November 2008


Eiffel Tower Restaurant
Paris Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas, NV

Crispy Michigan Farmstead Artisanal Camembert, Almond Apricot Petite Salad
Le Camembert Fermier Croustillant du Michigan, Petite Salade
Venison Loin, Wild Huckleberries, Spaghetti Squash, Braised Chestnuts, Brussels Sprouts
Cote de Chevreuil, Potiron et Choux de Bruxelle aux Marrons
Supreme of Canadian White Pheasant, Wild Berry Risotto, Green Peas and Asparagus
Poitrine de Faisan du Canada, Risotto aux Graines, Petit Pois et Asperges

If you are in Las Vegas, and you have a special occasion, please, please make a reservation at this uber-lovely (though pricey) restaurant. Ride a private elevator up to the restaurant. Have a drink at the marble-topped bar. Watch the fountains at the Bellagio dance silently below. In fact, everything is silent — no noise from the Strip below you (the whole place seems very well insulated against noise). The lighting is dim and soft and romantic, which I suppose is conducive to the atmosphere, and there is just enough lighting to read the menu by.

We passed over the offer of the chef’s six-course prix fixe menu, as it was actually cheaper for us to order our own appetizer and entrees of choice, rather than let the chef decide it for us. DH wasn’t about to pass up the chance for well-prepared venison, anyway, and I liked the look of the pheasant. But let us begin at the beginning.

The crispy Camembert is like a grilled cheese died and went to heaven and took a bath in apricot sauce along the way. The petite salad did not amuse me nearly so much, I found it rather too salty. DH did not like the crispy cheese part as much as I’d thought, so I got to have the lion’s share of the little delight.

DH ordered the venison medium, but Tom, our excellent head waiter, recommended that with the venison being so lean a cut, he would recommend that it not be cooked any more than medium rare. And Tom was right, even cooked medium rare, the venison was cooked as much as it had to be. DH described it as “melt in your mouth,” and even liked the Brussels sprouts (“If you could figure out how to cook Brussels sprouts like this, I would eat them.” — they were just sauteed in some butter). All in all I think it was a nice change from steak.

The pheasant came sitting in plenty of jus from the pan, and sad to say, it definitely was necessary. Not having well-prepared pheasant before, I am not entirely sure if the bird is meant to be so dry, but it was tasty — it didn’t taste like chicken, if that’s what you’re thinking — and the risotto was perfection. Even the vegetables were good, best in concert with a forkful of risotto.

We even skipped dessert, in favour of the creperie I knew was down on the casino floor.

Though a pricey, four-star restaurant, our final bill was not nearly as high as I know it could have been — a more expensive appetizer, desserts, a few glasses of wine (I felt so bad sending the sommelier away, but ah well) could have ballooned the bill very, very quickly. Three drinks from the bar and what we ordered, very reasonable considering the quality and the atmosphere. Service was professional and gracious, but I am going to make the same complaint about the patrons that I made earlier at Blue Bayou — please dress to fit the atmosphere of the restaurant. Though the restaurant states that shorts and sandals are not welcomed, and attire is dressy, I noticed someone at the next table wearing a t-shirt. Really? Really? Please — I took the effort to dress at such a level as to respect the work of the restaurant staff, please consider doing the same. You might be comfortable, and the restaurant may not turn you away (they want your business, so as long as you aren’t offensive…), but you are part of the atmosphere and I have to look at you while I am enjoying my dinner and the ambiance of the room. So if I made myself nice-looking, please do the same.

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Enoteca San Marco
St. Mark’s Square
The Venetian Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas, NV

Blood Orange Cosmo
Fritelli di Prosciutto
Fiore di Zucca
Grilled Pork Chop
with sweet peppers and capers
Pennette alla Norma
with tomato, eggplant, and ricotta
Chocolate malt, cheesecake, and pumpkin gelati

Enoteca, pl. enoteche, is an Italian word, formed by analogy with biblioteca (“book repository, library”), which literally means ”wine repository” (from Oeno/Eno- “wine,” and –teca Θήκη, “receptacle, case, box”), but is used to describe a special type of local or regional wine shop that originated in Italy.

OK, so now we know what an enoteca is. Unfortunately, we didn’t go there for the wines, even though the wine menu boasted 100 wines for under $100, and with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich at the helm, I am not really surprised.

First of all, even the paper placemats amused me. Mine taught me basic Italian conversation (“Ciao. Mi chiamo ________.” Et cetera.) and DH’s taught him the visual appearance and defining characteristics of about 16 different types of Italian salume. The meal began with two slices of rustic bread wrapped up like a gift in Enoteca San Marco paper, with pre-packaged/store bought imported Italian grissini on the side. We stuck to the rustic bread, which was a little charcoaled for my taste and let the grissini go their merry way back wherever they came from.

We began our meal by splitting a Blood Orange Cosmo (I am in love with blood oranges, ever since a particularly heady few days on the Amalfi Coast a half-dozen years ago, and DH indulges me) and ordering two fritti, or fried items, from the menu of antipasti — prosciutto balls (not unlike meatballs, really) and squash blossoms, something I tried once in Florence years ago and hadn’t had since. The fritelli di prosciutto were, in my opinion, far too salty and dry — I feel like something should have been done to let diners tone down the intensity of the tastes, even if it was to offer a small dish of good homemade tomato & basil marinara on the side to moisten them up with. The fiore di zucca were deliciously stuffed and piping hot fresh from the fryer, and not at all greasy, although I found them rather too bitter to be called perfect.

The grilled pork chop seemed perfectly done, though DH said it had a little spice the crept up on the palette — not entirely sure, because the bite I had seemed succulent and fine. I did not try the sweet peppers and capers that accompanied the chop, as the capers looked suspiciously more like olives than capers.

The pennette alla Norma were tender and dainty, and delicious. The diced eggplant was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the ricotta (three dollops that began to melt, seductively, in to the pasta) added just that extra punch to the dish.

Let me tell you, my friends, about gelati. I love gelato. It is creamy and delicious and it never really goes wrongly. The Enoteca San Marco offers one, two, or three flavours of gelato all for the same price at dessert (I think that as long as it fits in the same bowl, they don’t care how many flavours you cram in there — you just get smaller portions of each flavour with the more flavours you order).  From the half-dozen flavours on offer, we chose chocolate malt (my pick), cheesecake (DH’s pick), and pumpkin (a joint venture). The chocolate malt was a little too dark for DH’s preference, and the cheesecake, though singularly cheesecaky, was not my favourite, but we both agreed that the pumpkin was to die for. Properly pumpkiny and not over-sweet — less like Thanksgiving pie and more like the squash itself. The way the gelati were arranged in the dish, we were presented with three flavour combinations along the “borderlines” — chocolate/cheesecake, pumpkin/cheesecake, and chocolate/pumpkin. Delicious alone or in combination — save room for dessert at the Enoteca San Marco. I’m not sure if the pumpkin was a year-round flavour or a seasonal flavour, so if you aren’t visiting in the fall, it may not be available. Pumpkin fans, cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Catal/Uva Bar
Downtown Disney
Anaheim, CA

Tzatziki
Pear Flatbread
Arugula, Serrano ham, pear and Minus 8 vinegar
Grilled Chicken
Chile-orange marinated with a cucumber salad
Escabeche
Spicy, chilled shrimp and scallops with tortilla chips

So nice, we tried it twice. With only a couple of variations on our original menu.

Don’t believe them when they tell you the escabeche is spicy — it isn’t. In any way. The tortilla chips are unsalted and therefore a perfect blank palette for the marinated shrimp and scallops. DH wasn’t sure about it at first, but then he realised it was something he had ordered, and he warmed to it. If you are in a seafood sort of place, go ahead and try it — but I don’t think it’s for everyone. I had thought I was in the mood for shrimp when we ordered, but I guess it turns out that I wasn’t really in the mood for shrimp. At least, not the escabeche.

Three cheers for the pear flatbread and the grilled chicken. I was particularly pleased with the marinated cucumber salad, which was a perfect accompaniment to the grilled chicken. Cool & crunchy meets warm, moist grilled chicken — a match made in culinary heaven. It filled the empty spaces in our stomachs without weighing us down. The pear flatbread, I think, wins out over the bbq chicken flatbread from our first visit. It wasn’t as difficult to eat, because it didn’t have as many components sliding around on heated sauce. No sauce, just cheese, slices of Serrano ham (If you haven’t had Serrano ham, think of it as cousin to prosciutto di Parma — if you haven’t had prosciutto di Parma, I’m sorry. You’re missing out on something fantastic), and slices of pear, baked, with arugula layered on top after the baking. The cheese wasn’t particularly creamy or melty, so it stood up well to the saltiness and texture of the Serrano ham. The pear wasn’t about to be pushed around, either.

I was just licking up the last of the sent-from-heaven tzatziki when a server let me know that they could have brought me more warm pita with the rest of my dip. I had started stealing tortilla chips from the escabeche by that time, so that I wouldn’t be dragging my fingers uncouthly through the plate. Why couldn’t someone have mentioned that earlier, on our first visit? Now, I know better: Ask for extra pita bread when the tzatziki arrives at the table. Don’t even wait til the pita bread you have is gone.

Blue Bayou
New Orleans Square, Disneyland
Anaheim, CA

Filet Mignon
Port-Royale Mahi Mahi
Flying Dutchman Cookie Boat
Key Lime Pie

Dine by moonlight — inside, of course — at this Louisiana-bayou inspired restaurant. You might think you’d like to sit close to the water’s edge, but you really don’t — the first leg of the Pirates of the Caribbean goes around the perimeter of the restaurant, and can you imagine trying to have a romantic dinner with tourists staring at you? Even sitting far back from the water’s edge, the ambiance is all there…

You know, they call this a fine-dining restaurant, and it is indeed fine, but you’d think the patrons would have slightly better sense than to wear their jeans, sneakers, and Goofy hats to the dinner table. You’d also think that the wait staff would ask their diners to at least remove their hats…

Each entree came with a choice of Cajun-inspired wedge salad or chicken gumbo, so DH and I ordered one of each and switched halfway through. Now, I am not a spicy-foods person, but the gumbo was so delicious — served in little custard dish with a garnish of dirty rice on top — that I was reluctant to trade my dish for the second half of the wedge salad with avocado, real bacon bits, and lemon vinaigrette. My advice is, Even if you are not a spicy-foods person, order the gumbo…

Entree portions are definitely generous. The mahi mahi arrived on a bed of greens that dwarfed the fish itself, bathed in the same lemon vinaigrette as accompanied the salad. The fish was firm. The best I can say for the filet mignon, which I didn’t really get to try, is that DH did not feel the need to put any salt on it — rather high praise, and a trend I would notice with the nicer restaurants we visited on our homeymoon.

We had dessert picked out well before we’d even settled on entrees, because a few tables over we saw another couple carefully dismantling it — the Flying Dutchman Cookie Boat. The “boat” is made out of warm chocolate chip cookie, and the mast and sail are molded sugar (supposedly edible, but not really), with ice cream and whipped cream on top. Even splitting this decadent treat, it was almost too much for either of us, and we felt we rolled, rather than strolled, our way back to the hotel. The key lime pie we ordered packaged to go, A) because we very rarely pass up a key lime pie, and B) we knew that it would make excellent breakfast the next morning, accompanied by complimentary coffee from the hotel lobby. And we were absolutely correct in this assumption — divine, generously sized slice of key lime pie with three cookies that I think were made from buttery pie crust with lime flavouring.

If you are at Disney and looking for a special Disney Dining experience, go ahead and make reservations at Blue Bayou. But make them well in advance, or risk a dinner appointment that isn’t your ideal time — even though we were seated for our 7:50 dinner at about 7:30, since we’d arrived early.

And please, if you can, leave the Goofy hat at the hotel — or at least in the bag.

The Lost Bar
Disneyland Resort
Anaheim, CA

Magical Star Cocktail
organic mango & passion fruit liqueur, coconut rum, pineapple juice, and a multicoloured glow cube
Pumpkin Spice Martini
Grey Goose, ice cream, and pumpkin spice
Chicken sandwich
Hamburger
with lettuce, 1000 Island dressing, and pickles

First of all, the Magical Star Cocktail gets two thumbs up. It’s different, it smells great, it’s tasty, the ingredients were well-balanced, and let me tell you — I’m not sure why the bars back home haven’t caught on to this glow cube thing yet. It’s genius. And it would be so much fun in a club (or at home, maybe). The pumpkin spice martini was like alcoholic milk with pumpkin spice sprinkled on top — and I found nothing to complain about, besides A) the bartender took my glass away before it was empty (!??) and B) I’m not an enormous straight vodka fan, so it was a little overpowering for my likes.

You have to give it to a place like this. They don’t want people getting horrifyingly drunk, so instead of banning alcohol, they price it so far out of the norm that you don’t want to buy more than one drink per person.

As for the food — it was bar food. What did you really expect?

The chicken sandwich was surprisingly moist and perfectly grilled. It came bare-bones, only lettuce, so garnish as you please (DH uses only mayo). The bun was toasted on the grill as well, a nice touch.

You know, this is the first time that I have ever described a burger in this way (and I hope I never have to again): It was slippery. It wasn’t disgustingly greasy, but the whole thing just slipped out of the bun when I took a bite. It had a little bit of 1000 Island smeared on the bottom half of the bun. There were three slices of pickles, which to me is usually a good sign. The lettuce was wet and thin and didn’t really help provide any traction. I had to add ketchup just to get a little flavour, and that didn’t help the slippery food problem. Then again, I’ve had worse bar food at home, and it was passable.

The fries, however, were not. Ask for the apple slices instead of the fries. It was late in the day, so the fries were decidedly…lacking. Completely unsalted — well, that’s understandable…But also dry as bones. Not going to go down that road again any time soon.

Overworked bartender(s) made it hard to get so much as an ice water after we’d placed our initial order. But for some reason, the water here actually tastes better than the water at home.

Catal/Uva Bar & Cafe
Downtown Disney
Anaheim, CA

Tzatziki
Yogurt and cucumber mixed with a hint of dill
Baby Back Ribs
half rack with paprika rub and bbq sauce
BBQ Chicken Flatbread
bbq sauce, grilled chicken, red onions, cilantro, mozzarella

If you are in Anaheim, and you do not stop in here for some tapas, you, my friend, are a fool. We really hadn’t eaten at all since a cup of coffee and half a breakfast sandwich at the airport in Boston at 6 this morning, so while we were waiting for our hotel room we really needed a meal.

First, tzatziki. I hadn’t had tzatziki so excellent, so perfect, since I was in Greece eight years ago. No place I’ve been was able to get the balance of flavours and textures so spot-on. And so generously portioned! I wanted to ask for more of the fresh-made, warm, fluffy tortilla bread to get every last morsel of the tzatziki. And at only $4, there is a good chance we’ll be going back there on another day, whenever we need a snack.

The meat on the half rack of ribs fell off the bone. Literally. The sauce wasn’t too spicy, wasn’t too sweet. It was clear that these had been lovingly cooked since early in the day. And there was just the right amount of sauce, too. And I do love me the barbeque sauce, usually.

The chicken flatbread was very similar to the tortilla pizzas I make at home sometimes: tortilla, put down some sauce, put on some easy toppings, bake really fast. The chicken was in quarter-inch cubes, which made it easy to bite and to eat, and there was just enough cheese to hold everything together — even if the cheese’s favourite thing to hold to was itself, and sometimes bbq sauce would drip out the back of the “crust.” That’s okay with me.

Go to Catal and the Uva Bar and Cafe. You will not regret it one bit.