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STRIPLVDINING - VINTNER GRILL by Vegas Food Nerd

STRIPLVDINING - Vintner Grill by Vegas Food Nerd

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Upon first arriving at this little Summerlin hot spot, you feel as if you are now privy to a secret dining location.  Located in an office building complex, this restaurant is a lesson in the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Once you take a few steps inside this place, that from the street looked so boring, it is surprising to discover the cool sophistication that lies within.  The interior and gorgeous patio transport you to a different place that feels more like you are in a swanky southern California Hotel than an office complex in Las Vegas.    Bright airy whites and greens, custom couches, and the outdoor patio which was expertly designed with accents and lanterns so that you don’t even notice that you are sitting right next to the usually traffic-deluged Charleston Boulevard.

Young and up-and-coming Chef Matthew Silverman works some culinary magic at this Summerlin hang, which has a reputation for being “the place” to see and be seen in the area.  His partnering with local restaurant powerhouse creators Michael and Sean Corrigan afforded all of us the opportunity to enjoy his fun eclectic menu, which he says is straightforward American cuisine with Mediterranean influences, creating dishes that are familiar, yet uniquely new to you at the same time.

There were two things that struck me about this place right away.  First off, the guy makes his own cheese, how cool is that?  Goat, Camembert, Stilton, and the oh-so-creamy goat milk feta, which you can sample free of charge during their Happy Hour from 5-6pm.  Next was the gorgeous glass encased wine cellar boasting wines from all over the globe – definitely one of the best I have ever seen off the Strip.

Now on to the food.  The Chef leaves his menu open to variation – sometimes changing it everyday with new offerings based on seasonal foods.  The appetizers were scrumptious.  We noshed on the White Bean Hummus, Short Rib Soup, and the Butter Lettuce Salad with Warm Brie, Fresh Herbs, and an Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Main courses were just as satisfying to our taste buds.  I ordered the Tagliatelli Pasta with Wild Boar Bolognese, Truffle Pecorino, Fresh Nutmeg and Opal Basil, which upon first arriving, wasn’t the most beautiful dish I’ve ever seen, but the flavors all just melted delightfully together.  My friend indulged in one of their Wood-Fired Flatbreads that featured Grilled White Asparagus with Portabello Cream, Fontina, White Truffle Oil and Wild Herbs.  It was a perfect yet sophisticated twist on a traditional dish.  Though, I have long had a love affair with fontina cheese, it just makes everything it tops better.  

The big problem with this otherwise amazing place is the service.  And from numerous Yelp reviews and other friends that have dined there can attest to, the servers seem to care little about pleasing the customer – resulting in long waits: for reservations, food being served to you, and getting your beverage refilled.  It makes me hesitate in making a return trip for just that reason.  I truly believe in supporting our local restaurants, but Vintner needs to step up their game on this, before they lose out to other up-and-comers in the area who truly care about your dining experience.  If you’ve got the time and don’t get as annoyed about that kind of thing, just settle back, revel in the atmosphere, and enjoy this hot spot for celebrity sightings.  

 

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STRIPLVDINING - CHINA POBLANO by Vegas Food Nerd

STRIPLVDINING
 
CHINA POBLANO
 
A CULINARY MASH-UP WORTH EXPLORING
by Vegas Food Nerd
 
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José Andrés continues to take the world by storm with all of his culinary innovations. When word of China Poblano spread after its opening, I couldn’t help but wonder: A restaurant that combines Chinese cuisine with Mexican cuisine? Sounds weird, right? But I encourage all foodies, food nerds, and (sigh), even the food snobs, to check out this small, yet very cool take on dining. This, like José’s other Vegas outpost, Jaleo, is a small plates and tasting type concept. So think: Tapas with a Chinese and Mexican twist. I am a big fan of… well, pretty much all food in general, so heading over to try this Master Chef’s take on the two was intriguing, to say the least. 

The menu is broken into different sections with snacks, Chinese dim sum, Mexican offerings, and a Mexican drink section, along with a Chinese drink section. If you order one thing from this place, you have to order their Rou Jia Mo Street Sandwich. A fresh steamed bun filled with red barbeque pork is served to you, street style (in a paper wrapper) piping hot. The sandwich melts in your mouth in a truly drool-worthy way. It is one of the best dishes that I have sampled in the last year. My friend who went on this adventure with me couldn’t agree more. If you go to China Poblano and you don’t order this, then I feel sorry for you. After sampling our Chinese offering, it was naturally time to venture over to Mexico and try a Taco or two. We wanted to be adventurous and try the Duck Tongue Tacos that were on the menu, but sadly, on our visit, they were sold out. So we then decided to try the Setas, and the Carnitas tacos. The Setas (wild mushrooms with guacamole) was just incredible. Mushrooms, when cooked just the right way, can have a flavor and texture that is reminiscent of a great cut of beef, and China Poblano’s mushroom tacos were cooked in just that fashion. The Carnitas taco was just as satisfying of a dish. Here they combine braised baby pig, crunchy pork rinds and top it off with a very good spicy green salsa. Also a big thumbs-up in our opinion. 

All the noodles on the menu are handmade in house at this restaurant, so I had to at least order one dish of them to try. I always trust my server on which is best, and our waiter, to my chagrin, suggested we try the “healthy” whole wheat Dan Dan noodles. I am not generally a fan of whole-wheat pasta, but we decided to trust in our guide that night. The noodles arrived steaming hot, topped with a spicy pork sauce with chopped up peanuts throughout. To my surprise, the healthy option was really, really good. It’s always a happy accident when that happens. After all our samplings and a nice shot of Patrón or two, the meal came to a close. The best part of this restaurant, aside from of course how much we enjoyed our food, was the intimacy of the space: small and compact, with two open cooking stations working simultaneously to bring you your food. It made for an entertaining experience all around.

The former chef that helped create this fun and unique place to dine is currently on a culinary adventure of her own. She is traveling the country, based on the choices of the Top Chef production team, and is hoping to make it to the finish line as the next Top Chef. It’s a tough competition, but this girl not only helped to make China Poblano on the top restaurants lists, winning multiple accolades, but she has also been mentored by some of the top culinary stars such as José Andrés, Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy, and Mario Batali – so her chances have got to be better than most. Her “cuisine without borders” cooking philosophy has definitely been embraced by our town, and my taste buds. Good Luck, Shirley! Show Padma what Vegas is all about.

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TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF - CHARLIE PALMER - FOR THE LOVE OF COOKING by Chef Charlie Palmer

TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF - CHARLIE PALMER

AWARD-WINNING CHEF, HOTELIER AND ENTREPRENEUR

 

FOR THE LOVE OF COOKING by Chef Charlie Palmer

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If you’re anything like me, you’re not about to let a day end without a good meal, even when you have to make it yourself. Hunger is what drew me into the kitchen, but once there, I fell in love with the adventure of cooking.

Ever since I was a culinary student, my cooking has been driven by a sense of discovery, and I still look for a way to create excitement on the plate. That potential brought me to Las Vegas at the time when it was an underserved town with a buffet-driven dining scene. Today Las Vegas is a culinary destination, with a diverse community of restaurants, where it is a thrill and a challenge to please the many tastes of the global visitors. Diners are in a Vegas state of mind, ready to be wowed, and are not concerned about in-the-moment food trends.

I suppose that’s the main reason I don’t always limit myself to defining “favorite” ingredients. Rather, I concentrate on my style of cooking, which is an extension of my personality – there’s no denying that I’m a big American guy with a big American appetite. One of the best things about being a chef is figuring out how to pull the most flavor out of an ingredient. When my career began, the kitchen was dominated by butter and cream, and in a lot of ways, those additions buffer rather than enhance flavor. In classical French cuisine, you’re mellowing or adding creaminess to sauces. But my idea – which became my signature Progressive American cooking – was to keep it as pure as possible. If you’re going to have steak, I want it to taste like a steak. I don’t want it masked by too much added flavor. Enhanced, yes – but masked, no. A great deal of the restaurant business today is entertainment, and people eat with their eyes long before they put fork to food. Call me a purist if you like, but I still don’t want to lose sight of the big picture of what is on your plate – because it takes more than flair to create dining excitement, it takes flavor – but you have to know how to pull it out of your ingredients.

However, if there is ever a time when favorite ingredients guide me, it is Valentine’s Day, when I plan special menus that are not tied to the growing season as much as they are tied to the hidden meaning of food. Despite modern widespread availability, certain ingredients will always conjure up romance and luxury – so I stick with these classics at Charlie Palmer Steak. When I decided to open a steakhouse in Las Vegas, it wasn’t to imitate the old-school Vegas style. It was to pioneer a modern steakhouse, a little lighter and sleeker in décor – and we take that approach to our Valentine’s Day menu, as well.

Oysters are certainly a fitting introduction to what lays ahead. When Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, was famously painted rising from sea foam using an open shell as a platform, she bestowed her aphrodisiacal qualities on oysters, still part of the mollusk’s mythology. We go light and crisp, highlighting the Kusshi Oyster, a West Coast oyster known for its clean taste, spiked by a green apple gelée with a touch of caviar, another ingredient synonymous with the spirit of Valentine’s Day. The special menu is studded with other ingredients that have a luxurious presence, from willowy grilled asparagus, once known as a harbinger of spring, offset by the richness of a truffle poached egg and the mellow saltiness of San Danielle prosciutto. Although known for our select beef sourcing, I also like to offer equally outstanding options, such as our herb roasted Jidoori chicken (a Japanese term meaning “chicken of the earth”). Our menu is supported by a wonderfully eclectic wine list, spotlighting Napa Valley Cabernet and exciting new Pinot Noir producers from up and down the West Coast, European wines from France, Spain, Germany and Italy, as well as vintages from off-the-beaten path – because as a chef, planning a special menu for an evening as romantic this one, I know one thing for sure: delight is in the details. —Charlie

TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF CHARLIE PALMER - SOMMELIER IN A CHEF'S COAT By Chef Charlie Palmer

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STRIPLVDINING

TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF
CHARLIE PALMER
Award-Winning Chef, Hotelier and Entrepreneur

SOMMELIER IN A CHEF'S COAT
By Chef Charlie Palmer

Even as a young chef, I was always as interested in wine as much as food, and spent so much time composing wine lists to compliment my Progressive American cooking, that my staff referred to me as a “sommelier in a chef’s coat.” That passion never left me, and wine continues to plays a pivotal role in all of my restaurants. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to create great wine programs, garnering consistent Wine Spectator Grand Awards and many of the other top wine accolades throughout the industry. I also take enormous pride in the way wine lives in my restaurants, from Aureole Las Vegas, where the entrance staircase wraps around a four-story, temperature and humidity-controlled glass and steel “wine tower” holding over 50,000 bottles, to its counterpart, Aureole New York, where a temperature-controlled enclosed glass wine mezzanine room is cantilevered over the dining room, storing wine on bays of backlit acrylic units, giving the enclosure a unique glow.  So one of the hardest questions I am asked is to pick my favorite wine. The possibilities are endless. But although I was a Burgundy devotee in my early years as a chef, I’ve now developed a special fondness for Pinot Noir, particularly as I now live in Sonoma County, where the pinot noir grape, originally from the Burgundy region of France, makes its most significant American home, due to the cool, foggy growing climate. Pinot Noir is an incredibly versatile and very food friendly wine: rich and velvety, it has a boundless ability to pair with all sorts of food, from soft to spicy. I think that’s what makes it work so well for our evolving food scene, with more and more local products finding their way onto the table, and our melting-pot style of cooking that gives global influence cuisine a distinctive American stamp. Pinots couple well with shellfish, tender steak cuts, and pastas, but my favorite Pinot pairing will always be pork. At Charlie Palmer Steak, order any of our terrific Sonoma County Pinots with Chef Steve Blandino’s signature Caesar Salad, where the romaine hearts are wrapped in prosciutto and served with a dressing that’s slightly accented by white anchovies.

Although Pinot Noir first started showing up on the American table in the mid-sixties and seventies, sales catapulted through the roof after the wine “starred” in the 2004 film, “Sideways”, in which the main character, Miles, (played by Paul Giamatti), an unsuccessful writer and wine-aficionado, takes his soon-to-be-married actor friend on a road trip through California’s wine country. Miles speaks endlessly of his love for Pinot Noir because, “It’s a hard grape to grow. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive, even when it’s neglected. And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”

That’s one of the things that makes this wine so special. Every year I celebrate that fact at my annual Pigs & Pinot® event, held at Dry Creek Kitchen in Hotel Healdsburg, smack dab in the heart of North Sonoma County wine country, a place I like to use as a showcase for regional wines. Tickets go on sale in mid-January and sell out in a heartbeat. To find out more, visit www.pigsandpinot.com. What started out as a small event designed to support Healdsburg’s St. John’s School and Share Our Strength (S.O.S.), an organization committed to ending childhood hunger in the U.S., has become a sold-out happening, in which I invite world-renowned chefs and winemakers to celebrate the flavors of pork and Pinot Noir. It’s a swine and wine festival of demonstrations, seminars and great meals, culminating in our blind tasting from the world’s top wineries and wine regions, with the winner awarded the coveted Pinot Cup. The pairings naturally change from year to year, because Pinot Noir is an extremely temperamental grape. But that’s what makes the wine exciting and interesting to me. As a lifelong wine lover, I tend to stay focused on the idea that wine, no matter how sublime, is a product of agriculture and should have a relationship to the earth that produced it. So who knows what we can expect? I like to take every vintage for what it is, constantly looking forward to the next harvest and a new year in Pinot Noir. —Charlie

STRIPLVDINING - ECHO AND RIG by Vegas Food Nerd

ECHO AND RIG
By Vegas Food Nerd

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The Tivoli Village shopping center is slowly coming to life. Locally, this mall with Italian flair was known as the newest place in Vegas destined to fail and be bulldozed, like so many other buildings in town. But thankfully, due to some new store openings, as well as some new dining options, Tivoli is now starting to thrive.

One of the newest restaurants to open here is Echo & Rig. It is a unique concept: A restaurant and a butcher shop all-in-one. The meat eater in me wasn’t put-off by the giant half-carved pig hanging in the window, but I wondered how many others might not be so comfortable seeing this enormous swine all cut open in the storefront’s entranceway, just before dining at this establishment. My friend and I, undeterred by this, decided to venture upstairs and give the place a try.

The hostess informed us that on our next visit we should visit the bartender, as Echo & Rig is home of the one of the most unique mixology programs in Vegas. They feature hand-pressed juices fresh from the farmer’s market in many of their signature cocktails. There wasn’t much seating around the bar though, so in order to watch the bartender work his magic, it seemed diners would only get to experience this if the place was slow (at least that was our impression).

Once we were seated was when the place started to go downhill. It took quite some time for our waiter to even get to our table. When he did, he offered us sparkling water out of a clear blue wine bottle (a nice touch that we liked) and took our order.

The big calling card for Echo & Rig is that their charcuterie is made in-house, so we made sure to get a tray, along with a few other small plates. The charcuterie was good, in fact, I think the Prosciutto was one of the best that I have sampled in Vegas to date, along with the Capicola. Unfortunately, our server wasn’t properly trained and couldn’t identify any of the meats on our tray properly. Actually, while I could see who the manager was, he didn’t seem to notice the lack of service our waiter was providing.

The main standout dish that we both very much enjoyed was the Mushroom Soup. Served in a little white covered soup tureen, it was Mushroom perfection, with a touch of Brandy and cream. We also shared the Steakhouse Chop Salad, which featured Filet Mignon, some tasty fresh lettuces and these Heirloom Beans, which I just loved.

Sadly though, I feel this restaurant is going to need some serious adjustments to their level of service to match their price points, before I will be recommending it to our readers. High-class dining deserves high-class service.

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