Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Davis Farmers' Market - Sensory Overload

Foodies dream about having fresh ingredients at their fingertips.  They gawk at golden beets, heirloom tomatoes, and honeydew melons like college boys at a Hooters Restaurant, or me in a Christian Louboutin store.  The uncontrollable urge to touch, smell and feel the produce can be overwhelming, leading to thoughts of abandoning the Southern California lifestyle and moving to a farm, or at the very least starting a container garden at home.  Ideas rush through your head about what you can make with this luscious produce, crowding out every other thought in your head.  Or if you are traveling like I was, you ponder what you can get through TSA without causing a full body check.

I've been to many farmers markets, but was definitely not prepared for the bounty I beheld at the Farmers’ Market in Davis, CA.  It was quaint, quite neighborly, and filled to the brim with fresh produce screaming "Take me home!"  When traveling, I am generally limited to visualizing how I can use wonderful, unique, local produce.   But during this trip I was actually able to test drive the local produce as part of my culinary experience at Georgeanne Brennan's “Provence in California” cooking class.

Our weekend class started at the Farmers’ Market where seven students were eagerly waiting, armed with totes to carry out selected vegetables and fruits.  We were each given a shopping list and market money, and the freedom to select a limited number of produce items for our own dishes.  It was a bit of a challenge to limit my shopping list to the three items, so I had to settle for photos. 

I hope these photos inspire you to put on your Wellingtons and head for your local farmers market to experience the majesty of fresh, local produce. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Comme Ca - French Brasserie Perfection in Las Vegas

I am not a full-fledged Francophile, but I admit to loving French food and wine, dining in a bistro and a long, leisurely lunch.  Las Vegas is one of my favorite haunts, largely because it has become a mecca for foodies and shopaholics alike.  So I was cautiously optimistic that my luncheon desires could be satisfied by Chef David Myer at his Las Vegas outpost of Comme Ca.  Granted, everything in Las Vegas is on a large scale, so you are not likely to find a quaint 40-seat bistro.  But at least you can hope for a restaurant with some bistro flair and energy.  Perched above the strip, with one of the best views in Las Vegas, you start to wonder if there isn't a little Paris magic in Comme Ca.  After all, the Eiffel Tower is within view. 

David Myer is a Southern California based chef who, after working with Charlie Trotter, journeyed to France to study classic French technique at three Michelin-starred Les Crayeres.  After extensive training, David headed back to New York to work with Daniel Boulud at Daniel before moving west to Los Angeles.  In Los Angeles, he has made several "hot lists" in the travel and food publications for his restaurants Sona and Comme Ca, and most recently Pizzeria Ortica.

My Los Angeles excursions don't always put me near Comme Ca, but his Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa has been a stop on numerous shopping excursions to South Coast Plaza.  After all, a girl needs a good meal after a day at Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.  So being in Las Vegas, with his Comme Ca restaurant in the Cosmopolitan Hotel where I was staying, offered  the perfect opportunity to try David’s take on a French bistro without the frenzy of LA driving.

The restaurant’s atmosphere was inviting from the onset:  dark wood banquettes with red leather, black and white tile on the floor, an adult-looking bar that beckons you to come on in and take a seat, a raw bar stacked with exotic shellfish delicacies that seemingly called my name as I passed by . . .  Well, you get the picture.  This restaurant tantalized me from the moment I set eyes on it and Kate Spade sandals in it. 

We were seated at a table with a view of The Strip and a place mat that paid homage to Ernest Hemmingway.  How very droll!  Menus were brought to us by our server who looked a bit like Drew Lachey, with a sparkling personality to match.  When I asked what cocktails he recommended (I was in Las Vegas and, anyway, it was the cocktail hour somewhere), he responded “what is your drink of choice?” - i.e., gin, vodka, etc.  What a great question to ask before making a recommendation!  Based on my answer, we settled on the Gordon's Cup, a delightfully refreshing drink consisting of Plymouth Gin, muddled cucumbers, and cracked pepper.  For my dining companion, Drew suggested sparkling water, and a fine choice it was.  Effervescent with a piquant bouquet redolent of Indian Tonic Water.  But I digress.
Gordon's Cup - Refreshingly Cool!

The lunch menu offers a panoply of exciting choices to suit everyone in your party, and you may have a difficult time selecting just one item for each course. 
Salmon at it's best!!

We started our le dejeuner with an appetizer of House-Cured Salmon Tartare with chive crème fraiche, dill and crispy purple potatoes.   This was the most amazing cured salmon that I've tasted.  It was so fresh and full of flavor, with a slight burst of lemon with every bite.  The crème fraiche and crispy purple potato brought out the flavors of the salmon and with every bite a new layer of flavor emerged.  The last bite was fought over.
Fresh, crisp, and simply delicious!

For the first course, we selected the Soup de Jour, which was artichoke with truffle, and the Provence Country Salad.  The Provence Country Salad consisted of little gem butter and frisee lettuce with shaved radish, heirloom tomato, hearts of palm, bleu cheese and red wine vinaigrette.  Simple and delicious.
Truffle Love!!

The Artichoke with Truffle Soup was packed with flavor.  I still hold true to my love affair with truffles, and this was a perfect example why.  Artichoke soup on its own is fantastic, but when truffles are added it takes on another dimension and level of sophistication.  Not to mention the enticing aroma of truffles permeating one’s olfactory senses.  Your mouth is salivating before you even taste the dish.
Moules - Bistro Classic

For the second course, we selected Moules Frites and C.C.B.L.T.  The Moules Frites was a delicious, fragrant dish, the broth having just a hint of Pernod.  In my book, a French restaurant must be judged by its pommes frites.  They must be twice cooked so the outside is crisp and the inside tender.  They must never be oily or greasy and seasoning should be sparingly applied.  These pommes frites were perfectly cooked and seasoned and were served with a savoury house-made aioli.  Excellent in all respects but no match for the main attraction of the lunch--C.C. B.L.T. 
Frite Perfection

This dish consists of bacon, pork belly, romaine hearts, and tomato jam.  As you probably know by now, like Emeril I love pork in all its forms.  A BLT with bacon and pork belly equates to taste bud nirvana.  The bacon was crispy and the pork belly perfectly cooked.  The textures played with my senses.  The tomato jam so delicious to contrast the pork.  Crispy Romaine.  Still dreaming of that sandwich.  Drew paired this dish with a Miura Pinot Noir and that choice was truly “Bon.”
No words necessary, pork lovers heaven

Our server Drew (ok, his name is James) convinced us that our lunch would not be complete unless we tried the Profiteroles.  Boy, was he ever right; these were the best profiteroles I've had in ages. 
Profiterole Delight

Since we were having dessert, a digestive was in order, so I had the Hanky Panky Cocktail.  It is a combination of Campari, Fernet Branca, and Vermouth.  It was a great way to end the meal and put me in the right mood to win my fortune at the video poker machines downstairs in the casino.  Bon Appetit my friends.  
A Little Afternoon Hanky Panky

Comme Ca
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

David Myers Group

Monday, June 6, 2011

Scarpetta - Memorable, Innovative Italian at The Cosmopolitan

There is a new dining mecca in Las Vegas, and its name is “The Cosmopolitan,” at the City Center project in the middle of the Strip.  Thirteen dining options and bars too numerous to count fit within this sleek, contemporary hotel/casino.  We impatiently waited six months to experience these culinary opportunities, but over a four day stay we were only able to sample a portion of the restaurants.  Since my dining companion continues to extend Lent, we did not try any of the myriad bars that populate the hotel/casino’s nooks and crannies.  But you should as they all looked most enticing.

We eagerly tried Scarpetta, by award winning chef Scott Conant.  With restaurants in New York, Toronto, Miami, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas, this young chef has established himself as a force within the culinary scene.  His food is innovative, yet still pays homage to traditional, Old World Italian cuisine.  Scarpetta is an Italian expression that means “little shoe,” or the shape bread takes when used to soak up a dish.  Frankly, I spent days looking through high-end shoe emporiums and saw nothing closely resembling a piece of sodden bread.  So there may be substantial liberty taken in the creation of this expression.

Scarpetta provided one of the most memorable meals of the trip, and not just because of the fabulous view from our window table that overlooked the Bellagio water show that serenaded us every fifteen minutes.  From the moment we stepped through the door, the service was personable and attentive, without being invasive or patronizing.  The bar is the perfect place to start your dining experience.  It is luxuriously trendy and the signature libations are creative.  As I sipped my San Remo and listened to the piped in music (I will admit to Shazaaming and downloading a number of songs for dining pleasure at home), I was enveloped by instant calm.   A wonderful way to start the culinary dance that follows. 

After a thorough review of the exciting menu, we decided the best course of action was the Signature Tasting Menu with wine pairing.  As with most tasting menus, the entire table is asked to participate, and with little prodding my companion agreed to do so.  This was a phenomenal value and excellent way to try several of the signature dishes. 

Amuse Bouche'


Crispy, light, seasoned strips of zucchini, calamari, eggplant, and rosemary.  Delightful way to start the experience.

First Course:

Duo of Yellowtail and Tuna "Susci"
Adami, Proseco, Veneto, N/V

Excellent dish that awakened the tastebuds, and had the perfect combination of citrus to accompany the tuna.
Second Course:

Roasted Sea Scallops, Porcini Mushrooms & Sunchokes
Iberian Remix, Albarino, Edna Valley 2009

These sea scallops were cooked to perfection, the caramelization creating a nice contrast to the texture of the scallops.  The porcini mushrooms and sunchokes provided a perfect accompaniment as they had the characteristics and aroma of an elegant au jus sauce.    Albarino from Edna Valley - amazing pairing!  Albarino is a great food wine.

Third Course:

Spaghetti Tomato Basil & Duck Foie Gras Ravioli
Marcarini, Barbera d' Alba, Piedmont 2007

The Spaghetti totally rocked!  Simple dish, with superior ingredients.  Tasted as if they had tomatoes growing on the roof of The Cosmopolitan that were freshly picked off the vine.

The Duck Foie Gras Ravioli was elegant, refined, and wonderfully balanced with a balsamic reduction sauce.  The wine pairing went exceptionally well and helped balance the richness in flavors from the foie gras.

Fourth Course:

Black Cod, Caramelized Fennel & Tomatoes
Jermann Red Angel, Pinot Noir, Friulli 2007

This dish was one of the showstoppers for the evening.  The skin on the black cod was crispy, the meat succulent, and the flavors complex but discernable.  Caramelized Fennel is amazing, and I will attempt replicating this at home.  Again, another phenomenal wine pairing.

Fifth Course:

Pancetta-Wrapped Veal Loin, Sweetbreads, Peas & Carrots
Feudi di San Gregorio, Rubrato, Aglianico, Campania 2006

Anything wrapped in Pancetta is a weakness of mine and this  was no exception.  The veal loin was perfectly cooked and, as always, the pancetta fulfilled its duty to add just a hint of flavor and pork fat.  The sweetbreads added a nice texture and flavor.  This wine pairing was possibly my favorite of the night.  It was rich, bold and elegant, just like the dish.


Amedei Chocolate Cake Toasted Almond Gelato
Panna Cotta with Citrus Sauce
Castellare, St. Niccolo, Vin Santo, Tuscany 2004

Because chocolate gives me a migraine, the Panna Cotta was graciously substituted for the cake.  So we got to experience two fabulous desserts (or at least my companion did).  Each worked as a great end to a perfect meal.   The wine served was intriguing, as it smelled and had a taste of port to it, but danced across the palate like a glass of sparkling.    Heavenly!

The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
Open 7 days
Sun-Thurs 5:30 to 11 pm
Fri-Sat 5:40 to 12 am
Reservations available online through Open Table, or call 877-551-7772