Friday, August 1, 2014

Strange Donuts

I think it best to show you how great it was, while we didn't pay attention to the movie, the food and food trucks were great, at Food Truck Friday at the Art Museum.

We tried food from Pie on the fly:

The pie slice was eaten, by me, before I took a picture of it.  I'd say a 3 out of 5 stars.  They are located about 20 feet down the street from Strange Donuts, on Sutton.

So, how many people show up at these nights on Art Hill, in Forest Park?  Well...

Afterwards, as the mosquitoes started to come out and attack us, we visited Strange Donuts.  This is Strange Donuts:

Let me try to explain the love for Strange Donuts:  When I was young, my father used to take me or one of my other 3 brothers to the best donut shop in the city, called Donut Drive-in.  The Donut Drive-in, was a smallish building with a tiny one lane drive through window.  At times when there were no cars driving through, we used to walk up to the drive through window and look in and watch the older gentleman baker carefully make each donut batch, by hand.  The smell of the baking process was incredible.  After we watched, we went in and my dad would let us choose a donut that we wanted.

This donut place, is featured on all sorts of Route 66 shows and cooking shows as the donuts win awards for the fact that they are hand-cut and cooked donuts.  The bakers in this shop have been making these donuts for at least close to a hundred years, I would guess, since my father knew of it being there already in the 50's.  Every trip that I took to this donut place was special, it was special time with my father and brothers as we would sit on the hood of his car, in the lot and eat our freshly cooked donuts.  This was before fake flavors, high fructose corn syrup and any other preservatives.  These donuts felt like a warm hug or the sunlight on your face on a cold day.  They were incredible and I thought no other donut could come close.  

But then there is Strange Donuts:
 
I am going to say it, but if the Donut Drive-in has the best donuts in the Metropolitan area, Strange Donuts has the second best.  There are all kinds and flavors of donuts at Strange Donuts, but when a bite in any one of them brings back the memories of my childhood and the Donut Drive-In, while other donut places have been unable to do so, means that this place is that good.  The flavors are varied and delicious and taste so old school that they must have found so classic or traditional recipes.  I can't say that they are the best in Saint Louis.  It would be to me as saying that there is a restaurant that makes a dish better than your grandmother or mother.  Would you actually say that?  This donut spot has been the location of so many happy food memories that only a really, really good donut place could come close to even being thought of next to it.

All the donuts, as weird as they were, were also all delicious.  They were new as while I have made my own maple and bacon donut, I have never seen a gooey butter cake donut.  I have to give them, at Strange Donuts, a 4 out of 5 stars.  They are good and strange and weird and non of their flavors are half-thought of.  I mean that if they wanted to do a Smores donut, they do so even with a marshmallow on top.  I wish the guys at Strange Donuts the best of luck and happiness.  I hope that they get spread out throughout the city and bring happy memories to those that they server and see.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

First time at Baxter's

Baxter's is a restaurant in Lake Ozark, boasting a huge lake view, which it does have.  Their website mentions that they are a restaurant the has a great bar and serves great American food.  That is the idea and it seems to be close to what is really served.  I went with my family and in-laws, we were seated at a table on the patio, overlooking the lake at sunset.

Now, first off, the food was good but nothing as interesting as other restaurants that hold the "fine dining" phrase in their name.  I ordered the "Baxter's steak burger" and to the heartbreak of my father-in-law, who loves the food there, the burger was slightly dry.  They describe it as "our special blend of striploin, ribeye and tenderloin freshly ground in house daily".


 The problem wasn't that it didn't have flavor.  The problem was that on a large bun with a piece of lettuce, slice of tomato and 3 rings of red onion, didn't add any moisture to the burger, which tasted like dry meatloaf in the center.  So, the outside was seasoned properly but the inside was arid like a desert and it actually took the moisture out of my mouth, like a saltine cracker.  Every bite I took, I had to take a sip of my drink.  So, here I am about 1/3rd of the way through my burger and my mouth is still dry.  I figure I would start to try some of my side dish. 

I had chosen to have the "roasted red bliss potatoes", which probably meant something poetical to them.  To me, it meant that they were steak cut fries, as seen in the picture, sprinkled with Kosher salt, dried parsley, and roasted in such a way that one of them could have a crispy outer shell and soft on the inside while another one could have a soft outside and be almost raw on the inside.  I ate another fry and it was cooked well.  It was like sticking your hand in a bag of black and white marbles and without looking, trying to pull out a black marble.  You win or lose and it was or seemed completely random.  I'd give the dish a 3 out of 5.

As far as service was concerned, the only thing that really stuck out was the fact that even the salads were dry.  There was a teaspoon of dressing on a giant salad.  So, when my wife asked for a little bowl of balsamic vinegar, to go on her salad, we were amazed at how quickly and nicely the waitress responded with a "yeah".  Then we never heard from her again.  Maybe she fell in the lake.  That waitress, actually never got back to us, she didn't even bring the kids their ice creams that came with their meals.  That was a different waitress.  Our waitress vanished and I had us all asking, out loud, "was that our waitress?" Pointing at a server in the corner, then wondering as another waitress walked by and another.  When a table loses their waitress and can't find her anywhere, then that is a problem.

Food okay overall, atmosphere was great with a great view.  Menu and restaurant was kid friendly.  It was a smoke free restaurant but there were people smoking on one of the lounge chairs while they were waiting for a table. But as I said, it was okay for the price.

http://baxterslakesidegrille.com/
2124 Bagnell Dam Blvd, Lake Ozark, MO 65049
(573) 365-2669

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It was the dog days, on the lake

It was my second time there, but the first time that I had eaten on one of the tributaries from the main restaurant.  Dog Days is a restaurant, situated on the Lake.  Like other places, it has parking access for cars and docks for boats.  It is shaped like a long line, with the main restaurant, then an outdoor deck like seating and eating area, a bar then a another seating area and then another covered area with bar and seats for eating again.  It runs parallel with the shore of the lake and allows everyone who sits there, to see the lake, which is cool.  The place had live music starting up while we finished our meal, on Thursday evening and was really starting to get busy, but had a lot of families there as well.

So, besides have great food for the kids and treating them really well, they have all sorts of other kinds of American style foods.  I order a chicken burger, with avocado and bacon with a side of black beans and rice.

The last time were here, the rice was undercooked but this time, everything was perfect.  The rice was mixed with onions and peppers with the beans and everything tasted great and was cooked properly.  The burger was huge and with all of those fixin's, made for a filling lunch.  I'd give this dish a 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.



There are a lot of people here during the summer time and even though it was not very hot, probably in the high 70's, on this night, there was a lot of people getting drunk and a lot of kids having fun with their parents.  So, basically, it seems that this a great place for everyone.


1232 Jeffries Rd, Osage Beach, MO 65065

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 5 in Las Vegas

A great day out needs another one, right?  So, it is Sunday and we fly out on Monday, so we take a break.  We start the day with a trip over to the Caesar's Palace Hotel and Casino for some dining and shopping.  We walked through the mall area and didn't find anything that really got our attention, so we noticed something and tried it: Mesa for brunch.  We have eaten at Mesa before, but this was the first time we have eaten brunch there.


So, what type of food does Bobby Flay like to have at brunch and what does his place serve?  Well, the usual Bobby Flay stuff.  I don't mean this in a bad way, but people don't go to Bobby Flay's restaurant to eat spaetzle or chocolate chip cookies, so you wouldn't expect them to be sold there.  So, they start us off with the basket.  Other restaurants do break or chips or something and here they gave us basket of goodies:

Like all things Bobby Flay, there was a chocolate chip muffin, a cornbread slice, some blue corn something-er-other and jalapeno stuff and things and all very tasty, a bit dry, but very Bobby Flay.  A 3 out of 5 stars.

Proper tea service is strange and unusual in American restaurants.  If you order hot tea, even at brunch, you should be presented with a kettle and everything you need.  Therefore, if you finish your glass quickly, you don't have to wait on other factors like the water from the kitchen or the server to have another cup.  It is all in your hands.

My wife had ordered a Spicy Scrambled eggs dish which had some sweet ham, spicy eggs and biscuits:

I would say it was a good 3 out of 5 stars.

There was a side of grits as well:
Fine and good also at about a 3 out of 5 stars.

Then I ordered a side of mango bacon:

I know this may sound bad and a traitor to most of everyone I know, but I didn't like this bacon.  I felt that the mango and citrus flavor on the bacon was too much and cut the fatty pork flavoring to existence so it just tasted like the Christmas ham that a relative would make with a pineapple slice on it.  I didn't think it tasted at all like bacon.  A 2 out of 5 stars from me.

The final thing was totally Bobby Flay.  It was a blue corn waffle:
This tasted good, better than a buttermilk waffle and not as dry.  It worked perfectly with the cream on top and it was just right.  I'd give it a 4 out of 5 stars.


Since it was our last night in Vegas, we decided to go some place special.  On our fifth anniversary, we went to RM Seafood and had the best dining experience ever.  Last year, in July, we went to Rx and so we decided to go back again. Rick Moonen's places are easy winners.

I will not go into extreme detail at Rx.  The server we had was perfect and even delved into 5-10 minute long conversations with my wife about nails, makeup and sewing. (She said she did cosplay and made her own clothes for her job at the restaurant.)  We got our ipad, made our drink selection and then our food came out. 

I forgot what our drink was called, but it was prepared using this cart, at our table.  The drink was a special, made for two, drink:
Now, comes the food:
Mini-chicken pot pies: the gooey creaminess of the pies enclosed in pastry.  A 4 out of 5 stars.
A pickle jar, a 3 out of 5 stars.

Mini-pastrami sandwiches, a 4 out of 5 stars.

Moonen tots: tater tots made from both potato chunks and mashed potatoes.  A 3 out of 5 stars.

A tomato and peach salad.  A 3 out of 5 stars for me.

A macaroni and cheese cooked in a little dish and covered in cheese.  I think my wife would give them a 4 out of 5 stars for this.

As I said, the food above at RX is always good and the service is excellent.  However, I think the food at Rose.Rabbit.Lie may have been a better quality and have earned more stars. Please still check them out.
http://rxboilerroom.com/


Desert was at a different spot and yes, that means more pictures.  My wife and I always wanted to try the food at the Red Square, but this night's dinner meant that we couldn't get food there, right?  Well, we stopped in anyway for desert.  The dining room in the Red Square is big and open and looks Russian or Eastern European.  It has a walk-in vodka freezer room.  It has a bar made with a layer of ice and snow on top.  It has a huge chandelier hanging from the ceiling.  They also had a large strawberry version of a baked Alaska:

Not only was it very big and filling, but very strawberry and very tasty.  It was perfectly sweet but not too sweet and I'd give it a good 4 out of 5 stars as a desert.  Again, this was at Red Square and go check them out: http://www.redsquarelasvegas.com

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day 4 of Las Vegas

With the okay buffet at the Bellagio and the bad service at the bar at the Wynn, we wanted a day where we knew that we would have a good time.  This started with a lunch that my wife was looking forward to for the whole trip:

Hot n Juicy has the best tasting hot and garlic sauce that we have ever had.  So my wife got a lobster and mussels and I ordered the Cajun fries and a basket of potatoes and sausage.

Cajun fries were crispy and spicy.  A 3 out of 5 stars.


I placed the potatoes and sausage on the fries, so any sauce would drip on them and make them tastier.  Again, a 4 out of 5 as being good.  The thing with this place is that the food is always good.  It is well worth a trip for people who like seafood and sausage and things like this.  http://hotnjuicycrawfish.com/

My wife wanted to check out a tea store and we went to this place on the same road called Tea Station.

It was a simple place inside, seats for maybe 20 people, and a bar where the guy behind it would make all of the tea and tea drinks.  My wife ordered a honeydew milk tea and the cup smelled like fresh cut honeydew, a 3 out of 5 stars. 

She ordered a desert for the two of us to share, I did not know it would be huge:

What this is: is a giant shaved ice desert.  It has a huge mound of shaved ice in the middle.  It had red beans on top, grass jelly to the left, some boba to the right and the foreground has some agar balls made with rice, purple potato and sweet potato.  There was a small shot glass of warmed up sweetened condensed milk that was poured on top of everything.  Everything turned into something very sweet and yet most of it was very low calories.  It was delicious and an easy 3 out of 5 stars.

That night, we had reservations for the Foundation Room: (http://www.houseofblues.com/lasvegas/fr)

The food here is not expensive, but not cheap either.  The service was as good as Rose.Rabbit.Lie and they were very interesting and knowledgeable.  We ordered some pork belly:
An easy 4 out of 5 stars.

We ordered a side of grilled asparagus, which was a 3 out of 5 stars:

My wife had ordered two appetizer dishes as her main course: The yellow tail tartar bruschetta and the Stefano Farms burrata:
She loved both and would give a 4 out of 5 stars.

I ordered an 8 oz steak with a horseradish crust:

This very good, but not super.  I do eat some horseradish and spicy foods, but this crust was very spicy and had my scraping it off of the top of the steak to cut it.  It was tender, perfectly cooked to medium rare and completely seasoned.  I'd give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

The Foundation Room is a special members only or paid access club at the top of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.  The bar area has music and some dancing space for the DJ, there is a balcony overlooking the strip and on the other side is the restaurant, which was good enough for us to return.  Check it out if you go there and please wear something nice, no chubbies and flip-flops.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Day 3 of Las Vegas

Day 3 was the 11th of July.  This was a Friday and the Strip was full of tourists, taxis and people who don't know to press the gas when the light is green.

So we wander through the Venetian and the Canal Shops, we find a quick little spot to get lunch called something Torretta or something like that.  My phone took some blurry photos and I forget what it was now.  What a horrible restaurant writer I am, right?

They had a real simple lunch special and so I get a simple pizza Neapolitan and am happy with how it comes out to me.

The pizza crust was perfectly tasting and crisp and crunchy and not too much and not burnt.  It was perfect.  There was just the right amount of cheese, the sauce had flavors and spices so that it tasted of something other than tomatoes and the shreds of basil on top added that bit of herbyness required to keep everything balanced in this dish.  I'd give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

We were going to a show that evening, so we needed to go somewhere and try something new.  On our honeymoon, also in Las Vegas, we ate at the buffet at the Paris Paris.  This night, we went for dinner at the Grand Buffet at the Bellagio. (https://www.bellagio.com/restaurants/the-buffet.aspx)   What follows is a large assortment of almost every dish I ate at the Buffet:
Starting at the 12 o'clock position and going around, we have herbed potatoes, some cilantro rice under that, chicken curry, a dinner roll, some pork belly, a whole wheat dinner roll, some pesto mashed potatoes and some curried cauliflower.

Same as above, starting at 12 o'clock and moving around: panchetta, salami, pasta with vegetable sauce, a sesame dinner roll, some wagyu beef, some regular mashed potatoes with gravy and a slice of beef wellington with sauce.

 
I understand that it is not a great picture, but this was one of my wife's plates.  She got some tuna salad, some sushi pieces, a spicy tuna hand roll, some caviar and other things.


I didn't eat much because I knew there was a huge bar of deserts.  We have a pecan pie tart, a chocolate tart, a chocolate truffle tart, a strawberry thing, a lemon thing, a tiny key lime pie, a coconut macaroon and a strawberry cake cookie thing in the middle.

   I forget what these were, some lemon tart a tiramisu thing and something else.


There is a fruit tart, a chocolate brownie, a chocolate mousse thing, a flan, and a creme brule'.

All of the food was okay, much better quality that Old Country Buffet and much tastier and better looking.  I didn't leave hungry, but we both felt that the combined cost of the two of us, almost $90 was a bit much for any buffet.  I'd give the entire buffet, as a whole, a 3 out of 5 stars.

When we had finished and later that evening as we waited for our show, we went to this great little lakeside bar they had called Parasol Down, at the Wynn. (http://www.wynnlasvegas.com/Restaurants/BarLounges/ParasolDown)   They only served cocktails and it was outside this huge wall of glass windows, facing a waterfall and a pool with color changing lights around and dancing it in.  We thought we had a perfect spot, with view of the waterfall, and a server that came quickly over to us.

The first problem we had here is that there was one server.  My wife ordered a drink and I decided to not order one.  The server then tells us that there is a one drink minimum per customer.  This seemed like a big thing as most people won't go someplace if they are required to get a drink, and water didn't count.  So, I fall back and order a sugar free red bull.  So, it is 8:00 when we get a seat and we have a show, also at the Wynn at 9:00.  So, we think that there should be no problem getting our drink, relaxing and then going upstairs to our show, right?  Well, there was a problem.  The only way I can think of as an explanation, is that a black hole had suddenly manifested itself next to the bar and sucked in all of the bartenders for about 30 minutes.  We waited out there, for 30 minutes before our server came back to us and told us that are drinks were on the way and their bar got backed up.  Well, as we saw later as we left, there were 4 bartenders.  So, somehow, in an empty bar, 4 bartenders got backed up...

We finally get our drinks at 8:40.  We complain at the server telling her that we have a show in 20 minutes and we have to leave.  She suggests taking our drinks back and placing them into to-go cups.  So, my wife ordered a $16 cocktail only to have it for her to enjoy in a plastic cup, thanks to some slow people.  We get the bill then:

Her drink was $16, my red bull now also in a plastic cup, was $6.  We spent as much money as we could have at a restaurant eating food brought to our table on time, on two late drinks from a server blaming her problems on the 4 (four) bartenders.  We paid and left and this was the worst.  We are chugging down our drinks as we walk to our show.  Had we not been in a rush, we would have asked for a manager and wanted our money back.  Worst bar ever.  Don't go there.

With the show and things, this turned out to be a great night.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 2 in Las Vegas

So, the 10th of July was our first real day this year in Las Vegas and our real anniversary.  Ten years ago from that day, we were married at 2pm on a hot summer day.  The wedding was at St. Raymond's, downtown in St. Louis, but then our photos with the wedding party, were at the Botanical Garden, in the heat and sun.  I think it got to 100 degrees or so that day and while my wife was in multiple layers with her dress, myself and my groomsmen were also in multiple layers of shirts, vests and jackets.  Now, just like 10 years ago, we are spending the time in Las Vegas, also in 100 degree plus weather.

For the day, we went over to the Planet Hollywood Casino and mall.  We had to drop off a refill inventory or my jewelry to be sold at Club Tattoo in the Miracle Mile shops and while in there, we stopped for lunch at a place called the Earl of Sandwich.  I've never eaten there, but the food seemed very familiar.

My sandwich was a toasted BLT with avocado.  It was nice, silky, fatty and salty.  It was warm and crunchy and herby.  It had all of the good parts of the pieces like the crispy and saltiness of the bacon, the fatty and creamy-ness of the avocado and the juiciness.  I'd give the place and their sandwich a 3 out of 5 stars.  It was good, almost very good, but not awesome good.

For our night out to celebrate, we happened upon the best kept secret in Las Vegas.  Hidden inside of the Cosmopolitan is an experience called Rose.Rabbit.Lie.  RRL, is a complete experience.  Upon entry, you are brought past the host station to a room with 4 doors.  The room is void of design or interest and these 4 large doors look imposing.  The host picks a door and opens it and you enter a themed room.  We sat in The Music Room, and it was a room with a large piano, bar and few booths lining the wall.  The walls are made of frosted glass windows and helped divide the room and keep it separate but when there is a small show, in each of these four rooms, the windows retract all of the way down into a half wall and allow the patrons in each room to see through and access the others.

So, we sat down at a booth/table and were greeted by our server, Patrick.  We had no complaints with our server at all.  Patrick was nice, just the right amount of talkative (not too much and not too little).  He was very knowledgeable about everything on the menu, everything about the venue and even the drinks.  It was like getting a dining room manager as a server.  Everything that had to deal with Patrick and our service there was perfect.  He is why I would give him a 5 out of 5 stars for his service and friendly demeanor just made us so happy.


So, with Patrick's help and recommendations we ordered our dishes and it started with the first one: "Heavenly Eggs".  This was a single egg dish, so we ordered two.  This had an egg custard in the bottom and then the truffles and sauce on top.  A single scoop of this dish, was filled with this warm feeling of the truffles, with a creaminess of the smoothest ice cream and the sweetness of the best dessert, while still being savory.  Each bite felt like a warm hug with a loved one.  They were awesome and they made me want to make a whole night of eating these and only these.  I'd give a 5 out of 5 on these.


So, our next dish was a Curry spiced carrot dish.  These perfectly cooked carrots and tomatoes were just perfectly spiced, like a curry or Middle eastern flavored spiced sauce, with perfectly cooked vegetables.  The sauce was the real star and this was an easy 4 out of 5 stars.


This was the "Orange Fennel salad".  This salad, resembled a cole slaw recipe, or at least reminded me of one.  It was shown with shaved fennel and had orange slices on top. My wife loved this and I'd give it a 3 out of 5 stars.  It was just the right amount of strong and subtle flavors to work well with each other.


Next we had ordered these "Herb Brioche rolls", which as you can see, came heavily herbed with rosemary and thyme and a sweet butter.  These were hot, almost flaky and moist at the same time and very delicious.  As a "carbs" person, these were a great addition to our meal.  I'd give them a 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Next came the pork dish, which was perfectly rich and fat on fat pork.  The dish had a simple sauce, and some vegetables around it and was not a really salty dish, yet I felt that there was too much fat and needed some acid to break it up.  I'd still give it a 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.
 

Rabbit is a funny thing because as a chef, you don't want to lose the game flavor and you don't want to elevate it to make it inedible.  This rabbit dish called "Rabbit Fricassee", had just the right amount of everything.  It was a perfect balance.  You knew you were eating rabbit, but it didn't taste to strong like rabbit.  It was very mild and tender.  There were rose petals, greens, carrots and it reminded me of a dish I had seen elsewhere.  It looks like the thing to do with animals, when cooked and prepared and plated, is to present them with things that they belong with.  Not suggesting a natural environment or surroundings, but in the case of the rabbit here, presenting and cooking it with rose petals or carrots, which it could have eaten when alive, seems like a good idea.  This was very good and I give it a 4 out of 5 stars.   

Now for desert, we did something different.  By the end of all of these dishes, I was getting full and didn't really want to get a dessert at all.  But, when you are in Vegas, celebrating your anniversary and you are there to do it right and do it big, then go big.  We picked the largest item on the desert menu, something so large that it normally would be ideal for many people to share, but the idea was so interesting that we couldn't back down.  It was the "chocolate Terrarium".  

This is what our server Patrick brought to our table.  This was huge, with this glass dome probably standing at least 18 inches high.  The plate or dish was at least 14 inches in diameter.  As you can see from the picture, there was some branches of  lavender, a single edible rose and some smaller plant fronds.  A single candle sat inside the dome as well.  Now, when the dome was lifted, this is how we had it in front of us:

So, where do I begin?  We removed the plant material and took a closer look at the 'dirt'.  Those solid looking parts were giant pieces of chocolate cookie.  There was large chunks of chocolate brownie underneath a crumbled chocolate cake, as dirt.  The white parts were actually ice cream and marshmallow creme.  It was just crazy, the amount of chocolate and hidden things we found as we dug deeper in this dish.  This is the ultimate desert experience and I recommend this to everyone.  This received a 5 out of 5 stars as well.

Now, over the course of eating, there are small shows that take place in each room, as I had mentioned.  We sat a juggler doing a balance act as well, an aerialist, a singer and many other acts, in the dining area.  When we had finished, we watched a show in the 4th room, which has a larger stage and then after the show, it turns into a nightclub with perhaps the best MC I have seen and heard anywhere and a great DJ.

It is called Rose.Rabbit.Lie. and if you are looking for something romantic or to impress or just have an awesome time in Las Vegas, check them out.