Winter – a bountiful banquet of beverages and eats: KS, AZ, Las Vegas

The first month of winter began with a holiday season full of frivolity, festivity and feasting. A lot of that great feasting took place at home. Surf and turf Christmas Eve. Christmas ham and scalloped potatoes on Christmas Day. A buffet full of appies to ring in the New Year. And an alka-seltzer punch on January 1st to help bring the first day of 2015 into focus.

Filling up on the basics - beef tenderloin, giant king crab leg and extra creamy mashed potatoes - at home on Christmas Eve.

Filling up on the basics – beef tenderloin, giant king crab leg and extra creamy mashed potatoes – at home on Christmas Eve.

We are a family of foodies who enjoy venturing out to test the abilities of chefs everywhere to see what they can do with many of the same every day ingredients found in our own kitchens and found in the same restaurants over and over. Today, chefs are artists. Incorporating color and texture in plating their dishes has become as important as infusing tantalizing flavors to these same dishes.

Kansas:

Chaz on the Plaza, in The Raphael, a boutique hotel in Kansas City, Kansas, provides one of the finest dining experiences in the Kansas City metro area. The setting – intimate, warm and inviting seating areas orchestrated around the bar. Food and drinks – served by a professional wait staff. This restaurant in the heartland of America integrates a little southern flare to its fare.

Savannah Style Crab Cake - smothered with poached local egg, pea greens and dijon mustard on Chaz at the Plaza, KC.

Savannah Style Crab Cake – smothered with poached local egg, pea greens and dijon mustard on Chaz at the Plaza.

A Maple Manhattan, straight up, with a candied bacon garnish - to wash down that crab cake at Chaz.

A Maple Manhattan, straight up, with a candied bacon garnish – to wash down that crab cake at Chaz.

Arizona:

Sumo Maya, one of my new favorite restaurants in Scottsdale, serves up Asian-Mexican fusion cuisine. While you chew on that combo, let me tempt you with some visuals we experienced in this energized, hip, and modern themed eatery:

Miso Chilean Sea Bass - Sumo Maya, Scottsdale.

Miso Chilean Sea Bass – Sumo Maya, Scottsdale.

Vietnamese Style "Shaking Beef" - filet mignon, upland cress, dark soy, scallions, mirin + serrano chili-lime sauce.

Vietnamese Style “Shaking Beef” – filet mignon, upland cress, dark soy, scallions, mirin + serrano chili-lime sauce.

Another local Scottsdale favorite is AZ88, which is located in Old Scottsdale. Know for their martini’s and unique Christmas trees, the sterile feeling of this modern design restaurant is offset by their hearty-sized ‘must share’ appetizers:

St. Petersburg Potatoes - housemade potato chips topped with sour cream, smoked salmon and crisp julienned veggies.

St. Petersburg Potatoes – housemade potato chips topped with sour cream/cream cheese, smoked salmon and crisp julienned veggies.

St. Germain Martini at AZ88

St. Germain Martini at AZ88

Another must visit is in south Phoenix, at Quiessence at South Mountain, a farm to table fine-dining experience that is all about the food. Set in the middle of working farm, the menu is minimal, the ambience basic, but the flavors are big and the waiters are knowledgeable and friendly:

Potato Gnocchi - Duck Confit, Summer Squash, Corno di Toro Peppers, Garlic Chives, Mint.

Potato Gnocchi – Duck Confit, Summer Squash, Corno di Toro Peppers, Garlic Chives, Mint.

If you want a lot of bang for your food buck – check out the authentic Mexican food restaurant: Los Dos Molinos – with several locations in the valley. Known for their spicy dishes and the pork they slow-cook all day long so it literally melts in your mouth – all washed down with their Kick Ass margaritas. Make sure you have a driver after having one of these two fisters!

OR

Head to Red Rock Buffet at Fort McDowell Casino for all you can eat crab legs. The wait in the long line is well worth the $15.95 on Wednesday and Thursday from 3-9 pm; or Snow Crab Legs for $14.50 on Friday and Saturday from 3-10 pm. Accompanied by a full buffet of other food choices.

Las Vegas:

While winding your way from the Venetian to the Palazzo, you pass by several tempting restaurants. Being a whiskey/bourbon drinker – the bourbon bar at the Yardbird restaurant caught my eye. The bourbon menu isn’t expansive, but it is unique. Try a ‘Yardbird Old Fashioned’ – bacon infused Buffalo Trace Bourbon served over a 2″ spherical cube. And the appetizers have a true southern flare: try the ‘Fried Green Tomato BLT’ – pork belly, tomato jam and house-made pimento cheese.

Fried Green Tomato BLT at Yardbird in Las Vegas. (Picture by ShermansFoodAdventures.com)

For an authentic Italian fine dining experience, check out Zefferino’s. The food prices may seem high, but the dishes are plentiful, the service prompt, and the choices abundant. I had the Caprese salad and the Linguini Gamberi e Capesante and could only eat about half of each.

Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse offers up one of the better steak dinners I have experienced anywhere, and they boast an expansive wine selection to rival any top-notch restaurant.

A great wine to pair with a great cut of steak at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

A great wine to pair with a great cut of steak at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

For a good pizza and casual atmosphere, check out Otto’s Pizzeria in St. Mark’s Square between the Venetian and the Palazzo. You feel like you are sitting outside on the banks of the canals thanks to the sky blue painted ceiling (well kind of.)

Although we spent most of our time in the Venetian, it is well worth the effort to head over to Caesar’s Palace and walk through the Forum Shops. Just like the Venetian and pretty much the rest of Las Vegas it is all over the top – but yet a must see. Sit and have a drink at the bar at the Trevi Italian Restaurant while looking out on Vegas’ version of the Trevi Fountain.

The Trevi Fountain in the Forum Shops of Caesar's Palace, outside the Trevi Italian Restaurant.

The Trevi Fountain in the Forum Shops of Caesar’s Palace, outside the Trevi Italian Restaurant.

Overall I find the restaurants in Las Vegas like the whole of Las Vegas, overpriced, over the top, but all so entertaining!

Vegas – more than just a gambling mecca!

I was 47-years-old before I made my first trip to Las Vegas. My husband and I wanted to take a 3-week trip to Italy to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, but we just couldn’t make our schedule work to be gone for that long, so we settled for 3 days at the Palazzo at the Venetian in Vegas!

Check-in desk at the Palazzo at the Venetian

Check-in desk at the Palazzo at the Venetian

Having no idea what to expect other than what we had seen on TV or in movies, we tried to keep an open mind. Our anniversary is in the hottest time of the year, July, but we decided to make the 4 hour drive from Phoenix so we could feel the wind in our hair having just bought our first convertible. Unfortunately no amount of wind cooled off temps reaching 110+. So it was top up and the AC cranked high the rest of the drive.

Enroute we stopped at the Hoover Dam to witness the amazing engineering marvel of a dam built back in the 1930’s. The new bridge system spanning the dam had recently opened to traffic, but it blocks the view of the dam from the road, so we made the windy trek down to the top of the dam. Once back up on the highway it was about an hour into Vegas, which sits literally in the middle of a dirt desert. I can see why the original builders of the city were so intent on using bright lights to bring some life to this desolate area.

Hoover Dam, just outside of Las Vegas

Hoover Dam, just outside of Las Vegas

The Strip‘ or main street runs through the heart of the luxury casino hotels which grew in numbers dramatically back in the 1990’s on into the early 2000’s – with hotels like the Bellagio – think water show, Venetian – think Gondola Canal rides, Wynn – think of a $500 round of golf. Las Vegas growth came to a near standstill during the recession – but now, while Atlantic City casinos close down there is renewed life in Vegas.

Grand Canal - along the walkway between the Palazzo and the Venetian

Grand Canal – along the walkway between the Palazzo and the Venetian

Neither my husband or I are big gamblers, so Vegas has never been high on our priority list of places to visit. But at some point we figured you need to experience what Vegas is all about. We played the slots, a little black jack and my husband flirted with the idea of playing poker, but in the end it was just as entertaining to sit back and people watch. The rooms are amazing – a room like the one we stayed at in the Palazzo for about $300 would run you over $1,000 in NYC. And the restaurants are world-class. We took in a concert in a specially designed theater at Caesar’s Palace with highlights such as a hologram visit from Stevie Wonder doing a duo with Celine Dion during her live concert.

It took me 3 years to return to Vegas to experience one of the other reasons a lot of people go to Vegas – no not to get married, or to do things that married people shouldn’t be doing (“…what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…”), but to attend several conventions. A friend and I attended the Design Home Show at the World Market, housed in three buildings with 10-16 stories each of vendors; then we attended the KBIS (Kitchen & Bath Industry Show) and the Builder’s Show at the Builder’s Convention which was showcased in four humongous warehouses.

With a “surfaces” – i.e. granite, tile convention and a gun show convention, there were an extra 200,000 people milling around this city with a population of roughly 2,000,000. My husband and I are in the middle of building a new home, and this trip was a great opportunity to see everything from plumbing and lighting, to hardware and furniture in one concentrated area. Although there no new ‘wow’ products that we came across, we came across a lot great leads on companies to find what we want to help make our home a house.

A unique vendor showcases their rustic and distressed barn doors and hardware

A unique vendor showcases their rustic and distressed barn doors and hardware

Traveling between the Venetian and Palazzo was like rush hour in LA – a swarm of people so thick you couldn’t pass from one side of the walkway to the other – they need stop and go lights in the casinos during major convention times. Interestingly the slots and tables at the Venetian were packed, the bells ringing, the dealers shouting, the patrons cheering – but the Palazzo was subdued. Most of the tables were empty, every other bank of slot machines would have a single soul pulling at that magic pull bar.

To get to Vegas this time I took the 55-minute flight from Phoenix to Vegas, allowing beautiful views of the western edges of the Grand Canyon and of Lake Mead. The flight was shorter than the taxi line at the Vegas airport. Luckily the city is replete with ample taxis and the line moved fairly consistently but it still took almost 45 minutes to get a taxi. I would highly recommend finding a car service. It’s a few bucks more, but beats standing in line with all your luggage.

Western edge of the Grand Canyon heading towards Las Vegas from Phoenix

Western edge of the Grand Canyon heading towards Las Vegas from Phoenix

Lake Mead just east of Las Vegas

Lake Mead just east of Las Vegas

I’ll expand more about restaurants to check out in next weeks end of the month restaurant reviews, but if you’re into bourbon, the Yardbird makes one of the best Manhattan’s I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a few. A smooth but robust flavor served over an extra-large spherical shaped ice-cube. Great appetizers too – a real true southern flare and my travel partner, a native Atlantan confirmed authenticity of these appies. She was duly impressed!

Vegas may not be everybody’s prime destination, but this little oasis in the dirt desert has something to offer every body. You can’t help get caught up in the energy that is Vegas. I left exhausted, but with a smile on my face.

Las Vegas - an oasis of vibrancy in an otherwise lackluster landscape

Las Vegas – an oasis of vibrancy in an otherwise lackluster landscape