Friday, June 29, 2007

The Ratings Explained

This post has been a long time coming, and finally here it is. I do my reviews mostly on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. Well, actually, it's more of a 0 to 6 scale, but zeros and sixes are quite rare. I start off each overview with the basic information, like this:

The Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge
2985 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas NV 89109
(702) 735-4177

Open for: 24 Hours a Day- Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night

Then comes the numerical bits of Atmosphere, Service, and Food:

Atmosphere: 5 (A testament to how tacky everything was in the 80s. I wouldn't want it any other way.)
Service: 4 (this time you could tell the waitresses got slammed at 3 AM, but everyone was friendly. And thank goodness, they still said good night when I left at 4!)
Food: 4 (Competent, generous, and for heavens' sakes get the coffee!)

Each of these goes off of the same scale:
6: Wow, this is the best I've ever had!
5: I loved it
4: I liked it
3: It's OK
2: I didn't like it
1: I hated it
0: Not Acceptable

The 0 rating happens when something happens that just plain should not exist in the course of dining. Two notable occurences were an atmosphere 0 for a bathroom that looked like it hadn't been cleaned in a week, and a service 0 when the counter person took something I had returned and put it back under the heat lamps. In both cases, there was just one thing to say: Eew. I always include a brief description to explain just why I gave that particular number.

Next up is:

Value 3 (Looks kind of pricey, but quality is good and portions can be gigantic)

This measures the kind of bang you get for your buck.
5: An absolute steal
4: Prices are a little low
3: Prices are reasonable
2: Prices are a little high
1: Rip-off!

I also mention a couple of special dining cases:
Kid Friendly: 4 (Kids will be very happy here)
Veg Friendly: 3 (With a menu this expansive, there are quite a few veg choices, but more on the breakfast menu than dinner. Vegan options are limited but do exist)

Both of these work pretty much the same way:
5: The restaurant specifically caters to this clientele (Chuck E Cheese and Green, respectively)
4: The restaurant put forth good effort to accomodate this clientele (Oregano's and Pita Jungle)
3: The restaurant has basic amenities for this clientele (Most restaurants)
2: The restaurant has limited options for this clientele (Delux and Texas Roadhouse)
1: The restaurant does not cater to this clientele (Mary Elaine's and Durant's)

Last is the Overall score, which works the same way as the Food/Service/Atmosphere rankings. Note that this is not an average! A place could have 4s across the board but still get a 3 or 5 just as easily due to those little unseen touches that bring everything together or pull everything apart.

Friday, June 15, 2007

From the mailbag

I just got a question from one of my readers through the nifty little Meebo box on the right hand side of the page. Since they left the page before I could respond, here's my reply.

I am looking for rock candy syrup for a mai tai recipe. Can I use grenadine?

The Jester Sez: Nope. Grenadine and rock candy syrup are completely separate ingredients; grenadine is (or at least is supposed to be) pomegranate flavor, rock candy syrup is a neutral flavor. Rock Candy syrup is more commonly known as simple syrup, which is available for sale at most liquor stores. Don't bother buying it, as it's incredibly easy to make at home. To make rock candy syrup, mix 1 pound of sugar (a little more than 2 cups) and a cup of water and heat either in the microwave or on the stove until the solution is completely clear. Store it in a bottle in the fridge. It keeps indefinitely. I don't know when grenadine found its way into the Mai Tai; I have a theory that a bartender somewhere used creme de noyaux (a pink almond liqueur) as a substitution for orgeat, and someone who watched him thought the red liquid was grenadine. However it happened, grenadine should not go in a Mai Tai.

If you ever have any questions, whether about cooking something you see here, local restaurants, or food in general, meebo me! If I'm not around, you can always leave a message. Hint: If you want to catch me live, I'm usually on late at night.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dinner for that movie coming out

As you may well know by now, Pixar is releasing the movie Ratatouille at the end of this month. After watching a clip on the movie's site, I have a feeling this is going to be every bit as much of a joy to watch as other classic food films such as Like Water for Chocolate and Big Night. This could very well be a good occasion to go to see this at a drive-in, since that way we can bring our own food. And with a movie featuring French cooking enough that the name of the movie is a Provençale dish, I'm putting together a menu of deliciousness from southeastern France.

Pissaladière (onion tart with anchovy and olives)

Main course
Poulet Provençal (chicken braised in tomato, garlic, and herbs)
served with baguettes, roasted red potatoes, and ratatouille (of course!)

Raspberry gratin

There's strong temptation to do some kind of salad after the main, but I think three courses for a drive-in movie dinner should be more than enough.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Burger Bar- Mandalay Bay

forgot to take pic. damn. Burger Bar serves up without a doubt THE best burger I have had. Wow. My favorite was Delux until I tried this burger. Delux is no slouch and this is head and shoulders above Delux. The menu is much more expansive than that of Delux, with three different kinds of beef to select (including American Kobe, but what's the point of American Kobe when it's ground anyway?), turkey and veggie options, five bread choices, and a list of toppings that ranges from classic (Cheddar cheese, sauteed mushrooms) to eccentric (grilled asparagus, beetroot pickle), to extravagant (black truffles, lobster, foie gras). I had a burger of Ridgefield Farms beef ($8) on ciabatta with blue cheese ($0.50), grilled onion ($0.95), peppered bacon ($0.95) (Did I mention they offer four different kinds of bacon?), and truffle sauce ($5), cooked medium-rare. For sides, my friend and I got some of their sweet potato fries ($2.50) and onion rings ($3.25).

Yeah, I was pushing close to 20 bucks for a burger and fries. I blame the truffle sauce. It was easily worth every last dime. Everything came together brilliantly well, and you could still taste the beef under the rich ingredients. The ciabatta did its job marvelously, offering support without collapsing halfway through, adding its own note the the taste without dominating the bite like those ciabatta burgers at Jack In The Box. The sides were both exemplary; the sweet potato fries were the crispest that I've had, and the onion rings were a rare example of the thick-breaded rings that didn't get pulled from a freezer bag. Everything was just marvelous; the food was perfect, the servers amazingly attentive without being obtrusive, and the design of the place allowed for a raucous crowd and fairly loud music but still let you converse at normal volumes. I just got word down the pipe that there's a new burger place at Fashion Show Mall called Stripburger, but they're going to have an awfully hard time pulling me away from repeated visits to Burger Bar every time I'm in Vegas.

Burger Bar
3930 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Atmosphere: 5 (Very nice looking, and perfect acoustic design)
Service: 5 (The whole package, outgoing, friendly, attentive without being obtrusive)
Food: 6! (Seriously the best burger I have had)
Value: 3 (Prices can sneak up on you with added toppings, but worth it)
Kid Friendly: 2 (It's a sports bar atmosphere, I didn't see many kids at all)
Veg friendly: 3 (They do have a vegan veggie burger on the menu)
Overall: 5 (If you enjoy a great burger, you simply have to go to Burger Bar)

chocolat at the wynn

the feuillante (hazelnut) is very good, the earl grey tea one is almost too good for words. such swirling flavors in one little bite! you have to stop and try one when you are at the wynn.

real breakfast: lenotre, paris lv

no picture, you know what a croissant looks like. I had a latte and pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant). The latte was decent, nothing outstanding but when it's before 9 am for me, warm and caffeinated is plenty. The pain au chocolat was definitely one of the better I've had, with its taste pushing that of brioche, with a hint of a sweet note and just a little bit of tanginess from something, maybe the yeast. I prefer my criossant based pastries to be ultra-flaky to the point that you are showered in crumbs, but this one resolutely held together thanks to an egg wash. I would imagine that the scores of conventioneers who stop by here because of its proximity to Paris's meeting halls are less appreciative of crumbs than I am.

Lenôtre at Paris Las Vegas
3655 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas NV 89109
(702) 946-7000

Open for: Breakfast, 6:30 AM-11PM
Atmosphere: 3 (Most of the atmospheric touches were provided by the gift shop in the back)
Service: 3 (I was handled by several people, ranging from very friendly to quite brusque)
Food: 4 (Good, solid pastries)
Value 2 (a bit on the steep side, but then, this is the Strip)
Kid Friendly: 3 (Nothing obviously made for kids, but they won't feel left out)
Veg Friendly: 4 (It's pastries! Due to what must be vast amounts of butter, vegans may feel left out)
Overall: 3 (Good for a quick stop if you're in the area, but I wouldn't go out of my way)

3 am breakfast- peppermill las vegas

When you're in Vegas and it's getting to be so late it's early, there's only one real option for where to go for food: the Peppermill. It's a 24 hour restaurant up on the north end of the Strip, near Circus Circus. The place is a bastion of old-school Las Vegas; it was built in the mid-1970s, and remodeled once in the 1980s. The result is a glorious mix of both times. U-shaped booths abound (and once I have bought a house I'm going to eschew the dining room table in favor of a booth styled after the ones at Peppermill), there are huge fake cherry trees illuminated by color changing floodlights, the waitresses' uniforms are this incredibly gaudy floral print, the cocktail waitresses sashay about the dining room in what has to be *the* perfect black dress, and the whole place is lit in shades of magenta and turquoise. It really has to be seen to be believed. The food there is pretty decent; it's a step above normal coffee shop fare, and the portions are ridiculously big. It's the perfect thing to cap off a night of craziness in Vegas. If I'm there with a group, I love to split the Fruit Salad. When it comes to the table, it looks like the waitress just dropped off Carmen Miranda's hat. But this time, I was alone, so instead I had:

the Peppermill omelet- turkey, two cheeses, hollandaise, and sliced tomato. The omelet itself was kind of boring (what did I expect from a turkey and cheese omelet, really?), but was certainly jazzed up by the tangy tomato and surprisingly good Hollandaise. The hashbrowns are perfect, a delicious mix of tender white bits and little crunchy nubs that were *this* close to overcooking. I love it when places are willing to actually cook the hash browns; so often you get this pale blond mat of shredded spuds, and those just don't do anything for me. The coffee is absolutely the best anywhere. It's the thick, rich kind you can practically stand up the spoon in. It's marvelous black (and indeed about the only coffee shop coffee I've found that I'll take black) and only gets better with just a touch of cream and sugar.

The Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge
2985 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas NV 89109
(702) 735-4177

Open for: 24 Hours a Day- Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night
Atmosphere: 5 (A testament to how tacky everything was in the 80s. I wouldn't want it any other way.)
Service: 4 (this time you could tell the waitresses got slammed at 3 AM, but everyone was friendly. And thank goodness, they still said good night when I left at 4!)
Food: 4 (Competent, generous, and for heavens' sakes get the coffee!)
Value 3 (Looks kind of pricey, but quality is good and portions can be gigantic)
Kid Friendly: 4 (Kids will be very happy here)
Veg Friendly: 3 (With a menu this expansive, there are quite a few veg choices, but more on the breakfast menu than dinner. Vegan options are limited but do exist)
Overall: 5 (One of those times when the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Short Treatise on a Favorite Beverage

It has now been a full year since Trader Vic's has opened its doors in Scottsdale once more. I feel extremely blessed to be a part of it from the beginning. The anniversary kind of snuck up on all of us; we've been having so much fun at the restaurant that it hasn't felt even close to a year. We've seen faces come and go, and still people come in at a pretty darn good rate. And I've come to appreciate even more the craft of the cocktail. Vic really knew what he was doing ages ago, and his spirit definitely lives on in all of the spirits we serve today. My favorite is our signature drink, the classic Mai Tai.

The Mai Tai at Trader Vic's is completely unlike anything else I've been served with the same name. So many places load theirs up with tropical juices and heavy syrups, and the result is a saccharine concoction that might as well just be fruit punch. At Vic's, the recipe is very simple; just our Royal Amber Rum, fresh lime, sweet orange, and a little hint of almond to round things out.

The Mai Tai got its start way back in 1944 at the original Trader Vic's on 65th and San Pablo in Oakland (the area is now Emeryville), California. One day, Vic decided to create a new drink, something he had done quite a few times in the past. He started out with great rum, a 17-year Jamaican from J. Wray & Nephew. He added a little Holland DeKuyper Orange Curaçao, some Garnier orgeat syrup from France, the juice of a lime, and a dollop of Rock Candy Syrup. He gave it a mighty shake with some crushed ice, poured it into a glass, and was about to taste his new creation when he found out that a couple of friends of his from Tahiti, Ham and Carrie Guild, had just come in to the restaurant. Vic had the bartenders make a couple more of this new drink, and he took them out to the Guilds. He offered it to them, mentioning that they were the first to taste it, and tell him what they thought. Carrie took a sip. Her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, "This is maitai! It's maitai roa a'e!" To which Vic naturally could only say one thing... "What the hell does that mean?" Carrie replied that it's Tahitian for "Out of this world, the best"*. So, Vic decided at that point to call it the Mai Tai. It's one of the rare exceptions to my Chowhound Rule Of Thumb #2- the Mai Tai's name means "good", and it is very good indeed.

Nowadays, it's impossible to truly make the original Mai Tai, as Trader Vic's exhausted the world supply of J. Wray & Nephew 17-year just one year after the drink's creation, and Garnier doesn't make orgeat anymore. Thankfully, J. Wray & Nephew is still making rum, now under the name of Appleton Estate, and Dekuyper is certainly still making orange curaçao. There are several brands of orgeat available; I favor Torani because it uses real sugar. So, I now present my house version of the Original Mai Tai:

2 ounces Appleton Estate Extra (the black label one)
1/2 ounce DeKuyper Orange Curaçao
1/2 ounce Torani Orgeat Syrup
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 ounce Rock Candy Syrup

Shake very well with 2 cups of crushed ice. Pour into a glass without straining, and garnish with a sprig of mint (and a speared maraschino cherry and pineapple tidbit if you have them handy).

There's a couple of things that I should take the time to explain about two of the ingredients. Buying crushed ice at the grocery store won't work, it's not crushed enough. You can crush ice at home with an ice crusher, a halfway decent blender, or by putting ice in a plastic bag, wrapping it with a towel, and beating the hell out of it with a heavy blunt object (I favor a marble rolling pin, you may get better mileage out of a mallet or cast iron skillet). There is also a good chance that you can get your hands on some finely crushed ice (the same kind we use at the restaurant, as far as I can tell) just by visiting your local Sonic Drive-In. Just ask the friendly carhop, and you should be able to get your hands on a bunch. The other thing to explain is the Rock Candy syrup, also known as simple syrup. There are a number of brands out there that you can buy, and I don't recommend any of them. It's incredibly easy to make at home. I use a double strength one in the Mai Tai; just combine 1 pound of sugar with 1 cup of water, and heat either in the microwave or on the stove until the liquid is completely clear and there are no signs of sugar granules anywhere. Pour it into a bottle, and store in the fridge. It keeps indefinitely. You can make a normal strength solution with equal amounts sugar and water (use twice as much if you do), but don't try making one stronger than listed here; if you do, it will spontaneously crystallize and you'll be left with a very difficult to clean bottle (but a massive chunk of rock candy to show for it).

*She's right, "maitai" means good, roa and a'e both act as affirmative enhancements. The closer literal translation would be "It's good! It's really, REALLY good!"

Monday, June 04, 2007

News from the Eastern Bandido Front

I recently stopped in at the Chandler location of the incredibly delicious Chino Bandido Takee-Outee for lunch, and had a chance to chat with the counter girl a bit. You see, the Chandler Chino's got robbed a couple of weeks ago, and they were thinking of closing up shop in a month or two. This, of course, would not be a good thing for my friends in the East Valley who are all now addicted to Chino Bandido. Apparently, they are now getting back on their feet (and are now able to accept plastic again), and much like the opening of the Chandler one, talks about closing it are being delayed. As many times as the opening of it got delayed by one thing or another, if the place ever closes, they'll probably start talking about it in earnest some time in late 2015 or so.

The biggest thing that will help keep the place alive is to EAT AT CHINO'S! Especially for dinner; the place is always hopping at lunch but then it's nobody but the staff and the crickets after that. Remember the Takee-Outee part... you can bring home Jade Red Chicken quesadillas for the whole family. Frank, Eve, and Pancho will all thank you.