Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BLT Steak (Las Vegas)

The last time I stayed at the Paris Las Vegas, I walked through the connecting concourse and had a great dinner at Bally's Steak House. This time, when I stayed at Bally's Las Vegas, I discovered that Bally's Steak House had closed, the space was expanded to 9,300 sq. ft., about double its original size, and BLT Steak had replaced it in mid-May.

This is BLT's first steak restaurant in Las Vegas, having debuted in New York in 2004. Just up the street in the Mirage Hotel and Casino is its sister restaurant, BLT Burger.

The first night I was there, I ate in SEA Thai Restaurant, just opposite BLT. There were three young women at the steak house's check-in area, and as I approached, they all started smiling and inviting me to their restaurant. Nice ladies, but it has decided to eat Thai that night, so I just smiled back.

The next night, I decided to eat steak, so off I went to BLT. The trio recognized me and seemed glad that I'd decided to come back. In fact, they used the phrase, "came back," and chatted me up. One of the young women said she's also from Hawaii (the Salt Lake area of Honolulu).

BLT's interior consists of a circular bar, and two dining rooms. It seems dark, but high on the ceiling, above each table, is a high-intensity light that brightens up the table. I got there early, about 5:45 p.m., a mere 15 minutes after they opened for the evening. So I had a good choice of tables.

My server, Anthony, set me up quickly, his assistant bringing me a chef's amuse bouchée – duck liver mousse (pâté) with crostini. It was okay, I have never acquired a taste for pâté, much less duck liver. The feller at the table next to mine didn't even give it a taste.

One of their signatures is a huge popover flavored with Gruyère cheese. When the brought me a popover with sweet creamery butter, a recipe was also included in the presentation. Nice of them to do that. I didn't care much for it  (too salty), but tore off a hunk anyway to give it a try.

I started my meal with a half-dozen raw oysters – three West coast Kumamotos and three East coast Blue Points. Anthony described the differences between the two.

Basically, the Kumamotos are smaller and feature a deep cup in their shell, with a little less "give" to the bite. They taste a little sweet, as opposed to the Blue Points, which are flatter, larger, and taste more of the sea.

They were delicious, served with a cocktail sauce and a serving of mignonette, which Anthony pronounced "minuet," like the dance. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing out loud.

I ordered two sides. The first was a dish of honeyed Brussels sprouts that arrived wading in butter, bacon and shallots. They were so sweet.

The second was a potato gratin. That was actually Anthony's suggestion as a dinner starch. The potatoes were perfectly cooked, moist and tender, and just peeking out from its blanket of cheese. It was good, but much too much. In fact, even the Brussels sprouts were too much. I only ate half of the sides.

My entrée was out of this world – a bone-in rib-eye steak, cooked to just the right internal temperature (medium-rare). I actually contemplating a Wagyu bone-in rib-eye, but the difference between a Wagyu and a prime ordinary steak isn't that much. Although, the price sure is ... It's at least double the price.

In the steak pan was a marrow bone (now, how decadent is that?), and a small bulb of oven-roasted garlic, so I could merge the marrow and garlic and add it to the side order of Béarnaise. And sitting on top of the steak was a slab of herbed butter.

That steak was so very juicy and tender ... and buttery. I love it when I'm served a good steak.

I had no room for dessert, but I needn't have worried. Anthony brought out two mini dark-chocolate brownies, which I washed down with San Pellegrino Italian sparkling water.

I made sure to take Alka-Seltzer before I went to sleep.

BLT Steak: Bally's Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, 3645 South Las Vegas Blvd. Phone (702) 739-4111.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Applebee's Pacific Commons (Fremont)

I've been to a number of Applebee's(es) across the country. (Say, how do you pluralize a word that ends in "'s" anyway?) One thing I can say about them is they're consistently not bad ... kind of like a friendly neighborhood coffee shop.

We'd tried eating at the Pacific Commons area restaurant before, but if you remember, it was at the start of a morning jaunt to Sonoma in wine country last year and they weren't open yet when we got there. For reference's sake, write this down: They open at 11 a.m.

This time, we met an old friend there for lunch. Please note that when I say "old," in no way am I referring to age, but in length of time. There's a very good reason why I've survived this long in my world of women friendships.

Not surprisingly, the wife was slightly overwhelmed by the menu choices. She wanted something simple, so she had her usual fish and chips. I, on the other hand, wavered between their Three-Cheese Pasta and their Cowboy Burger. The waitress (dang it, I forgot to catch her name) solved that dilemma for me – that particular pasta dish was a limited offering, and the limit had run out.

Ergo, that's why this humongous piled-high hamburger sandwich appeared in front of me, stuffed with a thick patty dripping barbecue sauce, crispy bacon, melted white cheddar cheese, crunchy onion rings, lettuce, tomato, sliced onions, and pickles, accompanied by way too many French fries.

That was a big one, and a very messy burger to eat. Very delicious too, after I sprinkled on a little table salt.

This is one restaurant chain that's always done good by me. 

Applebee's: 43349 Boscell Rd. Phone  (510) 226-0202.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mon Ami Gabi (Las Vegas)

Mon Ami Gabi is located in the Paris Hotel and Casino, with both indoor and outdoor seating. The entrance is from inside the casino, so if you're passing by on the sidewalk and feel like eating there after checking out their menu, just remember to go inside, using the door to the right of the al fresco seating.

I went in fully intending to have either a hash and eggs breakfast, or a quiche (because, after all, Mon Ami Gabi is a French bistro).

But when my waiter Petr announced the daily specials, I changed my mind and ordered their Benedict du Jour.

First, however, I had a glass of apple juice and a fruit salad that came with some crème fraiche and brown sugar. It was a simple salad, with bananas, grapes, honeydew melon and cantaloupe. Nothing special, but it hit the spot. Of course, it was enough for two people when eaten as an appetizer, which it was that morning.

The Benedict du Jour was sooo good. Instead of Canadian bacon, it was prepared with fresh mushrooms, arugula and melted Brie cheese. I didn't miss the meat in the least.

They toast their English muffins on a griddle, so it was crispy crunchy the way I like it. The poached eggs were yoke-runny the way I like it, and the hollandaise was perfect. The Benedicts were accompanied by hash browns that were crispy the way I always (albeit not always successfully) try to make it at home.

Petr brought me some ketchup, but the potatoes were so good that I hardly dipped into the ketchup bowl.

The only thing is that by the time I got to the second Benedict, it was cold. No fault of theirs, it was a bit chilly outside. According to my phone thermometer, it was 65° and breezy. But I did want an outside seat, so I guess I have to accept the cool weather at 9 a.m. in Las Vegas.

Excellent coffee, by the way. Sorry, I forgot to ask what kind they serve.

Mon Ami Gabi: Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd., South. Phone (702) 944-4224.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hayes Mansion (San Jose)

Part of the Dolce Hotels and Resorts chain, Hayes Mansion was formerly the home of Mary Chynoweth.

Early in life, Mary had a profound religious experience and entered a calling of preaching and healing. She met and married Anson Hayes of Wisconsin, bearing two sons for him, then when he died, married San Jose attorney Thomas Chynoweth. Her two sons lived in the mansion, which wasn't completed until after her death, and went on to co-publish the San Jose Mercury newspaper.

Hayes Mansion was a self-sustaining home for the Hayeses, with their own farm, power plant, post office, chapel and dormitory for the workers.

Successfully converted into a hotel that caters to special functions, Hayes Mansion is designated as a California National Landmark and is on the National Registry of Historic places.

And then, one Easter Sunday, I trod the path often trod by the Hayeses, roaming the halls of memory with my wife and grandson.

Easter brunch is a big deal there, with face painting, photos with the Easter Bunny, an egg hunt for the kids, and a quite-startling informational banner being carried by the hotel's culinary union saying "Happy Easter, Shame on Hayes Mansion." (Just being sarcastic on the last one, friends, but it was there, and it did put a damper on the celebration.)

Okay now, the food.

The main buffet room featured salads and pickled/marinated additions, breakfast items (scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, apple pancakes and such), hot entrees (basically chicken, salmon, beef and pork dishes with fancy names), a seafood station (cold prawns, mussels, oysters, crab legs), a nice selection of fruits and Danish pastries, and a carving station (ham, leg of lamb, beef rib-eye roast).

In the hallway was situated an omelet station where a young man made omelets to order, trying to stay ahead of the crowd. His eggs came out toasted, crispy and basically overdone ... just the way I don't like them.

There were two dessert tables in that omelet hallway with pies, cakes, cupcakes and parfaits. Evil stuff. Sinful stuff. Deliciously tempting stuff.

All the while, waiters scurried about pouring water, orange juice, champagne, mimosas, coffee and tea.

Here are my plates:

Plate 1: Salads and Breakfast Pastry

Plate 2: Breakfast Selections

Plate 3: Carved Rib Eye and Custom Omelet

Plate 4: Desserts (Apple Pie and Easter Cupcake)
Hayes Mansion: 200 Edenvale Ave. (866) 981-3300.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SEA Thai Restaurant (Las Vegas)

To tell the truth, I'm not a big fan of Thai food. But I'd heard and read of SEA Thai Restaurant, so the last time I stayed at Bally's Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on South Las Vegas Boulevard, I just had to give it a try.

My server, a cute, petite young Asian woman named Sam, was very enthusiastic and attentive. She was a bit condescending, however, telling me "Excellent choice!" with each of my dish selections. But that was okay ... I knew what she was doing, and like I said, she was cute.

I had decided to order a soup, an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert.

The soup was simple– crab miso soup. The soup was very well balanced, not overly miso-ey, just right, with little pieces of fresh crab lurking about amongst the seaweed, scallions and mini-dice of soft tofu. A good, slurpable starter.

The appetizer came at about the same time. I had ordered their Coconut Crusted Shrimp, which came with a ginger, lime and plum dressing, and three colors of crispy triangles of tortilla chips (red, green and “white," evoking the colors of the Mexican flag).

I was disappointed in the shrimp. The crust was a bit tough and a bit doughy, and it took a good deal of chewing effort to finish off each shrimp. The finishing flavor wasn't very rich, either, which it should be because of the coconut.

For my entrée, I had their Gingered Scallops Stir Fry. This was pretty good, tasty with a little bit of heat, thanks to the cooked and raw ginger slivers. The sauce also flavors the fresh juliennes of veggies – green peppers, red peppers, onions. There little bits of mushrooms and pineapples included in the sauce that jumped out of the dish and surprised me.

I enjoyed it, but as I said, I'm not a big fan. Eating it once in a Thai restaurant suffices, but I probably won't order it again.

The desserts on the dessert menu seemed kind of ordinary, but the Bananas Foster Cheesecake kind of intrigued me; I wanted to see how they would run with that. Well, it was more like mashed bananas wrapped in rice paper and deep fried like Southeast Asian spring rolls. It was good, but why they call it "cheesecake" just plain puzzles me.

The ice cream that accompanied the banana wraps, was refreshing – with thinly grated coconut hiding here and there in the vanilla ice cream. The dessert also included some taro chips. Unfortunately, I was expecting and wanting cheesecake.

"SEA," by the way, stands for "South East Asia."

SEA Thai Restaurant: Bally's Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, 3645 Las Vegas Blvd. Phone (702) 967-3888.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Big City Diner Kaimuki (Honolulu) 2

There it was, listed as the week’s breakfast special: Pork Chop and Eggs Special Breakfast – a thick pork chop swimming in brown gravy, leaning up against a big scoop of rice topped with furikake nori.

You know I had to order that dish, plus it came with eggs the way you wanted it – scrambled for me this time. The pork chop was tender, juicy and delicious, and the gravy went well with the rice and the eggs. I was tempted to ask for more gravy, but my dietician (the wife) probably wouldn’t approve.

The breakfast was so good that we ordered a take-out to bring home for my brother-in-law, who probably was just waking up as we paid our bill and left.

Big City Diner: 3565 Waialae Ave. Phone (808) 738-8895.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Asian Pearl (Fremont)

Asian Pearl is one of a number of Chinese Restaurants in the Pacific Commons shopping complex. I saw it when we went to Food Talk Cafe the last time we were here.

I just love the strange dishes offered in these Chinese restaurants, dishes that one can never find in Honolulu. Sometimes I'm tempted to order things like braised goose webs with sea cucumber (not a veggie), pan-fried frog, and stir-fried goose intestines.

This time, I let my Chinese-speaking, Chinese food expert daughter-in-law take care of the ordering. And I'm glad I did, as the crew brought dish after dish of delectable offerings:

We started with overflowing bowls of West Lake Beef Soup, a very tasty thick soup almost the consistency of bird's nest or shark-fin soup. It had little chunks of beef that teased the taste buds. Verdict: Good.

The second course (along with a bowl of rice apiece) was Beef with Fried Tofu. The beef was cubed and quickly browned until the outside was almost crispy-crunchy, then braised in a Chinese-style teriyaki sauce served with thick rounds of silken tofu that looked like yellow scallops. Verdict: Very good.

Next came Egg Whites with Dried Crab that actually resembled long strips of white lump crab meat. At first, I tasted the unique egg-white flavor, then everything changed in my mouth. I have to say that I had three servings of the dish, and it tasted better and better with each serving. Verdict: Excellent.

We closed with what I call "Many" Mushroom Soup. That's probably not what the restaurant calls it, and my daughter-in-law couldn't tell me either. She said the name I gave it explains it well. I identified button, crimini, enoki, shiitake and oyster mushrooms all swimming in a yummy mildly-ginger broth. Verdict: Very good.

Finally, the complimentary dessert course of the night was a Peanut and Toasted Rice Soup. It was served warm, with lots of soft peanuts suspended in a slightly thick, sweet ... "soup" is not the right word, neither is "syrup," it was more like a semi-gelatinous soup-syrup.

After dinner, my grandson and I visited the seafood holding aquarium tanks and marveled at the crabs, lobsters, prawns and different varieties of fish, all moping around, waiting to be plucked from their watery waiting room to be consumed by the customers.

Blue aquarium tanks behind the diners
Asian Pearl: 43635 Boscell Rd. Phone (510) 979-1368.