5-15-16 / Javier’s / Las Vegas, NV

Sunday for lunch we went to In N Out Burger  around the corner from our hotel. Unfortunately, I demolished my double double with tomato, mustard, and fried onions with animal style fries before I could think to take a picture. I’m just glad there aren’t any close locations, not that I would make it a regular thing, but it could be very, very dangerous on certain occasions.

 

Sunday night we found ourselves in a difficult position. It was late (around 10:30) and it was Sunday night. Baffling as it seems, places in Vegas (especially restaurants of worth) close on Sunday nights. We found our options limited, but luckily the list I’d prepared beforehand had a couple of opportunities still available. Not wanting to break the streak of eating almost solely at the Aria, we went back to hit up Javier’s. Super hip and far too cool for us (even on a Sunday night) they shoved us in a table in the back and stopped by as infrequently as possible. It’s hard to judge a place on its service when they’re closing within the hour, but it was pretty rough. We only got to enjoy half of our (incredibly fresh and flavorful) chips and salsa, before they were taken away while we were enjoying our appetizer of the (not pictured) Queso Fundido. Far from the traditional, gooey and flavorful dip, it was more a plate of melted monterey jack cheese with some roasted onions, mushrooms, and chiles mixed in. The tortillas served on the side were stale (possibly cooked earlier in the week or off-site) and did the dip no favors. I was looking forward to returning to the delicious chips and salsa afterwards, but as I mentioned earlier, they were taken away.

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My wife’s entree was the “Milanesa de Pollo” (Chicken Milanese) one of the “Especiales de la Casa” (House Specialties). It was served with pure de papas (the mashed potatoes featured above) and chile en rajas, featured closer to the camera. The chicken and mashed potatoes were fine, nothing special, certainly not deserving an esteemed location as a house special. The standout was the cheesy, sweet, and spicy chile en rajas, a dish I wasn’t previously familiar with. Smoked and grilled chiles, with fresh corn and grilled green pepper, all mixed with a queso fresco and topped with cotija cheese. It was an excellent side dish and deserved far more from its compatriots.

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Unfortunately, my dish was wildly uneven as well. I ordered the Trio de Enchilades del Mar, featuring one crab, lobster, and shrimp enchilada, each topped with their own sauce and filled with their own fillings. At least, that’s how it was described. It ended up all melding together into a citrusy, green chile flavor, that was again, fine. The standouts were the fresh, succulent shrimp and huge chunks of fresh, jumbo lump crab meat. With proteins this delicious and fresh, something far more expressive should have come through the dish. The tortillas and sour cream and shredded radish and BLACK OLIVES(?) all just seemed to be sitting around, waiting for their turn to either be thrown out or on this dish. It was so strange for me to have such a wide variance in quality of ingredients on such a plate, but it was unfortunately the case. Again, none of it was particularly bad, it just didn’t seem to want to come together to work cohesively.

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The true MVP of the night (other than the truly delicious chips and salsa) was the Fried Ice Cream for dessert. A softball-sized orb of homemade vanilla bean ice cream sat completely studded with corn flakes, tortilla pieces, and peanuts atop a salad bowl made of fried dough covered in sugar, cinnamon, and honey. A giant melty ball of crunch and sweet, this was everything I’ve ever wanted in fried ice cream and more. This was the poster that the dessert of the same name that I ate growing up used to keep on its ceiling. This is the dessert that the dessert I’d thought I’d enjoyed previously only fantasized of being. This is “Las Vegas” in a dessert: too big, too sweet, too crunchy, too much, much too much, but oh so sinfully good. Also enjoyed, but not pictured or truly recommended, were the drinks (the Javier’s Martini on the rocks, a tequila mix with citrus that was fairly standard and a Jalapeno Margarita that would have benefitted from being far spicier and less sweet).

So if you find yourself wandering the Aria some night, long after the other restaurants have closed and you have a hole in your stomach the size of a volleyball that smells faintly of fried ice cream, then stop on down to Javier’s and order yourself one. I can make no promises on how many chips and how much salsa you’ll get, so eat quickly!

5-14-16 / Jean-Philippe Patisserie / Las Vegas, NV

Finding ourselves wandering around the Aria looking for an afternoon treat, we made a bee-line to Jean Philippe PatisserieEnormous glass cases full of over 20 different types of pastries and sweets. Each individual pastry looked like a work of art and it was very difficult to narrow the decision. Ultimately, we decided on the Imperial and a Nutella Brioche.

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The Imperial was a chocolate mousse cake, filled with a hazelnut cream, over chopped hazelnuts and toffee, draped in a dark chocolate and topped with a white chocolate truffle. Everything (other than the gold saucer) in this image is edible. It was rich, velvety-smooth chocolate studded with crunchy bits of salty and sweet toffee. Luscious and gorgeous to look at and enjoy.

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The Nutella Brioche was a stunning behemoth of soft, buttery pastry that just flaked apart, filled with easily a golf-ball sized portion of creamy, homemade hazelnut chocolate fudge. It was topped with milk chocolate crispy bites. Incredibly fresh and perfectly crafted, with just a light dusting of powdered sugar, I was thankful for the strong iced coffee I enjoyed alongside it to cut through the sweet richness of the two desserts.

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Our friends also enjoyed desserts (from left to right): A Vanilla Egg Custard, Raspberry and White Chocolate Tart, and Lemon Meringue Tart. The egg custard was very mild in  flavor, lacking in strong vanilla or egg flavors, but the crispy and flaky phyllo dough shell, did a nice job counterbalancing the heavy and thick pudding interior. The Raspberry and White Chocolate Tart was stunning in it’s rich and powerful layer of white chocolate beneath the sugar-syrup enrobed raspberries. The punch of tart and sweet fruit rose beautifully above the incredible white chocolate and cakey shell. Easily, my favorite bite of the three options. Finally, the Lemon Meringue Tart had a gorgeous crispy meringue that broke apart from the custardy lemon filling in both texture and taste. Unfortunately, the tart shell was very hard to cut into and made taking a bite of the beautiful pastry quite a feat.

Hard to miss and even harder to pass up, you owe it to yourself to enjoy a feast for both the eyes and stomach.

5-14-16 / Lemongrass / Las Vegas, NV

For the morning of Saturday, May 14th we had reservations made for brunch at Bardot Brasserie in the Aria. Unfortunately, when we were in the car on the way over we received a call informing us that there was a problem in the kitchen and they would be closing for brunch. Forced with a quick decision, I suggested we go to Lemongrass (also located within the Aria Resort & Casino) instead. It wasn’t a traditional brunch, but it was still enjoyable.

We decided to take advantage of the rotating dim sum cart and ordered the above pictured BBQ Pork Bun, Pork and Shrimp Sui Mai, and Bean Curd Wrapped Pork and Shrimp. Also (not pictured) the BBQ Pork Ribs, and two Chicken Basil Buns. The BBQ Pork Bun were the highlight with big chunks of succulent pork in a sweet and vinegary sauce, encased in a sweet steamed bun. The bun was substantial enough to make the dumpling into an almost stuffed sandwich of sorts, with a far sweeter dough than I’m used to, but it was a welcome foil to the spicy and vinegary pork. The sui mai also fared well from a very rough chop, far from the usual sausage-like texture of most dumpling fillings. Large chunks of sweet shrimp and salty pork were held lightly by the egg noodle wrapper. The bean curd wrapper on the pork and shrimp suffered from over-steaming, causing the wrapper to be limp and reject most of the caramel sweet and sour sauce. The ribs were excellent, steamed and chopped up into small pieces to allow the gristle and bones to be separated and discarded, but far from the traditional “american” concept of a rib. The chicken basil buns were fairly standard flat discs of dough, similar to what you may see an open-faced pork belly bun served in, with an incredibly flavorful mixture of tiny pieces of ground, seasoned chicken, and large pieces of fried basil. They turned out to be quite difficult to eat, but well-worth the effort.

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After the heavy meal of the night before, I opted for something much lighter for brunch: the Thai Crab Omelette. Overstuffed with large chunks of jumbo lump crab meat, egg, and chopped with fried thai basil, this dish was simple, but effective in its goal. Extremely filling, the sweet crab and herbal basil balanced the crispy and salty fried egg omelette out beautifully. The garlic chili hot sauce (their homemade version of a sriracha) provided a nice zip of vinegar and punch to an otherwise sweet and salty dish. It was a huge portion and kept me full all day.

My wife enjoyed the Three Cups Chicken, a standard basil chicken hot pot dish far more familiar in Chinese cuisine than Thai. That didn’t stop the huge chunks of fresh white breast meat, ginger, basil, sesame oil, and Shaoxing wine from all working together in symphony to provide a harmonious and balanced hot pot. The sauce was so luxurious and thick, I was tempted to drink it from the bowl, but I opted for a Thai Iced Coffee instead. The heavy, powerful coffee drink with the thick, sweet syrup, was more like a coffee milkshake than a standard drink, but it was excellent nonetheless.

Overall, it wasn’t our first choice in dining for that specific meal, but it was a very enjoyable experience nonetheless.