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Oct. 8 & 22, 8p. Long-form improv in an intimate setting, so close to the Strip you can taste it! Come early to participate in improv games and...
Oct. 22, 3:30-7:30p. Have fun at this safe event where costumes are encouraged. Carnival games, trick or treat town, $2 laser tag, $2 haunted...
Oct. 23, 7:30p. Celebrating its 39th season, ASQ is recognized as one of the world’s foremost quartets. Championing contemporary music and...
Best of the City: Food and Drink
Maybe you get a little extra buzz knowing you’re supporting a homegrown biz instead of appeasing the all-powerful Starbucks fix. Fine. Good. While the crew at Grouchy John’s appreciates it, their espresso-fueled focus is on serving you damn good coffee brewed from Colorado River Coffee Roasters beans, sometimes in playful forms like the Almond Roca mocha latte or the chai-espresso-banana Evil Monkey. The drinks are always perfect, and the Grouchy guys are always happy, and what more could you ask for on your way to the office? Brock Radke (8520 S. Maryland Parkway, 702-778-7553, grouchyjohns.com)
You can never have enough donuts. It’s the only explanation. How else can a small, upstart shop in a sleepy Summerlin-area neighborhood stay busy enough to operate around the clock on weekends? It helps that Pink Box’s offerings range from classics like dense old-fashioned cake doughnuts to crazy-fresh flavor combos like bacon-date-blue cheese and wacky, sugary toppings like Fruity Pebbles cereal. Donuts are inherently fun, but grabbing a dozen in the wee hours of the weekend can be an enlightening experience. More, please. BR (7531 W. Lake Mead Blvd., 702-478-7465, pinkboxdoughnuts.com)
Best neighborhood brunch
Brunch can be the most important meal of the week, and most locals are less than enthused to spend Sunday shuffling to the Strip. More of our great neighborhood restaurants offer solid weekend grub, but none with more warmth and precision than Honey Salt. The breakfast slider is a skyscraper of brioche, fluffy egg, creamed spinach and short rib. The frittata is a goat cheese-filled work of art. Whether you’re recuperating with fresh, sweet vegetable juice or medicating with bottle mimosas, this is your place. BR (1031 S. Rampart Blvd., 702-445-6100, honeysalt.com)
Best Downtown Steakhouse
Classic Vegas meets refined cuisine and drinks in a swank space that’s not overpriced. Even if you’re just pullin’ in for appetizers and drinks before a show, the El Cortez's Flame dazzles with its succulent selections. My favorite, the 20-ounce porterhouse, is simply seasoned, but simply delicious. Jennifer Prosser (600 E. Fremont St., 702-385-5200, elcortezhotelcasino.com)
Best fish and chips
Beer-battered fish & chips at Culinary Dropout
Ignore the trying-way-too-hard, faux-hipster vibe and the hefty price tag at this Scottsdale, Ariz.-spawned gastropub — it’s all worth it when the basket full of deep-fried goodness lands at your table. Crunchy on the outside, flaky on the inside and paired with generous portions of natural-cut French fries and damn tasty coleslaw, this American spin on the British classic tastes good enough to justify the $19 charge, which goes down a bit easier when paired with a $2.95 Paperbag Special. Pj Perez (Inside the Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Road, 702-522-8100, hardrockhotel.com)
Best strip steak on the Strip
Jean Georges Steakhouse
The fatty, flavorful ribeye and the velvety filet are still the cuts of choice in our big, crazy casino steakhouses. Time for something different. The best place to dig into the overlooked, under-appreciated New York strip is the overlooked, under-appreciated Jean Georges Steakhouse, easily one of the best chophouses in the city. These 10 ounces of dry-aged Rangers Valley Australian beef bring all the earthy, real-deal flavor you could possibly want. It’s a man’s steak, especially with some of the scorching, buttery habanero house hot sauce splashed around your plate. BR (Aria, 877-230-2742, aria.com)
Best fish sticks
9 on the Plate
This fusiony, modern new Korean restaurant calls the dish “crackered fish” as not to alarm food snobs, but anyone who has a nostalgic soft spot for the bearded, yellow-clad sea captain and his crunchy, greasy seafood specialty will be excited to munch these morsels. Moist, tender, flaky cod fingers are coated in crispy, savory, greaseless crumbs and served with a zingy ginger tartar sauce for smile-inducing dippage. Sorry, Cap’n Gorton, 9 on the Plate wins big. BR (8560 W. Desert Inn Road #D3, 702-817-3417, 9ontheplate.com)
The Great Greek
The Great Greek is a hidden gem, one of the valley’s best hole-in-the-wall Mediterranean restaurants with a menu full of hits. But it’s that classic Greek dish, the gyro, that is most irresistible here, a robustly spiced blend of beef and lamb stuffed with lettuce, tomato, red onion and funky feta into soft pita and drowned in tangy tzatziki sauce. The simplicity and balance of flavors and textures in every bite is proof that you can fall in love with a sandwich. BR (1275 W. Warm Springs Road #160, 702-547-2377, thegreatgreekgrill.com)
Best dim sum
To eat at Hakkasan is to have dim sum completely redefined. Forget about greasy, mushy dumplings served from steam carts pushed angrily throughout crowded dining rooms. Here, dim sum is art. The shumai is made with scallops. The black pepper duck dumpling is worth fighting over. Vegetarian options include morel mushroom dumplings and a truffled bean curd roll, or go the crispy route with the lightly fried roasted duck pumpkin puff. You don’t even know. BR (MGM Grand, 702-891-7888, hakkasanlv.com)
Best Filipino cuisine
Curiosity about Asian cuisine has you loving Thai curry, Korean barbecue and Vietnamese beef noodle soup, yet you show no interest in Filipino grub. What’s wrong, you don’t like crazy-crunchy unbreaded fried chicken? Crispy pork and veggie-filled lumpia egg rolls? Huge bowls of garlic fried rice and chunks of vinegary, rich chicken adobo? Creamy, colorful halo halo ice cream with custard and coconut? If any of these hearty, satisfying dishes are unfamiliar, it’s all the more reason to get to the new and popular Max’s for a delicious lesson. BR (1290 E. Flamingo Road, 702-433-4554, maxschicken.com)
Best new tapas
Toros Spanish Kitchen & Bar
We all love to eat tasty little Spanish snacks and yet there are few local restaurants that specialize in exactly that kind of meal. Weird, huh? Summerlin’s new Toros is the answer to that enigma, dropping all kinds of luscious bites in your face in a charmingly laidback bar setting. Don’t miss the maximum béchamel richness in crispy ham croquettes, or the roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with sweet, delicate crab meat. BR (11760 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-901-4100, toroslv.com)
Best new tortas
This new Poblano eatery offers quite the dilemma: Should you devour the chanclas, mini-sandwiches of juicy shredded chicken and avocado sublimely drenched in a chile sauce made with chorizo? Or is the torta de pierna the right move, adobo-style roasted pork and smooth refried beans with more avocado? There’s also shredded beef and spicy sauce on fried bread, aka pelonas, or the grilled cheese with pico de gallo known as molletes. Tough choices. Maybe bring three friends. BR (9711 S. Eastern Ave., 702-837-0204)
Best salad at a pizza joint
Involtini di Prosciutto at Settebello’s
Not the salad sort? The involtini di prosciutto (see, it doesn’t even sound like salad!) at Settebello’s is satisfying in a completely un-salad-like way. Crisp leaves of baby arugula and goat cheese are wrapped tightly in raw prosciutto, topped with shaved Parmesan, then drizzled with a balsamic reduction, so that each forkful is a combination of salty, sweet, tangy and peppery flavors. But the real un-salad-like magic comes in the satiating density of the arugula leaves, their peppery crunch juxtaposes the salty flavors and creamy textures of the remaining ingredients. And if the involtini doesn’t fill you up, there’s still pizza! Chantal Corcoran (9350 W. Sahara Ave. #170, 702-901-4870; 140 Green Valley Parkway, 702-222-3556, settebello.net)
Best foodie one-two punch
Viva Las Arepas and Art of Flavors
It’s not even fair. Some of our best cheap eats, dollar-for-dollar the tastiest and most satisfying grub you can get in Las Vegas, comes from a Venezuelan shop right next door to some of the most creative, addictive gelato ever eaten from a tiny spoon. Do yourself a favor and take your favorite foodie on a date to Viva Las Arepas for corn masa sandwiches, roasted chicken and fried yucca, followed immediately by dessert at Art of Flavors, starring sweet corn, hazelnut or crème brûlée-flavored frozen goodness. BR (Viva Las Arepas, 1616 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #120, 702-366-9696, vivalasarepas.com; Art of Flavors, 1616 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #130, 702-676-1027)
Wings are wings. Spin ’em in sauce (no breading!), fry and serve. For truly special wings, go to T-Bird and add one more word to your order: charred. The cook will flame-grill your hot wings, turning otherwise great wings into the kind of wings your out-of-town guests will put on their must-eat list. Alan Gegax (Three locations, tbirdlounge.com)
Best Asian restaurant nook
Lemongrass and Blossom at Aria
Relative to the rest of the Strip, all the restaurants at Aria are overlooked. But two of this sleek casino’s finest dining offerings are hidden away in the ultra-lux corner near the Sky Suites. Lemongrass is the only true Thai restaurant on the Strip and one of the best in the city, seamlessly blending authentic dishes with contemporary twists. And just on the side of that cool gaming salon is Blossom, quietly and regally serving a menu of more than 100 exotic Beijing and Hong Kong-style dishes. These casinos are big; exploration is necessary. BR (Aria, 877-230-2742, aria.com)
Best hard-shell tacos
Just finding a hard-shell is a bit of an odyssey in Las Vegas. Locating good ones is tougher still. But there’s some secret in the batter over at Fausto’s, whose tacos can withstand a firm grip and yield a satisfying crunch. You’ll never be happy with those limp, wimpy things known as soft-shell tortillas again. David McKee (Multiple locations)
Best restaurant never named best restaurant
How does a locally owned, multiple-time James Beard Foundation nominee get consistently overlooked on the annual “Best of” rounds? Maybe because Raku is so consistently superb, we just look past it — it blinds with its excellence. That, and you need some pull to land a reservation for one of its coveted 45 seats most of the time. Chef Maysuo Endo’s ingredients are exotic, his preparation is meticulous and the eye for detail unworldly; housemade tofu, specially sourced shoyu and exotic fish — ever had flying fish before? — directly from Tokyo are some of the reasons Raku is so unique. Let us not forget it. Jim Begley (5030 W. Spring Mountain Road #2, 702-367-3511, raku-grill.com)
Best kid-friendly restaurant
When your kid is craving macaroni and cheese, don’t settle for that stuff in the blue box. This eatery serves the ultimate comfort food in myriad forms. A traditional cheddar mac will quell the pickiest eaters, while creative alternatives made with smoked gouda or Asiago might appeal to your little one’s budding inner fromage snob. A mix-and-match menu of pastas and sauces lets you craft dishes that appeal to grown-up tastes; but why not feed your inner child with something from the grilled cheese menu instead? Dine in on Sundays and the brood pecks for free. Debbie Lee (8680 W. Warm Springs Road, 702-463-2433, macaronishack.com)
Best dining bargain
Peppermill Fireside Lounge
Be sure to check out the Peppermill’s Fireside Lounge, a groovy spot to drink, talk and watch flickering embers. But the main event is the coffee shop. Solicitous Peppermill waitresses serve plates groaning with food, tantamount to getting two meals for the price of one. There’s no such thing as a small salad here, and you could feed an entire family on the mammoth banana split. Breakfast is available around the clock, a fact you’ll be glad of when you see the remarkable and hearty variety of omelets on deck, all of which come with both toast and a muffin bigger than your fist. DM (2985 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-735-4177, peppermilllasvegas.com)
Best over-the-top meal experience
Teppan at Nobu
The word “Benihana” will be forever erased from your food memory banks after an exclusive, expensive, and expansive teppanyaki meal at the newest, biggest Nobu. Four different menus offer artistic fare from foie gras with crunchy garlic to sweet lobster with red onion shiso salsa, all thrillingly grilled right before your eyes. Choose your own adventure by taking the à la carte path and sneak in some signature sushi, but don’t skip the spicy XO fried rice laced with Jamon Iberico. Japanese cuisine doesn’t have to be minimalist; this is your spot to splurge. BR (Caesars Palace, 702-785-6628, nobucaesarspalace.com)
Best regional cuisine
If you have an affinity for spicy Southern food, make tracks to Lola’s, a convivial, fleur-de-lis–studded bistro on the northern fringe of the Arts District. But book a reservation first. Already popular with the pre-show crowd headed to The Smith Center, Lola’s popularity skyrocketed once the restaurant was showcased on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” During crawfish season, Lola’s airlifts “mudbugs” in every Friday morning — and these crawdads go fast. Start with the crab cakes and finish with either the sweet potato pecan pie or the Bananas Foster bread pudding. Better still, leave room for both. DM (241 W. Charleston Ave., 702-227-5652, lolaslasvegas.com)
Welcome to Japanese soul food. So simple, so inexpensive, and so under-appreciated because of its proximity to Chinatown foodie havens Raku, Monta and Kabuto, Zen offers the ideal meal to escape these winter months: white or brown rice, a heavenly brown pool of vegetable and 10-spice based curry sauce, and whatever else you want. Fried shrimp or tofu? Chunks of tender beef or kurobuta sausage? Spinach, Spam, cheese or corn? Customize today, crave tomorrow. BR (5020 Spring Mountain Road, 702-985-1192, curryzen.com)
Best cure for missing Mom
Mac + Cheese x Five at RX Boiler Room
I happen to be a transplant from Georgia who grew up on hot buttered biscuits, golden fried okra and fresh peach cobbler from my Mom’s kitchen. I miss her (and the food) often. When I do, there is one certain remedy — Rick Moonen’s “Mac + Cheese x Five” at RX Boiler Room. It begins with a simple pinwheel pasta. (The first time I saw it, I could hear my inner child squeal, “Pinwheels!”) Then there are the cheeses: The blue, Parmesan, brie, cheddar and blanc balance tart sophistication with creamy simplicity. The sum of pinwheels plus five delectable cheeses is a fitting, melty homage to the greatest cook most of us have ever known — Mom. Misti Yang (3930 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-632-9900, rxboilerroom.com)
Best goblet of tiramisu
The Cake Boss’s Italian food at his giant new Vegas restaurant is better than you might expect from the star of a reality show about a Jersey bakery, but there’s no surprises with the sweet stuff: Of course dessert is delicious at Buddy V’s. The signature cream-filled, lobster tail-shaped pastry is the big seller, but consider splitting this royally huge glass of custardy, cakey, caffeinated and cocoa-topped tiramisu with your big loud family, Italian or otherwise. BR (Venetian, 702-607-2355, venetian.com)
Best fried rice
Jim’s Fried Rice at KoMex Fusion Express
Full disclosure: I’m the Jim of Jim’s Fried Rice fame and I’m addicted to the stuff. Lest you think it’s because it’s my eponymous dish, I can assure you I was a junkie when I took my first hit when it was just bulgogi fried rice. Rich with bulgogi — Korean marinated beef — and topped with umami-infused nori strips, the dish belts out a myriad of flavors and textures. Smokiness melds with sweetness as crisp meat gives way to tender rice. If you try it just once, you’ll be hooked, too. I stake my name on it. JB (4155 S. Buffalo Drive #103/104, 702-778-5566, komexexpress.com)
Best farmers market
Want to cook like a top chef? Step one is to start with good ingredients. Every Friday at the former bus terminal on Stewart and Ogden, the public is bestowed access to the same pristine produce prepared in some of the city’s best fine-dining restaurants. Perhaps you have no idea what to do with Buddha’s hands or baby artichokes? That’s okay — chances are you’ll rub elbows with a local chef who can offer advice. Just be sure to visit early for the best selection. DL (300 E. Stewart Ave., 702-541-941-0386, downtown3rdfarmersmarket.com)
Best foodie happy hour
Yonaka, one of our best and most fun new Japanese restaurants, offers a brilliant array of sushi, sashimi and small plates every day from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and again from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m. for under 10 bucks: memorable stuff like beef tongue sliders, beet fries, kushiyaki-style wings and bluefin tuna with scallions. Just take it easy on the $3 sake or you’ll be tempted to eat everything on the menu. BR (4983 W. Flamingo Road, 702-685-8358, yonakajapaneserestaurant.com)
Best onion rings
Aces & Ales
No matter which craft brew you choose from Aces’ seemingly infinite list of taps or bottles, you’re gonna need at least one order of these crunchy-fried rings, imperfectly hand-battered for rustic enjoyment in a house-made Arrogant Bastard Ale mixture. Don’t be embarrassed to make a meal out of them. BR (3740 S. Nellis Blvd., 702-436-7600; 2801 N. Tenaya Way, 702-638-2337; acesandales.com)
Best bar on a budget
Rum Runner can stretch your dollars like Don Hutson stretching the ball over the goal line. Every day, Rum Runner offers a 25-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon draft for $3.25, or a pint for $2.25. It has a menu to match, with a cheaper-than-fast-food half-pound burger and a custom wing menu. For cheap entertainment, the Tropicana location features seven tournament pool tables, Golden Tee, foosball and shuffleboard. AG (1801 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-736-6366, rumrunnervegas.com)
Best bar for an affair
The Parlour Bar
I’m not here to pass judgment on your indiscretions, but the finesse with which you carry them out. So, should you ever find yourself in the position of arranging an illicit tryst, don’t be an amateur. Skip the Strip and head downtown. This dim and cozy lounge is a surprising slice of old-school glamour wedged within the grungy environs of the El Cortez. Classic cocktails and a film noir atmosphere enhance the experience of your clandestine rendezvous — or add to the crushing guilt that comes with betraying your poor spouse. But hey, like I said, I’m not judging … DL (600 E. Fremont St., 702-385-5200, elcortezhotelcasino.com)
Best dirty martini
Nobody mixes them quite like Little Macau: strong and sturdy. Have a couple of these and you’ll know you’ve done some serious drinking. The secret is a generous portion of olive juice to go with the vodka, plus three, big, meaty olives. Other bars try, but none has equaled the bite of Little Macau’s marvelous concoction. DM (3939 Spring Mountain Rd., 702-222-3196)
I’m pretty sure The Griffin’s bartenders are painfully aware that it can take 10 or 15 minutes to get a drink after fighting through the throng of twenty-somethings crowding the ever-popular bar on any given weekend, so they pour drinks stiff enough to reward you for your patience and get you buzzing until you’re ready to brave the tumultuous sea of tattoos and cigarette smoke again. Sure, it’s not like you’re getting fancy-schmancy, expertly made cocktails, but at about $6 for a well drink, this is one time where quantity trumps quality. And good judgment. PJP (511 Fremont St., 702-382-0577)
Best deep-fried Oreos
Oreo Zeppole at Lavo
Nothing is more American than the Oreo, right? Wrong. To take this sandwich cookie to its most patriotic place, one must dip it in a donuty batter, deep-fry it state-fair style, then serve it alongside a vanilla malted milkshake for dunking. Several Las Vegas restaurants boast this ultra-American dessert on their menus, but Lavo, the Venetian’s Italian restaurant/nightclub, soft-serves it up best with their Italian take on the classic cookie — or their American take on the zeppola (an Italian pastry). It doesn’t matter how many giant meatballs you’ve devoured, it’s simply un-American not to leave room for Lavo’s Oreo zeppole. CC (3255 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-791-1800, lavolv.com)
Backyard Favorite at Honey Salt
Honey Salt’s Backyard Favorite burger is a sort of platonic ideal. Not fancy, not tricky, just the best. The patty is a blend of chuck, brisket and short rib — juicy on the inside, lightly charred on the outside, cooked the way you like it. The bun is a thing of pillowy beauty, a golden dome with a just-crispy crust. The cheese is beehive cheddar, orange like the edge of a sunset and glossy at that point where solid just starts to become liquid around the edges. The ketchup … nay, that is no mere ketchup, but a fine tomato jam. Served in your own personal squeeze bottle, the better to add the fancy sauce flourish or hearts and initials. And consider the pickles — carefully fluted in the manner of your tepid from-the-jar diner topper, but with a freshness and color unknown to that soggy desecration of a cucumber. And, oh, the glory of those skinny, salty, snappy, scrumptious fries. Homer Simpson would go limp and begin moaning and drooling over this burger, but I’m pretty sure James Beard would have the same reaction. LTR (1031 S. Rampart St., 702-445-6100 honeysalt.com)
OH, MY ACHING HEAD!
Best hangover cure
The Hangover Burger at MTO Café
As I get older, I often find myself thinking after a long night of drinking, “I have nights like these to remind myself why I no longer have nights like these.” Unfortunately, I have a rather short memory. Fortunately, MTO Café has a cure for what ails me: their Hangover Burger. Downtown’s best burger doubles as an effective alcohol antidote. The protein-packed combination of an over-medium egg atop bacon and cheese, a nicely charred patty and a healthy helping of better-than-McDonald’s special sauce results in a wonderfully greasy foil to last night’s libations. One of these and you’ll be ready to do it again. JB (500 S. Main St., 702-380-8229, mtocafe.com)
Best Bloody Mary
When Kim Canteenwalla left Society at Wynncore, he took the best Bloody Mary menu around with him. Not to worry: Canteenwalla’s bartenders are mixing up a doozy of a house recipe at Honey Salt. The not-so-secret ingredients are lime, lemon and olive juices, plus Sriracha. The ensuing peppery concoction packs the kick of a Missouri mule. Canteenwalla’s cocktails alone make the trip to Honey Salt worthwhile. DM (1031 S. Rampart Blvd., 702-445-6100)
Best place to eat something you never thought you’d eat
Binion’s Ranch Steakhouse. Their chicken-fried lobster is like a Gorton’s fish stick on steroids.
Comme Ça at Cosmopolitan, because the non-weirdos at my table can feast on French cheeses and roasted chicken while I devour wacky terrines and rillettes and scary offal specials.
Raku, where you can eat guts.
Best meatball, mini division
Sinatra at Wynn Las Vegas
As a restaurant, Sinatra takes the traditional Italian dishes that Frank had loved since he was a kid in Hoboken and updates the style and service with Palm Springs class and Vegas panache worthy of the Chairman’s legendarily top-shelf standards. As such, Theo Schoenegger’s kitchen creates polished renditions of angnolotti, osso buco, saltimbocca and polpettine. The polpettine is a quartet of perfectly round little meatballs, with a light texture that belies their rich flavor, dripped with a marinara sauce that is similarly robust yet has unexpected tinges of sweetness and richness. The dish is completed by several tidy little stacks of polenta fries — outside they’re a crispy golden and perfect 90-degree angles, inside creamy and soft as clouds. Eat them slowly, savoring every bite. The lights are dim, the banquette is velvet-cushioned, the martini is dry and, in the background, that Voice is crooning about this world he’s got on a string. Life is good. Lissa Townsend Rodgers (3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-770-3900, wynnlasvegas.com)
Best meatball, maxi division
Andiamo at the D
Andiamo is a bit of old-school elegance tucked amid the video games and go-cups of downtown. The menu runs the gamut of Italian and steakhouse dining classics from the tableside Caesar salad to the Queen Mary-sized dessert cart. And it’s not like they mislead you about the meatball. No, there it is: “Andiamo Grande Meatball,” made of veal, pork and beef, blended together and formed into a sphere the dimensions of a bocce ball. A giant hunk of mouthwatering goodness, awash in a lagoon of red sauce and topped with a scattering of ricotta cheese, like snow atop the Alps. It seems like a lot to open a meal, but pace yourself. Or, if you don’t, just have someone roll you out the balcony of the Vue Bar at the end of your meal — being blasted with the psychedelic sights and deafening roar of the Fremont Street Experience should jump-start your digestion. LTR (301 N. Fremont St., 702-388-2220, thed.com)
URBS VS. ’BURBS: MOST POWERFUL POWER LUNCH
It’s no surprise that chef Natalie Young’s soulful breakfast-and-
Las Vegas might be morphing into the kind of place where the big biz is done in the center of the city, but many of our major players still hover over the valley’s perimeter and Summerlin’s stylish, regal Vintner Grill is still the spot where they meet and eat. Wine and house-made cheese give way to martinis and mesquite-grilled steak sandwiches if the wheeling and dealing gets super serious. For the housewives and socialites sipping and snacking, there are curried chicken salads and seared halibut steaks with couscous and lemon gremolata. BR (10100 W. Charleston Blvd. #150,
AN ODE TO … SWEETS RAKU
Oh, Sweets Raku, you had me at your edible menu, printed on rice paper and served with raspberry sauce the color of love.
Or maybe you had me the moment I stepped through the unmarked door to your cozy dining room, nestled among my favorite Japanese restaurants in a Chinatown strip mall. Inside, you were all heavenly white, from your open kitchen to your raised counters and stools. Even your servers were clad in head-to-toe white, like old-timey nurses come to inject me with a soothing shot of banana cream.
You definitely had me by the time your charming chef, Mio Ogasawara — recently named pastry chef of the year by this magazine — began constructing my elaborate dessert before my hungry eyes. That first night I sampled the Apollo, its circular layers of chocolate and raspberry mousse floating atop a fluffy sponge cake, garnished with a sculpted chocolate spiral.
I have a confession. You’re not even my type. I am not, by nature, a dessert girl. I have turned up my nose at sweet courses in some of the best restaurants in town. But you intrigued me with your innovative sweets-only concept and your three-course dessert tasting for $19 — $7 more for a wine pairing.
Since that luscious first night, I often suggest skipping dinner altogether, preferring to fill up on whatever fresh offering appears on your ever-evolving menu.
My latest obsession is your Baton, a hollow chocolate-cookie tube stuffed with chocolate and pistachio mousse, passion fruit and sponge cake, and topped with a handmade candy bow. But I will always return faithfully to your Mount Fuji chestnut cream cake and your Ringo apple pie, served with a cream-filled candy apple so beautiful I could cry.
There are days I can’t wait until dinnertime. Those days you will find me standing outside at your 3 p.m. opening, staring at the giant silver spoon that hangs beside your door, wishing I had a mouth big enough to eat from it. — Lynnette Curtis
Pick up your Desert Companion today at one of these Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf or Jamba Juice locations.
Also available at Clark County and Henderson libraries.