Thursday, February 27, 2014

Being Bored-dain: Vila Algarve, My Doorway to Portuguese Cuisine

It's been a while since I've done anything for my being bored-dain series. Bored-dain is a pun on Anthony Bourdain, a writer and eater I occasionally despise but envy as well. He gets to travel all over the world and eat. What a life! Well, I don't have the resources to travel but I do sit around and eat. A lot. Although I no longer live in Los Angeles, the melting pot of the world, Las Vegas has culinary adventures too.

My latest culinary discovery has been Portuguese food. Some background info on Portugal, the Portuguese Empire was the longest-lived of the modern European colonial empires, spanning almost 600 years. It is located on the Iberian Peninsula, and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the West and Spain on the West and North. (from wikipedia)

I have never tried, or even heard of Portuguese food. So when a new Portuguese restaurant opened up (the ONLY Portuguese restaurant in Las Vegas) the four of us decided to give it a try.

Haloumi Cheese Appetizer

We left all the ordering to Mike, as the rest of the party was befuddled about Portuguese food as I was. We started with several appetizers: the Chorizo, which beared little resemblance to its Mexican cousin, was served flaming tableside. It tasted a lot like kielbasa. Next, we had grilled Haloumi cheese (pictured above), Haloumi cheese is a cheese made from sheep's milk. It was very mild in flavor with a slight rubbery texture.

Snails in Thick Garlic Cream

My favorite appetizer of the meal was the Snails in Thick Garlic Cream. I love this dish. You can't go wrong with cream sauce, melted cheese and garlic. The snails added a meaty umami flavor to it. Of course, you can find this dish in French restaurants around town but Vila's Algarve's was decent, if not unique.

Chicken Trinchado

Our last appetizer was the Chicken Trinchado made with red wine, cream sauce, olives and served with toasted bread. It tasted a lot like a mild curry.

The main dish was the Bacalao (pronounced bak-a-lau). Bacalao means dried cod fish and is a staple of the Portuguese diet. There are many recipes and versions of it. This version had the bacalao mixed in with potatoes, onions and garlic and served with a salad. The owner gave us a short history on bacalao, it used to be poor people food and salting the cod was a way to preserve it. Now, it's a delicacy because of the amount of work needed to make the cod edible. The salted cod is soaked in fresh milk for a week and every day the milk has to be changed. The soaking makes the fish pliable and gets rid of the salt. The result is a very soft and mild tasting fish, which was served shredded. 

For dessert we had house-made tiramisu that was light and delicious. In conclusion, Vila Algarve was a culinary experience, worthy of being bored-dained. I don't know if I'd go back, but I'm glad that I got to get out of my comfort zone and try Portuguese food.  If Portugese doesn't excite you, the place has conventional pizza, burgers and pasta dishes too. And they're working on their liquor license and what looks to be a nightclub/dance floor. 

Vila Algarve on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sambalatte on Jones: Now you can steampunk your coffee!

Being a woman of leisure has its challenges. Such as, now what am I going to do for forty hours a week? Smiley

First world problems, I know, I know. Well, I decided a good way to pass the time was to join a traveling book club. Wow, how esoteric, you say? Not really, I have ulterior motives. Now I have an excuse to go to quaint coffee houses and guiltlessly drink and eat the night away.

I was surprised to find out that while Las Vegas may be the mecca for food and drink, it is NOT the mecca for coffeehouses. But there were a few that have been on my radar for awhile, so I decided to give them a try.

My first stop was the newly opened Sambalatte on Jones. Its sister store, Sambalatte Torrefazione in Summerlin, has become a Las Vegas sensation. It was voted 2012 Best Coffee by the Las Vegas Review Journal and Huffington Post's declares it's one of the best coffee shops in the country!

Picture from Las Vegas Review Journal
The Sambalatte on Jones still has some growing pains. The first time I went, they were still training their cashier. The second time I went, they were closed at 8pm. For the outrageous prices they charge, I was expecting nothing less than impeccable, perfect service. Not even close, but the upside is it has that mom-and-pop feel in a kitschy sort of way. (sidenote: on my third visit here, I saw one of the owners, I believe her name was Sheila. So obviously, Sambalatte is still a family-run business).

Onto the coffee... I am by no means a coffee expert. Honestly, I stopped drinking coffee when I stopped working. But I was intrigued by Sambalatte's Steampunk press. The Steampunk brews the coffee four ways: it acts like a old-fashioned drip, a french-press, a slow-coffee pour over and a siphon. You can read more about it here.

Picture from
In essence, what it does is heats the water on the bottom, then siphons it up to the top, and acts like a fast-acting french press and finally the coffee is pressed out through the bottom. Words can't do it justice, you gotta see it. It's a cool little contraption.

Does it make a better coffee? It's suppose to. The hot water is in contact with the oils from the coffee grinds and its suppose to make a better tasting cup. Although a siphon brewer can do this too, the Steampunk regulates some of the x-factors, such as temperature of the water and time to make a good press.

Mumbo-jumbo? Honestly, to a non-coffee connoisseur, it's more for show. I ordered the Sumatra blend and it was far from the best tasting liquid to pass through my mouth. It still tasted like coffee, even a bit too acidic, but that could've been the Sumatra blend I chose (I picked it because the name sounded cool). I will say it was a STRONG cup of coffee and it had me jiving all day. Pic is below.

Steampunk'd coffee, Sumatra blend

The FOOD... amazing. Nothing short of amazing. This is where Sambalatte shines and why I'm a frequent visitor. I've tried their Quiche Lorraine, Nutella bomb, Tiramisu and their man-cakes. The Quiche Lorraine and their Tiramisu were heavenly little pillows of yum. Their Nutella bomb was interesting but their man-cakes were meh (they're in the sandwich refrigerator, they're fancy protein bars).

Honorable mentions are their loose leaf teas, which are brewed in a french press. And my bf had the blended mocha, which he thought was just ok. It's not very sweet, which may appeal to a lot of people.

Egg-white Frittata

In conclusion, Sambalatte is a great overall sensory experience. Sip. Savor. Enjoy. is their motto and they have nailed all three. Their prices are ludicrous but Sambalatte isn't Starbucks, it's not an everyday coffee stop shop. It's more a special occasion place, to go on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and idle the day away reading about faraway lands with mysterious dark-headed men.

Sambalatte on Urbanspoon

The fascinating book that I'm reading for my traveling book club is called Anatolian Days and Nights

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Welcoming the Year of the Horse at Wing Lei

Photo from

2014 ushers in the year of the Wood Horse, a year that is to be filled with conflicts and energy, at least according to this article. So what better way to welcome the horse than with a grand dim-sum brunch at Wynn's Wing Lei.

Wing Lei is a fascinating place. It's the only Chinese restaurant in North America that has received a Michelin star. The restaurant's decor is gorgeous. It is decorated in gold and green, plates are plated in gold and the servers wear white gloves.

I suggested going to their bi-annual dim-sum brunch so that we could taste a variety of dishes, thereby getting a good overall flavor of the place. At $68.88 (yes, that's the price, Chinese love the 8) I assured my gastro-superior dining mates that it would be worthy of their palates and we will not be getting the leftover scraps fried with chop suey. And the quality of the food did not disappoint. Actually, we agreed that the brunch is a veritable bargain, as one could go to town at their seafood bar alone and easily eat $100 of lobster tails and king crab claws.

As much as the high quality seafood was around and plentiful, I only reserved a small portion of my stomach for it as there were so many other fascinating dishes to try. Their dim sum was exceptional, none of it was overly creative or extraordinary, just the best of old favorites. 

Lobster dumpling, scallop dumpling, pork bun and pork dumpling

Pineapple pork bun
My favorite dish were the pork belly with the top layer of fat cooked to caramelized perfection. Two other memorable dishes were their sea bass and their Peking duck. Michael and I had eaten at Blossoms the weekend before and both of us were ecstatically telling Shawn that it was the best Peking duck we ever had. Low and behold, the Wing Lei version was just as good. It had the perfect crispy skin, fatty duck meat, and the most amazing five spice seasoning I've ever tasted. 

Tummies full, we wandered over to their decadent dessert table where the three of us went to town. My favorite dessert of the night was the caramel coffee crunch and their salted caramels. 

Sidenote: the executive chef, Ming Yu, was visibly standing by the tables but seemed shy, so I didn't ask for a photo-op. Besides, I can't stand foodie groupies. 

Overall, it was an amazing experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves dim sum, buffets, or the Wynn. The service was exceptional, even though it was partially self-serve. And being buffet-style did not take away from the overall experience. 

P.S. If you want to read a very detailed description of all the dishes we samples, click on Michael's blog here

P.P.S. Wing Lei is a Michelin star restaurant but they don't seem to enforce a dress code. You can wear shorts, but please don't. 

Gong Hei Fat Choy! 

Wing Lei on Urbanspoon


Blog Widget by LinkWithin