Around the BLOCK

D.O.C.G. Enteca by Scott Conant in Las Vegas

Written By: Mary Bloch - May• 19•14

D.O.C.G. in Las Vegas is a winner. Extremely appealing in decor with a very contemporary yet comfortable vibe, the food is equally enticing. The space is long and narrow, with brick walls and a wood-burning fireplace in the open kitchen at the end. The menu is all Italian, but goes beyond pizza and pasta, delving into grilled meats and fish as well.DOCG--Las Vega

Chef Scott Conant also owns Scarpetta, an Italian restaurant in New York City that has an outpost right next to D.O.C.G in the Cosmopolitan hotel.Crispy artichokes--DOCG

Diners can choose to order multiple dishes to pass around the table or go the more customary route of first course and entree.  In keeping with what is really a family tradition, we wanted to sample as much of the menu as possible, and ordered several dishes from each category. Since there were only three of us we had to be judicious in our selections, but we still managed to enjoy a nice variety.

Our waiter highly recommended the fried artichokes, emphasizing that they were flash-fried and not dripping in oil. He was right. And they were addictive.Beets--DOCG

The grilled octopus was charred and extremely tender and, unlike any preparation I’d ever seen since it was sliced vertically. Paired with the crispy chick peas, it was another winner.Octopus--DOCG

The mound of roasted beets, sitting atop yogurt and pumpkin seeds sounded like it might be what you see on every menu these days, but Conant managed to make it unique.

We then shared the margarita pizza and though it sounds mundane, it was anything but because of the perfect, chewy crust.Margarita Pizza--DOCG

As tempting as it would have been to order the lamb T-bone (all grilled meats are offered with your choice salsa verde, marrow and barolo, fra  diavolo butter), diver scallops or osso bucco with polenta and black kale, we decided to share a couple of pastas instead: Pici with braised duck sauce and black truffles; and Scialatielli, served “arrabbiata” with lobster & shrimp. Hands down my favorite pasta of the trip (and we had many!)Pici with duck ragu--DOCG

We also ordered grilled broccolini with garlic and chiles, but were just as happy when we realized our waiter forgot it, since we had eaten more than enough by that point.Scialatielli--DOCG

But that’s not to say we didn’t succumb when the waiter suggested we cap off our dinner with a caramel budino. At Cafe Sebastienne in Kansas City, the outrageous chocolate budino is sliced like a loaf. This was served like a pudding in a small cup,  but fortunately didn’t resemble Jello-O, and we all fought over the last spoonful.

My only complaint was that the food was not well paced. If we hadn’t sensed that and ordered each course separately, we’d have been in and out in under an hour.  As it was we still felt rushed, and barely had time to sip our wine between dishes. The wine list, by the way, had some awesome selections, but there were no bargains to be had. The offerings were as expensive as in the most expensive restaurants in Las Vegas. It would make sense in its upscale next door sister, but not here so much.IMG_0747

My hope is that Conant expands beyond Vegas and adds another D.O.C.G.’s around the country. There are many other similar concepts in other cities, but not nearly as well executed as this one.

D.O.C.G. on Urbanspoon

First Taste: Saki Asian

Written By: Mary Bloch - May• 12•14

Sakae Sushi Admittedly, I don’t think about driving to the Northland to eat. I’m usually only in the area on the way to or from the airport, and never want to stop to eat after a trip in which I spend most of my time eating! But many Facebook mentions and online pictures of Saki Asian convinced me to make the drive, which is actually no farther and probably easier than driving to Leawood from the Plaza.

The name and the pictures I had seen made me assume that this is just a sushi restaurant, but when we sat down and were handed the extensive menu I discovered that it’s an Asian restaurant serving the cuisines of China, Thailand and Japan. Since we only ordered sushi and didn’t try any of the wok dishes or the hibachi grill or the curries, I have no idea if they’ve tackled too much, but I do know that they hit a home run with the sushi.

The sushi list is extensive, and our server recommended it all so it was hard to pare down our choices. But we were delighted with what we selected; it was beautifully presented and the fish was as fresh as any you’d find on the coasts.Yellowtail Sashimi with jalapeno and cilantro--Sakae Sushi

We started with Jalapeno Yellowtail Sashimi, thick slices of yellowtail in a light and citrusy vinaigrette that allowed the flavor of the fish to sing. It’s in a different class than similar renditions of the same dish around town.

We then shared the Spider Roll, soft shell crab with eel sauce and the Sumo Roll, spicy tuna and asparagus topped with white tuna, red tuna, smelt roe and green onion. We didn’t realize at first that half of the pieces had white tuna on top and the other half had red, but fortunately we figured it out in time to sample both.Sumo Roll and Caterpiller Roll--Sakae Sushi

Service was attentive, oh-so-friendly and efficient. The restaurant personnel clearly wanted us to be happy and return. No worries, we’ll be back, and not just on our way home from the airport.

Saki Asian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare

Written By: Mary Bloch - May• 05•14

If you happen to be in Las Vegas celebrating a special occasion, have I got the place for you! It’s called Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare and it’s in the Wynn hotel. Paul Bartolotta won a James Beard Best Chef award for this restaurant, and also owns nine other restaurants, all in Milwaukee. I haven’t been to any of those, but I’d bet the house they are cheaper than this one.Bartolotta

Yes, you are going to spend some big bucks, but it will be a memorable evening. The key is to reserve one of the outdoor cabanas that are situated around a lovely pond filled with floating metal balls. This comes at a price of course, a $150 per person minimum. But if you order cocktails and or wine, you’ll have no trouble crossing that threshold. Oh, and when you make your reservation, ask for Enrique to be your server; he’s a personable and charming young man from Italy. And since the menu will transport you to Italy, you might as well have the server add to that sensation.Pasta "rags" with seafood--Bartolotta

At Bartolotta, it’s all about the fish and seafood. There are plenty of other fine options, but considering the restaurant gets their fish shipped in from Italy every day and it’s still alive when it arrives, you might want to tame your carnivore urgings for the evening.

It was my husband’s birthday and since he’s an all-pasta-all-the-time kind of guy, he enjoyed three courses of pasta. I started with one of those same pastas, lasagnette con ragù di crostacei , “rags” of pasta, lobster, shrimp, crab, white wine, tomato. Bobby Flay once said it was the best pasta he’d ever eaten and, though I probably wouldn’t go that far in my praise, it was fabulous. The sauce was extremely flavorful without being overpowering so the freshness of the seafood came through, and the pasta was obviously homemade.Squid ink risotto--Bartolotta

Keeping with the seafood theme, my son had a squid ink risotto chockfull of seafood.  We both ordered the Abruzzi style seafood stew for our entree and were not disappointed. The broth was rich, and the seafood and fish swimming in it made it a feast.Abruzzi style seafood stew -Bartolotta

My husband’s other pastas included  hand made ribbon pasta with shrimp, and spaghetti with langoustine in a spicy marinara sauce. He was a happy man.pasta with langoustine and spicy marinara sauce--BartolottaP1020550

Grand tasting menus are available and served family style, which would have been a fun way to sample much of the enticing menu had pasta not been the main focus of our dinner.semifreddo--Bartolotta

They brought us a special dessert; Tahitian vanilla bean semifreddo, with dried figs in red wine syrup and bitter chocolate sauce. It didn’t sound very good when I saw it on the menu, but it was. We also ordered a variety of gelato, each better than the other. A sweet ending to a memorable evening.gelato--BartolottaOutdoor cabanas--Bartolotta

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Tasty Tips

Written By: Mary Bloch - Apr• 28•14

Asparagus season is in full swing–don’t miss out on one of spring’s most versatile and tasty offerings. Select freshly picked stalks, without the chalky film at the bottom. Whether steaming, roasting or grilling, simply snap each one near the end; they will break at the proper point, where the woody and tender parts meet. Grilling is my favorite preparation. Before throwing the spears on a hot grill, dress them with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Turn every couple of minutes until just cooked through. (Like green beans, if the vibrant green color disappears, the asparagus is overcooked.) Once off the grill, arrange on a special platter and splash with balsamic or sherry vinegar. Finally, top with shavings of Parmesan.asparagus-0071-1024x768-150x150

Alternatively, roast for 10-15 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

When the season nears its end and the stalks are more woody, use them to make soup. Cut up some scallions or leeks, sauté in olive oil or a bit of butter, add cut up asparagus stalks, reserving the tips for garnishing the soup, and add stock. When the asparagus is soft, use an immersion blender to puree. Add in the tips to cook until tender, and scoop into bowls. Top with some chopped herbs of your choosing and you’ve got an easy and healthy meal!

Domo

Written By: Mary Bloch - Apr• 21•14

Domo in Brookside is one of those places I always forget about despite its close proximity to my home. More often than not when I think sushi, I think Kaiyo or RA Sushi, both of which are in Leawood. But I recently went to Domo for lunch and was pleased I did.Domo

I’ve been to Domo several times, but it had been a while. I recall having always had a good meal there, but it is rare for me to not be happy with whatever sushi I order wherever I am–unless of course the fish itself is off.

Fortunately, I went with a friend who eats a lot of sushi and is more discerning than I. She’s the one who turned me on to Kaiyo years ago, and we both think it’s the best sushi restaurant in town. So I knew I could count on her expert opinion.DomoSexy Mama--Domo

We ordered a house salad with miso dressing, seaweed salad, and three sushi rolls, including the beautiful Sexy Mama.

My friend agreed with my assessment that the presentation was spot on and each roll was fresh and creative.

Nice to have good sushi in my hood.

Domo Sushi & Grill on Urbanspoon

China Poblano–Las Vegas

Written By: Mary Bloch - Apr• 14•14

Jose Andrés is to food and restaurants what Peyton Manning is to quarterbacks and football. He is revered in his industry and everyone tries to emulate him.

And it’s no wonder. Andrés has built a growing empire of restaurants from coast to coast and beyond. He started with Jaleo years ago, a Spanish tapas restaurant in D.C. and moved on to Zaytinya, Cafe Atlantico, America Eats,  Oyamel, and minibar, also in DC.  Jaleo has been replicated in other cities,  minibar has entered the Vegas market under the name of é by José Andrés, and he recently expanded his reach to Puerto Rico.China Poblano

I’ve eaten at most of Andrés’ DC restaurants, but I was very interested to try China Poblano, his newest concept that recently opened in Las Vegas. I had read quite a bit about it  and was delighted that we were headed to Nevada so I could check it out for myself. It sounded like fusion, but once we stepped inside, we found that it’s really two restaurants in one, with two separate menus, two separate chefs and two kitchens. Diners can order off either or both menus, and build a fun and delicious meal…which is exactly what we did:China Poblano

When Pigs Fly 4pc delicate steamed
buns/Chinese barbeque pork;steamed pork buns--China Poblano

Tacos–Langosta lobster/salsa Mexicana/ arbol chile sauce and Lengua beef tongue/salsa pasilla;Tacos--China Poblano

Dan Dan Mian hand-cut wheat noodles/spicy pork sauce/peanuts;Dan Dan noodles--China Poblano

Tuna Ceviche tuna/amaranth seeds/
soy sauce/pecans;Tuna ceviche--China Poblano

Twenty-Vegetable Fried Rice with fresh vegetables/fried rice. Delicious, but probably not worth the extensive online raves it had received;Twenty vegetable fried rice_China Poblano

Col de Bruselas– caramelized Brussels sprouts/arbol salsa/chiltate;Brussels sprouts--China Poblano

Salt and Pepper Tofu–crispy tofu with shallot/garlic/fresno chile. It was the one dish our server raved about that I didn’t love.Salt and Pepper tofu--China Poblano

China Poblano is one of a vast number of restaurants in Las Vegas where you can eat very creative food without it costing an arm and a leg.  And the list seems to be growing all the time as big name chefs develop more casual eateries up and down the strip. 

China Poblano on Urbanspoon

The Bite

Written By: Mary Bloch - Apr• 07•14

Taking their cue from West Coast restaurants that have been serving Asian fusion sandwiches (ever heard of Roy Choi and his Kogi Korean tacos?), owners Bryan Merker,  Brian Thorne, and Carlos Mortera have started a little sandwich shop in the City Market. Open just a month, they will be ready for primetime when the Farmer’s Market opens and they get increased traffic from passers-by.The BiteThe Bite

My friend and I made a special trip to sample the unique and creative sandwiches. Build-you-own tamales are also on the menu, but we chose to split two sandwiches instead.The Bite

The Señor Chang has Slow Roasted Beef Short Rib – cilantro – queso fresco – pickled onions – candied – jalapeńos – sriracha crema, and the Kicking Chicken is filled with Braised Chicken – Korean BBQ Sauce – Queso Fresco – Radish – Cucumber – Pickled Onions – Sriracha Crema.Kickin Chicken--The Bite

The Kicking Chicken was a bit bland considering it was topped with Korean BBQ sauce, but it had a nice flavor. I really enjoyed the Senor Chang–it reminded me a bit of the Korean tacos from the now-defunct Westport Street Fare truck that Aaron Confessori used to run and I loved.

We also shared a side of delicious Sesame Slaw with Red Cabbage – Red Onions – Sesame Seeds – Cilantro – Sesame Vinaigrette, and used some of it to add  crunch to the chicken sandwich. It also provided additional filling, which was the one thing these sandwiches needed more of. My friend and I both thought the sandwiches were a bit skimpy on ingredients; had we not been sharing I would have piled the meat onto one side of the sandwich. The good news is that the roll was fresh, soft and chewy, so I had no problem eating the whole thing.Sesame slaw--The Bite

We sampled one of the Abuelita Chocolate Chip cookies, which had a touch of cinnamon and chile powder in it and was quite good. Other choices include a bourbon bacon chocolate chip and a  white Jalapeño chocolate chip. They also serve up homemade ice cream sandwiches.Abuelita chocolate chip cookie--The Bite

 I counted six totally vegetarian items on the menu, all of which were quite innovative, so it’s clear they aim to please. And it’s quick. Order at the counter and expect them to call your name within 5 minutes.

The Bite is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and will expand the local color and flair of City Market.The Bite

The Bite on Urbanspoon

Fat Choy–Las Vegas

Written By: Mary Bloch - Mar• 31•14

Fat Choy’s slogan is “where Classic American diner meets Asian comfort food,” and it’s very apt. Situated off-strip in a very drab and unimpressive casino, Fat Choy has won more awards and received more accolades in one year’s time than most restaurants can ever hope to achieve.Fat Choy--Las Vegas

Having read numerous articles on the restaurant, and knowing my two companions are extreme Asian food lovers, it seemed like a no-brainer to give it a try. Since it’s off the strip, you need to take a cab or rent a car, and since we were renting one anyway to go play golf, we stopped on our way to the course for “brunch”.

The restaurant does offer a Sunday breakfast/brunch menu, but we opted for the all-day menu which features all of their special dishes, including pork and chive pot stickers and bao, for which Chef Su first garnered attention when he served them out of a food truck.Peking Duck Bao--Fat ChoyTofu bao--Fat Choy

The buns come with a choice of pork belly, duck or tofu; we opted for the latter two and they were perfection. They were every bit as good as those I’ve lusted after at Momofuku in New York City.

We hit the jackpot (this was Vegas after all) with the pot stickers as well. Our server said they are highly touted and very popular, so how could we pass them up with a recommendation like that?Pork and chive pot stickers--Fat Choy

Won ton soup comes with 4 light and delicious shrimp and pork dumplings and, unlike many soups of this nature, it was not too salty.

The duck rice was very unusual and incredibly tasty. I had envisioned duck confit mixed with fried rice, but instead what came to the table was a mound of perfectly cooked rice with a duck leg on top. A garlic and ginger sauce graced the meat, and a side salad with cucumbers completed the plate. There’s also a short rib rice that sports several short ribs atop the rice, but we were very happy with the duck. I picked up the bone so as not to miss a bite of the tender and moist meat.IMG_0656

Our server was from Minnesota and represented her state well: she was friendly and engaging and added to our enjoyment of the meal. She suggested we come back for dinner and try the Fat Choy burger with beef, short rib, bacon and cheddar cheese. Though it sounded like a heart attack on a plate, we were tempted!

I realize this joint is off the beaten path, but that’s part of the appeal. Even with the cost of a cab, it will still be one of your cheapest meals in Vegas!


Fat Choy--Las Vegas

Fat Choy on Urbanspoon

Port Fonda/Maza Azul Collaboration Dinner

Written By: Mary Bloch - Mar• 24•14

Patrick Ryan of Port Fonda and Jonathan Zaragoza of Masa Azul in Chicago recently teamed up to prepare a goat and mezcal dinner at Port Fonda.

And what a dinner it was. Each course was an adventure in itself, made more so because we got a little education about  mezcal.  Beforehand I didn’t even know the difference between mezcal and tequila; now at least I have a working knowledge of mezcal…including the fact that crema de mezcal doesn’t have cream in it!

Here’s the menu:Aguachile

Aguachile– camarones y chicharron, with del maguey vida;

Sopes– goat carnitas, frijoles charros, salsa cacahuate, with del maguey san luis de rio azul;Sopes with goat carnitas

Ensalada Port Fonda– frisee, bacon, fried tripe, poached egg, honey-pasilla dressing, with a mezcal shandy made with Boulevard Tank 7;Mezcal shandyIMG_0589Pork belly with pineapple butter

   Al pastor– pork belly, grilled bread, pineapple butter, with pua lina, del maguey vida;

Birria estilo la barca–roasted goat, ancho mole, tomato consome, tortillas a mano, with a negroni that had been made with del maguey chichicapa;Roasted goat with ancho mole and handmade tortillasMezcal negroni

Ahogada–mexican wedding cookie semifreddo, christopher elbow spiced chocolate, del maguey creama de mezcal;Semifreddo with spiced chocolate and mezcal

The six courses were perfectly sized–not too little, not so much that we waddled out the door at the end of the evening. But that’s not to say I didn’t want seconds of everything! I’d be very happy if all of the dishes found their way on to the Port Fonda menu, especially the pork belly (awesome sauce) and the roasted goat with ancho mole. The semifreddo with Christopher Elbow spiced chocolate would be a good spoon-licking addition, too.

$65 for all six courses and the drink pairings. As much as I love the standard Port Fonda menu, this was a fun change of pace, one which I hope Patrick repeats with another chef and another concept.

 

Kansas Town

Written By: Mary Bloch - Mar• 10•14

There had already been a lot of buzz around Kansas Town when we walked in the door with friends a couple of weeks ago. So I was a bit surprised to find that we were the only diners. Though others filtered in during the course of the evening, after our dinner there it’s surprising to me that it’s not packed every night.Kansas Town

It occupies the space where Macaluso’s restaurant sat for decades, a corner that has seen many a restaurant come and go since it closed. Owner Mike Bechtel, who has no prior restaurant experience, is a congenial guy who was more than happy to answer our endless flow of questions after he seated us. He explained that the restaurant’s name came from what Kansas City was called when our city was founded, and is a nod to the area’s history. Federal Reserve Bank chef and Uberdine pop-up owner Joe Shirley consulted on the menu and found Chef Garrett Kaspar to man the kitchen on a nightly basis. Judging from the quality and artistry of each dish, it’s clear that Kaspar is one talented guy.Kansas Town

The chef started us off with a personally delivered amuse-bouche, frozen tuna sashimi with wasabi crystals surrounded by dots of kimchee puree. Tuna amuse bouche--Kansas TownHe instructed us to let the tuna melt on our tongues before chewing, which was an interesting and unique sensation. We order two appetizers for the table. The first was a beet tarte tatin; gorgeous layers of beets with crispy kale chards, sour cream, and buttons of carrots. The other was the flatbread of the day, a riff on banh mi with chicken liver pate, braised pork and veggies. The flatbread itself was a bit doughy, but was otherwise a successful creation.Beet Tarte Tatin--Kansas TownBanh Mi flatbread--Kansas Town

The menu is not well-organized. It’s just a list of all the dishes that can be ordered, without a break to delineate between apps, main courses and desserts. I originally thought the best way to decipher it was by looking at the prices, but the squid I ordered was considered an entree despite the fact that it wasn’t appreciably more expensive than most of the appetizers. In the end I just went with what the server told us, which is not very efficient. I very much enjoyed my squid which was prepared sous vide, and served over white grits, tomato, chorizo and kale, but it was a rather small portion compared to the other dishes that came to the table. My husband had pappardelle with braised pork and tomato sauce, which was hearty and delicious, especially because the pasta was house made. The risotto with red wine and mushrooms was also a hit, as was the trout, which was served over a winter vegetable salad of primarily roasted root vegetables.Squid with chorizo and kale over grits--Kansas TownPappardelle with Braised Pork--Kansas TownRed wine and mushroom risotto--Kansas TownTrout over Winter Vegetable Salad==Kansas Town

Of the four dishes, the first four were $13 or under, and the trout was $17. There’s currently a beef checks and quinoa dish on the menu at $20, but that’s the most expensive entrée. I’ve read that the restaurant is overpriced, a comment I don’t understand given the quality and nature of each dish. Kaspar sensed our interest in the food (and saw that I was taking photos), and sent out a dessert that he said he whipped up for us that was not on the menu, a coffee cheese cake of sorts that we had no trouble demolishing.Coffee Cheesecake--Kansas Town

I think there’s somewhat of a disconnect between the decor and the artistry of the dishes coming out of the kitchen, but it’s a very congenial spot. It’s not a place to linger however, as the wooden chairs get a bit hard after a time. My biggest concern is the service which, while well-meaning and ernest, needs to be polished. A full-on training needs to take place to do justice to the chef’s efforts. If the service issues are addressed, Kansas Town has major potential, and could finally be the restaurant that exorcises Macaluso’s ghost.

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