A little bit about who is writing this.
I grew up a military brat, so traveling and discovering new things has always been a part of me. Whether it was making new friends, learning a new area of the world, speaking just enough of a local language to get me by, or trying new food, I have always been curious. Fast forward to now, I’m nearing my 40th year on the planet and I’ve had quite a bit of time and fortune to eat food all over the globe and build up my own cooking skills. So what does one do after they accumulate a bunch of knowledge that they want to share with as many people as possible in the year 2023. They write a blog of course! Because people in this day and age of short attention spans and ten second videos really do want to sit down on a Sunday morning with their coffee and read a blog from a guy who isn’t famous. Regardless, let’s see how this goes. In this blog series I will talk about restaurants I have recently been to, food I have made at home, some fun tips and tricks that I have learned along the way (example: making new meals with restaurant leftovers), and conversations I have with chefs and friends of the culinary world. So please join me as we go down this rabbit hole of flavor and words together.
Where have I been recently?
I have lived in Las Vegas for the past two years after spending near a decade in San Francisco. Before that, almost a decade in the DC/VA area all while moving around the globe throughout various points in my life. Needless to say, I’ve been around some great food. All that said, the majority of my writing will be about the Las Vegas food scene, with some food from my travels peppered in there, most recently a work trip to San Francisco. So where have I been lately?
Part of the big Durango Casino development area is the Uncommons across the street from the casino on Durango. Amari is a stand-alone restaurant adjacent to the Sundry food hall. This place is everything I want in an Italian restaurant. The food is different enough to be interesting with out going overboard, and the flavors are out of this world. The wine and cocktails are great, and they have taken the time to amass and present an Amaro collection for folks who really enjoy a post meal Amaro. Amaros aren’t my thing, but my partner loves them so her eyes went wide when she saw the bottles and the list. The service here is friendly, attentive, and consistent.
But let’s dive into the food, shall we? Fresh made pastas, cooked to perfection. Fresh focaccia bread made with a starter that the chef has kept for longer than I have been alive. Pizzas that are simple, interesting, and delicious (who knew mushrooms and mint actually work well together?). Entrees are flawlessly executed. The halibut saltimbocca was one of the best things I’ve put in my mouth this year. Desserts that will make even this guy, who doesn’t eat sweets all too often, order one every time. Just when you think their dinner is the best you can get, they open for lunch and make amazing focaccia sandwiches to go along with the pizzas, pasta, fresh bread, and killer appetizers.
Anyone who listens to John Curtas, Sam Mirejovsky, and Ash Watkins from the wonderful podcast Eat. Talk. Repeat. have heard the restaurant 1228 Main to exhaustion, and for damn good reason. Now open seven days a week for breakfast, brunch (on the weekends), lunch, and dinner, this restaurant is exactly what the wonderful arts district needed. This restaurant made the San Francisco part of my soul very happy. Everything about it brought me back to a bakery cafe that you would find in the various neighborhoods throughout San Francisco. From the moment you walk in, you can see they are bread and pastry forward. Made fresh daily and sold from the counter to go, you can take these delicious loaves home with you if you don’t have time for a full dine-in meal. The dishes are eclectic enough to keep you coming back to order everything on the menu. I appreciate that I can go their for lunch and get one of the best burgers in the city, and then come back for dinner to get a truffle chicken pot pie served in dish that is an ode to Paul Bocuse’s truffle soup. Some other staples that I’ve ordered multiple times are their snap pea salad, which is a delicious bitterness to compliment a rich burger; and the beef tartare over crispy potatoes with a garlic chili crisp that might be the best beef tartare that I’ve ever had. Their liquor selection is top notch, and the cocktails are creative and delicious.
This place is right in my backyard in an area of the city that has been said by John Curtas as “Not much going on over there”. He’s not wrong, there isn’t a ton going on over here near Eastern/Russel/Pecos/Sunset area, but I’m hoping that this will change with the new masses moving into the Las Vegas. But Aroma is a shining star in an otherwise sparsely populated area of few hidden gems. It’s a quaint restaurant with about twenty-five or so seats, but you don’t need a sprawling restaurant to put out fantastic food and provide top-notch service. I’m ashamed I only have one picture to show you all, but it is my favorite item on the menu, the gaucho sandwich. Tender steak, fresh veggies, chimichurri and house dressing, brioche bun. That’s the sandwich, however, you can add cheese, truffles, or an egg to jazz it up. I always add cheese, sometimes the truffle and/or the egg. Any way you customize it, the sandwich is worth going for alone. They serve it with a side of their chimichurri potatoes which are effectvely potato crack for those who are potato fiends (my partner being one of them) so this sandwich with the potatoes is a hearty meal. The other items that are “must order” are their crudo, beef empanadas, and ALWAYS ask what the agua fresca of the day is.
“Talk about a vibe to go with great food”. Words from one of our friends that we’ve brought to Basilico since it opened. We’ve been a few times, and watched the menu change and evolve. Sometimes even taking off what could’ve been my favorite item on the menu. But every time we go back the staff is friendly and accommodating, the food is top notch, sometime there is live music that doesn’t impede on our conversation (which is absolutely imperative when having live music). We have yet to take advantage of their amazing outdoor space, but that will happen in the near future.
But the food is what sets Basilico apart from a lot of the Italian restaurants in Las Vegas. You want to come here when you want to experience creative and new Italian food. Things they aren’t really doing in the motherland, and that are too bold for your old school American-Italian restaurant. Pasta sauces with cinnamon, that make sense when you eat it, “duck cigars” with truffle ash for dipping, creative flavor combinations for dishes like crudo and grilled octopus which are on a ton of menus throughout the city, but need and update. They also get the hits right. The pizzas are really tasty, the entrees are hearty and delicious, and the “Gnocco Fritto” or fried dough with accoutrements are all very well done and will be a familiar addition to anyone’s meal. To add some pizzaz to the meal, they offer a tableside parmigiano gelato with lemon ginger cake, poached pear, and vin brule that will have all of the camera phones out taking videos. If anyone from Basilico ever reads this, the lobster pasta dish in the bottom row, center picture is one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had, and I would love for you to bring it back!
This is not a restaurant, but it is a wonderful food experience that is both social and delicious. Started by Emily, Erica, and Kris, three humans with a vast food knowledge combined between them, as a way to get folks together and share the beauty that is REAL tinned fish. Importing tins from Portugal, Spain, Norway, Sweden, and other countries to both sell and educate folks here in America on how tasty and versatile tinned fish can be. I’ve learned a ton about the tinned fish world. Attending these events with other people looking to learn, socialize, and try new things, makes this all the more special. These events are held at local restaurants, bars, or shops so you can learn a bit about the city where you live or are visiting as well. Some of the venues they have been to are The Silver Stamp bar, Valley Wine and Cheese, and Jaleo! Kris and her partner Ryan are also the owners of 5098 Bread, which I am a regular customer of. As a transplant from San Francisco, 5098 Bread is my regular dealer for all things sourdough (as well as the other amazing breads and sweets they make). If you’re looking to try something new, make some local friends who love food, or just want to learn more about tinned fish, be sure to check them out.
Kiln gave me goosebumps during my entire meal. A somewhat simple designed restaurant in the middle of San Francisco, nothing flashy about the outside when you walk up. As you enter, you’re serenaded by music of the 80s that everyone knows and loves. It’s not too overwhelming that you can’t talk to your dinner guests, or hear the staff as they come by to explain the dishes and wine pairings. It’s honestly, just right. After you’re seated and procure your first drinks and dishes you’ll notice the light play they have created with some of the actual dishes and glassware the food sits in, casting shadows on the tablecloth, it’s a beautiful sensory experience to go along with the food. Kiln will get two Michelin stars in their first year, mark my words. They provide an 18-20 course tasting menu that will excite your taste buds, and nourish the soul. The food is influenced from all over the world along with techniques that are common, but well executed in the fine dining scene. I went with my friend and his fiancé, he is a chef in San Francisco himself, and they were absolutely blown away with the meal, as was I. I won’t go into the description of the food too much because that will be a blog post in itself, but I wanted to share Kiln with everyone because they are new, so get in while you can, because soon this place will have a months long waitlist. This restaurant could easily become the best restaurant of San Francisco, and that is high praise.
I have a few restaurants that I always go back to when I’m in San Francisco. I can’t always get a reservation at Ernest because it’s such a sought after place to eat, but they have a bar that is first come first serve, and I’ll get there when they open to get a spot and dine early. Brandon Rice never fails to amaze me every time I go back with something new, playful, and delicious added to the menu. Combining his love for global cuisine and cooking food that can be labeled “fusion” in all the best ways, his menu has something for everyone. I recommend always choosing the option “let the kitchen cook for you”. It’s not only an incredible value for a restaurant of this quality, but it also gets you all the hits on the menu. Do yourself a favor when in San Francisco, and put this restaurant at the top of your list to eat at.
Another “must go” for me whenever I’m back in San Francisco is Hinata. I’ve been going here since they opened, and I’ve never had a bad meal. I’ve also gotten to the point where I don’t take a picture of every piece of sushi that comes my way, but please take my word for it, that this place is as good as it gets when it comes to Omakase. The chefs are fun and lively while they prepare each course, answering questions you may have. The sake list is fantastic, and the a la carte add-ons are a welcome addition if you still have room after the main Omakase menu.
If I haven’t said it already in this blog post, I am a sandwich fiend. I love sandwiches. I make them at home, I go to delis and other sandwich shops around town, and I even make it a point to try a deli or sandwich shop whenever I travel. Deliboard is everything that is wonderful about sandwiches. I may not agree with everything Adam believes when it comes to sandwiches (I like tomatoes on sandwiches), but we do agree that quality meats, bread, and spreads are necessities when it comes to constructing a delicious sandwich. I love ordering my sandwich, and while I anxiously await with a grumbling stomach, if Adam isn’t busy, he stops by and has a quick chat and catches me up on the food scene and any other anecdotes of what’s been going on around the neighborhood. If you’re ever in San Francisco, be sure to stop in.