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Monday, May 27, 2013

Gluten Free and Las Vegas!

Any place where tourism is big, most of the restaurants have to have some type of gluten free meals.  Here are a few places I ate at while in Las Vegas this past week:

Cat Cora – Actually, this wasn’t in Vegas, this was in the airport at San Francisco, where I had my connection to Vegas.  I got a plain burger, with some mushrooms.  The burger was cooked medium, with lots of good char from the grill marks, perfectly cooked, seasoned well, and full of flavor.

Mon Ami Gabi – If you read any blogs at all about being gluten free in Las Vegas, they all talk about Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel.  I will be no different.  First of all, they have gluten free bread, which they bring out separately from the regular bread to ensure no contamination.  They also brought out separate butter, along with olives.  For my entrée, I chose the chicken breast paillard.  It was well seasoned and juicy, which I imagine must be a bit hard to do considering how thin it was.  FYI, they also have a gluten free breakfast, which is quite good.

Border Grill – I first went to the Border Grill at Mandalay Bay many years ago, just after we got the Food Network on our cable system.  The restaurant is owned the “Two Hot Tamales,” otherwise known as Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.  I remember not liking it when I went.  Then, as I saw both of them cook on Top Chef Masters, and saw how the judges raved about their food, I thought I must have been wrong; perhaps my pallet wasn’t as sophisticated back then.  So it was with great excitement that I went back.  You know what?  I still didn’t like it.  I ordered the Yucatan Pork.  One of the ingredients is cinnamon, which I like, but I think it completely overpowered the dish.  It was all I could taste.  My dinner partner is also gluten free, and she got the Kobe Beef Tacos, which she said were quite good.  That being said, the guacamole and the corn tortilla chips we got were also very good.

BurGR – BurGR is - yes, you guessed right – a burger place by Gordon Ramsey in the Planet Hollywood Hotel.  No gluten free buns, but they did offer to wrap up the burger in a lettuce wrap which I thought was pretty cool.  I got the Hells Kitchen burger (what else?)  Needless to say, it was quite hot.  As for the burger itself, it was fine, but I didn’t think it was any better than many of the burgers I have gotten in Las Vegas, and the others were cheaper. 

Nine Fine Irishmen - The next dinner was at a restaurant called Nine Fine Irishmen in the New York, New York Hotel.  As the name indicates, it is an Irish Pub.  Unfortunately, no gluten free beers, which surprised me a little, but they did have apple cider.  I got the gluten free lamb stew.  The lamb was very juicy, the potatoes still had some tooth to them, and the broth was nice and salty.  Half way through my meal, my gluten free dinner partner and I switched meals, so I also got to have the gluten free shepards pie.  The beef tips were cooked quite nicely, the mashed potatoes were nice and creamy with the top having a nice crust to it.  These two meals were great comfort food. 

Scarpetta – Scarpetta is a restaurant that is owned by Scott Conant.  You most often see him as a judge on Chopped.  He not only has a gluten free menu, but a vegetarian menu as well.  I started off with the white asparagus soup with blue crab.  It was good, with the texture coming from small pieces of whole asparagus.  I do wish it had been a little hotter.  For my entrée I got the spaghetti tomato basil.  This was homemade gluten free pasta, so extra props to Scarpetta for that.  I thought the spaghetti was very good, and the sauce – though simple- was really delicious.

I will also say that all of the places we ate had very good service, which always makes the meal more enjoyable.

So don't be nervous about gluten free eating in Las Vegas.  There are plenty of places to choose from.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tourneau Makes It Right

A couple of days after my ranting about the Tourneau incident (if you missed it, you can read about it here), I received this response from them on my blog:

We are sorry for any inconvenience and frustration this has caused. It is our understanding that this was resolved to your satisfaction however if you still have outstanding concerns or needs, please feels free to contact us. It would be our pleasure to assist you further.

The following was my response:

I'm not really sure how it is you think that you were of assistance, or that I ended up satisfied. I "resolved" this because I felt that, if I didn't take the gift certificates, I would end up with nothing. No one from your customer service ever contacted me. If you want me to be satisfied, I would like to turn in my $500 gift certificate for cash or a credit to my credit card.

I also received an email dated May 1 from Tourneau, saying that they could not find my wife’s original e-mail, and then going over their return policy and, once again, saying that they thought I was satisfied with the result.  I explained in a response back that just because I didn’t go ballistic in their store didn’t mean I was satisfied.  Again, I asked for flexibility in their policy.  In addition, @Tourneautimes asked me to DM them so we could go into more depth about the problem.  I did not respond to that.

In any case, later that same day, the Tourneau GM of my area called me, but I could not speak to her then, as I was in the middle of a project at work, and I asked if we could speak Friday.  She said that would be fine.  In the meantime, I received e-mail from Tourneau saying that, when I spoke to this person, I would be getting a $500 credit on the credit card that I made the purchase on.  On Friday, May 3, that transaction took place.

Those are the facts.  Now my commentary:

First, as I said in my previous post, I do not blame anyone at the Tourneau store or the GM.  I think they were very professional.  The GM apologized to me on the phone, and I told her it wasn’t her fault; she was just doing her job.  I believed that when she couldn’t help me, and I believe it now.

Second, I do believe that Tourneau ultimately did the right thing.  Whether they did that because I was tweeting about them, or they finally agreed that, given the circumstances, there should be flexibility on their part, I don’t know. 

Third, I can’t say I would ever buy a watch from them again, but I can’t say I wouldn’t either.  I think I would just be much more aware of their policies, and I would caution anyone buying anything expensive from any company to be aware of that company’s return policies before they complete the transaction.

But, I have to say that this ended up being a good learning experience, and I most definitely have a better taste in my mouth about Tourneau than I did a couple of weeks ago.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have gluten free polenta mushroom bolognese to make.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Think LIke A Chef - Seared Scallops with Pan Roasted Mushrooms

The first mushroom dish in the studies section of Think Like A Chef is Seared Scallops with Pan Roasted Mushrooms.   But first, a few words about mushrooms.

One of the things Colicchio points out is that young cooks often cook mushrooms the wrong way.  They put the mushrooms in too hot of a pan, and they tend to crowd the pan, which results in the mushrooms releasing their water.  When that happens, the temperature of the pan drops, resulting in the mushrooms stewing.  He says to make sure to cook the mushrooms in small batches.  That way, the mushrooms will still release their water, but the water will turn into steam, allowing the mushrooms to caramelize.

Also, in regards to cleaning, he recommends not rinsing them, but taking off the end part of the stem with a paring knife, and then scraping the mushroom clean, with either a knife or a damp paper towel, or even a toothbrush.  He notes if you insist on using water (I do), not to rinse them but let them soak, and them blotting them with a paper towel.  He also recommends not buying them cut, but to cut them yourself.

Step number one is to make the pan roasted mushrooms.  I had three types of mushrooms available to me: white button, crimini, and oyster.  After cleaning them, I peeled and finely chopped a shallot and a clove of garlic.  I also had a tablespoon of thyme leaves (fresh) a little butter (product) and a tablespoon of fresh tarragon leaves chopped.

A quick word about tarragon leaves.  I had never used fresh tarragon leaves before.  When I chopped them, they gave off a very fragrant smell of licorice.  I told this to someone who minored in the culinary arts in school, and she said the smell was lemony.  Confused I looked it up in the Internet.  We were both right.  Apparently, the smell differs depending on the variety.

Now the cooking technique is as follows:  Add a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil to the pan, let it get hot, then add some mushrooms to the pan, with some Kosher salt and pepper.  You should be able to see the bottom of the pan in between the mushrooms.  After a couple of minutes, turn over the mushrooms.  Then add some of the shallot, garlic, butter, thyme and tarragon.  Cook for about two more minutes and then remove to a paper towel.  Wipe out the pan, and start on the next batch.  I had a pound of mushrooms, and I cooked them in five batches.

Next came the scallops.  Again, I needed thyme leaves, chopped tarragon leaves, some butter (product), the scallops, obviously, and oil.  Now, Colicchio uses peanut oil most of the time.  I chose to use grape seed oil based on a recommendation from Robert Irvine, when I was lucky enough to meet him.

First, I seasoned the scallops on both sides with Kosher salt and pepper.  I heated up the pan and grape seed oil over a medium high heat.  Once the oil shimmered, I added the scallops.

Now, I have to say that I love scallops, but man, I just cannot sear them correctly.  I think it may be due to the fact I just don’t let the oil get hot enough.  First I blotted them dry, and then added them to the pan.  After two minutes, I could see that they had definitely seared, but when I tried to turn them, they stuck a bit to the pan.  So now I had to make a decision.  I could let them cook more, but then I took the chance of over cooking them, or I could turn them, cook them so the inside is done correctly, but not have a perfect crust.  I chose to cook them so the inside was done correctly.  So, as gingerly as I could, I turned them over, added the butter and let them cook for another minute while basting them.  Then I took them off the heat and plated them.

The next step was to finish the mushrooms, so I added some more of the butter to the pan.  After it melted, I added the herbs and the mushrooms, until they were heated through.  The pan seemed a bit dry to me, so I added a tiny bit more Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.  Then I spooned the mushrooms around the scallops.  Then I finished the dish with a bit of parsley.

It looked better in person...hmmm...

The scallops were perfectly cooked on the inside.  Warm but still a bit opaque, sweet and juicy.


The mushrooms were well caramelized and had a kind of a combination earthy, nutty flavor.  Overall, a success.