Tag Archives: Las Vegas

RM Seafood’s Ice Cream Tasting Game

Continued from Eating Las Vegas

“No one has ever gotten all 16 flavors right.  Very few have guessed even half correctly.”

A tip — or maybe a dare — from our server at Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood, as he placed our dessert on the table.

The dessert: Rick’s Tasting Game.  It’s a platter of 16 ice creams and sorbets that are served blind, with the diners attempting to correctly identify each flavor.

Surely our server didn’t know who he was talking to.  We may have looked like amateurs but we were seasoned eaters, ready to test our taste buds.  Certainly among my sister, her four friends, my husband and me, we’d be able to identify a good portion of the flavors.

Out of the 16 scoops we were given one freebie: we were told #8 was vanilla bean.  We tasted that one first, as a way to prepare our palates.  We then systematically tasted each scoop, coming up with our own guess before sharing it with the group.  Once we were satisfied with our answers our server gave us the sheet with the actual flavors.

Here’s how we fared:

Flavor #1:
Initial Tasting: Right away we all noticed there was a coffee flavor, with some creaminess as well.  We didn’t think it would be plain coffee, so we went for the more interesting guess of cappuccino.
Our Guess: Cappuccino
Actual Flavor: Irish Coffee Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: Not bad for our first guess!  Even though we couldn’t pick out the alcohol during the blind taste, we considered it a half victory.

Flavor #2:
Initial Tasting: Our reactions were similar and instantaneous after taking a taste of this ice cream, with several people saying “yuck!”  The consensus was unanimous on this one.
Our Guess: Garlic
Actual Flavor: Garlic Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: Nailed it!  And we didn’t have to fight over the remaining ice cream.

Flavor #3:
Initial Tasting: We all thought there were berry flavors in this, specifically dark berries like boysenberry, blackberry, redcurrant or blackcurrant, though we couldn’t decide on just one.
Our Guess: some sort of dark red berry
Actual Flavor: Berry-Crème de Cassis Sorbet
Final Thoughts: We came pretty close to getting this one — cassis is another name for blackcurrant, after all.  I’d call it another partial victory.

Flavor #4:
Initial Tasting: We all tasted chocolate in this ice cream, though it had a spicy kick.  It reminded me of Mexican hot chocolate, which has cinnamon in it.
Our Guess: Frozen Mexican Hot Chocolate
Actual Flavor: Aztec Chocolate Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: We were pretty close, I’d call it a win.

Flavor #5:
Initial Tasting: This was the flavor we discussed for the longest time.  It was sweet but not really, with too mild a flavor to really guide us.  Most of our group were not fans of this flavor, which sparked a lively debate about what it was.  I got some sweetness in it, similar to some sort of tropical fruit.  It wasn’t quite as sweet as a lychee though it had a similar taste, so I guessed that it was longan.  Noting my sister’s dislike of this ice cream, one of her friends guessed it was cheese — apparently my sister had a similar reaction a while back to some dish that had cheese in it.  Knowing we would certainly get the flavor wrong, we combined the two guesses into one nasty sounding flavor that provided endless entertainment for the rest of the trip.
Our Guess: Longan Cheese
Actual Flavor: Rhubarb Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: This one definitely stumped us, though we couldn’t recall a time when we had tasted rhubarb on its own.

Flavor #6:
Initial Tasting: We all picked up a banana flavor right away, though it wasn’t only bananas.  Banana walnut?  Banana muffin?  We went for the muffin until we got to flavor #15.  Since we were pretty sure that ice cream was banana bread we decided to change our answer for #6.  My sister insisted there was some sort of alcohol flavor in it, though the rest of us couldn’t quite pick it out.
Our Guess: Bananas Flambé
Actual Flavor: Bananas Foster Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: This was all my sister.  Good job Lauren!

Flavor #7:
Initial Tasting: We all thought there was strawberry in this ice cream, though there was a creamy flavor too.
Our Guess: Strawberry Daiquiri
Actual Flavor: Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: Another flavor we were pretty close to getting.

Flavor #8:
Revealed as Vanilla Bean before we started the tasting game.

Flavor #9:
Initial Tasting: We all identified this flavor pretty quickly, without much discussion.
Our Guess: Pistachio
Actual Flavor: Pistachio Ice Cream

Flavor #10:
Initial Tasting: This ice cream was a bit tricky for us because it didn’t really taste like anything.  No fruit, no spice, no anything; we were thrown for a loop.  I thought it could be something like buttercream, while my sister’s friends wanted to go with the mouthwatering flavors of “nothing” and “default.”
Our Guess: Something between nothing and buttercream
Actual Flavor: Milk Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: We were pretty close.  Milk is one of the main ingredients in ice cream, so that sort of counts as default.

Flavor #11:
Initial Tasting: I think we all liked this flavor.  It was definitely something we all recognized, though were initially thrown off because we had never had it in this form.
Our Guess: Olive Oil
Actual Flavor: Olive Oil Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: I cook with olive oil all the time because I love its flavor so I enjoyed tasting this ice cream.

Flavor #12:
Initial Tasting: This was another flavor that we just couldn’t agree on.  It was sort of minty, but then had some herbaceous notes as well.  Some of the flavors we tossed around were spearmint, strong peppermint like the kind used to flavor toothpaste, menthol and licorice.  We all did agree that we weren’t crazy about this flavor.
Our Guess: Some kind of minty licorice
Actual Flavor: Chartreuse Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: It all made sense when the actual flavor was revealed, as Chartreuse is a distilled spirit made from a mix of more than 100 herbs, plants and flowers.  I had actually tasted Chartreuse for the first time in February, at the 2010 South Beach Wine & Food Festival, but never thought it could be an ice cream flavor.

Flavor #13:
Initial Tasting: We got a creamy caramel taste in this ice cream so we immediately thought of sweet and creamy desserts like custards.
Our Guess: Crème Brûlée
Actual Flavor: Strawberry Swirl Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: We were totally surprised with this one, because we did not pick out any strawberry.  Perhaps our scoop had more swirl and less strawberry.

Flavor #14:
Initial Tasting: This sorbet was light and refreshing.  We right away thought it was in the melon family.
Our Guess: Honeydew
Actual Flavor: Honeydew Sorbet

Flavor #15:
Initial Tasting: Right away we tasted banana and found chunks of bread in the ice cream, causing us to reconsider our guess for #6.
Our Guess: Banana Bread
Actual Flavor: Banana Bread Ice Cream
Final Thoughts: Besides the Aztec Chocolate ice cream, this was my favorite of the 16 flavors.

Flavor #16:
Initial Tasting: Another sorbet, this was great for cleansing the palate at the end of the tasting challenge.  It was a nice way to end because we were pretty confident we nailed this melon flavor.
Our Guess: Cantaloupe
Actual Flavor: Cantaloupe Sorbet

Overall we did pretty well, correctly (or pretty close to correctly) identifying 12 out of the 15 mystery flavors.  As is typical in Las Vegas we had a lot of fun, but the House still won.

Earlier: Eating Las Vegas, a culinary trip through Huber Keller’s Fleur de Lys and Burger Bar and Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood.

Eating Las Vegas

During my long weekend in Las Vegas, everything seemed up.  I won a few hundred dollars playing craps, boosted my tan while relaxing by the pool and managed to put on a few pounds, thanks to the many dining options that Las Vegas has to offer.

I spent most of my restaurant time at Mandalay Bay, where I was staying.  You can’t go wrong there, with more than 20 restaurants including a few by big name chefs.  I did venture off site on Sunday for the Wynn’s incredible Champagne brunch, which I fondly remembered from the year before.

Click here to read about the Champagne brunch at the Wynn from April 2009

My husband and I arrived at the hotel around 9:30pm Friday night, though it felt like well after midnight to us.  We knew we weren’t up for gambling quite yet, but weren’t ready to go to sleep either.  We decided to get a glass of wine at Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s restaurant famous for its four-story wine tower and its “wine angels” who fetch the bottles.

Click here to read “Wine and a Performance at Aureole” from April 2009

We found a comfy table in the lounge and took a look at the wine list.  Had we not been so tired it would have been fun to select a bottle from one of the thousands on the eWinelist and watch a wine angel get it for us, but we instead opted for one glass each.  Both wines were great — a big and earthy Napa Cab for me and a spicy Russian River Valley Zin for him.  We split an order of the sirloin sliders, perfect with both wines.  Juicy, with guacamole and a zesty chipotle sauce, they were some of the best sliders I’ve had.

The reason for our trip was to meet up with my sister, who was traveling to Las Vegas the following day with a group of friends during their week off from their third year of medical school.

Fresh from assisting in surgeries and other doctor-related activities that make my weak stomach turn, my sister was ready for a weekend of fun and relaxation — and of course, good food (it runs in the family).

To ensure the trip kicked off on a high note, we had booked a table for three on Saturday night at Fleur de Lys, Hubert Keller’s restaurant.

Before dinner we decided to try our luck in the casino.  We hit the craps table at just the right time, doubling our money in 20 minutes thanks to a few hot shot rollers (my sister included).

Feeling good after cashing in my extra $50 in chips, I couldn’t wait to put the money towards a nice meal at Fleur de Lys, conveniently located about a 30 second walk from the craps tables.

Though just steps away from the casino floor, Fleur de Lys felt like an entirely different world.  Through the doors that blocked the chiming of slot machines, the restaurant was smaller than I imagined, with 30 foot ceilings that helped keep the noise down.  The room was warm and inviting with its chocolate brown tones and wall of stones and fresh roses.  From our table I could look up into the wine loft at part of the restaurant’s 12,000 bottle collection.

I could have spent hours looking through the wine list, a binder with all sorts of enticing options.  Fortunately for us budget conscious diners, the list had all of its bottles under $100 listed in one section.  I chose a lovely Côtes du Rhône that cost $63.

Since we wanted to get the full experience of Fleur de Lys at our first visit, we all opted for the four course prix fixe menu that cost $89.  I didn’t take photos of the dishes because it didn’t feel appropriate in the restaurant, but suffice it to say that the presentation of all our courses was artful with a purpose.  Everything on the plate was so flavorful and could be enjoyed on its own or together.

For the first course I had the Ahi Tuna Tartare, which was chopped up and served on a bed of shaved fennel slaw with a ginger ponzu sauce.  I’m not normally a fan of fennel but I loved it in this dish.  The fennel soaked up the ponzu sauce and offered a refreshing contrast in taste to the meaty tuna.

Next I ordered the Braised Veal and Yukon Gold Potato Ravioli.  Veal is not something I tend to order at restaurants but I was glad that I did here.  The pasta itself was so light and delicate, with wonderfully flavored meat inside.  It was a toss up who had ordered better, me or my husband and sister who had both opted for sea bass that was wrapped in a thin slice of chorizo and served with barley in a savory sun dried tomato sauce.

For the main course my husband and sister ordered the Prime Filet Mignon, served with a red wine reduction.  I have never seen a steak more perfectly cooked.  Both were medium rare, with a uniform pink color from one side to the other.  The meat itself was delicious and extremely tender.

However, I won the round with the Stout Braised Beef Shortribs.  They were topped with a small bit of whole grain mustard and served with a root vegetable puree.  “Wow” is really the only thing I need to say about this dish.

Besides being by far the best shortribs I’ve ever eaten (I’m a fan so I’ve ordered them often), it was the best dish I’ve had in months, maybe years.

I couldn’t get enough of the sauce, an insanely good Guinness reduction that the waiter poured around the meat.  Beef, lamb, a piece of cardboard — I would eat anything served with this sauce.  My husband and sister agreed, scooping up the sauce on pieces of their filet mignon after I refused to share any more of my shortribs.  And the root vegetable puree!  It was silky and luscious and wonderful with a little of the sauce.

With every dish, Keller demonstrated his exceptional skill at sauces.  Like a great wine, all were loaded with flavor, and yet they were never heavy.

I had already made up my mind that my meal at Fleur de Lys was the best dining experience I’ve had in the last couple of years; dessert made it official.

I ordered the trio of desserts: a warm Valrhona chocolate cake, peanut butter milkshake and caramel corn ice cream, served with a few pieces of caramel corn.  I’ve lost track of how many warm Valrhona chocolate cakes I’ve eaten over the years but this one was the best, with a center of pure heaven.  The ice cream was a sweet palate cleanser between the cake and the milkshake, my favorite on the plate.  Served in a glass resembling a tall shot glass with a short straw, the milkshake tasted like Reese’s peanut butter cups.  Though full after the fabulous meal, I wish I could have gotten several refills!

Top Chef Masters fans, take note: Fleur de Lys offers an early evening menu based on the dishes Keller made on season one of the show.  Yes, even the macaroni and cheese he made in a dorm room shower makes the menu, though I’m assuming he doesn’t actually prepare it in a shower anymore.

During my trip I also ate at Keller’s Burger Bar.  Though I’m kind of over the concept of big name chefs opening up burger joints because they’re ALL doing it, I have to say I was a fan of Keller’s.  From my seat at the bar I could see the assortment of beers on tap and the even larger selection of bottled beer in the fridges.  I ordered an amber from Sin City Brewing Company, a local microbrewery.

As with all these burger restaurants, the meal can cost as little or as much as you’d like it to be, depending on how many toppings (and how exotic) you order.  Burger Bar offers an assortment of patties including Black Angus, Kobe beef, buffalo, salmon, chicken and a veggie burger.  You also choose your bun from five options.  Toppings range from a variety of cheeses, sauces, mushrooms and bacons, to the more expensive foie gras and lobster.  Those who’ve won big may want to skip the customization and go right for the Rossini, a Kobe beef burger with sautéed foie gras and shaved truffles on an onion bun which costs $60.

I opted for the Country Natural burger ($10.25), made from beef which comes from a family-owned sustainable ranch.  I selected a ciabatta bun, then added on cheddar cheese and oyster mushrooms, which bumped up the price by $1.85.  It arrived loaded and juicy, and was great with my amber.

Had I not ordered both the sweet potato fries and the beer battered jalapeño pickles, I might have had room for dessert.  Specifically, the Nutella milkshake.  Thinking back to the yummy peanut butter milkshake, I could imagine how wonderfully rich it would taste.  I planned to return another day just for the milkshake, but unfortunately never made it back.

For diners wanting a burger for dessert, Burger Bar offers a Chocolate Burger.  It has a warm donut for the bun, Nutella mousse for the patty and passion fruit, strawberry and kiwi as the toppings.

On my final evening in Las Vegas I happened to visit another Top Chef Masters star’s restaurant — Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood, a sustainable seafood restaurant in the middle of the desert.

As we were a large group (in addition to my husband, sister and me, four of my sister’s friends joined us), we were seated at a big table just outside the restaurant which took away some of the ambiance, though we still enjoyed our meal.

For my first course I went for turf rather than surf, with the oh so good Steak Tartare ($17), which had pieces of shaved truffles, Parmesan and miso egg yolk mixed in.  For my main course I ordered the Cioppino ($35), a delicious mix of mussels, clams, shrimp, fish and calamari-resembling calamarata pasta in a light and savory tomato broth.  The shellfish was well cooked, not too chewy, and the broth was so good I wish I had more of the sourdough garlic bread to soak it up.

My second favorite dish was the Rainbow Trout ($31), which my sister ordered.  It was served on top of bacon and marble potatoes with a pecan-mustard dressing.  I loved the flavor combination of the fish and the smoky bacon.

Even before we arrived at RM Seafood, we knew we were ordering dessert.  And we knew which dessert we were ordering: Rick’s Tasting Game.  Sixteen different ice creams and sorbets are served blind, with the diner guessing the flavors.  As our waiter informed us, no one has ever gotten all 16 correct.

Armed with my experience tasting wines, I was ready for the challenge.

How did we do?  Click here to find out.

Wine and a Performance at Aureole

For a unique wine experience in Las Vegas dine at Aureole, where you get dinner and a show.

At the heart of the restaurant is a four-story, temperature controlled wine tower.  Bottles are retrieved by “flying wine angels,” women clad in black spandex who soar up and down the tower using an elaborate pulley system.

The playbill for this performance is in the form of the eWinebook, an electronic wine list.  With a few taps of the pen you can search through the thousands of bottles in Aureole’s wine collection.  It’s so much fun to play with you’ll forget that you came to the restaurant to eat.

The eWinebook groups wines by type, country, region, varietal and vintage.  It’s great for people who aren’t as knowledgeable about wine; in selecting the characteristics you want, you create your own smaller and more manageable list to choose from.  And of course if you’re completely lost a sommelier can assist you.  My one complaint is that you can’t search by price, which would be helpful in removing wines that aren’t in your desired price range.

Each bottle on Aureole’s list is assigned a number so the wine angels know exactly where on the tower to find it.  The wines are arranged randomly and not by price, so a less expensive bottle may make for a more exciting show.

Though the wine tower can hold up to 10,000 bottles not all of Aureole’s wines are kept there.  Older reds are kept in a rare wine cellar and white and sparkling wines are stored in a cold room kept below 40 degrees.

Fortunately, this show of selecting and retrieving the wine isn’t meant to distract you from the food.  Aureole’s menu is a mix of progressive American cuisine with the theatricality of Las Vegas.  I really enjoyed the seared black cod, which was served with beluga lentils and pomegranate juice.  The Pinot Noir braised lamb shank was tender and delicious.  For dessert the tiramisu parfait is rich and creamy, served with a warm chocolate brownie and salted caramel ice cream.

Aureole Las Vegas is located at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The three-course prix fixe menu is $79.  The full menu is available a la carte in the lounge and bar area.  If you want to search through Aureole’s eWinebook ahead of time you can browse it online.

Champagne Brunch Buffet at the Wynn

You can’t visit Las Vegas without checking out at least one buffet.  My pick: the weekend Champagne brunch buffet at the Wynn.

For me, buffets can be dangerous — no matter what I tell myself beforehand I always eat way too much and leave uncomfortably full.  I never seem to learn that my eyes are always bigger than my stomach.  But with 16 live action cooking stations and a wide variety of dishes I just had to try a little bit of everything, right?

The Wynn buffet has all the traditional brunch fixings.  There’s a fresh fruit station, salad station, breakfast pastries station, and omelet station alongside all the usual hot breakfast foods.  I skipped all these so I could fill up my plate elsewhere.  There is a seafood station with three different kinds of ceviche and an assortment of sushi rolls (I filled up on spicy tuna hand rolls).  There is a dim sum section with steamed pork buns, dumplings and egg rolls.

Among the many options for the -unch part of the buffet are pasta, enchiladas, pizza, salmon, game hen and a delicious lamb risotto (my favorite).  Another highlight is the carving station, which features a large slab of meat normally prepared as bacon that is instead covered in spices and roasted.  It has a great taste and a soft, slightly chewy texture.  It’s a decadent treat for anyone who likes bacon.

At the Wynn buffet you’ll definitely want to save room for dessert.  There’s a separate room just for sweets.  My first stop was the ice cream bar, where I got a scoop of chocolate and coffee (I couldn’t pick just one).  Then I moved on to the cakes and pies.  The pecan pie and bread pudding were yummy and I really liked the Oreo and chocolate mousse cake, though it was so rich I could only take two bites.  I wanted to take some cookies to go but decided not to.

For an extra $7 you can get a glass of Champagne.  Bonus: unlimited refills.  When I went they were pouring Freixenet Brut Nature, a crisp and dry Cava that went well with the mix of flavors on my plate.  During my two hour grazing session I easily drank an entire bottle, thanks to our enthusiastic server Kevin.  When our glasses were half full there was Kevin, ready to fill them up.  When we were finally ready to leave he even brought us to-go cups.

The Buffet at the Wynn is open for lunch, breakfast and dinner.  The weekend brunch costs $30 without Champagne.  If you go, get there early.  I arrived around 9:30am and had no problem getting a table but two hours later there was a very long line.

For more information visit www.wynnlasvegas.com.