Friday, January 31, 2014

Review: Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, Las Vegas

Las Vegas is an absolute mecca for celebrity restaurants; foodies and TV fans alike could eat in a celebrity restaurant at virtually every meal of the day for their vacation. Some of these are a bit overdone conceptually - there's only so many formal dining meals and high end steaks one can eat before feeling like a waddling penguin.

I'm not the world's greatest Ramsay fan but Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill is an excellent gastropub at Caesar's Palace. If you're in for just a drink the beer selection is excellent and the bar staff knowledgeable. They also offer tastings of beers that you are unsure of before you commit so we found some stunning Belgian and American beers I'd not tried previously.

They also are kitted out in London subculture inspired uniforms - punk and goth themed outfits that make me chuckle every time. I highly recommend sitting at the bar rather than getting a table, being Las Vegas it ensures amusing conversation with other patrons as well as easy access to the drinks!

There is a full service restaurant with many heavy British traditional dishes - rarebit, bangers and mash, lamb, steak or fish and chips. If you're a homesick Brit in the states this is the closest I've found to recognisable English food.

Being Australian I am a heavy drinker and know how to cook most of these things myself; so I'm in it to drink heavily and have small plates.

Pretzels $8USD

Proper German style pretzel bread served with grain mustard and beer cheese. Drunk you will say yes. 

Stupidly I got too excited by my Pork and Duck Rillettes ($16USD) and ate them all before I drunkenly remembered to take a picture. They are fatty deliciousness though, served with good quality bread, mustard and cornichons making it pretty much all my favourite things on a plate. Rumour is they have a Duck Rillettes Poutine that I am eager to try but it hasn't been on the menu any time I've been to Vegas.

Pigs in Blankets $12USD

Good quality pork sausage grilled in pastry - simple comfort food served simply with onion gravy and mustard.

Pub "spots" sliders $14USD

Good quality beef with Welsh Cheddar served on brioche; if you're more than 4 drinks in add bacon. 

Honestly, I really like this place. The food is "good," not excellent but comfort food done well with quality bread and meat. After a few drinks though, this is exactly what you want. Good bar staff, comfortable seats and something snacky you can eat with pickles and point at excitedly. 

Most importantly though Ramsay's Pub & Grill is one of the few places in Vegas where you can get a quiet pint without being horrified by American beer, slot machines, drunk girls popping out of their dress, angry gamblers down on their luck or squealing brides to be. This is a little haven in the craziness to chill with a mate, drink Vegas appropriate amounts and roll back to your hotel room satisfied.

Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill

Casual British eats, good beer selection

3570 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV ‎
Ph: (702) 731-7110

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana, Las Vegas

Months on a low carb diet mean that I've tended to avoid Italian given the heavy bread and pasta components. Trying to eat healthy in a tourist destination without endless serves of chicken and salad means exploring some different food choices... and then I remembered veal, glorious veal.

Il Fornaio is an authentic Italian restaurant and bakery chain imported from Italy with locations throughout Californa and Nevada. Unlike the heavy 'red sauce and provolone' Italian you often find on the East Coast Il Fornaio focuses more on fresh seasonal choices. 

Insalata di Bietole $11.99USD

Golden and red beets served with arugula, walnuts and Asiago. Light and fresh with good ingredients; golden beets are an increasingly common trend in the US of which I am a fan. 

Carpaccio $11.99USD

Raw beef pounded paper thin and served with Grana Padano, capers, arugula and lemon. The beef is grass fed and holds up on it's own while raw; the capers and lemon cut through the fat well. 

Pasta con Pesto $11.99USD

This was a special at the restaurant when we dined and does not seem to be a regular featured item. A standard offering but good quality comfort food - shell pasta served with pesto, sun dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Not too heavy or overpowering. 

Scaloppine ai Carciofi e Limone $25.99USD

I'm not entirely sure why they chose to present this dish as such when it is one ingredient off Saltimbocca but it was delicious nonetheless. Usually in the US the artichokes are canned and pickled but these were fresh local baby artichokes. The sauce was rich but light such that the dish was filling without being glutinous.

Service was American Tourist Destination attentive with refreshingly Italian staff. Sometimes I find the multiple staff you deal with in American restaurants overwhelming - in this case we saw a host, our server, 2 bus boys, a patissier and a sommelier. To me this is overkill for a two course meal; I'd have been happy to have my bread and wine brought by the same person who brought my food. 

Upmarket without being snooty, comforting without being coma inducing Il Fornaio is a solid pre-theatre choice. 

Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana

Family friendly food
Upmarket casual dining
3790 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV ‎
Ph: (702) 650-6500

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Snapshot: Rí Rá Irish Pub, Las Vegas

Looking for a hangover breakfast in Vegas but can't face 300 angry tourists in line for a buffet? Rí Rá Irish Pub has hearty Irish fare and a huge range of beers and ciders on tap.

Irish Breakfast $12USD

Complete with all the trimmings to soak up the night before - black & white pudding, real bacon, pork breakfast sausage, eggs, mushrooms , grilled tomato and toast (with Kerry Gold Irish butter). 

Breakfast Sandwich $9USD

A proper UK style rasher of bacon, sausage, 2 eggs, cheddar cheese, home fries all on a brioche bun. Who could say no?

The staff were what you expect at an American tourist destination - polite and attentive. They brought me many condiments (inc Brown Sauce & A1) and kept our drinks refreshed. Hardly fine dining but after a night out in Vegas a hair of the dog and some real bacon is just what I needed. 

Rí Rá Irish Pub

"Irish style" American Tourist pub

The Shops at Mandalay Bay
3930 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas NV 89119
Ph: (702) 632-7771

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Recipe: Chocolate Cake

Everybody needs a good chocolate cake recipe and this is by far my favourite; it always turns out dark, moist and delicious.

Chocolate Cake

2 cups plain flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water


  • Preheat oven to 175ºC (350º F). 
  • You can use soy or almond milk in place of the dairy with no effect on the taste but choose the oil you use with care - olive oil can flavour the cake. Canola or other light vegetable oil is perfect. I use Dutch processed pure Cocoa for baking.
  • Prepare 1 large or two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.
  • Add dry ingredients to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer; whisk or stir through to combine ensuring that the salt, cocoa and soda mix well through the flour
  • Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. 
  • Reduce speed and slowly add boiling water to the cake batter, continue beating for around 1 minute to aerate the mixture. 
  • Place the cake tin(s) on the middle rack of  your oven and bake for around 30-35 mins until the cake springs back to the touch. 
  • Take the cake out of the oven and leave for 2-3 minutes to rest, this ensures the cake cools and pulls back from the sides of the tin. 
  • After the resting period turn the cake out onto an airing rack to cool, ensure the cake is entirely cool before icing or the frosting will melt.

Chocolate Frosting

1.5 cups butter (3 sticks), softened
1 cup cocoa or 100g melted dark baking chocolate
5 cups icing (confectioner's) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  • Soften the butter by leaving it out of the fridge for an hour or microwaving for 20 seconds
  • Cream the butter and cocoa/chocolate mix to a smooth consistency
  • Add sugar cocoa mixture by 1 cup of sugar at a time. After each addition has been combined, turn mixer onto a high speed for about a minute.
  • If the consistency is too thick add hot water 1 tablespoon at a time until a fluffy frosting consistency is reached. 
  • Place the frosting in the fridge for 15 minutes prior to icing the cake, this makes it easier to work with. 
  • If desired cut the cake in half and frost through the middle of the cake; then place the two halves back together
  • Using a spatula or a butter knife spread the frosting all over the cake, if it begins to melt place the cake in the fridge to cool before continuing. 
  • Once the cake is frosted place it in the fridge and take out 5 minutes before serving. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Review: Chez Panisse, Berkeley

Chez Panisse is somewhat of a legend in the food industry; it held a Michelin Star for many years and was once named the "best restaurant in America". It is the child of food activist Alice Waters and is the first restaurant acknowledged for working with local farmers and producers to secure a 'local food movement'.

Accordingly this means that the menu is a set service - no choices or substitutions and all the food is seasonal and grown in the area.

Zinfandel Flight $45USD

The restaurant often has themed specials and we were there for Zinfandel week. The flight offered the same wine in 3 different vintages rather than a range of wineries. This might sound 'boring' but it's definitely an interesting expose of the effect of aging and the peak taste for a wine - older is not always better. While my family are what you might call "wine people" our knowledge of US wines is still building so this made for an interesting pre dinner drink (or 5).

The meal we arrived for had a decidedly Spanish flair to it which suited me perfectly. The set meal varies in price throughout the week - 'date nights' such as Friday and Saturday were significantly more expensive. We happened to get a booking on a Monday night and ergo was a very reasonably priced $65USD - you can expect to pay twice that on the weekend. 

Marinated olives

I have a weakness for all things pickled and while I find the olives in California generally disappointing these were wonderful. 

Baked in house artisan breads

Good bread is so hard to find in the US so this range of crusty old world loaves was a sight to see. 

Tortilla Bacalao with dandelion and radish salad

Bacalao is a Mediterranean salted cod preparation, very strong in flavour but well suited to this Spanish style potato tortilla with seasonal greens.

Cordero Andaluz

Roasted lamb shoulder cooked with saffron and honey - served with a kale potato cake and roasted fennel. The fennel and saffron was an unusual but delicious combination that I will need to remember in future. The lamb was easily the best I've had in the US, it's not a meat they serve often. Generally when one can find it is either Mutton or imported from Australia after who knows how many weeks. Fresh light lamb was well received.

Almond Panna Cotta

Again calling out to Spanish flavours it came served with quince and Valencia orange coulis. I like the lightness of the fruit and the almond flavour, very palette cleansing after the heavy lamb dish. This super creamy texture is one I love dearly and I will often seek out panna cotta when I can.

I will say this - never in my life have I struggled so hard to get a restaurant reservation, it felt like the plot in a romantic comedy television show. My parents had missed out on a reservation the last time they came to the US and were keen to get one this time. Panisse only takes reservations 1 month in advance (no more and less will leave you without one). Despite desperately logging on at the correct time I still managed to only get a 9:45pm seating. This is definitely a night a foodie needs to plan for.

Overall impressions? The food was very good and the service at its best but the Farm to Table concept is now a well touted one and while this was definitely a top class restaurant I would struggle to call it one of the best in America. That being said the movement they created is one that must be given its dues, without restaurants like Chez Panisse the modern food movement in the US would never have become what it is. Worth a side trip on a vacation and perhaps a special occasion meal but I feel little need to return.

Chez Panisse

1517 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94709
Phone: (510) 548-5525

High class farm to table dining

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Review: Colibri Mexican Bistro, San Francisco

Whenever we have international visitors they invariably want to try the local and very authentic Mexican food. While there are many choices for budget friendly taquerias in the Mission sometimes a more refined outing is called for and this is when I take them to Colibri.

The front of the restaurant is an unassuming shop front not far from Union Square but inside are wonderful fresh Mexican dishes that never fail to impress.

Guacamole $12USD

The guacamole is made to order with the ingredients and heat of your choice. It comes served in a heavy stone bowl, with various chili sauces and a choice of fresh handmade tortillas or chips (or maybe both!). 

Empanadas $13USD

Freshly empanadas (baked wheat dumplings) stuffed with ground pork, onion, garlic, and roasted peppers. Served with a chipotle sour cream and pink pickled cabbage. The stuffing isn't too heavy and the dough is light and crisp. I can't get past the pickle though, I wish there were about 5 times as much of it.

Duck in Mole Verde $20USD

Pan seared duck breast cooked to perfection and served in a green mole sauce with peppery green leaves and a fried potato cake. The sauce is divine and the accompaniments set off the dish perfectly.

Carnitas $18USD

This isn't the kind of carnitas you're going to find in the back of  food truck; prime pork is marinated and served with guajillo and arbol chili salsa. I advise asking for additional fresh tortillas for the carnitas and excusing yourself as you wolf them down with your hands.

Pechuga Rellena de Huitlacoche $18USD

If you're a fan of earthy tastes then huitlacoche (a black corn fungus) will likely light your taste buds on fire. For me it's a little overpowering but I'm assured that this chicken breast stuffed with vegetables and huitlacoche is delicous.

Mole Poblano $18USD

The over the top delicious and decidedly moreish Mexican dish of ground spices, nuts and chocolate over bone in chicken. This is a wonderful rendition and leaves you wanting more.

Arroz a la Mexicana $5USD
Frijoles Negros $5USD
Nopales Asados (cactus) $8USD
Ensalada Mixta $10USD

Sides are very reasonably priced and all excellent - no rice left all day in a steam truck this is light spiced and delicious. I generally skip the rice and beans and get a salad, but sometimes the staples are just right. Think about the size of your party and order 1 side between 2 people - most of the main dishes are very rich.

Room for dessert? Growing up with a lot of Spanish food the flavours of Mexican desserts always appeal to me - creamy caramels and subtle spices. 

Churros Rellenos  $8USD

Fried donuts stuffed to the gills with thick dulce de leche caramel served with caramel sauce and rich ice cream.  

Caballeros Pobres $8USD

A freshly made creamy pastry is fried and dusted in sugar and cinnamon. This strikes me right in the nostalgia bone being very similar to the leche fritta dessert I grew up with (recipe).

A quick nod to the drinks at Colibri - their beer and tequila selection is excellent and may be worth a stop for drinks and small plates only. Their coffee is some of the best in the Bay Area, strong thick Mexican espresso that goes perfectly with the desserts. 

The service is to be commended also; I've only ever had excellent and quick service with no loss on the taste or quality. The prices are a little upmarket if you're used to bean and burrito Mexican but for a group dinner this is by no means expensive. Definitely recommended. 

Colibri Mexican Bistro

White table Mexican
Great service and better coffee

438 Geary St
San Francisco
CA 94102
Ph: (415) 440-2737

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