Burger Bar – 7/4/10

Burger Bar
Mandalay Bay
3930 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119

When I first tried Burger Bar, it was instantly one of my favorite burger places. Created by Hubert Keller of Top Chef Masters and Fleur de Lys fame, Burger Bar offers a number of “signature” burgers, as well as completely customizable burgers. Their most notable burger is probably the Rossini – a kobe beef patty topped with foie gras and shaved black truffles. However, my favorite has been the lighter surf & turf, topped with lobster.

Surf & Turf Burger – black angus, grilled half lobster, grilled green asparagus on a plain bun

I really like how Burger Bar uses a nice, thick patty on their burgers, allowing for a nice medium rare to be cooked.

The burger was cooked perfectly with a nicely seared crust and pink throughout. However, the burger wasn’t quite as juicy as I would expect. The lobster also was a little bit drier than I remembered, but the combination still works well.

Other burgers we had were customized:

Angus beef patty topped with portabello mushroom, grilled onions and guacamole and an onion bun

Vegetarian burger topped with mozzarella and eggplant.

In addition, we ordered some sweet potato fries.

These were simple, good. Often I find sweet potato fries are cut a little thicker than french fries, but these were the same size – which was good. Crispy on the outside with a moist, fluffy interior.

I was satisfied with my burger, but I feel the execution has slipped a notch, somewhat reminiscent of the mediocrity of the San Francisco Burger Bar location.

Bartolotta – 7/3/10

Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

I first sampled Paul Bartolotta’s cuisine at the American Wine & Food Festival a couple of years back, and was really impressed by some of the seafood he prepared. Specializing in Italian preparations of seafood, Bartolotta offers a ton of different fish and shellfish, line-caught wild and shipped almost every day. Most of the fish are available served whole family-style.

It seems everything that the Wynn does is very elegant and grand, and this two-level restaurant is no exception. As you walk down the stairs, the main dining room is in view, as well as cabanas encircling the restaurant’s private pond.

We sat at one of those cabanas, which may have proved to be a mistake, since it was blistering hot outside.

We did not try any of their whole fish preparations, opting to sample more of their dishes a la carte.

risotto ai frutti di mare risotto with clams, scallops, shrimp, lobster, calamari

I love a seafood risotto, so this dish was a must. The risotto was creamy and al dente – just the way it should be. The seafood was plump and juicy, also cooked pretty well. A pretty good rendition of the dish in my opinion.

sauté di vongole sautéed tiny clams with tomato sauce, garlic, white wine, parsley

This dish had a surprising amount of clams, as we had been told the appetizers were somewhat small. The clams were perfectly cooked, and the tomato-based sauce was light and flavorful.

Grilled saberfish

Bartolotta offers a number of fish, “simply grilled” as an appetizer. Here we have saberfish, nicely grilled and juicy. The restaurant consistently served some very fresh and well-cooked fish.

insalata di campo arugula, raddichio, frisee, Belgian endive, red wine vinaigrette

The only dish we ordered with vegetables – the salad provided a lighter alternative, but wasn’t anything special.

spaghetti all’ astice spaghetti with rock lobster, spicy tomato sauce, white wine

Pasta with seafood is something else I really enjoy – spaghetti with rock lobster? Why not? This dish was delicious. The pasta was cooked perfectly with a slightly spicy, light tomato sauce. The lobster was probably cooked a little more than I preferred, however, as they weren’t as plump and juicy as I’d expect. They were still good though. The crushed cherry tomatoes added a bright, fresh flavor to the pasta.

penne con scorfano e melanzane penne with Mediterranean scorpion fish, eggplant, tomato, basil

Compared to the spaghetti, this dish was a bit of a letdown. The penne was not cooked quite as well (a little overcooked), and the eggplant and firm scorpion fish did not provide the same exciting, vibrant flavors.

pollo alla Riviera Ligure Ligurian style roast chicken, artichokes, asparagus, porcini, taggiasca olives, lemon herb sauce

Bartolotta is a primarily seafood restaurant – make no mistake. But, they do prepare a very nice roasted chicken. The skin, all around, was superbly crisp. The meat was moist and flavorful, and the accompanying greens and herb sauce were a nice complement.

Pescato Del Giorno Con Carciofi E Origano Oven baked imported Mediterranean fish, artichokes, oregano

The fish in this case was a Mediterranean snapper. I love light, white fish, and I loved this dish. The fillet was really moist with a light and delicate flavor. The tomatoes and artichokes provided extra flavor, but were mild enough to not overpower this fish.

torta Ligure al limone, gelato al rosmarino, balsamico dolce Ligurian lemon cake, rosemary gelato, sweet balsamic syrup

A moist and tart lemon cake was topped with a rosemary gelato. I thought the cake was nice, but the rosemary gelato did not stand up too well to it. A bite of every component was largely flavors of the lemon and balsamic.

In all, I was pretty happy with the meal at Bartolotta. It’s a beautiful looking restaurant, and the food stood up to it. Seafood is done very well here, and in a variety of preparations. Some of the highlights were the risotto and lobster pasta,  as well as the chicken and snapper. Next time, I will have to try one of the whole fish.

Bandera – 6/26/10

3201 E Coast Hwy
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Bandera is part of the Hillstone Restaurant Group, known for restaurants such as Houston’s and Gulfstream, and having a no-corkage-fee policy. I had been here before, but was summoned back to celebrate a friend’s new job. The restaurant always seems to have a lot people waiting outside – the comfortable American food is one of the main draws.

To start with, we had the skillet cornbread, one of their well-known appetizers.

Skillet Cornbread with jalapenos

The cornbread is nice and moist on the inside, with a crispy crust on top. The jalapenos give it an extra dimension of flavor. Unfortunately, this is a very filling dish – small portions are best.

Bandera-Style Roasted Chicken with green rice

This chicken is cooked on the rotisserie, and had a nicely browned skin. However, it wasn’t crispy at all, which was a disappointment. The meat was not quite as moist as I expected, but had some good flavor.

Sliced Leg of Lamb with Red Chile Sauce and Escabéche

I preferred this meat to be cooked a little bit less. The leg is cooked to a medium-well, though it wasn’t dry or tough. The lamb was mildly gamey, and the chile sauce added a little heat.

Barbecue Beef Back Ribs served with mashed potatoes and coleslaw

One of Bandera’s most notable dishes is the beef ribs, and for good reason. These ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, with a rich barbecue glaze that works well with the meat. Deliciously succulent.

Aged Prime Rib Slow Roasted on the Bone served with mashed potatoes

We also ordered the prime rib, which came with a side of au jus. This is one of the best au jus I’ve had in recent memory; we even asked for some to go. The prime rib was tasty and cooked a nice medium-rare, though I often find it’s hard to distinguish a good prime rib from a great one. The au jus here, though, really elevated it.

House Made Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches made with creme de cocoa

When I first came into the restaurant, I saw this dessert being served and immediately thought to myself “I must have this!” And it did not disappoint. It’s a rather simple dish of homemade Oreo ice cream sandwiches, in a chocolate sauce with a subtle espresso flavor. Being a huge fan of both ice cream sandwiches and cookies and cream ice cream, this was a great match. One of the best desserts I’ve had in a while.

We had a pretty solid meal at Bandera, with a few clear highlights (the beef ribs, prime rib au jus, and ice cream sandwich come to mind). The service was really exceptional from start-to-finish, only making the experience better. I’ve been craving that ice cream sandwich ever since, so I’ll be back soon…at least for dessert.

Mako Sushi – 6/25/10

Mako Sushi
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St. Ste 307
Los Angeles, CA 90012

One of my friends is a regular at Mako, and he recommended giving their omakase a try. Located in the same Weller Court plaza as the infamous Orochon, its third-floor location doesn’t get a whole lot of foot traffic. Thus, I am calling this a hidden gem. We went with the $70 omakase, the higher of the two levels ($45 and $70) offered.

The first dish to come out was a cucumber and seaweed “salad” topped with sesame.

With its light, fresh flavors, this was a good start to the meal. Next up was an avocado filled with salmon eggs.

This avocado was very nicely ripe, and the salmon egg provided a nice saltiness to pair with the richness of the avocado. Next, a very interesting dish with sticky yam, okra, tuna, quail egg, seaweed and wasabi.

This dish was stirred up, and created a little bit of a gooey pasta-like dish with the yam. Quite good. Next came our first cooked fish – Hokkaido sea scallops with green beans, and matsutake and enoki mushrooms.

This came out with a dipping sauce.

I enjoyed this dish, though my last scallop was rather overcooked. This may have been my fault – I probably should have taken it off the sizzling plate sooner. Continuing with the cooked dishes was a tempura oyster and cod served with katsu sauce and a tartar sauce.

Both the cod and oyster were nicely cooked and pretty moist – especially the oyster. Up next was a sashimi course – Spanish mackerel, halibut, red snapper, toro, yellowtail stomach and salmon.

I was looking forward to our first raw fish preparation. Overall, all of the fish was very solid. The toro did not have as much of a melt-in-your-mouth feel as some others I’ve had, but the flavors were there.

Following was a Spanish mackerel, served cold in a Japanese marinade.

I always find difficult in eating a whole bone-in fish with chopsticks. However, I managed, and was able to eat the succulent meat of the fish, heightened with flavors of mirin and soy. Next up, raw oysters.

These were really delicious. The oysters had a clean, fresh taste to them, which was complemented by the soy and scallions. Next came the only sushi course, made up of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, uni and smelt egg.

Each of these were pretty good – the highlight for me was the uni. Bad uni can be very apparent. Luckily, this was not the case – this uni had a fresh, slightly sweet flavor.

Lastly, we had a bowl of miso soup with mushrooms to finish off the meal.

I was pretty pleased with this meal. Although it did not have as much sushi/sashimi preparations as I tend to be accustomed to, the variety of dishes was pretty great, and presented a pretty good value. The fish used in each course was very fresh, and there really were no missteps throughout our meal.

Yatai Ramen at Breadbar – 6/23/10

Yatai Ramen

8718 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048

There’s a new pop-up restaurant at Third Street’s Breadbar. For six weeks, Yatai Ramen is serving up modern “twists” of ramen, one even including foie gras. Being a big ramen fan, these variations were definitely worth a try.

Four traditional types were offered, including shio, shoyu, miso and spicy miso. The ‘twists’ include a tomato ramen, Vietnam ramen, oxtail ramen, and foie gras ramen.

In addition, a pig feet gyoza and a vegetarian kale gyoza were offered, with a few boba drinks.

We started with an order of each gyoza. First, the pig feet.

The gyoza were cooked beautifully, with a very crispy bottom and just the right amount of chew to the noodle. I couldn’t really tell the difference between pig feet and just..pork; however, these were really delicious.

Next up, kale gyoza.

Nicely cooked again, the kale flavor was bright and worked well in these dumplings.

We tried five variations of ramen – 2 traditional and 3 twists.

Shio Ramen – seasoning with Indonesian sea salt, corn butter

This was a very good bowl, with a deep, rich flavor. The noodles, consistent throughout each bowl, were perfectly al dente. The long slices of pork belly were extremely tender, and very flavorful.

Spicy Miso Ramen – seasoning with blended miso, spicy sauce

The soup base was a very rich red, easily distinguishing that this would be the spicy variation. A little bit too spicy for me – but everyone else in our group enjoyed it.

Vietnam Ramen – Pho style, raw beef tenderloin, asian herb

This one was very interesting, and the first of the twists. This was kind of a beef-based shoyu broth; it really tasted like a combination of the two soups. The meat was nicely tender, however, I felt the soup was a bit salty.

Oxtail Ramen – rich oxtail soup, truffle oil, marinated poached egg

I really enjoy oxtail, so this was a logical choice. A large bone-in chunk of oxtail was put on top of the noodles. The meat was moist and succulent, though there were a number of small bones to contend with – taking away some of the enjoyment. The soup had a rich meaty flavor and was a little bit sweet – the truffle oil was lost in the richness of the soup.

Foie Gras Ramen – rich master stock consomme soup, chopped chives

This was kind of a must order to me. Foie gras…ramen? I had to see what this interpretation was like. The soup was rather salty, shoyu-based. The piece of foie gras on top was nicely seared and perfectly cooked. However, the elements seemed disconnected; it tasted like a seared foie gras on top of a shoyu ramen.

There were some hits and misses at this pop-up. I’m glad I went, as the twists were unique and very different from what you typically find in LA. I would recommend coming to try any of these twists and the gyoza.

Umami Burger, Scoops – 6/20/10

Umami Burger
4655 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027

712 N Heliotrope Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90029

Umami Burger is currently one of the more popular burger chains in LA – founded in 2009, its success has allowed it to quickly expand to four locations already in the LA area (and one more coming to the SF Valley later this year).  Being a fan of a well-made burger, and hey – with a name like Umami Burger – naturally, it was only a matter of time until I paid a visit.

This location offers 9 burgers – we decided to give the signature ‘Umami Burger’ a try, as well as the truffle burger. But first, the sweet potato fries and french fries.

The sweet potato fries were solid – nicely crisp on the outside and sweet and tender on the inside.

The potato fries were another story. These thick, block-cut fries were lacking crispness on the outside, and were a bit undercooked inside. In addition, they tasted rather plain and undersalted.

Umami Burger

This burger, their signature, was just okay. The meat and bun were both good, though they did not really stand out. I will note that meat was cooked to a very nice medium-rare, however.  This burger is topped with the housemade ketchup, mushroom, and tomatoes – the mushrooms were a bit too much for this burger, as they were overpowering.

Truffle Burger – italian truffle cheese, truffle glaze

The Truffle Burger, on the other hand, was delicious. Again, the meat is cooked a nice medium rare, and topped simply with a truffle-scented cheese. I really liked the subtle truffle flavor in this burger and gobbled it up pretty quickly.

We saved room for dessert and went to Scoops to fill that void. I’d never been to Scoops before for some reason – with it being one of the more popular ice cream joints in the city, a visit was far overdue.

Scoops offers only a few flavors each day, but they’re usually pretty unique.

The first one we tried here was the espresso coffee and salty chocolate. Both of these were very rich, with a good, deep flavor.

This second one is the coconut Thai iced tea ice cream and chocolate. The Thai iced tea was delicious – refreshing and really reminiscent of the drink.

Lastly we had the brown bread and peanut butter toffee. The brown bread was very interesting – mildly sweet with small bits of crispy cereal. The peanut butter tasted very much like peanut butter. Given that, it was good for the first few bites but got tiring rather quickly.

Most of the ice cream came out a bit softer than I would like, so they melted pretty quick too. I’m not sure if it’s always like this, or if the freezer temperature was just not as cold this day.