A Vegetarian in Vegas

To me, traveling is a great excuse to try new restaurants, but it always takes a little bit of prep work before hand.  As a vegetarian, I can often arrive at a restaurant and find there’s nothing for me on the menu… or that it’s not the kind of food I eat (somehow vegetarian = 4 cheese at many restaurants).  So I get to do the fun stuff before hand: researching restaurants and anticipating lovely meals.

After a quick exploration of Vegas restaurants, I went armed with one plan: to eat breakfast at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s French bistro at the Venetian Hotel.  The other meals all fell into place, and as a vegetarian I really couldn’t complain.

Italian at Olives

On our first night, our party (two vegetarians, one omnivore, and one devoted meat-eater) chose Olives at The Bellagio.  We were lucky enough to get an indoor table overlooking the fountain, and were distracted every few minutes by plumes of water.

And the food didn’t disappoint.  After three hours and forty-five minutes in line at airport security in Toronto, we were definitely in the mood for comfort food.  I started with the Sweet Potato Apple Soup, with aged balsamic and “sexy scallions”.  And man, the scallions made the difference!  The pizza-lovers in the group then split two flat breads:

  1. Portobello Flatbread (top in photo) — wild mushroom purée, herb roasted portobello, red onions, fontina cheese, and white truffle oil
  2. Smoked Scamorza Mozzarella (bottom in photo) marinated artichokes, roasted peppernada, and cracked black olives

Both flatbreads were divine, with a super-thin gorgeous crust.  The mushroom flatbread was almost too rich (with the mushroom purée and the truffle oil), but had a gorgeous woodsy flavour.  The artichoke flatbread was lovely and light – a perfect balance to the richness in the other flatbread.

Brilliant Breakfast at Bouchon

The next morning, it was time for Bouchon, which lived up to all of my expectations.  Due to my recent sourdough obsession, I was excited to order the Sourdough Waffles with Tahitian vanilla butter, maple syrup, walnuts, and banana.

I normally don’t order waffles, as they have no flavour of their own.  These waffles however, were my idea of perfection — the sourdough taste was strong: sour and fruity, and gave the waffles enough flavour that I didn’t need to use syrup or butter to enjoy them.  However, when I did try out the Tahitian vanilla butter after my first few bites, the warmth of the vanilla enhanced the sourdough in the waffles and balanced it out perfectly.  Honestly, these waffles have topped the list of my all-time favourite meals.

Dinner in Two Parts at Aria

Part I – Tapas at Julian Serrano

On our last night we were in the Aria tower in the new City Center buildings.  The City Center had only been open for two weeks, which in my mind is too early to properly review any restaurant, but we had excellent food and fantastic service at both restaurants we tried.

We needed a snack before dinner, and so popped in to the tapas restaurant, Julian Serrano.  Along with a glass of cava, we nibbled on Roasted Eggplant with red pepper, fennel, and a crostini.

And a lovely Wild Mushroom Risotto with manchego.

Part II – Dinner at Sage

The nibble got us ready for our real dinner at Sage across the hallway.  Only after the fantastic meal, did I find out that the chef/owner is Shawn McClain, the chef of one of my favourite restaurant, the vegetarian Green Zebra in Chicago.  Sage’s menu is focused on fresh, seasonal foods, and farm-to-table cuisine.  With a separate vegetarian section of the menu, I knew I’d be in luck.

A few treats before our meal came out of the kitchen: an amuse bouche (veggie version happily created), and a warm sourdough roll with whipped butter and Murray River salt from Australia.  Luckily, they were happy to do a veggie substitution here, as the regular sourdough roll contains bacon.

To start, a fresh and crunchy Hearts of Palm and Apple Salad with potato croquettes and horseradish cream (apparently this is typically Swedish!)

For the main course, an entree-sized portion of Gnocchi in a Riesling Reduction (gnocchi is a good test of a restaurant, and always a risk due to potential textural disasters) with roasted heirloom squash and winter veggies, including fennel and tiny roasted brussel sprouts about the size of a quarter.

And there was no way I could pass up dessert: Roasted Winter Pear Tarte Tatin with red wine caramel and blue cheese ice cream (!), served with a black pepper tuille.  The blue cheese ice cream really made the experience.  It was sweet and rich, and the blue cheese flavour was nice and strong without being overpowering.  Yumm.

And just when we thought we were all done, the kitchen sent out a shot of Chocolate Mocha ‘Soup’ — what a nice touch to send us on our way!

I must admit, that out of all of our meals, I will never forget the sourdough waffles at Bouchon, and that our dinner at Sage was the most wonderful surprise!  If I had known there was a Shawn McClain restaurant in Vegas I would have searched it out, but it was even more of an adventure to find it by accident.

When the food is this good, what happens in Vegas gets copied in my Toronto kitchen…

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