Friday, January 28, 2011

Apology in Order

Sorry again for the long wait. Let's just say I've been preoccupied with a number of other, less appetizing issues.

But fear not, for I have a new review coming this weekend! And watch out, I may have something else to say on the latest foodie news as well.

Stay tuned for more... ;-)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Downtown @ Du-par's

Below is my review of Du-par's at Golden Gate. I stopped by last weekend to (FINALLY!!!) see what all the buzz is about. Read what I have to say, then stop over there and judge for yourself.


Now I know where to go when I need me some breakfast and happen to be Downtown. Tucked in a corner at Golden Gate, the oldest casino still open in this town, is Las Vegas' first Du-Par's, which for decades has been a legend of LA's Farmers' Market.

A friend and I stopped by last weekend to try it out. And since it looked interesting on the menu, I decided to try the spinach & jack (cheese) omelette. The egg itself was cooked quite well, quite fluffy. The spinach tasted fresh, though the cheese didn't seem all that special. All in all, I was fine with it.

The omelette came with hash browns, and those were fried to just the right crisp.
And finally, there was the blueberry muffin. It was HUGE, and it was fluffy and buttery and sweet all on its own (though it helped to have good quality butter alongside), and even had an interesting orange marmalade glaze on top. If there's one issue I had with the muffin, it was that there weren't enough blueberries for me.

Still, all in all, I was satisfied with my breakfast at Du-Par's and hope to go again soon. Next time, I'll probably head directly to the buttermilk pancakes it is better known for.

Style: Diner Casual
Price: $
Open: 24 Hours

The Rating

Food: 3.8 (out of 5)
Service: 2.0 (out of 3)
Ambiance: 1.7 (out of 2)
Overall: 7.5 (out of 10)
Decent Eats

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

As Cosmo Goes... China Poblano!

Below is the review for the very first Cosmopolitan restaurant I tried last week! Photos of both the restaurant and the casino are below. Enjoy! :-)


I just had to try it. I was drawn to it. Chinese food. And Mexican food. And avant garde cuisine. By Jose Andres. All under the same roof!

Many adjectives can describe the food here, but I suspect "boring" will never be one of them. Since I needed a cool libation after a rough morning, I was ready for a margarita. My "Salt Air Margarita" soon emerged... With salt foam on top! Very interesting, and very yummy. So far, so good.

And from there, it just kept getting better. The queso fundido came out piping hot, and served alongside fabulous housemade tortillas. It was divine.

Next up was an eggplant dish that I'm still trying wrap my head around. It was sauteed with black garlic and served with this interesting, slightly sweet soy sauce. The black garlic was quite pleasant and sweet, and the eggplant was very tender.

And finally, there was dessert. Because my curiosity got the best of me, I had to taste for myself the "coconut tapioca balls" with passion fruit and mandarin orange sorbet. OMG, this was something else! I had my doubts, but this made me a believer in tapioca pudding again... Especially when it's combined with floating balls of coconutty creaminess and perfect orange sorbet!

All in all, my first impression of China Poblano was quite good. I look forward to returning soon and exploring more of the fascinating menu here.

Style: Comfortably Casual
Price: $$$
Open: Lunch & Dinner

The Rating

Food: 4.9 (out of 5)
Service: 2.8 (out of 3)
Ambiance: 1.8 (out of 2)
Overall: 9.5 (out of 10)
Outstanding, Destination Eating!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Final Thoughts on Alex

In the coming days, I'll finally be sharing with you some good eats I've enjoyed this past week. But before I go there, I want to share some final thoughts on this weekend's saddest event. Eric Gladstone nailed it IMHO in Las Vegas Weekly.

[...T]his isn’t just another closing, because even on a street loaded with star chef dining, Alex wasn’t just another restaurant. It began life as the crown jewel of the dining-focused Wynn resort. It’s arguably the most lavishly romantic and elegantly served restaurant on the Strip. It’s also helmed by Alex Stratta, a James Beard-award-winning chef who trained with Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud and legitimized Bellagio’s ambitious fine-dining program before moving with Steve Wynn to his new namesake. It represented, almost uniquely, not just an established star bringing his talent to town, but also one making his reputation exclusively in Las Vegas, with plenty of awards and accolades to show for it.

So what happened? “High-end French dining is not what people want these days,” was virtually the only explanation from Wynn Resorts PR. Considering that Wynn has long been considered a visionary when it comes to dining in Las Vegas (now a major business component, thanks to him), that’s a statement to be taken with some seriousness. But inside sources indicate the closing of Alex doesn’t signify a change in diners’ desires so much as a change in the willingness of a resort to subsidize a business that had not been highly profitable for some time—if ever. At least part of that failure must be blamed on marketing. Alex undoubtedly suffered from a perception—even within the Wynn organization—as “high-end French dining,” which it wasn’t, entirely. The restaurant was also tucked away in the property, without much promotional signage. [...]

Of course, every Vegas resort makes decisions about how to reinvest in itself. Wynn recently placed big bets on Encore Beach Club and Surrender; signed Garth Brooks and Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra: Dance With Me; initiated a major room remodeling; and opened La Cave wine bar and Lakeside Grill. Meanwhile, Chef Richard Chen, who made Wing Lei one of the country’s only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurants, quietly departed, and former XS nightclub co-owner Victor Drai was rather loudly bought/ushered out. Now comes news that talented master baker Frederic Robert has left, too. A well-sourced rumor claims the next restaurant there will be—wait for it—a gourmet burger concept.

Taken as a whole, these moves send a clear message: The patron who would best appreciate Alex is no longer the target of Wynn/Encore.

So what does this mean? Let me explain.

Early on, Steve Wynn wanted to outdo his own amazing work at Bellagio (including luring living legends like the Maccionis and up-and-coming culinary superstars like Julian Serrano to his new casino) by upping the luxury ante at Wynn Las Vegas to something we had never seen before. And yes, he was originally targeting a “more mature” clientele with top-notch restaurants like Alex, Daniel Boulud, and Wing Lei. But as The Great Recession raged on in 2009, room prices hit rock bottom, and Wynn had to offer deep discounts to keep occupancy high at Wynn LV & newly opened Encore, Mr. Steverino looked at what was happening elsewhere along The Strip and realized what he had to do to return his Las Vegas casinos to profitability.

(Hint: It wasn't about the food at the restaurant any more, but the party at the club later in the night.)

Without a doubt, Wynncore is still catering to high-end tourists. Look at their current room rates, store lineups, and restaurant prices for that matter. But instead of appealing to mature gourmands, Wynncore thinks its bread is better buttered by the "MTV celebutante wannabe" crowd hoping they can catch a glimpse of the newest, “hottest” reality stars shaking their groove thangs at Tryst/XS/Surrender. Basically, I think Wynncore is becoming a Strip five-star version of Hard Rock/Palms, if that makes any sense.

Frankly, it's a disturbing trend that frightens me. And we're not just seeing it at Wynncore, although it seems they're now leading the way in homogenizing and "casualizing" all their good eats. John Curtas offered a good quote in his last piece on Alex.

The rush to less formality, smaller plates and more options may, in the long run (and despite the hype of a brave new world of restaurant dining), signal nothing more than a retreat (and an excuse to retreat) from quality.

So am I anti-"tapas"? Hell to the no! Sometimes, I'm just in the mood for small plates. The tapas/small plates concept itself is not a bad thing.

Am I anti-"luxury fast food"? Honestly, this is something I'm still wrestling with. When well done, a "gourmet burger joint" or "pizza palace" can be quite delicious. But sometimes, I just have "slider" overload and I can't handle any more variations of the basic Italian American pizza "flatbread".

What I am genuinely concerned about, however, is when good restaurants are being sacrificed for the sake of "trendy" food fads. Contrary to what some may think, I believe there will always be room for good fine dining. And though some may forget this, one of Las Vegas' top attractions remains our array of top-notch gastronomic palaces. Maybe closing Alex will save Wynn Las Vegas money in the short term, but in the long term this may do Wynncore some real damage. They're only ripping apart their own culinary reputation in letting their fine dining lineup fall apart, and hopefully more Vegas casinos don't follow suit

Friday, January 7, 2011

Alex Closes... And the Whole (Vegas Foodie) World Mourns


I'm still in shock. I guess that's why it's taken me this long to write this. Alex is going bye-bye!

I know, I know... It's a tragedy.

And even worse, the vast majority of us will probably never be able to see that space again. It's becoming a private party venue.

Yet again, a victim of "The Great Bummer" that's been The Great Recession?

Alex Stratta’s beacon of French cuisine at Wynn Las Vegas is closing. The nearly six-year-old Alex restaurant will close its doors after service on Saturday, January 15, giving diners just seven days (Alex is open Wednesday-Saturday) to stop by and pay homage to the Michelin two-star restaurant.

The beautiful space will remain intact for special events.

“I’m really bummed out,” chef Stratta said Thursday afternoon. “It was a good run. I guess it was just time.”

The lavish restaurant has been one of the jewels of the Wynn’s dining program, winning Forbes (formerly Mobil) Travel Five Star Awards and AAA Five Diamond Awards for the last five years straight, along with the highly coveted Michelin two-star rating in 2008 and 2009.

A Wynn representative pointed to the strains of the economy as the reason for the restaurant’s closing, adding that “high-end French dining is not what people want these days.” Stratta will stay on with the resort to continue running his more casual, Italian-influenced restaurant, Stratta, and perhaps to work on yet-to-be-determined projects.

So what does this mean? Without a doubt, Vegas loses one of its brightest culinary stars. And not only that, but Alex Stratta made his name here! He became a star here. And now, his flagship restaurant dies here.

And why? So that Wynn can have a "private party venue" for D List "celebutards" to get wasted before getting even more wasted at Surrender?

John Curtas is definitely onto something when he talks about the "slow, steady dismantling of whatever gourmet food/restaurant reputation [Wynn/Encore] sought to create". With Daniel Boulud leaving last year and Alex leaving this year, Wynn has lost two of its three (well-deserved IMHO) Michelin starred restaurants. And more importantly, Wynn has lost two solid houses of superb French cooking.

These last three years haven't been easy on Vegas, and so far 2011 looks to be another year of dramatic highs and lows. Just as foodies celebrate the exciting new restaurants at Cosmopolitan, we're left wondering (again) WTF is happening to Wynncore.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What Should Be My First Eats of 2011?

Happy New Year... OK, so it's a little belated.

Well, at least I have some time to write this. As 2011 kicks off, I'm thinking of where to eat next... And of course, share what happens with you here! So where should I eat? Which new restaurants are you most curious about? Which old faves might deserve a revisit?

I'm putting together my list for the rest of this month and February, so speak up and let me know. :-)