Michael Mina – Bellagio, Las Vegas, NV

Food Adventures, Las Vegas

For us, food is an event that can stand completely on its own. So in retrospect, it was really no surprise that for our four-year dating anniversary, we spontaneously decided to hop in the car and drive through the desert to Sin City for a short weekend getaway capped off with a tasting menu dinner at Michelin-starred Michael Mina at the Bellagio.

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The service from being greeted by the hostess and GM to our dedicated waiters (plural!) to the ever-attentive bread and water guy was impeccable. The decor was beautiful and the whole experience felt sophisticated but not snooty, a delicate balance for white tablecloth restaurants of this caliber.

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There is a great-looking a la carte menu that includes luxuries like a caviar selection rolled out on a serving cart and a whole lobe of foie gras roasted and carved table-side, but we had our sights set on doing a tasting menu. Even then, there were two options – the Signature, which features the six courses of the restaurant’s greatest hits, and the Seasonal, which changes from time to time based on what is available. Since it was our first visit, we opted for the Signature which is a steal at $115 per person. We were tempted to do the full wine pairing alongside our tasting menu but decided to each select one of the suggested pairings instead. Just before we received our 2011 Cantina Terlano pinot bianco (Martin’s) and 2012 Dr. L riesling (one of my favorites), we were surprised with champagne to toast our anniversary!

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Bubbly in hand, let’s get started.

Course 1: Domestic Caviar Parfait – alderwood smoked salmon, creme fraiche, shallot potato cake.

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A beautiful tower consisting of layered crispy fried potato, cool and creamy creme fraiche, smoky cured salmon, and a generous dollop of domestic black caviar, this dish was an innovative presentation of a classic flavor combination. I also couldn’t help but appreciate the simple yet elegant little piles of brunoise shallot that garnished the plate.

Course 2: Tartare of Ahi Tuna – asian pear, pine nuts, scotch bonnet infused sesame oil

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Photo-takers beware, this dish is finished table-side. Our waiter was observant, however, and paused so I could take my before and after photos. So kind! We felt it was a sizable portion to be part of a tasting menu; we later saw another table order the a la carte version and ours seemed to be about two-thirds the size! The Asian-inspired flavors were delicious and more reminiscent of a Hawaiian poke than a tartare.

Course 3: Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass – shellfish dumpling, dashi broth

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Possibly the best preparation of Patagonian toothfish I have eaten! The buttery fish was perfectly cooked and unbelievably succulent. The dumpling looked handmade though it was unremarkable compared to the delicate yet flavorful broth. The garnish of mustard frill and shaved radish gave a welcomed freshness to the earthy miso and shiitake.

Course 4: Lobster Pot Pie – seasonal baby vegetables, brandied lobster cream

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This course was hands-down the most filling and I know when winter comes, I’ll be craving its rich and creamy lobster-brandy sauce bathing fingerling potatoes, lobster knuckles, and other hidden treasures beneath a golden and flaky pastry crust. This too was finished table-side as the waiters carved the crust cleanly, making it easier to lift the “lid” and peek at the filling below. My heart started to hurt from the obscene quantity of butter but it was so, so worth all of the rave reviews.

Course 5: American Wagyu Ribeye “Rossini” – hudson valley foie gras, pinot noir reduction

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Perhaps the most exciting part of leaving California is being able to consume the contraband decadence that is foie gras. Though we were warned that this particular morsel would be quite small, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the gorgeous slices of seared rib-eye were garnished with shavings of black summer truffle a la Tournedos Rossini. I don’t recall their asking how we wanted the steak prepared, but when it arrived, we saw that it was perfect — bright red medium-rare/rare with an even, crunchy sear. An excellent dish!

Surprise Pre-Dessert: Mascarpone Cheesecake with Huckleberries and Vanilla Crumble

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In addition to the champagne to start the meal, we were surprised with an extra dessert course, complete with chocolate writing that announced “Happy Anniversary!” The cheesecake was airy and light, just the way I like it, and I enjoyed the huckleberry compote to add a sweet and fruity element.

Course 6: Lincoln’s Candy Bar – peanuts, valrhona chocolate, pretzel

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This course was actually a trio featuring the “candy bar” (an elevated Snickers of sorts), a warm chocolate chip cookie, and a root beer float. The candy bar was sinfully good and I could take or leave the cookie, but what stole the show was the float! I first sipped it through the chocolate “straw” before digging in with a spoon. I only wish I had more room in my stomach to polish off every bite!

We had high expectations from reading online reviews, perusing the menu, and of course, having specifically selected Michael Mina for its one Michelin star rating. Though the tasting menu and service were both impressive, I was most amazed that the quiet, calm, open kitchen delivered such consistent and beautiful dishes. (I work in a mostly-closed kitchen and it can be sheer chaos back there!) Though there are so many high-end dining options in Las Vegas, I definitely recommend trying the Signature menu here if you get the chance!

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Check out Michael Mina: bellagio.com

Bellagio Resort & Casino
3600 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

See their Yelp reviews here!

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DineLA – Piccolo Venice (Winter 2014)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Though this entry is a bit belated, we have not missed a single DineLA Restaurant Week yet, and this winter, we would have had no excuse as restaurant “week” lasted a whopping twelve days! Winter DineLA is always extra special since it coincides with Martin’s birthday. His selection this year? A quaint little Italian place tucked away at the Venice Boardwalk… where we’d probably walked past at least a dozen times without even realizing it was there. We’re so glad we got to stop by and try their menu; in fact, one of the reasons why we chose this restaurant was that their dineLA menu offered a five course tasting of items featured on their regular menu.

Piccolo Venice

Piccolo Venice

The cozy atmosphere and romantic ambiance makes Piccolo perfect for date night. Candles lighting each table, a beautiful chandelier in the center of the room… Immediately after we were seated, our friendly and oh-so-Italian server brought a basket brimming with warm table bread. My favorite was the fluffy cubes of focaccia.

Table Bread

Table Bread

First Course: We both selected the conchiglie – marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin. What it fails to mention is that the crudo-esque dish arrives in the form of mini seafood “dumplings”, with the thinly sliced scallop resembling a clear hargow wrapper encasing a “filling” of uni.

Conchiglie - marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin

Conchiglie – marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin

Second Course: plin – fontina filled, homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings. I love fresh pasta, though this particular dish was drowning a bit in the salty sauce. Still, nothing a few generous flakes of earthy black truffle couldn’t save. (Did I ever mention that I want a truffle pig? Or perhaps to train one of our cats to hunt truffles…)

Plin - fontina filled homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings

Plin – fontina filled homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings

Third Course (M): neri – squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings. Martin is a sucker for squid ink pasta and he seemed very pleased with the long strands of briny goodness flecked with crumbles of cured fish roe. I was a bit jealous.

Neri - squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings

Neri – squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings

Third Course (A): garganelli – homemade, braised wild boar sauce ragu. From appearance alone, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference from the boar sausage and ordinary ground beef, but one bite of gamy, hearty protein and I was hooked. It paired perfectly with the al dente hand-rolled pasta.

Garganelli - homemade braised wild boar sausage ragu

Garganelli – homemade braised wild boar sausage ragu

Fourth Course (M): tagliata – seared natural australian kobe ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt. It arrived rare just the way he likes it, and the pleasant surprise — cubes of crispy fried polenta! How did they know he loved those?! Super tender, juicy steak – this was a great dish.

Tagliata - seared natural australian ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt

Tagliata – seared natural australian ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt

Fourth Course (A): anatra – pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce. I love a good seared rare duck breast and Piccolo did not disappoint. The meat was tender and was complemented well by the currant sauce. My surprise sides? A dollop of purple potato mash (puree?) and crispy roasted brussels sprouts… some of my all-time favorite side dishes. Again, how did they know??

Anatra - pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce

Anatra – pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce

Fifth Course: chef’s selection of homemade desserts. If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, TELL YOUR SERVER. We were surprised that the plate arrived on our table without any mention of what the selections were, nor a particularly thorough description of the items. That’s okay for us though; we have daring palates and resilient stomachs. Just thought I’d warn ya.

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel sauce and profiteroles (or, a la Italia, bignole) filled with fluffy dark chocolate mousse.

Bignole filled with valrhona chocolate mousse

Bignole filled with valrhona chocolate mousse

Both delicious palate cleansers and adorable little bites to end the meal. Molto bene!

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Check out Piccolo Venice: piccolovenice.com

5 Dudley Avenue
Venice, CA 90291

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA Winter 2014 – $$$ ($45/person) dinner

Parking near Venice Beach is notoriously difficult. We swallowed our pride and paid for the valet, which shares a parking lot with On The Waterfront Cafe.