Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Little Piece of Paris at the Venetian in Vegas

Bouchon Bistro
3355 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 
Las Vegas, NV, 89109

Breakfast in Vegas can be a little tricky. For one thing, you really have to want it. After late nights of shows, gambling, and drinking, you might want to forgo the first meal of the day to get some extra hours of sleep. Then if you really make up your mind to experience a Vegas breakfast, you have to decide where to go. For me, I want something I can't get at home. something special. a breakfast that will be talked about long after I've returned home. I was hoping that Bouchon Bistro would be that place on this trip.

Bouchon is a Thomas Keller restaurant. His restaurants are some of the worlds most dreamed about by foodies, such as myself. A dinner at French Laundry in Yountville would not just be a meal, it would be an experience, and I have it on my bucket list of places to eat someday. Keller's other restaurants are Ad Hoc, also in Yountville, Per Se in New York City, and his line of Bouchon restaurants, which have now spawned Bouchon Bakery and Bar Bouchon. He's written cookbooks, publishes a magazine, been on numerous TV shows, won almost all major restaurant awards, his restaurants have been on more best of lists than anyone else, and his places win Michelin stars like they are going out of style. I'd sum him up by saying that Thomas Keller is like the Oprah Winfrey of the food world. With all of this buildup, I was hoping this was going to be a great breakfast.

Bouchon is located at the Venetian, in the Venezia Tower, which you access from an elevator right next to the hotel's front desk. Take it up 10 floors, turn left, and walk down an impressive hallway, and it'll be on your right. We arrived at close to 11 on a recent Wednesday morning. We did not have any trouble getting a table, and were sat right away. I'm not so sure that this is the norm though, but they do take reservations, but only for dinner.

Opened since 2004, the space overlooks the pool area of the Venetian. With its natural light, white linens, and tiled floor, I'd describe the vibe here as relaxed elegance. I felt comfortable eating here in shorts and a collared shirt, while business people wearing suits were trying to broker a deal at the next table. The brunch menu is decidedly French influenced. Entrees are listed in French, but explained perfectly in English underneath. I already knew what I was going to have, thanks to my habit of looking at menus before we reach a place, and even Katie had made her decision rather quickly. Let's check out the grub at Bouchon.

Katie started things off with the Baguette with Nutella ($5). I had thought that they would make their own Nutella here, but according to our server, it's just out of the jar. The bread was delicious with the jarred Nutella, or the provided butter and strawberry jam. Good crust to the bead, with a soft inside. Everything you would want from bread, and a wonderful start to Katie's meal.

I've been on a real Chocolate Croissant ($4.25) kick lately, so of course I had to try this one from Bouchon. I can definitely add this to one of the better ones that I have had. Very flaky on the outside, with a good chocolate inside. It seemed to have a chocolate ganache inside, with some more solid pieces of chocolate also wrapped up in there. Based on these two bread items, even if you are not planning on eating here, you might want to stop by the Bouchon Bakery located in the Grand Canal Shoppes to experience some of their pastries.

Yes, Katie went pretty basic with her selection here. This Les Oeufs ($14) breakfast included two scrambled eggs, two potato croquettes, toasted brioche, and choice of breakfast meat. Even though this was a pretty basic start to her day, she exclaimed that this was one of the best breakfasts that she has had. The eggs were done lightly, the potatoes were tender and delicious, and they were very generous with the amount of bacon included here, I counted six slices.

My Instagram feed has been inundated with images of Croque Madame's ($18.95) lately, so I had to get in on the fun. This would be my first time having this good looking French sandwich. It's made up of ham and cheese on toasted brioche, then topped with a fried egg and Mornay sauce. This thing was pretty rich, and real stick to your ribs kind of food. The kind of brunch item that you want to consume, and then take a nap afterwards. I could imagine that this is where the basic premise of the Egg McMuffin came from. Even though I was pretty stuffed after eating the sandwich, I could not resist the fries here. They were fried crisp, with a tender inside. A very good meal.

We left Bouchon full and very satisfied. Yes, the prices here are a little on the high side for breakfast, but you get what you pay for at Bouchon. The food is of the highest quality, and this brunch really just whetted our appetite to come back here for dinner on our next visit to Vegas. Service was exemplary during this visit. Our waitress was on top of all of our needs, without being too into our business. Yes, this is the only time I have had a croque madame, but they have set the bar pretty high for my next one. Definitely a breakfast spot in Las Vegas to make an effort to get out of bed for.

Out of five corks, (because I learned that bouchon is the French word for cork, and I'd definitely pop one for this brunch), five being best to zero being worst, Bouchon Bistro gets 4 corks.

For more information about Bouchon Bistro, head to their website here:

Bouchon Bistro - The Venetian Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Shacking Up In Las Vegas

Shake Shack
3790 South Las Vegas Blvd. 
Las Vegas, NV 89109

It's funny that whenever a burger concept moves west, it immediately makes people want to compare the invading concept to In-N-Out. People act like it's blasphemy that any burger concept could be better than In-N-Out. They are so protective over this iconic California chain, it borders on the insane. People are somehow offended that another burger concept has the gall to move into In-N-Out's turf.

You can count me as one of the people that doesn't get the fascination with In-N-Out. As a native Californian, maybe I have taken it for granted, but I find In-N-Out kind of plain and boring. Yes, they use fresh ingredients, but that's not enough for me. Their patties are under-seasoned and way too thin, they are way too limited with their menu, and their fries are not very good, unless you ask for them to be well done, then they are edible. So, I guess you can say that I get pretty excited when a new burger spot comes closer to the left coast. We were visiting Las Vegas for the first time in two and a half years, and it's been five years since we have last experienced New York's famous Shake Shack, so a visit was definitely in order.

For the three of you out there that are not aware, Shake Shack is a legendary burger chain, which started in New York City's Madison Square Park as a food cart. They eventually grew out of that cart, and opened a stand in the park. With lines reaching upwards of an hour or more, the owners eventually decided to expand throughout NYC, and finally to other parts of the globe. They now have restaurants in 12 states and five countries. For Southern California burger fans, the good news is our Shake Shack drought is about to come to an end. They have announced three locations so far, Glendale, Downtown LA, and West Hollywood, which should be open in the spring of this year, so the wait is almost over.

Back to this Las Vegas Shake Shack though. We had just got to town, and after eating a big dinner in Barstow, checking into the hotel, and quickly losing $20 in a slot machine, neither Katie nor I was too hungry, but we definitely had to squash our Shake Shack fix. I kind of had a rough outline of where we were going to be eating on this trip, and I knew this would probably be the only time we'd be by this way, so it was basically now or never. Shake Shack is appropriately located in front of the New York, New York Hotel on the Vegas strip. Be warned that there's no access from the hotel, so you do have to enter from the outside.

Even at 11pm, the restaurant was pretty packed. Judging by the way they have their line set up, I can imagine that this place gets pretty packed for peak meal times. Ordering is done at the counter and then you are given a pager and pickup the meal when it's flashing. The menu here is of course burger driven, but there's also one chicken sandwich to choose from, along with hot dogs and their famous frozen custard, which they will make into a cup, cone, shake, or concrete for you. Unfortunately I don't do good with dairy this late at night, (when did I get so old?), so I would have to settle for just a burger and fries. Let's see if this would be the same experience we had when we ate Shake Shack in NYC.

Up first is the burger. They have five different burgers to choose from, but I was no doubt going to have this Double Smoke Shack ($9.64), which I hoped would help me sleep once we got back to our hotel. This burger was great. The potato bun was soft, but still held the contents of the burger together. The all natural Angus beef was juicy, tasted fresh, and was seasoned subtly, allowing the cheese, chopped cherry peppers, Shack Sauce and bacon to shine. The insides of the burger really melded well together. If I had to complain about one thing, it would be that I needed a little more sauce on my burger, but I'm always partial to having extra condiments included on burgers. The burger was not overly huge and I had no problem finishing it. Very satisfying.

Crinkle Cut Fries ($2.99) were up next, and these are made with Yukon potatoes. They brought to mind the old Carl's Jr. fries from when I was a kid. I don't know what it is, but I always enjoy crinkle cut fries better than others. These were fried crisp, and lightly salted. Next time I'm going to be trying their cheese fries.

When I was leaving Shake Shack I was a little sad that I did not get one of their frozen custard treats. I should have bit the bullet and had one, but I wimped out. I did have a little solace that they would be moving into Southern California soon, so I could have one whenever I wanted to head to LA. The burgers here are good, and in my opinion way better than In-N-Out. Yes, you people that are loyal to In-N-Out will knock Shake Shack, and say that it's not as good as your beloved burger chain, but I really enjoyed this burger. To all of you In-N-Out fans out there, don't  feel threatened by a new burger spot opening up. In fact, stay true to your burger passion, it'll be less of a line for the rest of us when Shake Shack finally opens.

Out of five flatirons, (because Shake Shack started in Madison Square Park, and the famous Flatiron Building overlooks the park), five being best to zero being worst, Shake Shack gets 3.5 flatirons.

For more information about Shake Shack Las Vegas, head to their website here:

Shake Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Steak Oasis In the High Desert - CLOSED

Idle Spurs Steak House
690 Old Highway 58
Barstow, CA 92311

When making the drive to Vegas, most people probably just grab some fast food and go along their way. I mean there's glitzy Las Vegas ahead, and most people can't wait to get there. For Katie and I, we like to take our time getting up there and experience a little of the desert life. I usually do a little research and find a place to stop halfway, so we can stretch our legs and feed our stomachs. On this trip, that stop was Idle Spurs Steak House.

Idle Spurs came across my radar because they were on Man V. Food, so I checked out their Yelp page. Since Katie would be working a half-day on the morning we were going to be leaving for Vegas, it was going to work out perfect that Idle Spurs was open for an early dinner, when we would be passing through. Steak might not be an ideal thing to eat while driving the rest of the 157 miles to Vegas, but I skipped breakfast and lunch just so I'd have some room.

This restaurant used to be the dream home of Jeanie and Chuck O'Hare, who built this place in the mid-'50s. They opened up Idle Spurs Ranch to feed hungry travelers along busy Highway 58, which connected Bakersfield to Vegas. Then in 1974, the restaurant was sold to Donna and Morgan Ray, owners of the Morgan Meat Company, which is down the road and supplies all the beef here. A name change to Idle Spurs Steak House, an expansion of the restaurant has occurred, and now Ray's daughter, Judy, and son-in-law Mark are now running the place. Even though there's a new highway, which bypasses the restaurant, Idle Spurs has still persevered, and still serves locals, and travelers willing to go five minutes out of their way to forgo the fast food along the highway, and enjoy a nicer meal on their way traveling through the High Desert.

Our GPS put us here at about half-past four on a recent Tuesday afternoon. The restaurant was pretty empty as we started our meal, but there was a constant building of customers during our stay. You could totally tell this used to be a house back in the day. We were seated in the center of the restaurant, in an enclosed patio room, which featured many plants, a skylight, and a floor that is made up of 56 tons of flagstone. This restaurant kind of had the feel of the Cask and Cleaver Restaurants in the Inland Empire.

The menu, of course, is dominated by red meat at Idle Spurs, but there are some seafood options, along with one chicken offering. Prices are in the range of $20 to $30, with only the Steak and Lobster combo going over the $40 mark. I had already looked over their menu, so I was very quick making my selection on this early evening. Let's see if the food at Idle Spurs is worth making a pit stop on your way to Vegas.

No bread basket here, they make sure that you start off your meal with some veggies. Maybe because they know you're going to gorge on some red meat for your meal. We were given this small bowl of cut-up vegetables. some of these were pickled, and some were not. Pretty basic, but much appreciated while we waited for our meals.

Since I had skipped breakfast and lunch in anticipation of this meal, I was pretty hungry, so we ordered the Deep Fried Zucchini ($8) to start with. I really enjoyed this starter. The zucchini was heavily breaded but lacked a greasiness to it. What made this even better was a very well done ranch dressing that came out with this. It coated the zucchini well and added some great flavor to this summer squash. One of the better-fried zucchini appetizers we have had.

Unlike at expensive steak restaurants, the meals here at Idle Spurs come with soup or salad. Katie selected this salad to start with. This salad was created table-side, which I thought was a nice touch. The greens were fresh and chilled, with cheese, croutons, and a slice of beet topping the produce. Since we had such a good experience with the ranch dressing that came with the zucchini, Katie wanted to see if the ranch dressing was just a fluke, so she got the blue cheese dressing on her salad. We found out it wasn't a fluke, this blue cheese dressing was also good. It coated the lettuce well and really added to this salad. A basic salad, but one that Katie enjoyed.

I'd also usually opt for the salad, but since Katie wanted to get the salad, I went with the soup, which was Clam Chowder this evening. This version was very heavy on the chowder, but rather light on the clams. Not too many were noticeable to me. It was a very creamy soup, with larger chunks of tender potato. Good, but not great. More of creamy potato soup, than clam chowder, I'd probably get a salad on my next trip here.

Also coming with your dinner entree is a basket of Garlic Cheese Bread. I had a few bites of this and decided to avoid this the rest of the meal. The bread was toasted and very dry. I did not get any garlic flavor on this, and there was no cheese to speak of. Kind of false advertising, but it was included with the meal, so I couldn't get too angry about it.

It always makes me cringe when listening to Katie order steak in a restaurant. When we first started dating, she always ordered them well done, which makes me gag just thinking of it. She now orders them medium-well, which is at least a step in the right direction. She had this good looking Filet Mignon ($32) on this evening. I loved the look of this steak, with the crossed grill marks, and it actually tasted pretty good to me, even though it was overcooked for my taste. Katie threw around words like clean, smooth, and great tasting to describe this steak. She had a little trouble finishing this eight-ounce steak but made a gallant effort to do so. Also on the plate was a baked potato and seasoned veggies. Both of these were good. The baked potato was also dressed table-side, and they used plenty of butter and sour cream inside of this rather massive baked potato.  This plate definitely filled Katie up.

I'm always in a quandary when picking a steak for my meal. I love the flavor of the ribeye, but sometimes they can be too fatty. I love the tenderness of the filet, but then you have to sacrifice flavor. On this early evening, I went with the Boneless Ribeye. ($24). This 12-ounce hunk was prepared simply, might have been a little on the fatty side, but it had a good, meaty flavor to it. It was prepared to my desired medium rare specifications and was pretty tender. Not the highest quality of steak here, but for the price, not bad at all. Like I said earlier, the veggies were pretty average, and the garlic mashed potatoes had a good consistency to them, but were devoid of flavor. I did not taste any garlic going on here. I'd opt for a baked potato next time.

Idle Spurs is not the best steakhouse we have been to, but it's definitely worth a visit if you are in the area, want to avoid fast food, and want to take your time coming from, or going to Vegas. The steaks here are pretty legit, and if you have steak here, you can avoid the more expensive ones in Las Vegas. I felt for the price, this was some pretty solid food. Yes, there were some hiccups, but the majority of the things we tried we liked. The service was pretty solid on this evening. Gloria did have a lot of tables as the night went along, but she always came by to make sure we had everything we needed and got us on our way in a timely manner. It's good to know that a steak is always an option, (except on Mondays when they are closed), on our drive to Vegas.

Out of five meteorites, (because Barstow is home to the Desert Discovery Center, which houses the largest meteorite found in California, and the second-largest in the US), five being best to zero being worst, Idle Spurs Steak House gets 3 solid meteorites.

For more information about Idle Spurs Steakhouse, head to their website here:

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Eclipsing Our Expectations at Kutsi?

Kutsi Cocina Lounge and Bar
201 North Broadway
Santa Ana, CA 92701

I feel like Chef Chris Tzorin and myself are playing a game of hide and go seek. It seems like I have been chasing this guy all over the county. I never ate at Savannah Chophouse during either of his two stints there. I never made it to Tortilla Republic when he was in charge of the kitchen at that Laguna Beach restaurant either. When I heard that he has moved yet again, I knew I had to make a real effort to try his new place, Kutsi Cocina in Santa Ana.

Kutsi is located in the old Memphis spot in Downtown Santa Ana. Occupying part of the historic Santora Building, I have read glowing reviews for the food here, which is no big surprise when Chef Chris is heading the kitchen. He's become quite the celebrity chef as of late. With appearances on two Food Network Shows, winning some culinary competitions, and lots of positive press for his latest venture, I was pretty excited to make the journey to Kutsi on a recent Friday night, with our fellow food blogging friends, Tom and Daniele.

I'm probably one of the few people that had never made it to this address when Memphis was here. I always went to their Costa Mesa location instead, so I really don't know what kind of changes they made when they took over. I did like the feel of this restaurant though. It kind of had contrasting feels to me, which I liked. On one hand it really conveyed a mellow energy, but then you have the single light bulbs dangling from the ceiling, along with the guitar player set up in the corner, and it helped bring this space to life.

Also bringing the space to life is the menu at Kutsi. Their website describes their food as, "modern Mexican, representing cuisine from all over Mexico". There are plenty of appetizers and starters to choose from and a limited number of entrees. When we talked to Chef Chris, he mentioned that the menu will probably be changed a bit the next time we visit, but he assured us that mot customer favorites will remain, at least in some incarnation. Let's take a look at what we had on this evening.

We were out with Tom and Daniele, so of course drinks were in order. I only took pictures of our first round, as with this couple, I could use up all of my space describing the drinks that they had. Just kidding Tom and Daniele. Tom started things off with the Spicy Margarita ($10). This uses Torado Reposado tequila, which I learned means it's aged in an oak barrel, and also utilizes jalapeno to make it spicy, along with cucumber and lime to help cool it down. Tom drank this very quickly, so I guess I can assume that he enjoyed it. I went with a fruit based cocktail, which is a little out of the norm for me. The very photogenic La Morena ($10) also uses a reposado tequila as its base, and then includes muddled berries, triple sec, lime, and jalapeno. I did not really get the jalapeno heat here, but I do believe it helped balance this cocktail out a bit. More of a one and done drink, I liked this, but think I'd probably try something else on my next trip here. After much deliberation, Daniele selected the La Flaca ($12) for her first beverage of the night. This was made with Partida Blanco Tequila, Partida Organic Agave, and fresh lime juice. She was pretty unhappy with this tart drink, until she got some Sprite to sweeten this up a bit. The sweet soda allowed her to enjoy this until completion.

Before we get to our appetizers, here's a quick shot of the Chips and Salsa that was brought out as soon as we sat down. The chips shined here, as they were more puffy than regular tortilla chips, and they had just a hint of grease on them, which tells you they were fried fresh. I always appreciate when a bean dip is presented with chips, and this was a good one. The salsa is not a spicy one, and it kind of brought to mind the red sauce that was served at the Huntington Beach food stands where I had the iconic strips and cheese when I was a kid. Good flavor, but if you're looking for heat, it's not here.

We actually got this Chorizo Clams ($12) as a mistake, but I was rather happy I got to try this popular starter. We ordered another chorizo appetizer, which you'll see next, but our waitress brought this one out to us first. This rather generous serving of sauteed clams came with one of the best sauces I have had this year, a chorizo crema. I needed a few more toasted points to sop up this delicious sauce. Very well done, even though some of my clams were a little on the gritty side. I'd get this again, just for the sauce.

This was the Chorizo ($10) dish we had originally wanted. I have to admit, this was a little different than what I was expecting. Toasted bread is topped with chorizo, manchego cheese, and a citrus fig jam. This was okay. The fig jam ind of overpowered, and the chorizo kind of got lost in the shuffle. Not bad, but we'd probably skip this on our next visit.

Daniele was not feeling either of these two appetizers, so she selected this Beet Salad ($11) to start with. This good sized salad was made up of baby spinach, oregano, goat cheese, fresh raspberries, candied walnuts, and drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette. She enjoyed this salad, but enjoyed it even more when she asked for some extra goat cheese to help cut the sweetness. She did managed to finish this salad, while still talking a mile a minute. Very impressive D.

Entrees hit the table next, and let's start with Tom's choice, the Chicken Enchiladas ($12). With the enchiladas here, you have your choice of protein, (beef, chicken, or shrimp), and you also get to choose your sauce, (red, green, or mole). As you can see, Tom went with the mole with chicken inside. He really enjoyed the mole here. It was not as sweet as others, but still added a good flavor to the dish. No complaints from Tom with this.

Katie also got the Chicken Enchiladas ($12), but a different style. She claims that these were in the upper echelon of chicken enchiladas that she has encountered. She loved the green sauce, which provided a lingering heat, the chicken was tender, and she really enjoyed the marinade that it was cooked with. She'd definitely get these again.

With the big salad that she ate, Daniele could only manage to finish one of her three Chicken Tacos ($9). These street sized tacos came out filled with chicken of course, but also, cabbage and a very well done Sriracha creme fraiche. I also spied some onions, peppers, and cheese in these as well. The menu fails to let you know that there are three tacos to an order, and at three dollars per taco, Daniele exclaimed that this would definitely be included on her website as a Dani's Decadent Deal.

One of the most popular dishes according to diners on their Yelp page is this Steak Mole ($22), and after consuming this, I can see why. The steak here was a flatiron, which was encrusted with pistachios. It was placed upon a pile of jalapeno mashed potatoes, and then surrounded by a moat of mole and chimichurri. I found the mole here to be a little less complex than at other places, but that does not diminish it at all. I really enjoyed this simpler version, which went well with the tender flatiron. I was glad it was as tender as it was, because I was not offered a steak knife to cut it. The chimichurri was a nice touch, but kind of got pushed to the sidelines with the mole taking more of a starring role. The potatoes claimed to include jalapeno, but there was no spice here to speak of. Still a very good plate, and one that I hope will remain on their menu after their menu overhaul.

After our dinner, Chef Chris came out and talked with us for awhile, and since Daniele was with us, she also asked for a few dozen pictures with him. After speaking to him for awhile, it's easy to see why this guy is one of the most loved chefs in OC. He's so nice, answered all of our goofy questions, and was so open about his journey so far. He also produces some pretty good food as well. I really enjoyed the time we spent at Kutsi. I thought the prices were more than fair, and the vibe here really meshed well with the Downtown Santa Ana scene. Our waitress Brenda really kept things moving along for us, and you can sense the pride that she has in this place. I'm glad that I finally had the opportunity to catch up with Chef Chris, and look forward to coming back to Kutsi again real soon.

Out of five moons, (since Kutsi means moon in one of the indigenous Mexican languages), five being best to zero being worst, Kutsi Cocina Lounge and Bar gets 3.5 moons.

For more information about Kutsi Cocina Lounge and Bar, check out their website here:

Luna Kutsi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato