stuck with it. If you order one wrong dish, you at least have 3 other ones that are good. Tapas is shareable, and at one sitting, you can easily have tried 10 different dishes. For those saving money or not too hungry, its a good way to save money and just get snacking items. It doesn’t seem like tapas is going away anytime soon. Firefly in Las Vegas, not too far from the strip. They have some of the best tapas in Vegas, and the atmosphere is very relaxing. Stumbling upon this spot, I could only wishttp://www.dinedelish.com/wp-admin/edit.phph it were on the strip, inside the comforts of a resort.

Their stuffed dates were on point. Wrapped in bacon, the salty and the sweet was working perfectly together. Also stuffed with smoked almonds, it gave it a nice nutty flavor as well as a good crunch. A sprinkle of blue cheese made everything round out nicely. When you are talking about tapas, stuffed dates is automatically in the conversation. The ones at Firefly were nothing short or spectacular. The red wine reduction was a nice touch to the stuffed dates. This is a must order when you are at Firefly.

The filet minon sliders were surprisingly tasty. Topped with blue cheese and fried onion straws, the sliders were rich. The fried onions gave it a good crunch, and the cheese is what gave it a nice flavor. If the cheese didn’t do it in the flavor department, their south western style sauce topped it all off. With filet minon being the patty, you know it was going to be soft and juicy. The patty had a nice crust on the outside, and the inside was juicy and not dry at all. This was a perfect little slider combination.

My favorite was the tierra y mar skewers. Skewers with grilled shrimp, filet minon, and chorizo sausage was a perfect trifecta of flavors and textures. Drizzled with a nice salsa verde on top, each bite was perfectly different on its own. The filet minon was uber tender and though it didn’t have a lot of fat, it contained so much flavor. The shrimp was grilled to a nice crisp and was a match made in heaven when eaten with the chorizo. Everything seemed to work together in this — as if the shrimp had the beef’s back, and the chorizo had the shrimp’s back. Obviously, pork chorizo sausage can hold its own. This is a must order. Maybe a double up would help so that you can have your own plate.

Firefly was awesome. Despite not being on the strip, it isn’t that bad. Basically a block behind the strip, it isn’t too far off. The food is done right and the tapas allowed me to snack on the cheap. Yes. All that was a snack, not lunch. All kidding aside, Firefly is the place to be if you want small plates. I went during the day so it was quite mellow. I’m sure it gets somewhat rowdy at night as it turns into a lounge after hours. Either way, you will get your tapas the most delicious way possible.

Firefly* Tapas Kitchen and Lounge on Urbanspoon

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Santa Ana is going through a great urban renovation. Old buildings are being turned into offices, condos and restaurants. At the Santa Ana Arts District, the streets look more lively it seems like. Starting in the mid 90’s, the artists rented out undesired buildings as workspace. Soon after, the area saw a growth in artists and art galleries. This new and hip reinvention of the city also brought along different kinds of restaurants. Lola Gaspar, for example provides great regional food without the pretense. Situated in the historic Santora Building, it is in the center of Santa Ana’s Artist Village. At Lola, they specialize in small plates with dishes made from scratch. Specialized in Latin and European classics, they use only local ingredients. They are open late for those who like to drink and snack late into the night.

I took advantage of their small plates and had a snack. Their smoked bacon wrapped dates were great, and I would order them again. Stuffed with bleu cheese, the inside was hot and creamy. Though I would have liked a more pungent blue cheese flavor, the bacon shined. The salty bacon contrasted well with the subtly sweet dates. The sherry mustard emullsion on the side did a great job in balancing the flavors. It added enough of the extra sweetness that this dish needed. It was a great start. I would just bring my own blue cheese, because we all know how much I love blue cheese.

Their baked flatbread was interesting and honestly, I kind of thought it would be better. Everything was fine. The cured chorizo was exceptional — it had a smokey, yet complex flavor. The mozzarella was fresh and left me wanting more — the goat cheese tasted gnarly and strong as heck but still added to the experience. My only gripe about this flatbread was the dough. Their dough sucked. They put all these marvelous ingredients on top of a flatbread dough so plasticky and uninspired. It was as if they just got water, flour and oil and made some kind of makeshift dough. I really wanted a good bite on the dough and sadly didn’t get it. If it weren’t for the dough, this would have been an amazing experience.

Lola Gaspar is a great tapas style eatery with a nice bar and outside seating. Drinking my favorite juice, grapefruit, and eating small plates, I was experiencing the full Santa Ana Arts District environment. Amidts all of the night’s wonders and lights, the history of it all filled me with a feeling of ease — the simple flavors and organic ingredients surrounding me all culminated into something special. I realized then that the food itself was only half of the whole. Once you are in the area, you are taken to a different place. This is what Santa Ana Arts District is all about. Using the old to push the ideas of the new in a classical way, restaurants here like Lola Gaspar keep the history alive. Come for the history, come for the scenery — For me, I came for the food.

Lola Gaspar on Urbanspoon

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Why try one dish for dinner when you can have 5, maybe 6!  It’s all about the tapas at A.O.C.  Small plates, appetizer style — a good amount is about 2 to 3 plates per person.  This place is well known for their amazing wine selection and cheese bar.  Imagine some fine wine, a great cheese plate, and charcuterie from the finest. Despite all that goodness, we had an unforgettable dinner here.

With a restaurant named A.O.C., the cheese and wine has to be good.  A.O.C. stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlee. These regulations were made in France to determine the quality of certain products like cheese and wine.  For a cheese to get an A.O.C. stamp, it needed to meet certain criteria.  This type of process can only lead to quality products and good food.

I came here to celebrate my girlfriend’s birthday.  We were pretty much the first ones there, and we were seated all by ourselves in the upstairs dining area. It was very peaceful and romantic.  It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves with our personal waiter.  Los Angeles didn’t exist.  The cars, the traffic, and all that noise outside did not exist.  It was just us — that was the beauty of it all.  Being able to eat some delicious food made it that much more beautiful.

We were served some complimentary bread and harrisa.  Harissa is a Tunisian hot chili sauce that is a mix of grounded spices and chilis with oil. The flavor was very rich and complex.  It was a bit strong, kind of like mole, and it wasn’t spicy at all.  The sauce was very tasty with their sourdough bread — it was something I had never tried before.  It definitely was a great start of a wonderful meal.

We ordered the clams with sherry and garlic toast.  The broth was wonderful, and soaking the toast in the broth was perfect. These clams were cooked perfectly, and they were very satisfying.  We may have over done it with the bread and broth, because we were nearly full from it all.

Next up were the bacon wrapped dates.  One order came with so little, but good things come in small packages.  The bacon on the outside was crispy and salty, and the dates were so sweet and caramelized perfectly — It tasted like candy. I savored each and every bite.  Sadness struck when the last piece of the meaty fruity concoction was swallowed.  Little did I know, happiness was just around the corner.

When I think of good dishes, delicious dishes, it has to leave a lasting impression on me.  After taking my first bite of the arroz negro with squid, I knew it would stay with me forever. The squid was cooked perfectly and not too chewy — it literally dissolved in your mouth.  Though a bit salty, the saffron aoli rounded out the flavors very well.  The black squid ink, which I never had before had such depth.  I will definitely order this again next time I go to A.O.C.

One of my least favorites was the brioche with prosciutto.  The bitter greens on top of the brioche was a bit flavorless. I also couldn’t really taste the Gruyere. The prosciutto and the egg on top was good, but come on, its prosciutto and a runny egg. This one sounded good on paper, but after eating it, I wasn’t really impressed.  Maybe if the bread was a buttered sourdough toast and the greens were covered in some sort of vinaigrette, it would have been better.

After our wonderful meal was finished, we were in a hurry to catch our play in downtown.  I asked for the check, and they were taking longer than usual.  The waiter cleared all of our plates, and scraped our tabled off of all its crumbs.  Surprise surprise, they surprised us with a birthday dessert. Nothing but smiles was on my girlfriend’s face, and I was, well, surprised.  I had nearly forgotten that I stated we were celebrating a birthday when making the reservations.

The dessert was a creme pot with a chocolate shell on top.  Two little cookies and a candle.  It was like a creme brulee with a chocolate top crust.  Delicious.

Not only does A.O.C. care about the food, they care about the people.  They aim to please, and I don’t see how people have a horrible time here.  I thank A.O.C. for making us feel special. It was an unforgettable meal, and a great night.  And just in case you were wondering, we made it just in time to the theater.

A.O.C. on Urbanspoon

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