Saturday, June 4, 2016

Off the Map: Still Crazy (and Hostile and Drunk) After All These Years

Twenty Vegetable Fried Rice -- China Poblano, Las Vegas, NV
China Poblano

After twenty-two years of being friends with Vodka, Chianti and Bloody Mary knew to expect that at a certain point in our Las Vegas trip, she would grow hostile.
Things That Are Inevitable: Death, Taxes, Vodka Complaining
Unluckily for Jose Andres's China Poblano, our arrival on its premises coincides with the time Vodka has chosen to unleash her hostility, and Chianti and Bloody Mary and metaphorically cowering at the look of displeasure on Vodka's face.
Someone Appease the Situation with Some Cocktails, and Stat
"Why are we seated in the bar area?  We had a reservation," Vodka asks as soon as the hostess leaves our table.
Did We Not Already Make Clear That We Like Things QUIET?
"It's ALL a bar," Chianti points out, which one sweep around the room proves to be true.  In Vodka's defense, there is a lot to be confused by in China Poblano: the set-up; the Asian/Mexican fusion menu; the fact that the bathroom features a single stall; the cheap chopsticks; and the order of food arrival (but more on that later).
Seriously Though with the Splintery Chopsticks
We are here to consume Johnny Iuzzini's Best Thing I Ever Ate Twenty Vegetable Fried Rice from the LAS VEGAS episode, and of course, to consume a cocktail (or two).
Or Three or Four or Five
Vodka sticks to her weekend choice of Manhattans, while Bloody Mary picks the Ron Cooper and Chianti, the Little Riddle.
We're About to Swing from the Chandelier...
...or in China Poblano's Case, from Some Misplaced Bicycle Wheels
"That'll roll your socks down," Chianti proclaims immediately after tasting hers, so if nothing else, at least China Poblano's cocktails pack more of a punch that the weak foam-absent monstrosities at Wazuzu.
It Is Beginning to Make Sense Why This Place Consists Primarily of Bar
We soon place our food order for the fried rice, the vegetarian spring rolls, the Lucky 6 Siu Mai, the Beijing Glass, and the chilaquiles, along with one taco each (fish for Vodka and Bloody Mary, mushroom for Chianti).  We also specify that we'd like the chilaquiles to come out first, being that we are hankering for some nachos.
If There Is One Thing All of Vodka's Friends Have in Common, It Is a Solid Love of Carbs and Cheese
Cut to three minutes later, when a single fish taco is placed in front of Vodka as the taco delivery boy walks away without fanfare.
Um, Thank You?
"Why am I the only one with a taco?!" Vodka, patient as ever, calls out.  A minute later, a second fish taco is dumped in front of Bloody Mary, with Chianti's still missing in action.
What Happens to Tacos at China Poblano When They Aren't All Served At the Same Time: THEY FALL APART
"This is nonsense," Vodka announces, searching for someone -- anyone -- to seek out Chianti's absent taco.  "There are so many men in suits wandering around and nobody helping."  Without exaggeration, Chianti's taco eventually appears a solid five minutes after Vodka's had arrived -- from the initial tray of the same taco delivery boy.  To say this is an inefficient system is the tip of the iceberg, as it is one that doesn't even remotely make sense.
Better Late Than... Actually, Never Mind
Plus, as you may recall, we asked for the chilaquiles FIRST.
Doesn't This Look Appetizing?
"The waiter is trying hard," Bloody Mary defends our server, to which Vodka immediately retorts, "NOT HARD ENOUGH," as we all dive into our decidedly lukewarm tacos.  The fish variety is rather sad, free of the crispy fried coating that usually makes such creations enjoyable, and the mushroom one is certainly nothing to write home about.
In Other Words, BLEH
The Beijing Glass is placed on our table next (note: still no chilaquiles to be found) around the same time that the waiter comes by and tells us that they are out of spring rolls.

Um, what now?
Can't You Wrap This Up Into a Roll?!
How are you out of spring rolls, and even more egregiously, how are you out of spring rolls at 7:40pm?!  It's not exactly like we're burning the midnight oils around here.  This is Vegas -- it's practically noon, by relative standards of time, and you're out of a menu mainstay.
Way to Seal Your Fate Before the Meal Is Halfway Through, China Poblano
Rather than replace the dish, we ford through the other items we have chosen.  The Beijing Glass and sui mai are both fine if unremarkable, while the chilaquiles (once they finally arrive) are nothing short of delectable.
They are far and away the most successful dish we have tasted at China Poblano, and if left to our own devices (and if we had any confidence they'd ever make it out of the kitchen on time), we would eat two more plates of them.
Presumably Because We Are Hungry from Our Lack of Spring Rolls
In contrast, the twenty vegetable fried rice is nothing special.
Color Us Unimpressed
Save for a few more veggies than normal, we can't discern the difference between this variety and the one found in every Chinese takeout place across the country.
So Apparently All the Vegetables Have Been Placed On TOP of the Rice
Okay, Sooooo... It's Rice and It's Fried and It Has Vegetables In It....
We manage to lick the platter clean, mostly due to the fact that it is a solid morning-after-drinking food and we are decidedly on the downward spiral to tipsy.
Hey, Just Because It's Boring Doesn't Mean We Won't Eat It
Perhaps the greatest miracle of Vegas is that despite all of China Poblano's foibles, we leave the premises without Vodka taking out a waiter, a manager, or an unsuspecting busboy.  Or at least, that's the story we're sticking to.  After all, you know what they say about what happens in Vegas....

China Poblano's Twenty Vegetable Fried Rice: 3 stars

Friday, June 3, 2016

Off the Map: Unfortunately, the Noodles Are the Only Ones Drunk

Drunken Noodles with Chicken -- Wazuzu, Las Vegas, NV

If there is one thing we have learned from doing this blog, it is to be suspicious of Giada Di Laurentiis's tastes.
Is This 'Best Thing I Ever Ate' or 'Best Thing My Dog Ever Ate'?
While we wouldn't say she has the worst track record for picking Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes, hers are most certainly not the most successful.  Therefore, Vodka and her friends, Chianti and Bloody Mary, approach Wazuzu in Las Vegas, home of Giada's favorite drunken noodles with chicken from the WITH CHOPSTICKS episode, with trepidation.
Giada's Been Here, You Say? In That Case, We'll Be Leaving
One thing that impresses Chianti about Wazuzu's menu is the full page of vegetarian options in the back (being that she's a long-term treehugger and all).  One thing that does not impress any of us is the looks of our three cocktails once they appear on our table.
Again With the Plastic Straw, Vegas?!
We have ordered the Pair of Cards, Thai Silk and Coconut Mojito, all of which look like they should be served poolside at a resort -- not exactly bad, but not exactly what we're in the mood for either.  To add insult to injury, upon placing her coconut mojito in front of her, the waitress tells Chianti, "Sorry, we're out of coconut foam."

"Coconut foam?"

"It's supposed to be on your drink, but the dispenser isn't working."  At this news the three of us exchange glances, and the second the waitress is out of earshot, Chianti reveals, "She should have never told me that.  I wouldn't have known what I was missing, but now I feel like I'm being deprived."
Waitressing 101: Don't Give Vodka & Co. an Added Reason to Complain
The arrival of our food proves equally disappointing, particularly the Best Thing I Ever Ate dish itself.
By the Looks of Things, This Should Cost $2.99 and Be Served in a Paper Takeout Container
Vodka, who has rarely met a noodle dish she didn't like, is far from taken with this platter in front of her, which does not taste any better than the Asian dishes served to us the previous day at the all-you-can-eat buffet.  Nothing about this dish is overtly bad -- it is just boring as all get-out, and certainly not worth a mention on a nationally broadcast food program.
Thwarted Yet Again by Giada's Questionable Tastes
If there is one standout among our food, it is Bloody Mary's tuna sushi rolls, which taste almost as pretty as they look.
Now This -- THIS We Could Have Gotten Behind
Her wonton soup, along with Chianti's vegetarian ramen, are pleasing, if far from remarkable, and overall, we feel that the meal could have been a lot more successful if our cocktails actually tasted like, you know, alcohol.
Goldilocks-Sized Bowls: From the Small... the Gigantic (and Chock Full of Leaves)
As it stands, we walk out of Wazuzu resolutely sober, with not even a smattering of coconut foam to hold dearly in our memories.

Wazuzu's Drunken Noodles with Chicken: 3 stars

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Off the Map: Will Pay $35 for Silence

St. George Vert Absinthe -- Sage, Las Vegas, NV

Following Rao's, we saunter (in this case, "sauntering" is accurate, as Bloody Mary and Chianti move at about one-third the pace of Vodka's preferred walking speed) down to the Aria in order to seek out Sage.  As it happens, our intention was to kick off our Vegas trip the night before at Sage's bar, only to discover the place closes at 11:00pm.
What Place in Vegas Closes at 11:00pm?!
For this reason, along with their stated "elegant casual" dress code (what, for Pete's sake, does THAT mean?!), we are mildly hostile when we walk through the door.  And to Sage's great credit, our attitude dissipates in all of two minutes.
Oh, Well, Hello, Friends
For one thing, the place is quiet.  Blissfully quiet.  No ringing slot machines, no shouting crowds, no stumbling drunks (present company notwithstanding).  Just quiet.  And not laden with cigarette smoke.  And nearly empty.

In other words, Sage is just the kind of place we've been looking for.
In Sum, We Want to Be Around as Few People As Possible
We saddle up to the end of the bar and peruse the cocktail menu, which is broken into quadrants so one knows, for instance, how far on the sweet spectrum a certain drink might fall.
This Quadrant System Is So Much Our New Favorite Thing That We Forgot to Take a Picture of It
Not listed on this diagram is the St. George Vert Absinthe, as recommended by Ming Tsai on the FRIGHTFULLY GOOD episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.
And What Is This Precious Commodity?
When Vodka asks for this forbidden liquor, the bartender seems to recognize that he has three people who know their way around a bar, and he sets out to put on an absinthe show.
Now You See It...
In what is apparently the "Russian presentation," he pours the liquor into a wide-mouthed glass and proceeds to light the whole thing on fire.
...Now You See It Ablaze
Handing each of us a straw, he instructs us to inhale the smoke before tasting the drink itself, a practice that Vodka is all but certain is going to leave her heaving on the floor in a coughing fit.
Like There Aren't Already Enough Smokers in Vegas?
When we manage to survive the inhalation, we find the absinthe to be... interesting.  It has the decided taste of black licorice, and just when we are becoming confused as to why one would ever make a big deal over this drink, the aftertaste hits, and it becomes delicious.
Of Course, This Is Kind of How Cocktails Work in General
Perhaps the appeal of the absinthe lies mostly in the fact that it is a rarity, but nevertheless, we enjoy it ten-times more than we thought we would, coming to the conclusion that it is worth 4 stars, if only for the show.
Drinks and a Show = Ten Times Better Than Dinner and a Show
In the meantime, Bloody Mary and Chianti have chosen the Honey and Grapefruit drinks, which are almost as artfully done as the absinthe itself.
Pretty in Pink
Take Note of the Lack of Plastic Straw
When it is time for us to order drink #2, Vodka chooses hers (the Sazorac) within seconds, while her compatriots hedge their bets by asking about just about every drink on the menu (eventually deciding on the blueberry habanero and the strawberry).
Vodka's Big Girl Drink
Bloody Mary discerns that this makes the two of them optimizers, while Vodka is a satisfiser, but no matter what the demarcation, we are somehow even more pleased by our second round than we were with the first (presumably the increased alcohol levels in our system have helped this assessment, but still).
The Strawberry Ice Cubes Are a Nice Touch
Indeed, by the time we stumble out of the place, we are so happy with our nights that we decide Sage's rating should be bumped up to 5 stars.
Give Us a Few Drinks and We'll Be Your Best Friends
This is even more impressive when one considers that it is not until the bill arrives that we discover Vodka's chosen absinthe costs $35 (!!!).  Usually, such a steep price tag would send us into a fit, and it speaks to the quality of Sage's bartenders' skills that we barely balk at the price.
We're So Agreeable Once Plied with Liquor
We have barely made it out of Aria before beginning to plot how we can return to Sage, which perhaps proves that sometimes, all it takes is a once forbidden liquor to greatly improve our moods.

Well, that, and a little peace and quiet never hurt anyone either.

Sage's St. George Vert Absinthe: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Off the Map: I Have the Perfect Buzz Right Now

Chicken Scarpariello -- Rao's, Las Vegas, NV

Believe it or not, despite or proclivity for eating, drinking, and generally doing nothing, we are not the biggest fans of Las Vegas.  Ginger, who has only been to Sin City once, warned Vodka upon her first journey to the place, "I hope your Vegas experience is better than mine.  I lost a shoe, my dignity, and a perfectly good club sandwich."
Needless to Say, Vodka Inquired About the Club Sandwich First
Vodka has ventured to Sin City with her two friends, Chianti and Bloody Mary, who have taken part in quite a few Best Thing I Ever Ate dining experiences previously (in Seattle and Baltimore, respectively).  With both of them having already been to Las Vegas multiples times, Vodka has the unusual position of not being in charge, a status she is trying to embrace with varying effect.
On This Episode of "Control Freak Goes to Vegas"...
After a full day mostly consisting of Vodka trying to dart out of the sun, the three of us have descended on Rao's, the one Vegas locale Vodka was most insistent on going to, being that getting into the New York version of the establishment is all but impossible.  We are here to eat Anne Burrell's Best Thing I Ever Ate LAS VEGAS choice of the chicken scarpariello, though if Vodka doesn't get some pasta on her plate and fast, there is going to be a revolt.
A La Throwing the Picture Frames Off the Wall One by One
We are led to a booth in the back of the restaurant, which features a fireplace inexplicably decked out with Christmas decorations.
Deck the Halls?
The whole room is decidedly reminiscent of the Northeast, which as three native Jersey girls, we find pleasing in most respects, save for the haunted-house-type dim lighting.
Degree of Lighting (or Lack Thereof) Is Accurate
First things first, it is time for a cocktail, and Vodka chooses the East 114th, primarily because it features bourbon, which ever since her trip to Louisville, has become her liquor of choice.
Bourbon O'Clock
Bloody Mary picks the All in the Family, and Chianti, the Sin City.  When the drinks arrive, we are rather unimpressed, as thanks to their accompanying plastic straws, they all have the decided look of something one could get for free at the blackjack table.
Would It Kill Them to Give Us Some Martini Glasses?
That said, they are pleasing enough, as a half hour later, Bloody Mary, without warning, announces, "I have the perfect buzz right now.  Remind me of this moment when I'm throwing up later."
Time to Soak Up Some Booze with Bread
For food, we choose to share the fried green tomato and mozzarella appetizer special, plus the pasta shells, ravioli purses, eggplant parmesan, and chicken scarpariello.  The appetizer -- along with the bread basket -- is good, if mostly due to the fact that we are starving.
Southern Living Via NYC Via Las Vegas
Both of the pastas are similarly tasty -- well-cooked and al dente, and we enjoy the fact that they are portioned onto our plates right in front of us (in other words, the less work we have to do, the better).
Noodles Are on Vodka's Plate, and All Is Right with the World
Family Style at a Very Controlling Hostess's House
The eggplant parmesan, however, is dry and rather tasteless, and by the end of the meal, 80% of it remains on its serving dish.
Color Us Unimpressed
In contrast, the chicken scarpariello -- a dish none of us would ever order (Chianti because she's a vegetarian, Bloody Mary because who goes out to eat and orders chicken, and Vodka because heaven forbid she go to an Italian restaurant and not get pasta) -- is a pleasant surprise.
If We Could See It, It Would Be an Even Better Surprise
The chicken itself, which is served on the bone, is extremely moist and flavorful, and the accompanying pickled peppers and sausage bring out its spicy and sour notes.
Finger Lickin' Good
While none of us have had this concoction before, we can only assume that it is the best possible version.
At Least the Best Version Served in Utter Darkness
We end the meal with macchiatos for Bloody Mary and Chianti, while going through the most complicated attempt to count how many states we have each been to of all time ("I counted 52 states.  We're done."  "There are 50 states.")
Needless to Say, Our School District Did Not Offer Geography
This trip to Nevada brings Vodka to a grand total of 20 states, and considering she's halfway through her Vegas vacation and still has both shoes on her feet, thus far, it seems a marked improvement over Ginger's Sin City adventure.  That is, if she doesn't lose any stray club sandwiches along the way.

Rao's Chicken Scarpariello: 4 stars