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Rao's by Vegas Food Nerd

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RAO'S
By Vegas Food Nerd

As far as restaurant legends go, Rao’s is probably one of the biggest. An Italian family dining establishment in New York City turned into the restaurant only a few are blessed to experience. Only those invited by others with table real estate at this place are allowed to enter and enjoy the food. It’s not just a ‘hard to get reservation’—you can’t even make a reservation until now. Rao’s have opened two outposts: one in Los Angeles, and one right here in Las Vegas that are now available to those that aren’t Rao’s insiders. 

Located in Caesars Palace, the Vegas Rao’s looks a lot like the original location. You can dine semi al fresco at a patio in front of the restaurant, but I recommend you request a table on the interior. The inside décor transports you back to the original restaurant, which opened in 1896 with traditional family recipes from the Pellegrino family. The recipes, which continue to be handed down from generation to generation, are pure Southern Italian comfort food. Diners can be part of the family at home now, as well. Rao’s specialty foods will deliver jars of sauce, roasted peppers, and can buy a cookbook to get the family recipes to prepare some of their more popular dishes in your own home.

I’d heard about Rao’s and had always wanted to try the place. Being part Italian with some treasured family recipes of my own, I was very excited to walk past the red overhang into this treasured place. If you have heard the tales of Rao’s like I had, then you’d know that the first dish our table had to try was their famous Meatballs: two big, baseball-sized balls of beef, veal, and pork, which arrived bathed in Marinara Sauce. They lived up to the hype and our table enjoyed them very much. Next, they have something called a Fried Mozzarella Sandwich, which was a crispy, oozing, moan-worthy creation. (Don’t think calories, people!) Then, another cheese, which I can never pass up, called Burrata. The cheese sits in the middle of the plate surrounded by heirloom tomatoes and basil, all of which is drizzled with garlic oil and aged balsamic vinegar—yet another hit with all of us sharing each dish. We next ordered a trio of their pasta dishes: Vodka Penne with Prosciutto, Angel Hair Pasta with Marinara, and their Linguini with Clams. All three were spot on, and we enjoyed them until we clutched our stuffed stomachs and begged for mercy.

Rao’s—famous for being one our nation’s oldest family restaurants—did not disappoint. The only downside really were the high prices, but you come to expect that from any restaurant located in the heart of mega-resort, Caesars. But to experience it—yeah, it was worth it, and boy, was I full. My sincerest thanks go out to the Pellegrino family. 

DIERKS BENTLEY’S WHISKEY ROW
Hitting our city with some cowboy flair is this gastropub that bears the name of a big country star. Country music and its undeniable grasp on the music buying public is now making its mark on the Strip when MGM opens the park next year. With items like Dierks Fried Chicken with Bacon Smashed Potatoes, and over 40 different options for a Boiler Maker (a shot of whiskey dropped in a beer). It is sure to be a drinking and dining destination that will please our fair tourists. Live musical acts and DJ’s will also be a part of the restaurant’s atmosphere, so you can boot scoot and boogie during your visit. 

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Emeril's New Orleans Fish House by Vegas Food Nerd

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In my last few columns, I went against the grain of all the hot, trendy spots that open in Las Vegas only to shutter their doors a few months into operation.  Instead, I’ve been revisiting some classic Las Vegas places that have stood the test of time and always are a treat to my taste buds each time I dine there.  Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House is one of those places for me.  Located in the heart of restaurant row inside the MGM Grand Casino and Resort, it’s smack dab in the middle of all the action, and they serve some fine food at the same time.  

If you haven’t visited the MGM Grand lately, I will warn you that the place is crowded.  Insanely crowded, tourists flood around in waves here like a school of fish.  Short ones, tall ones, fat ones, slutty-dress-wearing ones, drunk ones, about to be drunk ones, the species takes on many forms.  The positive part of this scenario is that by being in the heart of it all, Emeril’s makes for an ideal perch for people watching.  Sit at the bar for optimum viewing pleasure.  Then, I highly suggest an order of Oysters on the Half Shell with their Champagne Vinegar Mignonette Sauce and the traditional Cocktail Sauce, as well.  I always follow up that order with a bowl of their Okra, Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo.  They serve you a bowl of hot, steaming rice and then pour the gumbo over top of the rice, then you dig in.  Take my advice and ask for the Tabasco sauce—a couple of drops won’t take you over the edge, but adds a nice heat that warms you.  I’ve also tried their Lobster Soup, but that Gumbo always calls to me when we visit.  While they do have seasonal menus from time to time, I’ve tried almost every dish they serve.  Their Pork Chop is a standout dish, along with the Seafood Pan Roast which offers up Creole flavors in a way that makes you feel like you’ve been transported out of the loud and noisy casino directly into the Bayou.  Emeril really started the celebrity chef movement and secretly, many of us home cooks such as myself, like to shout out a “bam” or two when we make a killer presentation in our own kitchens.  The man is who he is for a reason.  Let me know when you eat there. 

CHIK-FIL-A WILL SOON BE HERE

Fried chicken-loving people rejoice as the first West Coast outpost of this wildly successful chain will soon have three locations here in our city.  They rank #8 in earnings, next to their other fast food competitors, and they also generate more revenue per restaurant than any other fast food chain.  The average Chik-Fil-A earns $3.1 million, as compared to the average KFC outpost, which on average earn $960,000 per restaurant.  The brand is known for its chicken sandwich, which is typically served with their signature waffle fries.  Though they themselves describe the popular sandwich and wrap that they sell as a “boneless breast of chicken seasoned to perfection, hand-breaded, pressure-cooked in 100% refined peanut oil, and served on a toasted bun with dill pickle chips.”  Their success surprises me in an era of extreme allergies, yet their profitability cannot be denied.

SIRANCHA VODKA?  YES, IT’S A THING

UV Vodka gives us the next best-flavored vodka to come out in quite some time. This spicy-infused vodka is sure to be your next Bloody Mary Bar’s best friend.  Infused with the spicy Asian condiment, your cocktails are sure to burn a few tongues and bring a little heat to your next brunch or whenever it is that you crave time with your Bloody Mary friends.

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Bob Taylor's Original Ranch House by Vegas Food Nerd

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BOB TAYLOR’S ORIGINAL RANCH HOUSE
By Vegas Food Nerd

Tucked away behind the now row after row of track housing is a place for mesquite grilled meats that has been serving Las Vegas for over 55 years. I first encountered this spot more than a decade ago when this Michigan native made the leap to live in this city that is now home to me. Their signage guided us with the promise of good prime rib, and we followed. Turn after turn, in what felt like a wild goose chase, the Bob’s was there—only a few cars in the parking lot, in a setting that seemed fit for an old Western, not the glitzy Vegas I had moved to. We almost didn’t go in because it seemed a bit odd, but thankfully we did and we had an amazing meal. I enjoyed one of the best French Dip sandwiches that I’d had since my Michigan beef house days, and my brother, who was with me at the time, had a big slice of Prime Rib that made him very happy, as well. Flash-forward to this decade, and Bob’s is still there, serving up some nicely charred steaks, and more.

When you drive up to the restaurant, which is now a little less out in the middle of nowhere, there are neighborhoods that have built up all around it. Though when you pull up, there is still a nice, rustic Old West-element feel to it. As you step through the door, the age of the building is evident, and its walls are adorned with numerous photos that pay homage to the Wild West movies and stars that were once the idols of young boys and girls back in the day. The best part for me however is once you are escorted to your seat, they temptingly walk you right past their big, mesquite burning grill with juicy hunks of meat searing—and the smell is just intoxicating. The interior is a little dilapidated, but clean. 

So what to order? I’ve tried many different items on their menu. A few of my favorites, aside from that French Dip, are their Crab Stuffed Mushrooms (basic white caps stuffed with crabmeat and covered in a rich creamy sauce). We also love getting a slab of Ribs on occasion. And when selecting your side for steaks or whatnot, I highly urge you to try their Ranch House Potatoes, an ooey gooey cheesy-styled hash brown potatoes that are worth bathing your taste buds with. They have other offerings on the menu, such as pastas, but I keep coming back to enjoy the mesquite grill that wafts and haven’t ordered any of those items yet. Our service is very consistent on each visit and the staff is attentive and friendly. It’s a great escape from the normal restaurant that you encounter here in town. If you are looking to mosey to a new fun spot to try hitching up your wagon and heading to, Bob’s isn’t a bad idea. 

BEAUTY & ESSEX IS COMING TO THE COSMOPOLITAN
Rumors have been swirling around about this restaurant opening here in Las Vegas for over two years. The concept will be opening in 2016 and will be the Vegas outpost of the restaurant that started in New York City by Food Network’s “Chopped” judge, Chris Santos. The space that will take over from the now shuttered Comme Ça, will be a brunch and dinner restaurant, featuring shared bites with an upscale take on food. The NYC location has a strict dress code which requests “upscale casual attire,” and asks diners not to wear “shorts, hats, flip-flops, ripped jeans, or tank tops.” The question is... if the code will be the same here in Las Vegas? 

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DB Brasserie by Vegas Food Nerd

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DB BRASSERIE

By Vegas Food Nerd

Last year Daniel Boulud returned to Las Vegas with DB Brasserie. This powerhouse French chef with many books and restaurants to his name also used some great judgment in choosing his executive chef for his latest Las Vegas venture. Daniel chose David Middleton whose talent and creativity at locals’ favorite Marché Bacchus garnered the restaurant many accolades and awards. The two chefs created this modern take on classic brasserie, and after hearing many rave reviews—it was time for me to try it for myself.

To get to the restaurant, you do have to maneuver through the crowds that almost always seem to be at the Venetian, but once inside, the atmosphere is decidedly less chaotic than your walk was through the crowded casino. The lighting is dim, not dark, with a warm cozy feel to the room. While our table was being prepared for us, my friend and I decided to opt for drinks and an appetizer at the bar to pass the time. This is where the only flaw of the evening occurred. As it turned, out our table was ready pretty quickly and we asked our waiter at the bar to transfer our tab over to our now ready and waiting table. We brought our drinks to the table, and our appetizer was a beautifully done take on pâté made with pork and served with a nice, grainy mustard, crispy pickled spring vegetables, and toasted country style bread. We were quite happy noshing on the pâté, and then when it was gone, we realized no one had come to take our order for the rest of the meal. I alerted someone and the problem was quickly remedied. Our new waiter, with a very thick French accent, took care of our table throughout the rest of our meal.

With this being a revamped take on the classic brasserie, I decided to order a few of my favorite classics: French Onion Soup, and Coq Au Vin. The soup was served in a stunning white tureen filled with the rich beef soup, and sweet onions topped off the perfect amount of Gruyère cheese and croutons. Their take on Coq Au Vin was also a delight to the taste buds. The chicken was drunk in its red wine bath, surrounded by thick, tender pieces of bacon, mushrooms, pearl onions, all on a bed of herbed spaetzle; perfection. My friend ordered the Heirloom Beet Salad with Quinoa. I stole a bite or two and the tender beets were so good—accented with the goat cheese, pistachios and their sherry vinaigrette. For his main course he chose the Scallops, which adorn the many posters for DB Brasserie, seared to perfection with green asparagus, wild mushrooms, braised leeks and a light foamy mushroom sauce. One taste and you could see why they felt the need to feature it on so many posters throughout the property. Unfortunately, we were too full to finish our meal “Boulud”-style, by ending our meal with his signature freshly baked Madeleine cookies; yet that does leave me a good reason to go back to this place and channel my French grandmother.

ANCHOR BAY WINGS AT THE VENETIAN

Wing lovers will rejoice, as the iconic Anchor Bay wings will soon be showing up in the Food Court at the Venetian. The original inventors of the now beloved crispy, saucy, spicy staple Buffalo wings are Anchor Bay Bar. Its flagship restaurant is located on Main Street in Buffalo, New York, and its management is credited with coming up with the original recipe for those wings we crave over half a century ago. Now a chain with a scattering of locations across the country, Anchor Bay is hitting our town on June 15th. Get ready for the long lines once this place opens.

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MTO Cafe by Vegas Food Nerd

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MTO Cafe
By Vegas Food Nerd

Chef Johnny Church has already made waves in the culinary scene here in Las Vegas with his first location of MTO Café located in the DTLV area. Now, to the delight of his many fans, the Chef has brought another outpost of the popular café concept to Downtown Summerlin.

I admire how he loves to use responsibly farmed and top quality ingredients. I also love that each of the sleek, modern restaurants feature a community table that is a handcrafted, polished, portion of a barn that was from a family farm. Yet, I am not a fan of this new concept in the restaurant scene lately. Maybe it goes back to the fact that not many people cook anymore, or maybe it is attributed to the lack of socialization people can attain with the screen overload in our culture lately… I’m not really sure. All I know for sure though is that, for myself (an avid home cook), when I do go out to a restaurant, I want to be waited on. Hand and foot please, wait on me hand and foot, thank you very much. 

At MTO Café, you head up to the counter, order for yourself, get your own silverware, get your own drink, and then head to a table that you have to find for yourself and put your number that you got from the cashier on it, in a visible spot so that you don’t have to wait even longer for someone to finally bring you your food. Okay, so I guess the fact that they bring it to you is service, not a lot, but it is the only moment in your experience at this place that they serve you. 

On top of all that, the day that I visited the Downtown Summerlin outpost of MTO, they did not have any beer or wine to complement what you ordered. Ummm… sorry! Serving burgers with no beer??? Sorry, but with fully stocked bars at many other competitive restaurants only steps away, this will be a problem.

Alright, enough ranting for the moment—how was the food, right? My friend ordered the B.L.T.A.E, an open-face sandwich with bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, sunny-side up eggs, mayo and a side of fries. She was happy with what she ate, but was not knocked out by it at the same time. I ordered the Teriyaki Turkey Burger. It had a pineapple glaze with pickled jalapeños, spinach, shredded carrots, and a side of their fries. I also ordered their fresh-pressed juice selection, which they call “Red Juice” (juiced beets, arugula, pomegranate, lime, red bell pepper, and carrot). I absolutely loved the burger, and my juice, as well. I also have to give credit where it is due and say that their French fries were perfect: thin, salty, crispy and satisfying. Though to go back to what I felt initially—the salty perfection of the fries left my taste buds wanting a fresh glass of water, and much to my chagrin, the only way of getting that glass of H20 was to get up and get it myself, (insert that “Debbie Downer” theme song here). 

I do applaud the staff and chef on the taste of the food, but there are so many offerings in our city that will match that quality and one-up you on prompt, supreme service—so I can’t tell you how quickly I will be running back to eat here.

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