Archive for April, 2011

Great Food Truck Race-Las Vegas

Contestants for the TV Food Network will be around town this weekend vying for spots on the next season of Tyler Florence’s Great Food Truck Race.

We’re rooting for Cleveland’s Hodge Podge truck. They’ll be at the El Cortez today (Saturday 4/23) at 11:30 selling lobster, surf & turf and other goodies. Boston’s Roxy Grilled Cheese will be at the corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Garces. If you want to see what the buzz with these gourmet, rolling resturants is about, today is a good day to check it out.

Those food trucks we often see around Las Vegas construction sites have blown into a major food craze in cities like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. We aren’t talking the “roach coaches” that have long been rolling around Vegas. These new food trucks-more like mini restaurants on wheels-are serving up high end gourmet food-to-go. Often owned and operated by young culinary graduates with a vision, these modern food trucks are sometimes a non-conventional gateway to financing their dream restaurant, and to have what is sure to be a lot of fun along the way.

Many of these food trucks have been responsible for sparking new food trends (Korean tacos from the Kogi food truck in Los Angeles are one of the most written about). Some have a huge loyal following of fans that follow the trucks wherever they may be parked on a given day. And a few get enough of a following and publicity that eventually earns the owners the backing they need to secure the financing for the restaurant of their dreams.

Check our twitter site for updates throughout the weekend.


We just returned from the event. All of the trucks can be accessed from the entrance of the El Cortez on Fremont Street. Park at the main Fremont Street parking garage, just a 4 minute walk to the El Cortez from there. The weather is great this weekend and the lines aren’t long……must try: the Hodge Podge dog from Cleveland’s Hodge Podge Truck. The truffled ketchup and pear/dragon fruit tea rock!



It’s no exaggeration when I say we recently enjoyed what very well may be our finest Las Vegas dining experience to date, at Sage in the Aria Resort & Casino on the strip.

Renowned Chicago chef Shawn McClain (Spring, Green Zebra) is giving the likes of Guy Savoy, Thomas Keller, and Jean Georges Vongerichten some serious competition with his inspired and perfectly executed dishes such as his to-die-for foie gras brulee. If I needed to pick one starter for my death row meal, this would be it. Creamy, almost mousse-like foie gras is topped with a thin, crackly caramel crust that creates a perfect mouthful with toasted cocoa nibs and a salted brioche companion. We experienced a few seconds of temporary blindness with our first bite–this dish is that good.

With so many tempting items on the menu, we were having difficulty choosing our meals. We put our appetites in the hands of our very capable server, Jason Bond, and with his nod of approval went the four course tasting menu ($79) with the wine pairing ($40 additional). Bond was spot on with his recommendations. Each wine was an absolute perfect match for every bite along the way. The expertise of our server was apparent as he guided us through each course and companion wine.

A starter of a half dozen pristine oysters with a Tabasco sorbet and aged tequila mignonette may very well be the best oysters in town. The Tabasco and tequila were perfect mates for the sweet, icy oysters.

Our second courses of lobster casoncelli – tender little ravioli filled with lobster- were paired with spinach and mascarpone cheese, and Maine dayboat scallops served on a bed of meltingly tender braised oxtail were outstanding.

A third course of Iberico pork loin with smoked dates and a melt-in your-mouth beef belly on a chestnut puree were both rich and satisfying. We loved both dishes, but felt slightly less love for the Iberico pork loin. The pork was very tender, flavorful and moist, but perhaps too heavily smoked (possibly due to the smoked dates). The smokiness haunted our palate way into the desert course and beyond. It was a lovely dish, perhaps best served on its own. We felt it was a bit too assertive with the other selections on the tasting menu. If Iberico pork loin interests you (and it definitely should), we suggest ordering it ala carte rather than a component of the tasting menu.

We found no fault with our deserts. A warm carrot cake and a crunchy chocolate peanut butter tart were perfect endings to a near perfect progression of dishes. We contemplated ending our meal with one of the numerous absinthe selections, but our palates were still feeling the stress from the smoke on the Iberico pork loin.

The gorgeous interior and elegant serenity of Sage and it’s bar are an ideal stage for Chef McClain’s masterpieces. One last note about the service–ask for server Jason Bond. When your goal is an excellent meal, only excellent service will do. We are planning another visit Sage very soon. We intend to call ahead to reserve one of Bond’s tables and make our reservation accordingly (not that the other servers are less skillful). Trust us on this; you will want to do the same if you want a perfectly paced, flawless dining experience.

In the Aria Hotel and Casino
3730 Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Pork Tenderloin with Kumquat and Blackberry Sauce

Pork tenderloin is a perfect choice for entertaining. It’s easy to prepare, has no waste and lends itself well to an endless variety of seasonings and sauces. Pork tenderloins are perfect for entertaining, the tender meat is easy to cook and slice and holds well for a while if it needs to prepared in advance. They’re often on sale in the markets around Las Vegas, a good time to pick up an extra one or two for the freezer.

As with any pork roast, I like to serve a fruit sauce or side dish. In this recipe, the sauce is the star. Almost any fruit will be fine in this sauce, but here I’m using kumquats that I quickly candied (easy recipe here) and blackberries. This basic French sauce is a handy way to take advantage of bargains on seasonal fruit, and is very, very good.

Pork Tenderloin with Kumquat and Blackberry Sauce
1 whole pork tenderloin
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 tsp soy sauce
½ cup sherry or white wine
1 cup chicken or beef broth
½ cup candied kumquats in syrup
6 oz fresh blackberries
1 tablespoon cold butter

Pat the tenderloin dry with paper towels and rub all over with the garlic. Season with the salt, pepper and soy sauce.

Quickly brown the meat in an oven-safe skillet. Place the skillet in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for about 30 minutes (more or less depending on thickness of the tenderloin). The internal temperature should be between 140 and 150 degrees for a tenderloin that will be slightly pink in the middle, the way we prefer it.

Remove the meat to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm while making the sauce.

Over medium heat, add the water and wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen the brown bits. Bring to a boil, simmer for 1 minute. Add the kumquats and simmer one minute more. Remove from the heat and swirl in the cold butter to slightly thicken the sauce. Add any juices that may have accumulated from the resting meat. Add the blackberries to the hot sauce (do not continue to cook the saauce at this point). Taste for seasoning and add salt & pepper if needed.

Slice the pork thinly and serve with the fruit sauce

Serves 4-6

Veal Piccata

This classic Italian recipe used to be found on many Italian restaurant menus and is making a comeback. Thin slices of veal are quickly sautéed and sauced with a tangy lemon and wine butter sauce studded with capers. Because smaller pieces of veal are pounded out into larger, thinner pieces, a little of this pricey cut of meat goes a long way. One pound easily feeds four diners.

Veal Picatta is usually thought of as a special occasion dish but makes a quick weekday dish by substituting the veal with very thin slices of pounded chicken breast meat. Once the meat is pounded out and floured, the dish comes together and is ready to serve in under 10 minutes.

While there are several variations on the basic Veal Picatta recipe, capers, the pickled flower bud of a Mediterranean shrub, appear in all versions. They can be found in small jars in the pickle aisle in supermarkets.

Serve with a rice pilaf, risotto or parslied new potatoes.

Veal Picatta
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 thin slices veal (scalloppini), each about 1/8 inch thick
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 minced shallot
1/2 cup white or marsala wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon rinsed and drained capers
1 teaspoon fresh Italian parsley leaves, minced
salt & pepper

Place each piece of veal between sheets of plastic wrap and pound lightly with meat tenderizer until very thin.

Lightly season with salt & pepper. Coat the veal the flour and pat off any excess.

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat and sauté the veal for 1 minute, or until pale golden brown. Turn the veal and sauté it for 30 seconds more. Transfer the veal to a platter and keep it warm, covered.

Add the shallots to the pan and sauté for 45 seconds. Add the wine and simmer until slightly reduced. Add the lemon and the capers and simmer the mixture for 1 minute more. Taste for seasoning and add salt & pepper if needed. Turn the heat off and swirl in the butter and the parsley. Return the meat and any juices that may have accumulated to the sauce to reheat. Serve right away.

Serves 4

Roasted Artichokes and Parsnips

If you’re bored with the usual vegetables you serve with a Sunday roast, this unlikely combo will perk you up.

Parsnips, those sweet, white, carrot-like roots with a parsley flavor are particularly good roasted. The roasting process really concentrates their natural sweetness. Artichokes also have a natural sweetness, and the two vegetables make a very nice duo when roasted together with butter and a few whole garlic cloves.

The work involved in prepping and eating artichokes often puts many folks off, but in this recipe, the artichokes are quickly quartered and cleaned up which makes pulling that fuzzy inner bit quick work.

This duo is excellent served with any roasted meat or poultry.

Roasted Artichokes and Parsnips

2 jumbo artichokes
4-5 parsnips
4 whole cloves garlic
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup sherry or white wine
¼ cup strong chicken stock (cubes work fine here)

Place the butter and oil in a baking pan.

To prepare the artichokes, pull the first 5-6 rows of petals off and discard. Snip the tips of the remaining petals off with scissors to cut any spines off. Cut the top off and cut artichoke into quarters and pull out the fuzzy, purple middle bit. With a paring knife, trim the stems to remove the outer tough portion. The artichoke may begin to turn brown at this point, but don’t worry about it. In this recipe they roast until brown anyway, so it doesn’t matter here.

To prepare the parsnips, peel as you would for carrots and cut into two. If your parsnips are fat, cut into quarters.

Peel the garlic cloves, but leave whole. Arrange the artichokes, parsnips and garlic into the baking pan and roll around to coat in the oil.

Add half of the wine and stock. Place everything in the oven and after about 20 minutes toss everything to coat with the liquid in the pan. Add the rest of the wine and liquid when the first addition cooks away. Roast until nicely browned and tender.

Roasting time will be about 45-60 minutes at 350 to 375 degrees. Roasting time and temperature are flexible and can be adjusted to roast simultaneously with your roast.

Serves 4

Butter Coconut Macaroons

This very easy recipe for coconut macaroons was given to me by a Filipino friend. This was her grandmother’s recipe and in my opinion, is one of the best coconut macaroon recipes around.

The use of butter in this recipe makes a richer macaroon than the usual Western style macaroon. It also uses desiccated coconut, a finer, dryer form of grated coconut and results in a macaroon that’s has a more dense texture than those made with coarsely grated coconut. It can be found in many supermarkets next to the regular, sweetened, grated coconut or in specialty stores or websites that carry baking ingredients.

I have used a regular size cupcake pan here, but any size may be used. Mini cupcake liners would be very nice for party or holiday cookie trays. They’re perfect just as they are, or drizzled with a bit of melted chocolate as I’ve done here.

Filipino Butter Macaroons
½ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla
3 eggs
14 ounces (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
14 oz desiccated coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.

Cream the butter with the brown sugar until smooth.

Add the vanilla, eggs and condensed milk. Mix until well combined.

Add coconut and mix well by hand with a spatula until well combined. Spoon into mini muffin cups and fill each cup ¾ full. Smooth the tops of the batter so tops are flat.

Bake for approx. 15 – 20 minutes until they are light golden brown. Do not overcook. Note, if your oven tends to bake hotter, bake at 325 degrees so they don’t brown too quickly.

Makes 18 macaroons.