Thursday, August 29, 2013

Restaurant Week - MOZen

This week is Restaurant Week here in Las Vegas. This week several of the fancy restaurants sign up and serve special fixed price meals and make donations from the sales to our local food bank. The special meals are usually combinations of several standard items but in smaller portions and usually much less expensive than ordering from the regular menu. It is a good opportunity to try out new places and get a good sampling of what is available. Last year we went to Andre’s French Restaurant in the Monte Carlo, a place that I’ve wanted to try out ever since we moved here. Andre used to have a restaurant in an old building downtown and been there quite a while, but with the economy changes a few years ago he closed that location and moved to the MC.
Usually I don’t find out about these until afterwards, but fortunately this year I saw a web site that discussed the event. This year I got reservations for lunch at MOzen Bistro and dinner at Jean Georges . I’ve never heard of MOZen, but have been reading reviews about Jean Georges since it opened a few years ago. Both places are at City Center on the Strip, where there are quite a few new restaurants that are highly rated.

On Monday we went down to City Center. They have seven parking garages, six are valet parking and only one is self-parking. For some reason I don’t really like to use the valet, just something about strangers driving my car (and I’ve seen how the valets drive, speed seems to be the primary objective). The self-parking garage is only accessible from Las Vegas Boulevard, which is not a street that locals usually enjoy. I much rather like hitting the parking garages off of the back streets, and so park at the Monte Carlo garage when we hit that part of the Strip. It’s a fairly long walk through the Monte Carlo lobby and the shopping area to get to City Center, but since MGM owns that whole block it’s all indoors. From the end of the Monte Carlo area there is a tram to the middle of City Center and then to the Bellagio, which also has a garage only accessible from LV Boulevard, so going to that casino we also take the same route.

We’ve never been to the Mandarin Oriental hotel before. It is one of the few hotels that does not have a casino attached, so there is not much to see if you aren’t staying there. It’s located in the southwest corner of the City Center complex, supposedly on Las Vegas Boulevard itself but really behind a conference center wing and challenging to find. There are little signs with funny arrows placed around pointing to it, but it’s down there.

To the left of that picture is one of the art installations placed around City Center. It’s the Claes Oldenberg typewriter eraser, similar to the one located in Washington at the National Gallery of Art:

We were a little early for lunch (by design), the MOZen serves breakfast then closes between 11 and noon to set up for lunch. We went early so that we could walk around the hotel (lots of photos, coming in a later post). One of the locations we stopped at was a small area off of the main lobby which is located on the 23rd floor. This area has nice soft seating, good views of the Strip and also serves as a Tea Lounge

B and I sat and shared a nice pot of tea

and gazed out the windows for a while

They also serve a ‘High Tea’ from 2 to 5 in the afternoon with scones and sandwiches. We usually take out of town visitors up to the 40th floor of Mandalay Bay to get a view of the Strip, but after coming here we may add this location to our itinerary. After finishing our tea we went down to the third floor to MOZen, which faces the same direction but has a slightly different angle, looking out at Crystals shopping center instead of down on it

It is a rather small restaurant, with two rooms and lots of windows. At the back of one room is a sushi bar with specialized chef. You can sit there and munch on a variety of items or take a table and have sushi served

Seating is pleasant, with round tables for four, six or two. We sat right by the window

We both ordered the Restaurant Week special, a large Bento Box style meal with five different items: Soft Shell Crab, Avocado, Cucumber, Masago Hand Roll And Laab Gai Chicken, Thai Relish And Lettuce Wrap, Tandoori Salmon With Mint Sauce, Miso Mustard Angus Striploin And Truffle Butter Naan, dessert of Ginger Panna Cotta, Pepper Streusel, Pear Coulis And Pear Ginger Gelee (taken off of their menu). I didn’t take a photo, but I can say that each item was marvelous, it’s easy to taste why the French put so much effort into the sauces. It was really nice combination of things, all small portions of totally different tastes but that went well together to provide a full meal. Too bad it’s not on their regular menu, but it did provide a variety of tastes that indicate what everything else would be like.

We’ll probably go back, it is a central location with great food. We will definitely hit the tea room again, with the views and nice seating it is in the middle of what I call our ‘south Strip’ walking tour for visitors. So if you come out to Vegas we might end up there. Well, not end up more like middle pause. Tomorrow night, steak (unless I go for the salmon)!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Chocolate & Spice

We went and picked up our kitchen flooring from Lowe’s last night, going with a cork snap and click floating floor. There are some big cracks in our concrete slab in the kitchen, which prevents us from putting down tile. I know – there are isolation mats I could use to prevent cracking, but we also wanted something reasonably soft to walk on.
On the way to Lowe’s we stopped at a restaurant that I’ve wanted to try, the Chocolate & Spice Bakery on Sahara. There have been quite a few good write-ups on the place, it’s not far from our house and I just love pastries, but for some reason we just haven’t stopped there. They also serve soup and sandwiches, so feeling light a lighter meal we thought that would be a good start. Unfortunately my great anticipation turned into a not very exciting reality. That’s the way things go sometimes.

Our first indication of things came when we drove up to the place. It’s in a corner strip mall, the kind that has buildings all around in a large square facing towards a common parking area in the center. This mall is rather large, with a lot of storefronts. Unfortunately it is similar to many small malls in Vegas; a large number of the places are vacant with ‘space for lease’ signs in many windows. There is a good mix of businesses; a lawyer’s office, insurance agent, health spa, gold and coin store, big sushi restaurant in the corner with good street visibility and the bakery right next to it. Pulling up last night about 5:30 there were no cars at all parked in the rather large lot, which made me wonder if the food places were open. It was Tuesday, which is a rather slow night anyway, but no cars at all? Where do the employees park, all the spaces are visible in the middle there?

But the lights were on, and we saw somebody walking inside, so we went in. It was a rather large place with high backed soft seats clustered in the windows and lots of tables and chairs to eat at. Unfortunately there were no customers, just one girl behind the counter and somebody back in the kitchen area. Feeling like food before pastry I ordered a bowl of the season specialty corn chowder and a Panini, B selected a chicken pot pie along with some nice iced teas. There had a selection of different sandwiches, salads and soups on the board behind the counter. It took a few minutes to make but even though we were the only ones in the place the girl put them next to the register and called for us to pick them up rather than bringing the food out to us – I guess it might be a requirement of the type of food service license they had, being self-serve instead of a full service restaurant.

My soup was a rather watered down thin yellow broth with no thickness or corn apparent. It had very little taste, not even as good as those boxed corn soup things I’ve tried from the supermarket. The Panini was also rather dull. B didn’t comment on her pot pie, it looked to have a nice flaky top but was made in a small aluminum tin like frozen ones, she did say it tasted a bit stale, like it had been sitting for quite a while.

But we didn’t come for the dinner we came for the desserts, so after eating our main items we wandered back to the display case to select sweets.

There was a small selection of chocolate covered candy, but we wanted some of the pastries. B went for a small cheesecake covered with blueberries, and I picked a chocolate covered banana mouse thingie. Everything in the case looked lovely, but there was not as large a selection as I hoped, only about a dozen different items. We sat back down and proceeded to consume our desserts, and were rather disappointed again. Both items looked rather pretty but tasted rather dull. I was hoping for something dramatic but ended up with more of a flavored paste than a complex dessert.

While we were eating a group of girls came in, there ended up being five of them sitting over in the high back chairs by the window behind us. I didn’t hear what they ordered, but several had coffee which was served in paper cups. All of our food items came on china plates and bowls, but the iced tea was in plastic cups. The group looked very comfortable sitting over there, but I thought that things might have been a little better if the drinks were served in real cups instead of paper.

All in all, it was a disappointment. I’ve been reading grand reviews about this place for months and looking forward to a tasteful experience but everything was just plain and dull. Oh well, I hope others like it and they do well, I so wanted another regular place to go, but there are other places in town to try.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

restaurant week

I list my favorite blogs over there on the right so that I can go read them. Most post once or twice a week, a few every day and one several times a day - that’s Vegas Chatter which a few days ago posted about Restaurant Week here in Las Vegas. This is a yearly event that quite a few restaurants participate in. Each restaurant creates a special fixed price menu for the event (in addition to their regular menu) and when you order from it they make a donation to our local organization Three Square which provides meals and a food bank. It’s been going on for several years, and I usually find out about it when it’s over.

Last year I found out early and was able to grab a reservation at Andre’s – a place I have wanted to try since we moved here. We had a great time, and the fixed price meal was about half the price of ordering full menu items, so it did get us into a fancy place to try it out for a lot less money. This year I found out ahead of time, and so made two reservations; one for lunch at MOzen Bistro in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and later in the week for dinner at Jean Georges in Aria. We’ve heard about how good the restaurants at City Center are but have not taken the time to find out, so this motivated me to jump into two places.

Las Vegas probably has more fancy restaurants than almost any other city, and from what we hear it’s a lot less expensive to eat here than almost anywhere else. I didn’t realize that until I started hearing what it costs in other big cities. I did notice our hotel rates can be a lot cheaper than California hotels – when we recently visited San Francisco and San Diego the room rates for some not so very nice places were much more than we have paid for fancy suites at the big hotels here. Granted, here we can pick the slow times when rates are low and had specific stays laid out in California, but I don’t think most places have hotels that change their rates nightly based on occupancy or planned occupancy the way Vegas hotels do.

So I figured that perhaps it would be nice to try some of these places that we live near, and pretend we are tourists at least for a couple of hours. Now that we’re getting older I find the fun things my wife and I enjoy doing are more like a quiet evening in a nice restaurant than getting drunk at a noisy club. (well, never liked doing that anyway).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

not very blurred

We have tall walls around our cubicles at work, but they aren’t soundproof. Mike in the cube next to me always has a fan running and a local pop station on his radio. For the past week or so the station has been playing Robin Thicke’s song several times an hour – guess it is finally big around here. This probably means that after two weeks it will never be heard again, until it is background music in Home Depot in about ten years. Every time it comes on I recognize the background beat and just flash back to the video: Blurred Lines (which Vevo doesn’t let me embed and our company security software doesn't let me see, so I hope the link works.) I have no idea why those images keep flashing in my head to the music.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cooking with Joe (and Valerie) - Cherry Clafoutis

Another one of those recipes provided by Valerie , this time a cherry clafoutis. Saying it reminds me of the word Shipoopi from the music man. Watching that makes me want to go out and dance; go Buddy Hackett! (Clafoutis – clafoutis – clafoutis!!!)

Sorry about that. Back to my recipe. Well, not mine, but I made this marvelous concoction any way. Cherries are still in the supermarket, so I figured this would be a nice way to prepare them. It’s more of an egg custard with cherries, but it tasted marvelous. I didn’t dust mine with powdered sugar like Valerie, but it still eats well.

You can see the Clafoutis recipe over on her web site. I only have a few of those wonderful cast iron cookware pieces, I can see that she favors blue over my flame color.

Friday, August 16, 2013

E Friday (again finally)

Granddaughter E came down with her mother for their annual August visit and pool party. There were only two things that she wanted to do while here: hit the Rio buffet and swim in our warm water. So we did both, the buffet coming first

She and mom and grandma took multiple helpings of crab legs as usual (the Rio has them every day) but this time she liked the lasagna better than the crab. Those skinny legs are too much work.

And we’ve been in the pool several times a day. Water temp is around 34c (94f) which is a lot warmer than the pool at the park in Portland where she swims.

Saturday is the party, looks like not too many kids this year as other activities have already been planned. Oh well, we’ll still be swimming.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Upgraded kitchen and key lime pie (with Valerie again)

We finished up the tile and trim in the kitchen last weekend – only thing left to do is put in the flooring and kickplates. We are doing a floating cork floor, found what we wanted at Lowe’s and order it, got a phone call yesterday that it’s in, so looks like in a few weeks we will be done. (can then move on to changing around the office). Here is what it looks like from the TV room – can’t see my big ovens, they are behind the tile wall to the left, you can just make out the edge of the refrigerator.

Lots of counter space for working – the counter under the window is eighteen feet long (5.5 meters), and the one up front is seven feet by three (2m x 1m). The tall cabinet to the left of the window has a roll up front, where we put the coffee machine and some appliances. All the cabinets have drawers, so we don’t have to go crawling into lower cabinets to find things. No upper cabinets except over the fridge, but we still have lots of storage space. B is trying to figure out what to put on that blank wall to the right – either some stainless steel shelves or a big painting. Quite a change from before, and what I originally envisioned. We were going to do more traditional cabinets, a light birch wood with simple frames, but when we got to Ikea B saw a sample kitchen with the shiny white cabinets and thought how easy they would be to clean and our whole design changed.

The lights are a mixture of fluorescents down the center and LED spotlights over the counters. It’s pretty bright in there when everything is turned on, at a lower power cost than those big fixtures that were in there before. We’ll probably change from that round table to a rectangular one right at the end of the island, then move the fan so it’s centered over the table. So still a few things to do. Behind the refrigerator is a nice big pantry, a place to put canned stuff and tools. I also got something else I’ve always wanted, a big stand mixer. The only thing I’m missing is a good food processor, have a little one but a lot of recipes expect you to have all of the tools.

What have I been doing in there? Well, enjoying that big gas cooktop for one thing – I like cooking with gas instead of the electric range we used to have. And also using those two big convection ovens we put in. Over there on the right is a link to Valerie , who posts lovely baking recipes. I’ve been trying several of her recipes and enjoying the summer fruit that has been available. I posted a few before, but one of the latest has been a key lime pie.

Key limes are these little limes that originated in Florida. Small and not very tart

Her Key lime pie recipe called for a lot of zest, which did make it rather tart. I think I used too much, ended up a little too tart for my taste, but that’s the fun of recipes, you can make it again and change things around. It might have been tart, but with that marvelous crust it still went rather quickly.

Go look at her site for the recipe. You can use regular limes if you can’t get the little ones, but will probably have to use more sugar to compensate. I’ll be posting more of the things I’ve been making, and a full kitchen tour when the flooring is in.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Kool funky Friday

Kool and the gang are celebrating their 49th year entertaining. The group is in town this weekend, and an article in our local paper by columnist Doug Elfman discussed the group and how they recently were the opening act for both Van Halen and Kid Rock. They started out with jazz, moved to funk, but I remember when they were big for Disco. You can still sit in your seat at work and bounce to the music.

Especially the ladies

Or Jungle Boogie on the Midnight Special – (any old farts remember watching the latest music on that show?)

Disco? That’s funkie!
But when I think funk I always remember this commercial

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Cooking with Joe and Valerie - crumb cake!

I’ve been enjoying the new kitchen layout, and though we aren’t finished yet I have to make sure everything works. We now have the counters in, the real quartz ones that replace the temporary plywood we’ve had for several months. We put up a small tile backsplash and finished grouting it last night, now there is just the trim and flooring.

We put in some nice big convection ovens, something I have wanted for a long time. Especially useful at Thanksgiving when there always seem to be more oven items than oven space, and at Christmas when I make a bajillion assorted cookies. (Yes, it seems like that many). Between then I like to try different things. One of the blogs that I like looking at is Valerie’s over there on the right – she has interesting stories and some great baking recipes. I’ve got a bag of cherries at home so I can try the latest, and I’ve already tried several that came out pretty good. Unfortunately I can’t take photographs as nicely as hers, but one of the recent things I made was a marvelously crumby crumb cake:

I like a lot of crumbs on my crumb cakes, and for this one more than half the height is in crumbs. I’ll not list the recipe here, but go on over to her place for the recipe for Cinnamon Orange Crumb Cake . It’s really good.

Last month was strawberry season, and she had a different way to prepare them, as little hand pies:

These too were pretty good. You could use other fillings, but they were tasty, and in a zip lock traveled well to be snacks at work. Again, recipe for Strawberry Hand Pies on her site.

It’s interesting clicking over there, I never know what I find but it all looks marvelous, and I wish I had the time (and lack of waistline) to try them all. Last week was her key lime pie, photos of that whenever I pull them off of the camera, but this weekend will probably be the cherry thing. Thanks Valerie.