Friday, April 27, 2012

Wicked Spoon--Las Vegas, NV

It was with a lot of anticipation that we went to Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan on the Strip two weeks ago for brunch. One could even say our trip to Vegas was in part motivated by the buffet there. I even fasted the night before to make the most of our visit. Was it all that? Visually, yes. The spread was so enticing and attractive that it was easy to forget that this was a buffet. Until we tried the pork shoulder. That's when the, well, hard reality hit us. The pork was overdone and tougher than leather. It's hard to make everything right at a buffet. Only the Ritz Carleton in Half Moon Bay has managed to pull of that trick. This wasn't a made-to-order restaurant and food invariably sits under a heat lamp while waiting for customers. 

I must emphasize, though, that a lot of things--most things, in fact--turned out well. And, I cheerfully recommend Wicked Spoon and would consider it a privilege to return. The homemade bacon, sausage and goat cheese ravioli were all delicious and worthy of seconds and thirds. The sauce for the ravioli was creamy, warm and the flavor not far off from that of chicken broth. Also up there among the best were the Scotch eggs, or hard-boiled eggs wrapped in pork sausage. How decadent is that? I also appreciated that we were served all the fresh orange juice we could drink.

The desserts were the most impressive part of the buffet. The lava cake packed a wallop of chocolate flavor. I finished with a raspberry gelatto and I couldn't think of a better way to cap the brunch. It was smooth, creamy, cold and flavorful. Just as with all the other desserts, the gelatto was made on the fourth floor of the hotel. As a family it seemed we couldn't get enough. We fought through our sated appetites, tight pants and bulging bellies to get more. Tyler got three servings. His favorite flavor was Mint Chocolate Chip.

Looking back, the presentation of Wicked Spoon played a critical role in making our dining experience such a positive one. Namely, what makes the Wicked Spoon distinctive is the individual servings, which added a measure of civility and decorum. We didn't need to dive into a trough as we would at any other buffet. In fact, in some ways Wicked Spoon may have even over-reached. The buns for the banh-mi's, as appealing as they may have been, were more like Peking duck wrappers than the authentic bread for the Vietnamese sandwich. And, the Chinese items were packaged in the traditional little white to-go boxes so often seen in Chinese restaurants. It was a cute wrinkle, but the closed boxes prevented us from seeing what we were actually getting.

Other minor issues: The ham was super salty. Also, silverware was unusually difficult to come by. The only way to get another fork for, say, dessert, was to rob the next table of its place setting. You'd think silverware would be available where the food is located. Also, there was no milk with the cereal (despite our begging the boys to eat the serious stuff, kids are kids). So, we had to ask our server for some.

Despite the shortcomings, though, Wicked Spoon was a great treat and even a great value (the four of us got in for about $65). It's perhaps the first place I'd go back to eat when I return to Las Vegas. And, I'll make it a full 24-hour fast instead of a mere 18-.

Wicked Spoon Buffet
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Blvd S

Las VegasNV 89109
(702) 698-7000

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jean Philippe Patisserie, Bellagio--Las Vegas, NV

As a certificate, issued by the Guinness Book of World Records, near its entrance proudly states, Jean Philippe at the  Bellagio in Las Vegas is home to the world's tallest chocolate fountain. Being 27 feet high and circulating two tons of chocolate, it surely appears to be quite the attention-getter. Yet, it stood like a mere sideshow compared to the treats available for sale in the store. Available were desserts in just about every class imaginable: gelatos, chocolates, pastries, cakes and creative individual delights.
When we visited last week, we settled on a cupcake that had a shiny chocolate dome, which itself was chocolate mousse. The packaging made it distinctive and made me feel like I was walking away with expensive jewelry or fine china. In any case, it was at the very least a work of art. Ever into appearances, even Jean Philippe's plasticware had a fine metallic sheen. After opening the box, we didn't pop the cupcake out of the packaging as one might with a traditional cupcake. This cake truly came in a cup. So, instead, we used a fork to eat the mousse and then dig into the soft moist cake itself.
With so many beautiful desserts positioned along the arc where the lined formed, one needed an enormous amount of self restraint while waiting to pay. But, with individual desserts priced up to $10 (our cupcake was $5.50), cost places a restriction. The line starts to get long, by the way, at about 10:00 am. Don't arrive too early, though. The desserts, especially the tarts and individual creations involving fruit, don't come out until about 9:30 or so.
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tournament of Kings, Excalibur Hotel and Casino--Las Vegas, NV

This afternoon we got back home from our trip to Las Vegas and what an enjoyable vacation is was! Last night we went to the Excalibur to watch the Tournament of Kings. The show was a thrill for the kids, who enjoy swords, horses and knights. Take note, though: The Excalibur warns you ahead of time that if you're asthmatic you may want to think twice about attending this show. I'm asthmatic and started wheezing about a third of the way through. Although the show was a joy to watch, I really wanted to leave and get some fresh air. The difficulty, though, was that I was trapped in the middle of my row. The seating is much like that at a stadium but with a counter in front of you, making it all the more difficult for people to move out of your way. So, I was indeed a captive audience.

Dinner began at about the same time the show did and we were given tomato soup for starters. The soup was served piping hot from a pitcher and we drank from the bowl directly. To set the mood, there was no silverware, so you needed to use your fingers to eat everything, even the main course. I liked the soup, but Jenny thought it tasted like tomato sauce. Next came the entree, which was broccoli, potatoes, buttermilk biscuit and a roasted small whole chicken--probably a Cornish game hen. The chicken was slightly overdone, and peeling the tough, dry breast off with fingers was no easy task. The dark meat, however, was right on. The broccoli stalks were huge and provided a nice handle for even the largest hands. We finished with an apple pastry, which featured a crust as light as air, yet good and chewy.

You can have Pepsi, Diet Pepsi or water with your meal. Other drinks are available at an additional cost. The meal portion was $20.49 of the $65.56 ticket. I heard you can forgo the dinner and get the show only, but I didn't see anyone go that route. By the way, twice we tried to get tickets the day of the show to get them on the cheap, but the show kept selling out. So, we gave in and bought tickets two days ahead of time. From what I could tell, there was a full house for our performance also.

My family enjoyed the show, though my dad thought it was a little violent. I have no regrets about bringing my seven-year-old boys and I'm pretty conservative about how I raise them. A few of the knights stayed after the show to pose for photos, much to the delight of many kids, including one of mine. So, even though Jenny and I both thought the meal had its shortcomings here and there, it was only barely noticed because the of the show, which starts fairly promptly, by the way--within five minutes of the stated showtime. I recommend that if you can bear the $66 per head it's certainly worth going, especially if you have children. Again, however, please take the allergy and asthma warning to heart.

The entrance to the show is in the basement in the arcade.

Excalibur Hotel and Casino
3850 Las Vegas S Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 597-7777

Friday, April 6, 2012

Koto Japanese Steak House--Redwood City, CA

With the kids wanting to get out and be entertained on a rainy Saturday--and with the two parents wanting something a little out of the ordinary--teppenyaki came calling for us. With Jenny finding a $20 certificate on the internet for $10, we hustled off to Koto in Redwood City.

The main draw of teppenyaki is, of course, the show put on by the cook and we weren't disappointed by his artistry. He twirled his tools of the trade, made eggs dance and hop with his spatula and got our attention with a gigantic fire. Oh yes, the fire. It should be known before go that this fire is big and tall (three feet maybe?). It scared my wife and Tyler. The cook warned all of us that a fire was coming up and he did it just to set the mood. It was all in good fun, though, and the cook followed up the intro with some fine fried rice. He used a lot of garlic butter and just when you thought he was done with it he went back to add another scoop.

The vegetables, shrimp and chicken, cooked together, followed. The chicken was overdone but the quantity was tremendous. The shrimp was just right and I have to give the cook credit for getting the correct amount of doneness even though he had a show to put on. What really impressed, though, was the New York strip, which he nailed. I asked for medium rare and it was exactly what I got. I had the leftovers for lunch two days later and it tasted even better.

While we watched the cook work his magic, we nibbled on our salad. It was the first time I'd ever seen Tyler eat salad. And, he did so voraciously. He ate so much, in fact that he not only plowed through his own bowl but Dylan's as well.

In sum? The quality of the dinner itself could have been better. Not only was the chicken overdone, for example, but the noodles were salty. And, the servers spoke Mandarin, bringing to question the authenticity of the experience. Moreover, the sequential nature of teppenyaki means your meal gets served one part at a time and you won't be able to enjoy hot fried rice, chicken and steak all together. But, some of the food at Koto was top notch (fried rice, shrimp and steak) and the price, especially for a family with kids, was hard to beat. For children, the Hibachi chicken was a great value at $7, which will get your children a salad, noodles (or fried rice), a shrimp (yes, a single shrimp) and more chicken than many adults can handle. Also, there are opportunities out there to knock down the overall price a little. In addition to the discounted gift certificate there are also Grand Opening specials floating out there that will give you 15% off plus another $5 off if your bill is $50 or more. But, perhaps best of all, the cook will have your kids entranced for half an hour. How can you put a price on that?

Koto Japanese Steak House
373 Main St
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 368-3888