Many people go to Vegas for the gambling. Some go for the shows. Too many go for Bachelor/ette parties. As for me, I went for the food. Well, actually, I went to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. To celebrate by eating food. Good food.
We were there four days and three nights, which allowed for exploring four restaurants. Four restaurants with a side of In-N-Out Burger. Protein style.
They were all really good. Some were great. It was a tight race for the gold:
BRONZE MEDAL: Postrio
After pampering ourselves at Caynon Ranch Spa our first morning, we were famished. Strolling under the Venetian’s (fake) Italian sky, we ended up picking a restaurant “patio” by the “canal.” Such ambiance. It was a pick more or less at random, but Postrio by Wolfgang Puck was quite delicious. But then again he is America’s most successful chef, so I’d hope he could put out some edible fare. We opted to order an array of appetizers. Highlights: the tuna tartar and the trio of housemade sausages (!). Very good. Minus the fake sky.
SILVER MEDAL: craftsteak
I am what Mark Bittman calls a flexitarian. I don’t eat much meat, but I also don’t really have any rules about eating; I eat what I like. But I am not what you would call a carnivore. I get way more excited about arugula than waygu. Nevertheless, I was dying to try out Tom Colicchio’s craftsteak. I love Tom. At least I love what I know of him from TV and his Twitter feed. He seems like, as my Mom would say, a “good guy.”
Craftsteak delivered. Big time. When we arrived (after walking what felt like 2 miles in the MGM Grand) they were running a “few minutes” behind on their reservations, and recommended we take a seat at the bar. The dapper bartender wasted no time pouring me my Hendrick’s martini extra dry with a twist. It was perfection. My sister opted for one of their specialty cocktails with bourbon and pomegranate juice, while the birthday girl had a heavy-handed gimlet (later to be topped off with just a little more soda).
The bar itself was magnificent. Classy but comfortable with bartenders in suits and basketball on the flatscreens. After 20 minutes or so, the hostess came to take us to our table, a perfect round booth just the right size for three so that no one felt like they were left out on an end. Our sever Edgar made us feel relaxed and welcome from the moment we sat down. We knew we were in for a delightful meal.
While the Australian A5 Wagyu Surf + Turf three-course tasting menu at $295 per person was tempting, we opted to go a more modest route. My sister ordered the 10 oz. filet mignon ($56) and Mom opted for surf + turf with lobster ($68). I was beside myself with excitement for the fava bean salad with walnut pesto and pecorino, but added on the Vermont quail dish so as not to seem too lame. Edgar teased me a little, but didn’t seem to mind. We also ordered asparagus and fiddleheads as side vegetables. With the order in, we sipped our wine and devoured the most delicious baked buns. I didn’t even know this kind of bun could be homemade. You learn something new everyday.
Here’s the thing about craftsteak: I’ve never tasted such a delicious steak. I really had no idea steak could taste so good. I’m not sure what would have happened if I tasted the pricier options. But the real show stealer, was the fava bean salad. I know that seems silly to say, craftsteak being a steakhouse and all, but it was amazing. Fresh favas. Perfectly roasted nuts. Cheese that probably cost $50/lb. Steak and veggies, Tom does it all well.
NO MEDAL: nobu
Night two, after a hot day at the Hoover Dam and Red Rocks Caynon, we made our way to the Hard Rock Hotel to try Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s eponymous restaurant. When planning the birthday weekend for our mom, my sister and I had picked this as the dinner of the weekend, given her affinity for sushi. But, unfortunately, it proved to be the eating lowlight.
Things didn’t get off to a good start, I’m not sure why. Some of it may have been a result of us being a bit tired from the long, active, day. But not very much. The vibe of the restaurant was off-putting. It was cramped, loud, chaotic. Our waitress was noticeably condescending, treating us like children who needed to be advised what to order off the kid’s menu. We struggled to order, mostly because her recommendations didn’t jive with what we wanted to eat, but we finally got it done. We ordered tuna tacos, Chef Nobu’s signature black cod with miso, and 3-4 sushi rolls. The food was undeniably delicious, particularly the black cod. It wasn’t much to look at, but the caramelized miso was like nothing I’ve ever had before. The sushi was great too. But the bill? Not so great. At craftsteak we didn’t bat an eye at the bill, because although it was pricey, it felt worth every penny. Nobu, on the other hand, felt like a 20-something club. The food was great, but the ambiance and service just didn’t measure up.
GOLD MEDAL: China Poblano
For our last night in Vegas, we decided to switch it up and go a bit more casual. It took 20 minutes of wandering around The Cosmopolitan before we found José Andrés’s newest restaurant, China Poblano. The giant Buddha surrounding the entrance welcomed us warmly. At first glance the menu looked fantastic, but first things first: we needed margaritas. We wasted no time selecting, and the bartender delievered expeditiously. Served in a stemless martini glass, the rims were blank, and instead each drink was topped with a delicate salted foam. Genius. Pure genius.
With our awesome waitress’s input, we ordered (likely with foam on our lips):
- Guacamole made one-by-one / fresh tortillas
- Lamb Pot Stickers Stuck On You vegetables / crisp lace
- Coctel de Camarones fresh shrimp/ jumbo lump crab meat/tomato/ avocado
- The Unruly Monk hand-cut noodles / bok choy / wild wood ear mushrooms / poached egg / spicy sauce
- Setas taco wild mushrooms / guacamole
- Cochinita taco Yucatan-style pit barbeque pork/marinated onions
- [another taco that I’m forgetting…]
- Twenty-Vegetable Fried Rice
Decisions were difficult since everything on the menu looked amazing. The only dish that was so-so was the noodle soup. It was good, just not that notable. The tacos were fantastic, particularly the mushroom one which on paper sounds pretty dullsville. It wasn’t. The guacamole was also phenomenal. I venture to say it was the best I’ve ever had. The other highlight was the pot stickers. Lamb seasoned with cumin was unexpected but amazing.
After a second “Salt-Air Margarita,” we were pretty full and happy, but being a birthday dinner number three of three, we needed a festive dessert. And festive we got: out waitress recommended the Chocolate Terra Cotta Warrior. “He” came on a bed of chocolate cookie dust with caramelized bananas, sesame, and ginger gelato. Done and done. My sister proceeded to chop his head off with the first bite, which seemed like the perfect celebratory end to one of the best dinners I’ve had.
Happy Birthday Mom!