La Cave (Las Vegas, NV)

La Cave
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/12/12

la cave exterior

After a heavy lunch at Holsteins, my parents and I were looking for somewhere to grab a very early dinner before our flights out of town. There aren’t a ton of options open in the 4-4:30 range, but we settled upon this casual dining restaurant at the Wynn. The place is a sort of blend between wine bar and small plates restaurant, and is one of the newer entrants to the Wynn lineup (opened at the end of 2010).

The menu is pretty varied, with sections broken out into items from the sea, the farm, the oven, the garden, the grill, the butcher (charcuterie), and the cow/sheep/goat (cheeses). Given neither of us were very hungry, so we stuck to some of the lighter fare.

Jumbo Lump Crab Lettuce Cups, Citrus Segments

Jumbo Lump Crab Lettuce Cups, Citrus Segments

I thought this was nicely done. Sweet cool chunks of fresh crab sat in a crisp lettuce cup; a little bit of citrus went a long way too. Tasty and refreshing.

Three Bean Salad, Roasted Artichokes, Ice Wine Vinaigrette

Three Bean Salad, Roasted Artichokes, Ice Wine Vinaigrette

This dish caught my mother’s eye. Creamy cannellini, waxy green and crunchy fried garbanzo beans were tossed in a light vinaigrette. I thought the roasted artichokes provided a nice sweetness to the dish, while the textures kept things interesting. Another in the cool and refreshing category.

Ahi Tuna, Pomegranate, Basil Oil

Ahi Tuna, Pomegranate, Basil Oil

This seared ahi tuna rounded out our cold small plates. It was typical but solid, with the sweet pomegranate and basil oil complementing the tuna pretty well.

Diver Sea Scallops, Polenta Cake, Shrimp Sauce

Diver Sea Scallops, Polenta Cake, Shrimp Sauce

I found the scallops to be nicely seared and cooked to a rare temperature in the interior. I couldn’t ask for more from them, but I wanted more flavor out of the polenta cake, which I found to be rather dense and bland.

Roasted Salmon, Vegetable Pasta, Yellow Tomato Broth

Roasted Salmon, Vegetable Pasta, Yellow Tomato Broth

The salmon was a little bit overcooked and had a fishy flavor. Not good. The vegetable pasta was a fun element, with small pearls of various vegetables making a bed for the salmon. I found them to be a bit soft though, and could have used some textural crunch from some of the vegetables.

Our meal at La Cave was okay. The restaurant isn’t particularly ambitious, seeking out to prepare approachable flavors at (relatively) reasonable prices. I suppose it does achieve this, there just wasn’t really anything memorable about it. Of course, it didn’t help that we weren’t that hungry at the time either.

L&E Oyster Bar (Los Angeles, CA)

L&E Oyster Bar
1637 Silver Lake Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Dining date: 5/29/12

l&e oyster bar exterior

Recently, my friend Diana was craving a lobster roll. Rather then splurge on the $32 version at Water Grill, we wanted something a little more casual and reasonably priced in the area. L&E Oyster Bar came up and, while they don’t offer a lobster roll, the menu intrigued us enough that we decided to go.

Yelp warned of long waits at the no-reservations spot in Silver Lake, and indeed it was pretty busy on a Tuesday evening. Our party of three got one of the last tables available, squeezing into a table for 2.

l&e seating

True to its name, L&E Oyster Bar offers up a host of oyster options – there were 9 varieties of fresh oysters available the night we went. In terms of preparation, these oysters were served raw, grilled or fried with steamed and smoked options for other seafood. About 4 larger plates were available too.

hush puppies

hush puppies

A complimentary ‘amuse’ came out of the kitchen – these fresh, hot hush puppies. There were two layers of sweetness between the cornbread and honey with a nice crispy exterior. A pretty good starter.

the daily dozen sun hollow, phantom creek, beausoleil

the daily dozen sun hollow, phantom creek, beausoleil

Of course, we had to try some of the fresh oysters. The daily dozen offered 4 pieces of 3 of the oyster options – ideal for sharing amongst the three of us. I enjoyed all 3 varieties, though had a hard time picking out the subtleties between them.

oysters casino butter, paprika, thyme, shallots, neuske’s bacon

oysters casino butter, paprika, thyme, shallots, neuske's bacon

We also tried some grilled oysters on the shell; here, a classic oysters casino. I found the oyster to be cooked well, but there was a very strong grassy flavor that I found overpowering. I think it was parsley.

grilled oysters of the day chipotle, pickled onion, Mexican cheese

grilled oysters of the day chipotle, pickled onion, Mexican cheese

We also tried one of the grilled specials of the day. I found this one to be much better balanced, flavor-wise with a bold chipotle BBQ-like sauce and some spicy notes coming through.

fried oysters with sauce gribiche

fried oysters with sauce gribiche

More cooked oysters – this time fried. Simple and rather satisfying, the batter was light and crispy with plump tasty oysters on the inside.

clam chowder farm-raised clams, neuske’s bacon, weiser farms pee wee potatoes

clam chowder farm-raised clams, neuske's bacon, weiser farms pee wee potatoes

I thought this was a very strong bowl of clam chowder. It was rich and creamy with soft potatoes and a bunch of tasty clams; the smokiness of the bacon was present but not overpowering.

lobster spaetzle & cheese maine lobster, house-made spatzle, english peas, bread crumbs

lobster spatzle & cheese maine lobster, house-made spatzle, english peas, bread crumbs

We also tried this rendition of a lobster macaroni & cheese. I had high hopes for it but thought it fell a bit short. I thought the lobster could’ve been better incorporated since I got the flavor from the piece sitting on top, but not in the interior of the dish. The spaetzle and cheese sauce itself were pretty good, though.

blackened local sea bass sweet corn succotash, blistered shishito peppers

blackened local sea bass sweet corn succotash, blistered shishito peppers

This may have been the most disappointing dish of the night since the sea bass was flat out dry. The sweet corn succotash was a nice counter to the spices of the blackening seasoning, but it wasn’t enough to recover from the piece of overcooked fish. Boo.

fries with aioli

fries with aioli

Lastly we had a side of fries, which was probably the most filling thing we had all evening. These were quite good – crunchy with a complementary herb flavor. Perfect for dipping into the chowda’.

L&E Oyster Bar had its ups and downs but overall was somewhat of a disappointment. The quality of their oysters were definitely a strong point as expected, but the larger plates fell flat (lobster spaetzle and sea bass). Given the consistent crowds, I wonder if I was just there on an off-night or if I’m just missing something; regardless, I’m not in a hurry to return.

Holsteins (Las Vegas, NV)

Holsteins
Cosmopolitan Hotel
3708 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/12/11

holsteins

While looking for a lunch option after the Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting, I brought up Holsteins, something that would be casual and satisfying. I’ve heard consistently good things about the restaurant, a burger joint inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel. My cousins, aunt and grandmother had yet to check out the new hotel, so a visit here would serve a dual purpose.

While there are a number of non-burger smaller plates and a few salads, the crux of the menu is definitely the burger. With about 15 different full-size options and 8 more slider-size options, the menu is quite varied. Some of them are pretty interesting. There’s even an option to add toppings such as lobster and BBQ beef brisket. Nice. A strong craft beer list and almost 20 milkshakes (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) boost the drinks menu, as if a burger and fries weren’t enough calories.

We tried a couple of the appetizers and each ordered a burger.

IPSWICH CLAMS Fried Crispy, Green Goddess Sauce

IPSWICH CLAMS Fried Crispy, Green Goddess Sauce

The clams were slight chewy and bready but definitely meaty and kinda juicy. Some of them were a little sandy though, which put me off.

TRUFFLE LOBSTER ‘MAC N CHEESE’ Creamy Tallegio-Mascarpone Sauce With Maine Lobster And Black Truffle

TRUFFLE LOBSTER ‘MAC N CHEESE’ Creamy Tallegio-Mascarpone Sauce With Maine Lobster And Black Truffle

This sounded so decadent and I’d heard so much about it; it was a must order. The macaroni had a nice chewy texture with small chunks of lobster in a creamy cheese sauce. Not too rich – pretty good. I thought the truffle flavor was lost, however.

NOM NOM BURGER Kobe Beef, Cheddar Cheese, Potato Chips, 1000 Island Dressing

NOM NOM BURGER Kobe Beef, Cheddar Cheese, Potato Chips, 1000 Island Dressing

NOM NOM BURGER Kobe Beef, Cheddar Cheese, Potato Chips, 1000 Island Dressing

My cousin went for this burger but I didn’t try it. I did, however, sample some of the potato wedges/steak-cut fries and found them to be very good. Crispy on the outside and hot and fluffy on the inside. Mmm.

‘BIG FAT GREEK’ Greek Spiced Lamb With Feta Cream, Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion & Olive Relish, Tzatziki Sauce

‘BIG FAT GREEK’ Greek Spiced Lamb With Feta Cream, Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion & Olive Relish, Tzatziki Sauce

My grandmother opted for this lamb burger. I found it kind of overcooked though I enjoyed the flavors of the lamb with Greek spices.

‘THE RISING SUN’ Kobe Beef, Teriyaki Glaze, Nori Furikake, Crispy Yam, Spicy Mayo & Tempura Avocado

‘THE RISING SUN’ Kobe Beef, Teriyaki Glaze, Nori Furikake, Crispy Yam, Spicy Mayo & Tempura Avocado

This was my favorite of the burgers and a damn good one. The teriyaki glaze provided a savory sweetness, while tempura avocado was crispy and creamy at the same time. Spicy mayo and nori furikake added some extra punch; there were a lot of flavors going on but I found them to be well-balanced. Excellent.

Shoestring fries were good too, though my personal preference was with the thicker cut variety.

MEAT BALL GRINDER Italian Style w/Marinara, Provolone & Pesto

MEAT BALL GRINDER Italian Style w/Marinara, Provolone & Pesto

I had early dinner plans and wanted to try something a little bit different so I went with these meatball sliders. Each of the flavors were pretty distinct between the meat, provolone, peso and tomatoes; the sliders were good but nothing special altogether. I probably should’ve ordered something more exciting.

My cousin and I also tried a couple of milkshakes.

FROZEN GRASSHOPPER Peppermint, Chocolate, Crème De Menthe, Van Gogh Chocolate Vodka

FROZEN GRASSHOPPER Peppermint, Chocolate, Crème De Menthe, Van Gogh Chocolate Vodka

OREO Oreo Cookies, Bailey’s Irish Cream

OREO Oreo Cookies, Bailey’s Irish Cream

I thought these were both strong with my favorite being the frozen grasshopper. Like mint chip ice cream in a glass with a touch of alcohol. These were pretty generously sized (the glass was only 2/3 of it, with the rest in another cup) so definitely best for sharing…especially with a whole burger.

I found Holsteins to be somewhat of an up-and-down meal. Strong points were definitely the Rising Sun burger, both french fry varieties and the milkshakes. The two smaller plates/appetizers we ordered weren’t bad but both fell slightly short. My main qualm was with the temperature of the burgers – we had at least one that was definitely overcooked here and a couple of burgers we ordered to-go on another visit (just two days ago) were clearly overcooked too (my Rising Sun, ordered medium-rare, showed no pink at all).  For a burger place, I found a pervasive issue like this to be rather inexcusable.

The restaurant mascot, a pig dressed as a cow, makes an appearance all over the place.

holsteins picture

Oddono’s (London, UK)

Oddono’s
Selfridges Food Hall
400 Oxford Street
London W1A 2LR
Dining date: 5/26/12

oddono's exterior

Oddono’s is an Italian gelato shop in London. It all started when my friend Diana tasted this place during a summer abroad in 2005 and returned to America to rave about it. Apparently, she ate it almost daily for a while. I tried it myself in 2007 and approved it as well, subsequently telling my family about it for their trip later that year. Needless to say, my family loved it too and it’s been a craving ever since. I think my dad was almost more excited to hear about Oddono’s than The Fat Duck.

menu

The first shop opened in South Kensington in 2004; its success has now spawned 4 locations. One of those locations is a stall in the food court of Selfridges, which was the most convenient location for me during this last trip. I knew I had to squeeze in a visit; with all of my lunches and dinners booked, this stop took the “late breakfast” slot.

This shop is definitely smaller than what I remember the actual storefront to be, but the product is exactly the same. There were probably around 15 flavors on offer and I think I tried about half of them. My friend and I each settled on a couple of flavors.

gelato3

gelato2

gelato1

coffee and cookies and cream

gelato5

coffee and stracciatella (chocolate chip)

gelato4

As expected, it was an excellent cup of gelato. I am by no means an expert on the matter, so I have a hard time ranking this scoop with others I’ve had, but I enjoyed it. The flavors were spot on and I loved the creamy mouthfeel – not too frozen. Now, if only I could find a way to smuggle this into the US…

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (London, UK)

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
13-15 West Street
London WC2H 9NE
Dining date: 5/25/12

l'atelier de joel robuchon exterior

I arrived in London pretty early on a Friday morning upon the completion of a red-eye flight from Mumbai. One of my friends was working and another would be arriving later in the morning, so I was on my own for lunch. After thorough research, I chose this place: chef Joel Robuchon’s lone UK restaurant and a 2-star Michelin.

I’ve been to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon a few times to two locations: Paris and Las Vegas. The former was one of my most memorable meals to date. While part of me wanted to try something new and London-specific, this branch drew me in. Much of it was due to the casual atmosphere and counter seating; since I was dining alone I felt much more comfortable in this environment.

While I was tempted to do the full tasting, the £125 menu translated to $200, way more than I wanted to spend. Plus, I didn’t want to over-eat; 14 courses at The Fat Duck were waiting for me at dinner. A 4-course £40 lunch option sounded like a pretty good deal for London standards, and much more manageable for my stomach. I put my hands in the server to guide me through some of the restaurant’s more popular dishes.

napkin

Seats at the counter provide a full view of the kitchen (awesome!), a staple at all of Robuchon’s Atelier establishments. I could easily see Executive Chef Olivier Limousin slice off a few slivers of jamon iberico for my first course.

kitchen view1

kitchen view2

foie gras cappuccino

foie gras cappucino

The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche to start with. The light custard inside was pretty light with a strong foie gras flavor. A thin layer of a port wine reduction provided sweetness to complement the rich liver flavor.

les asperges blanches warm salad of white asparagus with nuts and ‘iberian’ ham

les asperges blanches warm salad of white asparagus with nuts and 'iberian' ham

This was an interesting myriad of flavors on a plate from the rich fatty ham, sweet caramelized hazelnuts, peppery arugula and a cool mustard seed vinaigrette. Surprisingly sweet and juicy asparagus was at the center of the mix of well-balanced flavors.

l’oeuf soft boiled egg on a “piperade” with parsley oil

l'oeuf soft boiled egg on a

l'oeuf soft boiled egg on a "piperade" with parsley oil

As expected, the poached egg was cooked perfectly, breaking apart and running over the rest of the plate with a gentle poke. To absorb the yolk, the egg was placed atop a sweet piperade of tomatoes, green peppers and onions. I thought the mix of flavors was a good one, while a little bit of parsley oil provided another dimension of flavor.

le cabillaud roasted cod bouillabaisse style; mashed potatoes; carrots and fennel with tumeric

le cabillaud roasted cod bouillabaisse style

robuchon mashed potatoes

fennel, carrots, tumeric

I went with this cod bouillabaisse as my entree, and the kitchen graciously gifted two additional side dishes. The cod itself was moist and flaky, delicious when dipped into the rich saffron and shellfish-flavored sauce. I loved the mashed potatoes, something I’ve often requested at any Joel Robuchon restaurant. They’re just so rich, creamy and decadent…some of the finest mashed potatoes I’ve had. A vegetable side of carrots and fennel with tumeric was another strong side, making this dish feel almost healthy.

le chocolat-tendance creamy manjari chocolate, bitter chocolate sorbet and oreo cookie crumb

le chocolat-tendance creamy manjari chocolate, bitter chocolate sorbet and oreo cookie crumb

Finally, I went with this chocolate dessert. Layers of chocolate were presented in this cup, with the creamy manjari chocolate at the forefront. There were small crunchy chocolate balls dispersed throughout; I enjoyed the textural crunch but found them to be overbearing at times. Overall I initially liked the dessert but quickly found it slightly one-note and tiring.

In all, I had a very good lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I wouldn’t say it reached the highs of the meal I had at the Paris outpost, but that was a completely different meal (given that it was the tasting menu at dinner). Execution was top-notch and the atmosphere fun and convivial, it’s always fun to be able to watch and interact with the kitchen. It was an excellent start to my stay in London…dinner on this evening would be even better.

Drago Centro (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

Drago Centro
525 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 5/15/12

drago centro sign

Drago Centro is a place I’ve visited many times. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s across the street from where I work. Most of my recent visits have been for happy hour; the restaurant has one of my favorites in the area. It’s deceptively reasonably-priced and offers a strong list of discounted bar bites, wines and cocktails. Still, I often find myself ordering one of the a la carte pastas which I consider some of the strongest in the city.

I would get a chance to sample many of the pastas in this latest visit, revisiting some old favorites and enjoying some new ones. Cathy of gastronomyblog was invited to dine at the restaurant (her first time) and I eagerly came along.

drago centro bread

I enjoy the bread service, particularly with the bold and fruity olive oil that’s served alongside. We ordered a couple of small plates and focused in on a bunch of pastas.

la zuppa roasted yellow corn soup, soppressata corn ragout

la zuppa roasted yellow corn soup, sopressata corn ragout

la zuppa roasted yellow corn soup, sopressata corn ragout

I really like when corn is in season and this soup was a clear reminder why. The soup was naturally very sweet with bright corn flavor. Rich but not heavy at all. The soppressata provided a bit of meaty flavor for an extra dimension.

le cozze steamed mussels, garlic, chile flakes, toasted crostini

le cozze steamed mussels, garlic, chile flakes, toasted crostini

A heaping bowl of mussels came next. A simple dish with a white wine base, these were tasty but I feel like I’ve had these flavor profiles many times before with mussels.

After a couple of appetizers we moved on to the main feature: pasta.

le fettuccine fettucine, jumbo lump crab, zucchini flowers, spicy tomato

le fettuccine fettucine, jumbo lump crab, zucchini flowers, spicy tomato

As expected, the pasta came out perfectly al dente with a light tomato sauce. Sweet chunks of crab were the highlight for me, pairing well texturally and flavor-wise with the fettuccine and tomatoes.

i tagliolini neri squid ink tagliolini, mussels, clams, shrimp, lemon verbena

i tagliolini neri squid ink tagliolini, mussels, clams, shrimp, lemon verbena

Next up was a squid ink pasta with a myriad of well-cooked seafood. I thought the lemon verbena added a bit of lemon scent that complemented both the seafood and squid ink well.

gli agnolotti zucchini agnolotti, ricotta cheese, brown butter

gli agnolotti zucchini agnolotti, ricotta cheese, brown butter

A simple dish but executed well, the agnolotti had a nice chew and a creamy filling. Small chunks of zucchini and a nutty brown butter sauce completed the dish.

le pappardelle al fagiano pappardelle, roasted pheasant, morel mushrooms

le pappardelle al fagiano pappardelle, roasted pheasant, morel mushrooms

A signature dish here, I fell in love with it the first time I had it a couple years ago. Ribbons of wide-cut pappardelle were smothered in a rich ragu with tender pheasant and morel mushrooms. Savory, hearty and delicious.

i garganelli garganelli, pork sausage, parmesan, fennel seeds

i garganelli garganelli, pork sausage, parmesan, fennel seeds

This is another one of my go-to pastas. I really liked the texture of this type of pasta, having a really nice bite to it. Tasty sausage and fennel seeds were a strong tandem, while the parmesan added some creaminess to the buttery sauce.

il risotto ai funghi risotto, wild mushrooms, parmesan cheese

il risotto ai funghi risotto, wild mushrooms, parmesan cheese

As our march of pastas ended, we transitioned to a rich mushroom risotto. I think there was a lot of parmesan cheese since the dish was definitely rather thick and creamy; the risotto was a good one but not as exciting as our previous dishes.

coda in umido e polenta braised oxtail, polenta, carrots, celery, onions, gorgonzola crème

coda in umido e polenta braised oxtail, polenta, carrots, celery, onions, gorgonzola crème

We were getting pretty full by this point, and this may have been the richest dish of the evening. A few pieces of tender braised oxtail were placed on top of a rather thick polenta; I thought this dish was pretty much as advertised. Crispy onion rings were a fun way to add some texture.

When the dessert menu came, we were indecisive over two options..and the kitchen ended up giving us a little bit of both.

i bomboloni doughnuts
la terrina chocolate and olive oil terrine

i bomboloni doughnuts, prosecco, peaches

la terrina chocolate and olive oil terrine, salted caramel gelato, almonds

The doughnut was served warm with a light and airy center, dusted in sugar. I enjoyed the light whipped cream along with it. The dessert terrine was more complicated with layers of chocolate and olive oil. I thought the olive oil flavor was very subtle compared to the chocolate, though I liked tasting the individual layers of smooth mousse. A nutty chocolate base (similar to a kit-kat) provided the texture.

Food-wise, this was another excellent meat at Drago Centro. Over the course of my visits, the service is what has been notably poor and that isn’t something that has gotten better. Still, the caliber of the food is some of the best downtown and the pastas hold their own compared to anywhere else in the city. For an expense-account option downtown (or just to splurge on some Italian grub) this place would have to be near the top of the list.

Note: This was a hosted meal.