Monday, May 31, 2010

Shanghai Bamboo House- Monrovia

Shanghai Bamboo House Exterior

I haven't had much success when looking online for a restaurant that we would end up returning to. Same story with restaurants that we have not visited before. What we always end up with are so-so visits. See these: HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE for examples.

So considering that I was the one who recommended this restaurant to my companions to try out one day for a weekend lunch, I was not expecting awesome results. Even if Yelp reviewers gave very positive results. But guess what? We loved it. And we have been going back since.

Interior
Interior

This location used to be many different restaurants. Having grown up visiting this plaza weekly due to the close proximity to our old home, I've certainly seen it change as I have routinely come back to visit. The last owner of the location was a Korean restaurant. Now, it is a Shanghai restaurant.

As for some history with Shanghai Bamboo House, it's been in California for quite a few years already. But, most of those years were spent in Temple City nearby Green Island and (current) New Mandarin Noodle Deli. However, they moved as a HSBC bank bought out their space. So, now they are in Monrovia in a strip mall that has places like Super A Foods and the famous Alpha Science (used to be ARK that had the space).

I did like the Temple City location, although I did not constantly visit it as there were more familiar options in the past. A Mandarin ______ Restaurant next to Big Lots! was our favorite for lunch, and for dinner, Mei Long Village was our frequent go-to for dinner. However, the Mandarin____ place shut down and now has another Shanghai restaurant (after a HK Cafe), and after two incidents of severe food poisoning at Mei Long Village, it was time to find a different place. Chang's Garden was pretty good, but the place did not seem as nice of a place (faster service during peak hours, unlike other places). So what next?

Now, I have a great go-to option for Shanghai food that is not too oily. Yay!

Boltonia Znaica and Dried Bean Curd
(plastic spoon removed for photo purposes :) )

Our first visit was during lunch and we could immediately tell this was a place for regulars and people who enjoy Shanghai food. The clientele were all families and friends, with a few young children- which all seemed to be from Shanghai.

And when we saw the item above available, we knew we were in for a good meal! On the menu it is called Boltonia Znaica and Dried Bean Curd (4.50 USD) or 马蘭香干. This item rarely is put on any Shanghai restaurant in our area, but is a popular appetizer in Shanghai. My friend from Shanghai ordered a big plate of this when we were in Shanghai more than five years ago, and immediately after tasting this, we were thinking that he probably likes this restaurant a lot (he too lives nearby here)! If you haven't tried it before, it is a fragrant grassy like herb with bean curd which is lightly flavored with seasonings. Small serving, but worth the price for something as rare on menus around here. Try it out. You probably won't see it anywhere else except for in Shanghai and Asia (or a few Shanghai restaurants around here in So Cal).

Jade Celery and Jellyfish
(now if everything else was removed from the table this would make the perfect product shot!)

The other appetizer that we ordered was Jellyfish with Celery or 西芹海蜇 (4.50 USD). This was yet another simple, yet tasty appetizer. The celery was slightly blanched and then flavored, and then put into the fridge. And the jellyfish were nice as well, with a nice chew and the light flavor of the seasonings that also went into the celery.

Zhao Lou Yu Pian (Fish Fillet with Fermented Rice)

I wanted to try something that I haven't had a long so I ordered the Fish Fillet with Wine Sauce (6.95 USD) or 糟留鱼片. This was slightly different compared to the other versions I had, as there was much more sauce and there were also green onions added for color and pop. However, the flavors were there- the fermented rice were made in house as we would find out on our second visit, and the sauce was slightly vinegary and sweet like fermented sweet rice is. Great with rice! As for the fish, they were lightly pan fried and then cooked a bit further the sauce. Bamboos and the wood ear fungus were added as usual and were crisp and delicious. Overall, a nice rendition and a good deal too! If you don't want to try out something really unusual this is the thing to order.

Xiao Long Bao
(That is not juice leaking!)

Since when we visit a Shanghai style restaurant we like to try out a steamer of 上海鲜肉小蘢包 or Pork Steamed Bun, we ordered one steamer which had eight pieces of these dumplings (4.95 USD). These of course were not like Din Tai Fung's. Instead, these had a fresh, thicker skin similar to Yi Pin Xiao Long in Beijing with the fresh dough scent and flavor like you would get at either place I just talked about. Inside was a tasty, tender meat filling with a light wine scent to it, and plenty of flavorful juice! Very nice, I have to say. I prefer the skin to be just slightly thinner (similar to Mei Long Village pre 2007) but overall, one of the best Juicy Pork Dumplings in the area, and at a great price too!

Edit August 16, 2011: Jonathan Gold reviewed these steamed buns and other items and liked them. On the other hand, after eating Dean Sin World's frozen pork steamed buns, it seems like they source them from there as they taste very similar if not exactly the same.

Pigs Stomach with Green Peppers

Since one of my companions likes pork stomach, we ordered the Pig's Stomach with Green Pepper or 青椒 肚丝 (Qing Jiao Du Si) (6.50 USD). This had plenty of bamboo shoots (probably from a can but could be fresh too...), julienne green bell pepper, and the main event, thinly sliced pork stomach. Everything was done nicely and was not oily. And the pig stomach was perfectly cooked and not too chewy. If you like pig stomach, order this! And again, another great deal. Prices here are very reasonable.

Shrimp Roe Braised Sea Cucumber (Small portion)

Wanting to taste their version of Stewed Sea Cucumber with Shrimp Eggs, we ordered a small portion of 蝦籽大烏渗(Xia Zi Da Wu Shen) (8.50 USD). Like the Chinese description said, the sea cucumber really was "大" or big! So long! This was excellent, with the sea cucumber being very tender like a medium firm jelly with no grittiness due to a clean washing. The sauce was nice with a sweet vinegar flavor but was a bit on the sweet side. A few splashes of black vinegar fixed that though. Overall, excellent deal for an excellently prepared sea cucumber!

During this visit, the employees noticed me and my camera. What I did not know at the time was that it was the manager! She was very happy about it though unlike the self keeping manager at Pioneer Point whose website doesn't even have pictures of the place! :)

We left quite happy, even if the bill ended up to total more than usual for a lunch. We did order quite a bit, after all!

----

Last week on Thursday we arrived back again for a dinner visit. This time, we ordered quite a bit of different things.

Green Onion Pancakes

Out of curiosity we ordered the Green Onion Pancakes or 葱油餠 (Cong You Bing)(2.95 USD). We were not expecting anything special and they were just standard. Very crisp and hot was the main positive! Other than that, it was chewy but not very fragrant though in terms of green onion flavor.

Bean Curd Wrapped Meat

The Pork Wrap with Bean Curd or Pork Bean Curd Rolls or 齐菜白页包肉 (7.50 USD) was one of the two entrees we ordered. This was very light with several bean curd rolls immersed in a pork broth with a few pieces of bok choy. Inside each bean curd roll was a meat filling that had the flavor of the broth. The rolls are best with the broth though, or else they would be too dry eaten alone. That is a good sign, since that means the pork has not been altered with things like baking soda which would make it seem passable due to the softer texture. Overall, a good light dish for those who don't want bold flavors for dinner- you can make it more flavorful by adding some condiments like the good standby, black vinegar.

Special Clay Pot Soup

For a soup and for a variety of meats, we ordered the House Special Hot Pot or 特色什錦砂鍋 (10.95 USD). When you visit a Shanghai style restaurant, we like to order a "砂鍋" or a clay pot soup where the soup has been prepared in the clay pot with additional toppings. This preparation is more similar to Giang Nan (link to KevinEat's review), where there are bamboo, thin glass noodles (less here compared to Giang Nan), fried fish, shrimp, fishballs, napa cabbage and egg dumplings as ingredients. Here at Shanghai Bamboo House they even had a few pieces of delicious and chewy fish maw. The soup base is a simple clear meat broth which has been enhanced by all the toppings and the benefit of cooking in a clay pot. Together, it is a great all in one meal. Just some rice and this and you could just say,"This is enough for dinner tonight!"

Shrimp Roe Braised Sea Cucumber (Large Portion)

For the second entree, we ordered again the Stewed Sea Cucumber with Shrimp Eggs or 蝦籽大烏渗 (Xia Zi Da Wu Shen) (14.95 USD), but this time in a larger portion. Everything was still consistent. The Sea Cucumber was extremely tender and large, and the sauce was still the same- a bit on the sweet side. But we were very interested on that day on how the sea cucumber could be so tender and large. Was it something awkward? Or was it pure skill?

Sea Cucumber from Mexico

So, to fully answer the question, the manager came to us and talked about the sea cucumbers after we finished our dinner. Above you see them in the way they get them- dried and expensive at almost a hundred dollars a pound. These were actually from Mexico and had the capability to expand to the size of the final product. To get to that final product, it was exceedingly laborious in terms of preparation. There was a lot of work involved in repeating a procedure again and again to make it expand. And all that was at work was time and water! No baking soda, no weird items. And after it was ready, they could put it in the fridge until they needed to use it. That breaks the myth of prepared sea cucumbers available at 99 Ranch Market having baking soda or something added so that the sea cucumbers stay in the way they are.

She said that sea cucumbers are not very profitable and thus are a great deal for the customer. It always makes her happy to see people come to the restaurant, and she actually remembered me from the last visit! :)

Sesame Rice Balls in Wine Blew with Eggs and "Gui Hua")

There was still more however, as dessert also came since there were not too many people (3 tables) in the restaurant, which let the manager have time to take out some Sesame Rice Balls with Wine Blew and Eggs Dessert Soup or 酒釀桂花糖圓 (Jiu Niang Gui Hua Tang Yuan). We were not expecting this at the end of the meal (free dessert) and it was excellent! We found out the fermented rice was actually made in house and so were the sesame rice balls. No wonder why the rice balls were so elastic and smooth! Great chew and a nice sesame filling too that was not too sweet. The soup was also excellent with the thin ribbons of egg and the slightly sweet and sour feel from the wine blew. Probably one of the best desserts I've had in a Chinese restaurant so far, and I have had many different desserts!

Overall, an excellent choice for Shanghainese food in the area that is authentic and not overloaded with oil and MSG. And a great bargain too! I like it. :)

Shanghai Bamboo House
933 W. Duarte Rd.
Monrovia, CA 91016
Tel: (626) 574-5960

Shanghai Bamboo House on Urbanspoon

Shanghai Bamboo House in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Monday, May 17, 2010

Din Tai Fung Dumpling House- Arcadia

Exterior Din Tai Fung

It seems like Arcadia only has two famous restaurants: the Derby, and Din Tai Fung. Really, what do tourists come to Arcadia really for? There are six main things: the Santa Anita Racetrack with a trip to the Derby, the Westfield Mall, the Arboretum, Rusnak Mercedes-Benz Arcadia (the large amount of new Benzes mean something!), and Din Tai Fung.

Now, what do most food bloggers only have on Arcadia? Din Tai Fung. Or nothing at all. The local teachers and school staff of Arcadia also like Din Tai Fung. So over the past year I've done a lot of writing about the Arcadia dining scene. But I left out the most hotly debated and frequented restaurant in Arcadia: Din Tai Fung- until now. 200th post= something good to write about. Just like how the 100th post was on Green Onion Pancakes, and how the 199th post was Aureole. (Go read that if you haven't already! No comments yet)

Chefs at Work
(Before renovation: clear window. Now, a greenish backsplash of bamboo steamers have been added. And the telephone on the side? Gone as well)

A little bit of history with Din Tai Fung. We've most certainly have liked their restaurant. I've been eating there as a kid since they opened in the early 2000's and it was a favorite of ours as it was convenient on our driving route back then. We would constantly eat there as well as for take. Besides, the owner was always friendly to us and treated us well, even giving some freebies to us sometimes. So nice! There were plenty of favorites back then: The Xiao Long Bao, of course, pork chop fried rice, red bean buns, red bean dumplings, eight treasures sticky rice, red bean cake, stir fried rice cake, stir fried green beans, and chicken noodle soup. All were good, all were tasty. We would even bring our friends there. That one time, owner Frank gave us a hot steaming basket of red bean cake. Mmm...

Din Tai Fung Decorations
(Fun cabinet to look at while you wait)

But I haven't been back for a long time. In fact, after their renovation to match the second location of Din Tai Fung (around 2008), I haven't been into the restaurant. However, there was a experience with catering once which was exceedingly enjoyable. It was DTF at its best. That I will explain somewhere...

Cold Case- Buns and items for Take Out
(Want to bring something home? Here's some of what's available)

So we went in this time to Din Tai Fung with a mostly open mind, but with that previous experience ingrained to our minds. This time, we did not even need to wait like most people usually do! We came early enough around 5:30 before the rush. But really, if you come anytime during the weekdays, you will not need to wait like how you would on the crazy weekends. The two reasons this plaza gets so busy is just Din Tai Fung and the JJ Bakery. Both two very frequented places by local Arcadians. On a side note, a stereotype on JJ Bakery from a student: You're not Asian if you haven't eaten something from JJ Bakery. Bwawawa....

Interior Din Tai Fung
(The people were looking at my camera directly, drawn over for privacy...)

We took a corner seat and sit down to soak in the renovated interior. Sure enough, it was quite different. Before, it was a modern but comfy feeling. Now, it was even more modern, but not the cold type of modern (do you even get what I mean?).

Interior Lamps

More details were even added. This wall used to be white instead of green, and now there are even more paintings!

LA Times Praise for Din Tai Fung

The LA Times article wasn't new though. I took a picture anyway.

Menu
(preliminary selection. We added and subtracted more later)

Looking at the menu, the prices have not really gone up much since almost nine years ago (shocking, nine years already?). Yes, they are higher than most dumpling and noodle places. That is why I called Din Tai Fung more high end- not only the costs are higher, the interior is nicer (although at Full House, the interior is older but you can spend much more compared to here at Din Tai Fung!).

Table Setting

And the table setting was not much new either. Even the vinegar and soy sauce containers had those fruits on them like they did nine years ago! Those are cute. :)

Cucumber

Enough talking anyway. After ordering on the sheet, our appetizer (named appetizer- you then get to pick from several items the server talks about) of cucumbers arrived (3.50USD). These were different than our old favorite Mandarin Noodle Deli, but they were still quite good. They were basically seasoned and marinated cucumbers (not much vinegar, more salt if anything) and topped with some chili oil. Simple, but the cucumber flavor stood out a lot more! Of course, we changed it a bit with a touch of vinegar. You don't need to really though. Both ways are solid! Not bad of a deal either as these small Japanese cucumbers cost quite a lot.

Stir Fried Spinach

Sauteed Seasonal Vegetables (7.50 USD), or in this case, Sauteed Spinach, came next. According to our waiter, Din Tai Fung does not use MSG just like Elite, so these definitely seemed lighter in flavor compared to most places that use MSG. It was just a slight hint of chicken stock and garlic with these fresh pieces of spinach! Simple but well done.

Chicken Noodle Soup before mixing

The House Special Chicken Noodle Soup (Steamed) (7.50 USD) came next. But before we ate it, there was some assembling to do.

Chicken Noodle Soup with Soup in Bowl

What the waiter did was simply pour the hot soup into the big bowl with the noodles. But we did more...

Chicken Noodle Soup with Green Onions added

We asked for some green onions, and added that in for some extra brightness. Plus, it looked prettier with the green onions. Don't you think so too?

Chicken Noodle Soup

My personal sample of the chicken noodle soup was very good. It was just as good as before! Chewy noodles, flavorful chicken broth. No, it's certainly not the same as Souplantation's chicken soup- this has more flavorful chicken notes plus the slight spice of ginger. With the green onions, it was even better! And the chicken pieces were still flavorful, even if they were boiled.

Pork Chop Fried Rice

A plate of the Pork Chop Fried Rice (6.75 USD) came next. Yes, it was a much smaller portion compared to May Mei which is just footsteps away, but it was still delicious anyway. The base was the very fragrant fried rice, made with fat kernels of rice with strands of egg and bright green onions. Providing the additional flavor was the crispy pork chop, seasoned simply with salt and pepper and possibly some spices. The pepper flavor was not as strong as it used to be, which for me was a good thing. Overall, a nice dish, but small in portion. Din Tai Fung's portions are smaller and a bit more expensive after all compared to most restaurants, but they are good and prepared differently compared to most places.

Pork Xiao Long Bao

The main event came next: a steamer of Juicy Pork Dumplings, or Xiao Long Bao (7.25 USD). These were different compared to what you would get outside the US at other Din Tai Fungs. First of all, due to health reasons, DTF had to use metal steamers instead of bamboo like at the catering party. Thus, these dumplings would not be as delicious as at the party anyway due to less flavor coming in from the bamboo. Secondly, some debate that the meat is different at international DTF's, saying that they would be more tender. I don't know if that is true or not, as I haven't been to a Din Tai Fung outside of the United States.

Pork Xiao Long Bao Closeup

Instead of waiting, you should really eat these as soon as possible when they arrive at the table. However, I was busy with the bowl of chicken noodle soup. By then, the dumplings had cooled down just a tad in just about three minutes, and getting them out of the steamer was not as hard as it would be fresh from the steamer.

Pork Xiao Long Bao Juice

One of the specialties of Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung is the amount of juice inside the Xiao Long Bao and the ultra thin skin. You see a lot of it in the spoon, but there was still more hidden inside the dumpling that only became noticeable when the whole dumpling went into my mouth! Unlike most places, DTF's juice is not as robust, again due to the lack of MSG which brings the umaminess. But there is still plenty of porky flavor to enjoy, with slight hints of Xiao Xing wine and ginger in the background. Less MSG= better in my book. I've been trying to eat healthier this year. You probably can't tell!

As for the skin, I haven't met a XLB skin that has been as thin as DTF's version. It's ultra thin, but yet it doesn't break as easily as you would expect. In addition, it has a flavor that seems so fresh- and no other restaurant I have seen has that scent and flavor that comes out from a fresh batch of these XLB. To solve the being careful with Xiao Long Bao situation, use a spoon with the chopstick! After propping up the dumpling slightly, slide the spoon under and take it away. It works every time.

Steamed Pork Xiao Long Bao Filling

And here's the filling. As you can see, I was so hungry I ate the skin and slurped the juice already! The filling is similar to the juice. Porky, but not ultra robust because of the lack of MSG. Like usual, there were the notes of Shao Xing wine and aromatics of ginger and green onion.

Overall? Excellent! But after the catering experience, this seems like just "OK"! Bwawawa. Although everything was the same, with the carefully made pleats by the chefs and sometimes the manager, it just didn't compare to the catering party where the Xiao Long Bao was scalding hot and ultra delicious.

Crab Xiao Long Bao

The Juicy Pork and Crab Dumplings (Xie Fen Xiao Long Bao?) (9 USD) arrived right after the regular XLB. To mark the difference, there was a piece of carrot inside the steamer.

Crab Xiao Long Bao Closeup

Like the Juicy Pork Dumplings, these had the same beautiful pleats with the skin. I think these looked even better!

Crab Xiao Long Bao Juice

However, there was not as much juice at all. All the juice was being absorbed by the crab and pork filling! I could really only feel the juice when the dumpling was in my mouth.

Crab Xiao Long Bao Filling

Eating the dumpling, I could get some flavors of the crab and pork, but I found the crab flavor to be lacking compared to last time's catering. I would say this was an off day, as usually the crab flavor is very good in these dumplings! Overall, not as good as usual on this visit, but I'm sure if I went another day it would be better. :)

Red Bean/Taro Dumplings

After eating plenty of food, we ended our meal with a steamer of Red Bean/Sweet Taro Dumplings (5.00 USD). Usually you will just get red bean or taro, but we asked for a split of both flavors so we could try both.

Closeup Red Bean and Taro Dumplings

Like the Juicy Pork Dumplings and the Juicy Pork and Crab Dumplings, these dumplings had the same beautiful pleats made by skilled chefs.

Red Bean and Taro Fillings

And inside were simply red bean paste and sweet taro paste. Sorry for the disgusting looking photo! I only had a plastic fork to cut at this stage. Anyway, other than the thin skin again (similar to the other dumpling skins in this visit), what made the difference were the pastes. The red bean paste was saccharine and full of red bean flavor. On the other hand, the taro paste had plenty of taro flavor, but to us it was perfectly sweet. So if you like sweet things, order the red bean dumplings. If you like a mildly sweet dumpling, choose the taro filling. Or order half and half if you have mixed feelings! :)

Overall, another great visit at Din Tai Fung. However, after the catering, we found the main event- the Xiao Long Baos, to be less impressive as they used to be ( OBVIOUSLY a biased opinion now due to that experience). After all, the combination of very careful work (they threw away a batch at the party as they were half steamed but due to gas issues they had to stop working, and thus threw them away as steaming them again would be bad for the dumplings), bamboo steamers, and right away eating (less than one minute in between all this!) made for the freshest Xiao Long Bao ever!

And the unbiased opinion: As long as you don't mind the higher prices, Din Tai Fung is a great restaurant to go to. The different variations compared to the "standard" that you find are pleasant to enjoy and are not found anywhere else nearby Arcadia. The choices other than the Xiao Long Bao are all quite fantastic, especially things like the fried rice. So if Xiao Long Bao doesn't suit you, you have tons of other great choices to enjoy! Din Tai Fung is definitely more than just Xiao Long Bao- it is a solid noodle and dumpling place.


Din Tai Fung
1108 S. Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
Phone: 626-574-7068

Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

Din Tai Fung in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Aureole- Las Vegas (Mandalay Bay)

Aureole LV

After spending some time at the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens at the Bellagio, we went back to our room and then went out again! Unlike our previous meals however, this was planned out already. We had a 50 dollar dining certificate from Restaurants.com, free due to airline mileage (2000 miles=100 dollars in exchange). This is exactly the reason why I say, if you are flying somewhere, do sign up for a frequent flyer card if you are flying more than a thousand miles roundtrip as you can get something back easily! It was a easy choice for me to make. Although most of Mandalay Bay's restaurants are eligible for Restaurant.com, only two stood out for me: Aureole and Fleur De Lys. Aureole however seemed better in my book due to the fact I heard of it more from places like the Food Network.

Aureole Awards
(Awards- also a Photoshop rescued photo- or else the sides would have been completely dark)

After parking at Mandalay Bay, we arrived at the entrance of Aureole and was surprised at how dark it was! 5 years ago when I saw it during lunch, it was all bright and white, filled with light. I even decided not to bring the external flash due to knowing the amount of light available. It ended up being a bad decision! However, Photoshop came to the rescue, but I forgot about it while I was taking the pictures. So yes, there are photos with flash this time. I know most people go against flash in a restaurant, but I didn't have any other choice except it or else all the photos would be blurry due to the exposure length (1-2 seconds). Luckily, there was no one sitting in my direction while I took the flash pictures. After we were almost done with our meal, people started to sit in my direction though. Nice thinking, I would say to the staff.

Wine Tower

Going into Aureole was unusual. Instead of someone greeting you at the door, you had to go down the stairs which wrapped around the 6 story wine rack or go down the elevator, which was simple with just a small floral arrangement for decoration. After I took this photo, a wine angel who was getting a wine bottle waved hi to me. How nice!

When we arrived downstairs, we first noticed the lounge area in the back as we were from the elevator. People coming down the stairs would meet the greeting area.

Aureole Plate
(Special Plates that are taken away before you have bread! And see the high ISO makes some noise.)

After we were set with our reservation, we were given a table with almost the dimmest light in the entire restaurant. Definitely not great for picture taking, but coming here was for a memorable meal, yes? Pictures were just a bonus for you and me.

Plate Settings

After taking a seat at our table, our leather covered Aureole-Las Vegas folders with the current menu inside arrived. I did not take pictures of them but luckily the menu was available on Charlie Palmer's website! The server went through the menu with us as we replied to him that we had never been to Aureole before, and offered a few suggestions.

Tables near Check In

At around 6-7PM, there were just a few customers, but as it reached around 8 P.M., loads of convention members were coming into the restaurant and what used to be silent became a muffled chatter. Families started to arrive, some with tired kids, some happy for dinner. What faced me to the front was completely empty, as you see in the photo. This proved to be good for using my flash- I would not directly annoy someone with the flash pointed right at them!

Tables

The interior was beautiful, but I never even walked past our table which was quite near the wine tower. So I pretty much never saw the rest of the restaurant! The tables were set fully with two forks, knives, butter knives, et cetera. Simple in design but elegant Aureole plates were set up for decoration at first and were taken away after the request for drinks. A oil light and flower vase were also set in the middle, then put to the side if the table was square shaped. Aureole did look bland at first as it was mainly white near the entrance, but inside, there were large windows thanks to Mandalay Bay's architecture and warm colors.

While we were waiting there was a photographer with a Nikon camera and external flash placed to the side (I wish I had the side attachment for more flexibility) coming for pictures. We turned down the request for pictures to be taken but others took the request and thus the flash went off several times, brightly over the towering walls near the wine rack. This was the thing that made me want to use flash later on! She used it, so I'd use it too.


Bread soon came, and there were four choices: focaccia, whole wheat, pretzel bread, and baguette. I ended up trying all of them, the focaccia/whole wheat being samples from my dining companions. We were all very happy with the bread and truly, the bread was a step above from other places, even Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza (Aureole is also a C.P. restaurant). Even served cold, you could really taste all the textures and the flavors of the breads, usually which are diminished in lesser breads. The foccacia was soft with some sun dried tomato and herbs used for flavoring. Whole wheat was whole wheat, but with a very pleasant bite to it. The pretzel bread was a bit hard on the outside, with the usual pretzel flavors concentrated on the outside and less on the inside. The baguette crunched as I tore it apart and eating it, it had a crispy with a good bite outside and a tender, full of different textures inside. (does that make sense in any way???)

Butter and Cover
(not zooming in to not make the aperture smaller!)

Served along with the bread were two medallions of unsalted butter housed in a nice butter dish with a cute silver dome. Bread came back two times later on. And while we waited, our hot waters came. The best remedy to heal a sore throat!

Lemons on a Plate

And of course, lemons would be a good side addition, so we asked for some. They came in a beautiful blue tinted glass plate.

Soon, we ordered, and one of my companions ordered the seasonal tasting menu:

Chef Vincent Pouessel's three course tasting
based on the seasons freshest ingredients

Purple and White Dutch Asparagus
-with Prosciutto de Parma/Warm Tomato and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Oven Roasted Wild Northwest Halibut
-Preserved Lemon and Parsley Risotto/Lobster Foam

Strawberry and Mint Infused Creme Brulee Mille Feuille

My other dining companion and I ordered from the regular menu, and just ordered entrees for then. No appetizer for us! Besides, who knew if I could eat more just yet...

White and Purple Dutch Asparagus

Only my dining companion who had the tasting menu had an appetizer: the Purple and White Dutch Asparagus with Prosciutto de Parma/Warm Tomato and Balsamic Vinaigrette. There was plenty of fat sticks of white and purple asparagus, a large piece of prosciutto, and a salad mix. Nice presentation too and large serving size! What more was how tasty everything was. The asparagus was tender and crisp, with none of the gristle. They were lightly blanched and then shocked in ice cold water to make them cool and retain their looks. Who knew asparagus could taste so good! Not oily at all, but very clean and flavorful. With the sauce, which had some notes of vinegar and mayo, these pieces of asparagus were the best pieces of asparagus that were not served as is. I did not try the mixed salad so no comment, but the prosciutto was of a nice quality, sliced thin. Overall, raving applause for this starter. Fresh, creative, and scrumptious.

OVEN ROASTED WILD NORTHWEST HALIBUT

After quite a bit of waiting and talking, our main courses came. After all, relaxing and enjoying the food is the KEY at these types of restaurants! For the main course of the tasting menu, my dining companion was served the Oven Roasted Wild Northwest Halibut with Preserved Lemon and Parsley Risotto/Lobster Foam and was very happy with it. I did not even get to try this dish at all! Beautiful presentation and yet again, large serving with the tasting menu. Not much description to give, but for even my companion here to like a fish dish quite a bit is a bit unusual. Most restaurants don't meet his wants and needs of a fish dish which are quite high. (E.G. Sesame Grill is just standard in his book for fish)

Seaweed Roasted Black Cod
(After 3 blurry photos without flash, here's the first picture I took with flash! (Photo before was second...)

Seaweed Roasted Black Cod (36 USD)
Pearl Potato, Tiny Spring Vegetable, Pomelo Segments

First on the entrees menu for the fish section, this was my other dining companion's choice. Although I did not get to try out the fish (we all kept to ourselves as everything was definitely excellent!), I tried out the potatoes which were tiny, creamy, and delicious. My dining companion seemed quite happy with her choice was well.

Oven Roasted Pacific Salmon no Flash
(In the unedited photo, the sauces would have been black and so would have the fish!)

Oven Roasted Pacific Salmon (29 USD)
Spinach Coulis, Wild Black Trumpet Mushroom

Last but not least, here was my dish. I like salmon and so I ordered yet again (CP in CA, and now CP in Las Vegas). Besides, it was cheapest on the menu- because if something cheap on a fine dining menu can be excellent, then the restaurant has fully shown itself as great! Our server, a friendly chap, even asked me how well should the salmon be cooked, which was the first time I've been asked that question in any restaurant on fish. I replied with a medium, stuttering to medium well at first as I was sick, but I turned down to medium anyway because salmon is best when not fully cooked.

Oven Roasted Pacific Salmon with Flash

The result was yet another fabulous dish executed by Aureole. Two circles of sauces, a deep and earthy brown sauce (probably made with cream, mushrooms, and beef stock?) and a larger circle of a savory, herb filled spinach coulis surrounded the center of the dish, and a tiny layer of mashed potatoes provided the base for the large piece of salmon on top. To the edges were pieces of mushrooms (that tasted like wood ear to me) and vegetable greens. The duo of sauces complimented the salmon perfectly, not that the salmon could not have been eaten by itself. That piece of salmon was fabulous! Extra crispy skin with tons of the flavorful fish oil= YUMMY. I like skin, as seen in my salmon recipe (no comparison to the skill used to make this dish). The meat was even more amazing, flaking into whole pieces as I pulled with the three-tine fork. So buttery, smooth, flavorful, melty, amazing. In my book, just as good as Sesame Grill's long time no see Arctic Salmon with Lobster sauce (ultra buttery salmon), if not even better due to the inclusion of vegetables! All the sauces and mushrooms added oomph and richness to this salmon and never took over the show.

Aureole Table
(getting darker, and darker!)

After eating, I was not going to even ask for dessert. But for the experience, I decided to share with my dining companion who did not order the tasting menu. However, I later on decided to get my own share anyway. We're here, and we're in for all of it! After all, it is not everyday that I go visit LA or Orange County to have fine dining. These instances are extremely rare.

Tables Night

A bread crumb remover whisked around the table yet again, like it did during our bread and butter session, to clean up the mess. A hot water refill came yet again, and we browsed the dessert menu, which yet again I did not take a picture of. However, we really did not need to look at it, as we ordered what our waiter recommended: Megan's Dessert Sampler. According to him, it was a "small taste of the best items from the menu."

So we did. We saw our desserts come out, but the waiter turned back to the kitchen. Then he came back and served. I didn't know why at all!

And so while we were waiting for our desserts to come back, we looked around. I listened to an interesting story happening at the next table to us. There was a child who was very unhappy, and thus the server wanted to cheer him up. Now how did he do that? A free drink, "made by him", he said. And when the kid's main course of fish and chips came up, the server said yet again it was made by him! :) The kid obviously was very happy, and in the end even finished the whole entire plate of fish and chips. That's almost three large fish pieces and the signature Charlie Palmer silver tray of fries.

In the front round table, kids were tired from a day in Las Vegas and slept. Some went under the table to amuse themselves, and when the food came it was time to eat!

And while our desserts started to arrive, so did the convention folks. Almost all the tables around us now, were filled with people! Tiny dessert spoons were given to us, and the desserts were served

Megan's Dessert Sampler

Megan's Dessert Sampler (12USD)
Aureole's Signature Tea Creme Brulee, Dark Chocolate Pistachio Tart, Tangerine Creamsicle Terrine, Toasted Coconut Rum Cake

So, my companion who ordered the cod and I both had our own dessert sampler. As I was served, the server told me what everything was. How sweet! After taking close up photos of each item, it was time to eat!

TANGERINE CREAMSICLE TERRINE

All quite nice, but two stood out. One was the Tangerine Creamsicle Terrine. It was a triangle of a "terrine" with layers of orange sorbet and a very creamy and even buttery vanilla ice cream, backed up with a layer of crispy puff pastry. To the side were ultra sweet tangerine segments. This was so fun to eat, and so delicious! I'll call it the ultra high end version of a orange creamsicle. The orange sorbet was a bit icy while being smooth. In addition, it was filled with a sweet tangerine flavor, and the vanilla ice cream was ultra, ultra creamy and smooth. So good! Plus, the tangerines to the side made me feel like I was eating a healthy dessert! (OK, not really, I am not You Know Who who says mint means the dessert is healthy!)

AUREOLE'S SIGNATURE TEA CRÈME BRULEE

The next one that really stood out was Aureole's Signature Green Tea Creme Brulee. It was a mini cup of creme brulee, topped with a thick layer of torched sugar. That layer of sugar was ultra flavorful with the browned flavors of sugar, and it cracked with the tap of a spoon. However, probably due to the waiting of our desserts and going back to the kitchen, it was not exactly the ultra warm layer that I expected it to be!

AUREOLE'S SIGNATURE TEA CRÈME BRULEE Inside

Inside was a ultra creamy, smooth cup of green tea custard which was enhanced further with the addition of green tea. It was not a great amount, but it was a very nice accent which gave the custard a pale green (a la Yogurtland) color and a robust green tea earthiness and fragrance to the sweet, creamy, and eggy custard. So good! Very memorable dessert. I still wanted more when I finished the small cup. I guess I should have ordered the creme brulee since I loved it so much!

DARK CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO TART

Anyway, putting biases aside, I had the dark chocolate pistachio tart. This was simple- a light, crumbly tart layer with chocolate ganache added in. If you plan on ordering this, eat this first or after the creamsicle terrine, as it doesn't taste as good when it gets cold as the ganache becomes cold and solid! Otherwise, it was a simple chocolate component that was just the right amount for dessert. The candied kumquat provided a interesting tang to cut off from the richness of chocolate. Nice, but it seems like now I like flavors that are just a tad less bold now! Chocolate lovers will love this though- it is chocolaty without being rich like at Flemings. On the regular menu though, a pistachio olive oil ice cream was paired with this tart, which would have been interesting if I had tried them both together.

TOASTED COCONUT RUM CAKE

Saved for last but not really that excellent as the others in my opinion was the coconut rum cake. Served on the side were some slices of candied kumquat which of course were fun to eat (we have a kumquat tree at home), sweet with the flavors of kumquat. On top of the cake were delightful, crispy pieces of coconut meat and a small piping of fresh whipped cream.

TOASTED COCONUT RUM CAKE Interior

The cake outside was lightly crispy and inside it was moist, with some coconut cake and some orange involved as well (just a hint). Although this was good, it needed just a bit more sauce to make it better. Since I had no more hot water, I was thirsty after eating this as I already wanted water!

However, in the regular menu this is paired up with the creamsicle terrine. Thus, if I had eaten both together, they would have balanced each other quite well.

STRAWBERRY AND MINT INFUSED CRÈME BRULEE MILLE FEUILLE no Flash
(no Flash)

STRAWBERRY AND MINT INFUSED CRÈME BRULEE MILLE FEUILLE with Flash

Strawberry and Mint Infused Creme Brulee Mille Feuille
Anyway, moving on, my dining companion's tasting menu ended with an interesting dessert. There were two scoops of delicious strawberry sorbet which tasted exactly like a fresh strawberry puree, and strawberry slices. But in the center was a puff pastry base with a firm vanilla ice cream base which was torched on top. This was ultra creamy yet again, but also very firm and a bit hard to scoop with the spoon. It was interesting to see that the ice cream was that firm, but it was also shaped to an unusual shape for ice cream. But still, a very nice dessert, especially with all the strawberry involved. The mint wasn't very apparent but it was there!

And now, you would probably say, that is enough for three people right? But there was an extra. Something that was "compliments of the chef." If you looked carefully at the first dessert photo, well then you have ruined my plan!

Raspberry and Lime Dessert

Chef's Complimentary Dessert (assumption):
Raspberry Linzer Tart (9 USD)
Key Lime Graham Cracker Ice Cream

or if you would like my earlier description before I found the menu:
Raspberry-Lime Puff Pastry Tart
Lime Pie Ice Cream, Raspberry sauce, whipped cream

It was already enough dessert for us, but the waiter came by with another dish for us as we started to enjoy dessert. I was EXCEEDINGLY surprised that we even got this dessert. Other customers definitely ordered way more in terms of $$$ than we did, like the table with the elderly folk next to us who ordered wine and big entrees like steak, but they did not get anything big for free (or at least what I saw). The kid sitting behind me got a free drink. The reason? I really do not know. And I guess I do not need to divulge into that? This was a definite added bonus in any way. Bonus points to the restaurant, although I would have given it a solid A anyway! Again, it is just another great example of how excellent the staff and the chefs are at providing great food and service!

This dessert was simple, but just as delicious as the other desserts. This base of what I assume is puff pastry appeared in all of our items tonight! Again, many different layers that were sweet and crisped with each bite, but slightly tense when together. Building up, there was a layer of sweet raspberry sauce, a layer of piped fresh and light whipped cream which was too hard to resist, and a topping of fresh raspberries and lime zest. Combined together, it was a perfect harmony of fruit, cream, and pastry that was just the right amount of sweetness for me. So many different textures, but it all went well. To the side, the key lime graham cracker ice cream tasted like a creamy key lime pie but without the ultra big tang that you get in some key lime pies, but the thin slices of key lime brought that tang back!

After we were all done with the desserts we asked for our check, which obviously would take some time due to the gift certificate stuff and the amount of customers. Unfortunately, this lead to the only mishap of the night, the fire alarm buzzing off. Crazy? No. The lights went flashing, the intercom said some words, but service went on. The employees were so calm in this situation. It seemed like nothing was in their way to serve the customers. And the customers did not care about the fire at all! The annoying light flashed, the intercom kept speaking, and my ears started to hurt for the worse. It was not Aureole's fault or anyone's fault. Thankfully, it stopped about eight minutes later. And by that time, our check was done! Perfect.

Checking out was definitely easy because with any MGMMirage property, you can bill it to your room, whether if you are not staying in the hotel you ate your meal at or not (as long as it is part of MGM Mirage). So our job was easy- a check mark next to the Bellagio and our room number. A comment form was also left aside to fill out, which I did not bother to write. But if they are vigilant, I'm sure they will see this review! And of course, I could just give them the link like I did with Palazzo last year...

Aureole- Our best meal so far ever reviewed on the blog. Sorry, Pelican Grill (ahem...300 dollars) and Charlie Palmer Bloomingdales (about the same as this place). Aureole has its achievements and awards, and it stands proudly with every plate of food served to every customer. Charlie Palmer has quite nice restaurants, but it is evident that his flagship duo, one in Las Vegas and one in New York, are the shining stars. Almost too fabulous of a deal with the 50 dollar gift certificate for such a caliber of restaurant! Now, if 100 dollars was the gift certificate amount, that would be amazing. 20 dollars per person for this outstanding meal, tax and tip included! And although there were actually two mishaps (the free petit fours were switched to the dessert, and the fire alarm), we are still coming back to have yet another great meal! First Michelin Star experience= a great one. Now, what makes a restaurant with a rating of 3 Michelin Stars even special compared to this 1 Michelin star rated restaurant? (Scales go from 1 to 3, and even a rating of 1 is hard to get!) And after this meal, I was very happy and not the sleepy, unhappy person I was when I arrived in Las Vegas.


Aria at Night\

Oh and afterwards, we drove by the I-15 to get a nice nighttime view of the strip, and it was back to the Bellagio, as it was late! A dinner that took three hours. I am totally fine with that!

Aureole
Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Tel: (702) 632-7401

Aureole (Mandalay Bay) on Urbanspoon

This trip series posts are listed in order below:
Driving Scenes: CA-Las Vegas, Spring 2010
VIP Lounge at Bellagio Las Vegas and Check In
Bellagio Review 2010: Penthouse Suite on the 35th Floor
Bellagio Review 2010: Tower Deluxe Queen Room on the 35th Floor (Room Connector)
Walkaround: Bellagio, CityCenter (Aria, Jean Philippe Patisserie)- Las Vegas
Noodles (Bellagio)- Las Vegas
Fountains of Bellagio- Las Vegas
Pho Vietnam & Capital Seafood- Las Vegas
Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Spring)/ Check In Area- Las Vegas
Aureole- Las Vegas (Mandalay Bay)
The Buffet (Bellagio)- Las Vegas
Las Vegas Spring 2010 Trip Day 3: Caesars Palace Forum Shops and Driving Scenes: Las Vegas to LA