Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Burger Bar (Las Vegas) Review

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

I went to Las Vegas last week.  For the most part, I don’t really eat much when I’m there — it’s generally incompatible with the large volume of free adult beverages that I’m consuming.  (It’s not uncommon for me to have a single meal — the $5.99 steak-and-eggs special at the Victorian Room inside Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon — per day).  But with many talented chefs (Joël Robuchon, Hubert Keller, Tom Colicchio, and Todd English to name just a few) establishing high-end restaurants in Las Vegas, I was determined this time to try to partake of at least one meal at one of these places.

Unfortunately, I’d be going alone — my buddies who go to Las Vegas with me tend not to want to spend $100+ on a meal, regardless of how awesome it is.  Hell, they (like me, most of the time) prefer to stick with the $5.99 fare, or to just substitute a bloody mary for a meal (hey, it’s got vitamins — and you can even get it with celery!)  And these places tend to have a dress code that is incompatible with the one-carry-on-and-no-checked-bag, rushed itinerary of my trip, so I looked elsewhere.  The perfect place?  Hubert Keller’s casual-burgers-meet-high-end-food Burger Bar between Mandalay Bay and Luxor.

First, this place is always busy.  Despite Las Vegas being far slower than I’ve ever seen it before, this place was full every time I walked by.  I wound up eating there at 2pm on a Friday.  I decided to eat at the bar so that I could chat up neighbors and generally avoid the loserdom associated with solo dining.  They have an impressive selection of draft and bottled beers.  I decided to go with the Hubert Keller burger (hey, it’s his joint, how could I go wrong?) and a Duvel (bottled) beer.  The burger features buffalo meat, sautéed onions, and bleu cheese on a ciabatta bun.  Normally I order my burgers medium or medium well, because incompetent cooks seem to know how to make that and I don’t risk getting a burger that’s raw in the middle (which is quite unappetizing to me).  However, I ordered mine medium-rare here, confident that if anybody was going to get this right, it’d be this place.  I was quite pleased with the results — my burger was pink, but never bloody, throughout, except for the gray exterior.  The onions were soft and flavorful, but not greasy or slimy.  The cheese was melted evenly and did not overpower the burger, as might be possible with some choices for bleu cheese.  (That said, if you don’t like bleu cheese, do not order this burger — though the cheese doesn’t overpower the burger in the least, the flavor is still there, which is what I wanted).

It comes with a side of vegetables (lettuce, tomato, raw onions), which I appreciated — this place, despite charging $20 for a (unmatchably delicious) burger and fries, is not pretentious enough to force you to eat your burger “their way”.  However, I tried the burger as-is without the additional vegetables to taste it as intended by the chef, and I quickly decided to stick with having it that way rather than supplementing it with the additional vegetables.  The service was what you’d expect at a bar or diner, which was fine with me.

My neighbors at the bar shared a traditional burger with cheddar, sautéed onions, and a red-wine sauce that they said was delicious.  It certainly looked good.  This was a decent place to strike up a conversation, as it was not overly loud, but it was not so quiet that one would feel uncomfortable.  Hey, it’s Las Vegas — everyone’s a tourist, so it’s no big deal to talk to chat people up.  It was a pleasant meal, and I would definitely go back there again.  Burger Bar delivers on the concept of a high-end burger in a relatively casual dining experience, which is perfect for Las Vegas.  Now, if I can only convince my gambling buddies to go there next time…

Joël

Pappasito’s disaster – Now with extra glass in your margarita!

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

So, this isn’t a full review, per se, because I wasn’t the one there — my parents live in Houston, and they ate at Pappasito’s on the Southwest Freeway (yesterday, December 30th) on their trip back from visiting us here in Boston.  When I lived in Houston, I ate at Pappasito’s regularly.  Generally, it’s a quality mid-range Tex-Mex option that’s run by the Pappas family.  (They own several mid-to-high-end restaurants in Texas, all of which started in Houston).  I realize that this week is very busy for restaurants, but there is no excuse for what happened to them last evening:  they were served a margarita with a rather large chunk of broken glass in it.  When my dad bit into it, he spit it out, and they called the manager over.  To make matters worse, the manager rather flippantly offered, “I’ll bring you another one — minus the broken glass of course, hah hah”.  Yeah, really funny, asshole.  Overall, my parents said the food was good (thankfully that hasn’t changed), but that the service was terrible, including their waitress who was flirting with the customers at the table next to them, using their phone to text message.  (Memo to her:  Hooter’s is further north on 59.  Perhaps you should consider employment there instead).  The manager should have immediately apologized for the incident with the glass, but apparently he didn’t even do that.  He also should have promised to find out how this happened and make sure it didn’t happen again.  How on earth can you eat someplace where you’re not sure if the food isn’t going to literally destroy your insides?  I’d have walked out, and needless to say, I won’t return to Pappasito’s when I visit Houston.

Tosca Review

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Tosca is a higher-end restaurant in Hingham, near where I live.  It’s owned by the group that also owns Stars, which is across the street.  (My wife and I really like Stars, which is an affordable, quality casual dining experience that’s perfect if you have a family).  We went on December 29th, which apparently is a busy time, which was fine.  I had a nice glass of cabernet sauvignon, and we started with some risotto.  The portion size was reasonably large for an appetizer, and it was quite good.  It was a bit heavy on the oil, but not too bad, and the amount of parmesan in it was just right — not overwhelming.  For entrees, my wife had a dry-aged boneless ribeye, and I had the “entree” portion of lobster ravioli.  The chef made the questionable choice of pairing the shallots, steak, and red-wine reduction sauce with cabbage, so my wife (wisely) substituted out the cabbage for some garlic mashed potatoes, which were delicious.  Her steak was large — perhaps 12 or 16oz — and quite carefully made and presented, and the sauce was just perfect with it.

My lobster ravioli was presented on a long rectangular plate, with each ravioli lined up.  The mild wine-reduction-and-cream sauce and sauted vegetables were flavorful and good, but there was a glaring problem with my ravioli:  there were only 5 of them.  For $27.  I am not cheap — I have no problem paying $50+ a head for a quality meal out, but this was ridiculous.  The ravioli portion size is wildly disproportionate to everything else offered as a meal at Tosca.  I’d have been much happier if they gave me 7 or 8 of them & charged me $35 instead of misleading me into believing I was ordering an entire meal.  The ravioli is marked as “entree sized” because Tosca rather obnoxiously notes on their menu that there’s an additional $11 charge to order pasta as an entree.  One would think that, since they conscientiously distinguish between smaller and larger portions, that the larger portion would be appropriate.  I noted this to the waitress, who seemed to indicate that they’d heard this before.  I definitely did not get the impression that they were going to change it any time soon, however.  Overall, the food was quite good, but there were some odd choices by the chef here (portion size being the primary among them, but also the questionable pairing of cabbage with steak & wine sauce).  Given that Bernard’s is nearby, I think I’ll be skipping another trip to Tosca in favor of going there instead — in fact, we would have gone to Bernard’s if it was open, but it’s a smaller establishment that is not open Monday or Tuesday.  Ah well.

Whole Foods Christmas Dinner Review

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

My wife & I ordered Christmas Dinner from Whole Foods again this year.  We’ve ordered Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners there before and have been impressed.  It’s a decent value for what you get, and the food is usually quite good.  This year, $79.99 bought me some green beans with almonds, bread stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and 4 to 6 pounds in turkey.  This is designed to feed 4 people.  The mushroom gravy (“vegan”) is really delicious, so I like to substitute that out for the default turkey gravy.  Unfortunately, my Whole Foods (in Hingham, MA) seems to be slipping in its execution for this.  Things started off badly this year when I went to pick up my food (on Christmas Eve), and they were unable to provide me any kind of meaningful instructions for reheating my turkey.  I’ve gotten this before, so I thought my meal would be the same, but the turkey they provided was not the prepped, bagged turkey — it was catered turkey in a roasting pan.  Both are pre-cooked, but the preparation was different, and this one lacked the turkey farm’s bag that had instructions printed on it.  So, they gave me the Whole Foods instructions — which were blatantly incorrect.  After 3 calls to the deli to try to get instructions, the lady working there decided that I should preheat my oven to 325 and heat my turkey for 20 to 30 minutes.  For 4 to 6 pounds of meat.  Yeah, no.  Okay, I’m from Texas, and I know a bit about both cooking and heating meat, and that isn’t even close.  I wanted the instructions from them about how to prepare it with seasoning & not dry it out, but they were hopeless.  I kept insisting it was wrong, and she was oblivious, so I just paid & left.  (Preheating to 350, putting the bird on a roasting rack, covering with foil, and putting 2 cups of chicken broth in the bottom of the pan while heating for 2 hours did the trick — came out moist & delicious).

On the day of heating (Christmas), I discovered several new problems with my meal.  First, the amount of potatoes was both skimpy and seemingly wrong.  I bought a 4-person meal for Thanksgiving from Whole Foods, and they gave me at least twice as many potatoes.  This was confirmed when I looked at the portion size — 8oz — and noted the package size:  24oz.  That’s right, they gave me 3 servings of potatoes for 4 people.  Next, I discovered the sell-by date for my cranberries:  November 30th.  Yes, they really did give me cranberries that were 4 weeks past their sell-by date.  I quickly double-checked the rest of the dates to make sure they were ok, but I had to throw out the cranberries.  Maybe they froze them.  Maybe they didn’t — I have no way of knowing, and that’s the point.  Overall, the food was good (especially the pecan pie I bought at Whole Foods to add to it) and easy to prepare, but I won’t buy another meal from them after this disaster.  My parents ran out of potatoes during the meal, and the bad service at the store just isn’t worth it.  Honeybaked Ham Company does pre-made holiday meals as well, so I’ll give them a shot next time.

Restaurant/food reviews

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

My wife & I like to eat out fairly often, and over the holidays we do so a bit more than usual.  We live in the South Shore area of Boston, which is somewhere between a suburb and urban in terms of its gastronomical landscape.  Practically speaking, that means that there is some crap, and there are some diamonds in the rough.  In the next few posts, I’m going to highlight some of each, and then hopefully keep up with it in the coming months.