Restaurant Review: Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante - Vegas

>> Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Artichoke salad

Last time I was in NY I missed going to Mario Batali's BABO restaurant since we couldn't make reservations for a large group (think 12 people). So when I realized that he had a restaurant in Vegas it was pretty much a given that I was going to go check it out. The only obstacle was to convince my friends. Luckily for me, after seeing the menus, they were pretty excited themselves. So right off the plane, we headed off to get ready for dinner at Batali's B&B Ristorante in the Venetian.

Atmosphere: Situated inside the glamorous Venetian hotel, the softly lit dining area brings forth comfort and coziness.

Price: Mid $10s - $40s

Food and Wine: After perusing the menu, we found it extremely hard to decide on any one item since we wanted to try everything. Initially we were going to try the Chef’s Tasting menu however with the time commitments that we had (usually requiring 3 hours or more for a tasting), it was decided that we would just choose an array of dishes to share.

We decided to follow the traditional Italian menu the way it’s meant to be enjoyed, starting with an antipasti of the Artichoke Salad with Mache and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. The artichokes were extremely flavourful and paired very well with the meyer lemon dressing. Addition of the mache with its mild lettuce flavour was a good match to the tangy salad.

Sweet Breads
Next up we moved on to the primi dishes, normally the pasta portion of the meal. We sampled the Gnocchi served with peas and proscuitto. I was surprised that the gnocchi was dense opposed to the pillowy soft gnocchi’s that I’m use to eating at an Italian restaurant. I specifically ordered this dish because it demonstrates how skilled a chef is and was a bit disappointed, especially more so since I was at the great Mario Batali’s restaurant. I was able to recollect myself and move on. The next dish we sampled was the Black Spaghetti with Sicilian Pesto. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and had a very nice spicy pesto sauce. My dinner companions found the dish to be a bit overly spiced. However, I enjoy the heat and found that I preferred this over the aforementioned gnocchi.

At this point we couldn’t wait for the secondi’s to arrive since we ordered the Rabbit Porchetta and the Crispy Polenta Sweetbreads. I’ve always wanted to try sweet breads but haven’t been able to find a place in Calgary that served it on their menus. Therefore it wasn’t a shocker that it was the one thing that I was looking forward to the whole evening and they did not disappoint. The sweetbreads came with three pieces, each perfected coated in a crispy polenta shell and served with fava beans and oyster mushrooms. When I took my first bite, the crunchy coating gave way to a delicate and soft interior that reminded me of offal, but much lighter. I can see that certain individuals might not enjoy it due to the texture, but I recommend that everyone at least try them once. They were a bit heavy though, so the dish was best shared since I couldn’t imagine eating all three sweetbreads myself.

The Rabbit Porchetta came with black trumpet mushrooms in a light primavera broth. We all found the broth a bit mild and did nothing for the rabbit itself. It also didn’t help that the meat of the rabbit was slightly over cooked resulting in a dry stringy texture. I wouldn’t recommend this dish since there are so many other choices to choose from.

Rabbit Porchetta
Of course we couldn’t end the evening without dolci aka dessert. We ended up with two contrasting dishes, the Grappa Panna Cotta and the Dark Chocolate Torta. The panna cotta was extremely velvety and it literally melted in your mouth leaving a nice light creaminess. The brown sugar strawberries were a delight as well. Contrasting with the dark chocolate torta made both desserts stand out. The torta was soft and moist, I didn’t even need the blood orange sorbetto that it came with, but then again it wasn't much different from other dark chocolate cakes. The only thing I would change was the portions of the dolci was extremely small, we probably could have used another dessert had we known the size of each dish.

For the evening we decided on two different wines, we started with the Rosso di Montalcino Talenti 2007, which has lighter fruity notes and a medium bodied finish. It tasted of raspberries and blackberries and went well with our lighter appetizers dishes. Next we decided on the Chianti Classico Fontodi 2006, with a oaky flavour reminisce of chocolate and cigars. It too was a medium bodied wine and accompanied the dark chocolate torta very well.

Desserts
My Picks: Crispy Polenta Sweetbreads, Grappa Panna Cotta

Overall: I was pretty excited to be enjoying my first dinner at the world renowned Mario Batali’s restaurant since I missed my chance in NY. Who doesn’t want to eat at Mario’s, especially after witnessing all the iron chef episodes on the Food Network? There were a few dishes that underwhelmed but the overall experience was great and I would definitely try it again, who knows, maybe next time I’ll be able to check out BABO.

B&B Ristorante
Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 266-9977
Website: http://www.bandbristorante.com/

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Viva Las Vegas

>> Saturday, May 28, 2011

Vegas Strip
I’ve been on a slight hiatus lately because I was in Vegas and literally just got back. As you can imagine, my brain is still trying to readjust itself. So I’d really appreciate it if everyone can just ignore my random ramblings if it does occur (not saying that it will, just might, but I think I’m doing it right now…so I’ll stop now).

Anybody that’s been to Vegas or has even heard of Vegas knows what it’s all about. The lavish hotels, the smell of money being spent (not to mention smoke, couldn’t remember the last time I smelled smoke…everywhere) and of course Vegas’ emerging food scene. Walking up and down the strip you can see the many different celebrity chefs’ endorsing their restaurants like Emilio Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and the like. We ended up trying out a couple like Mario Batali’s B&B located inside the Venetian, Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak at the MGM and the celeb hot spot Koi at Planet Hollywood. I believe each of those deserve their own stand alone blog, no?

Venetian
Aside from all the fancy dinner restaurants of course you can’t forget the everlasting Vegas buffets. The most famous of them all being the Bellagio buffet with dishes from around the world, which is located right inside the Bellagio (duh) beside the Cirque du Soleil O theatre. Talking about Cirque’s O, that was an amazing show and many people we mentioned it to afterwards highly recommended it over any other Cirque show’s they’ve seen. Just throwing it out there. We were staying at the Monte Carlo and ended up at our own buffet a couple of times as well (due to the thought of having to walk further than required for food in the mornings, who wants to do that?). The Monte Carlo buffet definitely isn’t as bountiful as the Bellagio buffet, but when you’re in a bind, it’ll definitely do. I suggest the extra $2 dollars for unlimited mimosas. What a better way than the start the day off right?

Pretzel
One thing we couldn’t leave Vegas without was to stop by the New York New York hotel for one of their specialties. Can you guess what it is? The New York pretzel of course! We were told by a friend of a friend of ours that their pretzels are to die for and she would pay life and limb for one and haven’t stopped dreaming of them since her last trip to Vegas 3 years ago. Well, how could I pass that one up, you pretty much can’t! So off we went in search of this pretzel place not knowing the specifics or the name of the store, until we happen upon it. New York Pretzels – don’t forget it. Lol.

The pretzels came in different flavours that can be found in common pretzel places such as plain, salted, cinnamon sugar, pepperoni, etc. The jalapeno and cheese one was different though, which was nice. I decided on the plain to get the real pretzel dough taste without the hindrances of all the other yummy toppings. My first bite was chewy, sweet, buttery and melted in my mouth before I could even say how good it was and it was good. I proceeded forward with the rest of the pretzel and didn't bother to stop in between bites. It was that good.

Vegas Sign
All in all, this Vegas trip was a well needed break from the everyday norm. However, this city is truly the city of vices in many more ways than one whether it be gambling, shopping, eating or anything else you’re thinking of. I just know it’ll be a while before my body and brain recovers and it’ll be a bit longer before I head out to Las Vegas again. However I now will also be dreaming about that delicious pretzel until my next Vegas expedition.

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Restaurant Review: Tapas Restaurant

>> Thursday, May 19, 2011


Smoked Salmon


It has been a hellish week, wait, that’s a total understatement. It’s been an insane month. I can’t wait for the month of May to disappear in to the deep recesses of my brain forever, without any hopes of return. I’m completely ok with wiping my memory of the last couple of weeks. What better way to do so then with food? Food solves all problems and a nice setting doesn’t hurt either. So it was a really nice surprise when my husband decided that we should just hightail it out of Calgary for the evening and drive to Canmore for dinner. After an hour or so we found ourselves surrounded by glorious mountains and heading to Tapas Restaurant. It’s also voted most romantic in the Rockies.

Atmosphere: Located in a refurbished private residence, the tiny dining area makes for a cozy date. However, it wouldn’t be the greatest for large groups.

Price: Mid $10s - $20s

Beef Carpaccio
Food and Wine: Shortly after we were seated, our waitress began explaining the menu and told us how they’re currently in the mist of changing their seasonal menu from winter to spring meaning a lot of the items that I wanted to try wasn’t available. I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed (remember the hellish week bit?) since I was really looking forward to trying their escargots and also their bison dish. However it also means that the restaurant is constantly changing and adapting, which is a good thing (I had to keep reminding myself of that fact).

Tapas also offers a Chef’s Tasting Menu, but the reviews online mentioned that we should stay with their original menu since the tasting doesn’t necessarily reflect what Tapas has to offer. So instead we opted to try a bit of their cold, hot and entrée sized dishes. Since the word tapas in Spanish does refer to little plates, I was more than prepared to sample a plethora of them.

We started with the Pintxo portion of the menu ordering the Smoked Salmon with red onion, capers and dill cream cheese. I love the combination of capers and dill. Who doesn’t like a little salmon with cream cheese? Classic. They also added a bit of avocado on each crostini which I really enjoyed. The Beef Carpaccio was served with a sherry vinegar reduction and a light dusting of manchego cheese. We found the amount of vinegar placed on the dish overwhelmed the delicate flavours of the beef since the beef slices were very thin, as carpaccios should be. I liked the reduction. Probably less of it would have allowed the beef to shine a bit more.

Mussels
Next came the Galician Octopus poached in olive oil and served with volcanic salt. The olive oil brought out a very fishy aspect of the octopus for me. Who knew octopus was fishy? So I quickly moved away from that dish and on to the Garlic Gambas. Gambas are shrimp in Spanish, these ones were paired with grilled chorizo sausage over a sweet and spicy sauce. The sauce was a nice accompaniment to the sausage, but the shrimp were a little well done. My seafood loving husband was a little unimpressed at this point. Luckily the mussels came out just then.

We decided on the Mariners Mussels, where the sauce is composed of white wine, onion, lots of garlic (yum!) and fresh parsley. It was amazing! The buttery white wine sauce was extremely light and fresh yet flavourful and garlicky. The combination of the ingredients worked very well together. We couldn’t stop dipping in to the sauce with the fresh loaf of house made bread that came with the dish. The bread itself was very good as well, crusty on the outside while remaining chewy and soft on the inside.

Lamb Rack
Our last dish for the evening was from the Platos section, which are larger plates meant to be more of an entrée size but still shareable. We opted to go with the suggested Lamb Lollipops, since I was intrigued by the maple syrup glaze (when I think maple syrup I usually think salmon). It was definitely unique since I can’t say I’ve had maple syrup on lamb before, but it was a nice change. The plate came with four ‘lollipops’ each cooked to a perfect medium rare. My husband thought it wasn’t gamey enough for lamb, but I enjoyed it since I’ve never been a huge fan of the overly wild game-meaty taste.

At this point, we decided that we would move on to dessert (although I could have used more mussels). I already had my heart set on the Dark Chocolate Decadence, their version of the chocolate soufflé, which is a semi cooked cake with a soft centre. The only little problem was it didn’t come with ice cream, so we added an order of the Chocolate Gelato (they were out of vanilla). I wouldn’t suggest the chocolate on chocolate unless you’re a really big chocolate fanatic (I know you’re out there), however I did find the gelato to be very light and preferred it over the soufflé. It is a little bit of a wait for the chocolate soufflé since it’s cooked upon order and we were ok with waiting. It allowed us to slow down the evening a bit and enjoy some more wine.

Speaking of wine, we ended up with a bottle of the Mas Donis Barricas, which is composed of Garnach and Syrah. It had a light ruby red color and fruity aromas reminiscent of raspberries and blackberries. The high tannins give off a bold finish, while the sweet fruit flavours linger. I normally prefer drier wines, so this was off from the norm for me, but the wine I decided on wasn’t in stock yet (menus changes). Maybe we should have opted to try the Sangria, which you don’t find normally in Alberta restaurants. You can order the sangria in half or full litres, which makes the Spanish ambiance a little more complete.

Desserts
My Pick: Mariners Mussels

Overall: It seemed like the theme of the evening was “out”, I was trying to get the last little while out of my head, we were out of Calgary and Tapas was out of a lot of the things we wanted. It didn’t ruin our evening though, it was still the weekend, we were in the mountains and we still had pretty decent food. I’m just not sure when we’ll be back to Tapas, but the next time when we call in for a reservation we’ll also ask if they’re in the mist of their menu changes. On the bright side, I did forget my week, might have something to do with all that wine!

Tapas Restaurant
633 10th Street
Canmore, AB
(403) 609-0583
Website: http://tapascanmore.ca/

Tapas Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Chinese Sticky Rice Recipe

>> Saturday, May 14, 2011


sticky rice

Being Chinese and growing up eating white rice my whole life, I really can’t imagine not eating it…ever. Rice is my automatic go to side and it goes with pretty much everything. Nothing is faster than pouring the washed rice in to a rice cooker and getting perfectly cooked rice in less than 20 minutes. It’s something that has almost become automatic at my house after a long day at work, walk through door, rice in cooker, it’s almost synonymous.

It seems rice has gotten a bad rap lately with all the diets that are banishing white rice. I agree that brown rice has more fiber since the bran is still intact. However, there are definitely ways where you can incorporate white rice in to your meals and still have it be healthy. It all depends on the sides that you’re serving your rice with. But if you’re concerned, there are different types of rice out there to try like basmati.

Rice is a lot more versatile then just being served to accompany the meal. It can be a meal in itself (no, I’m not telling anybody to just eat plain rice). Risottos are a great example of how Italians have turned rice into a star featured dish, with very simple ingredients and lots of yummy ricey goodness. The Chinese has something similar in sticky rice.

Sticky rice uses glutinous rice, which has a high amount of amylopectin or starch giving it the “sticky” quality once it’s cooked. Don’t be fooled by the word glutinous because this rice doesn’t actually contain any gluten, so it’s safe for those who are allergic to it. Sticky rice in asian cuisine is featured in all forms ranging from dim sum, main dishes and dessert. It’s great in all its variations but something about the sticky quality and saltiness just seems to pair delectably for my palate.

ingredients
Sticky Rice Recipe adapted from here
This sticky rice recipe does use Chinese sausage (something that just brings back childhood memories for me), but if you wanted to keep it healthier, substitute pork or chicken. Just cook the pork or chicken with some salt and pepper to taste and cut it into little chunks.

Ingredients:
5-6 dried shiitake mushrooms
3 links Chinese sausage, diced
1/4 cup dried shrimp, diced
2 cups glutinous rice
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
2 green onion stalks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
Cilantro for garnish

Preparation:
Soak the glutinous rice for at least an hour.

Soak mushrooms in a small bowl of warm water for at least 30 minutes. Once they are soft, squeeze out the water and dice. Reserve the water to cook the rice.

In a pan over medium heat, cook the garlic, mushrooms, Chinese sausage and dried shrimp.

Meanwhile, rinse the rice and place it in a rice cooker (or pot), add in 4 cups of water, including the water used to soak the mushrooms.

In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, oyster sauce and wine.

Pour in the soy sauce mixture in to the rice cooker or pot and let simmer for 20 minutes.

When the rice is done cooking, add in the mushroom mixture in to the rice.

You may add the green onions in to the cooked rice or serve it over top with the cilantro as garnish.

Serve and enjoy!

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Restaurant Review: Maple Leaf Grille & Lounge

>> Monday, May 9, 2011

Seafood Tower
It’s really nice seeing the weather start to warm up outside and that it’s starting to rain instead of the “s” word. Almost makes me hopeful for camping weather in the next couple of weeks, possibly May long? Crossing my fingers! I’m always anxious to get out to the mountains for that first hike of the season or figuring out where we should go camping.

Many tourists fly half way around the world to experience the mountains that are our backyard, so I really hope the weather cooperates so we can all enjoy what is so close to our homes. Plus, while you’re there why not check out a few places for good eats, one being the Maple Leaf Grille located in Banff.

Atmosphere: A two tier restaurant and bar, with the elegant and woodsy dining area overseeing the lower more casual lounge below.

Price: Mid $10s - $40+

Duck
Food and Wine: Initially we were headed to Canmore for dinner after coming back from the mountains, but our rumbling stomachs couldn’t wait that long. A few searches on the internet and we found ourselves being seated at the Maple Leaf Grille. Not long after we were given the wine and food menu. Since we were all ravenous at the time, it didn’t take us long to decide what to order.

We started with Tier 1 of the Seafood Tower, which included mussels, prawns, scallops, smoked salmon, grilled squid and raw oysters. The seafood was all very fresh considering we’re talking about Alberta and not necessarily the closest area to a body of water. Everything but the oysters and salmon were cooked together in an amazingly light tomato sauce that brought out all the succulent flavours of the seafood. It was great scooping up the sauce with the mussels, would have been better if we had some bread to dip in as well. In addition to lemon I enjoy my oysters with lots of tobasco and I recommend it if you’ve never tried it a little extra spicy. A mignonette would have been a nice addition to the oysters as well.

Bison Tenderloin
For our entrees, both my husband and I decided to go with the ‘turf’ route to round out our meal. I ordered the Quebec Brome Lake Duck, which came with roasted asparagus, a wild mushroom risotto croquette, and topped with sasktoon berries. I thought I was used to seeing different restaurant servings, but I was wrong. I was surprised at how large this entrée was. The dish came with both duck breasts and a duck leg, they weren’t kidding when they wrote ‘duck’ on the menu. Since I don’t often get both the breast and leg in a dish, I managed to eat everything. I found the breast to be more tender and flavourful, which is a shocker coming from me, since I am a dark meat person through and through. The leg of the duck, even though it was served with the skin on, was a bit on the dry side and seemed a little overcooked. I wasn’t a huge fan of the accompaniments since the dark was obviously the star of this dish. The Saskatoon berries were a nice touch, giving the dish a bit of sweetness.

My husband decided on the Chef’s special of the day, which was a 7 oz Bison Tenderloin wrapped in Pork Belly with creamy mashed potatoes and roots vegetables. The tenderloin was juicy and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The pork belly gave the steak a perfect touch of salt and brought out the sweetness of the bison. I was amazed that the bison wasn’t dry since it’s a leaner meat, but I definitely wouldn’t order it anymore further than a medium rare. I really enjoyed the mashed potatoes and kept picking it off of his plate. It was fluffy yet creamy without being heavy, which could occur when too much butter is added to the mashed potatoes.

Chocolate Souffle
Our companions ordered the King Crab and the Braised Lamb Shank. I didn’t taste either of the dishes but the lamb smelled very gamey (I could smell it across the table) and my friend agreed that it definitely was more so then what she’s use to.

For dessert we ordered their famous Hot Chocolate Souffle, where they serve it at a piping hot 400 degrees with a nice side scoop of vanilla ice cream. You can never go wrong with hot melty oozy chocolate with cold ice cream. There is a bit of a wait due to the cooking of the soufflé but there is nothing I would change about the way it’s served, nice and hot straight from the kitchen. Our friends decided on the Tiramisu and said that it wasn’t passable, but would have ordered the soufflé if they had a chance at a redo.

As for the wine list, it read like a novel including a table of contents. We ended up with a Chianti, but with over 600 bottles of wine in their cellar I’m sure there will be something for everyone including the wine connoisseurs. Their wine list is updated every couple of weeks, so please contact them directly for a better listing of their wines.

My Picks: Seafood Tower, Chocolate Souffle

Tiramisu
Overall: There is nothing better then heading out to enjoy the mountains aside from great weather and of course, great food. So if you’re ever in the Banff area, I highly recommend that you check out Maple Leaf Grille, if not for the delicious food or hot chocolate soufflé, then at least have a peek at their amazing wine list. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Maple Leaf Grille & Lounge
137 Banff Avenue
Banff, AB
(403) 760-7680
Website: http://www.banffmapleleaf.com/

Maple Leaf Grille & Lounge on Urbanspoon

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Homemade Scallion Pancakes

>> Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Scallion Pancakes aka Green Onion Pancakes

A few weeks ago I woke up on Saturday craving something doughy and savoury. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was specifically that I needed, so I started racking my brain for different things I could make. Then it hit me. Scallion Pancakes or more commonly known as Chong Yeow Bang in Chinese, which literally translates to Green Onion Oil Cakes (I’m more in to the green onion part).

The last time I had these Chinese pancakes was a couple of years ago when we were walking through T&T supermarket and bought them on a whim. I remember taking a bite out of one and thinking that they were bland and oily without much green onion flavour at all. So I figured I’d take a stab at making them myself that Saturday. Plus there was no way that I was going to make it to T&T, buy them, trek them home and cook them before my stomach digested itself.

Green Onions
Surprisingly the recipe below which was adapted from Serious Eats, takes less than an hour in total including prepping and cooking time. I lowered the amount of oil used in the recipe by cooking them in a nonstick pan. It still gave the pancakes a crispy outer shell without the extra greasiness.

I highly suggest eating these with a nice warm cup of soy milk to make a complete breakfast of carbs, protein and fats. It definitely brought me back to my childhood. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as well.

Before Rolling
Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour (I didn’t use whole wheat because it wanted to keep the texture of the pancake doughy, although if you wanted to you could substitute 1/4 cup of the all purpose with whole wheat)
1 cup boiling water
2 cups green onions, chopped
Sesame oil
Salt

Preparation:
Measure out flour in a bowl, add 3/4 of the boiling water and mix. Slowly add in a bit more water a bit at a time until the dough starts to come together without being overly sticky. You may need a bit more water than the initial 1 cup.

Knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball, you can do this in the bowl or on a floured countertop.

Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap for up to 30 minutes at room temperature (or overnight in fridge if you’re making this ahead of time). This resting time allows the gluten in the dough to form giving the pancake its chewy texture.

Spiral
Once the dough has rest, divide the dough in to 4 or 8 even pieces (depending on how big you want the pancakes to be) and roll each out to flatten disks.

Lightly brush a layer of sesame oil on to the top of the dough, sprinkle on a bit of salt and green onions. Roll up the disk like a jelly roll and twist in to a spiral (like making a cinnamon bun). Flatten the spiral a bit and roll it flat again (like the photos). You can repeat the previous step to increase the number of layers within the pancake.

Repeat with remaining dough.

After Rolling
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat (you can use a bit of pam spray if required) and cook each pancake for roughly 2 mins per side or until they turn a light golden brown.

Serve immediately while they’re still warm, delicious with warm soy milk! Enjoy!

Makes 4-8 pancakes (depending on size)

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