Monday, June 30, 2008

Grub thoughts... an updated version



This blog post was published a while ago, but as time goes on, we discover more great places to enjoy here in Las Vegas. So I'm updating this to include some new favorites. They're at the end, in case you've already read this and want to scroll down to the newer additions.

The first full year that we lived in Las Vegas, we counted 34 different weekends that we had company! You'll discover friends and relatives you never knew existed when living in a resort destination! And although most of our guests stay on the Las Vegas Strip, dining there doesn't always guarantee you're going to find the best meals in town. There are so many hidden jewels for dining, some just a short drive away from the Strip. The places listed below feature some great food, and much more reasonable prices than what you'll find on the Strip.

As my family would say - Mangia!
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Lotus of Siam
953 E Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89104
(702) 735-3033
www.saipinchutima.com

A writer for Gourmet Magazine said this might possibly be the best Thai restaurant in the United States. Who knows if that's true, but this one must rank among the top. There isn't a bad meal on the menu, and there are some dishes there make me want to curl up and purr. Try the Catfish Salad, and don't forget the desert of Mango, coconut ice cream and sticky rice.

When you order, you'll want to specify the degree of spiciness, from 1-10. Somewhere around 1-4 is palatable, anything higher and you might want to bring a fire extinguisher. There isn't enough Thai beer in the city to put out that fire.

The location of this isn't far from the Strip, it's located in a funky, seedy-looking strip mall. If you look to the East, you'll find the infamous Green Door. Ask any Marilyn Chambers fan and you'll know what I mean.
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The Florida Cafe
Inside the Howard Johnson Hotel
1401 Las Vegas Blvd. S
Las Vegas, NV 89104
(702) 385-3013
www.floridacafecuban.com/

Who even knew that there are still Ho Jo's in America?

I'd been hearing good things about this place for a while, but we only recently dined at the Florida Cafe. It's located in the wedding chapel district, where many of the 24 hour chapels are, just up from the Stratosphere. Imagine getting married by an Elvis impersonator, eating Cuban food for your reception, and then hopping on one of the rides atop the Stratosphere for the beginning of your honeymoon. Talk about memorable.

Speaking of memorable, the Cuban sandwiches here are tasty and filling, and the cafe con leche will make you feel like you're in Miami. To add seven years to your life, try the crispy plantains. Yum.
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Firefly on Paradise
3900 Paradise Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 369-3971
www.fireflylv.com/

I'm sort of on the bubble about this place - some meals there have been absolutely fabulous, and others, mild disasters! But they serve great food, and the people watching possibilities are endless.

Did I mention the liquor?

Try a pitcher of Mojitos or Sangria for starters. Then DO NOT MISS the stuffed dates or the roast pork and red pepper Empanadas. Or the Filet Mignon Sliders. Much of the menu features tapas, smaller, appetizer sized portions meant for sharing. It's often noisy and the service can be iffy, but it's great for a different Las Vegas experience.

Major gourmet grub. Try not to rubberneck too much!
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Viva Zapatas Mexican Restaurant & Cantina
3826 E Craig Rd
North Las Vegas, NV 89030
(702) 643-8888

Don't judge the food by the exterior! This little gem is sandwiched between a gas station and a muffler shop. It's at least a 10-15 minute drive from the Strip, but I think worth the trouble. What you'll save by not dining on the Strip will pay for the cab.

It's one of my favorite places in the city. You MUST order guacamole made tableside, and don't forget extra cilantro! Great food, great Margaritas, and friendly staff.
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Agave
10820 W. Charleston Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89145
(702) 214-3500
www.agavelasvegas.com

Speaking of Mexican food, if you find yourself out in Summerlin, you might want to check out Agave, if for no other reason to see check out the beautiful interior of this place. It's beyond fabulous, and worth the trip to this part of the city.

Their food is more "Americanized" and some people complain it's a far cry from authentic Mexican fare.

Whatever.

Try the Chile Rellanos stuffed with Rock Shrimp, or the Lobster Empanadas. Or the Barbecued Duck Quesadillas... authentic? Probably not, but damn delicious!

Did I mention the Tequila Bar? It's enormous.
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BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse
10840 W Charleston Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89136
(702) 853-2300
www.bjsrestaurants.com

A fun brewpub that not only serves great beer, but is kid friendly. Huh?

BJ's is a chain from SoCal, and serves some great meals, so that you can wash them down with their hand crafted beers. Try the beer sampler, if you can't make up your mind. I'm partial to the deep dish pizza, but hey- if I were sentenced to die in the electric chair, pizza and beer would be my last meal.

Do they serve beer in prison?

BJ's is also located in Summerlin, in fact, it's nearly next door to Agave (see above)... those people in Summerlin are damn lucky!

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Cheap Eats

Roberto's Taco Shop

This little gem also started in SoCal in the mid 1960s and spread to Las Vegas, making many people here very happy. Besides being open 24 hours, and having numerous locations all over the city, their food is cheap, delicious, and authentic. The first time I visited, I ordered a TON of food, wanting to sample everything because it smelled so good! They packed up 5 huge bags of food, and charged me around $30. I thought they made a mistake and had undercharged me! Or had forgotten something. But they checked the bill and assured me it was correct. It was probably enough grub to feed 8 people.

I don't recommend eating in their various locations, I consider it more of a carryout, since there are only a few tables, all of questionable cleanliness. But their food is great, and you'll find yourself wanting to stop there on the way home from a long day. You can't make a meal this good for yourself at home. No way.

My favorite is a chicken burrito with guacamole; it's the size of my forearm and feels like it has a pound of chicken in it. For about $5.00 Talk about a deal!
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Capriottis Sandwich Shop
www.capriottis.com/

Like Roberto's above, Capriotti's are located all over the Vegas valley, and feature outrageous sandwiches that you'll crave long after you've left Vegas. Unless you have an appetite like a Kobayashi, the six-time hot dog-eating world champion, order a small. The large sandwiches are off the hook, as Guy Fieri would say.

They have a HUGE selection of vegetarian "meats" not to mention the Bobbie, a Turkey dinner on a bun. It includes turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and mayo. Forget about a traditional Thanksgiving meal- pick up one of these and head to Red Rock for a picnic. URP.

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Drinks!

Red Square
Mandalay Bay Hotel
3950 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119
(702) 632-7407
www.mandalaybay.com/dining/redsquare.aspx

I'm just guessing, but I'd say the average Las Vegan doesn't visit the Strip, unless they work there. Too much traffic, too expensive, the reasons are numerous. And while some of the Strip restaurants there are just wonderful, you can't live here and regularly drop a few hundred on a meal. It's insane. There is one place, however, that I feel deserves a mention here. It's a restaurant, yes, but it's also a bar, and that's the real reason to visit Red Square.

If the decapitated statue of Lenin outside isn't enough to draw you in, nor the 25' bar made of ice, the vodka vault might do it. Borrow a mink coat and hat and step into the 10 degree cooler, sampling one of 200 vodkas with your friends. The martini list is awesome; for something sweet, try a Key Lime Martini. For a severe buzz, try the Chernobyl.

Just be sure you're not driving home!

This place is everything that's fun about Vegas and more- great booze, lots of fun people, a truly amazing experience. I went there with a group of friends for my birthday celebration one year, and ended up doing shots with 4 tourists that were in town for a convention! I'm not sure, but I may have crawled home. Who can remember?

And I don't even consider myself to be a big drinker!

I could write about this place for two hours and not capture the true essence of this place. Try this link and see what everyone else has to say: Yelp:Red Square


One last thing- this place is expensive.... but it might be worth every penny.

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Some new additions to this list...

Dragonfly, an Asian Joint
3900 Paradise Rd.
702-699-9633

Dragonfly on Paradise.

Located next door to it's sister restaurant, Firefly, Dragonfly offers some of the best sushi we've had in LV. We arrived early, because we were attending a concert at the Hard Rock, which is nearly across the street. Imagine our surprise to learn it was happy hour, which offered some great deals on their food.

If you like spicy rolls, you can't go wrong with a Volcano roll, and the Tuna Sliders were simply fabulous. One of my pet peeves is restaurants that serve boring (naked) edamame, so I was nicely surprised to find their take on edamame had a little bite to it. I'm guessing it was a dusting of cayenne in their sesame vinaigrette.

The lobster fan among us ordered a Vegas roll and once again, a very pleasant surprise. Huge chunks of lobster, outstanding presentation.

With all the great places to eat here in LV, one of the true tests of a restaurant is if we would want to return, and Dragonfly deserves a definite yes. Well worth fighting the small parking lot and dodging the limos from the nearby Ruth Chris Steakhouse.

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Kings Fishhouse
2255 Village Walk Drive, Suite 139
at The District, in Henderson
702-835-8900
http://www.kingsfishhouse.com

One of the nicest things about King's is that they offer some fish that you won't find in the more mainstream seafood restaurants - like Sandabs, for one. Never had them? You MUST! on your next visit. Their oyster selection is vast, which is great considering we're in the middle of the desert.

Our only complaint EVER (and we've visited their place quite often) was with their sauteed spinach. After ordering some fried fish, it's nice to trick yourself into thinking you're eating healthy by ordering the spinach. But we've found that the garlic is not only plentiful, but often nearly raw. Great for keeping the vampires away, but not so great when it's oozing out your skin for the next three days.

My advice? Ask for it well done when you place your order, and you'll be fine.


They've finally updated their website to include a menu, and they even have a few recipes, as well. You may want to visit their site to see if they have a location near you. You'll be dreaming about the Sandabs for days.

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A couple of final thoughts-

First- what a great city if you love food, like I do. I feel particularly lucky to have been raised by parents who exposed me to a huge variety of food at an early age. Foodwise, everything about this city is superb. The Asian markets sell sushi grade fish at very reasonable prices, and there's a Hispanic store here that has a produce department to die for.

Finally, when I just reread this, checking it for errors, misspellings, etc., it dawned on me that I sound like a big drunk! I'm not, but I do enjoy pairing food with an appropriate libation. In fact, I have a copy of Modern Drunkard magazine on my coffee table, but only because it has a killer martini recipe in it.

Speaking of Modern Drunkard, check this out: You know you're a Drunkard when...

Note: this post is my opinion, and mine only. I have no intention to tick anyone off, or offend any readers, and I certainly don't own stock in any of these places! Please drink and eat responsibly!


Vashe Zdorovie!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Forget the grocery stores... come to the Farmer's Market

Starting Friday, June 27, I will be participating in the Farmer's Market located at Nature Discovery Park, in Las Vegas.

It's up in the northwest part of the city, near the intersection of the 215 and Aliante Parkway. The park is easy to find, it's on the southeast side of the
intersection. What a great space, we're located by the duck pond.

This event is held each Friday, from 2-7, and I'll be displaying mostly ceramic work, featuring my sushi dinnerware sets. When the weather cools down a bit, I may even try to display some of the furniture I build. And I'm always up for discussing your ideas for something you'd like me to build for your home.

Join me and the other vendors at this very laid back event, where you can buy fresh produce
and some of the best popcorn on the planet. And in a few weeks - you'll be able to shop for artisan breads, great barbecue, and much more.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

MBS

A long time ago, I worked with a woman who had a make believe language that she frequently used. You know- the kind of thing that you occasionally hear about with twins, or some remote tribe. I'm pretty sure a few of her genes had been rotated through some close family members. That probably accounted for her uniqueness.

Which reminds me of the wedding reception I attended in West Virginia, where they served moonshine, but that's another story.


If nothing else, she made time
on the job pass quickly.

I'm bringing this up because, once, she told me that she had a folder in her filing cabinet
labeled "MBS", which I found completely amusing. I could barely wrap my head around the fact that she even had a filing cabinet in the first place.


But when she told me that MBS was the official designation for all the Miscellaneous Bull Shit that she needed to file, but didn't know where it belonged - well, I knew I would store that gem away for a later date. Like now.

So - here's my official MBS list, I haven't included something like this in a while.

1 - File this in the "I thought
MY neighbor is the biggest idiot I know" folder, straight from Craigslist. (This doesn't let my neighbor off the hook, by the way.)

2- Speaking of neighbors, you NEED to check out this site. I was going to post something about my neighbor on this site, but then someone suggested that if I ever wanted to sell my home, no one would want to buy it. So that nixed that idea, but... oh, the stories I could tell....

I think the Skank Alert on that site is particularly informative. :)

3 - Last summer, I planted two cherry tomato plants, only to have the garden overrun with those funky tomato hookworms. It must be something from a past life, but those things creep me out.


I tried every method I could to get rid of them, eventually resorting to something totally disgusting. Honestly, I felt like a serial killer last summer. This year, I'm going to try to embrace the process.

This Etsy artist is on the right track. I love, Love, LOVE her work.




I hope someone reminds me next spring to skip the tomatoes. It's occurred to me that it might be a lot simpler to simply buy some tomatoes at my local Farmer's Market.

In fact, I still have 15 pounds of tomatoes in the freezer from last year, and don't know what to do with them. I'm not sure they're worth all this attention.

Why do we do these things to ourselves?


4 - This column is completely inappropriate and politically incorrect, but never fails to make me laugh. It's from Las Vegas CityLife newspaper, which lends new meaning to the phrase "truth in journalism." Sign up for the weekly feed and join the multicultural revolution.

5 - Let's file this in the "I don't think I'll be going to a picnic at your house" folder.

6 - I received a letter from LL Bean today, it was a bit of a shocker, but a nice one. See, a few months ago, someone told me about a Catalog Choice, a website that helps to remove your name from catalog mailing lists. I think I counted 60 catalogs that I opted out of receiving - enough is enough! I don't even look at catalogs any more, they go straight in the trash or recycling. What a waste.

Anyway, LL Bean was the only company that wrote me a letter, saying that they had removed my name from their mailing list. Nice. At the bottom of their letter, they quoted their founder - "Above all things, we wish to avoid having a dissatisfied customer."

Even though I really don't wear their gear anymore, reading that comment from them makes me want to shop at their store again.

Well, sort of, but not really.

7 - An amazing duet.

8 - Maybe it's the price of gas or the over the top consumerism, but I've jumped on the "Buy Local" bandwagon. In fact, I've started shopping at the local Farmer's Markets here, where I can buy anything from fresh bread to produce, great kettle corn to rib dinners. All from local sellers, what could be better? If you're tired of buying produce that's trucked in from 900 miles away, maybe you should look for a farmer's market in your town.


9 - I know this site has been around for
a while, but every now and then, I get hooked on it again. PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.

It's like legal voyeurism.

And finally ...

10 - If you've followed this blog, you know I've mentioned Bri, of the food blog "Figs with Bri." Bloggers across the world (yes, the world) have joined efforts to raise money for her, as she fights not only cancer, but financial terrorism inflicted by insurance companies. I'm thrilled to announce that her fundraising goal was met, nearly three weeks ahead of schedule.

But speaking of cancer and fundraisers, my sister in law is in the fight of the century, battling gastric cancer. Debbie just started her 4th round of chemo this week, and while she remains upbeat, it's very difficult, both physically and mentally. We have a LiveStrong fundraising campaign going on, I hope you'll take a minute to look at our page and maybe even give a few bucks.




Thursday, June 12, 2008

Anyone for Dim Sum?



Working in my studio in the early morning hours is the best. It's cooler, and the light is great. But even better, there's a fellow on my local NPR station that I enjoy listening to - Dave Berns. He has a buttery voice, and his interviews have just the right amount of sweetness and "in yo' face" inquisition.

So imagine my delight when he interviewed the Las Vegas Review Journal food writer, Heidi Knapp Rinella, this morning. I've been a fan of her columns for a few years now, especially her "Taste of the Town" column where people write in, asking where they can buy different food stuffs around the Vegas valley. Some requests are downright bizarre, but most write in, trying to find something they used to buy "back home." See, Las Vegas is a land of mostly transplanted people, so it's common to miss regional foods from wence you came.

Come to think of it, Heidi never got back to me about trying to find Himachi here, I'll need to write to her again...

But listening to Dave's interview, I started thinking about food and eating, which is common when I work. I'll spend my working hours dreaming up what I'll be cooking for dinner that night. And depending on the weather, and what's ripe in the garden, I'll either grill or make sushi.

Call me silly, but I think cooking is relaxing.

And I was thrilled to hear that Heidi thinks the same thing. In her interview, she said after a long day at work, she loves to get into her kitchen and cook the night away. I couldn't agree more. Pour a glass of wine and rip apart a baguette and I'm pretty much in heaven.

Which brings me around to this sushi plate/dim sum platter. I was thinking about making PotStickers tonight. This platter is the perfect way to serve them.

I had a "vision" about a year and a half ago, this design just popped into my mind, and I've written about it a few times here. Scroll down a bit and you can read more about the special drill bit I made to form the small bowl within the platter.



I start with a plaster form, and while it's still relatively soft, drill the recessed area.



Once the female half is finished, it's covered with a soft slab of clay, enclosed back in the form, and the male part of the mold is poured. That way, both halves match perfectly. OK, I'm a little anal.




I labeled them and made small registration marks, which makes life easier later on. Notice that I marked where the bowl is located; once the slab is on top of it, you'll have no idea where the impression is located. I learned that the hard way, as you might suspect.



So I start with some ultra soft clay and roll out a nice slab. Now starts the tricky part...


video


Then, some work on the wheel ...


video



video


I need to make the three "feet" that go on the underside of this platter, so I used my handy extruder for that. The one I own is a....




and it's quite similar to a hand held caulking gun. I give it a quick spritz of WD-40 and squeezed out a few "tubes" of clay. I actually had a short video of this, but it was rather disgusting, so I thought felt it was best to skip the video.

Trust me on this.





Below, the platter is setting up nicely, and is just about ready for the feet to be added.





So I'll flip it over onto it's mated form, and add the feet.


video



I'm starting to get the hang of making these short videos. If anyone has questions or suggestions about different ways to make this, please feel free to contact me. Hope you enjoyed this!




Thursday, June 05, 2008

Grandmothers and the internets

My grandmother never flew on an airplane, much less did anything else that would be considered completely normal today.


Never wore pants.

Had 14 kids and as far as I know, never entered a hospital.


Never drove.

Never really learned to read or write.


Honestly, I don't even think she knew what Tylenol was.
I know,
it makes my head spin, too.


So she wouldn't have the faintest clue about how this
Fundraiser for Bri came to be.

I can just hear her say...."Che cosa è il Internet?" Or "Chi è Bri?"

In my last post, I offered to donate the proceeds of my next Etsy sale to Bri, who is battling breast cancer. Within hours of that post, one of my sushi sets was purchased, paid for, packaged and mailed to Jai and Bee from Jugalbandi. As soon as I shipped it, I forwarded the proceeds to Bri.

It's an amazing fundraiser for an amazing woman. I wish
I could have done more. And as some of you might know, my own sister in law is battling cancer right now, too. Check out Trekking for Debbie to read more.

What's up with all the cancer?

Which brings me back to my grandmother, who by the way, had breast cancer among other things when she died at age 91.


She would have been amazed at the rapidity of the fundraiser. Amazed that the internets (thanks GWB) connects all of us together on this planet. Amazed that someone from Belgium or Beijing can read this blog. Forget about being able to instant message each other, that would have blown her mind.

Well, come to think of it, it sort of freaked her out that I was a woodworker. I know she was secretly proud, but modestly wondered why I chose that field. She never really had a clue that women could do the things we do today.