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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Julian Serrano- Aria Resort, Las Vegas

Julian Serrano is located just inside the casino entrance to Aria resort at The City Center on the Vegas Strip. It is an upscale fine dining restaurant that features Spanish tapas (or sharing plates). Simone and I arrived in our finest t-shirts, shorts and sneakers. Although not exactly dressed for a formal dinner, I let the hostess know I had made a reservation and we were quickly escorted past the rich and almost famous to the corner table at the far end of the dining room. Reservations are an absolute necessity if you plan to get a table at this restaurant
( especially when dressed like a tourist from Maine).

After being seated, our very formal waiter quickly offered us a very expensive wine menu and so we decided to get a diet soda and water ( from the tap). We looked over the menu and decided that we wanted to try the Paella as our entree that we would share. The Paella takes at least 35 minutes to prepare so we placed our order before deciding on our smaller tapas plates. First up we decided on a plate of marinated olives. When they arrived we realized that they were not pitted, so we had fun seeing who could make the biggest mess while trying to get the pits out. The waiter seemed amused by this. The olives were very good and were marinated in roasted garlic and baby onions.

For our second tapas we decided to get more adventurous and ordered the Albondigas, which were mini Meatballs cooked in a Tomato and Sherry Sauce. They were some of the most tender meatballs I have ever eaten and they just melted in the mouth. The sauce was mild and light with a nice hint of sherry and also included some roasted baby potatoes.

Our last tapas choice was the new age Egg Potato & Morcilla dish. The dish was a combination of sauteed Wild Mushrooms and Blood Sausage with a soft poached egg, atop a pool of Potato Foam topped with Manchego Cheese Air. This dish was truly memorable and one of the most unique things I have ever eaten. The richness of the sausage and egg combined magicaly with the smokey earthiness of the mushrooms and the potato foam and Manchego air melted away to create a creamy sauce for it all. This dish was a real culinary adventure.

Our Valencia Paella was ready and came to the table piping hot and served in the cast iron pan it was cooked in. It was a delicious combination of baked Saffron laced Spanish rice with house made Chorizo sausage, sauteed Rabbit and tender grilled Chicken topped of with roasted Haricot Verde Green Beans.

We managed to finish off the rather large Paella meal, and then wrapped things up with a dessert tapas of Almond Sponge Cake with Homemade Almond Ice Cream. It was super dense, super moist and super good.


Our entire meal and experience at Julian Serrano was one that I will not soon forget. It was creative, unique and prepared perfectly. I would recommend this to anyone that doesn't mind shelling out a few extra bucks to have the perfect culinary adventure. And next time I'll even wear pants. 5 stars. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Du-par's- Las Vegas
This Du-par's is located at the Golden Gate Casino in historic downtown Freemont Street in Las Vegas. It is tucked away in a corner off from the casino floor, and if you can find it then its worth the search. I don't often recommend eating at a downtown casino however go ahead and give this a try. Du-par's has been operating in military like fashion since the stone age. The staff has been around the same amount of time, but they are true professionals and we were well taken care of.

When we first walked in to the large retro style dining area at 5:00pm we were one of only a hand full of customers. One elderly man was just leaving and as he passed by and smiled he gave us an ominous warning "Stay away from the beef stew".  I'm not entirely sure if he was serious but we took his word for it and looked beyond that particular item. Simone ordered herself a pretty basic Roasted Turkey Sandwich on Wheat Bread. The Turkey was a bit dry but was nicely seasoned and thick hand sliced. The bread was good and the Lettuce and Tomato were Fresh. The french fries that came along side it were crispy and very good. Simone also ordered a side of Ranch for her sandwich.

I ordered the classic diner entree. Chicken Fried Steak. A ten ounce sirloin was pounded thin, thickly coated with seasoned flour and then fried to crunchy perfection. It was melt in your mouth tender and not greasy like I expected. It was served with rich and creamy Mashed Potatoes and very buttery delicious roasted vegetables. The potatoes and steak were both drowned in a thick stick to your arteries white peppery cream gravy. It even came with a fresh baked dinner roll for mopping up any leftovers.  This was a huge meal and altogether completely satisfying.

In typical diner fashion the dessert menu was loaded with pies and pastries just begging to be eaten. At Du-pars , they further entice you by displaying all pies directly above the bar stool counter. We decided to try a slice of the sweet Pecan Pie of course topped with Vanilla Ice Cream. The crust was perfectly flaky and buttery and we finished every last bite. So don't be scared off by its location ( or its beef stew) stop in and give Du-par's a chance. Its a great satisfying and filling meal at a pretty good price. 4 stars.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Binga's Stadium Smokehouse and Sportsbar- Portland, Maine

We went to Binga's Stadium on 77 Free Street in Portland Maine because we had been in town for a boxing event and at the event they told us to bring our ticket stub in for half price wings. So with money savings on our mind we went out to lunch the very next day. We got to Binga's right at opening and we were starving as we had skipped Breakfast. It is located directly across from the Civic Center so I imagine it must get busy after Hockey games. However, we went on Sunday morning and had the place to ourselves. From the outside Binga's looks like every other neighboor hood bar, but inside it is very clean and actually pretty swanky. There are TV's everywhere showing the games and even separate TVs for the individual seating booths. The bar has a huge assortment of beers on tap. Just as large as the beer assortment is the wing sauce assortment, 28 to be exact ranging from the traditional Buffalo to Peanut Butter and Jelly. You can have your wings three different ways. Smoked, Breaded or Boneless Tenders.  We decided to try the smoked with a Buffalo Bacon Nacho Sauce. 

The wings arrived hot and messy, The Bacon laced Cheesy Buffalo Sauce was perfect with the meaty smoked wings and drumsticks. They were moist and had a decent amount of meat on them. They were top notch and served with a side of Blanch, with is a combo of Ranch and Blue Cheese dressing.  If you're smart, take the left over dressing and put it to the side to dip your fries in later, you will not regret it.

After destroying the wings , it was time to tackle the entrees. Simone ordered the Pulled Pork Sandwich with pickles. Personally, I find pickles repulsive however Simone really likes them and such enjoyed her sandwich. The pork was moist, tender and smokey with just a hint of sauce. The bun was very good, fresh and hearty from a local bakery and it sopped up the juices nicely. It came with a side of chips that we left for the next customer.

For my meal I went with the Kimwich. House made Smoked Pastrami is griddled  with melted Swiss and then topped with Red Cabbage slaw, house sauce and served on that great bakery fresh bun. This sandwich was awesome, The Pastrami with it juices and Swiss were grilled to a golden brown crisp together on the grill and combined for a delicious blend of salt and smoke. The slaw was not the creamy kind, but vinegar based and lent a perfect crunch to the sandwich.  I could eat ten of these if I didn't care about my arteries.

 I ordered fresh house made fries with my sandwich  and Simone and I spilt those. Although not as crispy as I like my fries to be, they were still very good especially when used to mop up the leftover wing sauce and dip.

Overall this was a get down and dirty sticky hands meal. It was pure goodness. This was a great authentic BBQ find in Portland and we will be back many more times. 5 stars for Binga's.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I Love Burgers- Palazzo Hotel and Casino ,Las Vegas

Who don't love burgers ? This was the question that I asked my wife as we passed by the sign while shopping at the Grand Canal Shops at The Palazzo in Las Vegas during our most recent vacation to sin city.
So it was we decided that for our next Culinary adventure we would sit down and gorge ourselves at I Love Burgers. The dining room is large with plenty of seating and lots of TVs to watch the games on. The menu is not overwhelming so you should not spend an hour trying to make a decision on what to eat (aka, that's you my dear wife). 

For our appetizer we went with Mac and Cheese Nuggets. Little gems of Mac and Cheese breaded, fried and topped with shredded Parmesan are served with a side of spicy cheese sauce, because what else would be served with cheese but more cheese ? We finished these off pretty quickly and easily.

We could talk about my wife Simone's choice for an entree but I'm going to be honest, I don't want to. It was basically Eggplant Parmesan in a hamburger bun. Yes it was good, but why you would order a vegetarian burger at a place the specializes in cooking MEAT Hamburgers is beyond me. So on to some real food.

 I love Bacon... oh yes... Bacon Bacon Bacon... The I love bacon burger is kinda insane and you probably should consult you doctor before partaking in it. It is half a pound of ground sirloin and ground bacon pattied together and grilled up into one delectable smoky juicy mouth full of a burger meal. On top of this god like burger is yet more crispy applewood bacon, smokey Gouda cheese, fried onion straws and of course bacon mayonnaise. Absurdly delicious and filling, this was a treat for the tummy.
Not that it was at all needed but we also ordered a not to be missed side of crispy thin cut Garlic Parmesan dusted french fries and managed to get most of those down also. As I was being rolled out on that stretcher by the paramedics, I couldn't help but smile about my I love Burger adventure. 4 Stars.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Secret Pizzeria at Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

I will start this review with the following disclosure: The following Pizzeria does not exist. It has no menu, it has no website, it has no signs advertising a family meal deal. It is also not down a long hallway lined with old music album covers on the third floor of the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. It is not one of the best deals on the strip. It is also not the Best Pizza on the Strip. I HAVE KEPT THE SECRET.

Now onto the food review... for the best pizza and best pizza deals in Vegas you need to find the secret Pizzeria at Cosmo. The cost is almost two dollars less per slice then any other pizza joint on the strip ( including my other favorite at the Wynn) and the super thin crust , fresh taste and general New York ambiance just can't be beat. Although thin , the crust is still sturdy enough to bend without breaking and strong enough to hold any toppings. Speaking of toppings... unless you order ahead of time ( is there an actual number to the place?) then you will be having your pizza topped with whatever the chefs whim is. There is no formal menu.

On this day Simone and I had our choice of 5 different pizza pies. We both choose for our first slice portabello mushroom pizza with red sauce. With meaty fresh thin sliced mushroms, sweet fresh tasting marinara creamy mozzarella cheese and a crispy blistered crust this one was a winner. Savory till the last bite it leaves you wanting more... so I obliged.

This time when I went back to the counter looking me in the face was a white pizza with fresh roasted garlic, Ricotta Cheese and Olive Oil. This one may have been better then the mushroom. The crust was sauce less and had even more crunch. The garlic was sweet, the Ricotta Creamy and slightly melted and the Olive Oil was the icing on my pizza experience. 

The Pizzeria does not seem to offer any sides and I didn't ask because none were needed. They do have fountain drinks and beer. Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes can be found at the stand up bar that you can eat on. Without any other choices, The pizza definitely stands alone (although three days later we went back and tried a cannolli for dessert and that was delicious as well).

New York thin crust pizza is what its all about here at The Cosmopolitan, and these guys are experts. Hands down, this is a 5 Star place. Just remember, you didn't here the secret from me.

China Grill- Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

The China Grill at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is not a Chinese food restaurant.  As it was explained adamantly by my waiter , it is a global fusion that brings together the flavors of Japan, Thailand, Chinese and American cuisine ( I guess that meant no Pu-Pu platter for two).

With our no Chinese food explanation at the fore front of our minds Simone and I set upon the task of looking over the not so Chinese menu.  All items on the menu are meant to be eaten family style and shared -much like in China (oops). At the suggestion of our waiter we started our fusion journey with the not Chinese Beef and Scallion Dumplings. The dumplings were soft and pillow like, filled with minced tender beef and chopped scallions and served with a micro green salad on top and of a pool of spicy sauce. Alone, they were bland but eating them in a 5 alarm pool of soy, ginger chili sauce took care of that problem nicely. After downing an entire glass of water to ease the fiery pain , we then decided to choose our entree.

Our entree choice was the not Japanese Sake Marinated Drunken Chicken, served with a sweet Hoison laced Ponzu sauce and Bok Choy slaw with crispy onions, and for our side a not Chinese Duck Fried Rice.  The chicken arrived whole, but already cut for our convenience. It was excellent,  the sweet Sake marinade combined with the natural juices of the chicken kept every bite moist and full of intense flavor. The slaw was crunchy and vinegary and was a great compliment to the dish. The side of duck fried rice was good also. The rice was very lightly fried with sesame and soy but not overwhelming in salt or oil. The shredded duck was rather dry, but the overall flavor of the rice was excellent.

We finished the entire bird and rice and still had some room for Deep Fried Cheesecake for dessert. Cream Cheese filled fried wontons arrived with  a five spice chocolate dipping sauce, assorted fruit and Mango Raspberry puree. The chocolate was rich and spicy with ginger overtones, and the Mango puree was fresh and sweet.. Both were great with the wontons. Overall this was a very good "fusion" meal at the Not so China Grill in Mandalay Bay. 3.5 stars.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Battista's Hole In the Wall- Las Vegas

Simone and I have always loved Battista's Hole In the Wall located just off the strip in Las Vegas. It has an old Vegas vibe, and always has very good home cooked Italian food.  We first went to Battista's during our honeymoon on the advise of a travel book and we have been back three or four times since. With our vacation winding down and the reality of going back to our everyday world creeping in, we decided what better way to cheer ourselves up then to visit our old standby.  Although located in a easy to miss small strip mall behind the Flamingo Hotel and Casino Battista's is always busy, no matter what time or what day you go, be prepared to either make a reservation or wait for at least 15 minutes. They are only open for dinner and locals and tourists alike fill up the many tables quickly.  Waiting for a table at Battista's is torture for the soul. As you sit and take in the many pictures of celebrities, the mini Liquor bottle collection and the strange Knic-knacks that fill the ceiling you are overcome by the delicious aroma from the kitchen of fresh baked Garlic Bread and Ripe Tomato Sauce.

After about a 15 minute wait Simone and I were led to a table in one of the side rooms. It was only a few seconds before the waitress got to our table with two full pitchers of House Red and White Wine. This is one of the wonderful surprises that you get at Battista's. With every meal comes lots of House Red and White wine, and while a wine snob may not find this to be the best they have ever tasted, to a Maine redneck like me, it is perfection in a pitcher.

Also free with the meal is some very toasty Garlic bread that is pasted with crushed whole cloves of garlic. Don't worry about saving the bread for dinner, when you finish it they'll bring you more. 

                                                     Each meal also comes with Minestrone Soup or a fresh Italian Salad with house made vinaigrette, salami, cheese, tomatoes and an olive.  We have never had the soup ( don't want to fill up on all that broth) but we do enjoy the salad. To finish off the free stuff you also get a side of basic pasta with your choice of sauce.

There are no menus on the table at Battista's. They are posted on the wall of every room. Although the prices at first glance seem pricey ( chicken at 27.00- insanity !) keep in mind you are getting endless wine and bread, fresh soup or salad, pasta and oh yeah, the best damn Cappuccino ever to finish the meal. More on that later.

For her meal, Simone had Spaghetti and Meatballs and I ordered Veal Parmesan. While we waited for our meal we were greeted with a song from our favorite little old man accordion player. It is rumored that he has been going from table to table performing since Battista's first came to Vegas more then 30 years ago. He looks to be in his nineties, but he plays a damn good accordion, and in my opinion ( which is always correct) He really just puts the icing on the whole Battista experience. Italian wine, Italian food and Italian music. You get it all when you are here.

The food arrived shortly after our evening serenade and although I have seen prettier dishes, they were cooked perfectly. The Veal was literally drowning in melted Mozzarella and fresh ripe tasting Tomato Sauce. If you do not love your cheese then avoid this. If you do love cheese ( and also baby cow) then this is the dish for you.  Along with the Veal was a side of intense flavored spinach seasoned with spices including a good dose of nutmeg. This was different but good. Simone shared her meatballs which were also very good. Large, tender and well seasoned they mixed perfectly with the tomato sauce and al dente spaghetti. Surprisingly we finished everything ( including most of the wine-yow!)

After some deliberation we decided to finish the meal with the Italian specialty Cannoli, with of course two (free) Cappuccino's. The Cannoli shell was crispy and mildly vanilla flavored while the smooth and creamy cheese filling was rich and dense.

The Cappuccino is not to be missed, it is unlike any other - Its not at all like coffee. Its not bitter but slightly chocolaty sweet and it is the perfect way to end your meal. 

We love it here and would suggest it to anyone looking to get away from the craziness of the strip, get drunk on cheap wine, and have some damn good Italian food while being brought back to the old world .  4.5 stars for Battista's Hole in the Wall.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Common Man - Concord, NH

The Common Man is a New Hampshire family of restaurant's. We ate at the Concord location by the process of elimination when on a Sunday night we discovered that every restaurant we wanted to eat at in the downtown area was closed.

The restaurant looks as though it used to be in old Bed and Breakfast. It is large and nostalgic on the outside and has two floors and lots of side rooms for plenty of seating area once you get inside. The restaurant was busy when we arrived but we found a seat on the second level bar and grill area.  The menu looked great and it was hard to decide on any particular item as they all sounded so good. While we mulled it over Simone visited the cheese and cracker display.  This is a great idea, local cheese's and spreads with simple buttery crackers that you can just help yourself to as a free pre-meal appetizer.

Speaking of appetizers... after much debate we started with the Meatball Sliders. Pork and Beef Meatballs served open faced on nice thick garlic basted slices of toasted French Bread crostini, topped with Fresh Marinara and shaved Parmesan. The bread was perfectly crunchy without being dry, and the meatballs were flavorful and tender. This was a nice satisfying twist on the classic sliders.

For the entree we decided that we would try the special of the night. Potato Chip Pizza, that I could witness being made in the open kitchen area beside our table. The chef started by frying fresh thin sliced potatoes. While those were going he layed out a wafer thin flat bread pizza crust and topped it with a white cream sauce base. When the potatoes were done frying he piled them high on the crust and then smashed the living crap out of them with a paper towel (this was getting exciting). After demolishing the chips he topped the pizza with shredded cheese, loads of fresh bacon bits and even more crumbled Blue cheese.

It all then got placed into the oven and after ten minutes it came out perfectly browned and crispy. The pie absolutely tasted as good as it looked. A cross between Potato Skins and Pizza, it was delicious and filling. Under all the cheese and bacon , the chips somehow remained crisp, adding a great crunch to the melted cheesy goodness.

The Common Man provided us a uncommonly good meal. Thank God everywhere else was closed because we would have missed this experience. Next time you are in New Hampshire, take the time to find one of their many locations, it will be well worth it. 4.5 stars for the Common Man.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Rockin Diner- Rochester, New Hampshire


Another day another Diner. I just love these kind of places. Retro decor, classic comfort foods. Diners are just good old fashioned fun. With this in mind Simone and I on a recent getaway decided to try out the Rockin Diner on 77 Farmington Road in Rochester, New Hampshire. The joint was easy to find- it was across the parking lot of our Hotel and it was blindingly decked out in shiny chrome silver and pink.

We arrived for dinner and were basically the only people there. This troubled me a bit. Diners are supposed to be packed with friends and neighbors and old men sitting at bar stools drinking coffee and talking about the old days. The only conversation going on here was by the three waitress that seemed to be looking for something to do. We were escorted to our seats by one of them and then another one came over to take our drink orders.

The waitress we had was absolutely full of no personality. While we inconvenienced her with our drinks we looked over the menu. I thought the Meatloaf sounded good and Simone must have agreed because she decided to get the same thing. After ordering the meatloaf I had to use the boys room. It was then that I noticed some very good sounding specials written on a chalkboard.
Hmm... I guess the waitress decided I didn't need to know those.

After a few minutes our Meatloaf arrived. Simone had hers with mashed potatoes and mine came with French Fries. Both of us had green beans on the side.  I have to say that the Meatloaf was very good, It was moist and had a beefy onion flavor and was topped with a nice creamy gravy. My fries were thin and crispy and I enjoyed sopping up my gravy with them. Simone's potatoes were also good, and our green beans were soft and buttery. This was a classic meal.

Not that the waitress cared to ask but we decided to order dessert anyway. Simone and I each had cheesecake. Simone decided to have the Pecan Bourbon Cheesecake and I went with the Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake. Simone Cheesecake looked impressive but lacked a little flavor and was kinda disappointing. My cheesecake tasted as good as it looked and was a nice way to end to my meal.

So, overall I wish that the Rockin Diner had been a little more rockin. The decor was fun and the food was good but the service was just average.  Three stars for The Rockin Diner.