November 14, 2010

Fine—And Not So Fine—Dining at Palazzo

Last weekend, the sig other and I were in Vegas with two of his gal pals (and coworkers) for a quick getaway.  Thanks to the Venetian's excellent poker room rate, I was able to secure an awesome 30th floor suite at the Palazzo overlooking their pools and the Strip.  Plus, the poker room rate gives me a built-in excuse for avoiding the gals' festivities:  "I'd love to go shopping and boozing with you, but I have to make sure I get my hours in for the room rate."  [Cue fake wistful smile with sad puppy dog eyes.]

Although I turned the gals loose on the Strip most of the day, I did make sure to meet up with them for one nice meal every evening.  With all the great restaurants available in Vegas, it'd be a shame not to try a few of them out.  Friday evening, I met the gals at the Laguna Champagne Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail.  Laguna is pretty much dead center on the Palazzo casino floor. right along the main corridor from the lobby and Lagasse's Stadium to the room elevators.  Although it is a full service bar, its gimmick is champagne-based cocktails.  The gals had stopped by in the afternoon and found a couple of favorites.  So when we sat down, the gals demanded a round of "Bubbilicious" drinks, insisting they were "amaaaazing!"  When the drinks arrived, the gals realized they had ordered the wrong drink; the Bubbilicious was made with Campari (a variety of bitters), and was neither bubbly nor delicious (Campari is an acquired taste I have yet to acquire).  After conferring with (er, interrogating) the bartender, the gals determined that the cocktail they had tried earlier was the Flower Eclipse, made with champagne and elderflower liqueur, and garnished with a couple of fresh raspberries floating in the pale yellow drink.  A round of uber-tasty Flower Eclipses proved just the ticket for a hilarious recapping of the day's hijinks.  The Flower Eclipse was, in fact, amaaaazing!

Then, it was off to Table 10, an Emeril Lagasse restaurant in the Palazzo, located at the second floor Palazzo Shops level, easily accessible by the escalators in the casino or the atrium just off the casino floor.  The sig other and I had enjoyed a nice, casual lunch in the Table 10 bar on a prior trip, so we were anxious to see what the dinner experience would bring.

It certainly didn't bring iced tea.  Despite several reminders, I'm still waiting for my beverage.

For appetizers, we ordered the crab cake and the cheesy popovers.  The popovers were OK, but not memorable; the hot dinner rolls were significantly tastier.  The crab cake, however, was moist and delicious, sided with a sauce that had a little kick.  Not a bad start to the meal.  The plates were cleared, more wine was poured for the gals, and we sat back to wait for our entrées.

And wait we did.  The gals became impatient after 15 minutes, and soon, the phrase "Where's our freakin' food?" began to be a common refrain randomly thrown into other conversation, humorously at first, then less so.  I'm a little more patient, and was a lot less lubricated, so I kept the gals under control.  But around the 30 minute mark, even I had to concede that things were dragging on a bit.  I asked our server to check on our food, and he agreed.  Ten more minutes passed, and we had neither food nor a report on the food's status.  I again inquired about our food with a different server working our section (our server was nowhere to be seen).  She said she'd have the manager check into it. 

One of our inquiries must have jolted things loose in the kitchen, and nearly an hour after our appetizers had been eaten and probably digested, our entrées arrived.   The sig other's chicken looked and smelled tasty, but when he went to cut into it, it turned out to be as rubbery and dry as wedding reception buffet chicken.  One of the gals had ordered a steak, which came presliced for her.  She had ordered it medium, but the meat was dark red with juices pooling in the center of the slices.  I tried a bite, and found it cooked rare; I love my beef medium-rare to rare, and this steak was on the far end of what even I would find acceptable.  So, I turned to my duck.  I love duck because of its unique mildly gamey flavor, plus it marries well with a variety of sauces (my favorite is a classic sour cherry sauce).  But the best reason to order duck is that, because of its high fat content, it is always rich and succulent.  Duck is essentially impossible to overcook.

Table 10's chefs achieved the impossible.

Our server had earlier provided us with steak knives, which I figured would be unnecessary for a duck dish.  As always, trust your server.  I tried to cut into my duck, expecting it to essentially fall off the bone with little effort.  Instead, my knife slid off the meat.  With a little effort and some sawing, I was able to free most of the meat from the bone, but left behind quite a bit more than I would have expected.  The meat itself was dry and chewy, and the flavor—well, as the old saying goes, "Tastes like chicken."  Of course, had I wanted chicken, I would have ordered chicken.

We ate our meals, and I paid the check, which included the iced tea (I fully expect they will have a fresh glass waiting for me next month when I return to Vegas).  In hindsight, I'm certain what happened is that our poultry dishes were fired first, and the beef dish was overlooked.  So, when we started asking about our food, our poultry dishes were being kept warm (and drying out) while someone scrambled to put out a steak that was undercooked and hadn't been allowed to rest properly.  Now, I know some diners would have sent their entrées back to the kitchen, but by that point, none of us were willing to risk the additional delay.  Plus, I'm just not a guy who sends things back.  I figure if the chef gave his stamp of approval to a dish and sent it out to me, he's telling me he thinks the dish meets his standards.  If I don't like how he cooks, I'm not going to tell him I think he's wrong, I'm just not going to come back again.

In any event, Table 10 was a major disappointment.  In fairness, I have greatly enjoyed two of Emeril's other restaurants in Vegas—his New Orleans Fish House in the MGM Grand, and his Delmonico Steakhouse in the Venetian (site of several Ironman jacket dinners).  Also, even fine establishments have bad nights, and the Table 10 crew may have just been overwhelmed by an unexpectedly large weekend crowd.  But with all of the great places to eat in Vegas, there's really no reason for me to ever return to Table 10.

Saturday morning rolled around, and our crew was off to another Emeril establishment—his Lagasse's Stadium sports bar in the Palazzo.  This is unquestionably a great spot to watch football, with comfy seating, plenty of TVs, and good beer and drink specials so you don't go broke rooting on your team (well, unless you make a silly sports wager).  Based on two visits (the first was last fall shortly after it opened), the Stadium is great for watching sports and having a drink, but skip the food.  The appetizers range from "meh" to "ugh" (the spinach-artichoke dip is more like a slimy soup).  Entrées appear decent, but for the price, there are plenty of better dining options a short walk away.  The Iowa Hawkeyes pulled out a miracle victory, so we parted ways in a happy—and for the gals, an intoxicated—mood.

Saturday evening found the gals hungry and looking for something a little unusual.  So, I suggested SushiSamba, a Palazzo restaurant based on a fusion of Brazilian, Peruvian, and Japanese influences (such a "been there, done that" mix, eh?).  The sig other and I had previously enjoyed dinner at SushiSamba, which is unusual given the sig other's aversion to sushi.  Even with the place hopping and no reservations, we were still seated for dinner before our cocktails were ready at the bar.  The specialty mixed drinks were ~$12 each, and worth it.  I had a caipirhana and a mojito-esque creation; both were exceptional, as were the other random cocktails ordered by the gals.  For dinner, one of the gals and I ordered four sushi rolls; all were good, but our favorite was the creative "Pacific roll" which combined king crab, asian pear, avocado, and a wasabi crema.  The sig other and our other gal each had a steak robata, which came thin-sliced with a variety of dipping sauces; the best was one red pepper-based with a great spicy kick.  For dessert, we shared a plate of fresh deep-fried donut balls, with a hazelnut-chocolate dipping sauce; it was a great way to top off a top-notch meal.

SushiSamba is a bit on the pricey side, but it is a great dining experience if you don't mind spending $60-$70 per person (that's with two cocktails each; deduct $25 from those prices if you aren't drinking).  Also, our server offered to let us name our price per person, and our taste preferences, which she would then give to the chef to create a tasting menu tailored to our group.  Certainly a good option to keep in mind for future visits.

2 comments:

  1. ooh...so where are you eating during december gathering? --dawn summers

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  2. @ dawn summers (if, in fact, you are really dawn summers):

    I plan one nice dinner at CarneVino, Mario Batali's steakhouse in the Palazzo. If you are nice to me, I may invite you, or give you my doggy bag.

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