Dining date: 4/16/11

Scarpetta’s spaghetti is one of the best pastas I’ve ever had; for $24 per serving, it probably should be. I first got an in-depth look into how this pasta is made on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, where chef Scott Conant demonstrated how he prepares it. It’s quite simple really, only involving a few ingredients.

Using a few modifications (adjusting to what I had on-hand), I set out to re-create this pasta at home (at only a fraction of the restaurant price).

Conant’s recipe on Serious Eats:


Tomato sauce
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ripe plum tomatoes
1/4 of a can San Marzano tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of red chili flakes
Pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, whole
2 stems of basil, leaves on
Pinch of red chili flakes

3 ounces spaghetti, high-quality dried or fresh
6 ounces tomato sauce (recipe above)
4 large leaves of basil
1/2 tablespoon butter, unsalted
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano


Tomato sauce

1. Place a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Prepare an ice bath by placing ice in a bowl and filling with cold water. Core tomatoes with a paring knife, and discard cores. Score the bottom of each tomato with an “X.” When water has come to a boil, place tomatoes in water and leave for 15 seconds, until skin begins to split away. Transfer to ice bath. When cool, peel with paring knife.

2. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Remove seeds with your thumb, and set seeded tomatoes aside. Reserve seeds and excess juices. If using canned tomatoes, seed in the same way.

3. In a new pot, place 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, carefully transfer tomatoes to the pot. Add a pinch of salt and chili flakes.

4. Allow the tomatoes to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften, then smash them with a potato masher. If the consistency is particularly thick, strain excess tomato juices for seeds and add to pot. Allow tomatoes to cook 30 to 45 minutes over medium heat, smashing and stirring occasionally.

5. While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the basil-garlic oil. Take a small saucepan and place the remaining 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil in the pan. Add garlic cloves, basil, and chili flakes. Slowly heat to allow the flavors to transfer to the oil. When the garlic is lightly browned, remove from the heat. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Strain the oil and combine with the tomato mixture.

6. Remove the sauce from the heat and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, as needed.

Cooking the pasta

1. Place a large pot of water on the stove. Heavily season with salt, until it tastes as salty as a broth would. Bring to a boil.

2. Roll basil leaves into a cylinder and thinly cut lengthwise into a chiffonade. Set aside.

3. Cook the spaghetti in the water and remove when it is just shy of al dente—depending on the pasta, 3 minutes for fresh, 10 minutes for dried.

4. While the pasta is cooking, place the sauce into a sauté pan and heat slowly. Allow the sauce to reduce slightly. Add the pasta to the sauté pan along with a bit of pasta water, to add starch and seasoning.

5. Add the pasta to the sauce, and allow to finish cooking, over medium high heat. The sauce should coat the pasta and look cohesive. When you shake the pan, the sauce and pasta should move together.

6. Remove from the heat and add the basil, cheese, butter, and extra virgin olive oil. Toss until well incorporated.

7. Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.

I followed this recipe pretty closely, with exceptions being the 100% use of canned San Marzano tomatoes (instead of a mix of fresh and canned), omitting the cheese, and using linguini fini instead of spaghetti (I totally thought I had some in the pantry, but I didn’t).

My pasta turned out decently. Frankly, it was a little disappointing and it was probably me more than the recipe. The tomatoes were kind of sour and acidic; I added a little sugar to combat that but it wasn’t quite enough. I also wanted this to be a bit saucier. I kind of felt I had chunks of tomatoes on one hand, and the infused olive oil on the other. They didn’t really come together.

I liked the addition of the butter at the end, adding a nice richness and creaminess. However, I was missing some of the bright, vibrant flavors I was looking for. I’m going to have to retrace my steps and try again. Simplicity isn’t always easy.

Scarpetta’s version:

Lotus of Siam (Las Vegas, NV)

Lotus of Siam
953 E Sahara Ave
Las Vegas, NV 89104
Dining date: 3/30/11

Lotus of Siam has probably become one of the most famous Thai restaurants in the country, if not the most. Not too long ago, it was one of those hidden finds off the touristy Las Vegas Strip. Thanks to rave reviews from people across the country, as well as attention from the James Beard Foundation, the restaurant is squarely on everyone’s radar.

I’d been here once a couple of years ago and was yearning to make a return trip. We popped in here for my last meal on this mini-vacation to LV.

GARLIC BLACK PEPPER CHICKEN WINGS chicken wings deep fried until crispy then sautéed with a lot of garlic, black pepper, and seasoning

These were very crunchy and probably a bit overcooked. Surprisingly, I also found them rather bland. I’m curious if perhaps we received the wrong order, as there wasn’t really any noticeable black pepper.

STUFFED CHICKEN WINGS chicken wings stuffed with ground pork, deep fried, served with homemade sweet & sour sauce

These wings were better, stuffed with some pork. Really meaty with a nice, light crunch to them. These weren’t as moist as I thought they could’ve been though.

TOM KAH KAI (Bangkok Style) a distinctive soup of sliced chicken with coconut milk, straw mushroom galanga, lemongrass and a touch of lime juice

I’m actually not at all familiar with this soup, but it was popular on Yelp. It didn’t look like the most appetizing thing, but it was pretty good. There was a little bit of heat here, balanced by some lime juice and the coconut milk. Kind of reminiscent of a Chinese hot & sour soup. Kind of.

COMBINATION BEEF NOODLE SOUP small flat rice noodle, Thai style beef ball, beef in seasoned beef soup

My mother was craving some soup noodles, however this was a little too spicy for her. It had a lingering spice that seemed to compound.  The broth had a lot of beefy depth, and I really liked the noodles here. Comforting.

SEA BASS DRUNKEN NOODLES deep fried sea bass topped with homemade fresh chili and Thai basil served on the top of pan fried flat rice noodle

Wonderful dish. The sea bass was excellent. Lightly fried, the fish was moist and flavorful with just a little bit of crispiness. The noodles were very good as well, with some heat from the chili and a nice herbal sweetness from the basil.

I don’t know a whole lot about Thai food so it’s hard for me to really draw comparisons. I found this to be a pretty good meal, with the drunken noodles and sea bass to be a big highlight.

Raku (Las Vegas, NV)

5030 Spring Mountain Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89146
Dining date: 3/29/11

Raku is one of the off-Strip Las Vegas restaurants I hear most about. Forget off-strip, the rave reviews I’ve been hearing about this place eclipse most of the restaurants on the Strip. Raku’s charcoal-grilled robata is one of the restaurant’s specialties, but they also offer a variety of fresh fish and an assortment of cold and hot plates. Before going in, I asked around for recommendations and the answers I got spanned the whole menu. Clearly, the restaurant does a lot of things well.

We ordered a bunch of things in no particular order, but started with an amuse from the kitchen.

Taiwanese spinach, enoki mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, bonito flakes


Light and refreshing, this was a nice start to the meal.

Bluefin Tuna Sashimi


The restaurant has a chalkboard of daily specials, and this was one of them. Oh my goodness…this was fantastic. Exceptionally flavored and really tender, this was so good. Easily better than much of the toro (and this wasn’t toro) I’ve had in other restaurants; it briefly reminded me of Urasawa.

Agedashi Tofu


This homemade tofu was very good – soft and delicate with a subtle but present soy flavor. Prepared agedashi style, the umami-rich broth was also very good.

Crispy Fried Shrimp


The shrimp here were crispy as advertised and moist on the inside. Nothing special really, but good. I’m never really sure if I’m supposed to eat these sort of things in its entirety, shell-on; but we did in this case.

Crispy Asparagus Okaki


Another crispy dish, I enjoyed the contrasting tenderness of the asparagus with the crispy rice cracker breading. There was a nuttiness to the breading, which I thought also went well with the vegetable.

Juicy Deep Fried Chicken


This was a little bit unique as it seemed to be chicken that was rolled up, then fried and cut. Juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside – no complaints here.

Yellowtail Carpaccio


The fish was good here, but the bluefin spoiled me a bit as it didn’t seem as special. Still, the wasabi and yuzukosho did a nice job of brightening up the yellowtail in this dish.

Fish of the Day – Yellowback Seabream


This was one of the fish of the day, served whole. It was a pretty small dish with only about 8 chunks of white flesh. It was very good though, with a crispy exterior from the deep frying.

Steamed Foie Gras Egg Custard


The custard was silky smooth with a fairly subtle foie gras flavor. Very comforting. The piece of duck breast on top was pretty good too.

We proceeded with a number of robata-grilled dishes.

Butter Sautéed Scallop with Soy Sauce


The scallop (served in its shell) was cooked well, but I thought the butter was a little overpowering here.

Chicken Thigh


This was the first piece where I could really get a sense of the charcoal grill flavor. There was a smoky char on the chicken, and it was moist and flavorful. Really simple and really good.

Kobe Beef Filet with Wasabi



Again, a good smoky flavor from the grill paired with some really flavorful tenderloin. Surprisingly juicy and flavorful. I liked the fresh wasabi as well, countering the rich meat. Delicious!

Kurobuta Pork Cheek


I was surprised to find this rather chewy, kind of like a chicken gizzard. Maybe I just haven’t really had cheek in this type of preparation. It was well-marbled, and the porky flavor was present.

Kobe Beef Tendon


Not my favorite. I never really like the tendon though, and this was like a big blob of gooey tendon. So meltingly tender, I wasn’t sure if I was biting into fat or tendon. I think this was probably a very good preparation, but it’s not my thing.

Duck with Balsamic Soy Sauce


An interesting dish here – the duck was prepared well, and the balsamic soy and fresh onions did a good job of cutting through some of the richness.

Apple Marinated Lamb Chop


Tender and juicy, this was a damn good lamb chop. I’m not sure if I got any apple flavor though, but I didn’t mind.

Kobe Beef Outside Skirt with Garlic


Really good. Exceedingly tender and flavorful, with a nice garlic touch.

I had high expectations for Raku and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, it exceeded them. After dining at places from Joel Robuchon and Jose Andres, it was nice to get something rather simple with clean, familiar flavors. Almost like a detox, if you will. The raw fish preparations (ooh the bluefin!) and the robata-grilled items stood out most to me, but it was a well-rounded meal.

Walter Manzke @ Biergarten (Los Angeles, CA)

Walter Manzke
Biergarten LA
206 N Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Dining date: 4/10/11

The pop-up restaurant is becoming the biggest restaurant trend in LA since the food truck. While I’d like to say they’re starting to get annoying, they’re still capturing my interest like none other. There’s something about the temporary, almost urgent nature of these meals – especially when it’s a chef I’m a fan of. For one day only. Ahhh you’ve got me.

In this case, we’re talking about Walter Manzke, perhaps the most notable chef in LA that’s not cooking in a restaurant (or imminently about to open one). My favorite meal at Test Kitchen (the ultimate rotating pop-up) was prepared by Manzke, so this was a must. Presented by BlackboardEats and Food GPS, the meal was inspired by a beefsteak (not the tomato) – a sort of gluttonous banquet originating in New York focused primarily on beef, particularly the tenderloin.

Bottomless pitchers of pale ale and IPA were served including Stone IPA, Port Wipeout IPA, and Lost Abbey Devotion Ale.

Celery, radish, carrots and olives

Jumbo shrimp cocktail

Waiting for us at the table was course one: assorted vegetables and dip, as well as a shrimp cocktail. There wasn’t much to the vegetables and dip – simple and fresh tasting. The shrimp were plump and tasty, with just a little bit of spice from the cocktail sauce.

Grilled lamb sirloin

Lamb kidneys wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon

Burgers on toast with Bermuda onions

The second course was a trio of small meat preparations. All three of these were very good. The lamb sirloin was incredibly tender, with just a little bit of gamey flavor that reminded me it was lamb. A minty chimichurri-like sauce topped the meat. Second were lamb kidneys. Extremely tender, these were paired with smoky bacon and topped with ciabatta (I think) crostini. Lastly were the burgers…more like a meatball on toast. Excellent as well, meaty with a nice sweetness from the onions, and the toast provided a welcome crunch to the bites.

Grilled rib-eye cap and flatiron steaks and butter gravy

Fried potatoes

This third course was about 90% of the food of the night. The meat came out in impressive fashion on long wooden boards filled with nicely charred, perfectly cooked steaks. I thought the flatiron steak was good – tender, juicy and flavorful. However, the rib-eye cap was a world apart. Even more fatty, tender and flavorful, this was a decadent cut. Delicious! The meat kept on coming; I think we had 3.5 platter servings of this. Awesome.

The fries were some of the best I’ve had in recent memory. Perfectly crisp with a fluffy interior and served hot. Perfectly salted too. Can’t beat it.

Caramelized apple and bourbon bread pudding

I wouldn’t have called this a bread pudding, more like an apple crumble. It was a solid one at that. Warm cinnamon-spiced apples and raisins were served with a crunchy, crumbly crust and vanilla ice cream.

This meal was easily one of the stronger pop-ups I’ve been to in a while and at $50 all-inclusive, it was an absolute steal. The food wasn’t necessarily the most imaginative or unique, but it wasn’t trying to be. It was comfortable and executed well; delicious and plentiful, with that third course being exactly what I was looking for. The beer was good too, with a number of solid options being poured throughout the night. With meals like these, I continue to wonder when Manzke will finally open up his own restaurant.

Noe (Los Angeles, CA)

Omni Hotel
251 S Olive St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 4/5/11

Noe is a contemporary American (with distinct French and Japanese influences) restaurant located in the Omni Hotel downtown. I don’t think it’s really in the collective conscience when people think about downtown restaurants – as it’s located in a hotel, one likely wouldn’t stumble upon it unless they were staying there. However, I’ve read mostly strong (if not limited) reviews of the restaurant; so when I was invited to sample a taste of the new Spring menu, I jumped at the opportunity.

The chef is Glen Ishii, an LA native who has been around the kitchen his whole life (mainly in SoCal and Japan). He’s been cooking at Noe since 2005, and took over as Executive Chef in 2007. Reflecting his heritage and experience, Japanese influences are significant and apparent on the menu.

Bluefin Tuna (akame and chutoro) with Cucumber Wasabi Vinaigrette

We started out with this dish, which was actually one of the strongest. I liked having two cuts of the tuna side-by-side. Both were silky soft, but the fattiness of the chutoro was really apparent compared to the leaner akame. The vinaigrette added a nice vibrant acidity to complete the dish.

Smoked Pancetta Tart with Quail Egg

This next dish was an interesting one. The tart, sort of a thicker cracker, was infused with a gruyere cheese flavor. Add to that the rich pancetta and a runny quail egg, and this was packed flavor. I thought the tart was a little bit soggy and chewy in the interior, but the edges were perfectly crispy.

Scallop Ceviche with Shiso and Yuzu Grapefruit Sorbet

This was the most disappointing dish of the night. The scallop was lukewarm and had a sort of dry texture. The yuzu-grapefruit sorbet, on the other hand, was phenomenal. Tart, vibrant, refreshing…it was just really good.

Alaskan Halibut with Spring Pea Ragoût and Lemon Preserves
New Zealand King Salmon with Braised Leeks and Orange Gastrique

The kitchen rebounded with a duo of fish preparations. The halibut was nicely cooked, and the lemon added some vibrant acidity. The peas were a little too al dente though. The salmon was cooked perfectly, leaving it moist and tender. The orange gastrique added an extra flavor profile, as well as some citrus to complement the fish.

Maple Leaf Duck Breast and Seared Foie Gras with Peach Carpaccio

We progressed to a meat course here. The duck was very tender and not gamey at all. The foie gras was a real star, perfectly seared leaving it buttery and rich. The peach was very good as well – sweet and fragrant. The combination of the rich duck and liver, along with the sweetness of the peach, worked quite well.

Steak with Chanterelles and Pomme Puree

Our last savory course was this steak. Though not the most creative of the courses served, it was very satisfying. Served with a rich pan sauce, the meat was very tender and the chanterelles were a welcome accompaniment. Some smooth mashed potatoes completed the classic “meat and potatoes” combination.

At the beginning of the meal, Chef Ishii asked if we liked coffee. We were like…sure…and he said he’d bring out something special. And boy, did he ever. Kopi Luwak is one of the world’s rarest coffees, particularly because of its unique “production method.” They are collected from the excretions of an Indonesian mammal (called a civet). The beans go through physical changes in the digestive system of the animal, and then are cleaned and lightly roasted. Highly prized, the Funnel Mill in Santa Monica is one of the few in LA that serve this coffee – for $73 a cup.

Kopi Luwak Coffee

I don’t have a very developed coffee palate, only recently really delving into the world of quality coffees, largely aided by trips to Scoops Westside. I found the coffee to be very smooth and surprisingly not bitter at all. A very good cup – it had a rich chocolatey, almost caramel-like flavor. Cream and sugar were brought out with the coffee; honestly, with this type of coffee, it was completely unnecessary.

Goat Cheese and Ricotto Cheesecake with Jalapeno and Berries

This was one of a duo of desserts. The cheesecake was dense, rich and creamy; the heat of the jalapeno was quite subtle, interesting in tandem with the sweet berries and syrup.

Creme Caramel

Lastly, we were served a classic creme caramel (aka flan). Also rich and creamy, it was sweet but not overly so, with a good caramel flavor.

Noe and Chef Ishii presented a solid meal. The cuisine is rather simple and focused, with a clear emphasis on the ingredients. I thought the fish courses were the highlights here, which isn’t really a surprise given Ishii’s background.

Note: This was a sponsored meal.

China Poblano (Las Vegas, NV)

China Poblano
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 3/27/11

China Poblano is probably Jose Andres’ most unexpected concept. When I first heard about this place, I thought he was going to be creating Chinese-Mexican fusion. Dude. Weird. However, that’s not the case. The cuisines are kept separate here, just presented together. That means Chinese noodles, dim sum and other small plates served side-by-side with Mexican tacos, ceviches and guacamole. How would this work?

Andres is shooting for authenticity here – I’m sure I’m not the only Asian person really skeptical about this. He’s got help though; Andres has hired (imported) chefs from Mexico and China to help him out.

We started with the “cold tea.”

Cold “Tea” for Two a punch-like creation of green tea, tequila, and beer

I thought the tequila was rather strong in this. It just wasn’t noteworthy at all.

Happy Buddha Vegetable Spring Roll cucumber, carrot, zucchini, water chestnuts

We started with these vegetarian imperial rolls. These were okay, nothing special.

Shrimp Mojo shrimp, sweet black garlic, roasted poblano peppers

The shrimp here were cooked well, with a  nice depth of flavor from the garlic. The poblano was a tasty accompaniment as well.

Like Water for Chocolate fried quail, dragon fruit, rose petals, chestnut, dragon fruit sauce

This was one of the strongest dishes of the evening. The skin of the quail was quite crispy, while the meat was juicy and flavorful. The dragon fruit added a refreshing sweetness, which went really well with the quail.

Swallow a Cloud Hong Kong wonton, shrimp/pork, bok choy

Next was our $16 wonton noodle soup. I thought the filling of the wonton was soft like it was pureed to a very smooth texture – I would’ve preferred to still have a little bit of density. However, the flavors were there and the noodles were pretty good. The light chicken broth was the perfect soup.

Dan Dan Mien hand-cut wheat noodles, spicy pork sauce

I haven’t had a dan dan noodle dish since Lukshon’s highly controversial one. I found the noodles to be fairly mushy, and the flavors of the sauce to be muddled. I didn’t get a lot of pork flavor, nor was there any spice really. Odd.

We also ordered up a few orders of tacos at $9 a pair.

Pescado Frito fried fish, Mexican salsa

The fish of the day was mahi mahi. The fish was fried perfectly – delicately crispy with light, moist flesh. There was a little bit of heat here too, which I thought was a nice touch.

Pollo a la Parrilla grilled chicken, mole sauce

Next was this chicken taco. The mole was pretty good, though the chicken wasn’t too moist…I wouldn’t quite call it dry though.

Barbacoa del Res Oaxacan-style barbecue beef, guajillo chile, pickled cactus paddle

The barbacoa taco (shredded beef) taco was quite good, though a bit on the oily side.  I thought the onions and poblano added some welcome flavor, though.

Carnitas braised baby pig, pork rinds, spicy salsa verde cruda

This was easily my favorite taco, and one of the best I’ve had in the recent past.  Tender, moist pork was topped with crunchy chicharrones and a salsa verde. Everything here was executed well – extra flavor and crunch from the chicharrones, as well as from the salsa verde made for some delicious bites.

There were misses, but in all, I was pleasantly surprised with the food. I don’t consider myself anywhere near an authority for Chinese or Mexican food. Anyone who is looking for really authentic Asian or Mexican – look off the strip. The food here was tasty, and for the most part, had the Chinese and Mexican flavors I was looking for. It was on the expensive side, but I understand there is a premium for being on the strip, as well as for having Jose Andres’ name on it…even if this isn’t the type of food people typically associate him with.