Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Las Vegas- Wynn- Corsa Cucina

We happened upon Corsa Cucina unexpectedly. After a long day, there is nothing quite so comforting as Italian cuisine. Perhaps it involves the rich deep flavors of roasted tomatoes combining with the ready companion basil that causes conversation to take a pause. Located within the new and posh for Las Vegas Wynn Resort, the colors of tomato red and deep chocolate browns and dark wood combine with light fixtures which are reminiscent of spaghetti noodles dripping down from the ceilings. Even the decor makes you want to pull up a chair and pick up a fork. We approached this meal as a family affair, agreeing to several menu options that would appease our hungry appetites.

As we waited for our salads and starters, we munched on pepperoni rolls and olive rolls. Apart from the typical caesar salad and mozzarella di buffala (caprese-style salad) we enjoyed a platter of their antipasti and the corsa salad composed of spinach, corn, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Among our entrees we ordered two of their popular wood-fired pizzas, one with wild mushrooms and truffle oil drizzled on top, and the other with grilled shrimp, tomato confit and arugula- the tastier and more fully rounded, flavor-wise of the two. I was most interested in their short rib of beef ragu, which did not disappoint. Lush and hearty, the ragu was offset by shaved parmesan reggiano and mezza penne pasta. This is the kind of dish that if you were alone at home, you could lick the bowl clean.

Even with our sweet tooths, we finished our meal on a savory note, sated and happy.

  • NOISE LEVEL: Loud, due to both club-like techno music and other patrons
  • PRICE: $$$
  • SERVICE: Good
  • GROUP FRIENDLY: Small groups and one-on-ones
  • COOL QUOTIENT: Cool enough for Steve Wynn.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

LA- Real Vegetarian Restaurant Delights

Good vegetarian food is hard to find. Usually vegetarian restaurants equate vegetarian cuisine with no spice, with bland food- as if only carnivores are entitled to a culinary good time. And so, it goes without saying that everytime I visit the metropolis that is overwhelmingly L.A. I find myself plotting a course to a vegetarian restaurant that "gets it." Real Food Daily is one of my favorite veggie haunts.

We always start our meals with the lentil and walnut pate, an amazing dip accompanied by rice crackers. I usually get the salisbury steak made of seitan with a side of their delicious mashed potatoes and gravy. This time, I decided to veer from the normal, taking our waiter's advice to try the Herbed Tofu Wrap. The menu described it as having a pesto spread and yet when it came, the majority of the wrap tasted like lettuce, which was a bit of a let-down, but the Asian slaw that accompanied it was yummy. My friend ordered their African Safari- which was delectably amazing. Their fresh beet, carrot and parsley juice really hit the spot.
We saved room for dessert and tried the chocolate bundt cake with a cashew butter center culminating a good meal. Real Food Daily has two locations- one in West Hollywood and another in Santa Monica.

I had the pleasure of meeting chef Ann Gentry at a food show over the weekend and her warmth and ebullience in her food emanate in her personality and spirit- now a new reason for me to return.

A few nights later, we found ourselves at another well esteemed and reputed vegetarian restaurant Native Foods and I could barely belive our luck at discovering two excellent vegetarian restaurants during this trip which show cuisine sans meat to be provocative and sensual. Native Foods in Costa Mesa has an interesting set-up where you order your meal at the front counter and they deliver it to one of the booths in this circular restaurant. They are purported to have a great housemade chai, which I found to be good, though a little sweet for my preference. We ordered our dishes- me- the "Rockin' Moroccan" a mix of "chickenless-chicken nuggets" with a spicy sauce over quinoa with veggies, currants and toasted almonds; Amy- the "Gandhi" grilled tempeh with rice (her tempeh was some of the best I've ever tasted); Nanci- "Fatoosh" which is a lebanese salad with pita chips acting as croutons. My dish would have been very good but it was so spicy all I tasted were the spices- they obliterated any other flavor from penetrating my palate. Alas. We split a trio of desserts- everything from our favorite "Peanut Butter Parfait", rich with the right texture, the "Chocolate Cake," which proved too dense for us; and the "Chocolate Pie" which was okay, but when contrasted with the Parfait, didn't hold a torch of comparison.

On the whole it was a delightful dining experience and the menu boasts enough options to return for a repeat visit.

Real Food Daily
  • NOISE LEVEL: It can be rather bustling but still comfortable.
  • GOOD FOR KIDS: probably not
  • PRICE: $$
  • SERVICE: Good
  • GROUP FRIENDLY: Better for small groups or one-on-ones since this place is usually packed.
  • COOL QUOTIENT: This is totally a hot spot for the vegetarian chic crowd.
Native Foods
  • NOISE LEVEL: A popular hang-out.
  • GOOD FOR KIDS: perhaps
  • PRICE: $
  • SERVICE: Good
  • GROUP FRIENDLY: Small groups or one-on-ones
  • COOL QUOTIENT: Another hot spot for the vegetarian chic crowd.

Monday, March 13, 2006

SF- Mona Lisa

We waited outside the restaurant Mona Lisa as the doorman assured us our table would be ready in the next few minutes. And so we perused their sidewalk menu that showcased 65 different handmade pasta dishes, in which my eye kept getting lost.

Once our table was ready all ten of us were shuttled to the back of the crowded restaurant. This place is loud, racucous and fun! We sat at a table shaped like a "t" and began the process of ordering. Appetizers consisted of prosciutto and melon, a traditional caprese salad, arranciata sicilian rice balls, which were creamy and rich delicacies, bruschetta, and fried calamari. The wine of choice was a table chianti and a table pinot noir.

The Chicken San Marino I ordered was perfect and delicious, so much so that I had to save the other half for another meal. The chicken was rolled around a slice of prosciutto and mozzarella oozed from the inside, when cut, and topped with a cream-tomato sauce. A side of penne and garlic sauteed spinach rounded out the meal. I tried my friend's Chicken Cacciatore which was delectably salty and full-flavored.

We had a great time and so it is easy for me to consider returning to Mona Lisa, but part of it was the lively company in attendance. My opera singer friend, sitting across from me, when the violinist walked toward our table playing "La Vie en Rose" began to sing along softly. She continued and allowed herself to sing full throttle, which commanded the attention of the tables nearby. When the song finished, applause broke out throughout the back of the restaurant- a sign of a winning evening and eating experience.

  • NOISE LEVEL: Loud and fun, but still able to hear the person seated nearby
  • GOOD FOR KIDS: probably not
  • PRICE: $
  • SERVICE: Great
  • GROUP FRIENDLY: Absolutely; I would venture to say it's more fun in a group.
  • COOL QUOTIENT: North Beach, the San Francisco version of "Little Italy"- a great area for locals and tourists alike.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

fun with sugar and chocolate

It's amazing really what a person can do with a little ingenuity... chocolate and burned sugar. Entries from the
New York Restaurant Show's "pastry competition."


-- "Groove is in the Heart" --
-- "Phantom of Mardi Gras" --
-- "Clowning Around" --
-- "Edible Flower Arrangement" --
-- "Chocolate Stairway to Heaven"- (Led Zeppelin would be so proud...) --

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

NYC- Pigalle

I had been waiting to catch a cab just around the corner when this bistro caught my eye. It's been a long time since I've been in France- about nine years really and the friendly exterior of this cafe looked so familiar and inviting, I waited until my last day in New York to grab a quick breakfast. I sidled up to the bar and ordered their breakfast croissant with a bowl of fruit. The croissant was buttery and warm on the inside with a slight crispness on the outside, then topped with egg, gruyere and several slices of bacon.

I ate half of this rich breakfast item and chatted in French with the bartender, who has been in the US only a few months, from the Cote d'Ivoire. I left with a full stomach and a smile on my face- both for the delicious breakfast that didn't break the bank and the fast, efficient service (not characteristic of France).

If I'm ever in the neighborhood again, this will be a place to return to with thoughts of the "goat cheese petatou" and either the "brandade de morue" or a personal favorite when prepared right- "boeuf bourgignon." Delicieux.
  • NOISE LEVEL: Lively, but not unbearable
  • GOOD FOR KIDS: sure
  • PRICE: $
  • SERVICE: Great
  • GROUP FRIENDLY: Small groups
  • COOL QUOTIENT: Midtown- close to the theatres and shops of Times Square.

Monday, March 06, 2006

NYC- Alfama

I met up with a high school friend for dinner Monday night. She suggested a Portuguese restaurant in the West Village area of town called Alfama. Her Portuguese boyfriend had brought her there to celebrate their first Valentine's Day and to this day it is their favorite Portuguese restaurant.

We stepped into the main room which reminded me of old Europe and is tastefully decorated.

We were informed by our server that they had just flown in the seafood from Portugal earlier that evening. The prix fixe menu selections sounded good to each of us and at $35 was a steal.

Cheryl and Alberto started out with appetizers of Polvo Grelhado, a dish of grilled octopus, bell peppers and tomatoes. I started out with the Caldo Verde, a savory potato broth soup with shredded collard greens and chorizo, that was a good way to whet the appetite.

As a main course, I ordered a dish with monkfish in a saffron sauce served atop a cilantro potato pancake. This dish continued to become more delicious as the fish and pancake began mixing in the saffron sauce. Ne'er a bite was left on the plate. They both ate the Mariscada Alfama, a seafood stew redolent with lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, monkfish and potatoes in a tomato-wine broth, which smelled and looked as though it was enjoyed since their plates were empty at the end.

A light dessert of berries and meringues in a vanilla sauce capped the meal off well. All in all a great meal. The only sore point we had with Alfama was our server's ineptitude that we chalked up to her potentially being new on the job. Case in point, Alberto asked for sugar and she brought the check because she thought that's what he'd asked for... Alfama would be worth another visit.

  • NOISE LEVEL: Quiet and intimate
  • GOOD FOR KIDS: Only quiet babies in baby carriers
  • PRICE: $$
  • SERVICE: Not Good
  • GROUP FRIENDLY: Possibly
  • COOL QUOTIENT: West Village, an intimate restaurant in a great area

Sunday, March 05, 2006

NYC- Nero

Flanked by seven Italian men, I had high hopes for the Italian restaurant Nero. We walked into the dimly lit main dining room with old world style light bulbs where the filaments are viewable, suspended above long wooden tables that beckon for family-style meals.

Their house Sangiovese was smooth and slightly fruity, making a great accompaniment to our upcoming meal. They brought out the requisite small baskets of artisan-baked bread and plates of extra virgin olive oil with a swirl of balsamic comingling. I started the meal with their beet salad, complemented with goat cheese, endive and olive oil. The salad's presentation was impressive even in the darkness, but the flavor was flat and not as nuanced as I would have liked- perhaps toasting the walnuts would have drawn out more of the natural sweetness of the beets, the edginess of the endive. I tried some of my friend's pasta with marinara sauce which was delectable, mostly due to the sauce's texture and full-bodied flavor.

Dinner consisted of their fusilli dish accented with parma prosciutto, shiitake mushrooms and scallions in a light cream sauce. The description conjured up a melange of salty and creamy goodness and again, I was disappointed with the final outcome, having to add salt that should have been readily found in the prosciutto. My friend ordered their wild mushroom risotto with foie gras, but couldn't taste the foie gras and we both left food on our plates.

I learned my lesson and chose not to order dessert, but instead tried one of the pistachio filled cream puffs... also bland. If I had to redo my experience at Nero, I would order the Marinara dish again. The company and ambiance were great. The restaurant needs to find its way.

  • NOISE LEVEL: Not bad on a Sunday night; the room is rather tight and would be rather loud when full.
  • GOOD FOR KIDS: Maybe during the daytime; definitely not at night
  • PRICE: $$
  • SERVICE: Good
  • COOL QUOTIENT: in the hip meatpacking district

NYC- Hotel Gansevoort

Sunday, we began our evening at the posh hotspot, the Hotel Gansevoort. Located in the meatpacking district of New York, I was told that supermodels and celebrities frequent their penthouse level on the weekends and it is near impossible for a plebeian to enter into the midst. We walked through a very spartan lobby which reminded me of Ian Schrager's work.

Exiting the elevator, we stepped out into the uber-chic penthouse level. One of the elements of the Gansevoort's penthouse is that it has a 360 degree view of the New York skyline. It also boasts three distinctly decorative rooms- a South Beachesque room, a Morocc
an style room and a sleek corporate-looking main room with leather ottomans dotting the ground. Immediately to the left of the elevator is the pool... and cabana area.

A good place for drinks, I ordered a passion fruit martini for a measly $15 and watched snippets of the Oscars on the giant flatscreen tv wall behind us as we laughed and enjoyed the beginning of our evening.

  • NOISE LEVEL: Not bad; Friday and Saturday nights would be off the hook.
  • PRICE: $$$
  • SERVICE: Good
  • GROUP FRIENDLY: Only if you hit it at the right time.
  • COOL QUOTIENT: Absolutely

Friday, March 03, 2006

Welcome to Puerta de la Panza

I endeavor to address trends within the foodservice/hospitality industry and provide cutting edge restaurant reviews and photos of tasty noshes derived from food-related excursions.

Let the palate be your guide...