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Foodie Friday: Viva Las Vegas!

Oh Las Vegas! I have so many feelings about you. As a former resident of Las Vegas, I feel I can speak candidly about the city. Las Vegas and I have a torrid love affair. Well not like a steamy romance with some hot pool boy like you would see in the movies. Las Vegas is more like a one night stand you would have with the Tuesday morning shift stripper who is missing all but 2 of her teeth, and had her great-grandchildren taken away by child services because she brushes her teeth with meth. Las Vegas is horrible, but I am somehow drawn to it for an inexplicable reason. Fine, it can easily be explained for me. Las Vegas has some of the best food in the country. Period. Vegas gets a bad rap in the food world because there are a lot of big names on many of the restaurants’ marquees, but those chef’s don’t actually have all that much to do with their namesake restaurant. I’m not exactly sure why this matters to anyone. Is the food good? Yes. Ok then! Why should I care who made my food? There are some very talented chefs helming the kitchen of many of the restaurants in Vegas, and they get very little recognition because they aren’t Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, or Gordon Ramsey. During my most recent trip to Vegas I stopped by some of the big name restaurants but it was some lesser known spots that really stood out to me.

Hearthstone’s Pancakes with huckleberry compote, sweet ricotta and topped with edible flowers
Hearthstone’s Pancakes with huckleberry compote, sweet ricotta and topped with edible flowers
Heathstone’s French Toast
Heathstone’s French Toast

 

My very first stop after landing in Vegas was Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar at the Red Rock Casino and Resort. After a very confused 5 minutes where multiple servers were looking for the hostess, no one seating us, and rethinking if we were even at the correct host stand, we finally were able to enjoy our experience. Our waitress was certain we ordered too much food for 3 small girls…she underestimated our prowess. Of our extensive order the pancakes and French toast stood out to me the most. The pancakes were shockingly beautiful. So much so that I looked around to see if other people in the restaurant were as impressed with our meal selection as I was. They were not. Despite the lack of shock and wonderment from the fellow diners, I managed to thoroughly enjoy these beauties. The French toast was another showstopper. Apparently flowers are pretty, and if you sprinkle them on things, then those things become pretty! The French Toast at Hearthstone is comprised of a salted caramel sticky bun topped with a pool of icing, blueberry compote, and served with banana syrup. I have to say I absolutely under estimated this place. I knew Hearthstone would be enjoyable, but I didn’t know it would become my new favorite brunch destination in town.

Crunch ‘N Munch Bread Pudding from Yardbird
Crunch ‘N Munch Bread Pudding from Yardbird
Yardbird’s Chicken ‘N Watermelon ‘N Waffles
Yardbird’s Chicken ‘N Watermelon ‘N Waffles

The newly opened Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at the Venetian was far and away the meal I was most looking forward to. I seem to keep missing the openings of the restaurant. I was dating someone who lived in Miami and broke it off mere weeks before the opening of Yardbird’s original location. Yardbird’s second location in Las Vegas then opened about 1 year after I did a 10 year stint in Vegas. Oh magical restaurant, why do you elude me?! Well, I finally caught this mythical unicorn of a restaurant and was very much placated by the experience. Again, this was another dining experience where we ordered far too many dishes, but this time we struggled to finish any one of the items that made it to the table. Yardbird is known for its fried chicken so we decided to order their signature dish the Chicken ’N Watermelon ’N Waffles; five crispy pieces of chicken with honey hot sauce and bourbon syrup, a cheddar cheese waffle, and spicy watermelon. While Yardbird’s offerings are modern interpretations of southern classics, all of the dishes have a familiarity that makes each dish incredibly comforting. While all of our entrees were certainly enjoyable, it was the Crunch ‘N Munch Bread Pudding that came for dessert that really wowed us. A beyond decadent cast iron dish with M&M riddled bread pudding, popcorn ice cream, and caramel popcorn pieces. Being gluttons for punishment we added a second dessert which continued to impress. The Deep Fried Oreos, while similar to the carnie classic food, was intensified by a coating in Rice Krispies, a drizzling of chocolate, and cookies ‘n cream ice cream. Yeah, it was like that. I don’t know how to describe what joy would taste like, but I would assume it is something like these Oreos . Hmm…so I guess I’ll just have to add Yardbird to my list of favorites too.

deepfried
Deep Fried Oreos at Yardbird

My final day brought me downtown to another new spot, Glutton. If Glutton isn’t the most appropriate name for a restaurant considering my habit of eating until I’m sick, and being that it is located in Sin City, I just don’t know what else would be better. Glutton is absolutely a hidden gem, but hidden in plain sight. Glutton is located almost directly across the street from a very popular downtown breakfast place that often has a long line the majority of the weekend. While other saps wait for fairly good food, we were full and happy long before the diners at the other restaurant even sat down. Not only is Glutton great because we didn’t have to wait to eat, but the food is really interesting and far more delicious than anything else for brunch downtown. Glutton’s Peaches & Cream Belgium Waffle was by far the best item we ordered; crispy waffle, slightly firm peaches, bourbon caramel sauce, and sweet ricotta whipped cream. A Shrimp Scampi omelette was also a crowd favorite and enveloped garlic spinach, tomatoes, covered in a rich scampi butter. Glutton was a wonderful end to a fantastic trip. Just the knowledge that never again will I wait in line for breakfast downtown was worth the trip alone!

Glutton’s Peaches & Cream Belgium Waffle
Glutton’s Peaches & Cream Belgium Waffle
Shrimp Scampi Omelette at Glutton
Shrimp Scampi Omelette at Glutton

 

 

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Foodie Friday: Pancakes Are The Best Cakes!

I’m just going to come out and say it. I love, but no, like really LOVE pancakes. I really do. Not like ok, geez, pancakes sure are delicious, or I sure do think they’re swell. No I love them. I would have a torrid love affair with them. I would be very hard pressed to choose between my husband and pancakes. Is that awful? I don’t care! PAN-CAKES. This week let’s skip together hand and hand through beautiful pancake fields while staring at fluffy pancake clouds and dreaming of rice cakes…just kidding, pancakes!

This list is in no particular order. Pancakes are like children, you can’t pick your favorite.

The Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes at John O’Groats

I have a nasty habit of modifying my food orders. I’m that person that chefs probably hate. I find this is a habit that is almost exclusively relegated to breakfast time. My most recent pancake endeavor took me to John O’Groats on Pico. I’ve heard numerous times that John O’Groats has some of the best pancakes in town, possibly even THE best. I certainly had my doubts. Some random hole in the wall place is going to compete with award winning chefs’ versions? Pfft. I am particularly partial to pumpkin pancakes. I am absolutely that person who freaks out about pumpkin everything. I cannot tell you why but it’s true and I feel only moderate shame about it. In order to compare it to one of my favorite (self modified) pumpkin pancakes in town, I added chocolate chips and whipped cream (more on that other place later.) I have to say I was more than pleasantly surprised by John O’Groats. The service was some of the best I’ve received, especially in a casual diner type setting. The owner Paul Tyler greeted every guest, took my order while the waitress was busy, and checked on me numerous times throughout my meal. Mr. Taylor even suggested I order a single pancake as the rest of my order seemed too advantageous, a suggestion that made me quite happy, but would gross him about $6 less. Aside from the service what really surprised me were the pancakes. A pretty basic looking pancake ended up being thin but fluffy packed with assertive pumpkin flavor and large bursts of added melted chocolate ooze. I was certainly impressed. I don’t know if I can say it’s my favorite but the pancake at John O’Groats will definitely be added to my regular breakfast circuit.

johnogroats

 

The Lemon Blueberry Pancakes at Bouchon Bistro

You know when you wake up some mornings and you just FEEL rich? You think money doesn’t matter, I’m on top of the world, EXCELSIOR! etc, etc. Maybe you are ACTUALLY rich, well good for you. Maybe you just have a fuzzy view of reality. Regardless, when such a moment strikes me I personally tend to pick restaurant with the absolute the fanciest brunch I can think of. I just want to pretend I am one of those liberal elites the news keeps telling me about. I want to eat like a queen! Where does one go when they want to put on their fancy pants? Well, Bouchon, of course. The Los Angeles outpost of award winning Chef Thomas Keller’s Napa, New York, and Vegas restaurants but this time located in Beverly Hills (I told you it was fancy.) The star of my very posh meal was most certainly their version pancakes. Thicker cake-like pancakes are filled with light lemon flavor with fresh blueberries topped with a generous dollop of Chantilly cream. I’m not sure if these tasted so good because I had a money contact high from all of the Richie Riches surrounding me or if they really were some of the best blueberry pancakes I’ve had. No one will ever know. Pinkies up!

Bouchon’s flapjack
Bouchon’s flapjacks

 

The Buttermilk Pancakes at Jon & Vinny’s

Ok yes Jon & Vinny’s is as trendy as they come. They don’t have online reservations, they almost never answer the phone, you CANNOT get a reservation any time before 9pm on a Saturday night…ever, it is seemingly unnecessarily expensive, they have weird fees that are hard to understand (isn’t an 18% service charge in fact a tip? According to the very complicated answer by my waitress, no, no it is not.) Is all this hullabaloo worth a trip to Jon & Vinny’s? Y.E.S. Although, my suggestion would be to make your visit on a weekday for breakfast or lunch. If you do wander in during breakfast hours I wholeheartedly suggest you try the Buttermilk Pancakes. Jon & Vinny’s pancakes are a stack of 5 smaller pancakes topped with strawberries and blueberries, salted butter, and maple syrup. Sounds simple enough, right? Au contraire mon frère! These are no ordinary pancakes. Crispy on the outside, light and airy on the inside, punctuated by little pops of salt from the incredibly luxe butter. If you’re a pancake purist I would highly suggest trying these out. They are just different enough to register as special, but classically unfussy.

Jon & Vinny’s hotcake
Jon & Vinny’s hotcakes

Buttermilk Pancakes AND Ricotta-Cornmeal Pancakes at Ledlow

Poor Ledlow. This downtown restaurant was formally a local favorite formerly called Pete’s. Ledlow took over the space with Chef Jose Centro at the helm. Everyone was mad. Except me, who didn’t know about Pete’s, but loved Chef Centro’s other three restaurants, and really didn’t care either way. There is a strange cultural phenomenon that happens in the food-o-sphere where restaurants close, no one can get over it, and then they blame the new restaurant like it was some kind of hostile takeover. Ledlow has changed its name three times in an effort to shed the hate. Despite all of the poo-pooing Ledlow is still able to turn out pretty solid food. They offer multiple pancake options including a buttermilk variety with 3 topping options (I chose the strawberries with cardamom,) as well as a ricotta cornmeal variety with berries, cherry tarragon syrup, and whipped ricotta. You can tell Chef Centro is trying to bring in his innovative flavors, but is still held back by the stigma of the previous diner. I can only hope Chef Centro keeps trying to break away from the expected, and brings more of his exciting voice to the food at Ledlow.

Ledlow’s flapcakes
Ledlow’s flapcakes

 

Ledlow’s Johnny cakes
Ledlow’s Johnny cakes

 

 

‘Tis the Season Pancakes at The Griddle Cafe

The pumpkin pancakes at The Griddle Café have always been my all time favorite pancakes. The Griddle is known for serving a massive 12 inch diameter stack of pancakes. I have known many a capable eater, and have yet to meet someone who can finish a stack comfortably. It’s not listed on the menu, but The Griddle will allow you to order a single pancake…do this. Don’t be brave, you’ll regret it. The Griddle is also known for being incredibly accommodating, and will essentially allow you to modify anything as long as they have it in the kitchen. I learned early on that chocolate chips belong in pumpkin pancakes without question. Allowing me this request made me instantly loyal to The Griddle. The only thing stopping me from eating at here every single day is the unbearable line that forms outside of The Griddle regardless of the day or time. There is no longer a time I can go, and guarantee to be seated within a reasonable span of time. This, however, is a good thing. If The Griddle was easily accessible we would all be in trouble. We would all be subject to the world of fat humans in WALL-E, and while I could certainly use a hovercraft scooter sometimes, I think it’s an accessory better left to the film.

The Griddle’s flat sorta cakey breakfast breads (I ran out of synonyms for pancakes.)
The Griddle’s flat sorta cakey breakfast breads (I ran out of synonyms for pancakes.)

 

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Foodie Friday: Updated Comfort Classics

Grilled cheese goodness at Clementine Century City

Remember when I said I was going on a diet? Yeah, I don’t either. Did you know April is National Grilled Cheese Month?! Who could possibly go on a diet during National Grilled Cheese?! Well the answer is: certainly not me. My grilled cheese patriotism lead me to Clementine in Century City. Clementine is celebrating my new favorite holiday for the 14th year in a row with a special menu made up of 12 different grilled cheese sandwiches ranging from classic to more gourmet options. We decided to try 2 different sandwiches, the more classic “Parker House Pull-Apart” which was made up of 4 mini homemade parker house rolls stuffed with swiss cheese and sharp cheddar and then grilled, and the more obscure “Violet Beauregarde” a goat cheese grilled cheese with meyer lemon marmalade on organic blueberry bread adorably named after my favorite Lemony Snicket character. We regretted not ordering more sandwiches immediately, but the lunch rush deterred us. I cannot, however, guarantee that I will not attempt to eat my way through more of the menu this weekend. I would highly suggest you make your way to Clementine aka the grilled cheese mecca before the month comes to an end, otherwise you’ll have to wait until next year. If you do visit Clementine, be sure to get a chocolate chip cookie before you leave, only because it is just the most perfect chocolate chip cookie anyone could ever ask for. Actually order 2 and bring me one.

Grilled cheese goodness at Clementine Century City
Grilled cheese goodness at Clementine Century City
That chocolate chip cookie and some other pastries that don’t matter at Clementine Century City
That chocolate chip cookie and some other pastries that don’t matter at Clementine Century City

 Later that night we ended up at the decidedly more high-brow establishment, Redbird, located in Downtown LA. Redbird is the highly anticipated restaurant from chef Neal Fraser located inside the rectory of a converted cathedral from the 1930’s and was a 5 year long work in progress. Needless to say the space is beyond beautiful. Redbird is one of a handful of truly stunning spaces in LA that creates an incredibly unique background to dine in. Graced with the presence of some of my favorite food friends we selected 13 of the most intriguing dishes from the fairly extensive menu. I felt so fortunate that I didn’t have to narrow my selection to just one entrée! The food here is equally as beautiful as the space. Table favorites included the comforting chicken pot pie, sophisticated gnochetti with lobster, and the refreshing creamsicle inspired dessert. Redbird’s upscale version of some nostalgic classics certainly makes LA’s version of fine dining feel soulful. Redbird would be a great selection for a special occasion or a very memorable date night. While I would love to suggest Redbird for a dinner any night of the week, the price point is definitely a hindrance…but then again maybe YOU don’t have to order 13 things.

Everyone’s favorite Pot Pie, plus Shirmp and Grits, and Burrata Salad at Redbird
Everyone’s favorite Pot Pie, plus Shirmp and Grits, and Burrata Salad at Redbird
The artistic presentation of the Strawberry Biscuit dessert at Redbird
The artistic presentation of the Strawberry Biscuit dessert at Redbird

 

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