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Deer Valley, Utah

Mariposa gets my vote. Great food and service. Beware, though, it is very expensive.

Dec 23, 2009
jtkoo in Mountain States

Vegas: Need help on a few decisions

I'm not familiar with DJT, but Bouchon is always a safe bet. You might also consider Daniel Boulud Brasserie at the Wynn. We had a great entrecote de boeuf for two including marrow, pommes puree, chickpea fries, and heirloom tomato salad for $100...a relative bargain. In the same area, we also love Alex...the food is great and my wife loved the little stool they brought out for her purse.

Dec 21, 2009
jtkoo in Las Vegas

Restaurant Charlie - Palazzo - Las Vegas

I can't help wondering if our experience is the reason Charlie Trotter resisted opening other outposts for so many years...he is a well-known perfectionist and you could tell in the precision way his Chicago restaurant is run. These flaws were really minor, but annoying nontheless...mistakes in seasoning, careless service. Maybe he just needs to spend more time in Vegas to shake things up a bit.

Dec 21, 2009
jtkoo in Las Vegas

Restaurant Charlie - Palazzo - Las Vegas

Well, it seems there are a wide variety of opinions about Restaurant Charlie here. We were, unfortunately, disappointed. We'd been huge fans of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, and were excited to try out his new place in Las Vegas emphasizing seafood. Maybe it was because it was so late (9:30pm on a Friday night after a show) but the servers were definitely not on their game. Though they advertise that they take reservations until 11:00pm, there was just one other party in the restaurant (maybe due to the poor economy?).

I started out with a nice, albeit expensive glass of Schramsberg, and was greeted by a refreshing amuse consisting of a little pile of Peekytoe crab seasoned with light citrus and vinegar flavors. As an aside, I wonder what the attraction of Peekytoe crab is...it seems that it is always somewhat tough and stringy. I much prefer Maryland Blue Crab.

I then proceeded with the Fruits de Mer with spot prawns, cockles, and oysters. The presentation was lovely but it was oversalted. Furthermore, though chilled, I didn't realize that the spot prawns would be raw...they weren't even cured by the citrus, and as a result, were unpleasantly mushy with an unpleasant lingering aftertaste. The dish was garnished with two deep-fried shrimp heads, but these were lukewarm and tasted like they had been done well in advance of plating.

My wife had spiced artichokes with honey and pine nuts. Now these were delicious. The artichokes were deep-fried and seasoned with some Moroccan-inspired heat. Great dish.

I then had the Lobster tart with chorizo and trumpet mushrooms. This was again marred by oversalting and the generous chunks of lobster were a bit overdone. Conceptually, the problem I have with this dish is that there was an overwhelming amount of chorizo that had been overcooked resulting in a vinaigrette with lots of hard "pebbles".

Finally, I had the hamachi with braised short ribs and trumpet mushrooms. It was okay. The short ribs were shredded into little ropes of meat but were a little tough and stringy, and again seemed oversalted to me (I wonder if they had been sitting around too long out of their braising liquid through the course of the day). The fish, though nice and rare in the middle, seems to have been seared at too high a temperature so that the exterior was actually over-seared and overdone...I've never encoutered that before!

In the meantime, my wife had the ocean trout with oysters and hijiki. The oysters were perfectly poached and remained meltingly tender albeit too salty, but the trout again tasted overdone and chewy.

We would have given a pass on the food if the service were better. It was very friendly and as a result, it was very difficult to post a negative review. But it seemed unattentive. We had a dining companion who was vegetarian but did not like beets. We made this clear to the many servers who attended us. So the amuse came with roasted beets. We pointed this out to the server. Then her next dish came with beets. We again had to point this out. We had to ask for more bread on numerous occasions, and refills on water.

Again, this dining experience was so disappointing in view of the fact that I love Charlie Trotter's so much. For my wife's two courses and my three courses, a glass of Schramsberg and a glass of chablis, tax and tip, we paid nearly $300 (way overpriced). The place did have the air of impending failure wafting about....I wonder if the result would have been different earlier in the evening. But this is Vegas for crying out loud!

Dec 20, 2009
jtkoo in Las Vegas

NY CH'er off to LV -

I don't know if you're sick of Daniel Boulud since you're coming from NYC, butone of our favorites for something less formal than Guy Savoy or Joel Robuchon is Daniel Boulud Brasserie at the Wynn. The food is great and there is the signature "pool show" outside. The entrecote (bone-in ribeye) for two for about $100 was tender, juicy, and perfectly charred on the outside. It came with all sorts of accompaniments...split roasted bones filled with marrow, fried chickpea fries, pommes puree, creamed spinach, and an heirloom tomato salad as well as a rich Bearnaise sauce. We were stuffed, and found the price quite reasonable.

Dec 19, 2009
jtkoo in Las Vegas

Proposal Location, Salt Lake City, New Years

Well, if you're staying at the Grand America, you can walk across the street for the New Year's Eve party at the Little America (interestingly there is no party at the grand America). It doesn't look like much from the outside, but I assure you it is first class all the way inside. The buffet is high class...better than the Grand America's famous Sunday brunches, and probably almost the equal of the Bellagio buffet. Last year, they had a great live band and there was fun dancing of all sorts. It is pricey...about $144 each (with tax and some mysterious "service charges").

If you desire a more intimate place, let me first warn you to avoid La Caille...it is a cheesy and tacky attempt to replicate a French chateau...to top it off, the food is terrible. The best restaurant in Utah is at Deer Valley and is called Mariposa. If the hike is not to your liking, Bambara at the Hotel Monaco is quite good as is Log Haven. I think it would be difficult to find a spot in SLC with a romantic atmosphere that is also elegant and has good food (not to mention having dancing). Cafe Madrid is probably the most romantic place we've been to in SLC, but it is pretty informal. It is a tapas place, probably overpriced but still pretty good. I just don't know how good it is for proposing.

Dec 19, 2009
jtkoo in Mountain States

Deer Valley, Utah

Mariposa at the Deer Valley Resort is probably the best restaurant in Utah. Standouts include the wild mushroom beggar's purse, the sablefish Mariposa, and the rack of lamb. Take care, though, as it is VERY expensive...$300 for a tasting menu and vegetarian tasting menu with no booze. For cheaper eats, you could go to Zoom, Robert Redford's bar and grill in Park City. The food's OK and the atmosphere is great. Restaurant Jean Louis is kind of strange...it has a fine dining atmosphere, but across the room is a loud and vibrant bar scene. In addition to fine dining dishes, they also serve things like Po-Boys! Both kinds of food are pretty good...it's just a little strange. Personally, we like Grub's a very affordable steakhouse away from the main strip. The food is good and the service is always great.

Dec 19, 2009
jtkoo in Mountain States

SF Trip Report

Good point. Actually, I did know that she was not the owner (why else subject yourself to the drama of Top Chef?). The whole time we were at Absinthe, my wife and I kept remarking how happy the owners must have been that Jamie did not win. Otherwise, they would have lost a star chef. Regardless, I think Jamie is clearly very talented and will do just fine in the future.

Apr 27, 2009
jtkoo in San Francisco Bay Area

SF Trip Report

It had been a few years since we'd been to SF, but I thought I'd share some thoughts (rather lengthy) on some of the places we visited this past week.

We started out at the Giants game at AT&T Park. What a gorgeous setting! It was a beautiful day and we had great seats next to home plate. The garlic fries were very tasty and better than the fries at Candlestick (which were overloaded with a somewhat unpleasant jolt of raw garlic). The Crazy Crab sandwich was rather disappointing however. For $15, I got a stingy, bland crab salad on limp, soggy sourdough bread. And that was all. The giant Bratwurst was good and a relative bargain at $7. In all, slightly better than average ballpark food.

That night, we explored Chinatown (we wanted to stay close to Union Square where we were staying). We ended up back at Great Eastern where we always seem to go when we are in town. I was rather surprised to see that there were no Chinese patrons this time. Rather, the other tables were filled with tourist-types. This should have tipped us off. The seafood hot and sour soup had peas and carrots this time, and was dominated by the overpowering vinegar. The Clams in Black Bean Sauce was good, though they did not use the more tender baby clams that are typically a part of this dish. Another classic Cantonese dish, Oyster and Roast Pork Clay Pot was undone by tough, overdone pork and gritty oysters loaded with sand. In all, a very disappointing experience.

We'd been very anxious to go back to Shanghai Dumpling King (I recall it used to be called Shanghai Dumpling House). During our last visit, we had some of the best XLB we'd ever had in the U.S....they were quite small, exquisitely thin-skinned, and filled with a copious amount of deliciously scalding broth. Alas, those dumplings are but a distant memory. The latest iteration consisted of much bigger dumplings with little to no broth. They remained thin-skinned, but there was little flavor. Very disappointing, even when compared to Joe's Shanghai in NYC (of which I am not a fan). The best I have had recently would be the ones at Grand Shanghai in Edison, NJ, and even Shanghai Park in Princeton. We also had the pan-fried pork buns which were OK, and superior green-onion pancakes. I think we will look for another XLB joint for our next visit.

We had dinner at Gary Danko that night. For those not in the know, you can eat there even if you don't have reservations (which can be difficult to get at times) by sitting at the bar (best bet is to show up at 5pm when they open). In any case, it had long been a favorite of ours for high-end dining. The "Dungeness Crab Salad with Citrus, Avocado and Meyer Lemon-Chive Vinaigrette" was wonderfully light and perfectly seasoned; the "Glazed Oysters with Osetra Caviar, Zucchini Pearls and Lettuce Cream" seemed like a poor man's imitation of Thomas Keller's Oysters and Pearls...for such a paltry portion, the dish was not rich enough to carry the flavors. My wife's "Savory Tart of of Spring Vegetables with Ricotta Cheese Mousse" was the biggest surprise of the evening. It was full-flavored but commendably light. Meanwhile, I was somewhat disappointed with my "Seared Sonoma Foie Gras with Caramelized Red Onions and Rhubarb". The flavors seemed almost tired...been there done that; my meal was redeemed by the "Roast Maine Lobster with Potato Purée, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Edamame Beans and Tarragon"...this was a decadently rich dish and the lobster was perfectly tender and sweet. I would have licked my plate if I had the chance. I am glad I didn't get my wife's "Horseradish Crusted Salmon Medallion with Dilled Cucumbers and Mustard Sauce". The poached fish tasted soggy and bland, and the horseradish was not complimentary. My "Lemon Pepper Duck Breast with Duck Hash, Parsnip Purée and Roasted Grapes" was good but not great...the duck was cooked medium-well instead of medium-rare, but the duck leg confit hash was crispy and delicious. My wife's "Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Israeli Couscous, English Peas, Spring Onions, Artichokes and Mint" was perfectly cooked, but I preferred the flavor profiles of my "Seared Filet of Beef with Braised Celery, Potatoes, Bacon, Leeks and Bordelaise Crust". The celery was perfectly braised...it was tender yet retained some crunch while the beef was perfectly seasoned and cooked. We finally finished off our meal with the "Baked Chocolate Soufflé with Two Sauces". The souffle was perfectly light and airy and was complimented well by the creme anglais and dark chocolate sauces. The mignardises made for a final temptation though I missed the meringue cookies. This was a very nice meal and reinforced my faith in Gary Danko.

The next day, we visited the Swan Oyster Depot, another old favorite. We arrived at about 11am and had our pick of the seats at the bar...within 15 minutes, there was a line out the door. Let's face it, the place is a cramped dive. But it has a terrific vibe and we had typically friendly service from the many guys behind the counter. We had wonderfully fresh and plump bluepoint and miyagi oysters (you don't get oysters like these in Utah and Texas!). My wife had the clam chowder (too thin for my tastes) and we split a dungeness crab salad which was loaded with impeccably fresh-picked crab. Awesome meal and still a must-do in SF. Remember to bring cash cause they don't take any credit cards.

Finally, we were going to cap off our visit with Wicked at the Orpheum, so we needed a restaurant near the theater. I had heard of Absinthe from some of the other threads here, and I was intrigued by eating at Chef Jamie Lauren's place (of Top Chef fame). We were shocked at the size of the place (it took up four rowhouse fronts) and by the size of the crowd. The front bar was packed (and very loud)...fortunately, we were seated in the relatively sedate back. The atmosphere was wonderful and felt like a real Paris brasserie. We started with perfectly crisp frites which were served with malt vinegar, a mild dijon mustard sauce, and a nondescript rouille. They were terrific but we had barely made a dent in them when my frisee salad and my wife's onion soup were brought out. My salad was fantastic (it always amazes me how good something as simple as a salad is when it is perfectly prepared). The bacon lardons were crispy yet tender, the greens were perfectly dressed, and the fried duck egg which topped the salad added the perfect richness to the dish (the caviar seemed of a lower grade and added little to the dish). Meanwhile, my wife's soup was rich while not being overly salted, and topped with a mountain of wonderfully gooey melted Gruyere. My wife had the Absinthe Hamburger which was perfectly done, juicy, and tasty. I had the "Pan seared local halibut with sunchoke purée, pea leaves, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, sorrel & lemon thyme fumet " which required a finesse that I thought really showed off Chef Jamie's skills. The fish was impeccably fresh and prepared flawlessly, and the accompaniments reminded me of the subtle tastes at Chez Panisse. Wow. We finished with the "Warm chocolate-banana with
salted caramel sauce, malted banana ice cream, macadamia brittle"...this was very dense and rich, but a little bit too cloying for my tastes. Overall, a fantastic meal. Admittedly, we were somewhat surprised at Chef Jamie's finesse and skill (could it be her antagonistic and militant attitude on the show?) but I think we have found another favorite for our next visit to SF.

Apr 27, 2009
jtkoo in San Francisco Bay Area