Category Archives: Divine Dining

Contemporary Cantina Laredo – A Must Taste

The place for delicious Mexican food.

The place for delicious Mexican food.

Have you ever taken a bite of something so delicious you wanted to stand up and announce to the entire restaurant that they should order what you have just tasted?  I had such a bite at Cantina Laredo a last week — the Chilean Sea Bass with rice and asparagus  —  and just to be certain it wasn’t a fluke, I had another bite and another until my portion was gone. And

Flakey Chilean Sea Bass - indescribably delicious.

Flakey Chilean Sea Bass – indescribably delicious.

the last bite was as gratifying and flavorful as the first.

But I should begin my experience with the appetizer —  chips and the Top Shelf Guacamole made table side.  Our waiter, Jose, went over every ingredient, asked us how hot we liked our guacamole, and then proceeded to entertain us with the artistry of making a fresh and

Jose plying his craft.

Jose plying his craft.

delicious beginning to our meal. Not only were the avocados flavorful and the heat spot-on, but the chips were crisp and salted to perfection – and they were just as crisp the next day.

Not only is Jose excellent at making guacamole, he is also excellent at suggesting cocktails.  He recommended the Cinco Rita, a blend of five tequilas;  normally I avoid tequila, but this blend is smooth and, though potent, doesn’t taste of alcohol.  A must try if you indulge in libations.

Another libation, non-alcoholic, is the Ahi Tuna Tacos.  Though the menu describes the appetizer as “Mini-crispy tacos with sushi cut ahi tuna, chipotle aioli, jicama slaw and guacamole” all for $8.95, it does not convey the artistry of the plate.  And, since I knew I couldn’t do justice to the order that looked like it should be framed in the Chicago Art Institute, I took a picture.  Now, the first time we ordered, during the start of dinner service,

Scrumptious and beautiful.

Scrumptious and beautiful.

it was perfection; the second time we ordered, during lunch, the tacos were laying on the guacamole instead of standing, and the filling was wetter than before so the bite wan’t as crispy, but the flavor remained.

Avoid the Mexican Apple Pie unless you want a mouthful of butter.  Instead, try the Mango Tres Leches for dessert — the moist vanilla cake blanketed in a mango cream sauce is a combination of just enough sweetness to indulge the sweetest tooth and please those that prefer a subtler sweet.

Divine dessert - just sweet enough.

Divine dessert – just sweet enough.

The dining space is split between indoor and out.  Both are beautiful and inviting.  What adds to the atmosphere is the professionalism and personality of the wait staff.  When making our virgin visit on a Thursday night Happy Hour, we didn’t realize the outdoor tables weren’t connected to the bar and so the bill came with full price for everything.  I asked how the system worked for next time and explained that one of the drinks that was charged wasn’t what was ordered (though still good and still consumed). Our server listened and when she returned, she had adjusted the bill to take care of the drink and one of our appetizers so it would be more in line with the Happy Hour special.  In taking that extra step, she guaranteed my return even during happy hour when the place fills with a sea of business suits and after work chatter.

I can’t vouch for every Cantina Laredo franchise, but I can say with certainty that this one will make your dining experience a pleasure while pleasing your palate.  Happy eating!


Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill: Divine Dining in a Grand Location

The interior from the casino floor.

The interior from the casino floor.

I have been dining at Wolfgang Puck’s Bar&Grill intermittently for nine years.  My four most resent experiences have occurred in the last four months.  What I can say is that this fixture tucked behind the MGM Grand’s main gaming floor and across from the KÀ theatre, is one of the most consistently delicious restaurants in Las Vegas.  Nine years ago, when I first tasted cuisine from this kitchen, I was wowed.  Its contemporary ambiance, stellar service, and delectable dishes, still wow — a consistency hard to find on the ever altering Vegas Strip.

In December I took a couple of Wolfgang Puck rookies to his Bar & Grill, a restaurant I had not visited in over three years, but was confident the meal would be delicious.  One of them is a hamburger aficionado and so he ordered the Grilled Prime Burger with Vermont cheddar and smoked onion marmalade. I followed suit and what arrived was, he declared, the best burger he had ever tasted. After tasting what was put out at Gordon Ramsay’s BURGR, I agree (but that’s for another review).  Wolfgang Puck’s burger delivers layers of flavor; from the

After . . . the first taste.  Layers of perfection.

Crab Cakes after the first tastes.

flavor of the beef to the smokiness of the cheddar to the savoriness of the bun, the meal was so good that he ordered it again when we stopped in January before the Lady Gaga concert. Even the fries – shoestring and seasoned – were perfect crisp bites of potato that did not even need the garnish of ketchup.

Our appetizer, the Sautéed Maine Crab Cakes with tomato relish served on a bed of basil aioli, has been consistent perfection, so much so that they are a mainstay of every meal I have here. And the Crispy Chicken Milanese, served with an arugula and cherry tomato salad and grain mustard, is served with the salad covering the chicken so that what arrives looks deceptively green; however, when all elements are tasted

Split for two with perfect presentation.

Chicken Milanese split for two with perfect presentation.

together – chicken and salad – just as served, the result is a a pop of crisp freshness blending the organic chicken with the plump tomatoes and slightly tart arugula.  The portion is generous enough to split and each of us devoured the meal in spite of the knowledge that chocolate beignets were on their way.

Of course no meal is complete without dessert and we ordered two: the Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée and the Chocolate Beignets with the caramel dipping sauce and vanilla ice cream.  The beignets arrived warm and perfectly fried – just enough to crisp the dough without any excess oil; when bitten, the center oozed chocolate delight. Though I have enjoyed crème brûlée in many venues before, the one that this kitchen serves is one of the most delectable I have tasted – the vanilla pops and the berries sweeten the spoon just enough to provide brilliant contrast to the crisp top.

Last week I returned for a lunch service and though this Thursday afternoon was packed because of the PAC 12 Basketball Tournament, we were immediately seated and, within three minutes, had our server at our table explaining the specials and taking our drink order.  Not only was our server attentive, her friendliness and knowledge of the menu perfectly complimented the food.  My companion had not had the crab cakes before and, when they arrived, his response was, “Oh, my.  That is delicious.”  He savored every bite, pacing his eating so that his portion of the appetizer lasted until the main course arrived fifteen minutes later.

An appetizer fit for a main meal.

An appetizer fit for a main meal.

His main meal was the Mesquite Grilled Steak Skewers – strip steak marinated twenty-four hours until the pieces are grilled and basted and placed upon a bed of creamy celery salad.  On our server’s recommendation, my plate consisted of  Barbecued Chicken Panini with creamy coleslaw, balsamic grilled onions and chipotle aioli. (I was torn between the Barbecued Chicken Panini and the Fish & Chips, but she raved that the chicken was phenomenal.)  The chicken was phenomenal.  The panini was pressed just

Barbecue Chicken Panini.

Barbecue Chicken Panini.

right, giving it a golden hue that told of a slight crust which, when bit into, yielded to the louder crunch of the coleslaw. Combine the texture with the flavor of the balsamic grilled onions and the chipotle aioli and each bite became a luxury.  The barbecue sauce was spicy and sweet and enhanced the delicate flavor of the juicy organic chicken breast.  The fries were the same herbed perfection as before, and though they come with the sandwich, our server readily offered up a salad or vegetables or whatever I wanted instead.

I could rave about the apple pie or the pineapple upside down cake or the smoothness of the Vespa speciality cocktail, but I won’t.  Instead, I’ll simply point you away from the Fish & Chips (the server was right) and to any other item they offer.  I should also let you know that this Wolfgang Puck’s, like all of his restaurants on the Strip, offer locals complimentary dessert.  How sweet is that?

Apple pie with cinnamon ice cream - a delicious pairing.

Warm apple pie with cinnamon ice cream – a delicious pairing.

Ramsay’s Pub & Grill: The Disappointing British Invasion

A bit of Britain in Caesar's Palace.

A bit of Britain in Caesar’s Palace.

When Gordon Ramsay opened his more moderately priced venue, Ramsay’s Pub and Grill, in Caesar’s Palace in December, it was as though Santa Clause had brought Christmas Eve early.  Who doesn’t love the rake of the range, the shepherd of shepherd pie, the Hotspur of Hell’s Kitchen?  I adore his chutspa, as my grandma would say, and was over-the-moon when his steak house opened at the Paris, but could not bring myself to walk past the phallic sign and into the womb of the restaurant; however, his Pub & Grill provided no impediment – the

Brilliant!  Bully! Bloody bully brilliant!

The logo is brilliant and bully and bloody bully brilliant.

row of beer kegs dividing the dining room from the bar, the couches and comfy chairs inviting beer sipping and intimate conversations, the mural of a bulldog in British colors by the bar and Gordon Ramsay’s portrait watching over all from the back. Overall, a beautiful and inviting venue.

My first experience was brilliant.  Three days after they opened, I dined with a friend and the service and food was exceptional. It was so good that I brought another friend for dinner ten days later and had the worst dining experience of my gastronomical career.

I could detail the twenty-five minute wait for water and our waiter, the rudeness of his demeanor, the need to ask for bread after being seated for thirty-five minutes and his reply as he walked away “Maybe I can get something from dinner service,”  the twenty-five minute wait for the fried oysters that were a bit too oily followed by the sliders that were a bit too bland – more . While other guests were being treated to a divine experience by their waiters, those being tended by our waiter were treated to being treated as an imposition rather than a guest whose experience will not only determine the reputation of the restaurant, but the size of his tip. Even after the assistant manager became aware of our plight, our waiter’s performance did not improve; indeed, it got worse as he complained to my companion about me and stated to her that we should all “just chill out – it’s only food.” What he does not get is that it is not only food, it is his profession, it is his guests’ culinary experience, it is Gordon Ramsay’s reputation.  The entire experience was so horrid that the only way I would return was if I did not have to pay for the displeasure.

When we returned, the same waiter literally ran into us at the bar.  That he was still employed shocked me and, quite frankly, spoke volumes of the management team’s judgement and gave me second thoughts about staying. However, stay we did, during a Thursday dinner service, and were seated at a high table next to the bar, directly in the path of the kitchen traffic. This wait staff was expert enough to avoid bumping either us or the table.  This time the oysters were less greasy, the duck was dry but

Guinness infused foam over pure intoxication.  At $15 a bit pricey, but unique.

The Scuffle: Guinness infused foam over pure intoxication. At $15 a bit pricey, but unique.

the fries crispy, but the drink, the Scuffle, was divine, but not worth the $15.  Moreover, a dish that the British should do well, Fish & Chips, was disappointing this second time around.  The fillet’s were smaller than on the first visit, and their batter a bit more oily; the chips were oddly shaped strips trying to be rectangles; the mushy peas cold and frightened on the side of the plate.  Though the fillets were both flakey and divine, the breading detracted rather than enhanced its taste; the chips are so thick that they retain the heat so that when you bite it, the outside is cold, but the inside flesh still burns the tongue.  If they want the geometric appearance to contrast with the mushy peas, perhaps cubes would be better – still pleasing to the eye and able to deliver more of the herb dusting with each bite. The dessert, the Sticky Toffee Pudding, was worth the visit.

In all fairness, we opted to try it one more time, during their lunch service. We arrived around three o’clock and found ourselves placed in the front section on the far edge of the floor, near the open casino, behind a billboard, and near the server’s station.  Unfortunately, being so near the servers did not help our server redeem the Gordon Ramsay name.  Instead, with only two other tables to attend, he took twenty minutes to greet us with water and menus.  While waiting we noticed the spots on our water glasses and the food particles stuck to my glass.  We also noted that the table behind us received their order, delivered by the runner with a “Here it is, the new and improved version,” and the table to the left of us exclaimed, “Finally!” when the runner brought them theirs; neither table looked pleased and left as soon as their food was consumed.  When our appetizer came, the Scotch Egg, the runner asked if we had ordered it hard boiled, to which replied we did not, but we were going to eat it anyway because we were hungry. (It had been a thirty minute wait for food.)  The egg was cold, the sauce was cold, the plate presented

Scotch egg on a trencher - sans serving spoons.

Scotch egg on a trencher – sans serving spoons.

with no serving ware and without instructions on how to eat such a dish.  At this, our third experience at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill matching our first in terms of horrific service and poor food quality, I turned to my companion and suggested we lunch around the corner at Max Brenner’s instead.  She went ahead to order us drinks and secure a table while I spoke with the new floor manager.  It is the first time I’ve walked out of a restaurant and I hope it will be my last.

I cannot recommend you visit the establishment at this time.  If you’re dying to have a celebrity chef experience and want one at Caesar’s Palace, then spend your money at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill or, if you want a really good meal, and Italian is more your style, take the curving escalators up to the third floor of the Caesar Forum Shoppes and try Il Mulino.  If it’s Gordon Ramsay’s name you’re after, avoid his Pub & Grill and try his Steakhouse across the street in the Paris – my cousin and her husband had a fabulous meal there though I’ve yet to try.  But, be warned, if this one is any indication of the hospitality and fare served at Gordon Ramsay’s namesakes, I’d spend your money at Wolfgang Puck’s in the MGM or even at Le Thai down on 6th and Freemont.

☙❧ ☙❧ ☙❧ ☙❧ ☙❧

Epilogue: Saturday Lunch Service

Wanting to give every opportunity to the establishment that carries such a famous name, I persuaded my friend to return with me today.  She ordered the Scuffle (my bribe to her for returning with me), I attempted to order a Snakebite (half lager and half cider), and we split a Shepherd’s pie.  This time the service was what was expected, until the bill arrived. From our waiter placing the check to him returning having run our card, over thirteen minutes elapsed, the same amount of time it took us to taste the entree and for her to finish her drink. My drink arrived as the beer instead of the traditional pub brew even though when I ordered I asked if I they could make one.  I would have sent the tinny tasting beer back for replacement, but our waiter did not stay long enough while dropping it off to take a breath nor did he return to see how things were until over ten minutes later when the luke-warm pie arrived.  Perhaps it was the fact that the beef was shredded and sliced and chunked that made it unevenly heated, perhaps it was the finely diced carrots and completely shelled peas that tasted like frozen instead of fresh, perhaps it was too thin a gravy with too thin of seasoning — whatever it was, I do not know.  What I do know is that it took over thirty minutes for a runner to clean the dirty table next to us and that when he did he simply pushed the mound of crumbs onto the casino carpet instead of placing the crumbs in the trash.  I also know that my water glass was dirty for the second visit in a row, and that, unfortunately, I have had my fill of Gordon Ramsay’s Pub & Grill.

Just in case you’d like a look at the Fish & Chips, a staple in any pub worth its weight in pints, two different plates on the same visit follow:

The first try - unappealing and unartistic with cold mushy peas and puny fried fish.

The first try – unappealing and unartistic with cold mushy peas and puny fried fish.

Fish & Chips Take 2.

Fish & Chips Take 2. Mushy peas not as cold and the cod a bit bigger, but still, disappointing for the quid.

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