Monday, February 28, 2011

The best that Vegas has to offer, so far....

If you read my posts here, you will see that I have become a fan of Rick Moonen.  Unlike other chefs who seem so full of themselves that they place themselves on a pedestal above everyone else, Rick seems and acts like he is still a regular person.  I have followed his Facebook page and his blog on blogger here and decided that since I have gained some respect for the man and his ideals, I thought I would visit his restaurant.  I didn't want to do the downstairs but RM upstairs: the fancy place.  My wife and I made reservations and sat down in the waiting area, had a drink and a relaxing time.  

Secondly, let me explain something that you may have picked up on if you have been following my blog:  I have a bad history with seafood.  My mother's idea of letting us experience seafood, as a child and in my childhood, was with Gorton's Fish Sticks.  Fish sticks are not really fish and not really sticks and just sorta made me hate fish.  Also, with me being in St. Louis, for the longest time, fresh fish is hard to come by.  So, even at Red Lobster, things tasted fishy and shrimp tasted rubbery.  A few years ago, I started anew and was willing to try anything, even seafood.  I have tried crab legs and they were okay, I've tried mussels and didn't like them.  Some fish I have tried, some sushi I have tried and I'm always open to new things. So anyways... 

We sat near the bar while we waited for our seats.  I had a nice conversation with their excellent bartender about making drinks using caviar made through molecular gastronomy, which I have been doing myself at home.  Our discussion led to me talking about The Aviator(Aviation) and then he suggested that I try one, that he has altered and I was all for it.  My wife ordered a drink called the Garden Party.  A few minutes later, we moved to our seat, a nice booth in a dimly lit dining area.  We were immediately greeted by a Sommelier and then we had our waters filled and a waiter came our way.  The first small let-down from RM came from the waiter after he asked us if we had any questions.  I asked about the Moon'n doggie, or the Moonen dog or whatever it was called. He told us what it was and then said something such as :  If you want to go downstairs and eat that kind of food you are welcome to as we usually keep the upstairs menu for the more discerning of guests.  But you are welcome to go downstairs if you wish.   I felt like it was a jab at my wife and I about whether or not we could either afford the food upstairs or even like it but I let it slide later after he came back and after taking our order apologized that he forgot about asking if we were allergic to anything.  While not a real common ingredient, my wife is very allergic to eggplant and we had to make sure there was none in anything she ordered.  My wife ordered the 7 course and I did the 3.


I usually pay closer attention and try to get pictures of each course but this time I didn't.  The main reason was, I was too busy eating.  As I said, there was a wedding reception in the big room there, complete with an Elvis, it could have been the real deal...  But the waiter did apologize again, ahead of time, saying that the wedding party is taking a lot of resources from the staff and they will still try to the best of their ability to take care of us.  Good save.  You have a big restaurant, you know that you are busy and you come out with good customer service ahead of any incidents or issues.  While it may not have been the best move, it felt like a good one in my book.  I would rather be told that my food will take a while than just have it take a while and be wondering all night long.  Nevertheless, the waiter and head waiter kept bringing things out; compliments of the chef, and I will never turn down free food.

First that came out was a razor clam appetizer.  I forget what was on it but it sat in front of me as I stared at it, as it taunted me to eat it.  My wife quickly one-bites it and gives me a thumbs up and I look again at it, first seafood I try for 2011 and take a big bite, expecting that fishy taste.  And there was none.  There was no fishy taste, no salty taste, no tasting like where it comes from, none of that.  It was clean and simple.  I liked it.  Sure it may have been plated so perfectly that it looked like a white flower but it was good.  5 out of 5 chef!

Then we were given an oyster with lemon, vanilla and mint.  My wife first went for hers and she wanted to make sure it was good, before I tried it.  I looked over at her after she one-bited the thing and then gave me a thumbs up.  She asked as to whether or not I wanted mine and from before I could answer, she ate mine as well.  She said it was very good, had no fishy taste, and was flavored perfectly with the lemon and mint. 5/5

Next came out with our first courses: my wife had the Marinated California Octopus and I had the Salsify Black Truffle Soup.  My wife loved the octopus, saying that it was firm yet crunchy, not chewy at all like most octopus is served and it was cooked the best that she had ever had. She gave it a 5/5.  My black truffle soup came with crab meat inside as well as some extra on the spoon. I felt adventurous and poured my crab into my soup, stirred it once or twice and then took a taste.  It was awesome.  I then tried the crab and liked it.  The crab wasn't fishy at all.  Sometimes when I try new things and I think they are alright, I will eat around that item and still try the rest of the dish, effectively eating just what I like.  I liked it all, so much that I was actually fishing around and looking for the crab to ensure I had a piece in every bite with my soup.  It was great with a perfect 5/5 from me.

Marinated California Octopus with sweet peppers, black tomato and falafel  
Salsify Black Truffle Soup with king crab and granny smith apple
My wife had a Smoked Sturgeon and Heirloom Potato come next.  My wife enjoyed it giving it a 5/5 saying that it was smokey, had a crunch to it and was not fishy at all.  It also had an amazing sauce to it.

My wife then had the Peruvian Lantern Scallops.  She thought this was cooked well and liked how mustard was in everything, from the greens served with it to the sauce.  She gave this a 4/5. 
Peruvian Lantern scallops with pork confit, mustard greens and Anson Mills polenta
About the same time that my wife was served with the Cobia dish, I received my second course: my entree.  My wife had the Cobia and she only remarked that it was very yummy and had a great sauce.  She gave it a 4/5 stars.  I had the Cervena Venison Loin.  I was speechless towards the venison.  Venison, which is the gourmet term for deer meat, usually is quite gamey and you know you are eating a meat that isn't part of the usual 3: pork, beef and chicken.  Like lamb, venison has an off taste that most game meats share, a bit of a sour and other-worldly spice, an unknown flavor that enhances it and sets it apart from other meats.  The more wild a meat, the more of this game-taste it has.  The venison, had almost none of this wild or game taste, making it seem like it should be in with those other meats.  It was perfectly cooked being rare in the center and a ring of color cooking outward, like a well smoked meat.  It went from an almost deep purple to a red and then a pink where it hit the outside where a nice salty and peppery crust lay. It was so thick and yet tender and juicy.  I would dare say that it encapsulated a degree of umami that a large thick steak would offer as well.  It was so good that I was eating the Brussels sprouts, onion and sauce with the meat.  I had never tasted any meat so good and so perfectly cooked, it was a thing of beauty.  It got my attention and if I allowed myself to go over 5 stars and give anything a 6 out of 5, I would have.  5 out of 5 stars on this just seems so tame and timid to what it actually deserves.
Cobia with black olive, pomegranate and cauliflower
Cervena Venison Loin with Brussels sprouts, Cipollini onion and pear butter
My wife had her 5th and 6th courses while I was busy enjoying my venison.  She had a Labelle Farms Duck Breast, which was with a quinoa pilaf, celery root and purple kohlrabi.  She enjoyed it and loved the quinoa especially, thinking it was very 'yummy' and gave it a 5/5. Then she had her smaller portion of the venison and at times it seemed that we were making a "mmmmmmm" sound in unison.  She gave that a 5/5 saying that it was delicious but she was expecting it to have that game taste that is so famous with game meats.

Before dessert came, they offered us a few things, such as a dish that had freshly made ice cream balls, like 'dipping dots' with some chocolate ice cream on top.



 They then presented us with a small sampling, above.  At the top of the plate was a mini apple crumb cake-like dessert.  Next came a flavored meringue and then towards the bottom was a chocolate truffle snack.  It was all very nice and a good change to dessert at a 3 out of 5.

To finish off my wife's 7 course meal, she was given a Tropical Creme Brulee.  She liked it, giving it a 3/5, suggesting that with the lineup of courses, a stronger flavor profile should have been used to finish the line.  The creme brulee was very light and fruity and I guess that is why they gave us two desserts before this one, to help seq way it in.  The creme brulee was with passion fruit curd, marinated pineapple and papaya-aloe.

My dessert was the Chocolate Car Bomb.  The chocolate car bomb, with an obvious take on the Irish car bomb drink.  This dessert was served in a 'spilled' glass, on its side, on a plate.  It had Guinness ice cream, Bailey's Irish cream and beer suds, along with pieces of chocolate.  To be honest, I really was split on this dessert.  Everything on it was great, except for the beer suds and the chocolate pieces.  It seemed that the chocolate pieces were bittersweet chocolate and the tartness in that matched with the tartness of the Guinness, which may have been what the pastry chef was going for, but just tasted like a big bite of tart.  The beer suds were also tart, much like they were made with an IPA or something that had a very strong hops flavor.  The ice cream and the creamy item below were very good, although hard to get to because at first inspection it looked as if it was just a glass on its side on a plate and I wanted to lift up the glass and empty the contents on the plate, for easy access.  However, the glass was glued on to the plate in that fashion so it was actually quite difficult to get to the good stuff, in the bottom of the glass.  I would give it a 3 out of 5.

Chocolate Car Bomb with Guinness ice cream, Bailey's Irish Cream and beer suds

Overall, it was a great experience and there are some things that we experienced that don't really add into the meal but should in any review of the meal and restaurant:

1.  The bartender.  I didn't get his name, but the guy is a genius.  He took the traditional Aviator(Aviation) drink and made some changes to it.  He made both version for us and his version is sweeter and all around tastier than the original.  You can always tell how good a bartender is by what he does and he took an old drink that hardly anyone orders anymore and made it even better.  It reminds me of when I go to bars and order my usual drink: a Rob Roy.  You have no idea how many bartenders look at my cross and ask me how to make it.  Sure, the Rob Roy drink is something that men in their 70's usually order, but it is one of my favorite go-to drinks and most people don't know how to make them anymore.  This bartender here at RM, should get a raise and next time I'm in Vegas, I'll teach him how to do the Aviator using maraschino caviar and float them in the glass with the rest of the drink.  If I had a bar or restaurant, I'd hire him, or give him a role training the rest of my staff.  If he liked sugar free donuts, I'd send him some, end of story.

2.  The Service.  While there was one minor slip-up when the waiter implied that my wife and I didn't belong in the upstairs dining room, everything else was flawless.  He never really apologized for that but seemed overly nice the rest of the evening and I let that comment slide.  I think he meant to say something but it just came out wrong.  We had water when we needed it, we had food right in the right order and we thought it would be a challenge but the waiter and kitchen staff worked out a good mix so my wife with her 7 course and mine with my 3 course would get food in the same intervals.  Meaning that there was never a time when we both were without a dish in front of us. 

3.  The bathrooms. For as nice as a restaurant and as big as it was, there was a single person bathroom for both sexes.  This came to prove as a problem that night as the wedding party was also using the bathroom and at times, there would be a line.  The bride frequently used the bathroom to change her clothes which left the women in the restaurant, sometimes popping up and down from their seats to check on the availability of the bathroom. 

4.  The digestive.  As soon as the waiter pours the first bit of water into our glasses for dining, he leaves the water carafe on the table.  As soon as it was empty, he would pass by, sometimes like a Ninja, placing things into the carafe.  First he dropped in some spices, likely cloves to give it a nice scent as we sat.  Then came some orange peel and more and more spices came, very secretly.  After we were through eating and ready to ask for the bill, the waiter came back with a pitcher of hot tea, which he poured into the carafe, which then turned into a very aromatic drink.  He then poured a bit of dry ice into it, allowing it to explode its wonderful perfume into the cold white vapors as he wafted it all over the table, allowing us to breathe it in.  He then poured it out into two small glasses for us to enjoy.  It was supposed to calm our stomachs down and tasted like a warm, citrus spiced mulled-wine or similar drink.  It was very tasty.

But that's it.  The place was an overall success and had me happy to spend what I did there in time and money.  I highly suggest to anyone to go to RM and go upstairs for some fine and romantic dining.  I also highly suggest that you play "try to stump the bartender" and order anything you like.  My bet, is that he will not only make what you ask for, but make it taste better than the original. 

Rick, I want to eat at your restaurant every day.  It was better than Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, it was better than Delmonico's and it was better than Pearl.  In St. Louis, we don't have a restaurant at the level and caliber as yours and if I had the money I would so try to invest with you top open a place here.  OR, if you opened a restaurant in a closer city, like Chicago, it would give us a reason to do the 4 hour drive.  We did drive up there one year just to eat at Rick Bayless's place but then I would drive up at least once a month for your place.  

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