Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Fat Cow (Los Angeles, CA)

The Fat Cow Restaurant
189 The Grove Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Sun 09/30/2012, 07:30p-11:00p

The Fat Cow Exterior Hot on the heels of my surprisingly good visit to the new Gordon Ramsay Steak is the unfortunately-named Fat Cow, Gordo's newest venture set in The Grove. The restaurant is one of the most widely anticipated debuts of the year, and is yet another gastropub-y concept to hit LA. Word is that, early on, GR Steak's Chef Kevin Hee was supposed to have a significant role in opening the place, but ended up being forced out by investors, which also resulted in the departure of Hell's Kitchen Sous Chef (and GR Holdings Corporate Executive US Chef) Andi Van Willigan (remember, they were both part of the Mina group for several years). With all the chef shuffles, the kitchen is now helmed by one Mathew Woolf, late of West Restaurant & Lounge.

About the Chef: Woolf was born and raised in the UK, and the Chef was exposed at a young age to the benefits of good eating, as his grandparents ran a produce shop that supplied some of the best kitchens in London. He began his professional culinary career at age 16, when he took on a dishwasher role at The Ship Inn in Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex; just eight months later, he was promoted to head chef. During this period, he also attended culinary school at the Hospitality Plus College of Catering in Chelmsford, graduating in 2000. From there, Woolf became demi-chef de partie at the famed Claridge's Hotel in London, working under Chef John Williams.

In October 2004, he followed Williams to The Ritz Hotel, where he served as Sous Chef, staying there until the end of 2007. The next year, Woolf moved to the United States to cook at Sixteen Restaurant at Trump international Hotel and Tower in Chicago, a gig that lasted until August 2009. In 2010, he relocated to the West Coast, landing a Chef de Cuisine role at Ray Garcia's FIG Restaurant at the Fairmont. The following August, Woolf secured his first Executive Chef position, taking the reins at West Restaurant and Lounge at the Hotel Angeleno, a role that he would keep for a year before finally decamping to helm The Fat Cow.

The Fat Cow Interior
The Fat Cow takes over the spot formerly held by the mediocre Farm of Beverly Hills. The space has be redone by AK Design Network, and is described by marketing materials as an American "roadhouse" eatery. As is par for the course these days, the aesthetic aims for warmth and rusticity, but with an industrial-country-chic type panache. Naturally, communal dining tables are utilized to full effect here, as are reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, and other various vintage, eclectic touches.

The Fat Cow Menu
The Fat Cow's menu, like many others these days, takes a "classic-yet-modern" approach to cooking, featuring traditional comfort food stylings, but hopefully taken up a notch. There's even a children's menu (usually not a good sign), while the Moo Bar up front handles the old-timey desserts (and will eventually offer to-go items as well). Click for a larger version.

The Fat Cow Beer List The Fat Cow Cocktail List The Fat Cow Wine List The Fat Cow Wine List
To drink, there's a full bar available, in addition to a small selection of beers and Cali-centric wines. Click for larger versions.

Elderflower Spritz Fat Cow 'Manhattan' Chupacabra
Elderflower Spritz [$11.00] | cocchi americano, elderflower, soda, served over ice in a wine glass with an orange slice and lemon wedge
Fat Cow "Manhattan" [$12.00] | bulleit rye, byrrh grand quinquina, stirred and served up with cherries and an orange peel
Chupacabra [$10.00] | dos manos blanco, lime, jalapeno, ginger beer, shaken and served tall with a chile-salt rim
As usual these days, a trio of cocktails marked the start of our meal. I went with the Elderflower Spritz, which I found to be a great summer quaffer: fruity and floral in essence, with a lively carbonation. On the other end of the spectrum was the Fat Cow's version of a Manhattan, which was also quite delicious, with a classic, yet contemporary character and a good balance of spicy fruit over the base of rye. Last up was the Chupacabra--no slouch either. This one played the aggressiveness of the agave nicely against the contrasting tartness of citrus and ginger, all while the chile-salt rim added a well-placed piquancy to things.

Charcuterie & Cheese
Charcuterie & Cheese [$11.00] | cured meats, farm house cheese
A cheese and charcuterie plate brought together tasty cuts of coppa, prosciutto, and salami on the meat side, along with two cheeses: a Lamb Chopper blue from California and one that unfortunately I didn't catch the name of (though it was quite tasty--creamy, nutty, and subtle).

Chilled Tomato & Red Pepper Gazpacho
Chilled Tomato & Red Pepper Gazpacho [$9.00] | cucumber, olive tapenade
The gazpacho was a refreshing jolt to the palate: summer-y and bright, with a lovely mix of tangy and spicy flavors. I also appreciated the weight of the olive here, while the cucumber imparted a great crunch and lightness to the dish.

Branzino Ceviche
Branzino Ceviche [$14.00] | avocado, horseradish, ginger dressing
A ceviche came out more like a crudo. The use of avocado here added a significant weight and lusciousness to the fish, and, combined with the dressing, made the branzino sit heavy on the palate. I really would've liked more brightness, more acidity to the dish to balance things out.

Mini Beef Sliders
Mini Beef Sliders [$12.00] | short rib & kobe, cheddar
The sliders were arguably the smallest I've seen, though rather tasty (I would have no problem popping a few of these during a meal). They were classic in presentation, with traditional ingredients and a nicely charred, beefy patty and a delightfully tangy crunch from the pickle.

Mac & Cheese
Mac & Cheese [$8.00] | elbow pasta, cheddar cream, truffle
A side of macaroni and cheese was excellent. The pasta showed off just the right texture--supple, yet with a good bite--and I loved the crunchy bits on top. The integration of the cheese with the subtle hints of truffle was spot on as well, and I really enjoyed the light, bright counterpoint provided by the peas.

Brown Cow Perfect 10
Brown Cow [$12.00] | vizcaya dark rum, lime, mint, angostura bitters, sparkling wine, shaken and served up with a mint sprig
Perfect 10 [$11.00] | ketel one, hangar one buddha's hand, passion fruit ice tea, mint, lemon juice, built and served long
Our second round of cocktails brought us the Brown Cow, which, according to one of my dining companions, had an almost suanmei-esque kick to it, with a distinct tart fruitiness playing off of the rum. The Perfect 10, meanwhile, was too sweet for my liking, with its sugary, candied character that actually recalled the taste of Skittles.

Gordon's Shepherds Pie
Gordon's Shepherds Pie [$20.00] | braised lamb, yukon potato mash
Here was a very traditional shepherd's pie, basically a type of meat pie filled with lamb and topped with a mashed potato crust. We're talking "meat & potatoes" here, and the dish was all that you'd expect: hearty, filling, and comforting, with the tender, richly-flavored meat melding well with the comparatively mild potato.

Fish & Chips
Fish & Chips [$18.00] | cod, beer batter, tartar sauce
Next was a quintessential preparation of fish and chips. Made with the traditional choice of cod, the fish was on point, nicely moist, flaky, and delicately saline on the inside, with a lovely, golden crust to boot. The paired tartar sauce worked beautifully here, though I would've liked a bit more crispness on the fries.

Coppa Picante, Figs
Coppa Picante, Figs [$16.00] | fontina cheese, roasted garlic, roasted figs
The restaurant features a number of pizzas on the menu, so naturally we had to give one a go. Our server recommended this particular pie, and though it was a touch on the saccharine side for me, I still enjoyed it. The sweetness came from both the caramelized onions and the figs, with those two elements serving as a fitting contrast to the savory meat. The crust was also quite nice, with a pleasing crunch and great hint of char bitterness.

Warwick 'First Lady' Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, South Africa
For our heavier beef courses to follow, we ordered up a bottle of the Warwick "First Lady" Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, South Africa [$43]. It was a solid Cab, with pretty much everything in place, though it did come off as particularly spicy.

Flat Iron Steak, Haystack Fries
Flat Iron Steak, Haystack Fries [$22.00] | grass fed beef, bleu cheese butter
A flat iron was served sous vide, making for a surprisingly tender, delicately-flavored steak. The compound butter was aptly incorporated here, adding a well-placed touch of saltiness to the dish. I also appreciated the huge mound of matchstick fries, too.

Pepper Crusted Wood Roasted Long Rib
Pepper Crusted Wood Roasted Long Rib [$50.00] | waldorf salad, minted fingerling potatoes
The long rib was appropriately massive, and a bit intimidating. Fortunately though, the meat was falling-off-the-bone tender, heavy, and unapologetically rich, with the crust contributing a countervailing astringency to the beef, as well as a hint of what tasted like lemongrass. The minted fingerlings were fitting accoutrements to the rib, but I wasn't as crazy about the Waldorf, which seemed too weighty and substantial--I wanted something brighter, more acidic to cut the fat of the meat.

Cookie Milk Ice Cream Sundae
Cookie Milk Ice Cream Sundae [$9.00]
Our first dessert came as a recommendation from our server, and it was as delicious as you'd expect, with a deft interplay between sweet and nutty flavors and a lovely mélange of disparate textures.

Treacle Tart
Treacle Tart [$8.00]
Next was The Fat Cow's version of a classic English dessert. I rather liked it, finding the sweet, fruity, jammy treacle (a sugar syrup) a good match against the dense pastry.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding [$10.00]
We closed with a sticky toffee pudding. Though not quite up to the lofty level of the one at Gordon Ramsay Steak, it was still nonetheless quite delectable, with the dense, decadent cake conveying deep, dark, sugary notes that we all enjoyed. I'd love to see this paired with some ice cream (brown butter perhaps?).

According to press materials, Ramsay's idea here was to have an uncomplicated, "neighborhood restaurant" type of place. In that regard, The Fat Cow appears to be mostly successful, serving up comfortable, cozy dishes that, for the most part, satisfy (though there are a few tweaks that I'd like to witness). I think it's a fitting concept for The Grove that'll do well. However, at the same time, I really would like to see the kitchen stretch a bit more, play it a bit less conservative with some of the dishes, and perhaps show us some of the haute, three-star flair that made Gordo famous in the first place.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Raku (Las Vegas, NV)

Aburiya Raku Restaurant
5030 Spring Mountain Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89146
Sat 09/22/2012, 11:30p-01:25a

Raku Exterior To wrap up this latest Las Vegas outing, we headed on over to the City's premier late-night dining destination: Raku. Situated in a sad-looking (though not quite as sad as Lotus of Siam's) strip mall in Chinatown, Raku calls itself an aburiya, which is sort of like a slightly fancier version of an izakaya. You might liken it to a Japanese gastropub (god I'm starting to hate that term), serving up binchotan charcoal-fired, robatayaki-esque grub with plenty of booze. The place is the brainchild of Mitsuo Endo, and since opening in 2008, has become the quintessential anti-Vegas restaurant, a favorite haunt of local chefs. I've been wanting to try Raku for a while, so we made sure to make the extra effort to visit this time around.

About the Chef: Chef Mitsuo Endo was born in 1971 in the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo. He began his culinary career in 1988 as an apprentice, and immersed himself in the highest form of Japanese cuisine: kaiseki. After working at a number of restaurants throughout the City, he decided to relocate Stateside in 2001, settling in Seattle initially. He moved to New York the following year, and began working with chef-slash-restaurateur Koji Imai (who owns over 30 properties), later helping his mentor open Megu Tribeca and offshoot Megu Midtown, even becoming head chef in the latter half of 2005.

Then things got ugly. In September 2006, a former waitress named Satomi Southward (née Onikura) filed a $20 million lawsuit against Megu and its parent company, Food Scope. Hailing from Fukuoka-shi, Japan, she was an acquaintance of Endo's back in Seattle, and the Chef brought the divorcée over in 2004 when he was starting out at the restaurant. The suit specifically accused Endo of groping her, harassing her, and molesting her with kitchen utensils (that spatula has been where?), starting in the spring of 2005 (to make things worse, he was married at the time). Even more disturbingly, it also details an alleged date rape drug-induced sexual assault by one of Endo's line cooks, Lawrence Herman (who's been the subject of sexual abuse charges before), after a holiday party at the Tribeca Grand Hotel. Unsurprisingly, Southward left the restaurant biz, and has since taken up nursing. See here for all the salacious details.

Though I don't believe Endo was ever found guilty, he left his post at Megu after the debacle, taking refuge in the desert. In 2007, he moved to Las Vegas and helped open En Sushi & Robata Grill as head chef, and the following year, debuted his seminal Aburiya Raku, achieving cult status almost overnight. Though he worked at both places simultaneously for a time, his efforts today are solely focused on his solo project. This dedication appears to have paid off. Raku was nominated by James Beard for "Best New Restaurant" in 2009, and Endo himself was up for "Best Chef: Southwest" in both 2011 and 2012.

Raku Interior
Raku started life as a tiny place with only a five-place counter and seating for perhaps 30, but has since expanded to accommodate 48 guests, and even features small private dining rooms now. The decor, awash in dark wood, is clean and calming, a fitting setting in which to enjoy the precise cooking going on.

Raku Menu Raku Menu Raku Specials
As far as Raku's menu goes, diners are treated to a wide array of appetizers, grilled items, oden, rice/noodles, and desserts. There's even an multi-course, by-special-request-only kaiseki option available at $100 and $150 price points, and be sure to pay special attention to the specials board. To drink, think beers and a nice list of sakes. Click for larger versions.

Dai Shichi Minowamon 'The Gate'
To drink, we opted for sake, specifically a bottle of the Dai Shichi Minowamon "The Gate" [$150], a junmai daiginjyo from the Daishichi Sake Brewery in Fukushima prefecture. This was a refined, complex sake, fairly dry, but with a balance of sweetness, alcohol, and acidity. Quite nice, especially with the delicate sashimi courses.

Momotaro Tomato Momotaro Tomato
Momotaro Tomato [$4.00]
We commenced with a gorgeous momotaro tomato, a varietal that I'd first discovered at the clandestine Totoraku. Just as I expected, the fruit was eminently juicy, and showed off a great blend of sweet and tangy that made for a great palate cleanser after a course of strongly-flavored meat or fish.

Blue Fin Tuna Sashimi
Blue Fin Tuna Sashimi [$31.00]
Two types of tuna sashimi were presented. The first was toro, the lighter belly cut, which was just what I wanted: fatty, oily, and melt-in-your-mouth supple, with a rich flavor that was keenly brightened up by a dab of house-made soy sauce. The leaner, darker akami was also tasty, with a less luxurious consistency and more focused brine.

Kanpachi (Amberjack) Sashimi
Kanpachi (Amberjack) Sashimi [$23.00]
Kanpachi was presented beautifully, and was a joy to eat: clean and delicate-tasting, with a satisfyingly snappy bite. Fantastic with a touch of soy and wasabi.

Shima Aji (Stripped Jack) Sashimi
Shima Aji (Stripped Jack) Sashimi [$25.00]
The shima aji, on the other hand, had a much firmer, slightly chewy consistency to it, while the fish's flavor was much more saline and full-bodied, with a subtle metallic tinge.

Grilled Sanma (Pike Mackerel)
Grilled Sanma (Pike Mackerel) [$20.00]
Grilled mackerel pike arrived in two variations: one with salt, the other with soy. I tried the former, and it was fantastic. The fish was tender, smoky, and loaded with ocean-y goodness, with lovely pricks of saltiness to boot. As good as it was, the fried bone senbei might have been even better, with its mouth-watering savoriness and pleasing crunch--I'd love a whole bag of the stuff.

Chicken Teba Wing
Chicken Teba Wing [$3.00]
Moving on to some yakitori now, we had here Raku's tebasaki. It was excellent, one of the tastiest presentations of chicken that I've had recently in fact. I found it immensely satisfying and just teeming with goodness, and loved its smoky, savory, succulent, salty character. A must try.

Hagatsuo (Bonito) Tataki
Hagatsuo (Bonito) Tataki [$25.00]
A lightly seared plate of katsuo was delightful. Texturally, it was tender, yet satisfyingly meaty, with a rich taste that was perfectly counterbalanced by the piquant threads of ginger here.

Poached Egg with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe
Poached Egg with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe [$9.00]
Our next course married sea urchin, yamaimo, salmon roe, and nameko mushroom, all topped with a few slices of okra. Taste-wise, I quite liked how the sweet, saline richness of the uni worked with the salty ikura, all while the mountain yam served to ground the dish. However, we also had here the trinity of nameko, okra, and yamaimo, three of the most mucilaginous items around, and the resultant, gooey consistency was rather disconcerting.

Chicken Thigh
Chicken Thigh [$2.75]
Momo, or chicken thigh, was served here solo, though it's often found paired with negi in momo negima. I rather liked it, finding the bird tender, juicy, and easy-eating--a great starter stick.

Agedashi Tofu
Agedashi Tofu [$10.00]
Chef Endo makes his own tofu daily, and Raku's agedashi variety is a thing of legends. Tonight it managed to live up to the hype. In fact, I'm going out on a limb and deeming this the best tofu I've had, ever. The age tofu showed off an utterly perfect crispness, hiding an interior that was creamy, pillow-y, almost fluffy in body. On the palate, the tofu was mildly savory, melding flawlessly with the salty spheres of ikura, tangy scallion, and umami-rich sprinkles of nori, all while the broth of tentsuyu added a delightful touch of piquancy to things. If you only order one thing at Raku, make this it.

Kobe Beef Filet with Wasabi
Kobe Beef Filet with Wasabi [$10.50]
Kushiyaki skewers of wagyu beef were a pricey indulgence, but delicious and oh-so tender. I adored their amalgam of savory and sweet flavors, accented by a marked hint of smoke, while the line of wasabi on top served as a consummate exclamation point.

Ibérico Pork
Ibérico Pork [$10.00]
Ibérico pork was available off-menu. Ask for it if you ever find yourself here, as the meat was super decadent, nearly oozing fat and oil, with a rich, pork-y relish and delicate sweetness that was dutifully tempered by a bit of astringent char.

Cold Green Tea Soba with Poached Egg
Cold Green Tea Soba with Poached Egg [$8.50]
A cha soba made with green tea powder was of the bukkake variety, served cold in a piquant tsuyu broth. The noodles were quite nice, with a very focused, somewhat bitter green tea flavor that was duly enhanced by the poached egg, all while the nori and bonito on top contributed to an enveloping umami-soaked savor to the dish. Though we enjoyed the noodles with its intended sauce, interestingly enough we also experimented with dipping it in the leftover agedashi broth, and loved the results.

To close, a hot cup of hojicha, à la Urasawa.

Raku did not disappoint, serving up a near flawless meal that managed to delight and satisfy, even though every one of us was already full from our previous meal at Gordon Ramsay Steak mere hours prior. It might just be the best Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas, and really challenges Lotus of Siam as the City's top off-strip darling. I'd love to return, next time with an empty stomach, and give the kaiseki menu a go. In the meantime, Chef Endo is reportedly planning to open a Japanese bakery in the vicinity, so be on the look-out for that.

Gordon Ramsay Steak (Las Vegas, NV)

Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris
3655 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Sat 09/22/2012, 05:25p-09:35p

Gordon Ramsay Steak Exterior This past May, Gordon Ramsay opened up his first Sin City restaurant, and big surprise, it's a steakhouse, because that's just what they need more of in Vegas. The $5 million spot, housed at the oft-ignored Paris, bowed right before the start of Hell's Kitchen Season 10, and marketing materials proudly proclaimed the restaurant as a showcase for the angry Chef's "fury for flavor" (seriously, that's the tagline). Naturally, the timing of the debut wasn't coincidental, as the winner of the TV show was billed as receiving a $250,000/year "head chef" position at the steakhouse. When the dust settled, Philadelphian Christina Wilson reigned supreme, handily defeating Justin Antiorio in the finale. She started work at the restaurant on September 12th, but of course we all know that "head chef" really translates to a glorified sous, so it's Executive Chef Kevin Hee who actually runs the show.

About the Chef: Chef Hee hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, and is a graduate of Kaiser High School (class of 1996). He enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa as a business major, but soon realized that his true calling was in the restaurant industry. As such, he began working for noted Hawaiian chef/restaurateur Sam Choy while in college, and following his tenure at UH, found his way across a number of restaurants on Oahu. Hee eventually hooked up with Michael Mina, working at his various properties before relocating to Las Vegas to become Executive Sous Chef at Mandalay Bay's Stripsteak in August of 2007. The following March, he transitioned to a similar role at Nobhill Tavern at the MGM Grand, and even worked a stint at Mina's eponymous restaurant at the Bellagio. In 2010, Hee moved to Motor City to take the reins at Mina's Bourbon Steak and SaltWater, both at the MGM Grand Detroit, a position he would hold until decamping last year.

The front-of-the-house, meanwhile, is the task of General Manager Jean-Philippe "JP" Teresi, who previously headed up operations at The Range Steakhouse at Harrah's. Before that, he worked at Sugar Factory at Paris, Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace, as well as Charlie Palmer Steak and Cafe Boulud, both in New York. Note that he is a different Jean-Philippe than the maître d' on Hell's Kitchen; that would be Jean-Philippe Susilovic.

Gordon Ramsay Steak Interior
GR Steak takes over the site of the former Les Artistes Steak House, a somewhat middling joint that shuttered on January 2nd. Following a complete renovation by San Rafael firm EDG: Interior Architecture and Design, the restaurant now features a whopping 274 seats, and is spread out across a main dining room, private dining room, chef's table, and separate bar/lounge. The kitchen, natch, is on proud display via an open layout, and there's even a mezzanine dining area up top. Of particular note is the ginormous Union Jack emblazoned on the ceiling, which was incorrectly painted initially.

Gordon Ramsay Steak Menu Gordon Ramsay Steak Menu Gordon Ramsay Steak Limited Edition Tasting Menu
The Gordon Ramsay Steak menu offers up prototypical steakhouse fare, with perhaps a bit of British flair thrown in for good measure. Of note is the beef aging program, featuring dry-aged cuts ostensibly selected by the legendary Pat LaFrieda and rested for a minimum of 28 days in his "Himalayan salt room." A five-course Limited Edition Tasting Menu is also available at $135pp, and includes a signed photo of Chef Ramsay. Click for larger versions.

Gordon Ramsay Steak Meat Presentation SmartCellar
Gordon Ramsay performs the pre-dinner, tableside presentation of meat made popular by CUT, but takes things up a notch with the inclusion of a mirrored pedestal for the steaks. The beverage selection, meanwhile, is housed on an iPad running Incentient's SmartCellar software.

The Drifter English Garden Pimm's Cup Side Car
The Drifter [$14.00] | Paris LV Proprietary Knob Creek Barrel #77, Ginger Liqueur, Falernum, Lemon, Bitters
English Garden [$14.00] | Hendricks Gin, Lemon, Basil, Cucumber, Basil Infused Rock Candy, Celery Bitters
Pimm's Cup [$14.00] | Pimm's No 1, Sparkling Lemonade
Side Car [$14.00] | Hennessey VSOP, Orange Curacao, Apricot Jam, Bitter, Lemon Juice
We started things off with a few cocktails to share 'round the table. The Drifter was our favorite of the bunch, really showing off the character of the custom Knob Creek but layering on top of it a good balance of citric and sugary notes. Meanwhile, the English Garden was completely different, with a very vegetal, herbaceous tartness that worked well enough over its base of gin, though I would've liked a bit less celery. The easiest-drinking libation here was the Pimm's Cup, a fairly traditional presentation of the liqueur, with a light, fruity, spicy flair that made it a perfect summer-y cocktail. On the other hand, The Sidecar was much stiffer, but nevertheless enjoyable, with a tasty amalgam of sweet, smoky, and bitter flavors, and brightened up by the citrus-y overtones from the lemon.

Gordon Ramsay Steak Bread Selection
A plate of bread was subsequently placed on our table. Lemon-thyme-olive oil focaccia, roasted pancetta, mushroom-truffle, and Stilton-walnut varieties were offered, all served with an English Devonshire sea salt butter.

2011 I.V.I.S.p.A.-Canelli Moscato d'Asti Risata
With our cocktails dispensed with, we wanted to go with a fun, gluggable wine, and thus ordered up a bottle of Moscato d'Asti, specifically the 2011 I.V.I.S.p.A.-Canelli Moscato d'Asti Risata [$47]. That perhaps wasn't the best choice, as it was very sweet, too much so in fact, and we would've been much better off with something dryer. Nothing wrong with the wine per se; it was just the wrong decision here.

Market Green Salad
Market Green Salad [$16.00] | butter lettuce, crisp pancetta, market greens, shropshire blue cheese, tomato raisins, green goddess dressing
The name "Market Green Salad" on the menu didn't exactly inspire confidence, but the dish turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed the crispness and lightness of the greens here, and loved the salty, crunchy exclamation point provided by the pancetta. At the same time, the use of blue cheese imparted a certain weight and piquancy to the salad, while the creamy, tangy green goddess performed wonderfully in tying everything together.

Short Rib Tortellini
Short Rib Tortellini [$20.00] | bay scallops, foie gras emulsion, Sausalito watercress
Tortellini were as delicious as you'd expect, with the deep, dark flavors of the tender short rib dutifully augmented by the notes of foie gras in the course, while the watercress provided just a touch of countervailing pepperiness. Scallops seemed like a somewhat odd addition, though I did like them as another point of interest in the dish. Quite nice--I could've eaten a big bowl of the stuff.

Maine Lobster
Maine Lobster [$28.00] | chorizo stuffed maine lobster, butter poached, brandied lobster cream sauce, sweet corn
A tail of lobster was a touch over, but still showed off a pleasing savor, with a lovely saline sweetness that was deftly enhanced by the corn. I also appreciated the accompanying cream sauce, which did a great job in integrating all the various elements on the plate together.

Smoked Beef Tartare yukon gold herb chips
Smoked Beef Tartare [$22.00] | lemon zest, red onion, capers, guinness infused mustard seeds, yukon gold herb chips
The classic steak tartar was revamped slightly here with impressive results. Texturally, the meat was spot on and satisfying, certainly beefy in essence, but also adroitly tempered by the tanginess of the accompanying mustard, capers, and onion. The whole dish was eminently balanced, an expertly crafted take of a steakhouse mainstay.

Heirloom Tomato
Heirloom Tomato [$19.00] | jamón ibérico de bellota, piccalilli purée, ticklemore cheese, champagne vinaigrette, basil crystals
The ubiquitous heirloom tomato salad was taken up a level by the incorporation of jamón ibérico, which lent an enveloping veil of salty, rich, fatty goodness that keenly imparted a sense of depth and weightiness to things. I also enjoyed the tomatoes themselves--sweet, succulent, and juicy--and their range of textures and forms, while the Ticklemore and piccalilli imparted further complexity to this surprisingly multifaceted dish.

Asparagus Soup
Asparagus Soup [$18.00] | dungeness crab, parmesan custard, pickled white asparagus, smoked salmon caviar
Rounding out our appetizers was a delightful asparagus soup, one that really did a commendable job expressing the pure, verdant character of the vegetable. At the same time, the Parmesan added depth and body to the dish, and the combination of salty ikura and sweet crab made perfect sense.

2010 Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino High Mountain Vines
To pair with the steak, we went with a bottle of 2010 Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino High Mountain Vines [$68] from Argentina's Mendoza region. It was quite nice: juicy and concentrated, with a good base of dark fruit and oak, and stood up well against the beef.

Bone-in Rib Eye 24oz
Bone-in Rib Eye 24oz [$58.00]
Moving on to the main courses now, we did a sort of "steak tasting," ordering up multiple cuts of the meat, and having the kitchen pre-slice 'em for us to share, similar to what I've done before at CUT. The first round featured prime steaks, advertised as dry-aged by famed butcher Pat LaFrieda back in his facilities in New York. First up was the ribeye, which was pretty amazing, the most decadent of the cuts certainly, with gobs of bovine flavor as well as fat. It was a quintessential expression of all that's wonderful about rib eye, beautifully moderated by a touch of bitterness from the crisp charring present.

Bone-in New York Strip 18oz
Bone-in New York Strip 18oz [$63.00]
One of the benefits of doing a "tasting" is that you get to really compare steaks back-to-back, and that's exactly what we did. The strip steak conveyed a more balanced, more nuanced beefiness; it was far less in-your-face than the ribeye, and also showed off a lovely amount of char. Texturally, it was the firmest cut that we had, with a satisfying "crunch" to it.

Filet 8oz
Filet 8oz [$53.00]
Last up was the filet mignon, and, not surprisingly, it was undoubtedly the most tender of the trio. The steak was super easy-to-eat, with the least amount of intramuscular fat and, of course, the mildest flavor. It was still quite delicious though, and would make a good choice for steak newbies.

Spinach / Fire Roasted Corn
Spinach [$12.00] | sautéed
Fire Roasted Corn [$12.00] | corn, chile, lime
The steakhouse experience just wouldn't seem complete without a bevy of sides, and GRS certainly serves up an enviable selection. Sautéed spinach was just that, but a perfect example of the dish, with the desired astringency of the greens on proud display. The corn was also a winner, with the sweetness of the kernels vibrantly conveyed, yet deftly tempered by the tangy lime and lingering heat in the dish. It sort of reminded me of the "Chipotle Corn, Lime Butter, Queso Oaxaca" that I had at Playground down in Santa Ana.

Sautéed Asparagus
Sautéed Asparagus [$13.00] | chanterelle, white asparagus puree, veal demi-glace
Asparagus was also quite nice: crisp and expectedly bitter, with the brightness of the spears keenly balanced by the earthy relish of chanterelle.

Fingerling Potatoes / Sautéed Mushrooms / Mac & Cheese Mac & Cheese / Sautéed Mushrooms / Fingerling Potatoes
Fingerling Potatoes [$12.00] | parmesan, truffle
Sautéed Mushrooms [$13.00] | garlic chips, scallions, bonito
Mac & Cheese [$13.00] | blue, cheddar, parmesan, truffle
Being quite the potato fiend, I rather enjoyed the fingerlings here, which were really a prototypical example of the roasted root vegetable, with a delightfully salty, savory smack that left me satisfied. A selection of sautéed shrooms was also nice, with the umami-rich taste of the katsuobushi sharply emphasizing the natural earthiness of the mushrooms. The real standout of the sides, however, was the mac 'n' cheese, which might've been the best I've ever had: perfectly textured, with a flawless harmony between the cheesiness of the dish and the heady, overarching notes of truffle--we were seriously considering ordering another round of it!

2003 Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain
At this point, we wanted something with a bit more age and thus purchased a second bottle of red: the 2003 Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain [$170] from our very own Napa Valley. The wine was a pleasant surprise, a great expression of Cab actually: very well put together, and with everything that you'd expect.

Rib Cap 8oz
Rib Cap 8oz [$58.00]
Now we tried two of the American wagyu cuts, both ostensibly with beef marbling scores of at least 9 out of 12 on the Japanese scale. First was the oft-recommended rib eye cap, which is basically a heavily marbled piece that sits on the perimeter of the steak. It was probably my favorite cut of the evening, with a uniquely silken, tender consistency and a very well-integrated amount of fat. Overall, a more refined eating experience vis-à-vis the standard ribeye. This one should be at the top of your list as far as steaks go.

Filet 8oz
Filet 8oz [$78.00]
Finally, we enjoyed our tenderloin, which, though very tasty, wasn't a night-and-day difference over the standard varietal. If you're a filet fan, there's probably not a huge advantage to going with the wagyu, as I think you'll be satisfied either way. As expected, the flavor wasn't nearly as intense as that of the preceding rib eye, but the meat was still quite delicious, and even better when taking into account the char of the steak.

Fish and Chips
Fish and Chips [$44.00] | loup de mer, truffle chips, crème fraiche tartar sauce
Ramsay's rendition of fish & chips was no doubt one of the strongest that I've tasted. In place of the typical haddock or cod, we had instead European seabass, which I found tender and juicy, yet crisp on the outside, with a pronounced salinity that was augmented by the dish's topping of seaweed. Meanwhile, a citric component formed a fitting counterpoint to the fish, and the paired truffle fries were spot on, absolutely fantastic on their own.

Roasted Beef Wellington
Roasted Beef Wellington [$54.00] | glazed root vegetables, potato puree, red wine demi glace
And now we come to the evening's pièce de résistance, really, the one dish that we were looking forward to the most. The "Welly" is oft regarded as Gordon Ramsay's signature dish, and is prominently featured on his show Hell's Kitchen. I'd actually had it before at Ramsay's West Hollywood restaurant, but was sorely disappointed. Tonight, thus, was a chance for redemption, and indeed, the iteration here was miles beyond what we'd experienced before. Compared to the horribly overdone version in LA, this preparation was cooked nicely rare, and showed off a satisfying beefiness that was duly enhanced by the dark, rich relish of the duxelles. The flaky crust did an admirable job moderating the hearty flavors at play, and I appreciated the levity imparted by the potato and other root veggies as well. This was basically a textbook Wellington: nothing game-changing, but certainly quite tasty.

Gordon Ramsay Steak Dessert Menu Gordon Ramsay Steak After Dinner Drink Menu
Dessert was, of course, a must, and before we had a chance to decide upon what wanted, the kitchen ended up sending out a complementary tasting of all seven items (this, after Chef Hee discovered that we had a mutual friend in the form of Marianthefoodie, who highly recommended the restaurant). Click for larger versions.

2007 Maculan Torcolato
For dessert, our sommelier recommended the 2007 Maculan Torcolato [$87] from Italy's Veneto region. It's a wine that's been affected by botrytis, and apparently, is further concentrated by twisting the grapes using twine. The Maculan was all that I wanted from a dessert wine, with an almost Sauternes-esque character to it: sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, redolent of stone fruit, with a lovely brightness and counterbalancing acidity.

Melon Panna Cotta
Melon Panna Cotta [$13.00] | citrus cantaloupe panna cotta, parisian melon balls, honey dew consommé, watermelon sorbet
Unsurprisingly, the panna cotta was the lightest of our seven desserts, and featured the many faces of melon. It was a bright, summer-y, refreshing course, one filled with light, fruity notes, but counteracted a bit by the lactic tartness of the panna cotta.

Cheesecake [$13.00] | cheesecake, blueberry compote, graham cracker crumb, strawberry granita, micro basil
This sort of deconstructed cheesecake was definitely a highlight. When all the elements were tasted together, everything just clicked, with the tangy, creamy cake playing wonderfully off of the sugary fruit, all while the graham cracker moderated the interaction. Just beautifully integrated, with everything having its place.

Caramel 'Banoffee'
Caramel "Banoffee" [$13.00] | banana toffee tarts, chocolate creameaux, coffee ice cream, cocoa nib, cotti thyme
Next was a reimagined banoffee pie, a type of English dessert made with bananas and toffee. The interplay between the two components was spot on, while the coffee ice cream served as an off-sweet, somewhat bitter foil that really added a sense of balance to the dish. I'm generally not a fan of coffee desserts, but this was quite pleasing.

Peach Trio
Peach Trio [$13.00] | ruby peach ice cream sandwiches, warm peach pie with streusel and white peach sorbet
Unfortunately, with all the sampling and passing back and forth of the dishes, I forgot to try the peach dessert. My dining companions all seemed to enjoy it well enough, though. Next time!

Chocolate Layers
Chocolate Layers [$13.00] | chocolate cake, passion fruit ganache layers, dark chocolate gianduja ice cream
A torte-like layer cake was nice enough, adroitly playing the contrasting flavors of chocolate and tangy fruit against each other, all over a backdrop formed by the nutty gianduja ice cream.

Bing Cherry Upside Down Cake
Bing Cherry Upside Down Cake [$13.00] | cherry upside down cake, crème fraiche anglaise, cherry compote, pistachio ice cream with praline grains
I also liked the cherry upside-down cake, which I found moist, buttery, and loaded with cherry sweetness. At the same time, the crème anglaise and pistachio ice cream provided a counterpoint to the cake, while the praline grains gave the dessert a wonderful nuttiness on the finish.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding [$14.00] | sweet pudding cake, brown sugar toffee, brown butter ice cream
We closed with the restaurant's "signature" dessert, and it did not let us down. It was a perfect example of the traditional British dish, the best preparation that I've had, in fact. The dark, sugary, fruity flavors that I expected were all flawlessly conveyed in the dense, totally saturated cake, amplified by the drizzling of toffee, with the ice cream serving as an unflappable complement. A must try.

Double Espresso Chocolate Cordials
Coffee and espresso were served with whimsical chocolate cordials containing your "ABCs:" Amaretto, Baileys, and Chambord.

As regular readers will know, I've never been a huge fan of Gordon Ramsay given my subpar experiences at his WeHo restaurant (which he doesn't own anymore). This meal, though, has gone a long way in restoring my faith in the notoriously mercurial chef. It was, in fact, a near-flawless steakhouse experience, and so far, is the only place that's rivaled CUT in my eyes. Chef Hee seems to be doing a bang-up job running the place and should be commended for his efforts, and I'm very interested to see what the kitchen will do when/if they get their hands on some real Japanese wagyu (the ban was lifted in August).

Gordo, however, is not through with Vegas. He's planning to open Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Palace later this year (replacing Bradley Ogden), which will then be followed up with GR Burger at Planet Hollywood. Perhaps more relevant, though, to this largely Los Angeles audience is the Fat Cow, which is slated to grand open in the coming weeks (it's already soft opened) at The Grove shopping center. Yes, it's another gastropub (sigh), but hopefully Ramsay can bring sometime new to the table. Given the strength of this dinner, I do have fairly high hopes for the place, and with Andi Van Willigan, another Michael Mina protégée, at the helm, things should be looking good.

[UPDATE 2012-09-28: Turns out that Van Willigan won't be so involved with The Fat Cow after all. Rather, it's Chef Mathew Woolf (formerly of West Restaurant & Lounge) who'll be taking the reins at Ramsay's newest eatery. The place should grand open on October 1st.]