On Friday, April 7th, the Hello Kitty Mini Café opened at the Santa Anita Mall. After their recent great success and incredibly high demand from both the Hello Kitty Café Truck and the Hello Kitty Café Pop-Up Container, they decided to open a permanent location for guests to enjoy.
Aburiya Raku is the kind of restaurant in Las Vegas that seems unassuming, but is beloved by those “in the know”. A dinner only yakitori place, its small space is constantly filled with foodies, local and celebrity chefs, and many a Hollywood star. I finally was able to get a reservation with my boyfriend (gotta book weeks in advance if you want to eat anytime between 6 pm and 1 am), and see what the fuss is all about.
Raku, the mother restaurant to my dearly beloved Sweets Raku, couldn’t be more different from Sweets from the interior: dark lighting, dark woods, and leather. We were seated immediately, and told about the various condiments on the table. Raku offers a ponzu, a chili sauce, a shichimi, and a green tea sea salt, all specially made for the restaurant. If they sold the green tea salt I’d buy a billion jars, it’s that good. We were shown the daily special board, offering a variety of sashimi, whole fish dishes, and other seafood for the night. Deciding to skip such things, and instead focus on the grilled skewers and homemade tofu that built Raku’s reputation, we ordered off the regular menu.
Ordering off the menu allowed us to order everything we wanted to try in one go, which had the bonus effect of allowing the staff to serve us the items in a set order (drawing from kaiseki and other yakitori traditions, skewers precede fried dishes precede rice dishes precede soups, with other dishes added accordingly). We started with Raku’s homemade tofu. It arrived to the table still in its wicker forming basket, with fresh, real wasabi, chives, and bonito shavings on the side. The tofu by itself was a firm and unsilken affair, with a texture unlike any tofu I’ve eaten at home or in another restaurant. It also had its own faint taste, which complimented the condiments it was presented with. If there was a tofu I’d want to give to people to make them change their minds about it, this would be it.
The next dish was the Popeye salad. Served in a hot bowl, it was cold baby spinach topped with sautéed mushrooms, crunchy fried onion strips, and a really good vinaigrette. We were told to mix the contents, which wilted the spinach just enough without getting too mushy. I rather enjoyed it, and was surprised at just how much salad there was. It could easily be split into 3-4 good sized servings. The vinaigrette was just tangy enough, the crunch of the onions blending nicely with the softness of the mushrooms and spinach.
Thus arrived our skewers for the evening: bacon wrapped enoki, kurobuta pork cheek, tsukine ground chicken stuffed mushrooms, and wagyu beef tendon. Sure, they’re a bit more unconventional and out there, especially when the menu offered wasabi skirt steak and chicken thigh skewers, but where’s the fun in that? Just like my desire to eschew (apparently really good) sashimi to taste what made their reputation instead, I wasn’t about to let the chance to go a little wild slip me by. Each of the skewers were covered in the same salty sweet glaze, tasty but not overwhelming. The enoki were crisp at their edges, and the bacon chewy.
The pork cheek was tender and fatty. No gristle to be found here. Pork cheek is akin to a richly marbled pork chop, or maybe more like a pork tenderloin.
The ground chicken filled mushrooms were kind of a mess to deal with. They arrived quite hot (fresh from the grill, to be expected) and squirted out as we tried to bite into them. Once they cooled down a little, I found the mushrooms to be surprisingly not watery and the chicken full of flavor. The beef tendon, I didn’t share. I wish I had ordered several of them. Beef tendon is gelatinous without being fatty or greasy, sometimes just a bit chewy, and tastes mildly of beef. I’ve had it many a time in pho or at dim sum, but grilled is a whole new beast. The crispy edges contrasted with the chewy bits in a mind blowing way, giving a hearty chew to a normally “almost no chewing required” cut of meat. I wish this and pork cheek were more common in American markets; we’re really missing out.
Up next was probably the most disappointing (but still good) dish of the night: braised pork belly. I love pork belly. I love braising it. While the dish had a lot of flavor thanks to a delicious sauce that could be sopped up by more spinach sitting in the dish, the pork belly itself was much too fatty for my tastes. It was, at times, like eating just soft fat. I’m willing to chalk it up to us getting bad pieces, but the overall underwhelming-ness of it (plus the price versus the fact that we only got 3 pieces) makes me wary to order it in the future.
This was followed by a dish I ended up with mixed feelings about, Raku’s kaarage. Served on a bed of even more spinach was a rather beautiful looking roll of fried chicken thigh. The chicken was juicy, the skin perfectly crisp and not soggy, but the flavor lacking. A hit of the green tea salt helped immensely. The weird part however was that the spinach was doused in some sort of sauce; maybe the spinach prevented the chicken from getting any of it?
Next up was one of Raku’s signature dishes: foie gras custard with a slice of grilled duck breast. I know foie gras is a bit controversial to some, but I happen to enjoy it every now and again. The custard was wonderfully eggy and creamy, the sauce thin and clinging to every spoonful. The duck breast slice was perfectly cooked, but a bit tough to eat along with a spoonful of custard.
As our dinner winded down, we were presented with our grilled rice balls in broth. It was a really simple dish: a grilled rice ball, in dashi, with a bit of wakame along for the ride. The rice balls had soaked up the broth, rendering what crispy edges might have been there down to merely firm. It also caused the rice balls to become engorged a bit, making eating them with spoons a necessity. The dashi was a bit too salty for my taste, but the texture of rice was a welcomed one.
The final dish of the night was a soboro-don: ground chicken and mustard leaf over rice, with seaweed and a raw quail egg on top. Mixing the bowl led to a wondrous, savory mix of everything, without a hint of the sweetness that had pervaded the other dishes. Each bite felt like a hearty one, ensuring that if we weren’t full yet, we would be after this.
Raku’s service was also top notch throughout the night. After a bit of a slowdown between the salad and the start of the skewers, food came out at a nice, steady pace. The waitstaff was quite helpful, and our water glasses constantly refilled. The meal totaled $105 after tax and a hefty “it’s the holidays” tip, rendering it expensive but not outrageously so for two people. We both left full and relaxed, and I was quite pleased to have finally gone to Raku. Hopefully I can return soon.
5030 W.Spring Mountain Rd #2,Las Vegas, NV 89146
Mon-Sat 6 pm to 3 am
Price range: $$$
One of my favorite ways to de-stress is by being able to dress up cute with a bunch of friends and go out and eat some good food. Bonus points if the food is cute as well. That’s what gave me the idea to gather a few friends and try the new Sanrio Chococat and Pom Pom Purin special set at Plan Check. Plan Check is a modern burger restaurant that specializes on the comfort food side of a hamburger. Last November, Plan Check collaborated with fellow Sanrio character Gudetama for an eggtastic set featuring the lazy egg! I was not able to try the previous set that was showcased, so when I found out about the Chococat and Pom Pom Purin set (two of my favorite Sanrio characters at that), I had my heart set on trying it!
I met with a few friends at the Wilshire location of Plan Check around the shift change time which is also happy hour (4-7pm). The windows outside displayed the featured characters of the Sanrio Special.
When you go inside, you are greeted by plushies of Chococat and Purin at the hostess desk. Our waitress gave us a special menu just for the current special. It gave a detailed description of every item that was included in the set. As true to Plan Check, these are not your run of the mill menu items, but every item on the set had the deliciously creative twist to comfort food that Plan Check is known for!
The first part that was delivered was a vanilla cream soda topped with cream that had Pom Pom Purin dusted on top with cocoa powder. From my first taste, I first thought the cream was actually a layer of pudding (it would be fitting with the said character Purin). The vanilla flavor was pleasant and creamy, but it wasn’t exactly fizzy like how a cream soda should be. I would liken it more to a vanilla-flavored calpico.
The next three items came out altogether. A small tray of mac and cheese, freshly fried potato chips topped with togarashi, and a sausage sandwich. I snacked on the chips while chatting with friends to whet my appetite. The chips were perfectly crispy and tossed in togarashi which is Japanese pepper powder. Note to self: add a bit of togarashi to my chips or popcorn as it was a flavorful addition. The portion of mac and cheese was rather tiny though. More so a sample sized portion compared to everything else I would say. When I tried it I wished I could have had a larger portion because it was absolutely perfect! It was perfectly creamy with a cheese flavor that was not overpowering. This mac and cheese was made with a dashi cheese and reggiano mix and topped with bread crumbs and parsley. Every bite made me lament how small the little tray was!
I finally moved on to the main attraction of this course: the sausage sandwich that was decorated with the face of Pom Pom Purin. With this being my first time at Plan Check, I was hoping to try one of their burgers they’re known for, so I was slightly disappointed that the set did not feature one of their burger creations. It was almost too cute to with Purin’s face ironed on the bun and his tail on the bottom! My first impression was I already liked how the flavors came together. The sandwich featured a kimchi slaw which stood out to me. The sausage was also accompanied by a special Kewpie cilantro mayonnaise (Kewpie is not ordinary mayo, but a sweeter Japanese Mayo). The pickles on the sandwich were flavored were flavored more like Japanese style pickles and they stood out as a lasting flavor to the sausage. Though the sausage did have a pleasing bite!
Once we were nearly finished with this portion of the set, we were brought our dessert! A scoop of vanilla ice cream with a cat-shaped sugar cookie iced topped with fondant and icing to make the face of Chococat! I love French Vanilla ice cream so I was pleased with that addition. I nibbled on Chococat’s ears only since the quite large. I’m not a big fan of sweets that are overly sugary and a sugar cookie is exactly that. I ended up taking it home with me to slowly nibble away at.
Finally, our waitress brought our hats! The hats were a snapback style with the Plan Check logo with Purin and Chococat on the front. I was never much for snapbacks, but this motivated me to rock it when I have a chance. I didn’t get to try on my hat since I had my hair up in twin tails, so I at least took a picture posing with it!
Being able to venture out for cute things while being spiritually rejuvenated from the busy demands of life is something I’m always looking for. Plan Check definitely delivered in that category. I’d say my favorite part was the macaroni and cheese and the not-so-fizzy cream soda. I’m still a bit sad that there was no burger in the set as it is what Plan Check is known for. The dessert could have been better than just a large cookie in my opinion. In the end, I do believe the set did justice to both Pom Pom Purin and Chococat as Sanrio characters, but may have been lacking in a few areas to really capture their charm they’re known for. I am most definitely hoping for future Sanrio Character collaboration (here’s me crossing my fingers for a possible Little Twin Star collab). If you want to be able to try this set it’s available Until July 10th at all three locations! I hope anyone who is thinking of going gathers a bunch of friends and goes all together for this experience as I did!
All Photos: John Woo
Sake Fever is UNLVino’s love letter to Japanese sake, Western beers, and the delicious foods that pair well with them. Inclement weather forced the event from the pool deck to an indoor ballroom, but it was jam-packed with booths and people.
Naked Fish was on hand, live cutting a 200-plus pound tuna for the crowd.
Loads of sake...
...and delicious food marked the event,
as a taiko drum group played for us
To celebrate Brian Thomas Massie’s Dom Perignon award, there was a traditional sake barrel opening
And he was showered with praise and gifts.
He thanked the staff he worked with for allowing him to be the best he could, and encouraged the UNLV students in the room to work hard as a team in whatever restaurant’s kitchen they landed in.
The night went on with more food, and delicious sake for all.
For having to be moved from outdoors to indoors on short notice, the event was smoothly run. No major hiccups in service nor space, the booths were well laid out, and there was plenty of walking space as well as standing tables to hang out at. I would love to attend this event again.
-Janette G (anarchymarie)
Check out the gallery below!
Held out on the Vegas strip, starting just as the sun was setting, this year’s Bubblelicious event was a splendid and elegant affair celebrating champagne and other bubbly drinks.
Here, a few dozen booths served up fizzy wines, champagne cocktails, and the champagnes straight up, while resort hosts Venetian and Palazzo served up tasty bites from their roster of restaurants.
The main event was of course the award ceremony, honoring Robert G. Goldstein, with a 21 bottle champagne salute to kick off the ceremony.
A graduating UNLV student introduced him, and he was also given a slew of Beatles memorabilia, and a Beatles cover band played the rest of the night.
While the event was in one of the most gorgeous settings I could have asked for, it was not without its problems, mostly due to the space and the layout of the area.
Hopefully future events will find a way to balance crowd capacity without blocking too much of the Strip off. Overall, it was quite a lovely event on a gorgeous spring night.
It’s that most wonderful time of year again in Las Vegas: we skip completely over spring weather and go right into pool weather, shorts on a daily basis are acceptable again, and UNLVino time is here! What’s UNLVino? It’s a series of food and drink events with the ultimate goal of raising money for scholarships for UNLV’s hospitality related programs, because nothing makes for a good excuse to imbibe on fine libations than funding higher education. Now in it’s 42nd year, it’s gone from small, cash only wine tastings to a 3-night series, overtaking beautiful locations on the Vegas Strip and beyond, and I have the privilege of getting to cover all 3 nights! Along with wonderful drinks and extravagant food, each night also offers live entertainment, the chance for students to experience the thrill of high-volume service, and honoring local movers and shakers in the food and drink world with the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence.
The first night is the crowd-favorite Bubble-licious at the Venetian, a night celebrating all things champagne. Held outdoors under the lights of the Vegas Strip, guests will enjoy a variety of champagnes, champagne cocktails, fine foods from the Venetian and the Palazzo’s restaurants, and a performance by HUMAN NATURE. The honoree of the night will be Robert G. Goldstein of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
The second night is dedicated to all things Japanese with Sake Fever, held at the pool deck of the Red Rock hotel and casino. A variety of sakes and Japanese whiskies will be on hand to sample, high end Japanese and American restaurants will be serving up small plates, and a Japanese Taiko performance will enthrall guests. This night’s honoree is Brian Massie of the Clique Hospitality group.
The final night is the Grand Tasting at the Paris Las Vegas. A live auction rounds out the events, as well as a live performance by Shaun DeGraff, whilst guests enjoy food and drink from a variety of suppliers, restaurants, and the UNLV students themselves. THe final honoree of the year is Jan Jones Blackhurst from Caesar’s Entertainment.
I’m very excited to cover these events. Keep an eye out for full write ups of each night!
UNLVino, April 14-16
Tickets $75-$125, available at http://www.unlvtickets.com/eventInfo/spe/619/unlvino/
More information at http://unlvino.com/
There’s something to be said about a place that specializes in desserts that’s more than an ice cream shop or a cute cafe with baked goods. A place that oozes affordable decadence with desserts you’d expect to pay easily double for. A place that prides itself on an ever-changing menu of fascinating edibles so that every visit is a new experience. Sweets Raku is just such a place in Las Vegas.
I’ve been frequenting this tiny, no reservations spot for a few years now. Originally the idea was that $19 would land you a 3-course dessert, as well as a fancy edible menu served with some of the best, homemade fruit sauce imaginable. While gone are the 3-course desserts (replaced with a much more manageable 2-course set for $15 with a la carte extras available) and the edible menus (save for special occasions), Sweets Raku has consistently delivered high class seasonally rotating desserts, an expanded savory menu, one of the nicest bathrooms in town, and just happens to play background music from Ni no Kuni on a regular basis.
Sweets Raku is the brainchild of Chef Mitsuo Endo of Las Vegas’s beloved izakaya, Raku, and Pastry Chef Mio Ogasawara. Ogasawara’s offerings also include various to-go options (such as pound and roll cakes, macarons, and assorted cookies), a wondrous selection of tea and coffee, and my favorite lunch deal in town. While the desserts may be a little bit on the pricey side (a “main course” dessert by itself will run you $12), more care and attention to it you might not find. Desserts are made and assembled to order, and sitting at the bar area allows you to watch Ogasawara and her staff work on them in front of you. An almost sterile white atmosphere allows the bursts of color from the dishes themselves to be overwhelming, and they’re happy to tell you what the dishes consist of and the optimal way to eat them.
The current dessert set offering lands you a daily sorbet (usually seasonal fruit such as mango or raspberry, with the option of blueberry champagne showing up), and a main course dessert chosen from a set of 5. Quick it may not be, but it’s a good way to spend some time relaxing after a long day.
For their lunch special, $23 will get you a 3-course lunch and the 2-course dessert set, a mind blowing amount of well made fresh food that might make your regular lunches seem lame in comparison. The lunch set consists of a tiny amount of soup (their lobster bisque is so good that it’s frustrating you get so little), a green salad with a side of Japanese potato salad, and a sandwich or wrap of your choice. The sandwiches are served on croissants that are made in house, and everything has the same care and attention to detail that the desserts do.
Over the years offerings have included:
The Red Rock: a raspberry lava cake featuring a sugar string veil, with homemade ice cream
The Mount Fuji: their take on a mont blanc cake
The Baton: a chocolate wafer tube filled with fruits, nuts, and cream
Apple Pie: served with honey ice cream and a hollow sugar apple filled with whipped cream and caramel
The Sunset: champagne jelly, whipped cream, assorted fruits and a homemade pastry puff
The Soleil: a hollow orange ice cream ball filled with chunks of fruit and creme de cassis
The Angel Cream: a cream cheese mousse with pear and cookie bits
The Mars: a chocolate sphere hiding a mound of fruits and cookies, which is melted by pouring on fire cognac atop it
The Carib: Panna cotta and various fruits in a wine glass, topped with a chocolate disk and hot mango sauce
The Jack in the Cup: caramelized bananas beneath a chocolate souffle, filled with a cinnamon cream, served with a side of coconut ice cream
The Spring Mountain: a pistachio and chocolate version of their Mount Fuji, served with kiwi and berries
Various seasonal sorbets (the blueberry champagne one is the best)
The Salmon and Ikura sandwich (one of my favorite sandwiches available in Las Vegas)
I can’t recommend this place enough. I’ve taken so many people who’ve come to visit Las Vegas here, and every time has been wonderful. If you’re ever in town, stop by, and be delighted. And if you really want to have a fancy cake, they’ll do custom orders for you to enjoy at home.
5040 W Spring Mountain Rd #3, Las Vegas, NV 89146
M/T/Th/F: 6 pm to 12 am, Sat/Sun: 12 pm to 12 am
Price range: $$
Along with being handed a map of the SLS at check in, I was also given a wristbanded, with the words START AT UMAMI BURGER printed on it, so that’s where I headed. The gist of the event was “go to your start point, then wander freely around and sample food and drinks at all the restaurants”. Along the way, I realized there were several spots on the casino floor itself serving up bites as well.
The first station I saw had caviar-topped Iberico slices.
I grabbed one, and made my way into Umami Burger. Thankfully it wasn’t terribly packed when I arrived. I situated myself with a beer, and waited as food was brought out.
Here I tried a truffle slider, and Umami’s cheesy tots.
Both were a bit salty, pairing nicely with the beer I had, and quite delicious.
From there, I figured the best bet would be to head to the far end of the casino, and travel back up to Bazaar Meats to end my night. Turns out, everyone else seemed to have that idea as well. Lines EVERYWHERE in my sight lines, setting a panic in that I wouldn’t be able to hit everything within the 90 minutes I had to do so. I gritted my teeth and decided to wait it out though.
On the way to Ku Noodle, Andres’ take on Chinese food, was a stand serving up an interesting cocktail containing beer, tequila, green tea, and Chinese five spice syrup.
It wasn’t a large cocktail, but was quite flavorful. I then waited in line at Ku. Thankfully the wait was entertaining, as Ku has a large window looking into the kitchen. I could watch people make shumai and hand pulled noodles for hours.
When I finally got inside, they had a mix of stations set up with dishes, as well as passed bites. I decided to stop drinking alcohol at this point and put my focus on the food.
Two types of dumplings were served (a shumai and a fried dumpling), shaved ice and a noodle dish each got set up in individual takeout boxes, and fresh scallion pancakes topped with roasted duck were dished up at a furious pace.
Nothing particularly memorable, but also nothing terrible.
Considering they have a three course lunch special for under $20, might be worthwhile heading back to for a full meal.
Next door was the Northside Cafe, featuring Mexican inspired goods. Their line was set up so as we passed a set of windows we’d be able to pick up our tacos and margaritas. Here, a quail egg adorned an al pastor taco, and a just sweet enough barbacoa taco were served.
Eating these while keeping the line moving was quite a trick; I went for the “eat the taco in 1 obnoxiously large bite” route and was glad to see I wasn’t alone. I don’t know if either were good enough to justify a second trip to for a real meal though.
Next up was Cleo, the SLS’s Mediterranean spot.
The surprisingly short line outside led past a serving station with lamb tangine atop couscous, and brought us into the restaurant’s bar area. Here, more cocktails (which I didn’t partake in as I remembered I drove myself to the SLS and drunk driving is a no no), as well as a perfectly fried falafel ball and an octopus dish I can’t remember the name of.
Both had housemade hummus, and both quite good. I hadn’t heard much about Cleo either positively or negatively, but good hummus makes me real happy.
I then traveled the short way to Katsuya. I’m upset more pictures didn’t save, because there was so much good food. Inside we were welcomed by trays of scallop sashimi, wagyu beef tataki, and the most delicious chawan-mushi I’ve ever had.
Then a line snaked around the sushi bar, handing us honest to god bluefin tuna nigiri.
Right outside the restaurant was another line leading to a roulette table covered in more nigiri, everything freshly cut and plated at a rapid pace.
800 Degrees was probably the most disappointing bite of the night. It was pizza and beer.
That’s… all there is to say about that. Not bad pizza by any means, but considering everything else I had tried, it seemed a little mundane. Thankfully, a nearby stand offered up some sort of junk foody goodness in the form of Andres’ own potato chips covered in sloppy joe meat and cheese.
10/10 would eat like 3 more.
Bazaar Meats was probably the highlight of the night, and I partially regret making my way here last. Andres’ steak house is a force to be reckoned with, and he was pulling out all the stops. There were two lines of goodies to try, with the first walking right a massive open pit grill so hot you could feel the heat just walking by.
This first line led to a wonderful mix of steak tatare sliders and Spanish charcuterie (fancy cheese and meats).
On my way to the second line was a small cotton candy machine set up, dishing out Andres’ famous cotton candy foie gras (a ball of foie gras surrounded by cotton candy).
I probably had like 6 of these by the time I was done, they were delicious in an oh so wrong sort of way. Whilst waiting in line, an oyster shucker shucked oysters and topped them with housemade sauces.
Then, I got to the main line.
A huge table that included gazpacho shots, two kinds of stuffed olives, more Iberico and cotton candy foie gras, and Andres’ beloved croquettes.
I thought really hard about getting back into the line for another round, but it was time for desserts.
The Center Bar all night was showing off specialty cocktails, and I arrived to a bull on a ladder who then led a conga line around a part of the casino.
Desserts for the night included some sort of caramel popcorn bacon pudding thing, a rum chocolate push pop, a pina colada cake, and a cake pop.
Nothing overly sweet, and all a good way to end the night.
I hope the SLS and Andres repeat this event. It was a fun way to spend a night running around the casino, it raised quite a bit of money for some charities, and I got to eat things I’m certain I won’t get to eat ever again.
-Janette G (anarchymarie)
The SLS Las Vegas tries real hard to bill itself as a “foodie” hotel. Honestly, I can’t say I blame them. The site houses 7 very good restaurants, and it works tirelessly to lure not just tourists to the northern end of the strip, but locals away from their homes, with reasonable food prices, tantalizing deals, and world class chefs behind the scenes. After attending this event, I feel I should give it a more wholehearted shot for a full meal.
The Dine-n-Dash event was modeled after celebrity chef Jose Andres’ event in the Washington DC area: one price, and you get to run around and try samples all over the place. Also like its DC-based brethren, Dine-n-Dash raised money for Andres’ World Central Kitchen as well as the Las Vegas-based Three Square, both focused on helping those in need in terms of hunger and food insecurity issues. Nothing like knowing you’re helping those who need help while having a grand time, right?
Unlike the DC event, the SLS Dine-n-Dash started with a christening of The Foundry, SLS’s new concert hall, by way of a live cooking demo featuring Andres, chef Curtis Stone (you probably know him best for Take Home Chef on TLC), and mixologist Rob Floyd. Upon entering the Foundry, there were cocktails and champagne galore, along with stacks of Jamon Iberico freshly cut for us to munch on. I easily wormed my way up front, and waited for the demo to start.
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect in terms of the cooking demo, but it sure wasn’t what happened. Less Good Eats or Emeril, and more stage show, it was roughly an hour of zany antics, dumb jokes, and things being thrown to the crowd.
It opened with Andres hassling local food critic John Curtas, and was followed by each chef making an opening cocktail. Granted, these were party-sized of course, so entire bottles of alcohol made their ways into giant alchemical vessels, along with dry ice, flower petals, and who knows what.
Next, each chef made several dishes, although “made” might be too generous, and “added Iberico to everything” might be more like it. Amongst the items put together that night was Iberico topped pizza (pizza courtesy of 800 Degrees),
Iberico-caviar tacos (literally caviar on top of an Iberico slice and folded up),
and a dish consisting of potatoes, Iberico fat, salt, and gluttony. Being up front, I did get handed by Curtis Stone a bowlful of said potatoes, and they were salty and creamy and soft and decadent in a way I’m sure is wrong.
The last dishes of the night were challenges issued to each chef by the other, requiring the use of culinary items from the other chef’s homeland. Andres came strong with a dish consisting of sashimi-style Australian fish (what kind I couldn’t remember), topped with olive oil, an Australian spice mix, and just a smidge of vegemite (because what’s more Australian than that?).
Stone countered by trying to best Andres’ signature “cotton candy foie gras” by creating a core of foie gras surrounded by thin strings of melted Chupa Chups he created on stage (I was in the danger zone for getting burnt by melted candy. How exciting!).
They ended the demo by helping with a champagne fountain, and it was time to run around the SLS for foods.
Catch part 2 for more on the crawl around the SLS’s restaurants and their offerings!
-Janette G (anarchymarie)
You know how bars and restaurants throw viewing parties for big sporting events? What if a celebrity chef held one, but for their appearance on a competition cooking show? Well, Rick Moonen did just that, and he sure knows how to throw a party.
Having never been to his RM Seafood restaurant (I’ve been to his RX Boiler Room many times, which is a steampunk place that’s as non-tacky and elaborate as it is pricey, but that’s for another time), the idea of attending a charity fundraiser for $25 seemed like a steal. You can’t even get a full meal with drinks there for that price, let alone get to hang out with Moonen himself. So I got dressed, and headed over to the Mandalay Bay.
Moonen was celebrating his appearance on Bravo TV’s Recipe for Deception, which is “Two Truths and a Lie” meets “Chopped”. Spoiler alert, he *partially* won, netting $12,500 for the Lou Ruvo Brain Center and Keep Memory Alive, both Las Vegas-based charities focused on brain issues. He dedicated the event to his friend and rock star chef, the late Kerry Simon, who passed away from multiple system atrophy in 2015. The night raised several thousand additional dollars to good causes, bringing the total donation to up around $16,000.
But enough about feel good stories and background. I know you want to know how the food was. And let me tell you what, Moonen and his crew know what they’re doing. The menu was centered around, of course, seafood (Moonen being a big advocate of sustainable seafood sources), and despite the seemingly small bites, everything was very flavorful, and they kept it all coming until no one could eat anymore.
First up were fresh made sushi and sashimi platters partiers could pick and choose pieces from, featuring some of RM’s signature rolls, including a roll based around wagyu beef tataki (how decadent!), assorted nigiri, and some of the best tuna sashimi I’ve ever had.
Next were RM’s take on lobster rolls, here being thick chunks of lobster meat mixed with house made mayo stuffed into buttery Texas toast slices and topped with lemon zest, and pistachio crusted kampachi, cut so thin it was translucent. The kamapchi was served just barely seared if not raw, topped with radish slices and filled with just enough stuffing on the inside to make for an elegant bite.
I had several of salmon tataki spoons, chunks of raw salmon topped with salmon roe in a slightly lemony sauce, and the taro shell scallop tacos, which I liked so much I suffered through the avocado cream on top instead of scraping it off (not an avocado person).
However, the highlight of the food for the night for me had to be their crab cakes. A minuscule version of what I assume they serve in house, it was full of crab, perfectly fried, and topped with a just enough heat chipotle cream. I told the food server he could just bring them directly to me, and he laughed, returning with several more.
Desserts for the evening were panna cotta (which is essentially cream jello. No, seriously) and a very fudge-y brownie with house-made whipped cream and a strawberry coulis. I wish so bad the brownie had more of the coulis; would have helped cut down on the richness of the brownie. The panna cotta was passable, but I haven’t had enough in general to be super judgmental of it.
Drinks for the evening were an unlimited, if not highly selective affair. In addition to a red wine, a white wine, and several beers (I was told the one I had was made locally, but by who I do not know), some specially cocktails were made for the event.
The Red Moonen was an interesting mix of tangy and spicy, reminiscent of Mexican and Asian flavors, except icy cold. I rather enjoyed it, and had several. The other, the Fair Conquistador, should have been wonderful. Strong on rum, coffee, and tropical flavors, it should have been delicious. Alas, neither myself nor some folks sitting near me could finish it. Such a shame.
Overall, it was a wonderful event, with quite delicious food, magnificent service, and an excuse to watch a TV cooking show. If another such event were held at that price point again, I’d happily go. If you find yourself around the Mandalay Bay and want to spend some money, RM Seafood’s a good place to spend it.
-Janette G (anarchymarie)