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Carlo’s Bake Shop

May 25, 2016

After we had planned our quick weekend trip to Las Vegas, I had mentioned to my husband that there was a bakery at The Venetian that I wanted to pay a visit to.  As my husband isn’t nearly as fond of bakeries and pastry shops as I am, he didn’t really care one way or another if we visited the bakery or not.  How can one not have a sweet tooth?  Any mention of cakes, cupcakes, cookies, baked goods, etc. and my mouth starts to water.  Mention the same things to my husband and he has absolutely no reaction at all.  I don’t understand it one bit.

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Carlo’s Bake Shop in Las Vegas is owned and operated by Buddy Valastro of “Cake Boss” fame.  “Cake Boss” is a popular food show on TLC that goes behind-the-scenes of a bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey called Carlo’s Bakery to see how they produce thousands of custom cakes for customers far and wide.  Over the years, from the popularity of the show, Buddy’s empire has grown and has now moved to Las Vegas where he has a restaurant and a bakery.  I wanted to get my hands on some of their baked goods as traditional Italian pastries are just so hard to pass up.

The store is set up with many glass-front display cases where all of the cookies, cupcakes, pastries and cakes are displayed.  You can look through the glass and decide what you want to order before you step up to the counter and place or your order, or you can start at the glass counter fronting the store front and follow the counter around pointing to the various items you would like to order as they are boxed up for you behind the counter before you end up at the last glass fronted case right at the cash register.  Either way, the selection is so numerous and everything looks so delicious, it’s not a matter of what you want to order, but more a matter of having some self control not to order one of everything that’s displayed.

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Adjacent to the bake shop where the goods are sold is the actual kitchen where all of the goods are baked and the cakes are decorated.  The bakery itself is also glass-fronted so that you can look into it and see all the activity that goes on “behind-the-scenes.”  It’s always fun to watch cake decorating and cookie decorating, and considering the many outlandish cakes that Carlo’s Bakery has come up with in the past, I’m sure being able to look into the inner workings of a popular bakery never provides for a dull moment.
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As we were there just before Christmas, there were many Christmas-themed treats.  Here are Christmas tree cupcakes and Christmas wreath cupcakes.  They look so cute and realistic and detailed.  But most importantly, they look so delicious.  I’m a huge frosting fan, so the more frosting on the cake or cupcake, the more mouth-watering it is to me.

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Here is a blue frosting cupcake topped with a sugar snowflake to celebrate winter. Or what about a vanilla cupcake with a buttercream Santa Claus atop it?  How can resist something that just looks like so much fun and is perfectly suited for the season?

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And it’s not just the cupcakes, but there are seasonal themed cakes as well.  White buttercream frosting with a confetti base and a cake top decorated like a Christmas wreath.  Or the same cake, but with a chocolate buttercream frosting rather than vanilla buttercream.  But, if you’re not into the seasonal cupcakes, look below, you’ve got a traditional vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting, or how about the very colorful spring flower cupcakes with green frosting and a variety of red, white or yellow flowers?

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Carlo’s Bake Shop wouldn’t be a traditional Italian bakery without serving up a wide variety of Italian cookies and pastries.  Here’s an entire glass case filled with ruglach, cookies, biscotti and other treats.  There were four different flavors of ruglach – apricot, chocolate and cheese, raspberry and chocolate.  And there were 6 different types of biscotti – chocolate almond, anisette, chocolate pistachio, vanilla pistachio with cherries, vanilla hazelnut and chocolate hazelnut.  Then there were jelly butter cookies, jelly sprinkle cookies and nutella butter cookies.  Many people were buying up boxes of cookies and biscotti.

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What I was really interested in though was the pastries.  Look at the delectable Oreo tower or the strawberry shortcake tower.  I have a weakness for strawberry shortcake and this shortcake cut in half and filled with fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberries looked almost too good to pass up.  But then there was the chocolate strawberry mousse tower or the mini Boston cream cakes.  These individual serving cakes looked amazing and each one appealing in its own way.  There was even a mini pumpkin cheesecake.  And look at the bottom row there, chocolate dipped cannolis!

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Speaking of cannolis, that is one item that Carlo’s is known for.  One of the most popular of Italian pastries, Carlo’s Bake Shop was selling mini and regular sized cannolis as well as chocolate dipped cannolis.  You could also buy a cannoli tart, which was a tart shell filled with the cannoli cream filling.  Or there was a mousse tart if you like the mousse better than the cannoli cream.  There were also cream puffs, eclairs and even mini tiramisu cakes.  And one of the more popular items were lobster tails, which look amazing and are hard to make.  They were a little too large for my appetite though.

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We’ve got more cookies.  Again, there are seasonal themed Christmas sugar cookies in the shapes of red and green Christmas trees, mittens, snowflakes and snowmen.  There are also beautiful fondant cookies with blue and white snowflakes and blue, green and red mittens.  Of course, there’s also regular cookies, but in large sizes!  There’s the chocolate chip cookie, peanut butter cookie, Chinese cookie, vanilla hazelnut meringue, chocolate walnut meringue and triple chocolate cookies.  There’s shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate and sugar cookies with green and red sprinkles.  There’s also coffee crumble cake, chocolate hazelnut tarts and croissants.

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Many of the individual sized cakes we saw come in large cakes as well.  It’s hard to imagine why, or who, on the Las Vegas Strip would show up on vacation and need a full-sized cake, but I’m sure someone celebrating something thinks that a full-sized cake is much nicer than individual serving sizes.  So you can get a full size strawberry shortcake cake, a strawberry chocolate mousse cake and a full size pumpkin cheesecake.  There’s also strawberry cheese cake and tiramisu cake as well

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And finally, in case you to buy something to help you remember where you got it from, there’s the frosted Carlo’s Bake Shop sugar cookies with the special Happy Holidays ink on it or how about some jolly gingerbread men?

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There’s so much to choose from, its hard to make a decision about what you really need vs what you really want.  Although, I guess you don’t really need any of this, you just want all of it.  After some back and forth, my husband and I ordered a couple of mini cannolis and I chose the chocolate strawberry mousse cake.  The cannolis were boxed up and wrapped traditionally in twine and the individual cake was put into a cup that preserved the cake so that it didn’t get smushed or damaged in the box as we walked around Las Vegas.  The chocolate strawberry mousse cake was delicious.  The chocolate mousse was semi-sweet, but not too much.  The strawberries were a terrific compliment and why chocolate and strawberry go so well together.  The chocolate cake was delicious, and while it was slightly dry and could have been fluffier, it wasn’t so bad and the cake was more mousse than it was cake, so it was fine.  The cannolis were delicious, as cannolis always are.  Perhaps, not the best cannolis I’ve ever had as I still think that Mike’s Pastry may have the title as the best cannoli, but these weren’t bad.  The cannoli shell could have been a little fresher and had more crunch, but it’s so hard to find cannolis at any bakery, I’ll take what I can get.

Admittedly, Carlo’s Bake Shop in Las Vegas a little more of a glorified bakery due to its name and reputation rather than an authentic homestyle bakery, but it isn’t bad.  If you hit the Bake Shop when it isn’t so busy and there isn’t a line that wraps around the shop, then it’s definitely worth it to stop in and grab a pastry, or cannoli or two for the road.  If there was a line around the shop, as there tends to be due to its reputation, I’d say that you could probably skip the pastries and the higher prices for a croissant and coffee somewhere else.  As I’ve watched the show Cake Boss for many seasons, and I happened to be in Las Vegas, I thought it would be fun to stop into Carlo’s Bake Shop to look around and see what it was about, and pick up a couple of pastries.  Now that I’ve been here and I’ve tried it, it was fun, but not necessarily something I’d go out of my way to go back to again in the future.

Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres

May 19, 2016

I’m about to take you on a food extravaganza.  Actually, a meat lover’s dream, to be exact.  This isn’t just any food journey, but its exploration of meat in all of it’s forms, in a restaurant created by a master celebrity chef who has helped to transform the culinary world.  My husband and I decided to take an extended weekend trip to Las Vegas.  We had enough airline miles to get ourselves a free roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and we had an offer for two free nights hotel stay at Encore Hotel & Resort, so how could we resist?  It was essentially a free vacation to Las Vegas.  As such, my husband thought it would be fun to try out a new restaurant by a chef who has a restaurant here in Beverly Hills that we’ve been to and fell in love with.

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Last year, I wrote a couple of blog posts about my experience at a restaurant at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills and their famous restaurant, The Bazaar by Jose Andres.  At the time when my husband selected this restaurant for us to dine at, I had lightly complained because I wasn’t too sure how much I would like it, but he told me to trust him, so I had no choice but to do so.  One dinner at The Bazaar and my whole opinion about the restaurant, the food, the service and the experience was completely transformed.  So, when my husband told me that there was a SLS Hotel that had recently opened up in Las Vegas and it featured a restaurant called Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, how could I say no?  Same chef-owner, same unique and modern concept, but this time solely focused on my favorite food group, meat!

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This dark wood, semi-hunting lodge inspired interior decor sets the tone for the meat extravaganza that we were about to feast upon.  When you step into the restaurant, the first thing you see is a large, open wood-burning grill.  The aroma of smoked and grilled meat hits your nose and you can’t help be salivate at all of the yummy deliciousness you’re about to experience.

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Off to the side, there’s a glass display case that features cuts of cured and dry-aged meats that are just waiting to be ordered, prepared, and served at the table.  One of the items that the restaurant is known for is their whole suckling pig, and sure enough, hanging in this display case (not pictured here) was a whole suckling pig.  If meat is not your thing, this restaurant isn’t for you.  But, if you like meat in any way, shape or form, Bazaar Meat has everything you could have ever asked for.

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As you walk further into the restaurant, there are other open kitchen stations, some with bar seating so you can watch the chefs prepare plates right in front of your eyes.  These stations contain cured meats that are sliced for small bites, or you can see whole dry-cured ham legs hanging in the background.  Raw meat options, such as tartare is also prepared from this station.

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And finally, in the back of the restaurant, there’s a small open fresh seafood kitchen.  While this is a meat restaurant, there are some amazing seafood options available as well.  Seafood includes a raw bar which serves live scallops, sea urchin, and king crab legs to name a few items.  There’s also an oyster bar with freshly shucked oysters.  And there’s also several different types of caviar being served up as well.

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Before we can get to dinner though, my husband wanted to order a drink.  After looking through the drink menu, he decided on a drink called Landing Gear.  Made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, Aperol, Benedictine, and allspice dram, my husband thought that the drink was really sweet.  The drink was much sweeter than he thought it would be, sort of a sugary sweet, which is surprising since much of the alcohol in the drink is more herbal in nature than sugary in nature.  Allspice dram is an allspice flavored liqueur from Jamaica, Aperol is an herbal and orange aperitif which contains bitters, which makes my husband happy, and Benedictine which is also an herbal liqueur, so my husband was picturing more of an herbal-flavored drink.  That’s not to say he didn’t like the Landing Gear though.  He thought it was smooth and easy to drink, especially since it was sweeter than anticipated.  Also, the Buffalo Trace whiskey was terrific and my husband really liked the whiskey.

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Later on in our meal, after my husband finished the Landing Gear he decided he’d like another drink.  He had seen that many of the tables around us had ordered a drink that was apparently a specialty of the restaurant, and though a little gimmicky and probably not normally to my husband’s liking, he decided to have fun with it and ask the waiter to bring him the same drink that the other tables had ordered, the Magic Mojito.  Essentially, the mojito comes in a martini glass with cotton candy floating atop the mojito.  Then at the table, more of the mojito is poured over the cotton candy causing the cotton candy to dissolve completely releasing the sugar into the drink.  And there you have your magic mojito, it transforms right in front of your very eyes.  It was really fun and cool to watch them pour the mojito over the cotton candy.  It’s easy to see why everyone wants to order one, just for the fun factor of it.  My husband thought that the drink itself was actually quite tasty and minty, which he enjoyed.

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Time for the food.  We figured that we were here to have a good time and to eat.  So that’s what we were going to do.  We’d order a little bit of a lot of items so that we could try a bunch of things.  The first thing we ordered was the little starter sandwiches.  We ordered one Philly cheesesteak just like they serve at The Bazaar in Beverly Hills, and one reuben made with corned beef, sauerkraut, thousand island, Swiss espuma and air bread.  I took the Philly cheesesteak since I loved it so much at The Bazaar.  That air bread is just so amazing, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.  And that cheese, liquid cheese oozing out of the air bread once you take a bite of the sandwich is just phenomenal.  And of course the kobe beef used, so flavorful and tender and just perfect.  My husband who had the reuben thought it was equally as fantastic.  He knew the air bread would be good, but he was surprised that he liked this sandwich as much as he did.  He definitely said that you have to be a fan of thousand island though to really enjoy this sandwich, but the combination of the Swiss cheese and the corned beef and the sauerkraut with the thousand island sauce was just perfect, rich, sweet, and delicious.  My husband still talks about how good his reuben was.

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Our next dish was Jose’s Asian tacos.  Made with jamon iberico de bellota, toasted nori and flying fish roe, this was definitely a unique and flavorful dish.  Essentially, a small square of toasted nori (seaweed) is the “taco shell” upon which sits a square of jamon iberico de bellota with a little dab of flying fish roe to round it all together.  The flavor you get is amazing.  It’s a little salty, though if you think about it, every element to this dish is salty, so while it’s salty, it’s kind of surprising that the dish doesn’t taste saltier.  It’s something about the combination of these three items together that combine so so harmoniously, the Asian flavors of the seaweed, the Spanish cured ham, and then the fish roe.  Asian tacos definitely fit the name because the overall flavor profile really is Asian-inspired due to the nori.  The crunch from the nori also gives the dish texture and crunch to contrast with the jamon which just melts in your mouth.

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I couldn’t resist ordering the next dish, which again was just a small finger foods sandwich.  The sloppy joe just sounded fun and whimsical and a reminder of childhood.  Made with beef bolognese, fried straw potatoes and a steamed bun, 2 sloppy joe’s came in one order, perfect for my husband and I to split.  While this may have been the simplest dish we ordered for dinner, its one of those dishes that really stands out in my mind.  A childhood classic is absolutely elevated to another level.  The steamed bun was fantastic and tender, the beef bolognese was packed full of flavor that filled every bite, and those potato straws added crunch and texture to compliment the tender bread.  It was fun, whimsical, but best of all, it was absolutely delicious.  I had debated whether or not I wanted to order this dish, and now I’m so glad that we did because I would have hated to have missed out on all this sloppy joe goodness.

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Now we come to the more substantial dishes of the evening.  First off, I diced to get the classic tartare.  According to the menu the tartare first appeared in Escoffer’s culinary guide in 1921, as a variant of “Beefsteak a’ l’Americaine” named for the tartar sauce with which it was served.  The Classic tartare is made with hand-cut beef sirloin, savora mustard, egg yolk, HP sauce, anchovy and served with Parker House rolls.  The bonus to this dish is that it is actually made tableside for you once ordered.  The ingredients for the tartare are presented to you and explained before the server mixes all the ingredients together and adds in some spices.

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When the tartare is complete, it is scooped into beautiful marble dish and finished with a drizzle of sherry and sprinkled with some edible flowers.  Served with Parker House rolls in a cast iron pan, the idea is to make a beef tartare mini sandwich.  The tableside presentation is really interesting and fun, and different.  You get the experience of watching your dish come together.  The flavor of the tartare is incredible.  Without knowing that it is raw meat, if you just tasted it, you’d never guess that this was raw beef.  Every bite is packed with flavor from the combination of the vinegar to the egg yolk to the HP sauce to the anchovies and the mustard, you can taste all of the elements and ingredients.  The flavors are strong and rich and the beef is so tender it melts in your mouth.  The Parker House rolls are fantastic and buttery and a crispy on the outside and hot and airy on the inside.  The little sliders you make with the rolls and the tartare are such a wonderful concept, and the flavor is so spot on, this dish is hard to beat.

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As I’ve said, I’m a meat lover and I fluctuated between ordering the tartare ordering the carpaccio.  I’m definitely a fan of both, so my husband told me that we should live a little and just order both.  So, I decided on the Vittore 1950 carpaccio.  The menu states that carpaccios were first popularized at Harry’s Bar in Venice around 1950 and named after Venetian artist Vittore Carpaccio due to the red and white hues common in his paintings.  The Vittore 1950 is made with tenderloin of beef, black pepper, Parmesan cheese, capers, croutons and Sherry dressing.  I thought that the carpaccio was delicious.  The meat was incredible tender and melt-in-your-mouth.  The crunchy bits of croutons that were sprinkled over the carpaccio added an incredible amount of crunch to the dish.  The bread wasn’t dense like you would think croutons would be, but more like crunchy air bread that they use in other dishes, where it was almost like biting into something that was so light it was almost as if nothing was there.  The salty capers and the tang of the Sherry dressing really completed the flavors of the carpaccio.  How they ever slice the tenderloin so thin always blows my mind, it’s so paper-thin that it’s hard to peel off the plate.  My husband, who will eat carpaccio, but it would never be his thing to order, even thought this Vittore 1950 carpaccio was mighty tasty.

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The next dish is one that my husband and I debated on when we were ordering our food.  My husband saw it on the menu and immediately wanted to order it.  I was less sure about ordering it, and when I finally relented, my husband wanted to double the size of what I thought we should order.  This was a meat dish sold by the ounce, and while I thought we could order 2 ounces, my husband wanted to order 4 ounces.  What we ordered was A5 Kobe Eye of the Rib beef from Hyogo Prefecture in Japan.  As the menu states, Bazaar Meat is one of the few restaurants in the country certified to buy and serve authentic Kobe beef from the Hyogo Prefecture.  We learned later from our waiter that in fact, Bazaar Meat was one of only 8 restaurants in the United States authorized to serve this kind of meat.  Served with an Ishiyaki grilling stone, mustard frill salad and fresh wasabi, we were required to order a minimum of 2 ounces of beef.  To my husband, he said if we were going to order it, we should order an amount substantial enough that we could enjoy and savor it, so I gave it and said we could go ahead and order 4 oz.

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This beautifully marbled beef was brought to the table along with the grilling stone and all of the accompaniments by a waitress who then asked us if we had ever cooked beef in this manner before.  When we had both said we hadn’t she asked us if it would be ok for her to demonstrate for us.  We told her to go ahead and she demonstrated that on our plate of Kobe beef we had a little bit of beef fat that we should put onto the hot stone first and coat the surface of the stone so that the Kobe we were about to grill wouldn’t stick to the stone.  Now, mind you, while the stone was sitting inside a cast iron pan, there was nothing else sitting there except for this incredibly hot stone which would serve as our grilling surface.  The minute the beef touched the grill it started sizzling immediately.  The waitress demonstrated that the beef literally took 15-20 seconds maximum on each side before it was seared on the outside to a beautiful medium rare.

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Once the Kobe was grilled, then we were to take this little bottle of unpasteurized Japanese soy sauce, and use the brush provided to brush a little bit of the soy sauce over the beef to provide some added flavor.  Honestly, the beef was so incredibly tender and flavorful on its own that it didn’t need the soy sauce.  But that unpasteurized Japanese soy sauce was amazing, and a little bit of it went a long way.  First off, the idea of cooking the meat ourselves was one of the most amazing and fun things ever.  The amount of heat generated off that stone, and how quickly the Kobe beef cooked was so neat.  The marbling of the beef was so perfect and the amount of flavor that marbling added was just a thing of beauty.  This was, hands down, the best beef dish my husband or I had ever tasted in our lives.  I’ve never tasted any beef that was so tender, so flavorful.  I was so thankful my husband convinced me to order 4 ounces rather than 2 ounces of Kobe beef.  Even as big of a beef lover as I am, I was shocked to discover that there’s a whole different level of flavor that beef can obtain from what I’d ever experienced before.  This is what living the good life is all about.

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At the end of the meal, our waiter brought to us a Certificate of Authenticity from the farm where the beef is harvested in Hyogo Prefecture in Japan.  The certificate told gave us all of the information we could possibly want to know about the beef we were being served; items such as when it was harvested, what grade of meat it was classified as, where it was produced, the name of the cow, the name of the parents of the cow, the owner of the cow, the date of birth of the cow, and even a nose print of the cow.  A little morbid, I guess, but also quite fascinating.

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Can you believe our meal wasn’t over yet?  We ordered a lot of food.  Our next dish was actually a side dish of potatoes.  Robuchon potatoes, to be exact.  The description in the menu actually described the potatoes as butter, butter, more butter, some potatoes.  And that was a pretty accurate description of the potatoes.  Look at the butter sitting in the well of the potatoes.  These were some of the creamiest potatoes I’ve ever had.  And it seriously was butter first and potatoes second.  Each spoonful was rich and buttery and decadent.  Only on vacation would you ever eat like this.  This was over-the-top potatoes at their finest.

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Our final dish was a beef rib steak of wagyu/black angus from Rosewood, TX.  This was cooked Jose’s way at 46 degrees celsius and prepared Spanish-style with the bone-in and wood fired.  This beautiful cut of beef was wonderfully prepared and exquisitely presented.  Served with the bone that imparted all of the amazing flavor into the meat, the beef was grilled to a perfect medium rare.  Again, the beef was of such high quality and was very tender with very little fat.  The natural flavor from the wood-fired grill added a terrific smoky flavor to the beef.  We were so stuffed by this time, it took all we had left to even try to finish this dish.

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We didn’t even want to think about dessert, but luckily we didn’t have to.  I would imagine most guests are so stuffed by this point in time, that most don’t want to think of dessert either.  So, instead, our waiter brought us, compliments of the restaurant, a box of little petit fours for dessert.  An explanation of everything that was in the box was given to us and we were given the option to take the box to go, or enjoy some of the desserts at the restaurant.  Our dessert box included apricot earl grey milk chocolate cake, hazelnut and dark chocolate cream puff, mango banana passion fruit tart, chocolate tart with blueberry, a cassis dessert and some cookies.  I had to try the hazelnut and dark chocolate cream puff.  It was light and airy and the choux pastry was fantastic.  The hazelnut and dark chocolate filling was delicious and lightly sweetened.  My husband tried the apricot earl grey milk chocolate cake which was also quite light.  The combination of apricot and earl grey added just a hint of sweetness to the milk chocolate and created a unique flavor profile to the cake.  By this time though, we truly were stuffed and we just couldn’t eat any more.  I felt like I was going to explode.

My husband and I were completely blown away by our experience at Bazaar Meat.  We’d never had a more decadent, scrumptious and amazing meal as we had that night.  The whole experience was over-the-top, but never strayed from the idea that in order to be memorable, the food still needed to be the star.  And it was.  I’ve never had beef dishes as amazing as we dined on at Bazaar Meat.  The restaurant understands the concept of how to take a single item, highlight, transform it, and yet still make it the undisputed star of the dish.  Each subsequent course we were served was more amazing than the previous course.  This, without a doubt, was a meal that my husband and I will never forget.  It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it was worth every single penny we spent on this experience.

Milo and Olive

May 16, 2016

I remember almost a year ago, one of my co-workers mentioned that he was going out to dinner with this girlfriend at a restaurant not too far from where our offices are.  He was telling me that he thought that I might like the restaurant because they had this incredible home made garlic bread that was absolutely to-die-for.  Not to mention that the owners of this really popular restaurant happen to also own Sweet Rose Creamery, an ice cream parlor that my husband and I both love.  After that, I tried to convince my husband that we should try this restaurant out, but prior to their expansion, the restaurant, which is wildly popular and doesn’t take reservations, was small with only some counter seating around an open kitchen, and then a large communal table, that my husband said he wasn’t that interested in standing in line for who knows how long just to sit at a communal table.  So, we put this restaurant on the back burner for a while.  Once the expansion was completed, the restaurant actually had a dining room and private seating it made trying to get a table there so much easier, so we put it back on the list of places we wanted to try.  While we’ve still not made it to this restaurant for dinner to try their amazing garlic bread, they are open for breakfast and lunch, and one weekend morning, prior to flying out of town on a trip, we decided to stop by for breakfast to see what all the hoopla was about.

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Milo and Olive calls itself a neighborhood bakery and pizzeria located in Santa Monica.  Throughout the day, fresh-baked pastries, breads and bakery items are served and sold from its bakery counter, especially popular in the mornings.  By day and night, the restaurant’s signature wood-fired oven sends out delicious pizzas and their famous garlic bread along with offering up a healthy dose of farmer’s market favorites and shareable small plates on their menu.  Milo and Olive is the brainchild of Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan who own a group of popular Santa Monica-based restaurants that are wildly popular and wildly successful.  Zoe learned the art of baking while working at the famous Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, and now Milo and Olive is an outlet for her to showcase many of her baking skills by creating pastries and breads and other baked goods that aren’t found at any of the other restaurants within the group.

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The restaurant is built around an open kitchen with plenty of counter seats at the kitchen where guests can relax and unwind while they watch the chefs prepare their meals right in front of their eyes.  I think the idea is for this to be an inviting setting, much like you might gather around the kitchen at a friend’s house when you’ve gone over for dinner.  They always say that the kitchen is the heart of the home, and this is like Josh and Zoe inviting their guests into their home by opening up their kitchen.

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Since we were there for breakfast, I ordered a cafe latte, made with amazing Caffe Luxxe coffee and my husband ordered a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.  I love hand crafted coffee drinks where the barista can actually used the steamed milk to create pictures in your cup.  I know, it’s cheesy, but it is an art form.  This amazing Caffe Luxxe coffee really hit the spot, perfectly brewed and created with a strong espresso flavor with the perfect amount of steamed milk.  And the fresh squeezed orange juice, my husband’s going to love that no matter what.  He already loves orange juice, but amp up the wow factor with fresh squeezed orange juice and he really can’t resist.

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As this is a bakery, to share, we decided to get an order of assorted house baked bread with butter and fresh jam.  Nice and toasted, the bread was delicious.  Crusty on the outside and yeasty and thick and soft on the inside, this bread was delicious.  Although I’m not a fan of jam generally, I actually really enjoyed this fresh jam with the delicious whipped butter.  The bakery bread really lived up to its reputation and both my husband and I thought this was a terrific start to our breakfast meal.

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For my husband’s breakfast dish, he ordered the famous breakfast pizza.  Described as being made with house sausage, potatoes, pickled chili, rosemary cream and finished with a farm egg, we enjoyed the pleasure of actually watching them make this pizza in front of our eyes.  Milo and Olive is known as being a pizzeria, so watching them put the toppings on the pizza and assemble everything that was needed for the breakfast pizza, all the way through putting it into the wood fired oven, taking it out and adding the farm egg as a final touch was pretty cool.

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From the oven, the pizza was cut and brought straight to the table, piping hot and with a perfectly blistered and crispy crust.  The pizza was gorgeous, and it wasn’t hard to see why Milo and Olive is known for their pizza.  The egg was perfectly sunny side up with a nice and runny egg yolk.  My husband said that the flavor of the pizza was outstanding.  The homemade sausage was flavorful and the potatoes were tender and perfectly cooked.  The rosemary cream had great flavor and brought everything together.  However, the pickled chili was really spicy, and eventually ended up being a little too much for my husband’s taste buds.  He felt like the chilis were burning his tongue and he was losing the flavor of the pizza.  Therefore, the pickled chilis just made it a little too much, so my husband eventually had to just pick the chili off of the pizza.  That left behind some of the flavor and the pickling tang of the vinegar, but removed most of the heat.  But that didn’t deter my husband from eating and enjoying his pizza.  For a breakfast pizza, my husband really enjoyed this and thought it was really well done and perfect for a breakfast meal.

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For my breakfast, I ordered the pan seared porchetta with fried eggs and roasted chimichurri potatoes.  Essentially, it is your ham, eggs and potatoes breakfast plate done with a little flair.  Porchetta is savory, fatty and moist boneless pork roast that is thin cut and pan seared to heat it up and give it a little bit of crispiness and texture.  The eggs were cooked to a nice sunny side up with a runny yolk.  What I ended up doing was putting the eggs on top of the porchetta and then cutting into it so that the egg yolk ran over the delicious ham.  But the real star of the dish was the chimichurri potatoes.  The fingerling potatoes were perfectly roasted so that they had a nice caramelization on the outside but were still tender and fluffy on the inside, and the chimichurri sauce was outstanding.  There was enough of it spooned over the potatoes to add a ton of bright, fresh flavor, but not so much that it completely overpowered the flavor of everything else on the plate.  This was a hearty, flavorful breakfast meal.

Milo and Olive provided us with the hearty, filling and delicious breakfast we were looking for before heading to the airport for our quick trip out of town.  The restaurant felt more like your hometown, neighborhood bakery and coffee shop rolled into one, a place where everyone comes just to hang out and read the morning paper and enjoy their morning cup of coffee while chatting with the people working behind the counter.  My husband and I loved the feel and atmosphere of Milo and Olive, but beyond that, we really enjoyed the food.  It’s no wonder that Milo and Olive has the reputation it has, because it lives up to all of the accolades that make it one of West LA’s most popular restaurants.  Now, my husband and I just have to find time to come back for dinner one day and really try out their amazing pizza oven.

Reunion Kitchen + Drink

May 10, 2016

About a year or so ago, a new restaurant opened up in our neighborhood.  This is a space that I remember a restaurant having been in since I was a kid.  When I was growing up, this space housed a Sizzler, which was quite popular.  As the years went on, the Sizzler started to fall out of favor, and the restaurant had less and less customers until the Sizzler closed.  Since I was a teenager, the space has seen quite a few restaurants that have come and gone for one reason or another.  So, it wasn’t that big of a deal when the last restaurant closed and a new one took its place.  My husband and I figured that before long, this new restaurant would also shutter it’s doors.  But, then we started noticing something we hadn’t seen with any of the previous tenants of this space, every time we drove by, no matter the day of the week or the time of day, the place always looked busy.  That must be a good sign.  Then I talked to a couple of friends who tried out the restaurant and they said they liked it.  Not too long after that, I read a little blurb in a local newspaper about how nice it was to have a good quality restaurant in our neighborhood that is mainly made up of chain restaurants.  After all of the positive reviews, my husband and I decided it was probably time to give this restaurant a try.

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Reunion Kitchen + Drink is a full service restaurant and bar.  Specializing in what they call “modern comfort” you’re greeted by a full service bar in one half of the restaurant and an intimate dining space defined by high back booths with an open “exhibition” kitchen in the back of the restaurant.  Off to the side, there is more casual table seating with large screen televisions within view to create more of a home living room setting showing the local sports teams.  And on a nice day, which most days in the area are, there’s plenty of outdoor patio seating as well.  Reunion Kitchen + Drink offers up hand crafted cocktails and beers on tap featuring plenty of local brews.  The kitchen offers up a full serving of soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees that are modern twists on classic American comfort food dishes.  There’s a little bit here for everyone to enjoy.

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One of the things on the menu that really caught my husband’s eye, and convinced him to come and try Reunion Kitchen + Drink wasn’t a menu item per se, but a drink offering.  A couple of years ago, my husband discovered a Belgian beer that he fell in love with.  And since that day, whenever we’ve been anywhere, especially when we traveled in Belgium, where they served Chimay, no matter what kind of Chimay, my husband always orders it.  Here at Reunion Kitchen + Drink, they were offering Chimay Doree Gold which my husband had never seen or heard of before.  Turns out that the bar manager who later came over to our table told us that they only started bottling Doree Gold 6 months prior to our visit.  Before then, the monks who produce Chimay only offered Doree Gold as a special brew served at the moastery to whose who went and visited.  My husband loved the flavor of Doree Gold as it’s described as being an ale made with spices.  He said it was really tasty and somehow reminded him of his younger years when he used to drink more in the sense that it was so tasty it made it easy to drink and you could easily just start pounding these.  Of course, being a Belgian beer, it has a higher than average alcohol content, so pounding these things is probably not the brightest idea.

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We started our meal getting an order of the loaded potato skins.  Using potatoes from Penobscot, Maine, the skins are loaded with cheddar cheese, bacon, green onions and served with a sour cream chive dip on the side.  The skins were really crispy on the outside and super tender and fluffy potatoes on the inside, which is good.  The quick deep fry created a crunchy exterior which added texture to the skins was a perfect vehicle to melt cheese onto.  The potato skins were terrific in flavor, not too salty, as sometimes they can be when loaded with cheese and bacon, and they weren’t too over-flavored either.  In this case, you can taste every ingredient in the potato skin as you’re enjoying it, and the subtle onion flavor of the green onion works well.

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We also decided to get an order of the Brussel sprouts.  Roasted with cider vinegar, bacon, maple syrup and shallots, the sprouts were tasty!  Roasting the sprouts creates nice caramelized sprouts with some crispy outside leaves, but the inside of the sprouts are tender and soft.  The cider vinegar adds a great bite of tang to the sprouts and balances out the salty bacon.  The addition of maple syrup is nice as it adds sweetness and helps in caramelizing the sprouts through the roasting process and then you’ve got the shallots with their hint of subtle onion flavor that helps to round out the flavor of the dish.  I think I enjoyed this dish more than my husband did, but that’s not surprising.  I pretty much ordered this dish for myself.

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As if we hadn’t had enough appetizers, my husband decided he wanted to get a cup of the French onion soup to go with his meal.  He just can’t resist the cheesy goodness of French onion soup.  He thought that the soup had great onion flavor, but wasn’t salty as French onion soup has a tendency to be.  The cheese had a terrific nutty flavor which balanced out the onions and the broth.  My husband also mentioned that the soup was at a perfect temperature.  My husband is picky when it comes to hot items, he doesn’t like his food too hot or else it burns his mouth and he loses the flavor of the food.  In this case, he thought that the soup was a nice warm temperature that he could immediately enjoy it without burning his mouth or having to let the soup sit to cool down.

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For dinner, my husband ordered the crispy pancetta pasta with blackened chicken.  Made with penne pasta, tomato, fresh basil, garlic cream, baby peas and fresh parmesan, and served with a couple of slices of garlic toast, my husband really enjoyed his meal.  The garlic cream sauce was delicious and cheese.  The crispy pancetta had a nice salty taste to it, the blackened chicken was flavorful and filling, and the tomatoes and fresh basil added a nice fresh flavor and touch to the dish.  The garlic toast was a terrific accompaniment to the pasta and the baby peas added just another element of flavor, one my husband would never get at home because I absolutely hate peas.  This pasta dish was incredibly filling and there was a lot of it.  No matter how hungry my husband was, he just couldn’t finish the dish.

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As a side dish to our meal, I ordered the creamed corn with bacon.  I’m a huge fan of creamed corn, and though my husband doesn’t really enjoy it, I try to order it whenever I see it on a restaurant menu.  For me, creamed corn is one of those throwback dishes that I feel like you just never find anymore and I love it when I find a restaurant that actually serves it.  I loved the crispy bacon topping the creamed corn as it added crunch but also a bite of saltiness to the dish.  The creamed corn was extremely creamy and full of great flavor.  My only complaint would be that there was a lot of cream, and didn’t seem to be enough corn kernels and I definitely would have liked it to have just a bit more corn in the creamed corn.

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I chose the slow braised short ribs for my meal.  Made with a rich demi glace, horseradish cream and served over mashed potatoes with a side of roasted vegetables, the short ribs were then topped with firestick onions.  First off, this dish was huge!  Much like my husband’s pasta dish, this dish made me full just looking at it because it was potatoes piled high with short ribs, with vegetables with crispy onion straws.  It was crazy.  But, it was so good.  The potatoes were nice and creamy and a great side to the short ribs.  The short ribs were fork tender and fall apart and there was so much short rib.  They certainly didn’t skimp on the meat.  The horseradish cream sauce was terrific, with a nice finishing horseradish bite that really stood out from the rest of the flavors on the plate.  The roasted zucchini was fantastic with still a little bit of crunch and was a perfect side for the potatoes and ribs.  And I loved the topping of the crispy firestick onions, not only did they add some flavor to the rich short ribs, but they also added texture and crunch to the dish as well.

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Even though neither my husband nor I could finish our meals we couldn’t help but take a peek at the dessert menu.  Our waiter pointed out to us what he said was the best and most popular dessert on the menu and we thought, “what the heck?”  So we decided to split the warm butter cake.  Made with a house secret recipe, it is topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, raspberry puree and finished with fresh whipped cream.  Oh my!  This butter cake was rich and butter, but not over-the-top.  The combination of the warm butter cake and the melting vanilla bean ice cream was perfect and the ice cream helped to cut out some of the richness of the cake.  But the butter cake was certainly the star, it was moist and flaky and perfectly baked.  The raspberry puree added a nice acidic punch to the dessert and helped balance out the flavors and the homemade whipped cream added a refreshing creaminess to the rich cake.  I was stuffed by the end of the dessert, but I was glad we decided to split this as it would have been a shame to miss out on it.

After waiting so long to eat at Reunion Kitchen + Drink, we couldn’t figure out why we hadn’t decided to try it earlier.  The place was jam-packed on the Saturday night that we went there, and it always seems to be packed every time we drive by it.  That’s a great testament to the delicious food that’s being served up inside.  Modern comfort food is a great way to describe the eclectic menu, and even our orders reflected modern comfort food from old fashioned creamed corn to short ribs and pasta with cream sauce.  My husband loved that they were serving a variety of his favorite beer that he hadn’t ever tried before and our finishing dessert was a great way to end the meal.  We’ve since been back to Reunion Kitchen + Drink since this first visit, and I’m sure there will be more future visits to come.

How “Suite” It Is At An LA Kings Game

May 5, 2016

I’ve been lucky enough to be treated to a night in a luxury suite, and all the perks that come with it, at Staples Center in Los Angeles during a Los Angeles Kings game.  The first two times (Los Angeles Kings Game Luxury Suite and Living the Suite Life (Again!)) were courtesy of being invited as part of a work event for my husband and were hosted by the same business contacts.  Last year, my husband’s company was lucky enough to be hosted at a luxury suite at a LA Kings Game again, but this time by a different business contact, who hosted us in a much bigger suite where more people were present and everything just seemed bigger and more grand.

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First off, instead of just having access to coolers with all sorts of sodas, bottled water and beer and wine, we actually had a hosted bar with a bartender for the evening pouring any and all drinks that everyone inside the suite wanted.  Red wine, white wine, several different kinds of beers, and soda among others were our choices for beverages for the night.

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Our hosts provided us with amazing food choices for the evening.  There were quick and easy finger foods such as fresh vegetables, including celery sticks, carrot sticks, broccoli, cucumber, grape tomatoes, bell peppers and rainbow-colored cauliflower with ranch dressing and hummus.  Or there was bean dip and various types of chips to use to scoop up the bean dip.

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More quick and easy snacks such as tortilla chips and potato chips with fresh guacamole, corn salsa, tomato salsa and sour cream.

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Then there was a cheese and charcuterie plate with different cheeses, a selection of sliced, cured meats, and some honey, preserves and some crackers and bread as well.

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We had coleslaw, salad with cucumbers, red onions, olives, tomatoes, cheese and chicken with dressing on the side, as well as crostini with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, basil and olive tapenade as light starters.

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On to the food of the night, there were bbq chicken drumsticks and wings.  Those were really popular.  Hearty, and delicious, yet easy enough to eat, and really, the kind of food you think of when you think of eating at a sporting event.

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Baked beans with sausage, which I absolutely loved, and mac and cheese with a terrific crunchy panko topping.  My husband really enjoyed the mac and cheese, and I noticed that was one of the first dishes to go.  I guess mac and cheese is just one of those comfort foods that everyone loves.  These were just the sides for the main course of the evening.

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The main entree for dinner was a big hit with everyone, pulled pork and pulled beef brisket to go with some sandwich buns.  Essentially, we had a bbq meal.  And the pulled brisket was terrific, just a little spice, and perfectly cooked and tender.  I had to have a couple of pulled brisket sandwiches.

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There were also hot dogs and chicken fingers for those who weren’t quite feeling the bbq theme of the evening.  Again, it was like being at a sporting event tailgate with a bunch of terrific, delicious, and easy-to-eat food.

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And then finally, there was a pan of cast iron cornbread.  Who doesn’t love corn bread with their bbq meal?

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Towards the end of the first period, we had the highlight the evening.  The dessert cart.  When you watch a sporting event at Staples Center from the luxury suite levels, at some point during the evening, a dessert cart is pushed to your suite and its the one thing that tears everyone’s attention away from the sporting event.  The desert cart is exactly how it sounds, a cart filled with all the different, delicious, desserts that you could ever want, and it’s all yours to choose from and enjoy.  As much, or as little, as you want.  But, let’s be realistic, who can resist?

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Let’s start with the cakes.  And there’s lot and lots of cake.  The red velvet cake is a popular selection among many.  There was a chocolate paradise cake with crushed nuts crusted on the outside.  How about the chocolate mocha cake?  That looked terrific.  There was a Chicago-style cheese cake as well.  There was an absolutely decadent peanut butter cup, chocolate brownie stack cake.   That’s all the chocolate and peanut butter that anyone could handle.  For those who aren’t chocolate fans, there was a six layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.  They all sounded so good.  And if you wanted, you could have gotten a slice of each of them.

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But the dessert cart wasn’t just about the cakes.  There were cookies and candies and ice cream.  There were bags of M&M’s and gummy bears and sour patch kids.  It’s my husband’s tradition to always get a bag of gummy bears, and that’s what his choice for the evening from the dessert cart was.  There were chocolate cups on the dessert cart along with some rum and some Bailey’s for the adults that wanted a more adult dessert.  There was at least one person in our group who took advantage of a shot of Bailey’s in a chocolate cup.  There were various cookies including chocolate chip and Reese’s peanut butter cups.  There were candied caramel apples as well as caramel apples with crushed peanuts as well.  If you got one of the apples, they’d slice them up for you as well so you could share it.  There were bars of rice krispie treats and chocolate brownie bars, and toffee crunch blondie bars.  And there were waffle cones, chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, butterscotch and maraschino cherries as the makings for some awesome sundaes using the vanilla ice cream stored in the dessert cart’s freezer.

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I’m an ice cream fan, so I couldn’t resist getting a sundae.  However, instead of using the waffle cones, they had miniature LA King’s plastic helmets, which is what I chose for my ice cream sundae.  Two scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and rainbow sprinkles.  Yes, please.  It was so good, and large enough that my husband and I were able to share the helmet ice cream sundae.

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Once you’ve enjoyed an LA Kings game in a luxury suite, it’s hard to ever go back to just being a fan in the stands.  The goodies that came with hanging out in a suite, with a hosted bar, all the food you could ever want, and the dessert cart, make you feel like you’re living the high life.  Good game, great seats for the game, good food, good company, and a happy ending on the ice make for such a fun atmosphere with friends.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

May 3, 2016

Sometimes, when it’s cold (relatively speaking, I live in Southern California after all!) and chilly outside, all you want is a little bit of comfort food.  Winter months are great for enjoy a bowl of hearty soup.  Soup is filling, and warm and comforting and some times just a reminder of home during the long, dark nights.  So, one night, I got it in my head to try to learn how to make homemade chicken noodle soup.  I’ve never done anything like this before, but I figured, how hard can it be to make chicken noodle soup?  People make it all the time, and it is definitely the ultimate comfort food.

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While this is homemade chicken noodle soup, I didn’t actually make it all from scratch.  I used a leftover whole rotisserie chicken, and a package of store-bought egg noodles.  I never said this was made-from-scratch chicken noodle soup, just that it was homemade.  Let’s start with the whole rotisserie chicken that I bought to eat for a different meal.  I pulled the rest of the chicken meat off the bones and set the meat aside in a separate bowl to be used later for the soup.

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Before there can be chicken noodle soup, we need to make the broth.  Cut up the ingredients for the chicken stock that will go into making the soup broth.  We need a few basic ingredients for the stock, and that includes onions, carrots and celery.  These three items are the base of flavoring for the chicken stock.  We also need a few basic herbs, that includes some parsley.  Fresh is always better than dried.

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Into a dutch oven goes the whole chicken carcass.  If there’s still some chicken meat left on the bones, don’t worry.  Once we’re done with the chicken carcass, the chicken meat will just fall off of the bones.  Along with the chicken carcass, throw in the celery stalks, carrots and onions.

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To the dutch oven, add in a quart or two of cold water.  Just enough water to cover the chicken carcass and the vegetables.  You definitely don’t need to fill the entire dutch oven with water.  The less water you use, the more concentrated your chicken stock will be when done.  The more water you use, the more diluted the chicken stock and hence you’ll not be able to taste the rich flavors of the chicken and the vegetables.

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The final few ingredients to be added to the pot now.  Throw in the fresh parsley.

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Add this of fresh thyme as well for a woodsy, earthy flavor.

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And finally, add in a handful of whole black peppercorns for some added spice to the chicken broth.  Bring the pot up to a boil and then lower the temperature on the stove down to a simmer.  Cover the pot and let the stock simmer for a couple of hours.  This infuses the flavor of the herbs and the vegetables and the chicken into the stock.  The stock starts to reduce and concentrate.

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After a couple of hours, the celery and the carrots start to get mushy and opaque.  The onions have long since turned translucent.  The remaining meat on the chicken carcass has started to just fall off the chicken carcass itself, and all of the fresh parsley and thyme has turned an ugly dull, dark green color.  Your chicken stock is ready.  The next step would be to take the carcass out and take off any of the remaining chicken meat that can you salvage.  Now strain the remainder of the stock to separate out the stock from the cooked veggies and herbs.  The vegetables and the herbs have done their job now and you don’t need them anymore.  What you do need is the chicken stock that’s now been flavored and infused with all of the essence of the vegetables and the herbs.  This one chicken carcass made two quarts of chicken stock for me.

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Now that you’ve got your chicken stock, it’s time to prepare to make the chicken noodle soup.  I like my chicken noodle soup to have chunky vegetables in it as well as the noodles.  So, I prepared many of the same vegetables we used for the chicken stock: onions, carrots, and celery.  Again, I also used a little bit of the fresh parsley I still had on hand.  Since this is going into your soup and you’re going to be eating it, cut all the vegetables into bite sized pieces.  Also, now is the time to cook the egg noodles for the chicken noodle soup.  In a separate pot of boiling water, pour in just enough egg noodles for the amount of soup that you’ll be making and cook until al dente.

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Into a small pot on the stove, add in a couple of cups of the chicken stock we just made, throw in the vegetables for the soup, the onions, carrots and celery, and allow everything to come up to a quick boil.  This will cook the vegetables to your liking it.  Do you want softer, mushy vegetables then let it boil a little longer. If you want firmer, crunchier vegetables with a bit of a bite to them, don’t boil as long.

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Into the small pot, add in the chicken for your chicken noodle soup.  Again, like the egg noodles, only add in enough chicken for the amount of soup that you’re actually going to make and enjoy.  Once you’ve got the chicken stock prepared, making chicken noodle soup is quick and easy.  So there’s no need to make pots and pots of it in advance.

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After you’ve added the chicken, the final touch is to add in the egg noodles that you’ve already cooked.  Since the egg noodles are already done, there’s no need to continue cooking them in the pot with the chicken stock and the rest of the vegetables.  So, you can turn off the heat to the pot as soon as you’ve added the egg noodles.  Just stir everything to combine.

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Serve the chicken noodle soup right away in a bowl piping hot off the stove.  You can see the beautiful egg noodles, the perfectly cooked and bite sized carrots, onions and celery, and the chunks of rotisserie chicken meat.  The flavor of the broth for the soup is perfect because you made it yourself.  You know exactly what went into the chicken stock, the vegetables the fresh herbs, the peppercorn.  There’s no added ingredients, no additives, just pure flavoring from the chicken and the vegetables.  The chicken noodle soup was perfect and delicious.  The broth was rich and hearty and filling and the soup hit the spot on a cold winter night.  My husband was skeptical at first of my soup making skills, but once he smelled the soup and saw how good it looked, he even asked for a bowl of it himself.

City Tap House

April 27, 2016

As we’ve experienced previously, when traveling over a holiday, especially Thanksgiving or Christmas, you need to do some research before you travel so that you know what may be available to you in terms of meals during holidays on the road.  You can’t expect that same types of eateries or restaurants that are open on holidays at home will be available to you when you’re traveling.  Thanksgiving, especially since there’s such an emphasis on family and family gatherings, tends to be a difficult holiday to find many food options for, especially if you don’t plan ahead since most restaurants are either closed, or those that aren’t tend to fill up quickly as others begin to realize that the options are limited.  In preparing for our trip to Washington, D.C., we looked over the various options available to us for our Thanksgiving dinner meal and tried to pick a restaurant that served a variety of food, where we could still order off of the restaurant’s regular menu rather than being forced to order off of a set holiday menu so that it would satisfy the taste buds of everyone in our party.  While we found quite a few restaurants that were actually open for Thanksgiving dinner, very few either didn’t cost and arm and a leg for a meal, or actually allowed ordered off of the restaurant’s regular menu.  After narrowing down our choices, we decided to go with the restaurant that we thought would be the most laid back and relaxing restaurant and take our chances.

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Located in DC’s downtown entertainment core and close to Chinatown and shopping, City Tap House is a good old-fashioned brewhouse.  Offering craft beer from around the country and around the world, this “rustic, yet comfortable” brew pub serves brunch on weekends, and is open for lunch all the way into the late night/early morning hours the rest of the week.  But it’s not just the drinks people come for, it’s also what they describe as “elevated, American pub fare,” that includes brick oven pizzas and classic burgers you’d find in any gastropub, with a few surprises thrown in.

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The interior of the restaurant was relaxed and casual with a large open dining room and a large bar area.  The wood-paneled interior decor was very Americana and rustic with dim-intimate lighting, a large US flag as decoration as well as some wrought iron design pieces, and somewhat of a mid-western vibe to the atmosphere.  While dinner service was bustling on Thanksgiving evening, it wasn’t jam packed, which was nice.  And somehow seemed to be mainly locals rather than out-of-towners as our waiter seemed to be blown away by the fact that we came from California all the way cross country to not only spend our holiday in Washington, D.C., but our dinner at the restaurant.

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We started our meal by ordering an appetizer of yellowfin tuna tartare.  Made with scallions, cucumbers, red pepper, wasabi tobiko and yuzu-ginger dressing and accompanied by wonton strips, this tartare was fresh and full of flavor.  I really liked the use of wonton strips as an accompaniment to the tartare, the wonton strips were crispy and crunchy and a flavorful compliment to the yellowfin tuna.  I could have done without the red pepper in the tartare itself, but then again, that’s just me as I don’t like peppers.  The tartare itself was fresh and the yuzu-ginger dressing was fantastic.  The dressing made the tartare tart and tangy and incredibly flavorful.  The use of thin-sliced cucumbers was cool and refreshing and provided for such an interesting texture combination.

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My mom decided to order the classic margherita pizza for her dinner.  As the menu describes, the is a classic with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and basil.  The pizza was a terrific size for an individual entrée.  The dough was yeasty and doughy, which worked for my mom, and the tomato sauce was tangy.  Just the right amount of fresh mozzarella that was nice and melty and the clean, rich taste of the olive oil made for a pizza meal that my mom could enjoy.

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I ordered the rye French dip made with shaved ribeye, Gruyere cheese, bourbon mustard, porter au jus on country rye and served with duck fat fries.  I was a bit concerned about the rye bread as I don’t really love seeds in my bread, but the bread that City Tap House chose for the sandwich was actually pretty good, nice and thick cut and though you could taste the rye, it wasn’t studded with seeds all over.  The sandwich was perfectly cooked and incredibly crunchy and crispy, which I really loved.  The shaved ribeye was fantastic with the meat being nice and medium rare and combined with the Gruyere cheese it was just delicious.  The difference in this French dip was how flavorful and perfectly cooked the ribeye was, that was definitely the star.  The duck fat fries were fantastic as well, so rich in flavor and nice and crunchy and crispy on the outside.  The fries were thick enough that the inside was still soft and tender and full of potato.  The sandwich and the fries were such a delicious combination together.

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My dad and my husband both ordered the Tap burger, the restaurant’s signature hamburger.  Eight ounces of all natural ground beef topped with Lancaster rustic cheddar cheese, agrodolce onions, beer gastrique, toasted brioche and again served with duck fat fries with a truffle aioli dipping sauce created a fulfilling meal.  My husband decided to up the flavor factor in his burger by adding Benton’s bacon.  My husband was so excited by the duck fat fries that he dug into them first and devoured the whole thing.  Anything cooked in duck fat can’t be bad, and my husband can’t resist ordering it.  Both my husband and my dad loved their burgers.  They thought that the flavor of the burger patty was outstanding.  The cheese added a nice tang, and the agrodolce onions and the beer gastrique added the wow factor to the burger with tons of flavor.  This was definitely a burger worthy of a brewhouse.

We were all so full by the end of dinner that we didn’t even have room to consider ordering dessert.  Although this wasn’t the world’s fanciest Thanksgiving dinner, this worked for our family.  A really relaxing, fun atmosphere, a shared family meal that we all enjoyed, was really what it was all about.  We were never looking for a fancy Thanksgiving dinner meal, my family just doesn’t operate that way.  What was important to us was finding a place that served good, old fashioned food that could satisfy all of our tastes.  City Tap House was just fun, from the minute we walked into the restaurant, the atmosphere was relaxed and laid back and it was all about providing guests with a good time with good food.