The Easiest Way to Improve Your Cooking

Use better salt.

Grains of saltLike many people, when I first began cooking, I used table salt. Big mistake.

Now I use either kosher salt or sea salt. They cost a dollar or two more, but they’re worth it. Both kosher salt and sea salt have less sodium and make food taste much better than table salt.

Switch. Now. You’ll be amazed how many things (steak, pork, chicken, carrots, leeks, sweet potatoes) taste great with a little olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh cracked pepper.

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Favorite Lunch Spot: Baguette Cafe

Last year, I shared with you one of my favorite lunch spots in Las Vegas, Crazy Pita.

My new favorite: Baguette Cafe.

Great Pastry and Lunch

Baguette Cafe has both great croissants (a rarity off-Strip in Vegas), muffins, tarts, and cookies, and simple, delicious lunches.

Stop-by in the morning to pickup a muffin, pain raisin, or peanut butter chocolate chip cookie with an Illy latte. (Unfortunately, they do not have fresh-squeezed orange juice.)

Lunch: Tuna Salad and Quiche

For lunch, try the tuna salad, soup of the day, or the quiche. You can also do a “Pick 2” combination with half of each. They even have french bread pizza sometimes. All the food is fresh, simple, and delicious.

Workdays Only: Baguette Cafe is only open on workdays and can get busy filling catering orders for the nearby offices, but it’s worth it. Go give it a try ASAP.

Find Baguette Cafe on Google Maps: 8359 W Sunset Rd

The Five Best Things to Do in Summerlin

I’ve met a lot of people lately who are new to the Summerlin area in Las Vegas. Since I grew up here, I thought I’d share my favorite things to do. If you’re new to town, here’s a map and to-do list:

  1. Get a Capastrami from Capriotti’s. The Bobbie may look better, but even my step-dad from Brooklyn said the Capastrami is the best sandwich he’s ever had.
  2. Take the dog for a walk at Spring Mountain Ranch. It used to be Howard Hughes’ ranch and is one of the prettiest parts of Red Rock. There is outdoor theater here during Las Vegas’ warm summer nights.
  3. Lunch outside at Rachel’s Kitchen. Why aren’t there more places to eat with outdoor seating like this? My favorites: chinese chicken salad, burger, tuna sandwich, chicken salad sandwich, arugula salad with chicken…just go and get something.
  4. Late night drinks and appetizers by the fire at Agave. Normally overpriced, their happy hour and late night (after 10 p.m.) are awesome. Sit outside by one of the fireplaces with friends. Get some 25¢ tacos or an appetizer (fresh guacamole!). They have a ton of tequilas, thirteen specialty margaritas, and $1 coronitas.
  5. Brunch at Marché Bacchus. Just outside the borders of Summerlin, this little-known French bistro and wine shop overlooks the artificial lake in Desert Shores. They have misters and heaters, so you can enjoy sitting outside any time of year.

[Bonus for East Coast transplants: IN-N-OUT. If you have never been to In-n-Out Burger, go right now. This west-coast-only legend is a favorite of Bob Hope, Thomas Keller, and Phil Mickelson to name a few. Order a #1 animal-style with a vanilla shake.]

Something Amazing Happened Today

Something amazing happened today. My online life connected with my real life for the first time.

Shannon and I went to Crazy Pita for lunch. When we walked up to the counter, the owner recognized me and thanked me for writing a review on my blog. It’s the first time someone recognized me from my blog!

(P.S. He mentioned that he is looking at possibly opening a second location in the Summerlin area…woohoo!)

Crazy Pita – My New Favorite Lunch Spot

crazy-pitaThanks to John Curtas for recommending Crazy Pita. With light, healthy, delicious food, it’s my new favorite lunch spot. Rotisserie chicken, delicious hummus, and light, fluffy pita bread. All for about $10 per person.

Located in the District next to Ben & Jerry’s, Crazy Pita has a full menu of rotisserie chicken, salads, pita sandwiches, and skewers. After ordering at the counter, Shannon and I sat at a table outside underneath an umbrella. Las Vegas has over 300 days of sunshine a year; why don’t more restaurants have outdoor patio seating?

In just a few minutes, they brought out Shannon’s quarter white chicken and my tenderloin skewer. Both were served with a greek salad, pita, and hummus. The skewer also came with some couscous and roasted veggies.

The big surprise: Shannon and I both liked the Greek salad! It’s delicious. Usually, I don’t like the tofu-like consistency of feta or it’s salty taste, but this feta was more like a smooth, creamy goat cheese. And while some greek salads can been incredibly briny, this one was perfectly balanced.

The skewers, pita, and hummus were great while the rotisserie chicken was just okay. The best part: the whole meal with drinks for the two of us was only $22.

Bouchon Bistro Brings Best Brunch

bouchon-restaurant_las-vegas_0508_cr-angus-oborn_main_midSome restaurants are great because they make delicious recipes you’ve never had before. Bouchon Bistro Las Vegas is great because they do an extraordinarily good job making classic brunch food better than you’ve ever had it. It was one of the best brunches of my life.

The morning after Valentine’s Day, we drove down to the Venetian and took the elevators up to the Venezia Tower. Bouchon does not take reservations, so I was surprised we were seated almost immediately. But if we had had to wait, there was a comfortably furnished waiting area with comfy chairs and newspapers to read.

bouchon_exterior__interiorWhen they seated us at our table, they handed us the menus, and I got excited. Croissants, sourdough waffles, sticky buns, corned beef hash, oysters, cappuccinos, parfait, steak frites, orange juice, mussels, brioche bread pudding french toast. Nothing out of the ordinary, just all the best brunch foods. When I go to an expensive restaurant and I see classic dishes, I get very excited because it usually means that they are going to be really good.

Appetizer: Cappuccino and Pan au Chocolat

I had known the first thing I wanted since the night before: pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) and cappuccino. If you have never tried it before, the chocolate in a chocolate croissant makes the cappuccino taste better in the same way a perfectly paired red wine makes a steak taste better.

I am always looking for a great croissant. The one I had at Bouchon was the first great croissant I’ve had in Las Vegas (surprisingly better than the ones from the Bouchon Bakery downstairs). Flaky, airy, and buttery with a delicious piece of chocolate in the center. It was a little big (a little too much croissant to chocolate), but tasted fantastic and awakened hidden flavors in my cappuccino.

bouchon_interior_las_vegasCroque Madame

At the top of the Bouchon menu is a very basic offering: Breakfast Américaine. I am a sucker for really good bacon and eggs, but I decided to get the Croque Madame, a play on the classic Croque Monsieur (ham and grilled cheese sandwich) with a fried egg. Layers of brioche, ham, a perfectly cook fried egg, and mornay sauce. Mmmmmm. Served with a side of french fries. Oh the french fries! Some of the best french fries of my life.

Orange Juice

I love a good glass of orange juice. It’s one of my favorite things in life. One of my pet peeves is the new trend of calling orange juice from concentrate “fresh orange juice.” It sounds like “fresh-squeezed,” but it’s not. So, when I asked the waiter if the O.J. on the menu was fresh-squeezed, and he said, “No, it’s Naked Juice,” I was blown away. Even I would consider Naked Juice fresh-squeezed compared to the stuff from concentrate, but the fact is it was not squeezed that day. I got a glass, and it tasted pretty great.

Service

If there was one thing, I would criticize, it was the service. I wish I was making this up. Shannon ordered one of the specials as an appetizer: raspberry benets. Shannon has never had benets, so when she heard that they were like donut holes, only better, she got excited. She ordered the benets but a few minutes later, our waiter came back to apologize, to say they were out. And as he’s saying this (I swear he had just finished telling us they were out, when…) another waiter slid past him to put Shannon’s benets down in front of her.

And then there was the O.J. It tasted great, but it was near impossible to get. When we first ordered, I asked for a cappuccino and an orange juice. Only the cappuccino came. So, I asked the waiter again for an orange juice. It never came. We were half-way through the main course, and the busboy came by to fill our water glasses. I asked him for an orange juice, and it came out almost immediately. Fire the waiter and promote the busboy!

One of the best brunches of my life

All in all, it was one of the best brunches of my life. Everything was so well done. We spent about $70, so it’s definitely a once in awhile thing, but I would recommend a morning at Bouchon to anyone who finds themself in Las Vegas.

The “Best Burger” at Bradley Ogden Dissapoints

bradleyogdenI love John Curtas’ Food for Thought segment on KNPR. Curtas is a Las Vegas lawyer who decided to put his business lunches to good use a couple decades ago when he began doing Las Vegas restaurant reviews on public radio. When Curtas named El Sombrero 2007 Ethnic Restaurant of the Year, I tried it and found one of my favorite Las Vegas restaurants in a building I never would have gone into on my own.

So, ever since he named the burger at Bradley Ogden in Caesar’s, the “best burger in Las Vegas,” I could not wait to try it. This past weekend, Shannon wanted to exchange a birthday present at Niketown in the Forum Shops, and we realized the time had come to try this mythical burger.

First, let me say that the idea of having a lounge with its own menu instead of just the usual bar is genius. And the menu looked so good, we almost deviated from our burger plans…almost. I began with a salad and Shannon tried the fried shrimp. My salad was amazing, especially the dressing. Shannon’s shrimp had great flavor but were a little soggy (thanks, by the way, for taking off the tails).

It took a little while, but our burgers and fries finally arrived. The fries were amazing. Skin on, crunchy outside, soft inside with great big pieces of salt.

And the burger? Well…

Shannon and I each ate our burger quietly, wondering if the other was thinking the same thing: “I mean, it’s good…but not that good.” The bun was incredible. The meat was top quality. The artisan cheese was perfect. But the burger as a whole didn’t taste very good. It was greasy and watery and had an odd bacon-y flavor, and the meat wasn’t seasoned well. I wished it had come with more pickle slices because it needed the acidity.

I finished with a delicious snickerdoodle cookie and some butterscotch pudding (I’m a big fan of anyone with the guts to serve a simple cookie and homemade pudding for dessert). I was surprised that the service was pretty awful: slow and inattentive. We only left a 10% tip.

I’d like to think that the problem was execution, that we caught them on a bad night. I realize that Bryan Ogden left for L.A. last year, and maybe the kitchen is no longer run as well. But at a restaurant of this caliber, consistent quality is a ticket to the game. We had a great time, but we left disappointed that the “best burger in Las Vegas” had not lived up to its name.