Carnevino (Las Vegas, NV)

Carnevino
The Palazzo
3325 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 6/28/14

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Many of the celebrity chefs with a presence in Las Vegas have a steakhouse (burger shops & pubs are also a common offshoot). Carnevino is the creation of Mario Batali & Joe Bastianich and one of their four LV restaurants (all within the Venetian/Palazzo complex). Always in the mood for a good steak, I’ve had an inkling to try Carnevino and finally had the chance during my last trip.

An Italian steakhouse, the focus at Carnevino is clearly on the beef. It’s very hard to differentiate oneself in this ‘upscale beef’ space, and Carnevino does it by partnering with meat man Adam Perry Lang who supposedly hand-selects the best USDA Prime cattle for the restaurant. It’s all aged in-house and simply prepared with sea salt, black pepper and rosemary. The Batali & Bastianich influence brings a host of Italian antipasti and pastas to round out a meal here.

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Chi Spacca (Los Angeles, CA)

Chi Spacca
6610 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 3/14/14

chi spacca

Chi Spacca opened last year and is the latest restaurant to join the Mozza corner at Melrose & Highland. It replaced the Scuola di Pizza, yet in a way is a permanent extension of the restaurant. Chad Colby, who used to helm the Scuola kitchen, is also managing the Chi Spacca menu. The restaurant’s probably best known for its house salumi program and catering to a primal way of eating – large slabs of meat cooked over fire. Think 36 ounce veal racks and 42 ounce tomahawk pork chops and beef porterhouses. My kind of place.

I’ve been wanting to try Chi Spacca for some time, but it really felt like a place to try with a large group. We rounded up five for this evening and came hungry. A holdover from the Scuola di Pizza, a completely open kitchen offers visibility into all of the cooking being done between the large steaks on the grill and items coming out of the wood-burning oven.

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Gordon Ramsay Steak (Las Vegas, NV)

Gordon Ramsay Steak
Paris Hotel
3655 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/11/13

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Gordon Ramsay Steak has been high on my list of Las Vegas restaurants to try since it opened last year, when I sampled Ramsay’s delicious beef wellington at the Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting. Ramsay has more than two dozen restaurants around the world now, ranging from Michelin three-star to mediocre. However, his steakhouse has garnered consistently strong reviews over the past year, so I anticipated a meal closer to the former (not that this restaurant has 3-star ambitions though). My dad’s dined here before and enjoyed it, but this would be the first trip for the rest of our family.

Located just off the casino of the Paris Hotel, the restaurant’s entrance was inspired by the Channel Tunnel, transporting diners to the UK.

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The USDA Prime steaks are from noted butcher Pat LaFrieda, dry aged a minimum of 28 days in a Himalayan salt room. The marbling (and pricing) moves up from there with a selection of both American wagyu and true Japanese wagyu. Each cut is on display at the onset of the meal, with the exception of the Japanese wagyu. If asked though, they will bring out the beautifully-marbled piece of cow.

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Sous Vide Steak

Dining date: 4/13/13

sliced steak

While the most profound sous vide application may best represented in long-duration braises of the tougher cuts, breaking down connective tissues while keeping meat a medium-rare temperature, its applications for “simpler” cooking can be just as rewarding. For example, a steak can be prepared very well either on the stove top or seared and finished In the oven/broiler, but I often like to prepare one sous vide. There are a few reasons why.

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Alexander’s Steakhouse (San Francisco, CA)

Alexander’s Steakhouse
448 Brannan St
San Francisco, CA 94107
Dining date: 11/25/12

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I’ve wanted to try Alexander’s Steakhouse for some time. I love a good steak and Alexander’s is one of the more highly regarded steakhouses on the West Coast (and perhaps country). The original location, in Cupertino, garnered a Michelin star in the inaugural Bay Area guide and has maintained it ever since. A San Francisco location opened up in 2010 serving up the same American steakhouse fare with a bunch of Japanese influences. I tend to think my favorite steakhouse is Beverly Hills’ CUT, but figured Alexander’s would be a strong competitor to that.

It took a couple of years, but my family and I finally dined at the restaurant for my grandmother’s (surprise!) birthday. Over the years, this birthday dinner has become a bit of a tradition with previous birthday dinners at The French Laundry, Masa’s, Quince, Murray Circle, Cyrus, and The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton. Alexander’s seemed to be the ideal choice for our carnivorous family, and the large restaurant was able to accommodate a private party for our extended family and friends.

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Kaika (Tokyo, Japan)

Kaika
Kojun Building 4F
6-8-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 11/13/12

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Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine centered around an iron griddle, where chefs prepare a number of courses right in front of the diner. It’s not exactly a style steeped in tradition (it began in the 20th century), often incorporating a number of Western ingredients into the cooking. The most famous teppanyaki restaurant in America has to be Benihana, which introduced the style; as a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve been to a teppanyaki meal outside of Benihana. Well, until now.

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Often nicknamed “Japanese steakhouses,” a teppanyaki restaurant was an ideal place for me to get my hands on some wagyu – Japanese beef. The super-marbled breed of beef has been almost impossible to get in America, given it was banned from U.S. imports almost three years ago (though the ban was recently lifted!). I’ve only had true Japanese wagyu a handful of times (the most memorable being at CUT on my college graduation day), and it’s unmistakable richness really differentiates it from high-grade USDA Prime or even cross-bred American wagyu beef.

Kaika was selected by a few Tokyo locals for a dinner in Ginza. Expectantly, a meal centered around this type of beef wasn’t cheap with set menus ranging from ¥12,600 to ¥25,200. I would’ve been content with some steaks and a bowl of rice, though the prix-fixe menus didn’t really allow that. I went on the low-end of the range and elected to upgrade my beef option to the highest one available – a sirloin from Kagoshima.

madai (red snapper) sashimi

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The first course was a sashimi course of red snapper marinated in kombu (kelp). It had a very mild flavor, complemented by seaweed and the earthiness and texture of small kernels of popcorn, still on the stem.

At this point, the raw beef came out to be displayed at the counter. It was quite a sight, displaying the rich veins of marbling characteristic of the breed. Even the filet (on the right) had fantastic marbling.

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sweet potato puree

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A sweet and creamy sweet potato soup arrived next, nicely displaying the in-season root vegetable.

A seafood course was next.

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tiger prawn in brain sauce; suzuki (sea bass) with tomato and couscous

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I enjoyed the prawn with the crunchy head, though found the brain sauce to not be as flavorful as expected. The dense, meaty sea bass was cooked pretty well, and I enjoyed the tomatoes and what I think was Israeli couscous that came along with it.

onion chawanmushi

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The delicate sweetness of the onion came through in the light custard.

Awaiting the next course, we could see the meat being cooked on the teppan.

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salad of cherry tomato, burdock root, lotus root

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Refreshing cherry tomatoes, romanesco and some root vegetables came with a sesame dressing, plain and simple.

wagyu sirloin with sauteed vegetables

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Finally, the pièce de résistance. The meat was as I remembered from years ago, exceedingly fatty and rich though still with a good beefy flavor. It was kind of ridiculous how rich it was; I could only eat this in relatively small portions and definitely not a big steak of it. Marbling-wise, it was truly a step up from New Zealand wagyu or any of the American wagyu found domestically. Texture-wise, it was similar to a seared foie gras in its succulent melt-in-your-mouth richness.

fried rice with fish; japanese pickles

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The final savory course was an under-seasoned fried rice with tiny dried fish served with miso soup.

azuki bean ice cream, black sesame chiffon cake

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Lastly, we enjoyed a pretty solid dessert with a subtle sesame flavor in a light and airy chiffon cake. The ice cream was a little overly icy, but had good red bean flavor. The fruits were pretty tasty too.

I’m glad I was able to experience the over-the-top fatty richness of the beef; food-wise this was one of the highlights of my trip in Japan. The rest of the courses were pretty decent though nothing special (not that I was expecting them to be). Similar to the sushi/kaiseki/tempura meals I had, the counter experience was exciting. It was fun to be able to watch everything in action, and the chef spoke pretty good English allowing us to have some dialogue.