Sunday, December 23, 2007

Slight Intermission

I'll be in Europe starting from tomorrow (12/23) till January 4th!
See you all soon!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Road Trip: Las Vegas, Part 1a: Buffets!

Mystery Eater and I went to Vegas for a little post Finals/Mystery Eater's birthday celebration, while there we enjoyed foods from every culinary corner of the world. So for the next 4 posts we'll be taking a tour of what Las Vegas has to offer in its culinary delights.

Since we were staying at The Wynn, we decided the very first meal we'd have is the Wynn Buffet. So very first thing we did after checking in and dropping off our luggage was run downstairs to the slot machines. (ah you expected buffet right?)

You're probably curious ...
  1. Why we didn't run straight to the buffet
  2. Don't you hate slots charlie?
Your questions are well founded dear audience, but allow me to elaborate. Currently the Wynn has a promotion that if you play 50 points on your player's card you get two free buffets! (50 points = $150 in slots, $450 video poker). After about 20 minutes, Mystery Eater and I were able to get enough points on my card (split one account into two cards) for 2 free buffets as well as $30 in winnings between us!

When we arrived at the Buffet entrance we were greeted by this
A massive line of people waiting to get into the buffet. We looked at the line, stuck out our tongues and said "NA NA NA NA NA" to them and walked to the front of line.
Thank you tower suites card and the benefits you bestow on us.

After a 5 minute wait to get seated, we were promptly placed in the center of the dining area. The Buffet looks like Tim Burton's happy dreams, colorful and crazy.
The Buffet serving area is actually blinding white. Clean and shiny there's a sign above each station telling you what they have. The food ranges from Shellfish, Seafood, Japanese, Chinese, Pasta, Italian, America, Breads, Grilled, Salads, Desserts, Carving, and Soups. We tried to take pictures but the workers wouldn't let us =( So we just have pictures of our food.

The very first thing we saw was the Candied Apple display, the ONE picture we got in the buffet line.
They are constantly making fresh candied apples. They also have all kinds of "home made" ice cream: Vanilla, Chocolate, Coffee, peppermint, and Berries with a plethora of toppings! As well they have the always delicious Creme Brulee and other pastry delights.

The two neatest things there were the Pasta Station and the Noodle station.
The noodle station is Chinese noodle soup (Cantonese style) , egg noodle with chicken, duck, shittake mushrooms, Gai Lang, and some other toppings. The broth isn't extremely rich, but it was still tasty for a buffet noodle soup.
The pasta station was a mix of chicken, Italian sausage, onions, mushrooms, roasted peppers, onion, huge baked garlic cloves, and basil with bow tie pasta. You get either Alfredo, Pesto, or Marinara sauce. It smelled amazing , but i only ate a few bites. I realized I'm not a huge fan of Marinara sauce of any kind, haha. They also had some other Italian Pasta dishes, their Gnocci was particularly spectacular.

The Chinese section had Sweet and sour pork, deep fried shrimp dumplings, pan fried dumplings, bok choy, chow fun. Mystery Eater said the S&S pork was very good and i found the deep fried shrimp dumplings to be perfectly fried. *yummy*!
(Bok choy on the left, dumpling on the right).
Also on this plate is some food from the Carving station.
A whole Tom turkey as well as a nice standing Prime Rib roast. They have a few style of gravy, stuffing, and beef dripping!
Probably the best buffet Prime Rib I've had. It wasn't rough (aka sitting under the lamp forever) and it had a nice fat trimming. The turkey was good, especially since turkey has a tendency to dry out. The dark meat was moist and the gravy was saucy! (opposed to.. solid).

Also on the plate was the Sushi section. I got a spicy salmon handroll, that was stuffed very spicy salmon goodness. One of the few hand rolls I've had in any restaurant stuffed with fish.

Next up, American/Grill!
A mix of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, grilled lamb chops, grilled veal, grilled squash + eggplant, Lamb Oso Buco. The fried chicken was beautiful. A slightly sweet skin filled with buttermilk. Even sitting under a heatlamp it was good, if it was fresh I'd probably be drooling all over.
The grilled meats were all tender and flavorful. I was a huge fan of the grilled veal. I'm very appreciative of the effort put into making sure the meat is still tender even after sitting out in a hot lamp for however long.
As well there is a grilled seafood section. Herb-crusted salmon, mahi mahi, red snapper, and tuna abound! The fish did not flake easily and did not live up to the visions of yummy flaky chilean sea bass (a la Bellagio buffet). However, this is not a problem unique to the Wynn Buffet, but just grilled fish generally-- I think the problem is that it gets cooked too long and becomes tough, almost meaty. Then add in the fact that it's sitting under a heat lamp it only exacerbates the problem. The red snapper was good because its a naturally oily and flaky fish, but the mahi-mahi was extremely tough as well as the salmon.

Of course with every good buffet's seafood section, you need great raw items. Luckily the Wynn didn't disappoint in that.
First is the Ceviche.
A deliciously tart cacophony of Bay shrimp, lemon zest, cilantro, red onions, and wild greens mixed together in a small cup. I personally found it very appealing, it would have been nice if the shrimp were bigger than my pinky nail but what can you do. My cuisine companion found it overly lemon-y though, so those who are not a fan of lemon may want to avoid the ceviche! There were other types of ceviche as well, so those more adventurous are welcome to try to the octopus!

And second is the most important part of any $20+ buffet: the crab legs. (Which the Morongo Casino buffet (Palm Springs) doesn't have. $26 dollars for over-cooked prime rib, mushy raw shrimp with skin still attached, and NO crab legs!).

Ah Alaskan King Crab legs. Easily one of the most delicious things in the world when not frozen for extended periods of time. These... were decent. It came with a large dispenser of warm butter, which was so buttery that even I said "that's too much".

I'd say definitely give it a shot, use the slot play free buffets!

Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Monday, December 17, 2007

Las Vegas!

I'm heading to Las Vegas on tuesday. On tap

Lotus of Siam
wynn Buffet!

Be back soon!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A backyard BBQ (OC)

I rather enjoy eating at out of the way restaurants. The more obscure they are the less I believe they are obstructed by the need to aesthetically appease their customers with pretty decorations and the restaurant can just concentrate specifically on making food that tastes good, costs less , and is overall a better experience for my stomach.

One such example is Burrell's BBQ in Santa Ana, California. The location is very discreet , so descreet that we actually drove by it when we went looking for it. The reason why we got lost was because we went looking for a plaza with a restaurant opposed to a neighborhood of houses with a restaurant.

That's right, Burrell's is located in a house. To its left, to its right, to its back, to its front are all houses. So how do you know you've arrived at this BBQ heaven?
A giant ugly red building with large booger green BAR-B-QUE PIT painted on the front that's how. Don't let the decor fool you, what's inside is nothing but pure BBQ heaven.

When you walk inside there's a simple menu that has all the food, an area covered by heat lamps with racks of baby back ribs, beef ribs, chicken, sausages, and appetizers. In the back of the restaurant is a giant smoker. I'm not even sure how they have that in there with the home zoning codes but I won't tell if you don't tell.

What I've ordered so far is part of the lunch special, BBQ spare ribs, one side (always candid yams for me) and a hunch of corn bread uh.. and a slice of sweet potato pie. These ribs are great, it has the right amount of fat to keep the meat moist and you can see all the pink smoke rings circling each piece of meat. The meat has a nice sturdiness to it so you know you're not just chewing fat. They use a little bit of sauce, but all the flavor really comes from the smoker. The tartness of the pickle offsets the ribs nicely. I wish they had some sweet onions to go along cause that would have really enhanced the flavor profiles of the tangy sauce.

The yams, ah.. just like my mamma used to make it... if my mom was raised in the south and cooked my southern food. *a man can dream*.
Sweet , candid yams, mushy enough where you can just cut right into it with no resistance and sturdy enough where you could pick up chunks of it with your fork. It had just the right amount of cinnamon (I absolutely hate when cinnamon overpours a dish) and sugar.

The sweet potato pie as well was great, same as the yams, not overly sweet and just the right amount of cinnamon. (I'm actually salivating right now, I think I need to eat lunch). The crust is the kicker, I like thicker crusts where it doesn't flake too much (I know tons of people are directly the opposite) , so this nice doughy crust works great for me. One time we went, they gave us a free slice of Pecan pie cause they ran out of sweet potato!

Not sure if you noticed from the pictures but we're sitting outside! Burrell's has no indoor seating, just a bunch of picnic tables sitting in the side yard with a big roll of paper towels. They also serve a mint sweet tea. As you may all know I have a disturbing infatuation with sweet tea. This tea is slightly different from what i'm used to. I'm used to a real infusion of sugar and tea but this one has more of a mint flavor than the sugary flavor I'm used to. It does make it significantly more refreshing in the hot weather , but not sweet enough for my tastes.

One bit of warning, if you ever decide to get a sandwich, they are incredibly small.
My friend finished it within 10 bites as he sat there watching us eat everything else.

So if you're looking for some real quality BBQ, look no further than Burrell's.

Burrell's BBQ
305 N. Hesperian
Santa Ana, CA

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Teaching Clayfu how to make his own Clayfood (OC/LA)

disclaimer: I took a ridiculous amount of pictures, and it was a crazy day, so get ready.

My mom has always wanted to take a cooking class, finally one weekend I was at home, she was at home and my unwilling brother were at home so we made a reservation to learn to cook at the San Clamente Cooking School at the Villa Cucina.

We signed up for "From Farm to Fork" taught by Executive Chef David from the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa. (A whopping $125 a person! Do not fear not every class is this expensive). The premise of this cooking class is you go to the local Farmer's Market, pick out fresh produce , learn what's good and fresh and learn what's bad. You take back what you bought (well they bought) and you put together a fabulous dinner.

Unfortunately, it decided to rain that day, actually correction, rain would suggest some water falling down, the weather that day was flash flood level torrential on pours. (as evidenced in this picture)
Luckily the Farmer's market was open rain or shine. Out of all of the rich trophy wives that were in the class with us, my mother and I were the only ones who dared to venture into the rain and pick out the food. (where's my brother? being lazy most likely).

So as we plopped through what seemed to be Noah's second flood we found all kinds of great stuff. The thing that got me really excited (and has kept me excited everytime I seem them now) are Heirloom Tomatoes.

Don't those things look amazing? Wowsers! I ended up buying half a dozen for myself cause they just looked so good.
What are Heirloom tomatoes?
You know when you go to the supermarket every single tomato you see is essentially the same size and shape? Well alot of them are genetically altered to form the perfect super tomato, Heirloom's on the other hand are never touched by your friendly neighborhood geneticist. They are called Heirloom's because the seed that each type comes from is "handed down from generation to generation" . If you'd like to read more about it, please direct yourself to Wikipedia
Take a look at the deliciousness of the tomato

Its almost like eating a large cherry tomato. I could (and I have) take a bite right out of the tomato and go to town.

(more tomatoes! I was gonna say pretty but.. they are pretty ugly looking. If I was judging purely on aesthetics I'd probably shy away).

We also bought tons of fresh greens and Arugula

Zuchinni, peppers, onions

and the main ingredient of the day, Scallops

Look at the size of those puppies. Two/three in each of your hands for a good comparison (uh.. hands that are my size).

Now you're probably curious what we have planned for this!

Allow me to give you the menu at Chateau La Fu
  • First is a light refresher, a Gazpacho with a slight kick.
  • As an appetizer a light Arugula salad with a light vinaigrette dressing.
  • For the main course we have seared scallops with a south of the border sauce and a grilled assortment of vegetables.
Allow me to give you a quick tour of the kitchen of Chateau La Fu.

Viking furnished kitchen
  • stove
  • grill
  • oven
  • sink
  • searer (?)

Hopefully one day the House of Fu will also be able to afford such kitchen treats so I can entertain multiple guests with glasses of wine, funny stories, and great food. (hehe)

So for the Gazpacho we chopped up a multitude of Heirloom tomatoes, red onions, some jalapeños, some basil and added in a bit of salt and pepper and threw it all into the food processor. (Oddly easy to make yes). After blending it all together, we added some more red onion and yellow tomatoes to add in some color, and walla!

Placed in the fridge for half a hour and you got yourself some chilled tomato soup.

While preparing the salad, we thinly sliced some peppers and zucchinis. We put them in a bowl together with salt, pepper, and nice California olive oil.

Here is the famed Executive Chef Fu showing his Sous Chef how it is PROPERLY DONE! YOU MUST COOK WITH HEART AND SOUL! (Hung xoxo).

Apparently the key to cooking peppers (which you will inevitably slice) is to essentially char the side with skin. After you char it and its nice and black you toss it into a bowl and put some plastic wrap over it.
You let it steam for a bit and the charred part of the skin will be able to get peeled off pretty easily.

Then we cut up some bread and spread on triple creme and toss it in the oven for a few minutes
After the bread bakes and the salad is mixed you end up with...
This! Pretty simple stuff, the dressing balances out the standard bitterness that comes with Arugula. Personally I'm not a fan of Arugula but hey, you work with what you got!

And finally the main dish, the seared scallops. First you start off with some sea salt, some pepper, some mixed herb shreddings and you just toss it onto a pan or whatever else you believe can do the job.
Let it sit on each side for about 10 minutes and you'll get the nice "flacky" scallop.
For a sauce we chopped the rest of the tomatoes, some onions, and avocados, almost like a salsa.

We then sliced up the grilled peppers and set up the dish.
WALLA! the main course, Seared Scallops!

A tasty and fun experience all in all, I'm a huge fan of walking through the Farmer's market and finding fresh produce. Hope you all enjoyed the start of my cooking career, next time you see me I'll be cooking with Thomas Keller and swapping war stories.

Sorry this wasn't an amazingly descriptive post, but I thought the pictures were just so awesome, the freshness of the vegetables and nice large scallops!