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But the real revelation here is the food -- including prosciutto d'anatra (whisper-thin duck breast edged with truffle oil), black truffle-spread crostini, and buffalo mozzarella. The traditional Italian fare holds up, too, with such choices as capellini con pomodorino freschi (angel hair pasta in a tomato, basil, garlic and olive-oil sauce), or osso buco mounded over fettuccine in a deep brown vegetable sauce. Even the simplest della campagna salad is magic, a minimalist marvel of field greens and organic tomatoes tossed in olive oil and squeezed with fresh lemon.
A pretty place, plus beautiful food? To that, we say, chow bella!
Try the Big Juan, a one-third-pound beauty named after Chuck Box's "beef engineer." On hungrier days, gravitate to the Great Big Juan, at a full one-half pound. You can add cheese (Swiss, American or Jalapeo Jack) and toppings of guacamole or bacon. Start salivating as the meat sizzles merrily away, next to fresh buns lightly toasting over the mesquite wood flames.
When it's done, your burger is placed gently on a tray, to be taken to Chuck Box's fully stocked condiment bar to be gussied up just a little more.
Some things are acquired tastes, like the three-color dessert fashioned from cassava, sweet potato, mung bean, seaweed, peanuts, coconut and sugar. And it takes a confident cook to bring some of the meats and fish into the kitchen: salmon belly and head, gaspergou, barracuda, goat, duck feet and pork uterus.
But we never hesitate over such hard-to-find items as live crab, mussels, clams, tilapia, catfish and carp, or on-ice critters including squid, cuttlefish, massive shrimp, rabbit loin, filet and deer flank. Whatever we need, it's here -- fresh banana leaves, rice steamers, incense, oyster sauce, Thai iced tea, avocado ice cream and pickled lemon.
We love ya, Lee Lee.
Appetizers are awesome, such as crispy fresh-grilled asparagus with prosciutto and shredded phyllo napped in a zippy citrus vinaigrette; sweet lobster and shrimp puff pastry on a lush fire-roasted red-pepper cream; or fat chile rellenos with forest mushroom duxelles and smoky Gouda corn sauce.
Entrees challenge our established "name" restaurants, with specialties like pan-roasted pheasant married with cabernet cassis (black currant), roasted shallots, cranberry-apple conserve and vegetable couscous. The veal chop is out of this world.
Kicking back with coffee and sinful desserts, it's almost impossible to believe we're just a few feet from frenzied gamblers in this clubby dining room (just 10 tables or so), with a soaring, leaded-glass wall that separates us from the slots.
Oh, and the final score? The casino doesn't charge any tax. On a meal that averages $85 for two -- an easy tab at Cholla -- we figure we've won an extra glass of Teifen Pinot Grigio. Now that's real luck.
Cafe Istanbul offers endless variety in entrees, and excellent value, too. Meals are served with soup or salad, rice or vegetables and pita bread. The shrimp scampi is stellar, sautéed in special Lebanese seasonings, as is the vegetarian dinner of zucchini, eggplant, spinach, carrots, banana squash and sweet potatoes in a luscious white sauce. Or just taste it all in a huge platter: The Al Amir combo brings a bounty of hummus, tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, baba ghanouj, mjadara, loubyeh, falafel, lamb, chicken and kafta kebab.
Segal's stops us in our tracks, with sandwiches that stretch even the biggest stomachs. The quarter-pound and half-pound burgers are simply warm-ups. The battle burger, a half-pound of meat topped with hot pastrami, starts the competition. But the full one-pound burger has us waving our white flag. It's all juicy, cooked to order, topped with whatever we choose and served with French fries and coleslaw.
We've found the beef, and it's at Segal's.