Sunday, September 30, 2012

Aburiya Raku - 09/22/2012

5030 Spring Mountain Road
Las Vegas, NV 89146
(702) 367-3511

A good rule of thumb when traveling: eat where the chefs eat, and in Vegas that means Aburiya Raku. Opened in 2008, the restaurant has received a slew of accolades including three James Beard Nominations: Best New Restaurant (2008) Best Chef Southwest (2011, 2012). Raku's owner, Mitsuo Endo, got his start working at top Kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo. After spending a year in Seattle, Endo moved to New York and helped open MEGU in Tribeca and Midtown with his mentor, Koji Imai. In 2007 Endo moved to Las Vegas to open EN where he would remain for a year before striking out on his own with Aburiya Raku.

Dai Shichi Minowamon - "The Gate"
The Minowamon proved to be a relatively full bodied sake with a slightly viscous feel that goes down smoothly as well as a complex bouquet of sweet fruit, wood, and flowers. I enjoyed the sake but felt it was a bit too heavy for the food particularly the grilled meats.

Momotaro Tomato
Named for a Japanese folk hero these prized tomatoes are immensely flavorful with a sweet and sour juiciness that gains a vegetal astringency on the finish. These were still delicious as a starter but they really shone when taken between Robata dishes thanks to their refreshing vigor.

Bluefin Tuna
Half of the sashimi was noticeably fattier, with a pinkish color and traces of toro-like refinement. The leaner cut had a coarser texture and a slightly metallic fishiness that was heightened by the house made shoyu.

Kanpachi - Amberjack
A really classic Amberjack, despite being fairly oily the snappy fish gives of a slight sweetness. Best with a light touch of soy as more would overwhelm the fish.

Shima Aji - Striped Jack
Definitely the most expressive of the three sashimi specials, the flesh has an smooth jellied texture with a medium dose of fishiness.

Sanma - Pike Mackerel
I was a bit wary of ordering the mackerel once I heard it was fully cooked, but our waitress highly recommended it. Texturally a touch dry but well worth the trade off in flavor.The smokiness from the grilling heightens the oily character of the fish though I preferred the it with a touch of lime which took some of the edge off. The Mackerel's bones are fried to a golden brown and have a satisfying potato chip-like savor

Chicken Teba Wing
The chicken wings are listed as one of Raku's signatures and with good reason. The skin has a glassy crispness and is loaded with a rich fried sapor. The meat stands up to the delicious skin with a wonderfully tender texture that is saturated with juicy goodness. Despite being insanely full I was tempted to order another round of these.

Hagatsuo Tataki
The final special was a seared bonito. I've had wildly varying experiences with this fish and Raku's tends towards the milder side. Yes there is some woody smoke but the flavor is relatively restrained thanks to the ponzu and accompaniments of ginger, scallion, and daikon.

Poached Egg with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe
Poached egg and sea urchin are two of my favorite things so its no surprise that I feel compelled to order this dish every time I come here. The yamaimo, okra and egg make for a very slimy eating, which can be a challenge for some. The flavor is remarkably subdued, more of an aggregated persistent umami aspect rather than the bold salinity of the uni or ikura.

Chicken Thigh
Typically the thigh is the most flavorful part of the chicken but this doesn't hold a candle to the wings in terms of either flavor or texture. Tasty but its hard to appreciate after having trying the wings.

Agedashi Tofu
This is another of Raku's signatures and perhaps the best tofu that I've ever eaten. The soft pillowy beancurd has a thin fried coating that soaks up the heady tentsuyu broth. The ikura and seaweed have a salinity that compliments the dashi in the tentsuyu while the pickled mushrooms provide a nice tangy contrast.

Kobe Beef Fillet with Wasabi
Hard to find fault with this course. The binchotan adds that extra little touch to an already delicious filet while the wasabi provides a brief burst of heat. Some of my companions opted to add some of the house made green tea salt but I thought the beef needed no additional artifice.

Iberico Pork
One of the specials during my last visit was an Iberico pork under a gelee made from more Iberico. Though I didn't see it on the menu I figured it couldn't hurt to ask. Our waitress said they didn't have the special but could ask the kitchen if they had anything else. The result was a skewer filled with small pieces of pork that had a balanced mix of fat and lean meat. The succulent morsels were quite tasty, but the sauce was a bit too sweet.

Cold Green Tea Soba with Poached Egg
Our final course was a massive bowl of cold soba. The noodles have a slick exterior but feel surprisingly substantial. With just a bit of sauce, the lightly herbal bitterness of the noodles is readily apparent though a bit repetitive after a few bites and I recommended eating it between bites of grilled meats to maintain some variety.

Though a bit off the beaten path, Raku is well worth the effort. Most people seem to think of the restaurant as a place to go to recover from a night of indulgence. Indeed the menu offers some good drunk food but the restaurant has so much more to offer as the 10 and 15 course Kaiseki menus suggest. I've had three excellent late-night meals at Raku and you can be sure I'll be doing the 15-course Kaiseki the next time I'm in Vegas.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Guy Savoy - 09/20/2012

3570 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 731-7110

It might be hard to remember but back in the boom times of the last decade top chefs flocked to Las Vegas and gave the city a serious culinary facelift. Top French Chefs were well represented in the new blood with Ducasse, Robuchon, Savoy, and Gagnaire all present. MGM definitely scored a coup by luring Joel Robuchon out of retirement and giving Vegas its only 3-Michelin Star Restaurant. Not to be outdone, Ceasar's Palace opened Guy Savoy a few short months later under the management of Guy's son, Franck Savoy. My first visit to Savoy was back in 2009 and at the time I thought it was top contender for Vegas' next 3-Michelin Star Restaurant. I've been meaning to come back for a while ad the addition of the Innovation-Inspiration pushed this to the top of my Vegas list.

French Club Sandwich - Toasted Country Bread, Salt Cured Foie Gras, Black Truffle Vinaigrette
R & L Legras, Guy Savoy, Blanc de Blancs, Chouilly, MV
A fitting dish to open the meal, the simple simple terrine on toast is classically delicious while the black truffle adds the right touch of luxury to the bite. Some of my companions thought the foie was overly salty but I appreciated the extra savor.

Parmesan Waffle
R & L Legras, Guy Savoy, Blanc de Blancs, Chouilly, MV
The waffle has a sweetness tempered by the Parmesan and black pepper, tasty but a bit ho-hum compared to the previous canape.

French Burger
R & L Legras, Guy Savoy, Blanc de Blancs, Chouilly, MV
Just a simple combination of Parmesan, mustard, and a seasoned beef patty, but this little morsel definitely punches above its weight in terms of flavor and is easily one of my favorite sliders of all time.

Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup - Toasted Mushroom Brioche, Black Truffle Butter
R & L Legras, Guy Savoy, Blanc de Blancs, Chouilly, MV
This is the dish that put Guy Savoy on the map and remains one of his signatures today. This sublime liquid has a silky thickness despite being water-based and the truffles come through forcefully when combined with the smoky slightly piquant artichokes. We were advised to dip the porous butter and truffle scented bread into the broth which adds a weighty sense of substance. Personally I found both elements delicious on their own, easily the equal of the combination.

Tomato Fougasse
R & L Legras, Guy Savoy, Blanc de Blancs, Chouilly, MV
Fougasse is a Provençal bread typically shaped like an ear of wheat. The bread is dense and reminiscent of pizza dough and the subtle flavor of tomato only heightens the similarity.

Bread Cart
After the amuse and canapes were dispensed with one of our servers brought by a cart loaded with bread. He proceeded to describe the various types and offer three choices for bread service: individual selections, a basket for the table, or a bread pairing which was the obvious choice.

"Concassé" of Oysters - Seaweed, Lemon Granité | Seaweed Bread
Alphonse Mellot, La Moussière, Sancerre, 2010
The canapes were so delicious that I didn't want them to stop coming, but thankfully the first official course was just as captivating. The coarsely chopped oyster gives off an aroma of fresh brine that is intensified by the seaweed while the granité provides both a bracing chill and a bright citrus kiss. With plenty of flint and lemon rind, results in a straightforward but effective mariage between the oysters and Sancerre.

Santa Barbara Spot Prawn - "Caught" in Sweet and Sour Fishnet | Basil Bread
Eiko Fuji, Glorious Mt Fuji, Yamagata, Namazake, Junmai Ginjo
I really liked the image that the kitchen was trying to create with this dish. The pickled radish and espelette gelée certainly effectively created a sweet sour flavor though I didn't think it went that well with the shrimp. The prawn itself was a touch flabby and its natural flavor was lost beneath the "fishnet." The sake proved to be one of the night's more creative pairings, with a surprising viscosity and plenty of apple and melon fruit that had a sweet and sour verve of its own.

Fingerling Potato "Rocks," - Caviar, Smoked Sabayon | Ciabatta
Laurent-Perrier, Tours-Sur-Marne, 2002
This course was my favorite of the night and is one of the most effective uses of caviar that I've ever tasted.. The potatoes are coated roasted in edible clay with squid ink giving it a gray speckled pattern. A dollop of salty caviar rests on each of the rocks which were then coated with the smoked sabayon. The potatoes are wonderfully starchy and their mild flavor effectively highlights the salinity of the caviar while the sabayon coats the mouth with a creamy smoke tinged silkiness. For those craving a bit more salt the dish also comes with slivers of salty fried potatoes though those were equally delicious on their own. We were given a glass of vintage champagne that definitely showed some body age in its full-bodied richness.

Salmon Iceberg | Lemon Bread
Domaie Billaud-Simon, Vaillon, Chablis, 2009
During my last meal the only tasting menu offered was the Guy Savoy Signature Menu. The courses were of course superb, but my one issue with it was the emphasis on reliving Savoy's greatest hits rather than continual innovation. The Innovation-Inspiration Menu remedies that with a continuously evolving menu that utilizes more avant-garde techniques and I thought this course exemplified that new philosophy most clearly. First we were given a sliver of raw salmon so we could get an idea of its texture. Next our servers placed slices of the raw fish on an extremely cold stone to freeze the fat. The frozen salmon was then transferred to a hot plate which to give it a texture reminiscent of cooked fish. Had I not seen the preparation with my own eyes I would have indeed taken this for cooked fish. The accompaniments of finger lime and vegetables were delicate but well-calibrated to the fish.

Lobster and Peaches - Chanterelles and Warm Gelée | Caramelized Onion
Yves Cuilleron, Viognier, Collines Rhodaniennes, 2010
Looking at this dish on paper lobster and chanterelle is a classic combination, but I wasn't so sure about the peach. Indeed the mushroom and lobster were phenomenal; the lobster claw in particular was immensely flavorful and super tender. The lobster gelée is absolutely brimming with shellfish essence and the perfect boost for the succulent meat. The sweetness of the peaches was disconcerting in the context of the dish though I quite enjoyed them alone.

Seared Dices of Foie Gras with Horseradish - "Braised-Grilled" Celery Stalk Serpentines, Potato Chips Bouillon | French Country Bread
Domaine Gauby, Less Calcinaires, VdP de Côtes Catalanes, 2003
My last time here was the first time that I'd tried foie gras with bitter accompaniments and at the time it was a touch overwhelming, but since then I've come to prefer it to sweet preparations. The cubes of foie are almost like eating rendered fat trapped in a thin shell. The tangy sting of the horseradish is absolutely brilliant in tandem with the foie. The celery has been cooked to a limp tenderness which also helped to leech out some of its flavor. An enchanting umami sensation ties the dish together which was especially impressive when you consider that it was made from "potato chips!"

Smoked Roasted Duck - Citrus and Star Anise Flavor | Multigrain
Féraud-Brunel, Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, 2009
This was the only lackluster course of the night. I'm typically a huge fan of roast duck breast but the meat was inexplicably tough and the thick viscous carrot puree didn't help matters with a cloying flavor that obliterated everything else on the palate. To be fair there were some positives like the glassy crunch of the skin and the delicious caramelized sweetness of the tuille, but these weren't enough to overcome the dish's faults. The wine was a robust full-bodied CdP, with aromas of ripe red fruit, coffee, and pepper up front, on the palate I noticed vibrant plum and and figs tinged with herbs.

Waygu - Cannellini Bean Purée, Saffron and Majoram Crust, Sponge Cake
Leviathan, California, 2009
Truly good Wagyu is one of those things that needs no embellishment. The beef looked to be about medium-rare and was immensely tender with fairly coarse marbling. The marjoram provides an herbaceous counterpoint to balance the gravitas of the meat, though there was a sharp piquancy that was a bit much. The Cannellini pureé was nicely nuttiness which worked with the meat but I didn't really see the need for the sponge cake.

Mousse de Comté
Domaine J.M. Boillot, Macherelles, Chassagne-Montrachet, 2010
This was one of the most appealing cheese courses that I've had in a while. I've had Comté a number of times and considered the cheese tasty but a bit muted and overly firm. This ethereal mousse remedied all my concerns, airy and light, the whipped mousse settles across the tongue like a blanket amplifying the cheese's subdued flavor. At the same time the bitter contrast of the mustard greens and toasty crunch of the nuts and croutons are all readily apparent. Odd pairing a Chardonnay but it worked well with the cheese, lots of lemon zest on the attack but with a rising buttery oakiness on the midpalate and finish.

"Sunny Side Up"
Charles Hours, Uroulat, Jurançon, 2010
Our first dessert consisted of Greek yogurt and mango puree with a French toast stick. I found the yogurt and mango a bit washed out and thin, but the wine more than made up for it with plenty of honeyed tropical fruit balanced with abundant acidity.

Inniskillin, Cabernet Franc Icewine, Niagara Peninsula, 2009
The desserts are almost laughably simple in comparison to the savories but there is something refreshing about their directness after so many intricate savories.

Inniskillin, Cabernet Franc Icewine, Niagara Peninsula, 2009
The last course is simply titled chocolate and it certainly lives up to its name. A quinelle of chocolate sorbet and a chocolate tuille come on a block of ice and deliver a hauntingly pure expression of chocolate, perfectly balanced between bitter and sweet. We were advised not to eat the cocoa nibs but I found a light sprinkling added textural contrast to the

I ended up trying pretty much everything on the cart. For me the standouts were the chocolate mousse, raspberry sorbet, and fresh grape soda.

Though Guy Savoy still delivers a rarefied experience, the meal didn't quite measure up to my expectations. Service was on point and attentive, and the wine pairings were creative but the only new course that blew me away was the potato dish while both the lobster and sweet shrimp both gave me pause and the duck was a complete disappointment. That being said, the restaurant is worth a visit but I don't see it getting that third star anytime soon.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Lotus of Siam - 09/20/2012

953 East Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89104
(702) 735-3033

Though you couldn't tell by looking at it, Jonathan Gold proclaimed Lotus of Siam the "single best Thai restaurant in North America" back in August of 2000. Lotus of Siam has been on my radar for a while, I never could spare a dinner so this time I drove up early so I could make it in time for lunch.

JJ Prum Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett, Mosel 2008
As reader Charlie Fu pointed out, Lotus of Siam has an extensive wine list with some high end bottles priced well below current retail. For those who don't mind splurging a bit you can enjoy some amazing wines at a very reasonable price. With Guy Savoy and Robuchon still ahead of us, we opted to hold back some at Lotus. The JJ Prum was a prototypically vivacious Riesling, with aromas of stone fruit and mineral tinged with petrol-y funk. On the palate the wine has a sense of nervy acidity with a lingering floral sweetness.

NAM KAO TOD - Crispy rice mixed with minced sour sausage, green onion, fresh chili, ginger, peanuts, and lime juice.
Originally a Laotian dish, the Nam Kao Tod is one of Chef Chutima's signatures and with good reason. The rice has a crunchy toasty savor that interleaved beautifully with the brash sour funk of the fermented sausage. The chili isn't readily apparent to start but after a few bites there was definitely a low slow burn. The raw cabbage provided a fantastically crisp and succulent counterpoint to temper the rice.

KOI SOY (Steak Tartare - Issan Style) - Minced beef with fresh herb, fresh and dry chili, rice powder, seasoned sauce, lime juice, served raw.
I'm a sucker for raw beef and this spicy rendition was a no brainer. The chunks of beef come covered in gritty dry chili, which adds roughness to the smooth supple texture of the beef. I ordered this at spice level 8 which I expected to be scorching, but instead the heat was palpable but not overwhelming.

SA-TAY - Meat marinated with fresh herbs and spices, grilled on skewers, served with peanut sauce and cucumber salad.
Never a huge fan of peanut sauce, I probably would have avoided this but one of my companions insisted. The skewers turned out to be fairly enjoyable, the most chicken bears a subtle char that was enjoyable enough even without the peanut sauce. The cucumber salad was on the sweet side but the moist crunch was a nice contrast to the chicken.

Sai Oua (Northern Style Sausage) - If you like Louisiana style hot sausage you have got to try this one. Stuffed with ground pork, fresh and dried herb and spice, this mild-medium spicy sausage is indeed very tasty.
This was a recommendation from the staff at Renu Nakorn. The sausage is a mix of ground pork and chopped vegetables and though the description labeled this as "mild-medium" the Sai Qua sure packed a punch. Aside from the spice, the flavor was quite mild, making the onion and ginger absolutely vital.

SEA BASS on DRUNKEN NOODLE - Deep fried Sea Bass topped with homemade fresh chili and Thai basil. Serve on the top of pan fried flat rice noodle.
One of my friends recommended this dish after his visit. The bass was dense and meaty while the batter accentuated the fish's oily moisture. The pad kee mao was definitely the weak link, while the flavor was fairly prototypical the noodles were clumped together like they had been sitting out awhile.

GARLIC PRAWN - Deep fried prawn with shell and sautéed with our special garlic sauce, topped with ground black pepper.
Another recommendation from my friend the prawns certainly lived up to their name with loads of garlic-y savor. The meat was a touch tough but the shells were superb, fried to a brittle glassy sapor, it was like eating a gossamer shrimp chip.

MUSAMAN CURRY - The very interesting flavor curry made from musman curry paste with coconut cream, peanuts, onion, tometo, poteto, carrot and your choice of meat or tofu.
The same guy who ordered the satay opted to play it safe with his entree. The sauce has a rich sweet creaminess that worked well with the medium firm tofu. Like the satay the Musaman Curry was enjoyable enough but not particularly different from preparations at other good Thai restaurants.

Khao Soi - This typical Burmese influence Northern Thai egg noodle is served in curry sauce and coconut cream (your choice of beef or chicken), garnished with sliced red onion, lime and pickled vegetables.
Another recommendation from Renu Nakorn, that proved to be quite tasty. The plump supple noodles come covered in an unabashedly sweet coconut broth. Though a bit heavy on its own, the noodles went perfectly with the piquant crunch of the vegetables. The chicken was a touch overdone and completely unnecessary, but the rest of the dish was good enough that we finished the rest of the coconut curry with some steamed rice.

Josef Rosch Trittenheimer Apotheke 2003
We opted for a sweeter Riesling with some bottle age for our second wine. A bit subdued on the nose, the wine demonstrated a fuller riper flavor with more overt notes of honey. The rest of the party seemed to enjoy the wine but I thought it verged on overripe.

LOBSTER (Garlic Pepper Sauce) - Deep fried lobster, sautéed with our special garlic sauce.
This gargantuan beast of a lobster not only surprised my party but also shocked a number of neighboring tables into silence. Easily the largest lobster that I've ever eaten, the flavor reminded me of the preparation I've had countless times at Chinese restaurants, though the larger lobster was noticeably tougher than the ones I normally eat.

Lotus of Siam ended up being quite good and though I don't know if Lotus was the best Thai restaurant it certainly would have been my most expensive thanks to the lobster, but my companion Eric was kind enough to cover it. Ordering well is key, many of the 130+ menu items are readily available but Chef Chutima's specialty Northern Thai dishes are truly worth the trip.

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