Browsing articles in "Haute Spot"

A Looker With Promise – The Sparklings Barstaurant

Mar 4, 2014   //   by Meghan Pescio   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

By Aly Wagonseller

People go to restaurants for different reasons.  Sometimes we journey out for linen tablecloths, glowing candles and the hautest cuisine that money can buy.  Other occasions call for great happy hour drinks and appies, or a casual chain establishment that serves up ample portions of decent tasting food at a price point we can live with.  The newest venture of restaurateur Sophia Hwang, owner of both Soyo Korean Barstaurant and Oyshi Sushi, is none of the above. It’s an eclectic combination of them all. The Sparklings Barstaurant, located at 8310 So. Rainbow Blvd, is a Strip worthy neighborhood restaurant and bar that’s polished and pretty to look at, with food that, while at times may be a bit underwhelming, manages to satisfy the need for a chic evening out on a relatively low budget.

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Sophisticated and quite stylish, this is the kind of place you want to linger and hang out. Clean lines dictate the mood with white, open beam ceilings, wood floors and marble-like tabletops. Chairs are a shabby mix of upholstered club style or wood, and unique alcoves are outfitted with charming china cabinets filled with country-chic tableware and a sprinkling of random red ceramic roosters and similar paraphernalia.  The focal point of the room is an enormous crystal chandelier that hangs above a grouping of eye catching floral arrangements, suitably purposed to add color and refinement to the otherwise monochromatic space. A separate bar is very much in keeping with the clubs on LV BLVD with sexy lighting and intimate banquette seating, while an outdoor patio area that’s yet to be utilized adds additional space for future, springtime al fresco dining.

Conversely, The Sparklings sparkling interior is clearly more refined than their menu offerings.  I’m not saying that this is a bad thing; after all, creamy pasta dishes, sandwiches and Caesar salad are diner staple items for a reason.  There are no $40.00 entrees –an excellent rendition of pan seared Atlantic Salmon can be had for half that price. In fact, the most expensive items on the menu are Filet and Rib Eye steak with all the trimmings, both priced at a reasonable $25.00.  What I am saying is that they could do just a tad bit more with what they have and score a grand slam home run as opposed to a one run selfie.  Take the Grape, Arugula and Ricotta Flat Bread that, while tasty, was served on the soggy equivalent of undercooked pita bread instead of a crispy shell that would have provided the necessary texture to showcase the delicious toppings. Easy fix. Or the bacon wrapped date meatballs, which lacked texture and taste due to bacon that appeared to have been boiled with meatballs in a very lackluster, I’ll say watery, tomato sauce. Great idea – just sub out a tasty sauce and crispy bacon and you’ve got a winner.

Not to say that bright spots didn’t make an appearance. The Crispy Gnocchi appetizer presented with nicely charred pasta and crispy Italian sausage, served in a rich and decadent pesto sauce that was quite nice.  A Roasted Beet and Apple Salad was a table fav – really delish – the crunch of candied walnuts, the earthy vegetable and spicy arugula dressed with balsamic vinaigrette a fresh choice to pair with some of the richer offerings. The aforementioned salmon was perfectly cooked with  expertly crisped skin that was to die for, and the Cajun Chicken and Shrimp Pasta was also executed well, again with a diet busting cream sauce (but tasty none the less).

To be fair, The Sparklings is a newcomer, and based on the success of Hwang’s other two ventures, along with the detail and thought that went into the design of this space, I feel there’s a lot of promise.  And even as it stands now – a marriage of chic decor, trendy cocktails and mainstream food choices -it’s a great new addition to the neighborhood restaurant scene. For information, call them at 293-5003. 

A Welcoming Elegance – Wine 5 Café

Dec 30, 2013   //   by Meghan Pescio   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

By Aly Wagonseller 

In a flashy town that houses an array of haute cuisine prepared by celebrity chefs that sometimes lose their soulful intent due to the almighty dollar, it’s incredibly satisfying to stumble upon a tiny, neighborhood restaurant whose mantra encompasses a respect for culture, food and, most importantly, the dining experience in general. I’m not talking pomp and circumstance or trendy fads – I mean, American/African fusion isn’t exactly on every street corner – simply a culinary team comprised of mom and son in the kitchen; offering an eclectic menu and wine list that’s influenced by a culture they’re proud of; in a setting that obviously revolves around making their customers happy, satisfied and dare I say, feeling a little loved at the end of the day.  This is the beauty of Wine 5 Café, located at 3250 N. Tenaya Way, at Cheyenne.

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Not knowing what to expect from a restaurant located in a Target anchored strip mall, we were pleasantly surprised with the tasteful décor. Nothing too themed or cheesy as you might have experienced in other mom and pops. Rather, it was a quirky, elegant mish mash of design that included artful, wine inspired posters mounted behind window and antique door facades reminiscent of a stroll down a city sidewalk. Distinctly African or American as might be implied? Nope. But charming, yet lively enough for both a romantic dinner or, as was taking place the night we dined, birthday celebration with a large group of friends.  

Much like the décor, the menu is diverse.  Deemed the aforementioned fusion by the proprietors, it’s really not so much that American dishes have been spiked with African flair but, rather, that you can choose from a vast selection of cuisine from both cultures. Kind of nice, as instead of compromising one cuisine at the expense of another, adventuresome eaters can try something new, while those who prefer a burger (which are as big as a hubcap and served on a buttery, brioche roll), fish or steak dish can live their culinary life on the tamer side.  We chose to embark on the wild side of the globe, starting with the Samosa Situa Surprise appetizer for two.  Highly recommended by James, our multi-talented waiter who not only provided exceptional service but also presented us with a frame worthy to-go bag artfully “painted” with African frescos he fashioned from the ink of multi-colored Sharpie pens, they didn’t disappoint.  Crisp, lightly fried pillows of dough were generously stuffed with exotically spiced beef containing hints of curry, greens and tomatoes and served with spicy piri piri sauce and onion marmalade. The absolute perfect bite of spicy, sweet and savory, these ample morsels are a must try.

Main dishes were of epic proportions and could easily have been split between two (maybe three) people, yet were reasonably priced.  The Traditional Nayama and Ugali is a go to dish for those who relish an amalgamation of textures on the palate. Humble, yet exceedingly tasty braised beef is served with Ugali  -a white, creamy polenta- and a delish spinach, tomato and ground beef stew that adds just the right acidic element to brighten the rich dish. Lightly battered sweet potato logs, prepared somewhat more underdone than you might expect, and triangles of addictive bread rounded out the meal.  The Taste of Nairobi Chicken Curry is also quite nice. Not as spicy as an Indian curry, the flavors in the gravy are well developed and served with enough chicken legs, thighs, vegetables and a grilled flat bread known as chapati to feed an army. Pair it with one of their organic wines from the homeland and you’ve got something special.  

Regardless of what you choose, know that Wine 5 Café is all about soulful, simple food, thoughtfully presented in a sophisticated way not unlike some of the best restaurants on the Strip. When you add charming details including live music on Wednesday night and expert wine pairing events from passionate proprietors that strive hard to personalize your dining experience, you’ll see why their motto Karibuni Wageni Wetu (welcome our guests) rings true.  For reservations call 462-9463.

Sammy’s Restaurant, Bar & Grill

Dec 3, 2013   //   by Meghan Pescio   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

“Food is like fashion. You shouldn’t sit still or you might find yourself out of style.” This is the philosophy of Sami Ladeki, the founder of the original Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza and now his newest venture, Sammy’s Restaurant, Bar & Grill located at 1501 N. Green Valley Parkway.     It’s an interesting analogy because food trends, like clothing, certainly come and go. Keeping up with the Joneses requires not only a well-managed business, but the creativity and vision to consistently determine just what it is that keeps customers coming back for more. Judging by the crowds that Sammy’s is experiencing pretty much every day of the week, I’d say Ladeki’s got the right stuff on the runway.   

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Personally, I enjoyed the “old” Sammy’s that once resided near the now buzzing Galaxy Theatre. The pizza and salads were always delicious and the interior, while starting to age a bit, a reliable choice for outings with fam and friends.  Still, this new concept incorporates all that was good about the former, with changes that equate to a leap from off the rack to casual couture.  Esthetically, the décor is still relaxed, yet sleek and modern in a very good way. Thoughtful touches of organic materials and room dividers keep the look clean, and airy, while serving to avoid the sterility you sometimes experience in a very large restaurant.  Oversized, leather couches cleverly purposed as booth seating provide an intimate, loungy feel, and although the place is somewhat noisy, the overall vibe is comfortable and inviting. The hub of the restaurant is an open bar that resides in the center of the space, a great area to hang out if the wait’s too long or you just want to eat and drink while watching the game.   

From a menu standpoint, Sammy’s has added some global spice to more typical Italian and American inspired cuisine.   A product of Ladeki’s expansion of the brand to Tokyo in the mid 90’s accounts for predominantly Asian flavors in many of the menu items, with other additions including Mexican Fusion, Middle Eastern and even Indian Papadam wafers garnering relevance via – what I suspect – is what’s fashionable for the times.  This is all a great thing as it culminates in a menu that pretty much has something for everyone.  We (of course) had a pizza, and it was (of course) still delicious, but although they serve a vast selection of salads, entrees, burgers and pasta, we chose to imbibe in their extensive Tapas menu that, while not authentic from a Spanish standpoint, dished out some pretty good eats.  Mini Duck Tacos topped my list of favs, the miniature corn shells perfectly light and crispy, stuffed with rich duck, feta cheese and a superb cilantro crema that pulled it all together. Kung Pao Calamari, prepared with the heartier steak of the squid as opposed to rings and tentacles, could have been spicier in my opinion, but the creative additions of hazelnuts and a caramelized rice vinegar glaze gave this dish promise. Other Pacific Rim winners on the menu included the Hot Rock, an interactive dish that requires you to cook thinly sliced, ponzu marinated beef on a 600 degree rock delivered to the table; Vietnamese Crab Stack, a refreshing salad designed to be eaten on a garlic crostini which, for our table, were unfortunately cold and soggy yet still had good flavor; and Miso Glazed Japanese Eggplant, a delightfully creamy dish whose sweet and earthly flavors paired nicely with the slightly acidic cucumber salad that accompanied it. Lebni Mediterranean Soft Cheese, Lobster Mac and Cheese, Wok’d Sesame Shishito Peppers…I could go on, yet it would be irresponsible to not mention the Yummy Honey pizza as a must try dessert. Savory, sweet, crunchy, creamy…seriously perfect!

Judging by the crowds, the new Sammy’s menu and decor fits the bill for the masses. Whether donning Escada or Levi’s no matter, Sami Ladeki has discovered and executed an idea that’s sure to stay in style for seasons to come. For happy hour times or info on their Bottomless Mimosa Sunday’s, call 567-4000. 

A Crackin’ Success | Crab Corner Maryland Seafood House

Oct 31, 2013   //   by Meghan Pescio   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

I love it when a good thing just gets better. It started when two East Coast legit brothers expanded their wholesale Maryland blue crab distributorship by opening a tiny, nondescript (okay, the Baltimore Ravens décor isn’t exactly commonplace in the valley) strip mall restaurant and, surprise of all surprises, it brilliantly succeeded. Despite a poor economy and more than moderately priced (though worth every penny) menu items, Crab Corner Maryland Seafood House has thrived, so much so that you can now down the good stuff at a second location at 6485 So. Rainbow at the 215.

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Die hard blue crab fans have known about the original Corner, located at 4161 S. Eastern, virtually since the place opened almost three years ago. News spread quickly that real deal blue crabs were crackin’, and that for about the same price you’d expect to pay for the delicate little devils if you were sitting on the shores of the Chesapeake, you could pull up a chair stateside and enjoy. The charming part is that even after all the hype, the place hasn’t been Vega-fied. You know, snazzed up and priced up to the point that only the rich and famous can indulge. Nope… there’s still a little blue bucket for the shells, gills and anything else inside you’d care not to eat, and charming brown butcher paper table “cloths” used to catch all the drippings you manage to miss. Crab that was most likely swimming in the bay just a day or so prior is still plopped unapologetically onto the table; a heap of perfectly steamed, J.O. seasoned heaven in a shell, waiting to be cracked and devoured with an ice cold beer to wash it down. Oh ya… there’s really not many simple pleasures better than this. That is, until you taste one of their crab cakes.

Having travelled to Baltimore many times, I’ve had my share of crab cakes. Some good, some full of stuff I wouldn’t recommend, but for the most part they’ve arguably got the best in the nation. Those served at Crab Corner stand up to the best. Incredibly sweet chunks of the freshest crab imaginable, patted lightly together with an undetectable binder, fried in butter and served with a lemony tartar sauce you’ll shamelessly spoon into your mouth well after the rest of the meal is finished. It’s easy to obsess about these little morsels, as they’re really that good. Order them as an appetizer if you’re planning on crab cracking, or indulge in the platter or sandwich offerings for a full meal; just don’t resist ordering them as diner’s regret will be imminent.

Crab Corner brings other down home specialties to the table, including hand battered, melt in your mouth oysters, bacon wrapped scallops with an apricot chutney sauce, and even jumbo Gulf shrimp, all flown in fresh within days of being caught. Side orders are homemade, their hushpuppies deliciously moist without being gluey, and Boardwalk style French fries seasoned aggressively with more J.O. crab seasoning and splashed with a bit of vinegar for kick. They’re not a bit oily and go well to cut the richness of beer battered Alaskan Cod (a fish Friday fav), fried sea clams or Southern style catfish. For dessert, it’s Baltimore Style Snowballs; shaved iced doused with flavors from bubblegum to egg custard and topped with chocolate or marshmallow cream if you’re so inclined.

Brothers Mark and John Smolen were brave souls to start a crab restaurant in the midst of a looming recession. But what they’ve created is proof that when you serve a little piece of home and do it without compromising freshness over fear of failure, good things happen. And even with a new location coming to relieve the crowds, beware: the Ravens games are coming. Get there early if you want a seat in the house.

An Exercise in Prudent Behavior – SkinnyFats

Aug 28, 2013   //   by wagona   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

By Aly Wagonseller

I think most of us harbor a little bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to dining out.  Some days it’s a piece of cake to keep our inner Dr. Oz in check –avoiding gluten, carbs or whatever else may wreck havoc on the bod. Still, on other occasions all we want IS cake…and burgers…with fries and a side of milkshake please. That’s the beauty of SkinnyFats, located at 6261 Dean Martin Dr., a place where you can choose to be healthy or happy all under the same roof.

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Hipster, BoHo, honey I think we’ve left Las Vegas and landed in downtown Portland, Oregon best describes this tiny space. It is oddly located in a predominantly industrial part of town, yet surprisingly convenient to get to. Word also has it they’ll be expanding to the Downtown and Summerlin area’s soon, so that’s a plus. Graffiti style frescos, reggae music and an overall urban vibe give the place a fun, upbeat atmosphere that draws an eclectic crowd of foodies ready to choose their dietary plight for the day. Should I be “happy”? This portion of the menu tempts the willpower with selections that include Meaty Buns, a slider snack laden with BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese and coleslaw; or the Phatty Philly, a monster sandwich with filet mignon, blue cheese and veggies.  Or, should I sneak a peek at the “healthy” side of their kitchen offerings, with choices like the Cranburkey turkey burger, slathered with a tasty cranberry, basil yogurt spread and served on a nine grain bun; or the Smoke in a Bowl, an agave, BBQ chicken stir fry with veggies, pineapple, black beans, brown rice and cilantro lime yogurt sauce?  With “healthy” and “happy” selections available for breakfast items that are served all day, snacks, main entrees, salads, cold pressed juices, and yogurt or ice cream shakes to choose from, it can be tough to decide upon naughty or nice.

Feeling a little bit of both, we started with the healthy Ahi Srirachi, a seared ahi soft taco with earthy hints of sesame oil, freshened up with mango pico de gallo and a crunchy, cucumber slaw. Addictive. Next came the guilt-free Flat Chix and Greens, the perfect selection for those on the low carb diet train. Grilled chicken, pounded flat yet remaining both tender and juicy acts as a base for an arugula, tomato and cucumber salad that’s quite delish. Served with a healthy amount of capers, as well as a caper and lemon vinaigrette, it was definitely caper overload, even for those of us that adore the little pods of salty, pungent goodness. A nice balsamic reduction drizzle did well to somewhat balance the aggressive nature of the ingredient, but I’d suggest asking for a lighter load so as to not overwhelm the rest of this otherwise tasty dish. Gluten free pizza was our final choice for dietary good behavior; SkinnyFats offers four varieties on a flatbread-like crust that, while not overwhelmingly flavorful (it is gluten free after all), did a great job of showcasing the tasty ingredients layered on top and was fairly crispy when eaten right out of the shoot. Nice to Greek You was an excellent choice, creatively topped with a creamy tzatziki dressing, crunchy cucumber, kalamata olives, red onion, feta and grilled chicken, and finished with more of that delicious balsamic reduction.  A nice balance of flavors and textures, and huge portions of the fresh ingredients make this a winner worth trying.

Tossing thoughts of the bathroom scale to the wind, we took a walk on the “happy” side of the menu ordering their signature Burger Benedict, Sweet Potato Fries and a Smooth Immunity frozen yogurt shake. Served on an airy, brioche bun that did well to sop up the conglomeration of creamy, fried egg, a mayo/ketchup like special sauce, avocado and pickles in their juice, this burger was worth every calorie. Sweet potato fries were…well amazing, coated in a light batter with a hint of maple syrup that rendered them crispy and sweet, yet not overly so thanks to a sprinkling of the perfect amount of course salt. Finally, the hedonistic addition of the Immunity Shake proved especially worthwhile with the orange, lime juice and basil flavors producing a fresh and clean accompaniment to the burger. While maybe not entirely healthy, it certainly made us immensely happy.

SkinnyFats is open every day but Sunday and is already pretty busy during peak times so consider ordering online at www.SkinnyFats.com to speed up the process. It’s a great place when you feel like a (health) nut…and an even better one when you don’t. For directions call 979-9797.

 

A Crackin’ Success – Crab Corner Maryland Seafood House

Jul 29, 2013   //   by wagona   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

By Aly Wagonseller

I love it when a good thing just gets better. It started when two East Coast legit brothers expanded their wholesale Maryland blue crab distributorship by opening a tiny, nondescript (okay, the Baltimore Ravens décor isn’t exactly commonplace in the valley) strip mall restaurant and, surprise of all surprises, it brilliantly succeeded. Despite a poor economy and more than moderately priced (though worth every penny) menu items, Crab Corner Maryland Seafood House has thrived, so much so that you’ll be downing the good stuff at a second location on Rainbow and the 215 by football season.

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Die hard blue crab fans have known about the Corner, located at 4161 S. Eastern, virtually since the place opened almost three years ago. News spread quickly that real deal blue crabs were crackin’, and that for about the same price you’d expect to pay for the delicate little devils if you were sitting on the shores of the Chesapeake, you could pull up a chair stateside and enjoy. The charming part is that even after all the hype, the place hasn’t been Vega-fied. You know, snazzed up and priced up to the point that only the rich and famous can indulge. Nope… there’s still a little blue bucket for the shells, gills and anything else inside you’d care not to eat, with plastic silverware and a charming brown butcher paper table “cloth” used to catch all the drippings you manage to miss. Crab that was most likely swimming in the bay just a day or so prior is still plopped unapologetically onto the table; a heap of perfectly steamed, J.O. seasoned heaven in a shell, waiting to be cracked and devoured with an ice cold beer to wash it down. Oh ya… there’s really not many simple pleasures better than this. That is, until you taste one of their crab cakes.

Having traveled to Baltimore many times, I’ve had my share of crab cakes. Some good, some full of stuff I wouldn’t recommend, but for the most part they’ve arguably got the best in the nation. Those served at Crab Corner stand up to the best. Incredibly sweet chunks of the freshest crab imaginable, patted lightly together with an undetectable binder, fried in butter and served with a lemony tartar sauce you’ll shamelessly spoon into your mouth well after the rest of the meal is finished. It’s easy to obsess about these little morsels, as they’re really that good. Order them as an appetizer if you’re planning on crab cracking, or indulge in the platter or sandwich offerings for a full meal; just don’t resist ordering them as diner’s regret will be imminent.

Crab Corner brings other down home specialties to the table, including hand battered, melt in your mouth oysters, bacon wrapped scallops with an apricot chutney sauce, and even jumbo Gulf shrimp, all flown in fresh within days of being caught. Side orders are homemade, their hushpuppies deliciously moist without being gluey, and Boardwalk style French fries seasoned aggressively with more J.O. crab seasoning and splashed with a bit of vinegar for kick. They’re not a bit oily and go well to cut the richness of beer battered Alaskan Cod (a fish Friday fav), fried sea clams or Southern style catfish. For dessert, it’s Baltimore Style Snowballs; shaved iced doused with flavors from bubblegum to egg custard and topped with chocolate or marshmallow cream if you’re so inclined.

Brothers Mark and John Smolen were brave souls to start a crab restaurant in the midst of a looming recession. But what they’ve created is proof that when you serve a little piece of home and do it without compromising freshness over fear of failure, good things happen. And even with a new location coming to relieve the crowds, beware: the Ravens games are coming. Get there early if you want a seat in the house.

 

Fun with Food – Ohjah Japanese Steakhouse

Jul 2, 2013   //   by wagona   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

By Aly Wagonseller

 

There’s really nothing over the top about the food served at a Japanese steakhouse. Abundant veggie, meat and fish combinations expertly seared on a hibachi grill, while healthy and clean in flavor, rarely warrant the James Beard Award for creativity. Still, sometimes it’s just plain fun to watch other people play with your food, especially when you have kids in tow or need a good cheering up from a hard day at the office. I mean seriously, if you can keep a straight face while flying fragments of shrimp are torpedoed into your mouth via a spatula wielding chef doubling as a variety show entertainer, you’re a better person than I. And if you can find a teppanyaki den that also serves more daring fare, including sushi and even Thai selections, you’ve got a winner the entire fam can agree upon.

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Ohjah Japanese Steakhouse, located at 8595 S. Decatur at Blue Diamond, or their newest location at 10144 W. Flamingo, is a definite “go to” for Japanese steakhouse fun and food in a surprisingly sophisticated yet casual atmosphere. Super clean (not an easy feat considering the controlled food fight that takes place on a daily basis), the décor is modern and warm, with dark finishes and granite grill side surrounds that stay cool despite what’s flaming on the flattop. A separate section for those interested in other menu items sans hibachi, as well as a dedicated sushi bar, makes this restaurant a great place for both family and date night outings. Service was outstanding as well, with quick seating and food service, despite being busy on what you might think would normally be a slow Tuesday night.

Hibachi selections aside, the menu is quite large, offering a wide range of meal options from katsu to yakisoba, sushi rolls to Thai curry. Curious about the sushi, we tried the White Tiger Roll, reasonably priced at 11.95. Comprised of aggressively spiced tuna, and I mean that in a good way, the heat was nicely tamed with crisp cucumber and buttery tuna belly overtop; a tasty option that definitely warrants another visit just for the sushi. Hibachi offerings were easier to navigate, with a required basic entrée (8.95) that included soup, salad, rice or noodles and vegetables. You can stop there or add a variety of mix and match meats and fish, from reasonably priced chicken (4.95), salmon or shrimp (5.95), and filet or New York steak (5.95-7.55) options, to a decadent lobster tail (15.95) or Kobe beef splurge priced at 48.95. Let the party begin.

Out came our chef in a whirl of twirling utensils, doing all the regular shtick, including tossing egg shells into his chef hat and creating flaming onion volcanoes as only a culinary magician can do. Scallops, steak and chicken were flipped to and fro (not at the same time, mind you; these guys are versed on cross contamination issues), with the addition of butter, fresh lemon juice and ginger or teriyaki sauce spicing things up a bit. While he toiled away, we finished our appetizers; a broth that, while tasty, was plagued by the addition of unappetizing crunchy noodles that became quite chewy as they took on the liquid in the bowl; and a cooling, iceberg lettuce salad with creamy miso ginger dressing that was quite nice. The main dish was, as expected, nothing over the top from a culinary standpoint, but very well executed for this style of cuisine. Beef was cooked as ordered, the teriyaki scallops exceedingly fresh and plentiful, and the chicken still possessing some juiciness to it. Rice and noodles were nicely caramelized, and the addition of butter and soy sauce provided ample flavor.

All in all, our meal at Ohjah was a very filling and tasty one. But more importantly, it was an entertaining one; a definite plus if you’re trying to amuse kids that have been home on summer break for one day too many. For reservations, call them at 868-9888, or 868-2888.

Monta Chaya – A China Town Icon Comes to the Neighborhood

Jun 10, 2013   //   by wagona   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

By Aly Wagonseller

Ask any hometown, die hard lover of Japanese ramen where “the” go to place for the best noodle bowls this side of Tokyo can be found, and you’ll likely be steered to a tiny joint in China Town called Monta Ramen. Established in 2010, this twenty seater hole in the wall has garnered a following so loyal, many patrons routinely wait in winding lines out the door for more than an hour, rewarding their taste buds with Monta’s authentic version of this Japanese comfort food and hangover cure classic. Now, thanks to a convenient second location at 9310 S. Eastern, adjacent to Gold’s Gym, there’s no need to arm wrestle tourists enamored by Trip Advisor reviews or suffer through that pain in the butt drive to Spring Mountain and Jones. Customers both old and new can now experience incredible food that’s quick, inexpensive and just plain addictive.

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Unlike many ramen joints, where there’s little to be said about the ambiance or decor, Monta Chaya feels upscale yet warm and friendly. Tiny like its predecessor, seating thirty to forty people max between a few tables and a decent size bar that surrounds the open kitchen, the restaurant boasts beautiful finishes including an unusual, petrified wood like bar that’s a work of art in itself. The staff is super attentive, acknowledging all who enter with a friendly Japanese welcome while being extremely efficient. This helps keep the wait time short, even if the restaurant is busy, as it often already is.

The menu and quality of food is identical to their flagship location, with Monta Chaya offering a few extra items in the appetizer department. Favorites included blistered shishito peppers, nicely dressed in a mildy sweet miso sauce and finished with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds; and Chicken Karage, a Japanese version of fried chicken using delicious little nuggets of marinated chicken thigh, flash fried in a potato starch coating that keeps the meat exceedingly juicy while maintaining a delicately crispy outer crust. Not too heavy, very flavorful, and a nice option for the picky eaters in the party. Another standout worth mentioning is the Mini Mentaiko Bowl. A bargain at only $2.95 with seasoned rice, chopped scallions, shredded nori and spicy cod fish roe, it feels much like eating a deconstructed sushi roll. Fresh and super delish. Other classics include several varieties of fried rice, all superstars in their own right, and a Pork Belly rice bowl that is out of this world porky goodness. A must try if you’re a fan of the belly.

And then there’s the ramen. Once that first sip of rich, Tonkotsu broth and perfectly prepared noodles head down the hatch via the collaborative effort of chopsticks, spoon and individualized slurping techniques, you’ll discover why this place has risen to rock star status. The broth has just the right amount of fat content, evidence they’ve boiled down those pork bones, collagen and fat for hours to produce a decadent soup that’s buttery rich yet perfectly balanced and not overly salty. Two slices of impossibly tender Chashu pork float over top, with tender bamboo strips, shredded green onion, and kikurage mushrooms adding texture and earthy flavor. There are also several sides you can add to your bowl; the nitamago, soy flavored soft boiled egg and nori sheets were personal favorites. Some of their other broths aren’t quite as indulgent, such as the Tonkotsu-Shoyu, which tames the meaty richness of the original by adding chicken broth, as well as miso and straight chicken broth versions. All are blessed with intense flavor that elevates this simple Japanese staple to something memorable and special.

Having a China Town transplant in the neighborhood goes to show that restaurateurs are finally taking notice of the burgeoning local foodie crowd who love great eats but often don’t have the time or patience to drive across town to get it. I suspect Monta Chaya will soon have the same following as the original location; I, for one, will wait in line. For information, call them at 331-5151.

 

A Neighborhood Staple – Juan’s Flaming Fajitas & Cantina

May 2, 2013   //   by wagona   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

By Aly Wagonseller

It’s the simple things that make a restaurant memorable and worth returning to on a regular basis. Fancy food and décor, if done correctly, is certainly worth the price tag. But the name of the game in a locally owned neighborhood restaurant is consistently good service; food that’s prepared well and is fairly priced; and the presence of a very likable owner who’s in the trenches making sure his customers feel welcome and happy with their overall dining experience. This is exactly what we found at Juan’s Flaming Fajita’s & Cantina, located at 9640 W. Tropicana.

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The restaurant’s namesake, Juan Vazquez, has assembled a team that old time Las Vegas natives might recognize. The main man in the kitchen worked at Viva Mercado’s Mexican restaurant for more than eighteen years, while other staff members (including Juan) worked there in various service positions, many until the iconic establishment suffered its demise a few months ago. This may explain why the Flaming Fajita runs like a restaurant that’s been open for years as opposed to only a few weeks. The service is organized and remarkably friendly; the ambiance, while somewhat cliché, inviting and comfortable; and the food… well… honestly some of the best I’ve had for the genre.

You won’t find Nuevo cuisine ala Border Grill or Mundo (a personal favorite) on the menu, but that in no way means that the classic fare Juan’s is dishing out doesn’t compare. It starts with sauces that are incredibly complex in flavor; for me, the reason why this place is so noteworthy. The kind of red chili sauce so earthy and robust it transforms a simple cheese enchilada into a masterful bite you just can’t stop thinking about. Expertly prepared mole that’s deep and soulful, yet doesn’t finish like a brick on the palate, a trait that’s given mole a bad rap in many a Mexican establishment. Verde sauce that’s tart without being abrasive, balanced with just the right amount of heat to accentuate ingredients like the tender chunks of pork found in their exceedingly flavorful pork chili verde. Because these sauces are the backbone of pretty much every burrito, enchilada or tamale on the menu, I doubt you’ll go wrong with anything you order; they’re really that good.

But as the name implies, fajitas are Flaming’s big draw. I’ve never really understood the affection for this particular dish, since to me there’s nothing interesting about a DIY preparation of minimally dressed meat and vegetables wrapped in a tortilla. Still, a lot of people love ‘em, and like the rest of their food, Juan’s does them right. When they say flaming, it’s literal; huge (translation: plenty of leftovers) portions of well executed chicken, steak, pork or shrimp come to the table in an iron vessel that sits atop a fondue pot style heating source. Unlike most restaurants, where the requisite  fajita Pavlov dog-like reaction is set in motion by way of the sizzling sound of meat as it makes its way through the dining room,  Juan’s flambés your entrée at the table; a detail that, while entertainingly showy, actually serves a purpose to render  off  grease and sear the meat. Condiments including sour cream, guac, and salsa are plentiful, making for a very respectable version of this south of the border classic.

Velvety bean dip, blistered jalepenos and caramelized onions served with the obligatory basket of chips are an original touch, as is the option to order fresh from the skin guacamole, made to your liking tableside. It’s worth the extra $7.95 if you’re a fan. Round it out with a variety of margarita and drink specials (happy hour deals are served between 3-7pm) and a separate bar with plenty of tables and TVs and you’re good to go for dinner or cocktails.

I love the heart and work ethic that Juan Vazquez brings to the Flaming Fajita, his first restaurant venture, and obviously a true labor of love. With the food and service expertise he’s showing already, I think the future is certainly bright for this neighborhood must try. For hours and information, call them at 823-1400.

 

On the Verge – Poppy Den by Angelo Sosa

Feb 27, 2013   //   by wagona   //   Haute Spot  //  No Comments

By  Aly Wagonseller

 Having been victim to some disastrous restaurant openings, I generally don’t frequent the new guy on the block until they’ve had ample time to find their groove. Granted, there are some very experienced restaurateurs that seem to possess the golden touch from day one. But with too many hiccups to be had in terms of staff and service, menu options and food execution, they are most definitely the minority, especially if the patriarch of the restaurant lives and works a countryside away. That’s what makes my visit to Poppy Den by Angelo Sosa, the newest addition in the massive restaurant revamp currently taking place in Tivoli Village, so bittersweet. Do I want to adore this place because I see its massive potential? Absolutely. But much like the relationship between a growing adolescent and a loving parent, you may have to cut them some slack while they learn from mistakes you both totally saw coming.

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Sosa definitely has personality and wild creativity, something that any fan who’s seen him compete on Top Chef can attest. These traits transcend themselves in both the conception of the menu and the atmosphere at Poppy Den. Billed as an Asian Gastropub, the décor is more sophisticated than theme-like, a blend of beautifully crafted paisley textile, distressed beam ceilings, dark hardwood tables, repurposed steel architectural details and a collection of rustic yet modern accessories that create a homey comfort zone. Not what you might expect… but this is Angelo Sosa. The second dining room upstairs is also available to rent for private parties and owns a sexier, loungy vibe with vibrant red walls and flowing fabric that’s vastly different from its downstairs counterpart, and yet probably more predictable in terms of what a poppy den might conjure in the imagination.

Equally exciting is a menu that builds upon Sosa’s clear understanding of Asian flavor combinations, while indulging a love for taking a ride on the fusion wild side. Herein lies the root of some of Poppy’s growing pain issues. The flavors rocked in all but a few of the several small and large plate dishes we ordered, yet somehow more than a few suffered from at least one element of improper execution. Silly issues that, while not egregious, stripped perfectly conceptualized dishes of their deserved five star status. Cases in point: unforgivably chewy crostini served with an otherwise delicious Jarred Tuna, or painfully overcooked meatballs that marred the brilliantly conceived Korean chili paste, basil, ginger and Parmesan cheese tomato sauce that accompanied them. Shrimp and Grits were troublesome as well, the turmeric marinated shrimp taking on a kind of mushy, tandoori like consistency that did nothing to add interest to the sublime, velvety white polenta elegantly flavored with yuzu, lemongrass and coconut milk. Finally, a delicately flavored Green Tea and Mint Crème Brulee fell victim to unevenly bruleed sugar that either stuck to your teeth from being undercooked or permeated the palate with the bitter taste of singed caramel; a shame, as the flavors in the custard were incredibly well thought out.

Still, there were many bright spots to be had during our meal, including the Tuna Deviled Eggs, an addictive bite of chopped egg white and sushi grade tuna bathed in just the right amount of smoky paprika oil, cilantro and scallions. Or the Watermelon Salad with Goat Cheese, a refreshing, textural superstar that paired crispy fruit, mild and creamy goat cheese and a sweet and spicy topping of candied wasabi. Super creative. Miso Salmon with charred Shishito Peppers was also nicely prepared, the charred peppers a delish, somewhat bitter contrast to the sweet, melt in your mouth salmon.

All cards on the table, the food and craft cocktails being served at Poppy Den by Angelo Sosa are truly inspired, with more than a glimpse of remarkable potential once the kinks of the restaurant are worked out. It’s a place on the verge of becoming a great neighborhood eatery; you just may have to be a little patient in the upbringing. For reservations, phone 802-2480 or visit www.vegaspoppyden.com.

 

 

 

 

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