Sunday, April 28, 2019

Anniversary Dinner at the New Steakhouse in Town

Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse
18420 Von Karman Ave. #100
Irvine, CA 92612

They said it would never last. The odds were stacked against two young kids who met online, had never had much luck in love, and never dreamed that either of them would have any chance to get married. But we showed them on April 18th, as Katie and I celebrated our fourth year as man and wife.

Okay, to be honest, no one ever really said that we had no shot at wedded bliss. As soon as we started dating each other six years prior to our wedding, we were never apart. Our friends and family instantly saw our chemistry and knew we belonged together. She was just what I needed, and I was what she needed. A perfect match if there ever was one, and we never thought it would happen for us.

Alright, you did not come here to read about some mediocre love story, you want to know about our thoughts on another OC restaurant. We got you. Since it was our anniversary, and it coincided with the arrival of our copy of Orange Coast Magazine being delivered, and their cover story this month just happened to be about the best new restaurants in OC, I let Katie choose one of them for us to try. After a little bit of debate, she chose to celebrate our anniversary at Davio's in Irvine.

Davio's Northen Italian Steakhouse comes to us from the East Coast, or Boston specifically. This ten unit restaurant chain got its start back in 1985 when Steve DiFillippo purchased a family restaurant named Davio's in Boston's Back Bay area. After some tweaking to the menu, wine list, and other touches, Davio's soon became a hit with critics and guests alike. Their philosophy was to make everything from scratch, with the finest ingredients possible, and then feature a polished and attentive front of the house staff.

In October of last year, Davio's moved west to open in the former Prego spot, right next to the Irvine Towers in Irvine. The team includes General Manager Michael DiFillippo, son of owner Steve, and Executive Chef Istvan Toth, who is Hungarian born and raised, worked in some of New York's busiest kitchens and has been with Davio's since 2013. I was intrigued to find out what Davio's was all about on this evening.

We arrived here ten minutes before our half past six reservation time and were seated in the half-empty dining room. The layout of this restaurant is pretty much the same as when it was Prego, with ample spacing between tables, an open kitchen where you can spy the kitchen staff manning the grill and preparing plates of pasta, and a couple of private dining areas which can be requested by guests. It does appear that they lightened things up a bit by adding some white paint to the walls, to go along with the white table cloths and linens.

The two-page menu features a wide selection of items, some you would expect from a steakhouse others you wouldn't.  They offer ala carte steaks and seafood, fifteen sides meant for sharing, a handful of salad options and a seafood tower for however many people you have dining with you. What I didn't expect to see were so many options in the way of pasta dishes, which can also be ordered as an appetizer, dinners that come with sides, (almost unheard of these days in a steak restaurant), and a grouping of spring rolls, which are really more in the way of an egg roll, rather than what you'd find in Garden Grove's great Vietnamese restaurants. I was excited to try out the food here and after four years of being married to Katie, I felt I deserved this great meal. Kidding, of course, just wanted to make sure you were still with me.

When these Popovers were first brought out I was not too enthused. They brought to my mind the bland, overhyped Yorkshire pudding that goes largely ignored when I get it with my prime rib at most places. After my first bite of this popover that negative connotation quickly went away. These were nothing like that. They had a great taste to them, were still airy inside, but had more depth than the usual Yorkshire pudding that has haunted me for a long while. These were very filling and after our second one each, we had to tell them to stop bringing them out. Great butter with these too.

Our server Jermaine suggested we try the American Kobe Beef Meatballs ($15) as a starter. He did not steer us wrong. These come two to an order and were almost tennis ball sized. Very nice and tender, the beef really shined here with a nice clean taste to it. The red sauce was the perfect balance between acidic and sweet, while the caciocavallo cheese that came blanketed over each meatball was nice and mellow. Also, cheers to Davio's for calling these American Kobe, instead of just Kobe, which makes you think that the beef comes from Japan. Too many restaurants do this kind of underhanded tactic.

Continuing our Italian portion of our meal, we decided we'd try out one of their pasta dishes, which are offered as a meal, or as an appetizer portion. The appetizer size of this Sausage and Rigatoni ($15) was the perfect size for splitting between Katie and myself. The above shot is just my share of this, which they graciously split for us in the kitchen. A very nice touch. This was one of the better pasta dishes I have had in recent memory. The pasta was obviously made fresh here and had a great texture to it. I loved the sausage and the creamy burrata they used in this, with just a touch of truffle oil for an added richness Wonderful.

Now the main event for me, the 18 Ounce Prime Aged Ribeye ($54). The ribeye has long been my favorite steak to try when I'm in a steak restaurant for the first time. I use it as a benchmark to judge a steakhouse. This one was not my favorite. It was a good sized piece of meat, but I had a few issues with it. I know that some fat is to be expected when having a ribeye, as that's where a lot of the flavor comes from, but this one had an excessive amount. I also felt the meat needed to be flavored a lot more. It could not stand on its own, as I needed to ask for some Bernaise sauce and their not very tasty Davio's steak sauce to wake this up a bit. On the positive side, it was cooked to my desired medium rare and the half that I took home for dinner the next day was better after I trimmed the fat away and added extra sauce to it. Disappointing ribeye though.

Whenever we eat in a steak restaurant, I always cringe when Katie orders, because she always wants her steak to be medium well, which is actually an improvement over when we first started dating and she would want her beef cooked well done. At least she's grown a bit in that respect. On this trip to Davio's, she went with the 8 Ounce Center Cut Filet Mignon ($45). I'm usually hesitant to try her steaks because they are too overcooked for my taste, but I did try this one, and it wasn't bad. It definitely had more flavor than my ribeye, which is something I was not expecting and it was tender, even though it was medium well. A mark of someone that knows how to cook a steak. She loved this steak and the roasted garlic that came with it. She got their gorgonzola sauce to go with the steak and it was the best of all the sauces we tried here. Good flavor to it, but balanced enough that it let the filet be the star of the show.

Since we had eaten so much prior to our main meals, we decided to only get one side to go with our entrees. The Creamy Potatoes ($9) would be that side. These were some pretty good mashed potatoes, and they were definitely buttery. Next time we will definitely try their horseradish mashed potatoes, macaroni n' cheese, or brussels sprouts.

Call me weird, but I was not too enthused with the dessert cart at Davio's. A lot of their desserts were espresso based, and as I'm not really fond of coffee, we decided to skip dessert, but they brought us this complimentary dessert plate in honor of our anniversary. A very nice gesture.

So what to make of Davio's? I'd place them outside of my OC steakhouse Mount Rushmore based on this visit. The ribeye I had here does not compare to the ones I've had at Mastro's, Capital Grille, Ruth Chris, or Sellane Steak Tavern. The steak lacked that wow factor and seemed to be of an inferior quality to the other steak places that  I mentioned above. I did however like the Italian items that they offer here. The pasta and meatballs were right up there with what they serve at some of the best Italian restaurants in OC. Dessert options need a little more diversity in my opinion, like maybe a butter cake? Service was some of the best we've had in a long while. Our server Jermaine was personable, easy to talk with and kept tabs on all of his tables with ease. The rest of the staff made a great effort to keep things moving along at a leisurely, but efficient pace and make sure that each of their guests had their every need met.  It will be interesting to see how Davio's will fit into the already crowded OC steakhouse market in the future. Just like it will be interesting to see how long Katie will be able to put up with being married to me.

Out of five Boston cream donuts, (because that's is the official donut of the state of Massachusettes, where Davio's hails from), five being best to zero being worst, Davio's gets 3.5 Boston cream donuts.

For more information about Davio's, you can check them out here:

Monday, April 22, 2019

Scratching the Surface in Anaheim

The Scratch Room
2415 Lincoln Ave. 
Anaheim, CA 92801

It's been a while since we have reviewed a breakfast spot, which is a shame because it's one of my favorite meals. I've been on a streak at work where I usually only have Mondays and Wednesdays off, and since Katie works on weekdays, and I don't want to be a complete loser and eat breakfast alone, I have not had the pleasure of eating my favorite meal for two months now. I decided this needed to change and called my parents who are always happy to spend some time with me and try a new place. We headed to The Scratch Room.

I did a search of all the breakfast spots in Orange County and The Scratch Room got mentioned quite a few times. They have a very respectable four-star rating on Yelp, with over 1,400 reviews. They were listed as a top ten pick in quite a few magazine articles, and they even were the winner of the best breakfast in OC according to the OC Hot List in 2016 and 2017. I was pretty excited to see what they were all about on mid-Monday morning.

The Scratch Room is situated on the corner of Gilbert and Lincoln, in a small little shopping plaza, where I can imagine parking could get a little challenging. In fact, they have a map out in front of their door which alerts you to places where it is safe to park, so your car will not get towed and ruin your morning.

My parents and I arrived at The Scratch Room right before 10am. I was a little surprised that they were as busy as they were, especially since this was a weekday. The restaurant seems a little bigger than it appears from the outside. They have maybe 30 or so tables, almost all of which were in use on this weekday morning. The dining area is dominated by black walls and ceiling, an accent wall of yellow, and very little else in the way of decor. A very clean, almost sterile environment.

The Scratch Room, which is open 7 days a week, from 7am to 2 most days, has a menu that is, of course, heavily focused on breakfast, but there is a selection of sandwiches, burgers, and salads available for people who are not into the first meal of the day. The considerable breakfast portion of the menu has something for everyone's tastes. There's plenty in the way of egg dishes, omelets, benedicts, Mexican inspired dishes, breakfast burgers, skillets, griddled items, and even a few lighter items for people that do not want to spoil their tastebuds like the menu suggests. You can count me in as one of the people that wants a heavy breakfast this morning, so let's see how it all shook out for us on this morning.

Let's start things out with my meal, the Country Skillet ($11.25). True stick to your ribs kind of food here. Chopped up strips of chicken fried steak are joined with crisp hash browns, onions and peppers then blanketed with sausage gravy and topped with three eggs. I really enjoyed this heavy breakfast. There was plenty in the way of country fried steak and hash browns. The eggs were a tad overcooked, but the gravy shined. It featured plenty of sliced sausage, which made me feel like I was getting extra breakfast meat. I only ate half of this and had the rest for dinner later on that evening, and it was still very good and satisfying. 

At the Scratch Room, most meals come with your choice of toast, biscuits with gravy, or their special loaf, which happened to be banana bread on the day we were here. Do yourself a favor and forgo the toast and biscuits because this banana bread was some of the best I have ever had. Not overly sweet, but with a great banana flavor to it, the texture was spongy and moist and made even better as it came out warmed. I was so impressed I got an extra slice ($2.99) since the first one seemed to disappear rather quickly.

My light eating mom took advantage of the senior portion of the menu with this Senior Special #2 ($7.00). This came with two eggs, two bacon, and either fruit or potatoes. This basic breakfast helped sustain my mom for the rest of the day. The egg came out just as she had requested, the bacon was crisp, and the fruit was fresh. All she could have asked for. 

Luckily, my dad got something a little more creative at the Scratch Room. He got the Grizzly Benedict ($12.25). This northwest inspired? benedict featured two fried salmon cakes, three poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, and unusual red caper relish. My dad has been on a real seafood kick lately, as his nickname has become fish taco, and he loved this plate. The salmon cakes were heavily breaded, but the salmon came through in most bites. I was not sure it would, but the two sauces interacted well together. I'm not sure they make the salmon cakes here, but it didn't much matter to my dad, as he ate this quicker than I have seen him in a long time. Probably because he did not want to give me a second bite. Thanks, fish taco!

I was pretty impressed with our initial visit to the Scratch Room. This family-run restaurant has got it going on. I feel like this trip just scratched the surface of what they have to offer. I'm eyeing the Breakfast Burger, the Bad Hombre Benedict, and the Wild Boar skillet on my subsequent visits. Prices were very modest here, with only the steak and eggs breaking the $12 barrier. Service was competent, cordial, and speedy. The only things that might keep me away are that we have heard the wait for a table on weekends can be up to an hour and a half long and the parking situation in this cramped shopping plaza. That, and of course my awful work schedule as of late.

Out of five green jackets, (because the winner of the Master's golf tournament wins that garment and all winners of that prestigious tournament are scratch golfers), five being best to zero being worst, The Scratch Room gets 3.5 green jackets.

For more information about The Scratch Room, head to their website here:

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Hoping Not to Be Derailed at Trevor's

Trevor's at the Tracks
26701 Verdugo St.
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

It used to be that San Juan Capistrano was a sleepy little town, which only came alive for the Swallow's Day Parade, Mariachi Festival, and the steady stream of school buses rumbling into town loaded with kids visiting Mission San Juan Capistrano. Now, thanks to a myriad of restaurants, many of which feature live music every night of the week, the Downtown District hums with activity every time we are down this way.

One place we had not been to yet in this downtown area was Trevor's at the Tracks. They opened for business in early 2017, replacing Sarducci's. Trevor's is housed in a building that dates from 1894 and was used as the San Juan Capistrano train station for many years. Now the building host both Trevor's and the Vintage Steakhouse, both of which are steps from the north and southbound trains dropping off passengers.

No train rides for us on this evening, as Katie and I were here to have dinner with her mother, who was enjoying the single life for the week, while her husband was off training for his new job venture. The three of us arrived at Trevor's just before 6pm on a recent Thursday. There are three distinct dining areas to this restaurant. The patio area appears to be the most popular, especially with the happy hour and the live music loving crowd. There's also a more formal dining room, and then there's the area we were seated in, which is a long hallway, running parallel to the train tracks a mere few feet away. The trains did not come rumbling in, as they had to slow down to drop off their weary travelers, so it was very easy to keep your conversation going as life went on outside the restaurant.

Trevor's food offerings would appeal to a large range of people. There's really something for everyone on this menu, which they tout as locally acquired ingredients, with a globally inspired tinge to it. The menu is broken up into plenty of appetizer options, seafood, flatbreads, starters featuring meat, and a whole host of starters that feature items from their trackside garden. Rounding out the menu are entree salads, sandwiches, and more substantial entrees. The man behind the menu is Executive Chef Joesph Tripi, who has been with this restaurant since its inception, and before that held the same position at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery. Let's see which side of the tracks our meal at Trevor's will land.

When I told one of my friends I was coming to Trevor's, they made me promise that I would try their Brussel Sprouts ($15) and not wanting to disappoint a friend, I totally complied. Don't think about the soggy Brussel sprouts you had as a kid, and instead, think of a roasted, almost crunchy Brussel sprout, which is made even better with some cranberries, goat cheese, and a balsamic drizzle over the top of them. I really liked the different layers of flavor popping through this at different spots. You had the earthiness of the sprouts themselves, the cranberry coming through in bursts, the creaminess of the goat cheese, and the tang from the balsamic. The end result was a balanced appetizer that I can see myself getting again for sure.

Not content with just the one thing before my main meal would arrive, I tried this Southern Seafood Chowder ($6) as well. The first few spoonfuls of this were really quite good, as it had a nice rich flavor to it. As I dug deeper the seafood that was in this was what I'd call a little iffy. I then recalled a passage in Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, which told of chef's secrets, like how they get rid of fish that was ready to turn by placing it in chowders. Not saying that's what was going on here, but there was a very stringy piece that I had on my spoon and pulled it out at just the last second. Not sure what it was, but it was definitely not something I wanted to eat. I lost my appetite for this chowder after that.

Both Katie and her mother opted for entree salads on this evening. Let's start off with Katie's selection, the Karate Chop Chicken Salad ($16). This is Trevor's rift on a Chinese chicken salad. It included a base of romaine, with ginger soy chicken breast pieces, napa cabbage, bok choy, shredded carrots and bell peppers, sesame seeds, and a peanut ginger vinaigrette. Katie was pretty vague when describing her love for this salad. She said she loved the flavors and the freshness of the veggies, which is her usual response when I ask her if she liked something or not. She's been here many times for lunch with her coworkers and has yet to try anything else other than this salad. A creature of habit I guess.

Lynn went with this more substantial Southwest Steak Cobb ($19) as her meal on this evening. From across the table, I could tell that I would have liked this salad. It was made up of a whole host of items, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, jicama for crunch, queso fresco, roasted corn, cubes of avocado, and it was all tied together with an interesting chipotle blue cheese dressing. Again, this salad had a bunch of textural elements that kept you interested. The blue cheese chipotle dressing was delicious, and I liked the cubed pieces of avocado as well. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention the sliced flat iron steak that was served medium rare on side of the plate. It was a decent steak but needed to be seasoned a bit more if eaten on its own. Eating it with the salad really helped it out.

None of the bigger meal options really spoke to me this evening, so I had to decide from either the burger, the Reuben, or the Cuban sandwich. From the picture above, you can see that the Cubano ($18) won out. This was a pretty traditional Cuban sandwich, with its roasted pork and ham, Swiss cheese, pickle, pepperoncini, and Havana aioli on crusty panini pressed bread. When done right, this is one of the most balanced sandwiches around. This one was pretty solid. I did need a little extra of the aioli to counteract the pickles and mustard on this. Both the pork and ham were savory and present. A good crunch from the bread too. Good, but did not blow me away like others have. This came with fries which were nicely fried, with a good crunch to them.

I'm always a sucker for a cookie, and I felt like a sucker after getting this one at Trevor's. Not sure if they make this Chocolate Chip Cookie ($2) in-house or not, but I'd describe this as one of the most chalky cookies I have had. It was hard all the way around, very heavy, and the chocolate chips were not very visible in this disappointing cookie. It was not any better when I placed the half I had not eaten in the microwave at home. It defied logic that it stayed as hard as ever even after being heated. Skip this cookie, unless you need a doorstop.

I know brownies get a lot of love and are way more popular than blondies, but I can not recall having a blondie and not liking it a lot. That streak continued at Trevor's with this Maple White Chocolate Blondie ($10). This blondie was topped with candied pecans, maple bourbon ice cream, and a caramel sauce. After the hard cookie, I was a little worried that the blondie was going to be the same, but it was baked well, with a good cakey feel to it. I was also pleased that they topped this with plenty of ice cream, even though I did not get a lot of maple flavor from it. I'd definitely get this dessert again.

There were some hits and misses on this visit to Trevor's. I liked the dessert and the Brussel sprouts, but the chowder and the cookie were both a letdown. My Cuban sandwich was fine, but nothing really made it anything more than an average version of my favorite sandwich. I get the feeling that the real draw for Trevor's is the picturesque outdoor patio where they have live music featured every day, except Mondays, when they are closed. The food seems to be just fine, but nothing that would probably draw us back, unless we were in the area. Our server did a great job keeping tabs on us, without being too obtrusive. Prices were a tad high for what you get, but that's to be expected in this high traffic area of town, where people seem to love to soak up the atmosphere of the passing trains and music wafting through the air.

Out of five mousetraps, (because the building that houses this restaurant dates from 1894, which is also the same year that the mousetrap was invented), five being best to zero being worst, Trevor's at the Tracks gets 3 mousetraps.

For more information about Trevor's at the Tracks, head to their website here:

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A Full House at Bobby V's

Buddy V's Ristorante
3327 south Las Vegas Blvd. 
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Last year when we were in Las Vegas with my parents for a hockey game, they had wanted to visit Carlo's Bakery. No, make that, they were adamant that we visit Carlo's Bakery. Apparently, they are very big fans of this place because they watch Cake Boss, a reality show that features the bakery that Buddy Valastro runs with his family in Hoboken, New Jersey. I've never seen the show, but it must be a hit because there are now 18 Carlo's Bakery locations spread throughout the US. The show also spawned the place where we would be eating dinner on our first night in Las Vegas, Buddy V's Ristorante.

Buddy V's is located at the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, right across from Carlo's Bakery. This hotel property has some of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas; Canaletto, Bouchon, and Grimaldi's, and others that I am very excited to try in the near future, (Yardbirds, PrimeBurger, and more). Another added bonus about eating at Buddy V's was that we were able to make a reservation for our party of six on Open Table, so there was no waiting around for our table to become ready.

With reservation in hand, we arrived at Buddy V's at 8pm on a recent Friday. The restaurant was very busy but it was more of organized chaos. Not sure why, maybe it was the black and white tiled flooring, the wafts of Italian food being brought out to the tables, or something else, but the inside of this space reminded me of a slightly more upscale Maggiano's. Lots of people at the bar, a very open and active kitchen, and a display of some of the good looking cakes from across the hallway immediately caught our attention.

We were seated in the back row of booths, near the window featuring a fantastic view of the north side of the strip. The layout of the restaurant was pretty spacious, with plenty of room between tables, so you did not feel like you were on top of other parties. Even with the extra space though, it was really quite loud in here, which helped me drown out what I assume was a boring conversation at the end of the table.

The menu here is predictably broken up into starters, salads, pizzas, pasta, main dishes, sides, and of course since this is the Cake Boss's restaurant, desserts. Prices are pretty modest by Vegas standards, with entrees ranging between $25 to $46, pasta dishes hovering around the $25 mark, and pizzas going for $18. Let's see how this evening's dinner turned out for us.

Since Katie's brother and sister in law were staying at another hotel farther south down the strip, they were delayed waiting for their Uber, so we started with three appetizers to keep us occupied. The Macaroni and Cheese Carbonara ($13)  was a good way to start things off. This dish exuded hominess with its smoked mozzarella and fontina cheese blend, egg, pancetta, and peas rounding it out. It was delicious, but the consistency was just a tad too soupy for my taste. A little better was Grandma's Meatballs ($13). Six meatballs made up of a mixture of veal, beef, and pork and then bathed in a marinara sauce with a sprinkle of parmesan. The meatballs were fork tender and the marinara was a great accompaniment, as it was not too acidic, with just the right sweetness to the sauce. I dreamed of having these in a sandwich, which they offer only during lunch. The Grilled Garlic Bread was another winner. They use the same cheeses on this bread as they use in their mac and cheese, fontina and mozzarella, and it gets nice and bubbly underneath the broiler. Very crunchy on the sides and soft in the middle, just like a good piece of garlic bread should be.

I was pretty full from the appetizers and the lobster roll I had earlier in the day, so I did without my usual Caesar Salad ($12), but luckily someone got one so I could snap a picture of one. It looked pretty good, with plenty of dressing, a sprinkling of parmesan and fresh romaine. The menu says they use polenta croutons, which I would have liked to have tried. Katie got a Dinner Salad ($9) which featured mixed greens, a variety of tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and a vinaigrette dressing. Pretty basic, but she seemed to like it well enough.

Entrees were up next, and we'll start with Rachel's selection on this evening, the Cheese Ravioli ($23). This pretty traditional ravioli was filled with ricotta and dusted with plenty of parmesan and a Pomodoro sauce. Rachel said she picked this because it seemed like the lightest of all the dishes here, and she was right about that. The six ravioli was one of the most manageable meals, as you will see as you scroll down.

Another pasta dish was next, as Katie tried the little heftier Orecchiette and Italian Sausage ($24). This pasta dish had a lot of flavors included in it. The well made orecchiette and subtle sausage was joined in the bowl with broccoli rabe, basil, pecorino, tomatoes, and a very good pesto sauce. Katie loved the pesto sauce at Buddy V's, as it went well with the freshly made pasta. The sausage was not as prominent in this as she imagined, which lead to a lighter tasting dish.

I was a little surprised by Lynn's selection on this evening, the Chicken Marsala ($27). She usually goes for a smaller meal, but maybe since she was in Las Vegas she was going a bit wild. The tender chicken was under a bunch of mushrooms and a delicious and rich marsala sauce. She put a pretty good sized dent in this, but could not finish it. This also came with linguine on the side, not that she needed it with this big plate.

Definitely, the best looking of all the entrees was this Nonna's Lasagna Al Forno ($26). This brick sized square of lasagna was made up of all things good; Italian sausage, pork, beef, mozzarella, provolone, and ricotta. This was a fantastic version of one of my favorite of all Italian dishes. It had a good balance of meat and cheese, the noodles were nice and firm, and the sauce covering this was a nice compliment to the rest of the dish. Dennis had no chance of finishing this but gave it a noble effort. Better luck next time big guy.

My smart-aleck brother in law thought he could slip a middle finger in the picture of his Quattro Formaggio Pizza ($18) but I cut around it. Got ya, buddy. Anyways, this four cheese pizza included ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, and was finished off with a touch of truffle oil. This was definitely an elevated cheese pizza. Good, crispy crust and the cheeses were of course fantastic. Nicely done.

When I perused the menu at Buddy V's, there was really only one thing that I just had to order, the Valastro Sunday Gravy ($28). This Italian combo plate came with meatballs, sausage, lamb, and pork covered in a zesty tomato sauce. The meats were wonderfully tender and I loved all of them. This came with a bowl of rigatoni that I really did not even bother with because I knew there was no way I was going to finish this plate. I was totally right.

It's been our tradition when we are making reservations in Las Vegas to let the restaurant know we are celebrating a birthday, even if it's still quite a way in the future. This time it was our beloved Rachel that had her faux birthday dessert. Buddy V's sent out a Canoli ($9). which was piped with sweet ricotta cream and studded with pistachios and chocolate chips on separate ends. I confess I did not try any of this because I was pretty uncomfortable with everything that I had eaten here. Everyone else really enjoyed this dessert, but next time I'd like to try their Nutella Cake, which I hear is amazing.

I'd say the moral of the story of our time at Buddy V's is to show up very hungry or be prepared to split meals because most entrees can be easily split between two very voracious eaters. This being Vegas, you also don't want to be lugging leftovers all over town with you. I'd characterize the food here as better than my last few trips to Maggiano's, which I used to love. This is stick to your ribs Italian cuisine. Italian food that makes you well aware that you just had a gigantic meal before going out and hitting the tables or seeing a show. Service was professional and moved things right along at a pretty good clip. Prices were not out of control based on the size of the meals. The next time we are in Vegas and have the cravings of Italian food dancing through our heads, we'd make a beeline right back to Bobby V's.

Out of five cakes, (since this is the Cake Boss's restaurant after all), five being best to zero being worst, Buddy V's Ristorante gets 3.5 cakes.

For more information about Buddy V's Ristorante, head to their website here:

Friday, April 5, 2019

Look for Luke's Lobster in Las Vegas

Luke's Lobster
3200 South Las Vegas Blvd. 
Las Vegas, NV 89109

It was another jaunt through the desert for a quick Las Vegas getaway. Katie wanted to watch a live taping of her favorite podcast with her brother and sister in law, and I wanted some time away from work. Of course, it also gave me a chance to try some more restaurants in the desert oasis that is Las Vegas.

After the four hour trek, Katie needed a quick nap before our first night's festivities, which included dinner with her mom and dad, (who also happened to be in town for one of their many visits to Las Vegas), drinks back at the hotel where her brother was staying, and of course a little gambling or as many call it, donating.

As Katie slept off the effects of driving, her mom, dad, and I went out for a quick bite, and to see what kind of trouble the three of us could get into on this late afternoon. I had eaten a Double Western Cheeseburger at the Outlets in Primm, so I was not overly hungry, and Lynn and Dennis just wanted a little something to tide them over until dinner. On our way to the Wynn, we spotted a place that would be the perfect spot for a quick bite, Luke's Lobster.

I had Luke's on my list of places to try for a while now, but we haven't been to this end of the Strip in forever. I guess I had not done my homework, as I was a little shocked that this was little more than a kiosk located in front of the Fashion Show Mall, facing busy Las Vegas Boulevard. Okay, a kiosk might not be the right way to describe this place, maybe small shack is the way to go here. Luke's is  245 square feet, with a tiny covered patio that features five small tables, just large enough for ten or so people.

Another thing I did not know about Luke's is that they are a chain restaurant based in Maine, which just happens to be the state that harvests the most lobster in the US, a staggering 40 million pounds a year. Luke's Lobster started 10 years ago in New York and has spread out to 38 locations, with most being on the East Coast, but they also have outposts in San Fransisco, Chicago, Taiwan, and Japan. Luke's buys directly from lobsterman so they can trace where their seafood comes from. When we were here the lobster came from Maine, the crab came from St. John's Newfoundland, and the shrimp was from Quebec.

The menu here is pretty straight forward. They have shrimp. lobster, and crab rolls, which come in the standard quarter-pound size, or you can go for the jumbo version, which includes fifty percent more seafood in each roll. You also have the option to get your roll as part of a combo with one side item, or with a side soup. There are a couple of seasonal items and sides of chips or poppy seed slaw. Now that you know the lay of the land, let's see what we thought of our quick afternoon snack.

Much like eating in a Mexican or Barbecue restaurant, I figured the best way to try out more stuff at Luke's was to get the Luke's Trio ($29) which came with a half of a lobster, shrimp, and crab roll, cup of soup and a drink. The seafood comes out chilled and served in a buttered bun with mayo, lemon butter, and a dash of their secret seasoning. I'm always partial to heated seafood, but understand this is how it's served back east. Out of the sandwiches, my favorite was the shrimp, which I did not think would have been the case before eating here. It had the most flavor of the three. The lobster and crab was definitely fresh but lacked that spark that would hook me in. I liked the buns, which were heated a bit, but these sandwiches needed to be dressed with a bit more of the mayo and lemon butter to help make the seafood shine a bit more. There are two soup options at Luke's and my father in law got the Clam Chowder. The soups are made by Hurricane Soups, which is based in Greene, Maine. They have won numerous awards for their chowder and we could see why when we tasted this. It was full of clams and cubed potatoes, in a very creamy chowder base. Very good on a chilly late afternoon. I look forward to trying their lobster and corn chowder next time.

I look at this visit to Luke's Lobster as an initial test. The trio of sandwiches that we had was a little too small of a sample size for me to truly get a firm grasp of what they have going here, especially since I split each small sandwich with Katie's mom. I did like what I had but was not blown away. I'm always in favor of quality seafood becoming more available to the greater public. Not how it was when I was growing up, where the only options for seafood were either a Filet O' Fish at McDonald's or the fried stuff from H.Salt Fish and Chips. Back then if you wanted good quality fish, you had to make reservations at a restaurant with a white tablecloth. Places like Luke's Lobster have changed that, and it's an encouraging trend. We will definitely be back when we are back at this end of the strip and craving lobster and don't want to pay a fortune for it, especially after we lose all our money playing craps.

Out of five toothpicks, (because Luke's Lobster is based in Maine, and that state produces 90 percent of the nations toothpick supple), five being best to zero being worst, Luke's Lobster gets three toothpicks.

For more information about Luke's Lobster, head to their website here: