Thursday, August 25, 2011

Las Vegas

The food scene in Las Vegas is one place where you do not have to gamble. With options ranging from cheap street food, to a fancy meal in celebrity chef's restaurant to the unbelievably ridiculous over the top buffets, you can keep hitting without busting.
I decided to go all-in and choose from the extraordinary list of celebrity chefs who run their restaurants (brands) in Vegas. These restaurants are run by extremely skilled executive-chefs, sous-chefs and their back-burner staff. I did not have too much time at my disposal and had to narrow two restaurants from a distinguished list. Finally it boiled down to Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and Emiril Lagasse’s New Orleans Fish House. B&B Ristorante and Mesa Grill lost purely because of the time factor.
The six-course meal at Spago was the pinnacle – Iron chef worthy food. It was the only way to eat have to get a taste of the entire gamut. You knew instantly your dining experience went up by a couple of notches when the food started after the other, seven different times.

 First course: Margarita flatbread topped with house-made cheese..right on top of the 'best thing i've ever had' list.

Second Course: Yellowfin Sashimi layered with avacado, daikon radish and yuzu-wasabi topped with lychee pearls and ceviche ginger vinaigrette.

Third Course: Tomato,shaved red-onions with wild arugula, handcrafted burrata cheese, extra-virgin olive oil paired with cream of corn soup.

Fourth Course: Seven hand-rolled ricotta gnocchi in black truffle butter sauce with corn and butter foam. This is not on the menu; one of Chef Klein's signature dishes. One simple bite....too many pleasures.

Fifth Course: Alaskan Halibut, caramelized white asparagus, baby carrots, haricort verts soaked in broth au pistou.

Sixth Course: Roasted half free range chicken with goat cheese dressing served with cippolini onions, baby spinach and natural jus

The only way to end the evening meal - Chocolate crepe with wild berry sauce and a Chocolate Beignet with burnt creme

Second stop on the celebrity chef dining tour was another Iron Chef - Emeril Lagasse's Emeril' New Orleans Fish House.

Pomegranate Martini - Mix equal parts of Pomegranate Liqueur and Vodka (preferably Russian) in cocktail shaker with ice. Strain and serve...simply awesome. 

Emeril's signature Barbequed shrimp

Pan-seared mahi-mahi and shrimp

A huge wine list with options to choose from bottles as little as $50 all the way to $12,000

Chef de cuisine Heath Cicerelli runs the show here while Emeril is the Executive Chef.

Friday, July 22, 2011

36 Hours in Seattle

Where to eat in under 36 hours in Seattle? Check out these local joints that define the mood and culture of the beautiful city.

B&O Espresso
A local favorite - this landmark restaurant serves its coffee and dessert with a dash of history. Lemon chiffon, devil's food and chocolate raspberry torte are worth the calories

Chapel Bar
Bar, lounge and club wrapped into one - this downtown destination sitting atop a mortuary offers a good selection of martinis.

Martini among other things at the Chapel

Pike Place Fish Market
This fish market offers its customers an almost 'Deadliest Catch' experience! Dungeness crab and smoked salmon are few of their specialties.

Daily Dozen Donut Co.
First stop at Pike Place. Piping hot and fresh off the fryer these donuts are worth the wait.

Kiss those Krispy Kremes good bye when you taste these. Get the plain or cinnamon sugar as they come out hot and golden!

Fruit stand, Pike Place Market
Grab a box of blueberries to snack while walking down Pike Place.

Piroshky Piroshky
Russian bakery selling stuffed pies called Piroshkies in the middle of Pike Place Market

Potato, onion and cheese Piroshky - a couple of these with some pike roast should be a stomach-full.

Streamline Diner
A quick ferry ride to Bainbridge island takes you to this beautiful restaurant featuring a seasonal menu. A local brunch favorite.

Half and Half - Whistling Veggie Chili Topped with Jack Cheese & Sour Cream served with a sandwich. Down it all with a pint of Peroni and you got yourself a nice breakfast!

Roma Omelette - Roasted Garlic Tomato sauce, Mushrooms, Fresh Basil & Mozzarella, topped w/Pesto Sour Cream

Taco Gringos
Located at Capital Hill, this late night taco stall has a daily menu featuring only 3 different kinds of tacos.  Minimal filling in two soft shell tacos exemplify a perfect Mexican street food fare. Perfect for a midnight snack.

Doing it the traditional way - keeping a street food the way it should be...simple, delicious and cheap.

Spicy chicken and corn w/pineapple pico de gallo and wrapped in a hot corn tortilla.served with a wedge of lime

Home sweet home
A drink with a view after a long cant buy you this.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Houston - Ruggles Green

A perfect sunday brunch at Houston's Ruggles Green.

Houston's First Certified Green Restaurant...what does that mean? Well for starters, the ingredients are all organic, local and with no added hormones! Surprisingly there are super tasty and delicious.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Houston - Banana Leaf

Where to eat in Houston?

With the desire to eat some spicy lunch and get together with a friend at a casual setting we narrowed down to Banana Leaf, a Malaysian Resto located in China Town. It was selected purely based on my mother-of-all-sources: Yelp! The very idea of a Malaysian cuisine also attracted me - with a fusion of Chinese, Thai, Indian and local Malay flavors it can satiate anyone. Banana Leaf is a small restaurant but they make up for the size with their really extensive menu. They house more than 200 different items that you can order from;the beverage list alone runs to about 18! It caters to a whole gamut of food lovers - from those who are seeking some good comfort food to those in an adventurous mood (Jelly fish Pasembur?)
Those chairs will get occupied during rush hour!

We ordered their famous Roti Canai and Roti Telur, served with a dipping curry for starters. The Roti Canai was really good, I mean you could go there just for this; the Roti Telur is nothing but the Canai which is stuffed with eggs and onions - so a no brainer, another yumm dish.
Roti Canai.....'Parotta' anyone?
Roti Telur - They call it 'lappa' back home!

For the main course we were pretty much flummoxed and overwhelmed on what to order? Should we get the stir-fry noodles or the noodle soup? Maybe the casseroles....wait, they have some sizzlers!? Well then we are not selecting anything from the 100 odd rice entrees?! The fact that we were gobbling up the Roti Canai while we were making this decision didnt help! After a lot of eating and very little deciding over the menu, we selected two items and let our wait staff decide on our third dish. We got the Indian-styled stir fry noodles, Nasi-Lemuk (chicken-anchovies-coconut rice) and the vegetable curry casserole.

The stir-fry noodles was exactly like what you'd find in any Indian-Chinese restaurant - a simple dish made beautiful.
Comfort Asian Food - Stir-Fry Noodles

The Nasi-Lemuk was almost like three dishes in one - it was curry chicken (w bone), chilli anchovies which was essentially anchovies in sambal and a pickle (nope....not pickled cucumber!) served with coconut rice and some hard boiled eggs topped with nuts. The curry chicken was good, very similar to what you would find in South India, but lacking in the spice level. I was having anchovies in sambal for the first time; I think I need to have more sambals before commenting on the one I had. I found it rather mild for my taste; I was expecting the sambal to be very spicy. The anchovies were cooked until it lost it's shape - so for the uninitiated, it could have been anything!
Nasi-Lemuk - a little bit of extra spice would have done the least for me!

 The best dish was the vegetable curry casserole which came in the actual cast iron casserole they cooked it in; they placed it over a small burner which I thought was pretty cool. It was a brothy-casserole rich in curry flavor with the right amount of heat.

Vegetable Curry Casserole...well no baking involved here!
Brothy Curry Casserole - the star of the afternoon

Overall, I'd recommend Banana Leaf to anyone who loves Asian cuisine. Malay food offers a good range of flavors and Banana Leaf is a good start. I'm looking forward to my next meal there - still have 219 dishes to sample!

'Woking' on the good stuff

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Houston - Melange Creperie

Where to eat in Houston?

Crepes - the national dish of France, a standard on breakfast menus is found all over the world; a friend of mine mentioned she ate street-side crepes in Thailand! So if you are in Midtown Houston (Fourth Ward to be exact) and care for some tasty, sumptuous and healthy crepes, Melange Creperie is your answer. Before you head there, be aware that this is no dining experience - this is a one-man-crepe-station on a parking lot! Sean runs the marvelous mobile creperie on the parking lot of Mango's on Westheimer & Taft. You can go online to his twitter account to find out his timings and menu.
His menu consists of no more than 4-5 different crepes - a mix of a few standard crepes along with the seasonal ones. There's the ham-egg-cheese, Texas ratatouille (yes, mixed veggies), banana nutella (nutella goes with anything rt?!) and my fav - toasted coconut and mango! Along with the crepes, Sean dishes out some trade secrets on his ingredients and where he acquired this art - all good marketing strategies. One crepe fills you up pretty good and it cost around 6 bucks - not a bad start to the weekend. I wish he had a pot of coffee going on as well - if you can make crepes on a parking lot, coffee shouldn't be that difficult! Great guy selling some very good crepes.

If I lived in the midtown area, I would be a regular at Melange Creperie . Remember to take a bottle of water, cos he sells only crepes!
Sean - The Crepe Master
Texas Ratatouille - fresh veggies inside a hot crepe
Banana NUTELLA! This was yummm and a crowd fav!
Seasonal stuff this - Toasted coconut and mango! This hit the spot :-)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Where to eat in Jamaica?

Okay, got to admit...I'm cheating a bit here - I should call this post "Where to eat in Negril" and not Jamaica; Negril is a beach town that's on the western end of this tiny island nation. Before I start detailing the lip-smacking delicacies that this part of Jamaica has to offer, I have to describe the laid back - relaxed attitude of the people here. It's almost as if they got no concept of time...remember the final snowy mountain fortress scene from the movie Inception? Imagine that pace to reflect our current think of the ultra-slo-mo scene where Yusuf is driving the van down the bridge - that's Jamaica for you! And in a way, it does affect your restaurant experience. Never go to a resto in Jamaica when you are really hungry and expect the food to be on your table in a jiffy; you just won't get it for a while....period! So leave behind the fast-food-drive-thru-"I'm not getting any quick service here" attitude behind before you step into this beautiful island. I should mention here that my good friend Karthik accompanied me on my culinary adventure - whether it was savouring spicy jerk chicken or taking a shot of the local drink - FBM.

Now to the good part!

Bourbon Beach - Jerk is actually a good word here!
When you think Jamaica, you think 'Jamaican Jerk' - the quintessential Jamaican flavor that you thought you tasted in your local Wings-Stop or Buffalo Wild Wings. just thought you did! When we wanted to taste some local jerk in Negril, we let our tour guide help find us an authentic place and he took us to Bourbon Beach, a beach front casual diner where all they make for you is Jerk Chicken. It was a one man - two women operation (and a bar tender tending to an empty bar). The guy was an exec-chef - sous-chef combo and the two ladies were managers cum expediters, though we did most of the expediting! But you know what, I coudn't care less - all I wanted to know was how the jerk chicken tasted....and boy it tasted goood! The meat is seasoned by applying the jerk spice either as a dry-rub or as a marinade. Then it is slow cooked over pimento wood until it's charred....but only in looks. Only when you taste it do you realize that all that black charred pieces of meat have the best jerk flavor - spicy, smoky with nothing burnt! You order them just like their tandoori cousins - 'half' or 'full' and he cuts the meat and pours a blackened sauce on top before packing it in a styrofoam to-go box (yup you guessed it - no crystal and china here!). The sauce is of course the jerk sauce and its bloody hot - if you have a sensitive palette and desire to taste the meat then don't even go near the sauce! The meat was perfect - moist inside, perfectly grilled outside with amazing flavor. And here's the best does not even remotely taste like what you had in BWW! Without a doubt, Bourbon beach is the place to go as far as jerk is concerned!
Bourbon Beach - best bet to fix your jerk cravings in Negril

Showing what he does best

Spicy, smoky and tender...delectable!

Country Country
This was the resort where we stayed - so I would not have sampled these yum breakfast fares otherwise. Two dishes come to my mind are the banana pancakes and the national dish of Jamaica - 'ackee & saltfish'. Let's start with the pancakes. The banana pancake served here is the best example of cooking a simple dish to perfection (which in my opinion is the most difficult thing to do - remember Chef Mehta losing the next Iron Chef battle 'cos he was not able to make decent french fries?!). The pancakes were relatively smaller compared with those in the U.S; something you will get used to in Jamaica. Nevertheless, I ended up ordering 6 of them beauties to keep me happy till lunch! In short, they were hot, buttery, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside with just the right amount of bananas- you get the general idea :-)
The 'Ackee and Saltfish' - Ackee...what again?? I figured there was fish in it....but in salted fish for breakfast? I googled it up later and found out that it is a combination dish made up of Ackee - a West African fruit that has to be cooked in order for it to be edible and Saltfish - simple cod that is dried and salted. It is a Jamaican tradition and the food of the locals. It did not appeal to me as a breakfast item, but Karthik ended up ordering it. The dish looked like scrambled eggs and tasted much like scrambled eggs just that they were extremely salty! They serve it with some calaloo (Jamaican for spinach), banana, fried plantains, dumplings and some fresh fruit. It does have an acquired taste and if you are into fish, just try the ackee by itself.
Banana Pancakes @ Country Country
Ackee and Saltfish

This was my favourite joint. The food, the novelty of the place, the cooking style and the fact that they are open 24 hours makes this place a must try if you are in Jamaica! Howie's is on the route from Negril to YS falls and the perfect pit-stop for you to fill your tummy either before or after the visit to the falls. Truck drivers, tourists, local men and women all flock to this 24 hour highway eatery. The food is cooked on about a dozen huge cauldrons on open wood flame and you are already thinking what a nice place! The menu boast some exotic soups - conch, goats head and beans, curries - chicken and goat, fried chicken and fish, and some mouth watering stews. We had the chicken stew with rice and vegetables along with some of their beans soup. The chicken was spicy and the bean soup with veggies made the whole meal very filling. Chase them down with some Red Stripe, the local beer and you need a nice nap to do some justice to that meal! Howie's is definitely a welcome change from the beach-front, all-inclusive 5-star restaurants that you find peppered all over the island. It offers soulful, cheap, spicy, local fare...we have a winner here!

Howie's HQ Dining
Pots and pots of lip-smacking local fare cooked over pimento wood
Chicken stew with rice, calaloo and festival (the long deep fried bread)

Sweet Spice
How does a restaurant qualify as a mom-and-pop joint? Would it be enough if the place is family owned, operated for more than 20 years, does not have any local branches and serves amazing local food with a distinct flavour? If that is the case, then this place is indeed one. All of us like these mom-and-pop joints for exactly the same reason - the food is unique to that place, there is a certain level of authenticity that makes us believe we are having a good time and the food is prepared in "limited editions" that makes us feel special. People come to such a place for more than just a meal, it's the overall experience. Sweet-Spice is one such local hot-spot. Karthik takes the credit for finding this joint and our driver hinted at ordering conch bits - or conch curry. The curry dishes are their crowd pullers - chicken, lobster, goat, conch to name a few. I tried the conch for the first time and it was very tasty - slightly chewy and tough from what I'd expected. The key, I believe is to marinate the conch for long hours in lime water or pound them hard before cooking. Served again with rice, it was a complete meal. Sweet Spice also serves an amazing list of fresh fruit juices -we got a tropical mix and pina for a change! So next time you are in Negril, ask your driver to take you up to Sweet Spice and get some conch bits...respect mon!

For a real fare of Jamaican home styled cooking - Sweet Spice
some spicy stuff this!
Conch bits with rice

Rick's Cafe
If you want a real taste of the party scene and want to inject some adrenelin to your vacation go to Rick's Cafe. They call themselves the 'World famous Rick's Cafe'. Ricks cafe is beautifully perched on top of the cliffs - the south end of Negril. They are famous for their sunset view, infinity pool, cliff diving and more importantly, their drink list. Two drinks that stood out which also characterize Rick's Cafe are the 'For Her' and 'For Him' drink. To quote directly from their menu, the description goes like this -
For Her: Sex with Rick $6
Vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, OJ, pineapple juice & a splash of cream . . . we’ll respect you in the morning
For Him: Front End Lifter A.K.A. Jamaican Viagra $6
Blended stout beer, white rum, rum cream, clear syrup, oatmeal & one egg topped with chocolate syrup. . . true story
But I was interested in another drink that I'd researched about before I went there - The FBM a.k.a The Flaming Bob Marley, in honor of the true legend of Jamaica. The drink consists of three equal parts - Grenedine spirit at the bottom layer, Creme de Menthe in the middle and topping it with 151 proof Rum served in a tall shot glass. The top layer is then lit and you are given a wet straw to drink it. The idea here is to drink the FBM quickly and in the process, you will notice the flame coming up the straw! And yes, you might wanna stop sucking at that time!! The drink was just alright (the mint liqueur didnt do it for me!) but the idea behind it was kinda cool I thought!
Evening scene at the World Famous Rick's Cafe
The two Flaming Bob Marleys...sitting pretty!

This picture, clicked by Karthik, paints Jamaica best - laid-back, care-free and intoxicating in many different ways....everyting irie, no problem mon!