Sunday, June 25, 2017

I Had Better Food at Aria's Lemongrass than at Lotus of Siam

I thought I knew what to expect at Lemongrass.

It is, after all, an Asian restaurant inside a casino. Past experiences with other Asian restaurants inside other casinos told me I was in for yet another ham-fisted attempt at Thai, Chinese, or a combination of the two. And it was going to cost me twice as much as what I'd usually pay at an actual Thai or Chinese joint.

But when you're given hotel credit to be spent on food and your choice of where to spend it includes restaurants from Michelin and James Beard-award winning chefs, you have to settle on what will stretch your money the farthest.

So Lemongrass it was, because even in a high-priced Vegas casino like Aria, Asian food is always cheaper than the next alternative.

However, I'm glad to report that Lemongrass did not suck. In fact, it was spectacular.

The pineapple fried rice we ordered was light enough on the curry powder that it left a good impression rather an overpowering one. The pad see ew was textbook, with the gailan crisp, the meat velvety, and the noodles absorbing not only the sweet soy seasonings but the "breath" of the wok.

And there was a crab omelette that had so much crab meat, every bite was like discovering a trove of buried treasure.

Best of all was the chicken larb, which was so spicy, so funky, so well-constructed of fish sauce, rice powder, lime, and tons of chilies, that it made me question my entire way of thinking: Asian restaurants inside casinos CAN BE good!

I would even say this particular experience was BETTER than the last time I ate all the usual Issan favorites at Lotus of Siam, Vegas's highly lauded Thai restaurant. And it had nothing to do with the fact that this meal was essentially free!

ARIA Resort & Casino Las Vegas
3730 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109

2145 Pizza - Costa Mesa

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hong Kong Fishball House - Rowland Heights

Pictured above is some snacks we ate today from Hong Kong Fishball House in Rowland Heights. Fried tofu. Fried fish balls. Fried squid. The kind of food that we'd probably get if we saw it at OC Night Market (which is, by the way, going on this weekend at the OC Fairgrounds).

But unlike OC Night Market, there was no parking fee, no admission cost, and no lines.

Plus it's cheaper. The total for all this was $14.65, which includes the boba drinks we got from a stall inside Hong Kong Market's mall.

So since we paid less, it wasn't in OC, and it was daytime, I guess I should say that our experience wasn't at all like being at the OC Night Market--it was better.*

Hong Kong Fishball House  
18414 Colima Rd
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

*Thanks to cookiemonster for co-writing this post.

Mhat Korean Restaurant - La Palma

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Fullerton's Kim Loan Is Still Going Strong!

Thirty or some odd years ago, my parents introduced me to Vietnamese food for the first time at Kim Loan Restaurant in Fullerton. Soon, dinners at Kim Loan became a monthly ritual for our family. Then we moved away. I grew up and went on with the rest of my life.

Tonight, I went back for the first time in a decade. But when the owner saw me, he remembered who I was!

He immediately asked how my parents were doing.

"They're fine, and enjoying retirement," I replied, realizing that when I, myself, retire someday, the owner might still be here to serve the same great food as he did tonight.

Kim Loan Restaurant
(714) 773-0374
1651 W Orangethorpe Ave
Fullerton, CA 92833

Centro Collective - Lake Forest

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Au Revoir, Cirque Magique

It was a few days after we went to Pirate's Dinner Adventure in Buena Park that we got a call from the venue.

"Would you like four free tickets to our new Cirque Magique show?" said the female voice on the other line.

"Free? Why? What's the catch?" we asked.

"No catch," the caller replied, "we just wanted to invite our previous guests to see our new show. Lunch is included, by the way."

And so we said yes, and returned to Buena Park a week after Pirate's, which was, in retrospect, just a corny pirate-themed stunt show that's only a hair better than the free one Treasure Island used to do on Las Vegas Blvd. It wasn't worth the money and the dinner was barely edible. On my plate was soggy roasted chicken, mushy vegetables, gloppy mashed potatoes--the kind of food I remember eating at my college dorm cafeteria.

We expected more of the same with Cirque Magique.

"But hey", we thought, "at least this time, it's free."

What Cirque Magique turned out to be everything Pirate's wasn't. Where Pirate's was plodding and mired in plot, Cirque Magique was fun and breezy.

It's set in Pirate's pre-show bar area and it had a singular purpose: to showcase the talents of its perfomers. There were showgirls, a juggling act, an aerial contortionist, fourth-wall-breaking clowns, and an Asian magician that did a floating table trick using Pixar's Up as theme.

And the food we ate was better than expected. The cheeseburgers were thick and meaty; the fries, crispy and hot.

But what most impressed was how hard everyone worked to show us a good time. The backup dancers, in particular, did double duty as our servers. They refilled our water glasses in between numbers that required them to do multiple leg kicks.

I enjoyed myself so much that if we didn't get in for free, I would have gladly paid the regular admission price of $25 per person.

Now, after I've told you how great it is, here's the bad news: for some reason, Pirate's has now closed Cirque Magique for good. It's never coming back. So I guess there was a catch to that offer after all.

Cirque Magique
7600 Beach Blvd
Buena Park, CA 90620

Nobu - Newport Beach

Friday, June 02, 2017

The Not-So-"Secret" Pizza Place at The Cosmopolitan - Las Vegas

How popular does the secret pizzeria at The Cosmopolitan in Vegas have to be before people stop calling it "secret"? I think it's reached that point. As of this writing, it's got 3,439 Yelp reviews, the most of any pizza joint in this town.

To put that in perspective, "Secret Pizza" has more than double the reviews as the next most popular place (Pizza Rock Downtown with 1,553) and four times as many reviews as Wolfgang Puck's Spago at Ceasar's Palace (with 985).

In fact, if you measure it strictly by Yelp reviews, "Secret Pizza" is now the 6th most popular restaurant in all of Vegas. Number five, by the way, is Lotus of Siam.

So I think a more apt nickname for it now should be "Hidden Pizza", because if it's your first time, you do actually need instructions to find it. It's not listed in any casino directories or maps, nor is there any signage that says "Secret Pizza".

Also, the place is not really called "Secret Pizza". The official name printed on the receipts is "Pizzeria at The Cosmopolitan".

Here's how to find it:

Ride the elevator all the way up to the third floor where Jaleo is. Directly to the left of it, there's a hallway lined with album covers. The pizzeria is at the end of this hallway.

Or here's another way to find it: just look for the ridiculously long line, especially if you're here on a busy weekend.

Slices (which are about two thirds the size of Costco's) start at $5 for a plain cheese, and $5.50 for a single topping. I found the crust to be slightly overworked, so it's chewier than I expected. But it's crisp, thin, a good if not an exemplary facsimile of a New York slice.

Out of my all-time favorite pizzas, I'd place it after other great pies I've been fortunate to try over the years. It's almost as good as Landini's in San Diego, Apizza Scholls in Portland, and Home Slice in Austin, which is, by the way, the only pizza I've ever eaten that made me dream about it for days.

Still, when you're in Vegas, I'd recommend seeking out The Cosmo's "Secret Pizza". It's one of those things you have to try just so you can say you did.

Besides, it's not its fault that it has become so hyped and the furthest thing from a "secret". When you see it, you can certainly see it started out humbly. There's a counter where you consume your pizza on a flimsy paper plate while standing up, just like in Manhattan.

So go! Get in on the worst kept "secret" in Vegas since Bugsy Malone!

Secret Pizza a.k.a. The Pizzeria at The Cosmopolitan
3708 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Hendrix - Laguna Niguel