Meeting Rick Moonen, and Other Las Vegas Adventures
Some friends have asked for a food report on my recent weekend jaunt to Las Vegas, so here you go, foodniks.
First off, here's proof (um, not really) that I met chef Rick Moonen, who almost immediately asked me if I do my job anonymously, and later joked that he could make a killing on selling my picture to chefs in Phoenix.
He happened to be in the dining room while I was waiting for my dinner table, and was game for a photo. We chatted a bit and it dawned on me that when I'm not in Phoenix, I'm pretty darn outgoing -- I also met Alice Waters and Wylie Dufresne in similarly random fashion this past year. Moonen was also gracious enough to give me a copy of Eating Las Vegas' new restaurant guide book, where his restaurant RM Seafood is one of the top ten picks. (Thanks, Chef!)
I stopped by for dinner in the more casual downstairs dining room -- upstairs is the fine dining spot. Since I was with my dad, and dad was craving crab, we decided on downstairs, where he started with crab sushi and I had a lovely crabcake. Alas, I was too hungry and slightly starstruck from that random Rick Moonen encounter, so I didn't bust out the camera until my main dish arrived.
I loved my halibut, a perfectly cooked piece of pristine, juicy white flesh set on a cloud of smooth carrot-cardamom puree, with celery root and shaved heirloom carrots.
Although I told myself I'd behave, I had to have dessert when I saw red velvet whoopie pies on the menu. They were served with an adorable mini-milkshake that tasted like coconut cream.
Why in the world did I want to behave? Because the night I arrived in Las Vegas, my brother and his wife welcomed me into their new home with a full-on (albeit belated) Thanksgiving dinner. Dad had the turkey carving duties, and just look at this plate full o' meat! Wow. I'm still kinda full.
Early last year I blogged about a kickass robatayaki place called Raku, and as much as I'd love to try each and every Asian restaurant on Spring Mountain Road, I couldn't resist coming back here. Thankfully, my dad was a willing companion and let me do the ordering.
We started with delcious, creamy, cold tofu (housemade!) teamed with seaweed, fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and a crispy garnish that I recognized as tiny fried fish. They were more for texture than flavor, though.
Live scallop was sliced into sashimi and was remarkably sweet. The garnishes were clear seaweed noodles and kabocha squash.
Even the miso soup here was superb, filled with nameko mushrooms and a big chunk of tofu.
Crispy whole fried shrimp didn't need anything to taste good -- they were pure crunch and flavor all on their own.
Grilled duck was succulent, dabbed with balsamic and scattered with scallions.
Skewers of tsukune (chicken meatball with bits of shiso) and bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms were flavorful bites that I wanted more of . . .
. . . until the Kobe beef arrived, practically still sizzling and adorned with wasabi.
The warm, savory custard called chawan mushi is usually a homey, simple dish in Japanese cuisine, but here, they pureed it with foie gras, which added that alluring, unmistakable flavor. On top, there was a slice of perfect pink duck meat.
I got custard for dessert, too -- or actually, pudding. It was a bowl of frothy milk that obscured a smooth, "kokutou" brown sugar-flavored pudding. Mixed together, it was the most comforting taste. I had it on my first visit and couldn't resist it.
Now that the bridge over Hoover Dam is open, the drive to Vegas goes by very quickly -- under five hours, in my case. All of a sudden, I'm plotting a return to do a lot more eating!
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