China Poblano – Las Vegas Nevada

China Poblano, a fusion of Mexican and Chinese Cuisine From the Brilliant Mind of Juan Andres

Mexican history and folklore recount the story of a remarkable woman who would come to be venerated as a holy woman and prophetess.  Born to nobility in India and possessing remarkable beauty, she was kidnapped as a young child and brought to Mexico, an intended gift to the Viceroy of Mexico whose personal harem of gorgeous women was known far and wide.  When she arrived in Acapulco on a Chinese ship, people were in awe of her breathtaking appearance and exotic ensemble, detailed with dazzling sequins and complex embroidery.  Her stye would come to be imitated far and wide by Mexican women who called it and her China Poblana which translates literally to “Chinese Pueblan.”  At the time, China was a term used to describe the entire Far East and all Asians.

Instead of winding up one of the Viceroy’s concubines, she was adopted by a childless couple from Puebla who loved and raised her as their own daughter.  An extremely attractive and capable young woman, she nonetheless opted for a spartan life in a convent. Though she did not take her vows as a nun, she did lead an ascetic life and was reputed to have had visions of angels as well as long conversations with the Virgin Mary. Until her death at the age of 82, she was frequently consulted by the clergy. Her tomb in the Sacristy of the Jesuit Temple of Puebla is still known today as the Tumba de la China Poblana, the Tomb of the China Poblana.

Would Frida Cahlo and Chairman Mao actually eat here?

Celebrated chef, restaurant impresario and television glitterati Jose Andres pays tribute to the idea of East meets West with one of his signature concept restaurants that presents a unique way of preparing and serving Mexican and Chinese foods.  Las Vegas Weekly called China Poblano “quite simply the perfect restaurant for today’s hipster foodie.”  Fittingly, it’s housed in The Cosmopolitan, a 3.9 billion dollar luxury resort casino and hotel on the Las Vegas strip.  The Cosmopolitan lives up to its name; it’s hip, chic and happening, the place to be seen and to espy the hipsters who frequent this Sinatra cool hot spot.

China Poblano is not a fusion restaurant per se in that it doesn’t take Mexican and Chinese dishes and transform the diverse and certainly disparate culinary traditions, elements and ingredients of the two very different nations to form an entirely new genre.  Instead, the restaurant serves Mexican dishes and it serves Chinese dishes and the twain…well, occasionally it does meet.  Jose Andres has pondered “If Mexico hadn’t shared its chiles with China, would we have spicy Chinese food?”  Obviously he’s grateful for that peppery philanthropy.

Chairman Mao watches over the exhibition tortilla and taco prep kitchen

China Poblano is an over-the-top loud and colorful restaurant that presents a stunning visual and olfactory sensory experience most will find fun though some may  find aspects of the experience offensive.  Located on the third floor of the stunning Cosmopolitan, it’s got some can’t miss qualities that grab you as you’re walking toward it.  The entrance is shaped like a fat Buddha in a lotus position.  Flanking the entrance are two take-out windows: “Chinese Food” on the left and “Mexican Food” on the right.  

Behind the Chinese window, you’ll find an exhibition dumpling, noodle and dim sum station on one side with an industrious kitchen staff hard at work hand-crafting and plating exquisite Chinese items.  Behind the Mexican window is an exhibition tortilla and taco prep kitchen where you can watch the delicate practice of creating edible art.   On a wall to the right is a digital photography display which rotates historical figures from both China and Mexico.  The notion of Chairman Mao and Frida Kahlo overseeing the restaurant may not be intended as an effrontery, but we did run into an elderly Asian who found Mao’s countenance offensive.

The noodle and dumpling station

Hanging from the ceiling are a phalanx of bicycle wheels, perhaps a playful recognition of the plenitude of the ubiquitous two-wheeled conveyance in China.  A stair-step wall is dedicated to statues not entirely unlike the terracotta soldiers unearthed several years ago, but decidedly less military.  Other walls are accented with colorful Chinese and Mexican masks.  Seating is rather casual–communal wooden tables, each with a 50s-style metal red napkin dispenser.  The restaurant is not nearly as commodious as most Vegas casino eateries, but you’re also not sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with your neighbors either. 

Servers, dressed in sharp black Mao-styled jackets with Chinese and Mexican symbols, are attentive and friendly, working in tandem to meet the needs of their guests.  You might be surprised at just how well informed they are on all aspects of the restaurant concept.  You might even be graced by the chef (not Jose Andres) delivering a plate or two to your table.  It’s an efficient experience executed flawlessly.

Cochinita Taco: Yucatan-style pit barbeque pork/marinated onions

The avant-garde menu offers a wide selection of Chinese and Mexican items served tapas style and priced moderately compared to other Vegas upscale establishments.  The menu is apportioned into several sections: dim sum, noodles and soups, tacos and sections called “From China” and “From Mexico.”  Some of the restaurant’s interpretations honor tradition while others are playful and fun–up to and including the names given them. 

Scour the twelve-item tacos menu (one taco per order) and you’ll see a lot of familiar offerings (especially if you live in the great southwest).  The tacos range from simplicity itself (refried beans with chipotle salsa and queso fresco) to the familiar (carnitas: braised baby pig, pork rinds, spicy salsa verde cruda) to the Mexican favorite (slow-cooked pork belly, pineapple) to the Mexican-Chinese fusion favorite Viva China (soft beef tendon, Kumamoto oyster, scallions, Sichuan peppercorn sauce).  You’ll also find a Langosta taco (lobster, salsa Mexicana, arbol chile sauce).  Let’s see Taco Bell come up with a line-up like this!

Scallop Ceviche: bay scallops/key limes ancho chile sugar

China Poblano’s answer to the Old El Paso commercial in which a young boy invents a flat bottom taco so the ingredients don’t spill out is a stainless steel taco holder in which each individual taco is nestled.  The taco holder helps the warm, freshly made tortillas hold in ingredients such as the Yucatan-style pit barbeque pork and marinated onions in the Cochinita Taco.  What it can’t hope to contain are the fabulous flavors of the sweet, tender and juicy meat punctuated by onions pickled pink  Each taco goes about four bites, but you’ll enjoy every one of them. 

Founder Jose Andres has long been regarded as one of the pioneers and foremost practitioners of molecular gastronomy, a term he despises, preferring to say chefs are closing the gap and bridging the differences between science and cooking.  Perhaps culinary gastronomy would be a better term to describe what some of his creations do in maximizing the creativity in the use of ingredients.  The scallop ceviche would fit that description.  You’ll do a double-take when it’s delivered to your table.

Like Water for Chocolate: fried quail/ dragon fruit/rose petals/chestnut and dragon fruit sauce

Perched above a layer of river stones are four bay scallops sitting atop four key limes dipped in an ancho chile sugar (but don’t call it molecular gastronomy).  This is most certainly a play on oyster shooters, meant to be eaten by picking up the key lime and shooting it in your mouth while squeezing the lime behind it.  The tart tanginess of the lemon and the sweetness of the sugar combine with the savory-sweetness of the scallop to give your mouth a burst of contrasting yet surprisingly complementary flavors.  This is a must have!

On the surface, Laura Esquivel’s wonderful 1990 tome Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate) is about the struggles of a couple passionately in love but cruelly fated to be kept apart.  Below the surface, however, is a brilliant novel that celebrates the passion food can–and does–inspire.  China Poblano pays tribute to the novel and to its sentiment with a dish aptly named Like Water for Chocolate.  This dish’s most elegant feature is perfectly braised quail which borders a beauteous array of dragon fruit sauce, chestnuts and rose petals.  The quail’s skin is wonderfully crispy, its meat delicate and juicy.  The dragon fruit sauce, which is almost mousse-like, lends a bit of sweetness which pairs very well with the quail.  The rose petals are also surprisingly good.

Gaspacho Morelia: pineapple/ watermelon/ jicama/dragon fruit/ queso fresco/chile pequin

To Jose Andres, even the sacrosanct traditions of his home nation are subject to reinterpretation.  Gazpacho, for example, is almost always a cold, tomato-based raw vegetable soup.  Inventive chefs sometimes incorporate watermelon for a sweet contrast.  China Poblano’s reconstruction, called Gaspacho Morelia, includes pineapple, watermelon, jicama, dragon fruit, queso fresco and chile pequin.  Not a tomato in sight!  When it’s delivered to your table, your server will use an orange juicer to squeeze an entire orange on top of the gaspacho.  The three savory ingredients–queso fresco, chile pequin and celery–provide a wonderful contrast to the citrusy melange.  

China Poblano’s lamb pot stickers stuck on you are a fusion treat that arrives at your table looking unlike any pot stickers you’ve ever seen.  A crispy, lattice-like cover drapes over six pot stickers.  It’s as much fun to extricate them from their crispy lace dome home as it is to eat the pan-fried dough from which it’s made.  More fun–with an appropriate exercise of caution–will be popping the dumplings into your mouth.  They literally burst with the hot liquid flavor of the meaty, cumin-laced juices in which the tender Colorado lamb shoulder is braised.  The lamb is oh, so delicious.

Lamb Pot Stickers Stuck on You: (six pieces) vegetables/crispy lace

Desserts are as imaginative, maybe even moreso, than the savory dishes.  That may be especially true of the Chocolate Terra Cotta Warriors, a whimsical take on the warriors unearthed in the Chinese city of Xian.  Only a handful of items on the menu are more steeply priced, but splurging will ensure, at the very least, ogling admirers on all sides.  A chocolate statue crafted from an outer shell of Oaxacan chocolate is stuffed with a chocolate-peanut butter mousse. The statue is surrounded by a melange that includes caramelized bananas, ginger ice cream and dark chocolate cookie crumbs.  It’s as pretty as a picture so it’s a pity the only way you can eat it all is by cracking open the chocolate shell and melding all ingredients in each spoonful. 

Dinner at China Poblano could easily set you back a C-note and it might not even fill you up, but you will most certainly enjoy every adventurous bite and look forward to a return visit.  One of the great thrills of your visit is watching food being delivered to adjacent tables.  It’ll give you an idea what you might want to order the next time you visit.  Because of the popularity of this phenomenal new restaurant, you’ll want to make reservations.

Chocolate Terra Cotta Warriors: A shell of Oaxacan chocolate/chocolate mousse interior/ caramelized bananas/ginger ice cream/cookie crumbs

In 2011, China Poblano was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best New Restaurant award.  Jose Andres didn’t go home empty-handed, however, as he took home the coveted Outstanding Chef award and an episode of 60 Minutes in which he was profiled won a James Beard Award  for best television segment.  Leave it to a Spaniard to start a delicious Mexican-Chinese revolution.

China Poblano
3708 Las Vegas Blvd, South
Las Vegas, Nevada
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 11 November 2011

COST: $$$$
BEST BET:Chocolate Terra Cotta Warriors, Lamb Pot Stickers, Gaspacho Morelia, Like Water for Chocolate, Cochinita Taco, Scallop Ceviche

China Poblano (Cosmopolitan) on Urbanspoon

Lotus of Siam – Las Vegas, Nevada

Lotus of Siam, perhaps the very best Thai restaurant in America

In the August, 2000 issue of Gourmet Magazine, multiple-time Pulitzer Prize award-winning writer Jonathan Gold called the Lotus of Siam restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada “the single best Thai restaurant in North America.”  Not a disparaging word was heard or a dissenting opinion offered among the cognoscenti save for those who argued that the word “Thai” should be removed from from Gold’s audacious proclamation.  Lotus of Siam is THAT good!

In the decade plus since Gold’s assertion, every reputable critic from every credible publication has jumped on the bandwagon, essentially echoing or adding to to the validation of the greatness that is the Lotus of Siam.  The superlatives are similar on every review you’ll read of this vaunted restaurant; only the names of the scribes change.  In a media culture which delights in the “time to tear down” portion of Ecclesiastes 3:3, the absence of true criticism for Lotus of Siam speaks volumes.   Lotus of Siam is THAT good!

The best new addition to Lotus of Siam--an expanded dining room with a huge wine cave

First-time visitors approach the Lotus of Siam with high expectations, return visitors with the type of reverence usually accorded only to shrines or holy places.  A visit is akin to a religious pilgrimage, albeit not one of great distance or difficulty to reach (it’s only minutes away from the Las Vegas strip) though the restaurant is situated in a strip mall that’s probably 25 years beyond its time, a strip mall Zagat called “the ugliest strip mall in America.”  Few ever give it a second thought that the peerless purveyor of the best Penang on the planet is located in one of the city’s most unsavory areas.  Lotus of Siam is THAT good! 

In recent years, Las Vegas has earned a reputation as one of the world’s premier dining destinations, much of that apotheosis attributable to many of the world’s culinary glitterati launching a satellite restaurant operation in Sin City.  You no longer have to go to San Francisco, Chicago, New York City or even Paris to experience some of the best restaurants in the world; they’ve all come to Las Vegas.  Lotus of Siam, on the other hand, was in such demand from New York City visitors to Las Vegas, that in 2010, a second instantiation of the Vegas institution was launched in Metropolis.  Lotus of Siam is THAT good!

Tod Mun Plar: deep fried fish-cake mixed with curry paste, served with cucumber salad with chopped peanut.

So, just what is it that makes Lotus of Siam THAT good?  Most agree it’s all starts with incomparable chef-owner Saipin Chutima who in 2010 was finally accorded with “Best Chef: Southwest” honors by the James Beard Foundation after  “Miss Congeniality” finishes in 2008 and 2010.   Her specialty is Issan-style Thai food, its genesis being the northeastern region of the country where the chef was raised, a region in which cuisine is more highly spiced than those of the other regions of Thailand. The 150-item menu notes that some of the dishes are influenced by the cultures of Laos and Cambodia and while that menu is also replete with traditional Thai favorites common at other restaurants, they’re prepared better (and spicier) than anywhere else. 

Despite being ensconced for most of its 25 years in an unassuming Lilliputian space,  the universally beloved restaurant with huge flavors has earned Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” every year since 2005.  In 2010, Lotus of Siam expanded, much to the delight of oenophiles and diners alike.  The expansion makes it easier to obtain a reservation and showcases one of the most impressive wine caves in a city which prides itself on its wine lists.

Fried Chicken Dumplings: Deep fried wontons skin stuffed with ground chicken, and vegetables, served with homemade sweet and sour sauce

The wait staff at Lotus of Siam is unfailingly attentive and polite. Even better, they’re on the spot to refill your empty glasses of ice water–and you will empty them if you endeavor to consume the lip-numbing, tongue-tingling “Thai hot” dishes. Even if weaned on New Mexico chile as I was, Lotus of Siam has several dishes that might make many blubber “no mas.” A degree of heat at level eight (out of ten) is piquant enough for most asbestos tongued New Mexicans. That’s not to say all the dishes are incendiary. There are many entrees who will captivate you with the subtle blending of pungently sweet spices.

The 150-item menu includes several “must try” appetizers including nam kao tod, a highly spicy stir fry of minced Issan-style sour sausage seasoned with ginger, fresh chilies and scallions and served with crispy rice. It’s one of the Las Vegas restaurant favorites listed on an unofficial “essential restaurant guide” published yearly.  An appetizer popular in trendy Bangkok, tod mun plar is prepared exceptionally well at Lotus. This deep-fried fish-cake mixed with curry paste is served with a sweet-tangy-piquant cucumber salad with chopped peanuts. With a fragrant bouquet and light texture, these fish cakes will win over even the fish haters among you.

Crispy Duck on Drunken Noodle: Crispy duck topped with homemade fresh chili and Thai basil. Serve on the top of pan fried flat rice noodle. –

The appetizer roster also includes several items sure to please poultry lovers who can spice up the precursory part of their meal with garlic black pepper chicken wings. Several meaty chicken wings are deep-fried until crispy then sautéed with potent black pepper and a wealth of garlic. If you don’t want to wreck your breath (while loving every morsel in doing so), the stuffed chicken wings are a wonderful option. Two pterodactyl sized chicken wings are stuffed with ground pork then deep fried and served with a tangy sweet and sour sauce.  Then there’s the fried chicken dumplings, deep-fried wontons skin stuffed with ground chicken and vegetables.  Better dumplings cannot be found!

Lotus of Siam’s soup offerings are fabulous and offered in cup size as well as in a swimming pool sized bowl. At a level eight degree of heat, the Tom Yum Kai, a spicy and sour soup with chicken, lemon grass, lime juice and straw mushrooms, is as baby bear might say “just right.” It’s also one of the heartiest, most savory soups imaginable–a soup so good you’ll mourn the last spoonful.

Roasted Duck Curry: The combination of roasted duck, pineapple, bell pepper and tomato in red curry base with a touch of coconut milk make this dish very tasty and unique.

Among the entrees, the roasted duck curry (replete with cherry tomatoes, small grapes, pineapple and coconut milk) is the very best curry dish I’ve ever had.  It’s an entree I’ve had during three of my five visits to Lotus of Siam so if the restaurant has a better curry dish, I’ve yet to try it. The concordance of ingredients and the resultant melding of flavors will leave your taste buds delirious with joy.  The first time you bite into a plump cherry tomato which has been swimming in curry is like your first kiss.  The sensation of a curry saturated grape bursting in your mouth may make your eyes roll with carnal pleasure.  If a food item can make love to your mouth, it would resemble feasting on this curry dish. 

Duck is the showpiece ingredient in another favorite entree, one of four crispy duck entrees on the chef’s choice menu.  The crispy duck on drunken noodle, pan-fried rice noodles topped with fresh, homemade chili and Thai basil.  This is one of those rare dishes about which absolute perfection can be ascribed.  Everything about it is perfectly prepared.  The duck is mouth-watering–tender, succulent, eyes shut wide with pleasure delicious with a crispy fried skin that may leave you swooning.  The pan-seared basil would have made a wonderful entree on its own while the drunken noodles inherited the saucy flavors of the other components of one of the two best duck dishes I’ve ever had (the other being the roasted duck curry, of course).

Coconut Ice Cream on a bed of Sticky Rice

Despite sizable portions, you’ll want to end your meal with dessert.  The menu lists only  mangoes (in season) with sticky rice, coconut ice cream with sticky rice and fried bananas. These relatively simple desserts are common in street stalls throughout Thailand, but uncommonly good in America–just like this phenomenal restaurant. 

We’ve been visiting Lotus of Siam since the millennium year–within weeks after Jonathan Gold’s anointing of this gem.  It’s on my short list for the proverbial “last meal” and should be on everyone’s “bucket list” of restaurants to visit before all is said and done.  Lotus of Siam is THAT good!

953 E. Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 10 November 2011
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Fishcakes, Duck Curry, Thai b.b.q. chicken, Mangoes on Sticky Rice

Lotus of Siam on Urbanspoon

Lawry’s The Prime Rib – Las Vegas, Nevada

Lawry's The Prime Rib Restaurant in Las Vegas

“What keeps me motivated is not the food itself
but all the bonds and memories the food represents.”

~Michael Chiarello

Many of my most cherished memories involve the act of eating and quite often those memories don’t involve the food itself.  The memories which sweeten most over time invariably involve the people with whom those meals were shared.  The act of degustation is infinitely more satisfying and the meals so much more pleasing when shared with loved ones.  In part because of the memories it evokes, one restaurant which will always hold a special place in my heart is Lawry’s The Prime Rib.  Every visit rekindles memories of my first visit and creates new memories to be revisited and cherished thereafter. 

My inaugural visit to Lawry’s occurred on August 31st, 1985 in Chicago, Illinois.  I was five hours removed from landing at O’Hare Airport after an exhausting flight from London.  Jet lag had set in and neither my thoughts or speech were as coherent as one would want for meeting future in-laws for the first time.  The jet lag apparently trumped any nervousness I may have had because my in-laws found me perfectly charming, a worthy catch for their daughter.  Over the years, my father-in-law and I grew very close, sharing great conversation, great wine, wonderful food and many loving memories.  Lawry’s The Prime Rib deserves some credit.

The elegant interior of Lawry's The Prime Rib

Fourteen years later–on December 29th, 1999–the entire family gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate my father-in-law’s 70th birthday at Lawry’s.  For a man who had seen and accomplished virtually all he ever set out to do, the outpouring of love came as a very touching and memorable surprise.  Four years later, we gathered at Lawry’s once again only this time without him.  We were there to celebrate his life, cut short prematurely.  Of all the many lessons he taught us, perhaps the most important was that families who share meals together share love.

Lawry’s has been carving out places in the heart and impressing itself upon the memories of countless diners since launching its flagship Beverly Hills restaurant in 1938.  Because of its unique ability to create memories, it has spanned generations and survived the onslaught of rigorous competition despite virtually not changing a thing in more than seventy years.  If ever there was a “one trick pony” it would be Lawry’s, but this is one pony who does that one thing exceedingly well–better than anyone else has ever done it.

An expert carver slices a Lawry's cut of prime rib

What Lawry’s does–as the name clearly indicates–is serve the very best roasted prime rib of beef conceivable.   Sure, it’s an anachronism, but it’s a throwback in the best sense of the word–the sense that implies exceptional service and warm hospitality, a lavish dinner experience, an art deco ambiance and a unique menu so good, it hasn’t had to change much with the times.  Lawry’s is about memories and it’s about tradition.  It’s about parents and in-laws introducing their children and grandchildren to the sharing of great food and the creation of new memories. 

Lawry’s is also about making its guests feel special, as if they all deserve an exceptional dining experience–one that comes to you.  Not long after your drink order is taken, an expert carver nattily attired entirely in virginal white wheels a stainless-steel cart to your table where you can select the cut of roast prime rib of beef you want.  The prime rib is carved tableside before your very eyes and to your exacting specifications.  It’s food porn, a tantalizing visual show that will make your mouth water and arouse your olfactory senses.  The beef is dry-aged and roasted with the famous Lawry’s seasoning blend.  There is no better beef anywhere!

The Lawry's Cut of Prime Rib Destined For My Plate

There’s a prime rib of beef cut for every appetite. They range from the “California Cut,” a smaller cut for lighter appetites, which at about eight-ounces, is still an intimidating hunk of beef to the “Beef Bowl Cut,” a double-sized cut with the rib bone as served annually to the Roast…er, Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl football teams. It’s roughly the size of an air conditioner. The most popular cut is the Lawry cut which probably tips the scales at about twenty-four ounces.  As with any prime rib, there’s a bit of marbling here and there, but it only lends to the flawless flavor profile.  Lawry’s whipped cream horseradish is as powerful as tear gas so unless you’re into shedding tears with every bite, it may not be for you.

The prime rib dinner includes Lawry’s famous original spinning bowl salad with mixed greens, shredded beets, chopped egg, croutons and a unique dressing you won’t find anywhere else.  The salad preparation is unique.  Waitresses–attired in an old-fashioned outfit complete with a Nurse Ratchet type hat (cap?)–don’t toss salads; they spin them in a stainless-steel bowl atop a bed of ice.  Then with the pomp and ceremony of a knighting, the waitress will present a chilled salad fork so you can apportion the salad onto your plate.

Lawry's Prime Rib (the Lawry's Cut), Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, Creamed Corn, Spinach and Yorkshire Pudding

Lawry’s Idaho mashed potatoes are superb–whole potatoes whipped with milk and butter to give them the creaminess  diners crave!  You can have the mashed potatoes with or without gravy.  In either case, they’re standard with your prime rib as is Yorkshire Pudding (not actually a pudding by American standards) which is baked in small skillets until puffy and golden brown.  A number of a la carte dinner accompaniments are available: jumbo shrimp cocktail, sizzling skillet of mushrooms, a baked Idaho potato, fresh asparagus, buttered peas, creamed spinach and creamed corn.

The latter two are absolute must haves, reasons by themselves to visit Lawry’s! The creamed spinach (subtly seasoned with spices, bacon, scallion, onion and more than a hint of garlic) might explain Popeye’s affinity for spinach (didn’t Gilligan love it, too?). It is simply outstanding, a buttery-rich tangle of beauteous greens.  Be ever vigilant and don’t leave the table or you’ll be risking your dining companion reaching over and taking some.  The creamed corn will inspire similar covetousness.  It’s sweet, buttery and delicious to the nth degree.

Lawry's famous salad

There are other options on the menu including ribeye steak, fresh fish of the day and Atlantic lobster tails, but when in Rome, most do as the Romans do.  That means a prime rib of beef dinner you’ll long remember.  Now, if you’re thinking that in Las Vegas you can have a prime rib dinner for a pittance at any number of casinos, remember you get what you pay for.  In most cases that’s a fatty slab of tough beef prepared by a nameless, faceless cook in the confines of a hectic kitchen.  If there are any memories to be gleaned from this experience, they’re bound to be memorable for the wrong reasons. 

There are seven items on the dessert, but most diners don’t have room for a post-prandial sweet treat unless they ask the wait staff to box remaining items. The coconut banana cream pie has a rich, butter crust, an old-fashioned vanilla cream center and is loaded with ripe banana slices and topped with a generous amount of toasted coconut.  The fact that I’d prefer a second serving of creamed spinach is certainly no indictment of the pie, but a testament as to just how good the creamed spinach is.

Banana-Coconut Cream Pie

Today aside from its Las Vegas, Chicago and Beverly Hills locations, Lawry’s The Prime Rib is creating new memories in Dallas, Jakarta, Singapore, Tokyo and Taipei.  Dear memories of my father-in-law revisit me every time we dine at Lawry’s.  They’re fond memories of great times we shared at a restaurant we considered our special place.

Lawry’s The Prime Rib
4043 Howard Hughes Parkway
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 893-2223
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 9 November 2011
1st VISIT: 31 August 1985
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Prime Rib, Lobster Tail, Spinning Salad Bowl, Yorkshire Pudding, Idaho Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Spinach, Creamed Corn, Banana-Coconut Cream Pie

Lawry's the Prime Rib on Urbanspoon

Lindo Michoacan – Las Vegas, Nevada

Lindo Michoacan, one of the best Mexican restaurants in the southwest

Lindo Michoacan and its three scions strewn throughout the Las Vegas area may be the best gourmet-quality Mexican restaurants we’ve visited in America which aren’t owned by Rick Bayless or aren’t situated in Santa Fe (Los Potrillos) or Albuquerque (Los Equipales). The older sibling, Lindo Michoacan is a storied restaurant which over the years has garnered unprecedented local acclaim and has even been celebrated nationally. For years, it has earned “Best of Las Vegas” honors in the Mexican food category and if you listen to Vegas Chowhounds, there isn’t a Mexican restaurant in the city anywhere close.

The founder’s story is also steeped in the kind of heart-rending rags-to-riches details that raconteurs tend to embellish until those details become legendary. The story has it that Javier Barajas learned his culinary craft as a young boy working at a convent. Mother Superior was so impressed by his work ethic that she assigned him to work in the kitchen where he absorbed everything he could about cooking. One meal at Lindo Michoacan and you’ll be convinced the nunnery served diving gastronomy and was staffed by cherubic, fat nuns who may have taken a vow of poverty, but not of gastronomic self-denial.

One of the three dining rooms in the sprawling restaurant

As your hostess escorts you to your table, your mouth will be agape at both the enticing aromas which fill the air and at the vibrant folk art which festoons the walls and ceilings. Lindo Michoacan is a breath-taking sensory experience in every sense of the term. The restaurant’s three dining rooms tend to be crowded, not only because seating is in personal space proximity, but because most tables seem occupied by groups–either families or friends.

At one corner of the main dining room is a small (maybe 10X10) room bisected by glass and tile.  A solitary figure, a tortillera, works behind the glass, assiduously kneading dough into small balls then rolling them into flat disks about a foot in diameter.  The tortillera then places the raw tortillas on a preheated cast iron plate, turning them frequently to ensure they are cooked evenly.  The tortilla is ready when it begins to puff up with air pockets and becomes the color of a pinto pony.  Making flour tortillas is a time-honored process that requires experience and expertise.  Lindo Michoacan’s tortilleras know what they’re doing.

Your first order of salsas is complimentary.

The menu reads like a novel you can’t put down (although it’s unlikely even the most deliciously salacious novel can cause your mouth to water like the menu will). In all of our visits, it has literally taken us ten to fifteen minutes to decide what to order. It wouldn’t be beyond reason to close your eyes and point at a random menu item and still be treated to one of the best Mexican entrees you’ve ever had.

Fortunately, while you’re perusing the menu, the attentive wait staff gives you a preview of your upcoming dining experience with a basket of crispy, low-salt chips which are substantial enough for the fiery red salsa and the warm bean dip served complimentarily with every meal. The salsa and bean dip are like a “yin and yang” duo of prandial precursors. After the salsa has set your tongue on fire, follow up with the bean dip as a flavorful extinguisher.

Fideos, a unique Mexican spaghetti-soup

You can also try to mollify the salsa’s effect on your tongue with horchata, the incomparably refreshing and addictive rice beverage. It’s especially addictive at Lindo Michoaca where during one balmy summer visit, I drank seven tall glasses of the rice and cinnamon flavored drink (and not necessarily to put out the fire on my tongue). I’ve never had better horchata.

Each meal is accompanied by flour or corn tortillas as well as the best sopa de fideos (a wonderfully spiced vermicelli soup) you’ll ever have. Sopa de fideos wasn’t in my mom’s comfort food repertoire so I came to appreciate this highly flavorful soup later in life. It’s surprising that more Mexican and New Mexican restaurants don’t offer it. Each meal also includes fresh guacamole dip which is made with fresh Hass avocados, jalapenos, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and fresh lime. Despite all those “additives,” the prevalent flavor is of avocado, just as it should be.

Ceviche de Camaron with tortas

Bountiful botanas (appetizers) include gourmet starters such as nopalitos (Mexican cactus), but you can also find such popular favorites as queso fundido (melted and blended Monterrey Jack served with green chile strips and chorizo) and ceviche de camaron (fresh shrimp diced with tomatoes, onions, jalapeno mixed together with lemon juice and spices). Unlike most ceviche, the dominant taste is the shrimp, not the overdone citrus infusion.

In years’ past, any gringo (and even if I did quality on an ethnic basis, I couldn’t do it) who can say “pollo al chipoltle estilo Parangaricutirimicuaro,” without stopping, would win a free margarita or tequila. We have yet to try that tongue-twisting, polysyllabic tongue-twister, but can attest to the quality of several other outstanding entrees:

Carnitas a la Coca Cola

The chuletas estillo “Amador Castillo,” pork chops in the style of Amador Castillo, are among the tastiest evidence that Mexican food doesn’t need to be incendiary or even particularly spicy to be great. With this entree, three broiled pork chops are marinated overnight in a sauce made with achiote, fresh garlic, onions, diced red chiles, vinegar and “secret spices.” The resultant flavors might remind you of tender pork chops marinated in a citrusy, smoky barbecue sauce.

Especiales del mar (seafood specialties) include a boatload of shrimp and fish (mostly orange roughy) entrees that may make you long for the sea. The best of the lot may be the Camarones Abuelito Timo, eight large, fresh Mexican Gulf shrimp filled with cheese and red peppers, wrapped in bacon and deep fried. The shrimp are accompanied by a sauce made with 1000 Island dressing and Tabasco sauce, which, while delicious in its own right, was wholly unnecessary. There’s something uniquely flavorful about shrimp wrapped in bacon and Lindo Michoacan does it best!

Novillo al Coñac

True to its name, the Carne A La Coca-Cola Estilo “Mama Consuelo,” actually does employ America’s favorite soft drink to add flavor and contrast to a New York steak prepared with a sauce of pasilla chiles, garlic, pepper and other spices. This flavorful, slightly sweet “Coca-Cola Classic” is certainly crafted with ingenuity and imagination as its ingredients meld masterfully to form taste sensations you won’t easily forget. It is one of the chef’s mother’s secret recipes.

New York steak al cognac is emboldened with a sauté of cognac, mushrooms, onion, secret spices and sour cream and is an entree which positively dances on your taste buds. The steak is grilled to your exacting specifications and is nearly tender enough to cut with a fork. On its own, it would make an excellent steak entree, but with the accompanying sauce, it’s elevated to one of the very best meat entrees I’ve ever had at any Mexican restaurant.

My favorite horchata

Lindo Michoacan celebrates the cuisine of one of Mexico’s most storied regions, a region reputed to be home to the very best chefs in Mexico. In Mexico, it is said that, “If you want good food, go to Michoacan.” In Las Vegas, savvy diners say, “If you want good food, come to Lindo Michoacan.”

Lindo Michoacan
2655 East Desert Inn
Las Vegas, NV
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 8 November 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Ceviche De Camaron, Camarones Abuelito Timo, Chuletas Estilo “Amador Castillo”, Carnitas A La Coca-Cola Estilo “Mama Chelo”, Salsa, Horchata, Steak Al Conac, Queso Fundido

Lindo Michoacan on Urbanspoon

Il Mulino of New York – Las Vegas, Nevada

Arguably the very best Italian restaurant in New York City is now available in Las Vegas at Caesars Forum Shops

While it may seem that Las Vegas is one perpetual bachelor party with hundreds of drunken frat boys expressing themselves loudly through expletives while leaving a hazy trail of smoke in their wake as they converge upon casino after casino, Sin City does have its pockets of civility.  One such refuge is Il Mulino during the lunch hour when it’s a veritable island of isolation and paragon of propriety despite being mere feet from the maddening throngs.  Perhaps it’s that aspect of propriety that explains the absence of teeming masses during lunch.

Yes, it’s THAT Il Mulino, scion of the famous Italian restaurant held in reverential esteem and cited by the cognoscenti as perhaps the very best Italian restaurant in all of the five boroughs comprising New York City (although Mario Batali might have something to say about that).   The Las Vegas outpost of the fabulous Metropolis Italian restaurant is located at the top level of the Forum Shops at Caesars next door to Tommy Bahama.  The setting is so elegant, the ambiance so splendorous that you’ll quickly forget the proximal partiers.

The interior of Il Mulino

It’s not the crapulous carousers who frequent Il Mulino at night, but a more conservative, nattily attired crowd which appreciates and can afford decorum with their deliciousness.  Unlike at the personal proximity, sardine can tight seating at the New York City institution, there’s plenty of elbow room at the Vegas instantiation.  You’ll need that room to loosen your belt a notch or two, such is the alimentary excess to which you will be treated.  Virtually from the moment you’re seated until you settle the bill of fare, the ingratiating staff will continue to feed you in a manner reminiscent of an Italian grandmother.

As you pass through the double doors into the capacious and swanky milieu, the casino seems to melt away into the background.  To your right is a wine cellar any oenophile will love and at your left flank is a long bar atop of which are several jars of fruits (lemons, pears, strawberries) marinating in grappa, a brandy distilled from the fermented residue of grapes after they have been pressed in wine-making.  Those fruits will marinate for several weeks, after which the resultant liqueur is as smooth and aromatic as the nectar beloved by Roman gods.  Our waiter made sure our meal ended with pear grappa, the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Our waiter cutting out hunks of parmesan for us

Plush burgundy carpet ensures a comfortable walk to your table, overlaid with white linens and impeccably set with crystal stemware, silver place settings and a single red rose.  Wrought-iron Gothic chandeliers provide overhead illumination while large picture windows let in natural sunlight and provide a view of the strip without letting in the cacophony.  Weather permitting, you can dine on the patio where you’ll have an even better view, but then you’d be foregoing a meal at one of the city’s most luxurious dining rooms. 

As you stride to your table, you can’t help but note–both visually and olfactory–a frying pan sizzling over a cook stove burner and a tuxedo-clad waiter lovingly tending to a tangle of peppery ribbons of zucchini marinated in extra virgin olive oil.  You’ll make a mental note to order this olfactory arousing siren, but you need not.  It’s one of several complementary items the wait staff will bring to your table.  By the time your meal is done, you’ll feel more affection for the genteel wait staff than you will for your many of your relatives.

Zucchini and salami

The lightly fried zucchini is served cold, the fragrant remnants of the frying process undeniable.  The olive oil in which the zucchini is fried and later marinated in is of excellent quality–rich and unctuous with pungent notes.  The zucchini is served with painfully thin slices of richly marbled salami.  The salami is obviously not processed; it’s an indulgent quality salami you might save for a special occasion. 

The increasingly endearing waiter will then approach your table with a quarter wheel of imported Grana Padano, a semi-hard grainy cousin of Parmesan.  He will expertly slice a hunk or three and deposit them carefully onto your plate.  This is the type of cheese turophiliacs (people obsessed with cheese) will sniff, perhaps to discern the grasses consumed by the happy cows who produced this rich, delicately flavored cheese.  Compared to its Italian cousin Parmigiano, it’s not quite as salty, is less “nutty” and is definitely more subtle.

An amuse-bouch: bruschetta and a single mussel

The next thing your benefactor-waiter will bring to your table is an amuse-bouche of bruschetta with tomato and basil along with a single mussel.  Amuse-bouche are typically single, bite-sized “hors d’oeurvres” (though you’d better not use that term around an Italian serving it to you), but this bruschetta is easily a three-bite snack.  It is thoroughly soaked in olive oil, but not enough to render it mushy.  The lightly toasted bruschetta still crunches when you bite into it. 

Not pictured in this review is the basket of breads your waiter (with whom you’ll be in love by this point) will bring you.  The basket includes hard-crusted Italian bread and lightly toasted garlic bread saturated in unctuous olive oil.  Real butter spreads on nicely on the Italian country bread, but you’ll want to save a slice or two to sop up the sauce-laden entrees to follow.  It’s almost sinful to call the second bread “garlic bread” because it’s what all garlic bread should taste like.

Antipasti of Caprese: Fresh buffalo mozzarella, sliced tomato, sprig of basil, fig, roasted red pepper with capers, prosciutto di Parma with aged Balsamico and olive oil

By this point you’re probably contemplating a post-meal nap or might be considering proposing to your waiter who, thus far, has lavished you with more gifts than a lover.  It’s here that the waiter will recite the day’s specials.   Cognitive psychologists have long theorized that retaining  much more than seven chunks of information in memory is a challenge (especially if you’re older than fifty).  The Il Mulino staff has a Jeopardy contestant-like ability to remember much more.  The list of specials reads like some restaurants’ entire menus and each special may include more than seven chunks of information itself.  I still haven’t memorized my cell phone number so the specials recital feat greatly impressed me. 

So did our antipasti choice, a sort of deconstructed Caprese salad consisting of richly marbled prosciutto di Parma sliced so thinly you could almost see through it; fresh buffalo mozzarella; a sprig of fresh, fragrant basil; a large, sweet fig; and roasted red peppers topped with capers.  Opt to have the aged Balsamico and extra virgin olive oil drizzled onto the entire plate for an even more flavorful starter.  A great aged Balsamic (and there is none better than New Mexico’s own Aceto Balsamico). enhances the flavor of virtually everything and Il Mulino uses a great Balsamico.

Tortellini alla Panna: meat tortellini with cream sauce and sweet peas with a touch of black truffle sauce

From among the antipasti, my favorite is probably the buffalo mozzarella which is soft and moist with a pronounced milky flavor. It literally oozes milk and has a musky, slightly grassy and thoroughly unctuous flavor. If you’ve ever had buffalo mozzarella from the Campana region of Italy, the rubbery American versions of mozzarella will never do.  Il Mulino does not compromise on quality.  The antipasti will set you back as much as some entrees at a fine-dining restaurant, but the memories alone are worth the splurge. 

You won’t fine spaghetti or even lasagna on the menu.  Il Mulino’s Northern Italian menu does have its red sauce pasta dishes, but more prominent are rich, creamy white sauces.  You’ll also find refined risottos, the type of which prompt me to forgo pasta every time.  The pesci (seafood), carne (beef and lamb) and pollo (poultry) entrees tend to be more pricy.  Portions are profligate.  Think family-sized portions.  You’ll definitely find yourself taking leftovers home.

Risotto Primavera: seasonal vegetables with prosciutto

If one of your criteria for a life mate is someone who can cook, that’s another quality you’ll love about the wait staff.  The kitchen may compose and conduct the masterpieces, but it’s your waiter who will take them to their crescendo in small cook stove burners at their prep station.  It’s the waiter who will shave black truffles onto your pasta and who will season them to perfection.  It’s your waiter who will toss the al dente pasta and perfectly prepared risotto to ensure they will arrive at your table at their peak of flavor saturation and temperature. 

The tortellini alla Panna, a meat tortellini with a cream sauce and sweet peas and a touch of black truffles is one of those rare dishes that borders on nauseatingly rich–so rich you swear you can’t eat another bite, but so good you can’t stop eating it.  The pasta is perfectly al dente, the truffle scented sauce is absolutely addictive and each tortellini is generously stuffed.  The green peas taste freshly shucked out of a pod.

Tiramisu with zabaglione and berries

Risotto became a part of pop culture when a Seinfeld episode lampooned the post-coital ritual of lighting up a cigarette–only in this case George Costanza’s girlfriend lit up contentedly after a satisfying meal of risotto. The noisy ardor with which she consumed the risotto was something the ego-fragile George couldn’t elicit from her in the bedroom. The risotto at Il Mulino might elicit such a passion.  One criticism friends have levied towards me is my penchant for ordering risotto at fine-dining Italian restaurants then enumerating the number of select few restaurants who have prepared the risotto correctly.  In recent years, my count has climbed from under a handful to a baker’s dozen.  Il Mulino’s is among the very best.

Four risotto options are available: Risotto Frutti di Mare (assorted seafood), Risotto Milanese (saffron with white wine), Risotto Porcini (assorted wild mushrooms) and Risotto Primavera (seasonal vegetables with prosciutto).  It’s the latter I ordered and consumed lustily.  The fresh seasonal vegetables included zucchini, onions, mushrooms and broccoli were perfectly prepared and seasoned.  The risotto was artisinal, each fluffy long-grain of rice inheriting the flavors of the olive oil and stock in which they are prepared.  Risotto bears careful watching and constant stirring so that when done, the rice is cooked through and redolent with a creamy sauce made as the starch leaches out of the rice and melds with the stock.

Tartufo with Zabaglione and berries

Full as you might be after your marathon meal, it’s nearly impossible to resist your waiter’s charms as he describes the dessert menu, paying attention to enunciate the qualities of his particular favorite.  Fortunately our waiter’s favorite dessert is also my favorite–tiramisu.  Il Mulino’s version is enhanced further with a pool of rich zabaglione studded with berries.  The tiramisu is drenched in Kahlua and is as good as any tiramisu I’ve ever had anywhere. 

Another terrific dessert option–particularly if you like ice cream–is the tartufo which translates literally from Italian to “truffle.”  It’s a rich (a word which seems to describe almost everything on the menu) Italian ice cream dessert composed of two flavors of ice cream–an adult dark chocolate and a nutty vanilla covered with a dark chocolate shell.  The two chocolate shells are flanked by pools of zabaglione with berries.  If you weren’t completely full before dessert, you will be afterwards, but it’ll be a good full, one you’ll long remember with a swoon.

Pera Grappa

Il Mulino has expanded beyond New York City to Roslyn, New York; Miami, Florida; Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Ilinois; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Orlando, Florida; and Houston, Texas.  It’s a long-standing restaurant philosophy to use only the best and freshest ingredients possible, to prepare and present every item beautifully and to treat all guests with close personal attention to maximize their dining experience.  Mission accomplished!   Il Mulino gave me one of the very best dining experiences of my life–not just one of the best Italian, but the best of any type.

Il Mulino of New York
Caesars Forum Shops
3570 South Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 November 2011

COST: $$$$ – $$$$$
BEST BET: Capresa, Tortellini alla Panna, Risotto Primavera, Tiramisu, Tartufo, Pera Grappa, Tartufo

Il Mulino of New York (Caesars Forum Shops) on Urbanspoon

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab – Las Vegas, Nevada

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas

Stone crab is probably what God eats every night of the year,
but in Florida we mortals only have it from mid-October to mid-May…”
Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement

Whether or not stone crab is really what God likes for dinner might make an interesting literary debate, but there’s no disputing that ordinary and not-so-mere mortals have loved the captivating crustaceans of citrus country for nearly a century.  In 1913 Joe Weiss discovered that stone crabs were not only edible, they were delicious–so much so that his small lunch counter in then backwater Miami Beach became an epicurean epicenter.  High society–everyone from Will Rogers, Gloria Swanson and Emelia Earhart to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and J. Edgar Hoover–flocked– to his restaurant.  So did a nemesis of Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Using the alias Al Brown, public enemy number one Al Capone and his entourage dined at Joe’s every evening.  Capone liked and respected Joe’s wife so much (and ostensibly her preparation of stone crabs) that every Mother’s Day, he sent a truck to the restaurant to deliver a horseshoe-shaped bouquet of flowers which read, “Good Luck Mother Joe’s.”  Jennie Weiss never realized who he was, but admired his gentlemanly behavior and always made him feel welcome at the restaurant.

The interior entrance to Joe's

Stone crabs are harvested in Florida every year between October 15th and May 15th.  Among the world’s most sustainable seafood, only one of the delicious decapod’s large claws may be remove thereby ensuring the continued survival of the species.  The crabs are thrown back into the water where another claw will generate in twelve to eighteen months.  Crabs are captured in baited traps, not speared or hooked and egg-bearing females are not allowed to be declawed.  The minimum legal size per claw is about two ounces with some colossal crabs weighing as much as twenty-five pounds. 

Claws make up half the weight of the entire crab.  A claw is removed by carefully grabbing it from the rear and twisting it off, a more humane treatment than say, boiling it live as is done with lobsters.  The claws are steamed on the boat then chilled and delivered to restaurants such as Joe’s which serve them to soon-to-be sated guests.  At Joe’s, they can be ordered in three sizes: medium (seven per order), select (six per order) and large (five per order).  Size–other than perhaps the size of your billfold–has no bearing on flavor; the medium crab claws taste every bit as great as the large crab claws.

Bread basket at Joe's

Joe’s legendary stone crabs are to the Miami chamber of commerce what green chile is to the New Mexico Tourism Department and as with our green chile, their popularity could not be contained by borders.  In the millennium year of 2000, Lettuce Entertain You, a Chicago-based concept restaurant dining empire partnered with the Weiss family to bring Joe’s to Chicago, pairing Florida’s incomparable stone crab with prime bone-in chops, a Windy City staple.  Four years later, the Joe’s legacy expanded to the Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas.  Proving no mirage in the Nevada desert, Joe’s legendary stone crab quickly became a popular draw with reservations strongly recommended.

That’s a contrast to the original Joe’s which has always had a mandated no-reservations policy.  Another contrast is the service.  The Miami Beach wait staff is crabbier than the decadent decapods they deliver to their patrons’ tables, but in Las Vegas, service is friendly and attentive–particularly if your server is the lovely and ambassadorial Linda, a native of the south of England who will make you feel right at home and can be trusted to provide spot-on recommendations on what to order.

A bowl of stone crab bisque

As you contemplate the menu, a basket of bread is delivered to your table along with soft butter you can actually spread.  The artisinal assortment of breads is as beauteous to admire as it is delicious to devour.  The assortment includes a caramelized onion and cheese roll, a cracker-like lavosh and  cranberry-walnut bread, each so good you’ll want the basket replenished.  Make sure to save at least one slice or roll to sop up one of the menu’s outstanding bisques, the best of which might be the sumptuous stone crab bisque

Great restaurants recognize that visual elements–color, texture, portion size, shape–will greatly enhance the appreciation of a great dish.  The stone crab bisque arrives at your table in a steel vessel which completely obfuscates the creamy, pureed crustacean.  The wait staff will pour the contents of the steely pitcher onto a plate brimming with chopped stone crab and finely minced carrots and celery, instantly releasing a steamy, enticing aroma that precedes the rich, delicious flavor profile of sweet crab meat and sauteed vegetables.  This elixir will remedy whatever ails you.

Lobster Tail Tempura with an Asian dipping sauce

The bountiful bowl of bisque is large enough to share though you might want to keep it all for yourself.  It’s among the very best soups, chowders, stews or gumbos I’ve ever had.  It’s one of those rare items about which you could say you’d die happy if you fell into a brimming vat of this steamy deliciousness and drowned while attempting to drink your way out.  It’s the type of soup which would win any Souper Bowl!

Stone crabs aren’t the sole seafood item on the menu, not by a long shot.  The menu offers a boatload of seafood options: fried shrimp, shrimp scampi, scallops (and bacon-wrapped sea scallops), colossal lump crab cakes, lobster tail tempura, jumbo Alaskan king crab legs and a fisherman’s platter which showcases shrimp, scallops, calamari and cod. Fresh fish options include cod, salmon (au poivre), mahi mahi, halibut and ahi tuna.

An order of five medium-sized stone crabs

The lobster tail tempura is a winner–two six-ounce tails sheathed in a light tempura batter which imparts a crunchy accent without detracting from the sweet, succulent deliciousness of the lobster.  The lobster tails are served with an Asian inspired, slightly spicy apricot dipping sauce.  It’s wholly unnecessary and, if anything, you might find yourself missing drawn butter.  A grilled jumbo lobster tail is available for purists who don’t believe the flavor of lobster should be masked, even partially, by any batter.

Those purists will love the stone crabs, particularly during lunch when Joe’s Classic stone crab is available at an unbeatable prix fixe price.  One lunch special includes five stone crab claws, hashed brown potatoes, coleslaw and a sliver of key lime pie. Alternatively, you can sate your carnivorous cravings with a lunch special that showcases a six-ounce filet mignon, Jennie’s potatoes, Joe’s grilled tomatoes and banana cream pie with Foster sauce. Never mind a jackpot from the one-armed bandit; you’re a winner with either option.

Joe's famous hash browns and coleslaw

The stone crab claws arrive at your table cracked and ready to be de-shelled, similar to how you would peel a hard-boiled egg (albeit one with very sharp edges).  For someone who bashed his thumb with a wooden mallet cracking dungeness crabs in San Francisco, the pre-cracked claws were much appreciated.  Not everyone needs the authenticity of a crab-cracking experience.  The stone crab is served cold as if having been resting in a tub of ice before coming to your table.  There’s plenty of meat in each claw and it’s a sweet, succulent, delicious meat.  The crab claws are served with Joe’s trademarked mustard sauce which is as sweet as it is tangy.  No sauce is really necessary.

Two things go best with stone crab claws at Joe’s.  Fittingly they’re the two things first served with the claws nearly a century ago.  The first would be hashed browns which are unlike the packaged confetti strips most restaurants serve.  The exterior of the hashed browns resembles a crusty shell, likely the byproduct of the way the potatoes are prepared.  Penetrate that shell and you’ll find soft fried goodness.  The other accompaniment is Joe’s famous coleslaw which isn’t made with a mayo-based salad cream, but with a tangy-sweet vinegary sauce.  It’s an excellent coleslaw.

The very best Boston Cream Pie I've Ever Had (and I lived in Massachusetts for two years)

For years my very favorite Boston Cream Pie was the one served at the Parker House Hotel in Boston where it was first conceived in 1867.  The official dessert of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may henceforth hold a back seat to the Boston cream pie at Joe’s.  There are several reasons this pie is so fabulous.  First, it’s a generous slab, not a sliver leaving you wanting more.  Secondly, the ganache is of adult chocolate sweetness and it’s applied generously.  Third, the inside layer of cream is neither overly thick nor too cloying.  Everything about this pie is just right.

Joe’s most famous dessert, one as popular in the Florida Keys as Boston Cream Pie is in Boston, is key lime pieIf you’ve ever had a luminescent or neon green “key lime pie” it’s not the real thing. Joe’s rendition is the real deal, made with key lime juice and a heaping helping of key lime zest.  It’s got a pale yellowish hue and it’s both creamy and just tangy-tart enough to purse your lips.  The Graham cracker crust maintains its integrity and doesn’t fall apart when you press your fork into it.  That’s partially because the pie is served cold.

Real Key Lime Pie

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab serves stone crab all year round–even off-season when frozen claws are served.  That, too, one-ups the Joe’s in Miami which is closed all summer.  Our inaugural visit was more a “been there, done that” experience than it was transformative in any way.  Some items–the stone crab bisque and Boston cream pie–were in the “to die for” category, but not everything else was.  Still, from an experiential perspective, you can’t go wrong with a restaurant offering stellar service and palate-pleasing cuisine.

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab
Forum Shops @ Caesar’s
3500 Las Vegas  Blvd. South
Las Vegas, Nevada
Web Site
LATEST VISIT:5 November 2011
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET:  Lobster Tail Tempura, Stone Crab, Hash Browns, Coleslaw, Key Lime Pie, Boston Cream Pie, Stone Crab Bisque

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab on Urbanspoon

Bellagio Buffet – Las Vegas, Nevada

The Bellagio Buffet

The Bellagio Buffet

Comparing the Bellagio Buffet to the buffets proffered at other casino hotels isn’t quite akin to comparing a Bacchanalian festival to a swinish feeding troth, but it might be close.  That’s because the difference in quality between the Bellagio Buffet and its nearest competitor is several degrees of magnitude.

It’s the one buffet in Vegas in which you might actually see the gentrified and the affluent condescend to mingle with the rabble.  It’s also the one buffet in which some of the patrons don’t look like they parked their hay wagons in front of the casino and walked in.

Being the very best, the Bellagio Buffet seemingly brings out the best behavior among its dining patrons who at other casinos might jostle and push their brethren just like European tourists do (and by the way, some of them put the much-maligned and stereotyped “ugly Americans” to shame).

There are many other Vegas buffets which offer greater variety, but where the Bellagio stands out is in its lavish presentation of cuisine as opposed to chow, fine dining as opposed to smorgasbord and culinary creations as opposed to caloric caches.

While other buffets have action stations usually featuring thematic (such as seafood) or ethnic (Italian, Mexican and the like) foods, the Bellagio has a singular, continuous procession of wondrous indulgences along with detached islands of salads and desserts.

The Bellagio Buffet's action stations

The Bellagio Buffet's action stations

In no other Vegas buffet will you find barbecued wild boar ribs, chicken Wellington, leg of lamb and more–and that’s just during the lunch buffet.

The Bellagio Buffet serves nearly one million pounds of prime rib per year.  It serves more than five hundred pounds of seafood daily and it’s all flown in fresh daily from all over the world.  The lunch and dinner buffet serve ten different potato dishes.

The daily dinner bounty includes Alaskan king crab and other extravagances not available during lunch–and even that’s not as opulent as the buffet gets. Weekend gourmet buffets are even better while holiday offerings include Kobe beef.  Bacchus himself would be proud.

Every item we sampled save for the sushi (pre-made) has been good to very good. The beef in black bean sauce, one of the few Chinese entrees on the buffet, was among the very best we’ve had.  Ditto for the four cheese pizza and I can’t stop thinking about those barbecued boar ribs.

While other buffets might offer soft-serve ice cream, at the Bellagio, you might find soft-serve raspberry and peach sorbet and it’s as fresh and delicious as if plucked right out of nature herself.  The desserts are first-rate!

When you’ve had the best, why settle for the rest?  It will be hard to visit any other Vegas buffet after visiting the Bellagio.

3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV
(888) 987-6667
LATEST VISIT: 1 June 2008
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Wild Boar Ribs, Chicken Wellington, Black Bean Beef, Four Cheese Pizza

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