20
Aug
12

Scottsdale Golf

We started our week in Scottsdale at Troon North on the Pinnacle course. This is my favorite course due to its boulders, saguaros, and breathtaking views that distract me from its difficulty.




Grayhawk is located around the corner from Troon North but is a much flatter course with ordinary views. It was still an enjoyable day but with the number of courses from which to choose in the Scottsdale area, I probably wouldn’t return here.

The Dinosaur Mountain course at Gold Canyon was our wild card for the week and completely worth the hour drive to get there. Another course set against the mountains with plenty of saguaros, this one had no pretension and seemed to have a strong local following.


We ended our week where we began, at Troon North but on the Monument Course. I liked that this course was tucked into the mountains a bit more than the Pinnacle Course with even more impressive houses and the bonus of a roadrunner in a tree.



19
Aug
12

More Scottsdale Dining

Elements

Sanctuary on Camelback is aptly named, an oasis with stunning views of million dollar homes tucked into the mountains and the perfect sunset vantage point. We had two meals at Beau MacMillian’s Asian-inspired Elements. Lunch was light but flavorful, with perfectly crispy tempura enjoyed while pondering the infinity pool that we would enjoy after our spa treatments.


View of the Sanctuary at Camelback infinity pool from Elements

Edamame



Tempura vegetables

Wontons


For our dinner at Elements, we were seated in a private booth with panoramic views of the valley. Although the half-walls blocked the other people in the room visually, we still had to suffer through a business meeting at the table behind us and a dumb blonde in the booth next to us who felt the need to announce to the room, “I’m from Dallas!” for no particular reason. The food allowed us to tune out the distractions. As Brad likes to say, I could have eaten buckets of the lobster and fennel bisque, and the other dishes had a subtle Asian influence on simple, clean flavors. The dessert was over the top but pure enjoyment, with caramel corn, bourbon pudding, and a generous slice of bacon.


View of Mummy Mountain from our table

Lobster and fennel bisque and duck confit moo shu

 


Lobster and rock shrimp udon

Chilean sea bass

 


Pork belly and basil fried rice

Banana bacon & bourbon parfait


Cowboy Ciao

We needed a light lunch with good drinks that wouldn’t ruin our dinner, so we opted for a light meal at Cowboy Ciao in the historic district of Scottsdale. We had heard rumors of the Stetson chopped salad, and it was a surprising mix of ingredients that you would never think could go together to make for such a delicious bowl of goodness: bruschetta, air dried corn, trail mix, arugula, quinoa, smoked salmon, and pesto buttermilk mustard vinaigrette. The only negative about this place is that the drinks are downright tiny.


Grilled green gazpacho

Stetson chopped salad

Truffled mac n’ cheese

Barrio Cafe

We went to Barrio Cafe last year and had to come back for more of their guacamole. This year we tried the queso fundido, which was outrageously good with onions and mushrooms smothered in gooey cheese. The crab and chicken torta was great for someone like me who dislikes the typical corn tortilla Mexican dish, using a fresh baguette instead.


Guacamole

Queso fundido (aka “fun cheese”)

Crab and chicken torta with Hollandaise sauce

Posh

Our one disappointing meal was at Posh, for which we had high expectations given its self-titled “improvisational cuisine.” Rather than a menu with specific plates, you are given a card to fill out with your selected number of courses, any allergies or dislikes, and meat temperature preference. The food itself was both delicious and disappointing, with a flavorless French onion soup and later the best escargots I’ve ever had. The reason we walked away with a bad taste in our mouths is that the staff seemed disengaged and disinterested. The restaurant encircled an open kitchen, which should provide the perfect opportunity for the chefs to interact with the diners, yet we sat at the dining counter while the chefs, who outnumbered the number of diners, seemed to go out of their way to ignore us. A perfect example of the disengagement is when I saw the head chef slicing some sort of aspic at the end of the meal. I asked him what it was, and he said it was the fig aspic that we had as our amuse bouche. Which explains why I didn’t recognize it because, despite there being a total of two tables in the restaurant, their timing was so off that they forgot to serve us our amuse. Instead, we had it post-dessert (and wished we hadn’t).


French onion soup

White bean soup with truffle oil

 


White bass with sauteed peppers

Wild boar bacon

 


Escargots

Steak with onions and red wine reduction

 


Duck breast

Creme brulee flan

 


Fig crepe

Fig “aspic” and proscuitto

 

19
Aug
12

Scottsdale Dining Favorites

Binkley’s

We had heard good things about Binkley’s but couldn’t work it into our last trip, so this time we made it a priority. We giggled throughout the three hour meal at the flavor combinations (e.g., green apple and peanut chilled soup), surprising presentation (e.g., three tiny sandwiches), and sheer number of courses (note the abundance below). There wasn’t a dish we didn’t like, though we were glad when it came to an end because we physically couldn’t have endured another bite. It was such a pleasurable experience that we thought about cancelling one meal later in the week and returning here instead, but we figured that the element of surprise would have been lost on a second visit.


Cucumber blossoms with five spice olive oil

Parmasean donuts with bacon butter



Green apple and peanut chilled soup

Trio of little sammies – sloppy Joe, Vietnamese pork, and muffaletta



Tater tot in a cheese holandaise with fried pancetta

Poached wild king salmon with sake cured salmon roe, cucumber, pickled red onion, smoked-spicy cornbread, creme fraiche, dill-horseradish, and cucumber soup



Butter lettuce salad with cherries, feta, tarragon, lemon pound cake croutons, and champagne vinaigrette

Vol de vent with egg yolk cooked precisely to 151 degrees and more bacon



Uni risotto with spot prawns, sea beans, dried cherry tomatoes, chervil, and wasabi

Wild mushroom gnocchi with pancetta, peas, pearl onions, oregano, and parmesan



Mango spheres in passion fruit

Green apple and grapefruit spritzer



Skate with baby artichokes, summer beans, confit sweet onion, saffron spaetzle, caperberry, and brown butter

Lava lamp fruit cocktail with elderflower lollipops



Mini lemon souffle with raspberry coulis

Banana bread puddin’ with bananas, raspberries, peanuts, cinnamon cream, and ginger-honey (dippin’ dots) ice cream



Chocolate couscous pot au creme with strawberry macaroon, dried strawberries, and dark chocolate covered popcorn

Butterscotch meringue, mango jelly, and hazelnut-dusted chocolate truffle


Quiessence

We discovered Quiessence last year and enjoyed the farm setting though the food wasn’t mind-blowing. This year, we were blown away by the simplicity of the dishes and rich flavors they produced. For example, Brad’s “From the Ground” salad was simply a plate of raw summer vegetables in a subtle vinaigrette, but the taste of vegetables that had been in the ground hours before was stunning. My salad with shaved parmesan and fennel was so delicious that I, never to be confused with a cook, was so taken that I tried to recreate it at home the next weekend. The food was even more pleasurable in the romantic natural setting, and we enjoyed an enlightening conversation with the attentive maitre d’ and server on the reasons why perfect vegetables can be grown in Phoenix and not in Las Vegas (hint: can we get a canal in Vegas?).


“From the Ground”

Salad with dill dressing

Mushroom gnocchi

Cappalini with duck egg sauce

Fresh peaches with shortbread, sorbet, whipped cream, and basil

Nobuo at Teeter House

Brad’s trips to Scottsdale predate me, as does his discovery of Chef Nobuo. While See Saw no longer exists, you can still get the best seafood in the desert at Nobuo at Teeter House. I could have eaten an entire meal of the squash blossoms, stuffed with mild cheese and seasoned with a curry salt on the side. The grapefruit and hamachi is what Brad would probably choose as his final meal, a perfect combination of tangy grapefruit, creamy avocado, and the freshest fish. The shiromi carpaccio was so darn good, with the sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds, that we ordered a second plate.


Squash blossoms

Watermelon, goat cheese, and basil

Grapefruit and hamachi

Yellow tail ceviche

Big eye tuna

Shiromi carpaccio

House-cured salmon
18
Aug
12

Sedona

To begin our annual pilgrimage to Scottsdale, Brad and I decided to leave early to spend a day in Sedona on the way down. We were able to book a last-minute room for one night at the Sky Ranch Lodge, despite them having a two-night minimum this time of year. The furnishings are rustic but the views have to be some of the best in Sedona (“partial mountain view” from our balcony below).

For a sleepy town known for its nature and art, I was surprised to discover L’Auberge de Sedona, where we enjoyed an extremely romantic candle-lit meal steps from Oak Creek. The food was good but not extraordinary (e.g., the “sand” and “sea foam” in my taste of the sea dish were big misses with bizzare flavors and textures), but the attentive service and serene atmosphere made it a memorable meal. The setting made us feel like we were dining in nature, watching spiders weave their webs and bats dart in and out of the lights looking for dinner of their own.


Roasted pork belly and rock shrimp

Peekytoe crab crepe



Foie gras two ways, seared with a raspberry sauce and shaved with a raspberry sorbet

Maine diver scallops



Taste of the sea with lobster, scallops, mussels, and an oyster

Chocolate hazelnut praline wafer



Our motivation for stopping in Sedona was to play at Seven Canyons, which was originally a private $100,000+ membership club before the economy tanked and they opened it to the public. The scenery was more spectacular than I could have imagined, with red rock walls serving as a backdrop on every hole. It is really a stunning course, one that I would be thrilled to play again, though the amenities were lacking (e.g., no clubhouse).

23
Jun
12

Mt. Charleston via Lee Canyon

When I started hiking in Nevada six years ago, I desperately wanted to reach the peak of Mt. Charleston. I never tried with the Meetup hiking group because they were typically faster hikers and I was concerned about keeping up (especially with my incessant picture-taking). I also wasn’t interested in attempting an 18-mile hike with 4500 ft elevation gain via North Loop/Trail Canyon or South Loop from Kyle Canyon. When my friend, Greg, from the gym mentioned that he had done Mt. Charleston via Lee Canyon, I knew the 10-mile round-trip hike was the one I wanted to try.

We parked at the ski resort and started up Keno run at 8am. The first part of the hike to get to North Loop Trail can be seen below: up the trail, along a creek in an avalanche chute, through the forest to the ridgeline, and follow that to the top part near the center of the photo.

At the point below, we’re leaving the ski trail and starting up the creek.

Eventually, the creek got too difficult (narrow, wet, trees down), so we started up through the forest. We saw a cairn immediately after leaving the creek but didn’t see another the whole way up.

After about three hours, over a mile of hiking, and 1400 ft elevation gain, we reached the North Loop Trail.

At this point, we could finally see Mt. Charleston peak.

The view into Kyle Canyon was stunning.

After about two hours of following the North Loop Trail, we reached the start of the switchbacks to get to the peak. I thought we wouldn’t see many other people on the trail, but a church group of about 70 people were on the trail that day, so bagging the peak seemed like less of a feat.

The switchbacks took about 45 minutes to get to the top. It was extremely windy at the summit, but I got the obligatory photos and enjoyed looking down on the Strip, across to Lake Mead, and behind to Pahrump.

We spent about 45 minutes at the top having lunch and, randomly, chatting with a chemistry professor from my hometown. Starting back down, we could see over to Lee Canyon where we began.

It took two hours to get back to the point where we needed to descend into the canyon. We weren’t certain which way to go down, but we followed the rocky ridgeline, where we found a series of cairns. We were expecting to be at the car in an hour, but we lost the cairns and found ourselves on an outcropping with no clear way down. We could see the ski slopes and the parking lot, but it took an extra two hours trying to find a safe way off of the ledge to get back into the forest to connect with the ski slope. We made it back to the car just as the sun was setting.

Finally reaching Charleston Peak was a thrill, and it was great to cut off so much distance by going through Lee Canyon, though in the end it didn’t save us any time. I would love to do it again, but next time I think I’ll try one of the routes I’ve found online that go up the Line run and a different chute. A larger set of photos that show more detailed points along the way are here.

23
Apr
12

Jaleo

My best friend, Jen, was in town from San Diego, and after working late Saturday at a beer tasting, we wanted to get dressed up and catch up over an indulgent meal. I had yet to visit The Cosmopolitan, despite it having been open almost a year and a half, so we picked Jaleo, José Andrés’ restaurant with a Spanish tapas menu. The atmosphere was perfect for what we wanted – a packed dining room with an energetic buzz that wasn’t too loud for us to have a conversation. We were seated at a table on the railing open to the hotel walkway so that we could enjoy the vibe of people coming from a show or heading to the club without actually having to do those things ourselves.

Our waitress was attentive but not intrusive, and she never pressured us to order more than we wanted (a concern I always have at small plates restaurants). The wine list was presented on an iPad, probably overkill for the amount of information it contained, but it was another touch that made the restaurant feel hip and modern. Our waitress helped us pick a few glasses of Spanish wine, and we ordered four small plates plus dessert, which were enough to satisfy our hunger without overdoing it after midnight.

  • The gambas con gabardina (batter-fried shrimp) were the perfect way to start the meal, as they got us over our desperate hunger without being too complex in taste to enjoy right off the bat. The black olive salt was a smart complement to the lightly battered shrimp. I could have ordered another round if it hadn’t been so late already.
  • The manzana con hinojo y queso Manchego (apple and fennel salad) was simple and light, with a touch of cheese to provide a salty kick to the tangy apple and fennel.
  • The rape a la Donostiarra (monkfish) was too much for two girls to share, but it was a good meat-alternative for someone who doesn’t go for the red stuff. I, myself, would go for some jamón instead next time.
  • The setas al ajillo con La Serena (wild mushrooms and potato purée) were pure comfort food, with a generous portion of perfectly seasoned mushrooms, my favorite food.
  • I usually don’t leave room for dessert, but for once I paced myself enough to share the pan con chocolate (chocolate custard and brioche ice cream), which was a great balance of rich chocolate, slightly salty ice cream, and sweet caramelized bread with a dash of olive oil that was an unexpected twist.

Jaleo is high on my list of Las Vegas restaurants, and I will start recommending it to my out-of-town visitors. The only negative I found was when, after the meal, I looked up the menu online to compare it to Jaleo in Washington DC as I planned for a future trip. I know that Las Vegas is expensive and we pay extra because the town caters to tourists and must ship all of its produce in fresh. However, I didn’t expect such vast price differences between the same restaurant in two different cities. In Las Vegas, the prices for the shrimp, salad, mushrooms, and dessert were $14, $12, $10, and $12 (the monkfish was $11), respectively. In DC, the prices for the same dishes are $10.50, $8.50, $8.00, and $7.50 (the monkfish is not on the menu in DC). That’s a $13.50 difference over only four dishes!!!

05
Feb
12

Birthday dinner at Michael Mina

Birthdays are the perfect excuse to get dressed up and try a new restaurant. I had hoped to finally try Comme Ça at the Cosmopolitan, a hotel I still haven’t visited since it opened over a year ago, but they were booked. My backup was Michael Mina at the Bellagio, where Brad has been several times when I’ve been out of town. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and the walk through the casino was eerie as everyone was gathered at the bars watching the game and absolutely no one was gambling. We walked through the Chinese New Year display at the Bellagio Conservatory and finally flagged someone down to take our photo. We were greeted at the door to the restaurant by the manager, who Brad has known for many years, and he immediately sent over two glasses of champagne and a caviar parfait. I’ve found that no matter how good the food is, the personality of the restaurant staff set the tone for the dinner and determine whether or not it will be a meal to remember. The food here was very good, but it was our waiter’s enthusiasm that made this a special meal.

Because it was my first time to Michael Mina, I wanted to try the dishes for which they are known, so we chose the tasting menu along with a fantastic bottle of Burgundy. It started with the best tuna tartare I’ve ever had, with a rich sesame flavor and an enjoyable texture from pine nuts. Even the toast points were outstanding. We continued with a mini lobster pot pie each. This is probably their most famous dish, and while the bisque-like broth was flavorful and the lobster chunks generous, I thought the vegetables were unnecessary and took away from the lobster flavor of the dish. Michael Mina is one of the few restaurants I’ve seen where the whole table doesn’t have to order the tasting menu, and they also allowed us to substitute out our main dish. I chose the phyllo-crusted sole, which was surprisingly light in a lemony crab sauce. Brad stuck with the Kobe rib eye, which was good but didn’t stand out in my mind compared to other steaks I’ve had. Our palate was cleansed with a hot apple cider, and finally they brought the dessert spread: brownie with ice cream, peanut butter and jelly bonbon, brown sugar wafer filled with a vanilla cream, and the famous root beer float. I had been full since the lobster course, so it was hard to enjoy the bevy of desserts, but Brad and I both agreed that we could eat a bucket of the brown sugar wafers. There are so many other things on the menu that I wanted to try, so Michael Mina has definitely worked its way into our Strip restaurant rotation, especially if we can get the same waiter again who was overflowing with personality.




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© Cheryl Coon and Loving Vegas Living, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cheryl Coon and Loving Vegas Living with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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