Empty pool

Posted by Cameron on 10.31.06 12:29 PM

hi diveSan Francisco is my adopted home, and I have sworn that the day that Barry Bonds leaves the Giants is the day that I’ll buy a cap and cheer for Los Gigantes. But my sports roots are still on the East Coast, with the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox.

As a transplanted fan, I’m always on the hunt for places to watch my teams. I haven’t truly embraced the Connecticut Yankee yet, mostly because it’s so far away from both my office and my house. With the Pats coming up against the Vikings on Monday Night Football, I thought I’d give the Hi Dive a try.

The first thing to get straight is that while the Hi Dive used to actually be a dive, it is a dive no longer. That section of the Embarcadero used to be a bit sketchy, but as soon as the Giants baseball park was built the late 1990s, SOMA started turning into condo-land. Now the Hi Dive is clean and comfortable.

It seems like a fine place to catch a drink after work, but I can’t recommend the food as anything but a sponge for alcohol. The fried calamari was strangely soft, and the burger could have been from a cafeteria steam table, even though they advertised Niman Ranch beef. Top it off with a completely uninspired draft beer selection–come on, five taps and two of them are Coors Light and Stella Artois?

I can’t recommend it as a sports viewing venue, either. There’s a large flat-panel television at one end of the room. But only two tables and one end of the bar have a truly unobstructed view.

The staff, however, was very friendly. And the Pats administered a beat-down of the Purple People Eaters. Bring on the Colts.

Hi Dive
Pier 28-1/2
(Embarcadero at Bryant)
San Francisco, CA 94105

bar culture, downtown SF, drinks


Viva las pumpkins

Posted by Anita on 10.31.06 7:29 AM

Bellagio pumpkins (c)2006 aecHappy Hallowe’en from Las Vegas, where everything has to be bigger and glitzier than back home — even the pumpkins.

I briefly mentioned the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens harvest display last week, but as I thumbed through my Flickr photos looking for a seasonal shot, I got curious about this impressive tourist attraction. Here are a few (sort of food-related) facts:

  • The garden is designed and maintained by a staff of 129 that creates five seasonal displays: Asian New Year, Spring, Summer, Harvest, and Holiday.
  • Some of the tables at Cafe Bellagio face the gardens; the entrance to Restarurant Michael Mina is reached through the conservatory, as well.
  • The large pumpkin shown above weighs 397 pounds. We saw more than one that topped 500 pounds. How many pies is that?!
  • Right upstairs at Spa Bellagio, pamper yourself with a Pumpkin Bath Soak or a Pumpkin Honey Mask, available through the end of the year. Or perhaps a Pumpkin Spice Pedicure at the salon?

For future reference: Vegas.com offers a nice write-up of the Conservatory, including a sidebar that changes seasonally to reflect the current display.

holidays & occasions, travel, Vegas
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Pei Wei’s big adventure

Posted by Anita on 10.30.06 7:17 AM

Pei Wei henderson (c)2006 AECDad had a craving for Chinese food last night, so on our way back from visiting friends, Mom and I stopped by the local outpost of Pei Wei, a quick-service spinoff of the P.F. Chang’s megachain.

We slid into one of the parking spaces Pei Wei reserves right by the side door for folks who want to run in and get their grub. Once inside, we perused the menu and settled on three hard-to-fumble options: a Thai-style green chicken curry, orange-peel beef, and Pei Wei spicy chicken — their approximation of General Tso’s — plus a side of edamame. Each entree came with a choice of white or brown rice.

As we waited for our food, I remarked that the decor seemed unexpectedly pleasant, maybe even nice enough for a casual date. Whether you eat in or take out, you order at the counter, pay for your food and drinks up front, and bring a number-tag to your table. It’s the kind of place you can imagine popping into while shopping, a little more upscale than the food court, but not a ‘for-real’ restaurant.

After a short wait, the food came out, all boxed up in plastic clamshell containers that kept the food nice and hot during the quick drive home. We popped everything open, and — since we were planning to eat family style — were a little taken aback to find all the rice in the same containers as the entrees. Easily enough solved by putting scoops of rice on plates, I suppose, but not very conducive to sharing.

The edamame were served warmish, and tasted just like they do everywhere else. The Pei Wei chicken turned out to be everyone’s favorite, although I definitely wouldn’t call it spicy (even though the menu does). Mom and I enjoyed the green curry’s flavor, although the chicken turned out more like meat-jelly, probably the result of over-marinating. The beef was the disappointment of the bunch, a sitcky-sweet mess of strangely chewy meat garnished with with huge slices of carrot… huh? The accompanying white rice was fine, but the brown rice was seriously undercooked: It rattled like gravel when stirred.

I’ve only been to P.F. Chang’s once, with a big group of co-workers, and I remember thinking that the food there was fine, in a suburban-mall sort of way… like an Asian version of Chevy’s (before Chevy’s went downhill). But even though Pei Wei nails the sexy interior design and appealing assortment of pan-Asian entrees you’d want in this sort of place, the execution — at least at the local branch we tried — leaves a lot to be desired. For my money, I think I’ll keep waiting for Big Bowl to move west.

Pei Wei Asian Diner
10575 S. Eastern Avenue
Henderson, NV 89052

family, restaurants, Vegas


DIY steakhouse

Posted by Anita on 10.29.06 5:00 PM

steak & potato (c)2006 AECThose of you who visit (or live in) Los Angeles have probably driven past one of the three Clearman’s North Woods Inn restaurants. They’re pretty hard to miss, looking for all the world like a giant log cabin, complete with “snow” on the roof and “icicles” hanging from the eaves. Inside, the rustique effect continues with stained-glass lamps, taxidermy specimens, and bordello-style “art” on the walls.

Once upon a time — in fact, until quite recently — the cocktail waitresses even dressed up in skimpy frontier barmaid costumes, complete with red-plaid shrugs and miniskirts short enough to show off their frilly underpants. The waiters still wear lumberjack outfits right out of Monty Python, with red-plaid vests, black pants, and arm garters. (No hats with ear flaps, alas.)

My mom and dad have been going to Clearman’s for more than 40 years, since before they were married. When we sisters were kids, it was one of the first nice-ish restaurants we ever went to. As you might expect from the decor, the menu runs the gamut from steak to steak, with a few minor detours into fried chicken and kabobs. Before your main course arrives, you always get a pair of salads — a red cabbage slaw and iceberg with blue cheese dressing — and artery-clogging cheesetoast, all served family style. And, of course, every steak comes with a baked potato as big as your head, groaning with fixin’s.

My middle sister’s the only family member who lives in Southern California these days, so our visits to Clearman’s are growing fewer and farther between. Truth be told, I don’t think the food’s as good as it once was. But we keep going, mostly because it’s a sentimental favorite… and probably also because you’ve got to love a place with signs in the bar insisting that you throw your peanut shells on the floor. We’re obviously not the only family that maintains a soft spot for the place, given that they sell their cheesetoast spread in almost every supermarket south of Santa Barbara.

Dad mentioned last week that he wanted us to make Clearman’s-inspired red-cabbage slaw for dinner over the weekend, and we happily obliged. We went whole hog (or is that cow?) by adding — you guessed it — steaks, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce with bleu cheese dressing to the menu. We hunted the local markets for the cheese spread, but came up empty.

When we told Dad about our fruitless search, it took him about 10 seconds to find a recipe for the stuff online. (You now know where I inherited my strong Google-fu from.) I whipped up a quarter-batch, Mom slathered it on some sliced sourdough bread, and we popped it under the broiler. The end result wasn’t bad — in fact, made with butter instead of the standard margarine, I think I like it even better than the original.

The red-cabbage slaw recipe comes from the L.A. Times, and we’ve made it regularly over the years. It’s perfectly fine on its own, but it’s even better mixed up with iceberg and blue-cheese salad.

“Just Like North Woods Inn’s” Red Cabbage Slaw
1/2 head red cabbage
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup + 1T red wine vinegar
3T sugar
4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder

Shred cabbage irregularly, with some coarse and some fine shreds. Combine other ingredients in a bowl (or shake together in a jar or bottle) and pour over the cabbage. Mix well and let stand, refrigerated, for at least a few hours, or over night.

Makes 6-8 servings.

family, meat, recipes, restaurants, SoCal


Fish tale

Posted by Anita on 10.28.06 9:08 PM

Rubio's Fish Tacos (c)2006 AECAfter a long afternoon of shopping, we picked up Dad from his appointment. As usual, he wanted a smoothie for his afternoon snack.

“Perfect,” said Mom. “Jamba Juice is right next door to Rubio’s.”

Dad and I sat outside in the afternoon sunshine, while Mom went into Jamba for Dad’s smoothie.

“Are you going to join us for fish tacos, Pops?” I asked.

“I’m not much of a fish guy,” he said, telling me nothing I don’t remember.

“Yeah, but these are good,” I countered. “They’re like fish-and-chips in a taco.”

He nodded, and said nothing. I figured he was just waiting patiently for his smoothie.

Rubio’s now styles itself a “Fresh Mexican Grill”, but everyone in Southern California — where the 150-plus chain started — still calls it by the original name: “Rubio’s Fish Tacos”. Their speciality, of course, is Baja-style fried fish wrapped in corn tortillas, shredded cabbage, and creamy salsa. Yummo.

When Mom finally came out, we made our way next door. We ordered two fish-taco combos, and joined Dad out on the patio. When the food came, he set down his smoothie… and promptly tucked into Mom’s tacos.

And he liked them.

Rubio’s #1 combo meal comes with two fish tacos, a small side of soupy pinto beans, and a few chips — the perfect size for a light lunch. Much like Burgerville, Rubio’s is unapologetically fast food, not health food. But it’s the kind of splurge-y meal that leaves you feeling comforted and happy, not bloated and gross.

Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill
1500 N. Green Valley Parkway
Henderson, NV 89014

lunch, Mexican, SoCal, Vegas
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Sin City shopping

Posted by Anita on 10.28.06 7:19 PM

bread (c)2006 AECMom and I were killing time after dropping Dad off for an appointment this morning, so we stopped by the local branch of Sunflower Farmers Market. Despite the name, it’s really a supermarket, albeit one with a heavy emphasis on produce. You’ll also find a nice selection of Harris Ranch meats, bulk foods, and — if you need assistance in the supplements department — a cranky vegan to lecture you about how meat clogs your colon. (Seriously, though… 99% of the folks who work there are sweet and lovely.) The produce is nicer than what you’d find at the national megamarts in town, but if you’re a regular shopper at real farmers’ markets or even Whole Foods, you may be a bit underwhelmed. Still, it’s nice to walk into a store where the bulk of foods on offer are grown, not manufactured, and you have to go out of your way to find food in a package.

Right across the intersection from Sunflower, hidden in the back of a little industrial park, the amusingly named Great Buns Bakery specializes in fresh-baked breads. I should warn you that there’s nothing artisanal about this place; it’s a large-scale operation, with all the baking done on site in a thoroughly charm-free industrial bakery. One of the employees told us that they supply bread to “90% of the restaurants” in the area, and there certainly were dozens of pallets of rolls and loaves stacked up right on the retail floor, tagged with the names of local shops and eateries. But ‘big’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’: The breads I’ve tried all taste great — the ciabatta in particular – and the prices are competitive. We picked up a loaf of day-old bread for $0.99 today, and it tastes just fine. I’ll just ignore the fact that all the staff wear aprons that say “Keep your hands off my Great Buns”.

[[Update 3/21/07: Just got word from Mom that Great Buns was destroyed in a fire last night: Fire Guts Las Vegas Bakery]]

We still had a few hours to fill, so we consulted the yellow pages and plotted a course to North Las Vegas. Past the end of The Strip, the area near Las Vegas Boulevard and Cheyenne Avenue feels a bit like the wrong side of the tracks, but it’s actually a vibrant shopping area.

We first stopped in to the aptly named Thai Market and spent a good half-hour browsing the aisles of its small storefront. The woman working the cash register noticed Mom’s bewidered look, and made a point of telling her to please let her know if she needed any help. The selection was good, but not great: a nice assortment of packaged goods, a few housewares, and a tiny produce cooler. (When we got home, we realized that there’s a larger Thai market in Downtown, pretty close to Lotus of Siam… I sense a Thai field trip coming up.)

Next up was Super Mercado del Pueblo, a little slice of Mexico right on the fringes of Sin City. The market’s strip mall — which reminded me much more of semi-urban Mexico than the shops of Mexican-American neighborhoods in California — also houses a self-serve car wash, a beauty parlor, and a shoe outlet (3 pairs for $20!). As you walk in the door, there’s a portrait studio, a jewelery shop, and an insurance agent …and, of course, slot machines… it’s still Vegas, after all. The market itself is clean, busy, brightly lit, and friendly; at least three employees greeted us during our brief browse, offering help. The meat counter advertises Harris Ranch meats, with a seemingly endless selection of mostly Latino-style cuts; nearby, a well-stocked dairy counter has all of your queso-related needs covered. The large, comprehensive produce section’s offerings looked a little chewed-on, but you can’t beat the prices: $1 for 15 limes, anyone? They make a village’s worth of tortillas every day on site, too… many of the 24-packs were still warm — mmm! Two walls were covered with cellophane bags of every kind of dried chile, herb, and nut imaginable.

We passed at least three more Safeway-sized Latino grocery stores on our way back to pick up Dad. Definitely plenty of opportunities for a mercado prowl in the future.

Sunflower Farmers Market
3365 E. Tropicana Avenue (at Pecos)
Las Vegas, NV 89121

Great Buns
3270 E. Tropicana Avenue (at Pecos)
Las Vegas, NV 89121

Thai Market
3297 Las Vegas Blvd. North (near Cheyenne)
Las Vegas, NV 89115

Super Mercado del Pueblo
2987 N. Las Vegas Blvd. (near Pecos)
North Las Vegas, NV 89030

family, Mexican, shopping, Thai, travel, Vegas
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The “no-recipe” club

Posted by Anita on 10.27.06 10:33 PM

apple cake (c) 2006 aecNot quite five years ago, my mom and dad retired to Henderson, just outside Las Vegas. Their neighborhood — a megasized age-restricted community — is one of those places where you can get hopelessly lost among all the similar-looking houses as you whiz past the golf course, the gigantic rec center, the three-story waterfall… You’re miles from the nearest grocery store or restaurant, or anything else other than a few thousand houses that look pretty much like your own.

But — as much as it’s the kind of development where I’d never choose to live — it’s a pretty cool place in one important respect. Since all the houses in their section were built to order around the same time, everybody moved in pretty much at the same time. Many of my parents’ neighbors had left behind friends and relatives in their old hometowns, and were anxious to make new friends.

My mom found her place among a great group of ladies who live on her street and beyond. They moved to Henderson from all over the country (and, originally, all over the world), so there’s a nice assortment of interests and personalities. In various combinations, they shop together, line-dance together, play Pickleball together.

One of the other things that Mom and her friends like to do is cook, so they formed a Recipe Exchange Club: They each take turns hosting a potluck, and everyone brings their dish’s recipe to share. Or, at least that was the original idea… apparently nobody’s brought recipes since the first “meeting”, because they all cook dishes that they know by heart. It’s evolved into an excuse for a casual meal together where the women sit in the dining room and talk about mahjong and their part-time jobs, and the men sit outside on the porch, admiring the view of The Strip in the distance and talking about poker and football.

Mom and I were in charge of dessert for tonight’s gathering. Since most of Mom’s friends aren’t big dessert-eating types, we decided that something fruity, and not too sweet, would fit the bill. Mom tinkered with a recipe she found on All Recipes, and came up with a great dessert that I bet also makes a tasty coffee cake.

After the amazing spread of dishes these ladies made, I wasn’t sure that any of us would have room for cake. But we sat and talked after dinner, and — lo and behold — everyone found space for a slice.

Caramel-Apple Cake
4 apples – peeled, cored and diced (approx. 4 cups)
1 T sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup applesauce
1/4 cup apple juice
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt or angel-food cake pan. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the apples with the 1T sugar and the spices; set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining sugars with oil, applesauce, juice, vanilla and eggs. Beat at high speed until smooth. Fold in flour mixture, then add in chopped walnuts and apples.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Serve slices with homemade caramel sauce.

baking, dessert, entertaining, family, recipes, Vegas
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DOTW: Corpse Reviver #2

Posted by Anita on 10.27.06 7:40 AM

corpse reviver (c)2006 aecWith Hallowe’en right around the corner, I figured you’d be up for hearing about a hauntingly good cocktail like this one. You shouldn’t have to do a lot of shopping for specialty ingredients, nor remember any tricky measurement ratios.

We like it as a way to use up some of the less-attractive brandied cherries we concocted for a recent project: Although the dark-colored ones look lovely, the paler specimens are frankly quite creepy-looking and resemble little bloody brains… eww. (But how appropriate!)

If you don’t want to throw off the flavors, rehydrate a few pale dried cherries in Pernod, or simply give the brandy-soaked cherry a good rinse.

Corpse Reviver #2
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce Lillet blanc
a dash of Pernod, or other pastis

Shake all ingredients with ice, and strain into a well-chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a homemade booze-soaked cherry … preferrably one of the creepy, pale-colored ones.

Drink of the Week, drinks, holidays & occasions, recipes


Bellagio’s other fountains

Posted by Anita on 10.25.06 8:52 PM

chocolate fountain (c)2006 AECOn the way to take my sister to the airport for a red-eye flight, we decided to stop off at Bellagio to check out the massive pumpkin patch and have dessert. We wandered through the conservatory, eyeing dozens of exotic and enormous pumpkins, many of which topped 500 pounds. We also spied a few plant-sculptures of Mallard ducks, which appeared to be made partly of broccoli and cauliflower!

Right next door to all this healthy fodder, you’ll find Jean Philippe Patisserie. In addition to eye-popping mini-desserts, luscious gelati, and crepes made to order, Jean Philippe is also home to the world’s largest chocolate fountain.

Now, when I heard the words “giant chocolate fountain”, my imagination conjured an overgrown version of one of those gadgets you’d find at a bad Jersey wedding. But I should have known that the Bellagio wouldn’t stoop to something so crass. [cough]

Here’s an excerpt from the press release announcing the fountain’s debut:

Standing 27-feet tall, the masterpiece circulates nearly two tons of melted dark, milk and white chocolate at a rate of 120 quarts per minute. [...] Three rivers of dark, two of milk and one of white twist and swirl from vessel to vessel, flood across then spill down to the next carefully positioned receptacle. The colored streams and vessels are staggered, creating a mosaic effect in earthy shades of cocoa, gleaming viscous surfaces and refracted light. Having finished their acrobatic tumble down the tiers of this colossal chandelier, each rivulet funnels into hidden melting tanks, recollects and begins the journey once more.

Sounds like a bunch of PR hype, but in fact, the darned thing really is mesmerizing. Neither the statistics nor my photos do it justice.

Being as it was a Sunday evening, the pastries were rather picked over and looking much the worse for wear. I chose a lemon-meringue tart, which tasted like it had been sitting around for more than just the workday. Mom and Sis wisely opted to share a scoop of chocolate gelato and a bananas Foster crepe. The crepe was nice, although the banana topping looked pretty sorry — no great surprise, as it was kept warm in a hot-fudge pot. The gelato’s deep, bittersweet flavor was my favorite taste of the evening — and I’m not even a chocolate lover.

I’m sure I’ll give Jean Philippe another try, perhaps earlier in the day when the pastries are fresh… if only to see that fountain again!

Jean Philippe Patisserie
3600 S. Las Vegas Boulevard (inside Bellagio)
Las Vegas, NV

dessert, family, travel, Vegas


One for Koko

Posted by Cameron on 10.24.06 7:25 PM

wineI don’t think that I can keep up with the Queen of Hearts’ six impossible things before breakfast, but this past Saturday I had two new experiences.

Our friend Craig’s dog Koko passed away recently. The official statement read that Koko succumbed to age and infirmity, but insiders whisper that a pack of squirrels in sunglasses was seen hurriedly leaving the grounds on the sad day. Of course, squirrels do pretty much everything hurriedly, but that’s whispering insiders for you.

At any rate, we were honored to be among a small group of friends asked to gather to celebrate Koko’s life. Given Craig’s fondness for wine, I figured that there would be a bottle or two open, but I was completely unprepared for the that table that he had laid. A long-time fan and collector of Karl Lawrence wines, Craig set out an uninterrupted string of Cabernet Sauvignon that started in 1991 and ran all the way up through 2003.

It was the vertical to end all verticals–I have never seen anything like it before in my life. The wine was identifiably all of the same provenance, but it changed from year to year. Some of the changes were due to differences in mix or grape, but as we moved to ever-younger wines, the tannic spine disappeared behind a layer of fruit. It was like watching a movie of someone aging, run in reverse. It was a marvelously poetic way to celebrate the course of a life.

At last, someone raised their glass and called for a toast to Koko. We rattled the trees with our homage, and I’ll add my own here: To man’s best friend, and to family.

drinks, entertaining, family, wine & bubbly