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Ichiza (Las Vegas, NV) – An Oasis in the Desert

August 1, 2010

I used to think I knew Vegas. I know my way up and down the Strip. I can lead you through most major casinos, both sober and drunk. I know where to find a 2-minute taxi line at the MGM on fight night. Yet somehow, I didn’t know of Ichiza until a month ago.

Located on the second floor of a random shopping center off the Strip, Ichiza is small Japanese izakaya that’s open til 4AM on the weekends. Prices are reasonable – about $5-7/plate – and the food is absolutely fantastic.

Their printed menu isn’t very comprehensive; the majority of their dishes are hand written and plastered against the walls. Therefore, do what my friends did and just ask your waitress what is good or what she recommends. (Otherwise, you’re never going to be able to figure out what they have that day.)

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Below is just a smattering of what Ichiza has to offer. As mentioned, the menu was hard to piece together so I’m not sure what the official name of any of these dishes below are. I’m naming them based on what I’ve been able to dig up on the internet so, if you go, please forgive me if the waitress doesn’t understand what you’re talking about.

Yellowtail Tartare

Fresh yellowtail and avocado tartare on a fried tortilla chip with rice, lettuce and pico de gallo. It’s not very Japanese and the combination sounds a little offbeat, but it works really well. I’d recommend ordering more than one order – this was my favorite of the night.

Fried Spanish Mackerel

Pop a bite-sized mackerel into your mouth, bones and all – *crunch!* The fried fish had the right amount of salt as is, so I didn’t bother using the accompanying spicy mayo. Who knew fish would be such a good late night snack?

Fried Shrimp

I typically don’t eat shrimp whole but these shrimp are so small, you’re not ordering them for their meat. You are, however, ordering them for that salty, fried crunch you taste when chomping down on their thin shells. (They’re very similar to the fried Spanish mackerel, but I think I texturally like the mackerel slightly more.)

Chicken Gizzards with Green Beans

The gizzards were garlicky and well seasoned, although the texture was a little bit too chewy for my taste. (This was, however, my first time trying gizzards so I wouldn’t know what a well-cooked gizzard’s texture would taste like.)

Chicken Don

The one truly traditional Japanese dish we ordered, their chicken don was everything it was supposed to be: Warm eggs, tender chicken, flavorful rice, hearty, comforting…

Bacon Wrapped Mochi

Its name says it all: Bacon wrapped mochi. Chewy white mochi, wrapped in salty, porky bacon. It tastes exactly what you’re imagining it tastes like. (Delicious!)

Deep Fried Bacon and Mozzarella Wrapped Zucchini

Mozzarella. Zucchini. Bacon. Fried crust. Mushroom sauce. I’m not sure how this concoction was created but it’s surprisingly good. I wouldn’t have guessed it was mozzarella if it wasn’t for someone telling me. The zucchini is subtle and is almost overpowered by the bacon (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).

Kimchi Pork

The kimchi pork was not bad, but not as strong as some of the other dishes we ordered. It’s like they stir-fried some kimchi and bulgogi and then poured it over a plate of cabbage. Although it was unimpressive while I was sober, I could see this being really tasty with a bowl of rice after a drunken night.

Tom Yum Roll

Just thinking of how to describe it throws me for a loop – both Vietnamese and Japanese, it doesn’t favor one influence over the other. I can only say it’s like the love child of a spring roll and a sushi roll.

Honey Toast with Vanilla Ice Cream

If I were to order this again, I’d order just one for myself, cut off all the crusts and just dig into the soft, chewy bread on the inside. The inner portion is like a sponge, absorbing all the honey and melted ice cream. Each bite is sugary, starchy goodness.

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(How did I go so long without knowing about Ichiza? Why didn’t I go earlier?)

Ichiza
4355 Spring Mountain Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 367-3151

Ichiza Sake House on Urbanspoon

Aureole (Las Vegas, NV) / Charlie Palmer @ Bloomingdale’s (Costa Mesa, CA) – CPx2

March 23, 2010

That’s right, this is going to be a double dose of Charlie Palmer, pioneer of progressive American Cuisine! Charlie Palmer + Charlie Palmer! CPx2!

(…Okay, enough of that. Can you tell I can’t think of any ideas for a lead in? I’m just going to get right into this.)

Aureole

I’m going to straight with you: This is going to be a biased review.

My mistake wasn’t making a reservation at Aureole; the mistake was keeping it after a long, hard night of drinking. The morning of my Aureole reservation, I found myself lying in bed with a hangover and a craving for the cheapest steak and eggs I could find on the Strip. After pounding down a whole steak, two eggs over easy, a side of toast and god knows how many cups of coffee, my headache and nausea had subsided…but so had my hunger for food.

I may have lost my appetite that day, I’d like to think my sense of taste remained relatively intact (whether it actually was, you can decide). Thus, taste away I did.

(The stark white exterior is a foreshadowing of its the cold white interior.)

The first thing I noticed when I descended down the staircase into Aureole’s dining room was the sterility of the restaurant. I typically love modern design but the glass tower coupled with the cavernous room made the whole area seem cold and unemotional (especially after L’Atelier’s bustling open kitchen the night before). I pictured the dining space circling Aureole’s signature 42-foot glass wine tower, making it the center of attention; however, in reality, the wine tower acted more as a dividing wall than a focus piece and I sat with my back facing the tower for the entire night.

As mentioned, I wasn’t hungry when I arrived at dinner so I ordered from the 3-course theater menu and added the starter of the trio of house cured salmon. The trio had a wide range of flavor combinations, from the familiar creamy dill in the gravlax to the unique citrus tones in the pepper crusted salmon.

My first course, the Thai popcorn shrimp, was more a soup than an appetizer. The curry flavor in the spicy coconut broth was bold and had a lingering kick to it, which was completely unexpected. To drink a whole bowl was overwhelming – I picked the morsels of shrimp from the depths of the broth and moved on.

The pork scallopini was uneventful both times I tried it (I tried it twice as I had most of it boxed up to go). The cream sauce was thick and the pork was charred…I picked out the noodles instead as they were delightfully chewy.

Dessert was a banana bread pudding – that’s all I remember about that.

Considering the circumstances and taking into account my incapacitated position, Aureole still did not meet my expectations. As I previously mentioned, this is somewhat of a biased review so take from this what you want. All I can say is, even thinking back on the experience now, I still can’t say I fully enjoyed my meal at Aureole.

Aureole
3950 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119
(702) 632-7401
Website: http://www.charliepalmer.com/

Aureole (Mandalay Bay) on Urbanspoon

Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s

(As the name implies, this is Charlie Palmer’s restaurant. It’s next to a Bloomingdale’s.)

The lounge in Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s is as hip as Aureole in Las Vegas is sterile. When I walked in, I immediately thought to myself,

“I don’t think I’m cool enough for this place.”

I don’t find myself in the heart of Orange County often, but work has sent me to this far away land and I told myself I would make the best of the situation. Thus, when I discovered the nearby Charlie Palmer had two happy hours a day (with the second one going from 10PM-midnight) and that I would be able to sneak out early sometime mid-week, I made sure to take advantage.

I expected to roll in dressed in my normal number crunching uniform, find myself a little corner spot to bunker down with my ethics textbook, grab a glass of wine and a couple appetizers and enjoy Charlie’s only California establishment. Instead I find myself feeling thoroughly under dressed, awkwardly sitting in a corner booth of a place that sounded like an LA club with matching clientele. (Again, note: This was at 10:30PM on a Wednesday night. Not quite what I had imagined.)

Although I felt sorely out of place, I wasn’t going to deny myself food and wine just because I looked like an accountant in a club. I promptly ordered myself a glass of wine, and three appetizers: the bone marrow, a seafood sausage and a truffle grilled cheese.

My favorite of the three was definitely the bone marrow, with its pickled onions and slightly sugary raisins. The sweetness was enjoyable, not overpowering, and the vinegar cut through the buttery marrow, adding a touch of tang to every bite. My only qualm with the dish was that half of my toast was burnt, which resulted in my overloading the non-burnt pieces with heaping lumps of marrow.

According to the waitress, the seafood sausage was a recent addition to the menu, only added a couple weeks prior. The sausages are made in house and are composed of a mix of shrimp, scallops, salmon and bass. Reminiscent of fish balls you may find in Asian supermarkets, the seafood sausage was actually smoother in texture and much softer, almost like the inside of a perfectly cooked scallop. However, the one I received was over seasoned and required a nibble of bread with every bite to counter the salt.

The truffle mac and cheese was probably the most underwhelming dish of the three as it was simply a grilled cheese sandwich with a hint of truffle. Nothing spectacular, almost one note – I wished I had tried something a bit more adventurous instead.

All in all, once I got my food and settling in with book in hand, it was actually quite an enjoyable experience. Not quite the quiet night I expected but hey – the wine was half-off, the food met expectations and I got some work done to boot. Next time I’ll just remember to bring a change of clothes…

Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s
3333 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 352-2525
Website: http://www.charliepalmer.com/

Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza on Urbanspoon

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Las Vegas, NV) – A Homecoming

November 25, 2009

I love Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is like my second home. I enjoy every moment when I’m there and I miss it when I’m gone. Recently Vegas has become my escape – a place to forget about work and Corporate America, a place to pretend I’m someone I’m not and immerse myself in the little pleasures in life.

L’Atelier is one of those little pleasures. When Vegas calls me home, L’Atelier is there to meet me at the door.

(Welcome home.)

I’ve been to L’Atelier twice now and I see no signs of stopping. My first time, I ordered the L’Unique menu (a three course meal that is brought out all at once) with an order of the foie gras ravioli a la carte. Surprisingly, it was not the ravioli but the chicken broth in which they were swimming in that blew my mind away. It was comforting and familiar, rich and exquisite…

I knew I had to return.

This time around, I splurged. I knew what L’Atelier was capable of and I wanted to try its best! I found myself ordering the Discovery Menu – a nine course degustation that I hoped would both exemplify its strengths and, at the same time, soothe my tired soul.

The menu started off strong – you can never go wrong when you start with foie. Our amuse bouche, a foie gras parfait with a port wine and parmesan foam, was a spoonful of bliss.

Course 2: King Crab on a Turnip Disc with a Sweet and Sour Sauce

Our next course, le crabe royale, was delicate and fresh.

Soon after, the courses wavered a bit. The scallop, although perfectly cooked, only had that *wow* factor if you were greeted with the crunch of sea salt in that same bite. The white onion tart with bacon and mushrooms was good but with the time-tested combination of bacon, mushrooms and onions, how could it not?

Course 5: Duck Foie Gras with Confit Quince and Yuzu

The fifth course was another foie dish: buttery foie gras in an unadulterated form…Mmm. However, the richness of the foie overpowered the dover sole in the sixth course, smothering it with the taste of the past. By the time the seventh course arrived (yet another foie dish – a foie-stuffed free range quail), I was full.

(As a side note: You know you’ve spoiled yourself when you’re bored with the taste of foie.)

Course 7: Grapefruit Infused with Prosecco with Lychee Sorbet

Luckily, L’Atelier had a trick up its sleeve to perk up my palate. The menu simply said “grapefruit infused with Prosecco with lychee sorbet” but what it failed to note were the Pop Rocks that lined the rim of the bowl and the Rice Krispies that lay hidden below the sorbet. The crackling of candy and cereal against the cold lychee sorbet sparked just enough appetite to finish the last course (a chocolate cake with espresso ice cream).

And thus the meal was complete. I sipped my cappuccino, gathered all my strength, then threw myself back into the world. Who knows if I’ll survive the next battle in life but if anything happens…well…at least I can always go home.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
MGM Grand
3799 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 891-7358
Website: http://www.mgmgrand.com/restaurants/
Twitter: @robuchonlv

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon

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