Three Dinners And A Red-Eye (A Las Vegas Food Adventure)

What do you do when, with only a few days left in the calendar year, you find yourself 1,100 miles short of United Premier Gold status?

This is the first-world problem dilemma my dear husband, Peter, recently faced.

After commuting from San Diego to Chicago for six months he said (in slightly more colorful language) that he would be darned if he was going to miss out on the perks of Premier Gold.

Peter’s solution: a foodie trip to Las Vegas.

We were able to get great fares because apparently not many folks zip off to Vegas in the middle of the week before Christmas.

Las Vegas Food Adventure

We arrived just in time for dinner on night one.

Jaleo Las Vegas Food AdventureJaleo is a fabulous tapas restaurant by the incomparable José Andrés.

We have been to the original Jaleo in Washington DC many, many, many times so, naturally, we were anxious to visit the Las Vegas location.

What a great way to kick off our Las Vegas food adventure.

Although the tapas dining experience generally works better with a large group because you can order and taste more dishes, the two of us did our very best.

Of the eight small plates we selected, one was just as delicious as the next. How can you go wrong with taste treats like lamb chops in a honey aioli?!?!

Jaleo lamb in homey aioli Las Vegas Food AdventureBut my favorite dish of the night – one that never, never disappoints – was the patatas bravas.

Jaleo patatas bravas Las Vegas Food AdventurePatatas bravas by José Andrés are the patatas bravas by which all others should be judged.

After dinner we strolled back to our hotel, the lovely Aria Resort.

Aria Las Vegas

We went to sleep dreaming of chorizo bites and white asparagus and awoke refreshed, ready for day two.

This probably won’t come as a surprise to any of you but, other than visiting the casinos, there is not much to do during the day in Vegas. Especially when it is 45° outside.

What is one to do? Why not add another culinary experience to the itinerary?

Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Las Vegas Food AdventureBobby Flay’s Mesa Grill was a delightful spot to stop for lunch.

Peter enjoyed an incredible bowl of pumpkin soup (which I didn’t get a picture of because I was too busy stealing tastes) and I was very happy with my shrimp tacos.

Mesa Grill shrimp tacos Las Vegas Food AdventureAlso, my Cactus Pear Margarita.

The people watching in Las Vegas is legendary. Not only the visitors from all over the world but the wacky characters who spend their days entertaining tourists on the Strip.

We saw Storm Troopers, Ewoks, Hello Kitty, show girls, “police women” in fishnet stockings and, of course, Elvis. This particular Elvis was decked out in the full white suit, gobs of jewelry and perfectly coiffed hair; cruising the Strip on his mobility scooter.

We even saw Mickey and Minnie. Sort of. These particular characters were dressed like Mickey and Minnie but holding their heads on their hips as they took a cigarette break.

Walt Disney is rolling over in his grave.

Soon it was time to tear ourselves away from the freak show on the Strip to enjoy dinner number two.

Craftsteak Las Vegas Food AdventureAs fans of Top Chef, we looked forward to seeing what Chef Tom Colicchio’s had in store for us.

The food at Craftsteak was outstanding. Delicious salads, delicious sides and steaks cooked to perfection.

The one recommendation I would make, however, would be to order à la carte. Peter and I took advantage of the tasting menu option because it sounded like it would give us the opportunity to try lots of different dishes and we were, after all, on a Las Vegas food adventure.

Craftsteak Las Vegas Food Adventure

It was WAAAAAAAAY too much food. Lobster bisque, three different salads, three different sides and a full sized steak each. All fantastic, just too much. Dessert (actually 3 desserts) were included but we turned those down when we saw the main course.

Our last day was spent strolling around the Aria.

We discovered that the resort boasts 3 pools: one for regular schlubs like us, one for the fancy pants folks staying in “The Tower” and The Liquid Pool for The Beautiful People.

Aria Liquid poolUpscale stylish swimwear required. You can leave your Target cover-up and flip flops in your room. And your chains.

Also, the Liquid Pool and Lounge is a drug free zone. Hence:

Aria amnesty boxI have so many questions about the Amnesty Box.

Don’t you imagine that there is a security camera on the box in case of theft?

Not much amnesty if there is a security camera, right?

Whose job is it to empty the box? Does that person insist there was never anything in the box, all the while running a lucrative drug business on the side selling what was actually in the box????

So.Many.Questions…

Our final dinner before hopping on the red-eye flight home was at Scarpetta by Scott Conant (as seen on Chopped).

Scarpetta Las Vegas Food AdventureBy this point in our adventure we were looking for something simple yet satisfying and we both found it here.

Peter chose the roasted chicken which he loved. I was drawn to the spaghetti but wondered if I was playing it too safe.

Literally it was listed on the menu as “Spaghetti.tomato.basil”. Let me tell you it was the best plate of spaghetti I have ever tasted.

Home run, Mr. Conant.

Before heading to the airport, we killed a little bit of time playing the penny slot machines. I wasted wagered about $25 having the best luck with my leprechaun friends.

Las Vegas slot machineBut, alas, the little green men giveth and the little green men taketh away.

Las Vegas cash out voucherWe left with a penny in our pocket, full tummies and enough miles for Gold status.

The Las Vegas food adventure was a success.

Do you have any favorite Las Vegas restaurants? Or people-watching stories? Where would you have gone to tally the 1,100 miles needed?

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A Weekend In Lovely Cleveland

Cleveland. Who knew?

When my dear husband invited me to come along on his work trip to Cleveland, I was a bit hesitant. But he wooed me with the promise of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and dinner at Michael Symon’s restaurant, Lola.

Rest assured that I booked my own flight for this trip – I did not want a repeat of the trip to Cape Cod.

After a series of flight delays (causing us to wonder why we just didn’t drive ourselves from Chicago), me made it to Cleveland late Saturday afternoon.

Peter grew up in nearby Akron but has rarely been back to the area since his parents moved away 30 years ago.

During those 30 years, Cleveland has gone downhill then come back up again.

Thanks to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a new ballpark, downtown casino and the loyalty of local folks like Chef Michael Symon, the city has rebuilt itself as a great destination.

And all over the city there are signs that Cleveland is filled with optimism for the future.

The hotel we stayed in used to be an urban shopping area called The Arcade. Its stunning atrium gives a hint of the bygone era while clearly showing hope that the glory days will return in full force.

Hyatt Cleveland

Setting up for a wedding in the atrium.

Honestly, if this building was in New York or Chicago it would be one of the hottest spots in town.

The location was perfect: within walking distance of all the downtown attractions and easy access to the 4th Street dining area.

4th Street Dining are

Our destination for dinner was Chef Michael Symon’s restaurant, Lola.

Lola Cleveland

Peter was smitten the moment the waitress brought over the wine list on an iPad.

Peter spent hours an appropriate amount of time pouring over the wine choices then deep diving to screen after screen showing tasting notes, recommendations and all sorts of geeky wine info.

Bliss!

We started our meal with the Corn and Pepper Soup special and the Burrata and Stone Fruit appetizer (with Thai basil, puffed rice and banyuls vinegar).

Corn soup and burrata and stone fruit starters

Talk about bliss!

Peter paired our starters with a Sancerre (the French version of Sauvignon Blanc with less of the citrusy quality found in California Sauvignon Blanc) and a Dry Riesling. Perfection!

For his main course, Peter chose the Smoked Pork Chop with chiles, creamed corn and BBQ onions.

I didn’t get a picture of it because I was too mesmerized by my dish: Beef Hangar Steak with pickle sauce (?!?!), chiles and Lola fries.

Hangar steak with pickle sauce

The pickle sauce was intriguing. Hard to describe. It really just gave a hint of that salty, vinagery flavor of pickles. Delicious beyond words.

Peter paired our main courses with a fabulous 2009 Chateau St. Georges Saint-Emilion from Bordeaux.

2009 St. Georges Saint-Emilion

Peter and I have been lucky enough to dine in lots and lots of amazing restaurants and both agree we would put Lola right up there with the best of them.

Be sure to book a reservation at Lola on your next (first?) trip to Cleveland. You will not be disappointed.

After dinner we stopped into a couple of places to listen to music. This guy, at Zocolo, was fantastic.

Zocolo singer

He sang all the favorites you would hear at a wedding: Brown Eyed Girl, Living on a Prayer, Sweet Caroline… You name it, he sang it.

It was the perfect wedding day prep for the table of adorable bachelorette party goers celebrating a night on the town.

And speaking of music…

Up next, a definite “must-see” destination, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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Uno Mas Mexican Restaurant In The Glen

We have a new favorite restaurant in town.

Uno Mas recently opened in The Glen Town Center, taking the place of another Mexican restaurant whose claim to “fame” was their margaritas made with grain alcohol.

Uno Mas in The Glen

Uno Mas – The Glen Town Center – Glenview

Since moving back from California, one thing we have missed has been good Mexican food. Not the Taco Bell type (although there is a time and a place for a good chalupa) but really interesting, delicious, Mexican food.

Peter and I are huge fans of Rick Bayless and his Topolobampo and Frontera Grill restaurants and we visit as often as we can. But, sadly, they are not in our neighborhood.

Uno Mas is!

The first clue to how much I’m going to like a Mexican restaurant comes with the chips and salsa.

I like my chips either thick and crunchy (bonus points if they are warm) or thin and crispy, with just the right amount of salt.

The chips at Uno Mas were the thin and crispy kind, done to perfection. They served two kinds of delicious salsa – mild and habanero pepper.

Normally, Peter and I would order some guacamole to go with our chips but something else caught our eye.

Grilled street corn with cilantro crema, crumbled cojita cheese, paprika and lime.

Uno Mas grilled street corn with cilantro crema, cojita cheese, paprika and limePresented beautifully, diners are invited to cut the kernels off the cob and enjoy.

This was a melt in your mouth, sweet treat. So yummy that we considered ordering another one for dessert!

What’s a good Mexican dinner without the appropriate beverages?

Our sweet waiter, Ari, extolled the virtues of the sangria so that’s what I chose. Peter went with your basic margarita – another benchmark by which one can judge the quality of a Mexican restaurant!

uno mas red sangria and traditional margaritaBoth drinks were delicious, not too strong, perfect.

I have to tell you about one thing that happened – something very small, but something that made a very positive impression on us.

As Ari served our drinks, his arm accidentally brushed up against the top of Peter’s water glass. Without hesitation and without any prompting by us, Ari whisked the water glass away and brought Peter a new one.

How’s that for attentive service? It was the right thing to do but I dare say most servers would not think to react so quickly.

The menu at Uno Mas is incredible.

They offer a variety of salads, quesadillas, burritos, fajitas, something called “cheese crisps” which I think are like flatbread on a tortilla and mesquite wood grilled entrees ranging from grilled Mahi Mahi to a short rib burger.

But we had our eyes on the Street Tacos.

There are 10 different Street Taco Platters to choose from including fish, shrimp, chicken, vegetarian, carne asada and more. Each is served with warm tortilla shells, cilantro rice and black beans (some of the best black beans I’ve tasted).

Talk about choice anxiety. After much deliberation, Peter and I made our selections.

He chose the Baja Shrimp Street Taco Platter: lightly battered and fried shrimp, creamy slaw, avocado and cilantro lime crema.

The verdict – AMAZING!

I chose the El Guapo Street Taco Platter: 24 hour braised short rib with queso fresco.

uno mas el guapo street taco platterUno Mas, you had me at “24 hour braised short rib”.

Also AMAZING. I would surely order it again except that there are so many other enticing dishes we want to try.

The vibe at Uno Mas is lively. Weather permitting, there are tables on the sidewalk for a little mealtime people watching. Although the bar area might be a little noisy for us older folks, Peter and I enjoyed sitting at a booth with a view of this great wall art.

Uno Mas wall artYou just know that you are going to have fun in a place like this!

The Glen Town Center is a shopping area boasting lots and lots of good restaurants. Being unlike anything else in town, I have great confidence that Uno Mas will be able to hold its own amid the competition.

Hmmmm….I wonder if Uno Mas is open for lunch…..

Oh, one more thing. Today is my mom‘s birthday. Can you please help me wish her a very happy birthday?

happy bday mom

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Reality Meets Reality TV at RPM Italian

While home in Chicago I got together with my dear friend, Peggy, and her daughter, Monique, for an evening of fun in the city. Monique and her husband recently bought a condo in the River North neighborhood so we were taking a tour of their new home, enjoying a glass of wine and trying to figure out which fabulous neighborhood restaurant to walk to for dinner.

Monique ticked off a list of the places nearby. When she mentioned RPM I nearly jumped out of my seat. “WHAT?!?! YES!!! PLEASE!!!!!!”

RPM sign

One of my many worthwhile hobbies is watching reality TV. Generally I stick to Bravo programming but occasionally I branch out to other channels for something very, very special…like Giuliana & Bill. I love them. I love everything about them. I love their sense of humor, their dedication to family and I love how they fit together. I love baby Duke. So to have the opportunity to dine at their restaurant, RPM Italian, a place I watched develop from a kernel of an idea with Mama DePandi to a wildly popular Chicago dining hotspot, was beyond exciting.  Reality meets reality TV.

As we walked in the door we saw this sign.

RPM Video sign

Oh be still my heart! If only I could be so lucky as to be present during a night they were filming the show. Yes! You have my consent!

Alas, the sign was just a tease, a false promise of stardom. The night was not going to mark my debut on reality TV.

Probably for the best though since, in the midst of all the adorable young folks who had come straight from work, I wished I had dressed a little more “312” and not so “847”.

The restaurant did not have a reservation available until 10:30pm but we were determined. Clearly the reality TV gods wanted us to dine chez Giuliana & Bill because as soon as we walked in we spied 4 empty seats at a high top table in the bar area. Elbows flying we sped to the seats and claimed our spot. Let me just say that high top tables and, more specifically the chairs at these tables, are made for the young or the super tall. It took me a full minute and a half to hop my high chair up to the table. Very smooth. Very graceful.

I had a hard time concentrating on the menu because I was just so darn tickled to be in the restaurant of my dear (reality TV show) friends. Monique was quite amused by my incessant giggling. But I finally focused on the important task at hand and helped choose some small plate selections.

We started with burrata and Michigan cherries. I’ve never turned down a dish featuring this creamy, melt-in-your-mouth cheese. It did not disappoint!

We complemented that with a generous platter of prosciutto and bread.

But the star of the first course was the fried olives. Fried olives you say? Yes, fried olives…with sausage and mozzarella. Holy Moley! They were delicious. Of course almost anything is delicious when fried. But this combo was like – and I mean this in the best possible way – the most spectacular bite of green olive pizza EVER! This dish cost a mere $5. I can’t tell you how tempted I was to get several orders to dump into my purse for a little midnight snack. They were that good.

fried olives

For our main course we split two small plates: truffled gnocchi with ham and peas and short rib tagliatelle Bolognese. It was the perfect amount of food and was so tasty that we ate it before I remembered to take a picture. Sorry, my bad.

Monique’s sweet husband Neil joined us after a long day in the office and after we had polished off most of what we had ordered.  I offered to get another couple plates of the fried olives – taking one for the team.

Fortunately we saved a teeny, tiny bit of room for dessert. I’m pretty powerless over anything caramel so was instantly drawn to the chocolate budino with caramel sauce and cocoa nibs. It was as good as it sounds. We also enjoyed the Tartufo – a hazelnut gelato with a chocolate shell.

The Melman family has developed many fine restaurants in Chicago over the years. Joining with Chef Partner Doug Psaltis and the oh so fabulous Giuliana and Bill Rancic, they have added RPM Italian to their list of successes.  We had a wonderful evening among dear friends enjoying great food in a beautiful restaurant.

A perfect night even if I didn’t get to have my reality TV debut. Next time. For sure.

cheers at RPM

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