é by José Andrés – Las Vegas, NV

When all is said and done, the goal of a restaurant, whether it’s fast food or fine dining, is to seat you at their table. If we’re talking about the latter, besides the menu, there are a number of tactics available to a discerning restaurateur. Hiring that hot bearded chef from some hip locavore, farm-to-table joint perhaps, or landing the top floor in the latest Zaha Hadid building. Or maybe it’s touting a one night only tasting menu featuring sustainable heritage bacon.

All of these strategies have been executed in principal, or more likely verbatim, but in Las Vegas, the capital of distraction, attracting diners to your restaurant is an even greater task.  So how do you do it, how do you compete when almost every celebrity chef has a Vegas location vying for those dining dollars? Well for one diminutive dining room, it’s simple, you don’t.

This tactic of isolationism would be suicide for most restaurants, but é by José Andrés is not most restaurants. You won’t see any signs for it as you walk through The Cosmopolitan, it’s not listed on the website, and even if you were to walk by Jaleo, it’s parent restaurant, you’d probably miss it.

E spread 1

It all started with a call from my dad and a one word question, “Vegas”? The answer was an instant yes, and with that, the meal planning began. Well, I say planning, but it was really just jumping online the second I got home to see if é had two spots open during our trip. I had heard about José Andrés’ semi-secret restaurant within a restaurant a while back, and it had been on my wish list ever since.

A few days later a dainty envelope bearing a faux wax stamp arrived containing two gold admission tickets. I can hear the snickering, but for me, it showed that the staff at é sought not only to provide a meal, but an experience, starting with your own personal Charlie Bucket moment, and it totally worked.

We arrived at Jaleo with golden tickets in hand, and no clue as to what lay ahead. Soon after, our seven dinner companions slowly trickled in. Naturally small talk exposes occupations first, and we were a diverse bunch; two neuroscientists, a spinal surgeon, a PGA rules official, a “businessman” with two young “lady friends”, together with me, an architect in training and my aircraft trading father, formed a group like a strange food loving cast of Gilligan’s Island. Little did we know how important that group would prove to be to the experience. Each of us took our seat at the bronze, horseshoe-shaped bar, surrounded by full height walls of library card files meant to represent Chef Andrés’ mind, filled with flavor ideas. After a quick introduction to the friendly, and thankfully not too formal, staff, our meal of over 20 dishes began.

E spread 2

Smooth foie gras and crunchy corn nuts, wrapped in what looked like pressed dryer sheets, but turned out to be cotton candy, was a refreshingly playful way to start a meal of this caliber. José is a decidedly serious chef, as his many restaurants can attest, but you can tell he’s having fun at é. Take his “beet-kini” grilled cheese with its two slices of “bread” formed from pressed beet meringue, achieving a color that’d make Willy Wonka proud, sandwiching a thick cream of La Peral blue cheese. Yet the flavors are always the main attraction, concentrated sweetness from the beets against the grassy blue cheese.

At an Andrés restaurant, you’ll never be without seafood for long, so the coca de recapte featuring a pristine Murcia sardine and deconstructed escalivada (a traditional Catalan dish usually made with grilled red pepper and eggplant) piped in neat rows was a welcome sight. Three quick bites followed, mini brioche stuffed with goat cheese and Iberico ham, a smoked Kushi oyster, and one of Eat a Duck’s personal favorite delicacies, a seared chicken oyster set atop crispy skin.

E spread 3

How about some shark? Why, yes please! A little Cadiz style fried nugget of adobo marinated thresher shark was as impressive as it was simple. Think of a piece of perfectly fried pork belly, and then remove any trace of lean meat, that was the texture. The fish itself didn’t have a distinct flavor, but the combination of spices from the adobo and the sharp sherry vinegar on the crisp shell was intoxicating.

Apparently you can pickle mussels, and guess what, they’re delicious! The creamy little shellfish with their added sourness were paired with little pea-sized olive spheres and a squeeze of citrus that woke up the tongue. Which brings me to Cava sangria spheres! After downing these high-end jello shots, everyone at the table had a smile on their face.

Let me just state that by now, I had become fast friends with the two lovely ladies to my left, one of whom was already starting to get full, and I being ever the gentleman, graciously offered to assist her in dispatching whatever morsels remained from each course.

The next course was a true brought me back to earth as the preparation was explained. I take it there’s no fear on the staff’s part of divulging secrets here, because I was no clearer on how this dish was created after the explanation as I was before it. From what I gathered, (and José would probably cringe, or laugh if he read this) you take fava beans, purée them, mix them with some molecular something or other, and then reformed them into their former fava shape. The result is an impossible smooth “bean” creme floating in a comforting jamon consommé. Two schmears in the roasted and black garlic varieties packed an incredibly concentrated flavor, playing off the subtle ham tinged broth.

E spread 4

A return to the sea with two prawns from Palamós, barely cooked on the grill to keep their creamy texture. If you’ve ever had ama ebi nigiri, it was a similar mouth feel. The flesh was exceedingly sweet with just a hint of smoke. Sucking shrimp heads seems to have become the cool thing to do after years of Bourdain and the like preaching the gospel of guts. Seriously though, when the opportunity arises to wrap your lips around a crustacean of this quality, you’d better suck every last succulent drop out of that shell.

The grilled Txocoli style cod jowls that followed brought the dreaded “wall” within sight. It didn’t help that I had a double portion after sharing with my generous neighbor! The garlicky pil pil sauce mingling with swirls of squid ink was almost too luxurious. In keeping with the cream theme, we were then presented with a steaming package of champagne cork sized mushrooms in a creamy bagna cauda.

I won’t lie, I was reaching my limit, but the sight of an enormous grilled Australian Wagyu ribeye was enough to generate a second wind. The color was unreal. Their grill must’ve been screaming hot because it had an amazing crust, but the deep crimson flesh beneath was still wobbly to the touch. Piquillo chips and white asparagus joined the perfect slice of beef, pairing with the grassy notes. A nice layer of fat lent its flavor to an already delicious cut.

E spread 5

With that exclamation point, the dessert parade began…with an egg, or what looked like an egg, but was in fact thickened cream whites with an orange yolk. A little chocolate drum shell containing a minty chocolate mousse atop cocoa nibs was a familiar flavor, like an intense Andes mint, or Andrés mint if you will.  José’s own take on a Ferrero Rocher was presented as a golden nugget in a ring box. The distinct hazelnut chocolate flavor combo was spot on, and even more pronounced than its namesake.

I’ve had very few dinners where I leave with more friends than I arrived with. I can confidently say that the group you draw at é can make or break the dinner. Without fail, the food will always be incredible, but the people make the experience special, and that goes for the staff as well. Our group was fantastic, the room felt alive, there was laughter and hugs and a common giddiness over this awesome moment we were all able to share. Even the chefs seemed to be having a great time. So if you visit é, befriend your neighbors, chat with the sommelier, joke with the chefs, chat with the assistants, because at the end of the day, it’s the people who make the meal.

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The Gallows – Boston, MA

The Gallows was a recommendation from Logan on our trip to Boston.  This place was a little out of the way for us, so we had to take the Silver Line bus (Diana’s first time on a public bus!) but it was definitely worth it.

The-Gallows-Logo

First, I have to explain how this restaurant has harnessed technology.  We arrived sans reservation and were informed it would be a 45 minute wait.  The hostess asked for my phone number and said that when a table was ready, I would be texted.  That’s already cool enough, but you’re sent a text immediately that sends you to a website that shows you exactly how many parties are ahead of you.  So we stood outside and as people filtered, we’d refresh the page and slowly watch the number go down.  It was very exciting for me, I thought it was a great idea.

So we finally get in and the menu looks amazing. I want it all. I ordered The PEI mussels in coconut lobster broth with kaffir lime leaf and fried chilis. What a revelation.  A delicious twist on the tried and true white wine mussel sauce. It was a little sweet, a little tart, and left me wondering what was in it besides coconut lobster broth.  It in no way overpowered the mussels, and the fried chilis were a perfect addition of heat to this well-rounded dish.

Gallows mussels and kale salad

I also ordered the kale salad with smoky grilled corn, queso fresco, avocado, and chili popcorn.  This dish was perplexing.  At first, I thought the popcorn was gratuitous. But when the salad is eaten without it, you notice that something is missing. That bit of crunch, bit of heat to round out the mildness of the almost wilted kale. I will say, I wish the corn and avocado were more present, they were at the bottom of the dish, but maybe that’s my fault for not mixing it up.  I was too distracted by the chili popcorn.

Gallows lobster buns

Diana ordered the heirloom tomatoes with herbed cloumage cheese and curried crispy shallots.  The cheese was basically tzatziki, (not saying that’s a bad thing because it was crazy delish) and made for a remarkably refreshing and simple dish.  Almost a palate cleanser, a perfect appetizer. The tomatoes were delicious, really juicy and had the right amount of salty compensation. She also got grilled short rib tacos with napa cabbage slaw, nuoc cham, sesame aioli, sriracha, aromatic herbs. They were really light and flavorful with a kick from the sriracha. I’d recommend eating them fast because she left one for after her salad and the tortilla got all soggy and ripped apart.

Gallows heirloom tomatoes and short rib tacos

The Gallows describe themselves as “loud and welcoming” and that is completely accurate. A simply, yet well decorated restaurant with clean lines and nice soft lighting.  It made for a nice night out that we were able to dress up for!

The Gallows on Urbanspoon

2013 Eat a Duck Food Crawl – Tampa Edition

Everyone has their own special way to wave goodbye to the past 12 months. Fireworks, champagne, kisses with strangers. Here at Eat a Duck, as you’d expect, our farewell involves food…and lots of it. Logan and I had been stewing over embarking on a food crawl for some time, and seeing 2013 out with a feasting trip seemed like a perfect fit. Todd from Tasting Tampa and his lady friend were kind enough to join us, rounding out a foursome with the ability and appetite to conquer the larder of any given municipality.

food-crawl1 copy

Naturally, as we were in Central Florida, we had a choice of Orlando or Tampa. We went with the latter and in our best Lemmy impression, we played it fast and loose, adding and substituting eateries on the fly, the final lineup is seen below.

2013 Food Crawl Lineup

Eight restaurants are no laughing matter. With this many places, one must pace themselves or run the risk of hitting a wall long before you reach the end, which in our case, would have been a tragedy. We made our rendezvous with Todd at our first stop, Yummy House. We had sampled the dinner menu on Christmas day, but today it was all about dim sum. Pork and ginger dumplings, pork siu mai, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, and fried calamari in their famous salt and pepper preparation. I’m cautiously confident in stating that this dim sum is the best in Central Florida. The only thing to keep it from knocking Ming’s off its throne is the lack variety on the menu.

Yummy House Spread

It took everything I had not to overdo it here as I was famished, but we had a long road ahead of us. So I laid my chopsticks down and hopped in the car for our second stop, Cigar City Brewery. Both Logan and I had decided not to spend any of our crawl money on alcohol, but the call of a hoppy IPA was too much for my colleague. For eats, we kept it light with a small bowl of duroc pork chicharrones with mojo salt and lime. It was a perfect intermission to get us ready for our stop number three…

CCB Chicharrones

Woodfired Pizza. As is usually the case in the Tampa area, Todd was received like a conquering king, this time by a wise looking pizzaiolo working a smoking wood oven. Introductions were made and we were granted a VH1 style story from the owner himself, Peter Taylor, of his decades long quest to make (not bake!) the perfect pizza. Needless to say, we were anxious to get a taste. Todd took the lead and ordered two “must have” pizzas, the Pistachio and the Dante. The former came with pistachios, fresh mozzarella, raw red onion, olive oil, pecorino romano, rosemary and organic herbs. This was by far the most aromatic pizza we had ever sampled. The pistachio and herb mixture made a sort of pesto that filled your nose with an earthy aroma. Subtle and creamy with a slightly sweet crust as a compliment. The Dante on the other hand was bold, with its sriracha spiked tomato sauce. Smooth ricotta managed to shine through the heat and served to balance the dish. Sliced meatballs and grated Dante cheese rounded it out. We unanimously agreed it was the best pizza we had all had in a while.

Woodfire Pizza Spread

After a bit of a drive, we landed at stop 4, Anise Global Gastrobar. Logan has sung the praises of this eclectic temple of food before, so I had taken this opportunity to try it for myself. Half a dozen oysters with hibiscus mignonette got us started. Crisp, clean and tender, they were a perfect appetizer for the stinky bunz that followed. The Eat a Duck boys covered four out of five of the bunz, Chinese BBQ pork, beer battered shrimp, red curried crispy chicken and braised pork belly. After a bit of each I was sold. They more than lived up to Logan’s praises. I was sad to leave without being able to sample more of the menu. The food crawl giveth and the food crawl taketh away, we had to continue!

Anise Spread

Not far from Anise, we arrived at our fifth stop, Pané Rustica. Lo and behold, Todd spotted a couple more friends and lovers of food. After little coaxing, we managed to detour them from their plans in favor of joining us on the rest of our crawl, but not before we each devoured a quarter of a two storey burger topped with ham and cheese.

Pané Rustica Burger

No building sized sandwich was going to slow us down. Élevage was our sixth stop, and I had high expectations following Logan’s recent post. We set up shop in the bar, just outside the main dining room. The menu in the bar was only a fraction of what Élevage has to offer, but in the name of efficiency we ordered the first three items the group agreed on. Deviled eggs with blackened blue crab, escargots parmesan and reuben beef tartare with comte, 1000 island, brussels kraut and rye bread. Surprisingly, these three items were underwhelming. The deviled eggs were a tasty but hardly eye-opening. Sadly the flavor of the escargots was lost beneath the layer of cheese and tomato sauce and the beef “tartare” was cooked all the way through. From what I read about this place in Logan’s post, Élevage is set to be a food destination for any serious eater in the country. However the lounge menu needs some work to say the least. The items sound amazing, but the execution leaves much to be desired. In any case, I’m in no way writing it off as every new venture needs time to work out the kinks. Onwards and upwards stop seven…

Élevage Spread

Sidebern’s. Anyone with an appreciation for food in Central Florida has been here, so we knew what was in store. We wasted no time and ordered up a pile of moules frites, duck rillettes, oysters, a stack of fresh ham with stone ground mustard and a couple of beautiful scallops with a striking herb pesto. Each item was executed to perfection. Fresh mussels bathed in a broth that could satisfy the strongest hunger all on its own. Moist duck settled in a layer of fat coated the tongue, only to be cut by the clean flavor of the oysters. This is what the folks running the Bern’s empire are truly capable of once they get in the zone.

Sideberns Spread

Seven restaurants down and we were still going strong, our stomachs hadn’t betrayed us yet as we steeled ourselves for the eighth and final stop, Rooster and the Till. In hindsight, the place that excited me most. The entire restaurant is the size of a large living room. The kitchen resides just behind the bar, so everything is on display. The chef and his minions, armed only with three hot plates and a meticulously prepared mise en place, were pumping out food to the crowded room at an impressive pace. Even more impressive is that the menu changes with the wind, so don’t expect to find everything we did on your own visit. We had to wait about 30 minutes, but once we took our places at the bar, we were rewarded with truly inspired food for Tampa, or anywhere for that matter. Lamb heart tartare with a golden duck yolk was outstanding. Raw littleneck clams with pickled radish and grapefruit was addictive. Pork belly with cornbread and pickled apple with peppercorn honey showcased genius flavor combinations. Cauliflower in brown butter with pickled raisins and braised turnip with white beans and pickled celery in a pork fat vinaigrette wowed even this staunch veggie hater. Dessert was a pear and cranberry parfait with granola and homemade whipped cream. Rooster and the Till has the hunger and passion of a newly formed band looking for a label. I hope they hold tight to that hunger in the years to come as I plan on becoming a regular so as not to miss a single dish.

Rooster & the Till Spread

The first ever Eat a Duck food crawl was more than successful, starting with an explosion of salt and pepper and ending with a lamb heart attack. This could very well turn into a tradition, so keep your eyes and ears open this year for more Eat a Duck crawls, we’d love to bring some of our readers along on our next adventure!

The Savory Side of Dough

You’ve already heard our soliloquies of the fantastic things Datz Dough is doing in the pastry world. But if you thought sweet treats were all they had to offer, you don’t know the half of it.

Chef Domenica - Photo: Kevin Tinghe

Photo: Kevin Tinghe

It’s no coincidence that as soon a new talented, and dare I say, infamous chef was hired, a sea change washed in from the orange-purple horizon. Now I’ve read the stories about some of the behind the scenes drama involving past employers. Non-compete clauses and threats of law suits. For us, the consumer, the final product, not any extenuating circumstances, should be the deciding factor of how and where we spend our money. Here at Eat a Duck, we’ve resolved to save the drama for our mommas. For me, I know the pedigree. To win over an unbiased food lover like myself, you only need three words, “duck fat fries”. Those words might as well join Chef Domenica’s copious ink, as the two go hand in hand.

I can attest to the legitimacy of the hype surrounding this particular chef. By all means, if you have yet to try her interpretation, I would chug my way to Palma Ceia for an order. Thrice is not only the world’s greatest mid-2000s post emo/post hardcore/post melodic hardcore emo/ pre-post-experimental post-hardcore, modern-melodic rock outfit, it’s also the number of steps it takes to properly cook frites.

Foie Gras Slider

I find joy most often when Eat a Duck actually gets to eat duck. Not only did I get my first fill as technically I ate duck in the fries, they also have the best preparation of foie gras I’ve found in the Bay Area, in quality and in taste. For a fair enough price, you can get a small slider of brioche crouton, with a nice little slab of foie gras, perfectly cooked with a layer of sear to keep the fatty liver from completely melting away. As with any competent take on foie, a sweet and acidic addition of figgy jam with balsamic will not only cut the fat, it also causes a the whole affair to foiemoneously linger on the tongue. This little foiemuse will make you think about it so often throughout the rest of the day, you’ll begin speaking in foienglish.

“Truly, there isn’t a party like an Eat a Duck party, cause the eating of the duck at the party doesn’t ever stop. Wherever we go, best believe we got our confit. Rolling down the stylish peak, to get a taste of duck with berry gastrique.”

To complete the tour de canard, I have to mention the confit of quarter. A generously sized portion, enough to share with a good friend. I suggest possibly Todd Sturtz of Tasting Tampa fame, as he resides dangerously close to this particular eatery. Again, you are going to find a great deal of balance. Simply eating an order of such a luscious menu item would probably make your head gravitate skyward toward Dough’s heavenly ceiling. The bite of lemon from the dressing that coated the accompanying bitter green salad was what I needed to pull everything back from exceedingly gluttonous levels. The same can be said of an agrodolce type, berry drizzle.

Duck Confit

The table also feasted on some other great items such as sweet, creamy cornmeal polenta, with a mound of expertly roasted mushrooms and a drizzle of high-grade truffle oil. This might not sound like it works, but the pungent early flavor of mushroom and truffle go well with all the natural sugars that come from the sweet corn. Finally, black mussels cooked in bourbon barrel ale, plenty of butter, garlic and lemon composed last dish. For the vital few who love moules frites, you have Dough to thank now, as the gold standard in the area. I felt as if I was drinking a tiny piece of Belgium with every slurp.

Fall Harvest

Bourbon Barrel Ale Mussels

There are about ten more items that are as equally intriguing on Datz Dough’s new savory, bistro menu. They can be had for lunch or dinner, with what I’m assuming will be additions and tweaks down the road. Maybe even off menu, super top-secret stuff, featuring yours truly perhaps? Now if they only served dessert!