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Vegetarian Vegas – Other Notables and Pending Places…

18 May

Last month we went to Las Vegas… it was the first time for me, the second one for my Mom. Because we’re not that into gambling, we decided to spend our time visiting the fabulous hotels and casinos, lunching at delicious restaurants and at night, enjoy the extraordinary nightlife and shows.

Let’s do this chronologically…

New York New York Hotel – Il Fornaio

We started most of our days with stops at the New York New York hotel – the hotel so nice they had to name it twice 🙂  Our hotel shuttle would leave us to start our daily Vegas adventures. It is also the home for Zumanity, the first of the Cirque du Soleil shows we went to. Nice place to start… it’s a small theater in comparison to the others we saw and the theme is very risqué and very apropos to the image I had in my head of Vegas.

Afterwards we had dinner at Il Fornaio, an Italian restaurant right next to the Zumanity Theater. I’ll be honest – I was for a while confused with this restaurant thinking that it was a Vegas arm of the Rhode Island restaurant Al Forno, famous for developing baked pastas like my favorite Baked Pasta with 4 Cheeses… The names are soooo similar, no? I was disappointed there were no baked pastas suitable for vegetarians, but was glad they had a VEGETARIAN vegetable soup, meaning made with vegetable broth and not chicken broth. It was comforting on a chilly Vegas night.

MGM Grand Resort

The next night we went to see Ka from Cirque du Soleil. SPECTACULAR!!!!! Simply superb… I was so taken by surprise. I did not expect at all the visual overload we experienced. Fully recommend it.

Ka is shown at the MGM Grand Resort. We tried to eat at two places at the MGM Grand – The Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill and ‘wichcraft, Tom Colicchio’s sandwich place. We checked out the menu at Wolfgang Puck’s place and it seemed super nice… I loved the ambiance too. It’s an open restaurant that you can see straight from the casino floor, but the day we decided to eat there, CLOSED. Apparently some filming or something… and the sandwich place, we looked for it, but never saw it. Could someone please tell us where it is???

 

Vegetarian Picnic @ The Grand Canyon

The next day… Grand Canyon Trip. We opted to travel with Grand-Adventures.com because they offered a sunset walking trip. How nice!!! Start with breakfast, followed by a stop at Hoover Dam, another stop somewhere along Route 66, a picnic overlooking the Grand Canyon, some walking thru the Grand Canyon Southern Rim trails and a drive back to Las Vegas.

I was a bit skeptical of the breakfast and lunch options – McDonald’s Breakfast and Arby’s Lunch, WHAT?!?!?!  Lucky for us online menus and ingredient lists exist. We could order ANYTHING we wanted at MacDonald’s, but I had not stepped inside a McD in over 10 years. I used to love their fries and chocolate shakes until I learned all their potato products are generously sprinkled with beef broth. Yep!!! But we maneuvered thru the menu and got a Brown Sugar Oatmeal with Apples and Raisins, Apple Pie and Orange Juices. Surprisingly satisfying for a fast-food joint… 

And lunch… we could pick among all the Market Fresh sandwich menu at Arby’s, a fast food chain that was very short-lived in Puerto Rico, mostly known for their roast beef sandwiches. Well… because LV is so close to the West Coast, they do not offer them openly in their menu, but you could order a vegetarian sandwich – just imagine any of these sandwiches here, but without the meat filling – 2 kinds of cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onions, mustard… you could even order it w/o the mayo. The view was spectacular, so the food, to be honest took second billing.

You work up an appetite when climbing the Grand Canyon...

Sunset at the Grand Canyon South Rim

The Bellagio

The next day we went to see O at The Bellagio, the logest-running of the Cirque du Soleil Vegas shows. It’s AMAZING!!! I was afraid people had hyped it so much for me that I would not enjoy it. But it is everything people told me and MORE… I hope I am not overhyping it for you…

But O is not the only spectacular show at The Belaggio… the décor inside the front desk with Chihuly’s glass sculptures on the ceiling, the wonderful interior gardens and the Fountains in front are just sublime. We got to watch a few shows there – some in the afternoons, and a few at night. I got some video, but it does not do them justice.  I would definitely stay at this hotel if given the opportunity… lovely, just lovely and elegant.

We went to the later 10PM show for O. We were not hungry before and by the time the show ends at 11:30PM, it was too late to have dinner at Olives by Todd English. I was so much looking forward to eat here because one of the first recipes I did when I discovered online recipes was their marinated olives recipe… We were eating olives for almost a month. I went overboard with the measures, as if I was really doing them for a restaurant crowd. Now Olives is in my TO EAT list on my next Vegas or NYC trip.

Another place we wanted to try was the Mandalay Bay… we visited there one morning and of course all the restaurants were closed still. There we wanted to try several places – Fleur by Hubert Keller, Aureole by Charlie Palmer, with their impressive wine tower where the “Wine Angels” suspend in wires to get your favorite bottle of wine. Amazing, even when they’re just taking inventory in the morning hours…

My mom really was taken by the menu from China Grill, she really wanted some Asian food. Unfortunately, China Grill is only open for dinner and our theater options were not close to Mandalay. I promise her we will eat here on our next trip. And we also wanted to try Border Grill from Top Chef Masters Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. Unfortunately for us, the menu is not very vegetarian-friendly. Although the quinoa fritters Mary Sue made last week on Top Chef Masters seemed interesting enough to consider again.

I hope if you’re vegetarian like us you also get to experience Las Vegas as deliciously was we did… and until the next trip, Ta ta!!!

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Vegetarian Vegas – I LOVE Burgers

16 May

My apologies to the local people of Las Vegas, but visiting Vegas for the first time you feel like going to an amusement park. It’s really visiting one street you walk up and down the whole time you’re there. And depending where you’re staying, you get to really learn the ins and outs of the hotels, where everything is, how to best get there from here…

 

A hotel we visited a few times because of the ambiance, the décor, and basically because it’s THE LARGEST HOTEL in the world was The Pallazo/The Venetian hotel combo. And The Shoppes that connect both hotels are just so special with a replica of a Venetian Channel running all through the center and the ceilings painted as a clear Italian sky… it’s really like an amusement park for adults.

We traversed these shoppes so many times that one particular restaurant captured my eye, time and time again – I LOVE Burgers. I love burgers too… but I needed to know if they loved vegetarian burgers just as much as I do.  AND THEY DO!!!! They have one Eggplant Parmesan Burger on the menu and a Vegan Burger that they only tell you about if you ask about vegetarian burgers. I think they should put it in the menu so people KNOW they have 2 options to choose from.

One day we made it a point to have lunch here. Here is what we had:

Of course we ordered the 2 vegetarian burgers on the menu… The Eggplant Parmesan is just that, an eggplant parmesan sandwich with tomato sauce and cheese on a whole grain burger bun.

The Vegan Burger is a patty made from a bunch of stuff… because it’s not on the menu I’m going by what I remember the server told me – black beans, rice, oatmeal, and a variety of veggies. It comes served on a whole grain bun with onions, lettuce and tomatoes. I was extremely tempted to ask to put some cheese on top, but decided to go truly vegan and opted not to. But not being the greatest fan of beans, the texture is creamy like refried beans, luckily not so much that a little ketchup and mustard could not solve for me.

I LOVE Burgers claim themselves to be on the way to having the Largest Fry Menu in Las Vegas… typical Vegas where everyone is in LOVE with superlatives. We asked the server which were the MOST POPULAR and she recommended the Parmesan Garlic Fries with Roasted Garlic. The fries were AWESOME… really crispy and salty from the sharp Parmesan grated on top. The whole plate was GONE. We had to negotiate who would get the last bites…

We almost ordered a Salad… remember I need to have a salad to feel I am being good to my figure. But luckily we didn’t order because we would not have been able to finish it all. After yesterday’s Buffet at the Wynn, we wanted to take it easier today… We would have ordered de Warm Spinach Salad – The Vegan version with warm wild mushrooms and truffle balsamic vinaigrette. Sounds delicious, no???

The verdict… A great alternative if you want something more casual. And if I go there again, I am sure going to break character and ask some cheese on my vegan burger… deal??

Vegetarian Vegas – The Wynn Buffet

13 May

To go to Las Vegas and not experience the delights of a true Vegas Buffet is just inconceivable!!!!

Growing up, Buffets and Topless fantabulous reviews were two of the things Vegas was known for. So even though today, Las Vegas has evolved into the mecca of the celebrity chef – Bobby Flay has Mesa Grill, Mario Batali has Otto, B&B and others, Wolfgang Puck, Todd English, Michael Mina, Tom Colicchio, Charlie Palmer, José Andrés, Scott Connant,  Hubert Keller, and Thomas Keller (no relation…) all have one or various posts where they showcase their delectable creations, we needed to give fair chance and airtime to the long-standing Vegas Buffet.

We did a little bit of research… and we had some time, because we had a trip scheduled for The Grand Canyon 4 days into our stay in Vegas, and the recommendation of the Tour is not to eat at any buffet prior to the trip because they WOULD NOT give us any refunds if we got food poisoning from eating at a buffet. What a vote of confidence for the buffets of the city… or the overeating habits of the average American consumer… discuss amongst yourselves.

We got various recommendations, but they were based on the amount of meat and shrimp we could eat. Unfortunately, Las Vegas has many vegetarian options, but the FullVegetarian restaurant or Vegetarian Buffet is not part of the alternatives just yet.

We wanted a SPECIAL BUFFET, somewhere where the food would be more special than any self serve/all-you-can-eat cafeteria. So we turned to one of the most special hotels we encountered on this trip – The Wynn Hotel. We LOVED the Wynn and Encore Hotels… So chic, so modern, everything decorated so whimsically and bold at the same time. We said that if the hotel décor and ambiance are that special, the food at the buffet for sure would be too.

 

Check out the décor of the place… It was stunning. We felt we were inside Wonderland and that Alice would pop up at anytime asking us the way to a Tea Party… I was feeling special already. I felt I was underdressed and needed a hat, like those at the Royal Wedding or the Kentucky Derby to fit in more appropriately.

The options were MANY… you will have to excuse the presentation here. I am not a very good platter and buffets are not conducive to the best plate presentation. It’s about what you like and how much can you pile on your plate to avoid constant trips back and forth. Here was what we had:

I had to start with SALAD… Eating salad first makes me feel, regardless of my choices afterwards, that at least I ate something raw and fresh. And there where were many Salads to choose from. You mixed and matched ingredients and topped with your favorite dressing. I think I decided on a creamy parmesan dressing. There you also see a Butternut Squash Risotto made with vegetable broth and currants, Crispy Corn and Quinoa Polenta Triangles with a Tomato Ragu on top, one of my mom’s faves as she went for seconds on this. Also some roasted potatoes… I loved the risotto and the polenta triangles.

The next stop was a bit more International in flavor… Here you see in the cup a Waldorf Salad with blue cheese, grapes and pears. Sooooo delicious… and I had 2 salads under my belt. I was being healthy, right?? Also, some grilled naan bread, hummus and cucumber/yogurt raita. The whole grain bun is to counteract the fact the naan was made of white flour… and no offense, but my hummus recipe is much better.

Continuing with the international flavors, we moved onto the Japanese and Mexican side of the Buffet. Here we had Vegetable Sushi Rolls, various vegetarian ceviches and corn tortilla chips served with red and green salsas. I picked the red salsa because it was milder and the raita was an awesome dipping sauce for the tortillas… note to self to create something that integrates Mexican and Indian flavors. I also had some vegetable spring rolls with a tangy apricot sauce, but the photo did not come out pretty at all…

I was particularly surprised with the ceviches – I only noticed them in a third go around to the buffet line… I had dismissed then as seafood ceviches until I read the labels well. One was made with jicama, shitake mushrooms and hearts of palm and the other one was made with a mixture of beans… I preferred the jicama/mushroom one because we already know how I feel about beans. But the flavors were interesting and certainly something I would entertain to make in the future at home…

Desserts… OMG!!! The only difficult thing about desserts in a non-vegetarian environment is that most of them have some sort of egg or gelatin in them. But we managed… We had strawberry and coconut sorbets, the filling of an apple cobbler and the strawberry and whipped cream filling they were using for the crepes… I just couldn’t resist myself and had to have a crepe made to order. I know, I know it was true gluttony, but I just couldn’t resist myself…

Lucky for us, in Vegas you need to walk as much as you need… because after that “jartera” you need to walk if you don’t want to fall into a food-induced coma. So for all you vegetarians or vegetarian-friendly people… if you go to Vegas and need a recommendation for a Buffet, I fully recommend the Wynn Hotel Buffet. You will not be disappointed AT ALL… I dare you to go out to dinner afterwards!!!

Vegetarian Vegas – Otto

11 May

Yes… we were in Las Vegas and we were on a mission to eat lunch at the big name chef restaurants.

When we were hanging at one of our favorite hotels, The Venetian and went to The Shops at the Pallazo to listen to the gondoliers sing and push on their gondolas that travel all across the shoppes, we got hungry.  Las Vegas is like going to Walt Disney for adults… you walk sooooo much!!!  Which is a good thing; because you eat and drink so much you need a way to burn off the calories.

Right in the Piazza San Marco replica… next to the street performer’s platform is OTTO, the Pizzeria and Enoteca from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.  I’ve been meaning to eat at OTTO in NYC for years and always something happens…  Once we actually got there, but they were closed in between lunch and dinner service.  So here in Vegas, I would actually have the chance to taste Mario Batali’s recipes.

This is what we ordered:

The Acetaia Vinegar Maker’s Salad… this was sort of a chef’s salad but I asked to leave out the bacon and grated eggs.  The arugula, cucumbers, onions and other veggies were really crispy and nice against the lemony vinaigrette.

 

The Fried Artichoke hearts with the whipped Burrata cheese…  This was the second time having burrata cheese, which apparently is one of the “hot” cheeses around.  Fresh Mozzarela di Buffala is passé, move over and make room for burrata.  It’s delicious and creamy and a great contrast to the fried artichoke and salad on top.  I would have had another one…

 

Penne a la Norma featuring a tomato sauce with eggplants… I’ll be honest; I was underwhelmed by the presentation and the amount of food on the plate.  I get it was a pasta plate, primi for the Italians and it was lunch, but almost $20 for the simple pasta we got was a bit pricy.  It was delicious, but it did not blow our minds away.

 

We did not have dessert here either because we unknowingly “splurged” by ordering  a bottle of sparkling water… had I known the water was going to be $10 a bottle, I would have traded for dessert certainly.

 The final veredict… Otto was good, but not great.  I am not going out of my way to recommend it to people. But, if someone invites me there again, I would love to maybe explore other things in the menu, like the Meatless Mondays menu.  We were there some other day of the week, so these alternatives were not available… just like we couldn’t order our pasta whole wheat because it is not the day of the week they serve whole wheat pasta.  Weird, no??

 

I am sure there are better Italian options in Vegas, what has been your experience??

Vegetarian Vegas – MESA GRILL

9 May

My sister and Brother-in-law ROCK!!!!!

At the end of last year they decided to give my mom and me their time-share because they would not use it and they didn’t want it to go to waste. We debated and debated where to use it and after a huge search we settled for Las Vegas. This would be my first time in Las Vegas… Yes, I was until last month – a Vegas Virgin. I had been to Reno, NV when I was about 14 or 15 yrs old… but it has rained quite a lot since then.

I am not into gambling. We have casinos here in Puerto Rico and that’s not something that entices me. I have played a bit, I have won some too, but usually using other people’s money… but that’s an entirely different topic. The thing is… what do you do in Las Vegas if you are not a gambler and are traveling with your mom??? We both like to have a good time, but let’s face it, traveling with your mom is not exactly the equivalent of Party Central… And because we didn’t have to spend $$ on Hotel or Airfare (I told you, my sister ROCKS!!!!!), we decided to invest in 2 things – Shows and Food.

To me, the best restaurant we went to was MESA GRILL, yes, of Bobby Flay’s fame. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting all that much, but the ambiance, the service and the food were awesome. Had we had the chance, we had eaten here again…

Mesa Grill is located at the Caesar’s Palace Resort and just like most any restaurant in Las Vegas, it’s nestled in between the casino’s slot machines and game tables. We missed it the first time around we were looking for it. We went for lunch because we were into having big lunches and smaller snacks for dinner… that way we had the chance to eat at these celebrity restaurants at a fraction of the dinner prices. Besides, coordinating show times and dinner reservations was giving me stress and we opted for this arrangement.

One thing that helps us vegetarians is when eating at these restaurants, is we usually have to pick from options in the salads and appetizers menus. The restaurant guides tell you these are $$$ or $$$$ restaurants, but because you’re not ordering from the meat-heavy entrée menu, our bill was usually less than the average price the guides said.

This is what we had at Mesa Grill, and everything we ordered we split between my mom and I:

Being that we were in a fancy Bobby Flay restaurant, I wanted to order something nice to drink. Nice but non-alcoholic, it was still 2:30PM… so the server brought his recommendation. Don’t ask me what combination it was, but it was citrusy, tangy, sweet and yummy. And pretty-looking too, no??

While we waited for our salads, we received a basket filled with breads and these cornmeal muffins. Half the muffin was yellow cornmeal and half was blue cornmeal or a combination of the two. It had corn kernels in the batter, they were spectacular. I was a bit hungry so I asked for 2 more… my apologies for not writing down what was in the butter, but we did not have just plain butter with his corn muffins… Again, mmmm, mmmm, mmmm!!!

 

Gala Apple Salad with Maytag Blue Cheese and Ancho Chile Vinnaigrette

I could have eaten a whole salad… and even though I am a spice wimp, I could tolerate the heat in the dressing. This was scrumptious and delectable. Big adjectives here…

 

Cremini Mushroom Quesadilla

This was so big we almost couldn’t finish it… It’s a 3 tier quesadilla, with roasted cremini mushrooms in between 2 tortillas and melted cheeses in the other middle between tortilla 2 and 3. I can’t remember what was in the Salsa Verde, but it was not cilantro heavy and it was delicious. We ordered it without the egg on top… and even without the egg, it was delicious with the crema Mexicana squirts on top… Mmmmm.

 

 

Goat Cheese Queso Fundido with Blue Corn Tortillas

OMG!!! Que rico!!!! This was “to die” for… I can’t tell you what’s the other cheese, but the regular melted cheese mixed in with the tanginess of the goat cheese and the pepper rajas on top… perfection!!! A standing ovation to Mr. Bobby Flay… My mom and I were fighting over the pepper rajas… Again, we are chiles wimps, but these rajas were the perfect balance to all that creamy cheesiness. I ate ALL of it… ALL OF IT!!!

We didn’t get a chance to have dessert… I wanted to try the CHURROS, but they were out of them already at the lunch service. And the rest of the desserts were egg-heavy so we said PASS. Besides, we were full already… ordering dessert would have been gluttony.

I am seeking MESA GRILL the next time I travel to NYC… I certainly did not expect to eat as well as I did. I am always skeptical of places with lots of hype… And the server, when I mentioned I was vegetarian, went out of his way to point out what I could order and what I should stay away. During my next visit, I want to order the Chiles Rellenos filled with Roasted Eggplant and Manchego Cheese, part of the Entrée part of the Menu, and they sound especially appetizing – kind of like Mexico and Spain meeting in the middle.

I am so pleased big name chefs, like Bobby Flay, have vegetarian alternatives in their menus… for us vegetarians to enjoy the mastery of their cooking skills and flavor combinations. I wish more local chefs would take notes from these hi-profile chefs and be more open to vegetarian patrons.

Stay tuned, next we’ll be sharing our experience at Otto, from Mario Batali…

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