Upcoming Vegas Trip - Aria restaurants, Raku...

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Skillet Doux
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Egad... that's a tough call. It's fun to get a special menu like that, but if it's a situation where you've never had the chef's food before and you're unlikely to get back there anytime soon, I'd have a hard time staying away from the signature dishes and the tried and true. And the theme seems like an awfully broad departure from his typical flavors.

Don't let me talk you out of it. Gotta do what grabs you.

(Also, the 48 hour beef belly is only on the regular tasting menu -- just sayin')
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Christina
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Skillet Doux wrote:Egad... that's a tough call. It's fun to get a special menu like that, but if it's a situation where you've never had the chef's food before and you're unlikely to get back there anytime soon, I'd have a hard time staying away from the signature dishes and the tried and true. And the theme seems like an awfully broad departure from his typical flavors.

Don't let me talk you out of it. Gotta do what grabs you.

(Also, the 48 hour beef belly is only on the regular tasting menu -- just sayin')
Yep, exactly what I'm between - Iron Chef menu vs. the regular tasting menu because of the signature dishes. I think now I'm leaning towards the latter, thanks!
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uhockey
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Don't miss the Foie Brulee - it is so much more ridiculously good than it should be. :-) A top 5 lifetime Foie for me.
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Christina
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Sorry for the delayed report. Thanks all for the advice, and I’ll try to keep it brief.

Part I: Michael Mina's American Fish (Aria), Raku (off-strip), and Hubert Keller's Fleur (Mandalay Bay).

The first night we started with Happy Hour cocktails at American Fish (5-7 pm). Four classic cocktails for $7 – Last Word, Vesper, or Sidecar and the Bartender’s Choice which that night was an Old-Fashioned. They tweet the specialty cocktail daily at @AmericanFishLV. Even though we had dinner plans, the food sounded so good (entire bar menu is $5), we had to try a few. My favorites were the shrimp and grits and the oysters, while E was a fan of the crab cake and the lobster “roll”. Great service from bartenders Christian and Matt too.
HH menu
HH menu
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Maybe starting off with three cocktails clouded my judgment because I went a bit overboard on the ordering at Raku! Loved it though. We thought we were done three times…until they brought out another dish. I didn’t take notes or pictures, so IIRC, I ordered the bacon-wrapped enoki, Wagyu filet with wasabi and the outside skirt with garlic, agadashi tofu, chicken thigh steak, glazed foie, kurobuta pork cheek, scallops, shishitos, stuffed mushrooms, eggplant, udon noodle with foie gras egg custard (really liked this combo) and a couple of specials including soft shell crab and tataki. I wouldn’t hesitate to order any of those again, except for the pork cheek which was surprisingly a bit tough. And E really liked Raku too, even saying it’s worth leaving The Strip for, so we’ll be back!

First lunch of the trip was meeting a friend at Fleur and it turned out to be a perfect spot for a leisurely lunch. Between the three of us we shared the lobster mac and cheese (I have to say I prefer the one at Capital Grille), creative watermelon gazpacho with pop rocks and basil 'crystals', juicy steak frites and, my favorite, a thin and crispy tarte flambée with brie, green apple, bacon, and honey. For dessert, we had the mocha pot de crème but it was the ice cream that stole the show – I chose cardamom-orange and basil-white chocolate ice cream. After trying Fleur for lunch, I’d definitely put in the running for dinner some time.
Tarte flambée with brie, green apple, bacon,and honey
Tarte flambée with brie, green apple, bacon,and honey
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Steak frites with garlic frites and red wine jus
Steak frites with garlic frites and red wine jus
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Cardamom-orange and basil-white chocolate ice cream
Cardamom-orange and basil-white chocolate ice cream
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Last edited by Christina 7 years ago, edited 1 time in total.
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Skillet Doux
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Hooray for Raku!!

I'm glad to hear Fleur was solid. I went there a few years back when it was still Fleur de Lys, before the retooling, and it definitely needed some help. I confess to having been a little suspicious of the new menu -- back when I first saw it, it seemed awfully trend-focused, and not in a good way -- but it's nice to hear they've pulled it together.
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uhockey
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I enjoyed Fleur - and Keller is a delightful guy.

Nice report so far.

Tidying up my list for the end of September, so this helps. :-)
sinosoul
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Christina wrote:First lunch of the trip was meeting a friend at Fleur and it turned out to be a perfect spot for a leisurely lunch. Between the three of us we shared the lobster mac and cheese (I have to say I prefer the one at Capital Grille)
LOLz, Hubert K would be SO PISSED if someone actually told him that, especially because I hear he mostly hangs out in Vegas these days. Just met him at LA Food & Wine fest earlier this month, and he was such a (sexy) Frenchie badass. Wish my first encouter the Fleur brand wasn't in Vegas as the old FdL/Vegas was truly forgettable (again, think ANY French haute restaurant in America, ie Melisse/Everest/EMP). Have since done the Burger Bar (also in Vegas), which has made me not to want to bother with FdL in SF.

There is no such thing as ordering too much at Raku. Never.

Did you guys do China Poblano? As much as I enjoy Bazaar, just walking by China Poblano's menu made me hate the restaurant. Look forward to another (mixed?) review.
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Skillet Doux
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sinosoul wrote:...especially because I hear he mostly hangs out in Vegas these days.
If so, that might explain the restaurant coming around.
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uhockey
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Everest and EMP are the same sort of restaurant? Who knew...
sinosoul
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They're not? Big ticket ($150+) Michelin starred Frenchy degustation menus dotted with amuse, palate cleanser, and petit fours. Usually with white tablecloth and chefs who have published cookbooks, wine pairings encouraged, coat check definitely available.

White Bear (Flushing, NY) they're not. Think kitchen shears instead of scalpels.
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Christina
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sinosoul wrote:
Christina wrote:First lunch of the trip was meeting a friend at Fleur and it turned out to be a perfect spot for a leisurely lunch. Between the three of us we shared the lobster mac and cheese (I have to say I prefer the one at Capital Grille)
LOLz, Hubert K would be SO PISSED if someone actually told him that.
Ha, his was very good, but having had the lobster mac-n-cheese at Capital the week before Vegas, I liked it because it was creamier and richer (i.e.fattening!) with chunks of lobster, mascarpone, and campanelle pasta. Decadent.

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uhockey
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sinosoul wrote:They're not? Big ticket ($150+) Michelin starred Frenchy degustation menus dotted with amuse, palate cleanser, and petit fours. Usually with white tablecloth and chefs who have published cookbooks, wine pairings encouraged, coat check definitely available.

White Bear (Flushing, NY) they're not. Think kitchen shears instead of scalpels.
Classic vs. Modernist, ALC vs. Tasting only, 1 Star vs. 3 Stars, 1 Amuse vs. 10+ thematic dishes.

I mean, really, this is like comparing Pizza Hut to Bianco because they both serve pizza, are often crowded, lack tablecloths, and serve soda.
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Part II - Sage (Aria)

A grateful thanks to all who suggested Sage because this turned out to be my favorite of the trip (even with all the other excellent meals we had). We started at the bar for pre-dinner cocktails. I was happy to see the lounge menu had "small bites" of some appetizers I had heard about, so I was able to try the oysters with Tabasco sorbet and tequila mignonette and the Wagyu tartare with poached egg and crispy chocolate. Delicious start to the evening.

As I mentioned, I was torn between ordering the tasting menu of their signature dishes, or the special five-day-only Battle Tropical menu after a recent Iron Chef win. E promised that we could come back on our next visit so after discussing it with our waitress, I opted for the special menu with cocktail pairings. Well, I can see why it was a winner.

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From the amuse – a take on Chinese shrimp toast but with finely minced whelk balanced on a shot-glass duo of sangrita and pineapple vodka - to dessert with coconut, white chocolate, mango sorbet, and tapioca pearls, I absolutely loved this. Other highlights were silky coils of Hawaiian nairagi sashimi with hearts of palm, coconut, and togarashi-cured pineapple, ceviche with briny-sweet whelk, avocado espuma, and green mango, rich braised pork belly with coconut rice, and an amazing lemongrass-coconut-red curry soup with young coconut "noodles" garnished with a perfect tempura prawn. The depth and balance of the flavors – oh my. I of course opted for cocktail pairings too. I’ve met Tony Abou-Ganim a couple of times when he has visited Phoenix for cocktail events and am a huge fan. His pairings also didn’t disappoint. All were flavorful, not booze-heavy, and complemented the dishes beautifully such as the the passion fruit-mango vodka Apéritif that accompanied the sashimi and the Rum Daisy with ginger served with the soup.

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E was feeling a bit under the weather and couldn’t fit in the foie gras crème brulee I wanted him to order ;) but still raved about his artichoke-potato soup with lobster and the NY strip steak wth glazed maitake mushrooms and red wine Béarnaise. I tried both and had to agree.

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I had to end the night with something from the absinthe cart. I'm a big fan of St. George spirits ever since being introduced to their Terroir Mt. Tam gin at Vesper, and Absinthe Verte was just as good (I ordered it the traditional way - louched with water). I wanted to enjoy the dinner and not take a lot of pics, but now I wish I had! It's a definite repeat on our next visit so I can explore more of the menu.
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Part III - China Poblano and cocktails at Vesper (both at the Cosmpolitan), and Gordon Ramsay Steak (Paris).

Lunch was at Jose Andres’ China Poblano. E really likes their chicken mole tacos and guacamole, and that’s exactly what he ordered again this visit. Still full from the night before, I likewise ordered simply and was happy with my rou jia mo street sandwich stuffed with tender chunks of red-braised pork belly, scallions and cilantro. Messy but satisfying, and I would definitely order this again.
Mole tacos
Mole tacos
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Rou jia mo street sandwich
Rou jia mo street sandwich
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I had three excellent cocktails at Vesper (my very favorite bar in Vegas). First was their take on a Corpse Reviver called a "Corpse Bride" with Bols Genever, Aperol, Solerna, lemon, strawberry-rhubarb syrup, and an absinthe ice sphere. Then I enjoyed their barrel-aged 12 Year Itch so much, I had to have two.

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Dinner was the new Gordon Ramsay Steak and since E wasn’t feeling well, what we noticed right away was the high noise level. It’s a large open room with high ceilings and a lot of hard surfaces. While I liked the music (British pop and rock), it was so loud that I could feel the bass vibrating throughout the night, and noticed one couple sitting under a speaker ask to be moved. That was the only con however. We had excellent service and a great meal. We started with a pre-dinner cocktail at the bar. I ordered something that sounded creative on paper, but turned out to be very similar to a mojito. For E, a vodka martini where the olive was stuffed with blue cheese AND bacon.

We switched to wine and had a bottle of Amarone with dinner. For appetizers, E enjoyed his asparagus soup with Dungeness crab and parmesan custard with smoked salmon caviar (though he said his soup at Sage was still a highlight), while I had the butter-poached chorizo-stuffed lobster tail and a bisque-like brandied lobster cream sauce. Our entrée was flawless. We ordered the Beef Wellington for two and it was simply perfect – the best rendition I’ve ever had – served with a luxurious potato puree and a red wine demi. I wish I could have finished it. We went light with a shared dessert – melon panna cotta with watermelon sorbet. They made an error with our wine that E didn’t catch right away, and so we ended up with a bottle of Amarone to go after they replaced it with the correct one; ) Nice bonus!

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Panna cotta with melon
Panna cotta with melon
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Last edited by Christina 7 years ago, edited 3 times in total.
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Skillet Doux
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This is a fabulous report, Christina, thanks so much.

I'll be really curious to hear what you think of Sage when you get back there. The menu you describe seems like such a departure from his usual style -- or at least what I know of it.

I could be tempted to give GR Steak a try. But I feel like the Wheel of Steak needs a hub and an indicator arrow at the top so I can spin for my supper.
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Christina
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Skillet Doux wrote: I'll be really curious to hear what you think of Sage when you get back there. The menu you describe seems like such a departure from his usual style -- or at least what I know of it.
It is, but I guess he enjoyed it and it was so successful that he may put dishes like this on the menu (according to the waitress). It was very impressive. We just made plans for an October trip, so hopefully can fit Sage in.

(just about to post last part of trip report).
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Turning out to be a slow work day so, finishing up…

Part IV: Lemongrass, Sirio, and Jean Georges Steakhouse (Aria)

By Sunday, E really didn’t feel well, even skipping the daily chocolate croissant at Jean Philippe Patisserie we had been getting for breakfast. We canceled our plans to meet friends at Biscayne at the Tropicana and decided to stick around Aria. Thinking soup might be good, we had lunch at the Thai restaurant, Lemongrass. Loved the atmosphere, my cocktail based on a Thai iced tea but with coconut and rum, and the braised marinated chili-garlic bamboo shoots. The rest of our meal was fine - my spicy shrimp pad thai and E’s chicken-egg drop soup - but nothing good enough to warrant a rec or repeat visit.

For dinner, E wanted room service but I *just* couldn’t waste a meal like that (especially with Aria’s surprisingly mundane menu). I offered to bring something back, and after checking out on-line menus, he picked Sirio (Italian). Good thing E was patient, because I ended up having a couple of cocktails at the bar, chatting with Tommy the friendly bartender, and when he realized he forgot to put in my order, a couple more (The Old Country, Negronis, and a Sazerac).

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It ended up being an excellent take-out meal. I was going to order a seafood pasta dish for myself, but Tommy talked me into getting the pici toscani al ragu and I loved it - fresh hand-rolled thick spaghetti with a rich three-meat ragu. E was just as happy with his chicken Milanese and a Caesar salad. I also feasted on his arugula salad that came with the Milanese and antipasti with salame Toscano, salame cacciatore, and quadrello di bufala. With a bottle of Amarone, it turned out to be a perfect dinner for a relaxing night in watching movies. I was also told that Sirio has a new amari cart – next time!

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Our final meal was a late lunch/early dinner at Jean Georges Steakhouse before our flight out. Tommy had said he’d be working the bar here, so of course we had excellent service again. E was craving a juicy burger and they delivered with the JG Cheeseburger with brie, truffle mayo, yuzu pickles, and truffle fries.

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Who orders fried chicken at a steakhouse? Yes, that would be me. I had heard that it’s spicy chicken served fried Korean style and it was OH-SO-GOOD. Boneless, yet juicy, with a shatteringly crisp batter (I’ve read it’s applied like a foam) served with spinach in a “buttery hot sauce”. Paired with a side of creamy pureed potatoes, I was a happy camper, and it was a great finish to our trip. I should add that I asked Tommy to pair a cocktail with it, and I can’t believe it was the first time I’ve heard about or had a Mark Twain – very nice.
Mark Twain
Mark Twain
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tommb.jpg
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JG also has a great three-course Early Evening (5-7) menu, which is a bargain at $69 compared to regular prices (the 8-oz filet alone is $54 on the dinner menu).
http://www.arialasvegas.com/files/dinin ... rly-49.pdf
Last edited by Christina 7 years ago, edited 3 times in total.
sinosoul
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Christina wrote:I should add that I asked Tommy to pair a cocktail with it, and I can’t believe it was the first time I’ve heard about or had a Mark Twain – very nice.
Very cool a sexy steakhouse dares to serve an unloved and oft butchered classic. Mark Twain is a whisky sour with bitters, and it's my drink of choice on a daily basis, especially during citrus season when the Meyer lemon tree is birthing like rabbits. "Babe, I'm going to pick lemons from the back" really means: "honey, I'm gonna be guzzling Mark Twains like root beer in about 5 minutes".

Will there be no Raku report? Can we get the Raku pictorial NAO?
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Skillet Doux
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sinosoul wrote:Will there be no Raku report? Can we get the Raku pictorial NAO?
The Raku report went up last week (above), sans photos due, I trust, to Christina being completely enthralled and forgetting to take photos.

(I hope?) :-)
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Christina
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Skillet Doux wrote: The Raku report went up last week (above), sans photos due, I trust, to Christina being completely enthralled and forgetting to take photos.

(I hope?) :-)
Ha, EXACTLY. I promised myself I wasn't going to take pictures and just eat and enjoy myself. Of course, I ended up in a food coma and now wish that I had a pictorial record of my Raku feast! :)

Christina wrote: I went a bit overboard on the ordering at Raku! Loved it though. We thought we were done three times…until they brought out another dish. I didn’t take notes or pictures, so IIRC, I ordered the bacon-wrapped enoki, Wagyu filet with wasabi and the outside skirt with garlic, agadashi tofu, chicken thigh steak, glazed foie, kurobuta pork cheek, scallops, shishitos, stuffed mushrooms, eggplant, udon noodle with foie gras egg custard (really liked this combo) and a couple of specials including soft shell crab and tataki. I wouldn’t hesitate to order any of those again, except for the pork cheek which was surprisingly a bit tough. And E really liked Raku too, even saying it’s worth leaving The Strip for, so we’ll be back!