Saturday, May 31, 2008

Las Vegas: Not Just for Gamblers Anymore

It's not news to anyone, really. Vegas has long been touted as a place to shop, see shows and eat as much as fritter away your hard earned cash. Still, its reputation as a gambler's paradise kept me from visiting until well into my adulthood (don't ask how far, it's not polite).

My partner and I returned from a vacation to Las Vegas just a few days ago, my wallet decidedly lighter and my ass a bit heavier. Only ten dollars were left at the casinos. Most of our money went to the restaurants of Sin City and our stomachs are more than happy for that.
And since I'd been toying with the idea of starting a food blog, I thought "Why not now?" Hence, the inaugural entry in Culinary Hedonism!

Since the meals were so fantastic, we're going to take it one day at a time. First, our arrival on Monday, May 26th. We knew we wanted to visit Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, so we'd already made reservations before we hit town. A little early, 5:30pm, but after a day of driving and flying and shuttling, we were glad of it. We hadn't really had time for a decent meal, so dinner was it.

For a long time, I didn't like Bobby Flay. His reputation as brash and arrogant preceded him, led by his grandstanding appearances in the original Iron Chef. But over the last year or so, watching his new shows on the Food Network (yes, I'm a junkie and make no apologies for it!), I've developed a new respect for the man. He is willing to put his skills on the line against anyone, his intent not to outcook them, but to showcase their talents.

We were excited to eat at Mesa Grill. We would finally find out whether Chef Flay knew his business. The pre-trip intelligence we'd received from one of my partner's coworkers pointed us toward the mashed potatoes, which were billed as better than sex. Of course, the coworker admitted to being drunk at the time she consumed the potates. *g* Still, we had to try them, right?

I'd done a little recon of my own before we left for vacation, reading the menus online. Hence, I already knew what I wanted for a cocktail. They had a pisco sour on the menu, so I wanted to try it. I'd had a taste of straight pisco a couple of years ago (nearly breathing fire as a result!) and wanted to experience the famed cocktail. Sadly, the restaurant was out of one of the ingredients, the pasteurized egg whites, so we had to go without. *sniffle*

Since the menu declared that Mesa Grill lives and dies by the margarita, we decided instead to put our faith in my favorite cocktail. The bartender did not disappoint. A silver tequila, house-made sour (lime juice and simple syrup) and a dash of triple sec. No fancy extras, just a basic margarita served on the rocks. Not even a mention of a blender (thank gods!). Just a glass of sweet-tart heaven with a salted rim. The evening was indeed looking up.

Booze problems solved, we turned to the food. For a starter, we ordered the creamy wild mushroom grits with a poached egg, charred serrano sauce, cotija cheese and crushed blue corn tortilla chips. There's something sexy about breaking the yolk of a poached egg. The yolk mixed with the creamy grits and crunchy chips, the spicy, smoky sauce. Man, that was a mean bowl of grits. An extremely satisfying combination of textures and flavors.

We decided to steer away from seafood for our entree in spite of the yummy-sounding tuna steak on the menu. We went instead for the Sixteen Spice Duck Breast with carrot-habanero sauce, a chorizo-goat cheese tamale and thyme butter. The duck arrived sliced, medium rare and juicy. The waiter was generous enough to give us a few more ingredients to the sauce...carrot juice, habanero pepper, orange juice, star anise and cinnamon. Sweet, spicy, melding beautifully with the flavor of the duck. The tamale made a great, mellow accompaniment, though it kind of underwhelmed me. I missed the goat cheese...don't really remember seeing it or tasting it.

When we looked at the dessert menu, there was really no other choice than the profiteroles. Instead of whipped cream or plain ice cream inside, there were small nuggets of cornflake crusted fried ice cream. The sauce covering the lovely puffs of dough wasn't an ordinary chocolate sauce. It was a mexican chocolate sauce with cayenne and cinnamon. We wanted to lick the plate, but we restrained ourselves. *g*

The verdict? Chef Flay definitely has something good going on. The combinations of flavors and textures never stopped challenging and delighting my palate. I only wish I'd had room for more! It was a fantastic meal.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot! We did order the mashed potatoes, swirled with cilantro pesto. They were indeed delicious, though not quite as good as sex. That distinction was saved for our dinner the following evening. Stay tuned for details...