Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Food Trip USA: My Top 5 Restaurants at The Wynn Las Vegas

Its a sure win at the Wynn and Encore restaurants

Oh, Las Vegas- the town of excess and debauchery.  A weekend in Vegas is more than enough to leave you mentally, physically and financially spent.  So, when we found out that we were spending two whole weeks in Sin City to celebrate a dear uncle’s birthday, even PartyMatt found himself scratching his head, saying, “What the f_ck are we going to do there for two weeks?!”

But, we did find plenty to do, and amidst the blur of clubs,tequila shots, and lap dances, we found plenty of good things to eat.  Our group was billeted at The Wynn, which in my opinion, is the best hotel on the strip, along with its “twin”, Encore.  Owner Steve Wynn‘s impeccable taste is evident in everything you lay your eyes on- from the natural light streaming into the casino floor, to the pricey bed linens in the tastefully-decorated rooms, to the best clubs and entertainment in Vegas. 

However, this attention to detail was best expressed in bothThe Wynn’s and Encore’s restaurants.  I can tell that his restos were conceptualized from the ground up by the bestguys and girls in the industry, and no expense was spared.  The food was so good that we felt there was really no need to leave the hotel and explore.

From more than a dozen restaurants in these two hotels combined, here are my favorites.

The dining room at Sinatra


On the last evening of our two week sojourn, Matt and I decided to have a cozy dinner date here and we discovered that we did save the best for last.  This beautiful restaurant was the perfect homage to the blue-eyed Las Vegas icon for which it was named after, and the food- classic Italian, of course- was made to impress.  


Dinner service was flawless, but the winning dish was, without a doubt, the Agnolotti in a light cream asparagus sauce- so delicate but with the perfect balance of flavors.  Overall, one of our most memorable dining experiences.

Diver Scallops on top of polenta at La Cave

La cave

Tucked in one of The Wynn’s corridors is this little (by LasVegas standards, at least) wine bar that serves a limited but very tasty menu-a mishmash of great seafood, flatbreads and tapas.  Its cavern-like atmosphere is perfect for a sexy rendezvous, but also great as a laidback venue for dinner and drinks.  I have seen more expansive wine lists elsewhere, although they do have some gems. Plus, there are some good beers on tap, as well as craft beers- such as the Quebecois legend La Fin du Monde by Unibroue.

We adored the flatbreads- topped with either chorizo or truffled mushrooms- but what really grabbed my attention was the Seared Diver Scallops and Polenta, which had me coming back a second and third time. 

The view from the al fresco dining area at The Country Club

The Country Club

The Wynn boasts of the only 18-hole golf course in a casino hotel- in Las Vegas, at least.  And to get to the course, you pass through a gorgeous, wood-paneled dining room that evokes the feel of a members-only golf club. The fine dining resto offers prime cuts of steak, as well as upscale versions of American classics, like Sweet Corn chowder and Angus burgers. 

We loved hanging out at the bar, where we got to watch the Euro Cup games and drowned our sorrows in cold beer, wine and Filet Mignon.  

Eggs Benedict


Breakfast at the Tower Suites is served in this intimate dining room with a view of the pool. Good coffee fills your cup without having to ask, and the breakfast/brunch fare is generous but not overwhelming.  I have decided to cast aside fears of a heart attack and just indulged on theirEggs Benedict until I got sick of it.  (Note:True enough, I haven’t had Eggs Benedict since then.)  

Thai Green Curry


This restaurant is the first that greets you when you arrive at Encore from the covered corridor which connects it to The Wynn.  It is actually my favorite Asian restaurant in the hotel for its diversity as well as value for money.  If the food does not impress you, I’m pretty sure the 20-foot crystal dragon hung across the back wall will. 

When the craving for Asian flavors strike, they have a bevy of braised noodles or soups to choose from. Their Thai Green Curry also hit the spot, and it was oh so comforting with a steaming bowl of rice.

Wynn LasVegas and Encore Hotel
3131 LasVegas Blvd.
South LasVegas, NV
Tel. no.(702) 770 7000

Friday, September 14, 2012

Quick Bites: Halal Chicken Over Rice

As a foodie walking around the streets of New York, I noticed a big change since the first few times I visited the city.  Sidewalks that were once dominated by the ubiquitous hotdog stand now shares it with what used to be considered exotic fare- Halal food. 
Halal foods are described as “foods allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines”.  What initially comes to my mind is a highly restricted diet wherein flavors are compromised in the name of religion and health.  However, I soon discover that following certain guidelines does not in any way result in bland and boring food- something New Yorkers have obviously discovered these past few years.
I have heard about Chicken Over Rice from my young relatives who, on numerous occasions, have stumbled out of a New York City bar or club and were lured by the scent of chicken or lamb cooked over a hot griddle.  

We were told that the best halal cart can be found at 53rd St. and 6th Ave., but unfortunately we never found ourselves in that area.  However, we did find a cart in front of Mt. Sinai Hospital and, like most that were within a 20-foot radius of the spot, we were lassoed in by the aromas of exotic spices and meat.
The choices are very simple: chicken, lamb or falafel accompanied by either rice or flat bread (or both).  I initially tried the popular Chicken Over Rice, but later on I have discovered that a combo of lamb and chicken is a tastier option.  The allure seems to lie on the pungent mixture of spices- from the flavorful rice, to the marinated meats, to the spicy kick of the red sauce and garlic yogurt.  It is a full-on attack on the senses, and at $6 a plate, an amazing deal in a notoriously expensive town.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Food Trip USA: New York/ New Jersey

Guilty- I have been absent from blogging for quite some time now.  No excuses.  But, looky here!  A new entry!

I have just returned from a long vacation in the US and, needless to say, Matt and I took full advantage of what the Bastion of Capitalism has to offer.  From organic (and not-so-organic) supermarkets to street food to comfort food, we swept through the country with guts (and pant flaps) wide open. 

Most of our trip was spent in the East Coast, where some of my family is based.   New York and New Jersey is probably the most culturally diverse states in the US and, naturally, so is the food.

Here are a few of our favorite stops.

Whole Foods Market

A trip to the US is not complete without several visits to this organic super store.  The uninitiated usually get visuals of hippies in hemp tunics selling quinoa cupcakes, but that's not what this place is about. 

The produce section is an explosion of color- native and imported fruits, the best green vegetables and herbs from local farmers, all naturally-grown and only the highest grade there is.  The seafood, meat and poultry section boast of the same top-quality stuff.  I heard somebody say recently that there is no such thing as organic beef.  Well, there is- I saw it with my own two eyes:  Organic, grain-fed, dry-aged, prime-grade porterhouse.  I wish I took a picture. 


Matt and I have two favorite sections: the smoked fish and cheese sections.  Vacuum-sealed to maintain optimal freshness, they carry smoked and cured salmon from anywhere in between Alaska and Norway.  They also carry some signature brands, such as Charlie Trotter’s cured salmon.  I was particularly fond of the citrus-y variety.

The cheese section just blew our minds.  I’m pretty sure it’s not the widest of selections, but it was definitely more than what I am used too.  It pretty much covers all the major cheese-producing countries, as well as a number of local artisanal products from upstate.  For this alone Matt and I were willing to make the ten-minute drive to the supermarket every day.

We frequented the branch along River Road, Edgewater, NJ, but there are hundreds all over the US.

Sarita’s Macaroni and Cheese (S’mac)

Speaking of cheese- a whole restaurant dedicated to mac and cheese is, in my humble opinion, beyond brilliant.  It could only be a product of divine intervention.  The East Village eatery s'mac offers a sizeable variety of cheese combinations and add-ons that would please every palate.  So far I have only tried two kinds, and of the two, there was one that I fell head-over-heels for- The Alpine.  Perfectly-cooked macaroni coated in luxe Swiss Gruyere cheese, mixed with salty cubes of slab bacon- how could I not? 

And if this was not self-indulgent enough, you can order their mac n cheese “to go” and ready to be reheated any time you are in need of a good coddling. 

345 East 12thSt. between 1st & 2nd Aves., NY, NY
Tel. no.(212) 358 7912

Zum Schneider

Another East Village haunt that we loved was this small yet popular German biergarten.  We arrived early and scored a good table, but show up after six and for sure you will have to stand by the bar.  The beer selection is obviously German, with quite a few on tap. The food is, expectedly, all things meaty and cheesy- we enjoyed theboiled veal bratwurst with pretzel, as well as the baked camembert.  It’s a great place to escape the cold, have a beer, and catch up with friends. 

This is a favorite spot for football fans during the Euroand World Cups, so if you find yourself in the area, do check it out.  It should be fun, if you don’t mind being shoulder-to shoulder with rowdy European types. 

107 Ave. Cat East 7th St. NY, NY
Tel. no.(212) 5981098


If I ever become a gazillionaire and could choose any chef in the world to cook for me at home, every single day, it would be Marc Murphy.  His cooking style and food philosophy is akin to mine- French and Italian dishes cooked bistro-style are so up my alley.  Don’t let the trendy surroundings of both his Tribeca and AOL Time-Warner restos fool you- his food is good.

I was able to enjoy his lunch menu a couple of times- once alone, and the second time with companions. It was quite an experience for me to sit at their bar and order myself a meal- I felt so grown-up and chic. 

A deceivingly light yet cholesterol-laden starter is theFrisee aux Lardons- delicate greens tossed in red wine vinaigrette, generously-topped with thick cubes of bacon and poached egg. With that I had a small portion of their Pasta of the day- Linguine con vongole.   

Meat lovers should try their steaks, simply-seasoned and lovingly grilled right behind the bar.  This includes a side salad and fresh-cut fries- and at $30 for the hanger steak-probably one of the best deals in Manhattan. 

The icing on top of the proverbial cake must be the winelist- over 300 bottles to choose from in their thick, leather-bound inventory.  There are no wines by the glass, only half bottles: you can definitely find one you'll like from the 100 varieties they have on stock. 
3/F TimeWarner Center
10 ColumbusCircle, NY, NY
Tel. no.(212) 823 6123

Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen


This bakery/restaurant is every bit modern-American-cool- from the distressed wooden furniture to the low lighting to the young urbanite staff.  When I went to the bathroom, I discovered the basement bakery where they churn out their delicious breads, as well as a small cellar/dining area.

Aside from the breads, people come here for one other thing-Fried Chicken.  Mildly-spiced and deep-fried until crisp, with a side of mashed potatoes and collared greens- it is southern cooking at its finest. 

Not in the mood for fried chicken?  I spied an interesting cheese list (to go with their bread, of course) as well as a New York strip with shallot butter and fries.  For drinks, go down the street and check out the neighborhood watering holes- $16 for a shot of DonJulio is a buzz kill.    

35 DowningSt. NY, NY
Tel. no.(212) 337 0404