Intermezzo 1 - Octopus ice-cream

I was looking over some old photos today, and came across the following picture. Since this blog was created to catalog our most memorable experiences, it only seemed fair to include it here - one of the worst things I've ever tasted in my life. To this day, thinking about it still makes my stomach turn...

Octopus ice-cream - Namco Namjatown Ice Cream World, Tokyo, Japan (2008)

Snout-to-Tail dinner at Blanca - Solana Beach, CA

Dinner - Monday, January 10, 2011

It started on Chowhound - a casual aside about the new chef at Blanca, murmurs of good meals there, mutterings about cooking whole hogs. The discussion gained momentum, and the result: a snout-to-tail dinner for 12 in Blanca's private-dining room, featuring some very memorable dishes.

Chef Gavin Schmidt (seen at right) is the top toque at Blanca, replacing Jason Neroni who departed in mid-2010. As a testament to his skill, the chef's resume includes stints at San Francisco establishments Aqua (sous chef) and Campton Place (executive chef). Notably, he also served as chef de cuisine at Coi (Daniel Patterson's two-star temple of gastronomy). It didn't take much convincing to get Chef Schmidt on board with the plan, and the 2 months in between conception and execution quickly ticked away until the night finally arrived.

I'll note that we dined at Blanca under Gavin Schmidt once (September 2010) before tonight's meal, and completely enjoyed that experience as well. On this occasion, we had the added bonus of some convivial and highly knowledgeable dining companions. A few caveats to this report: (1) work issues caused us to be ten minutes late for dinner, and we missed a family-style house-made charcuterie board featuring various parts of pig and a reportedly excellent blood sausage; (2) we also missed the first two canapes served during the pre-dinner, including a pork belly kimchi taco; (3) due to the size of the party and the ongoing conversations, we took minimal notes, so allow for some slightly distorted memories.

Kaiseki at Aburiya Raku - Las Vegas, NV

Dinner - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aburiya Raku really needs no introduction - so much has been written about this tiny and unassuming establishment, both online and in the press. Situated in a small Chinatown strip mall a few miles away from the hustle and bustle of the Las Vegas Strip, Chef Mitsuo Endo's highly-vaunted skills have garnered accolades from all corners. Because of its late opening hours (it's open from 6 pm - 3 am every day except Sunday), it has also somewhat famously become a haunt for chefs seeking some after-work nosh.

A few months ago, we heard that Raku had begun offering a kaiseki menu, so naturally we had to check it out for ourselves. A week before arriving in Vegas, I called the restaurant and was told that there were two kaiseki options: a 10-course menu for $100, or 15 courses for $150. I made arrangements for the 15-course menu.

We arrived just before 7 pm on the night of our reservation, and noticed that the restaurant was already packed (granted, it's not hard to fill the place when they only have ~30 covers). We were led to a private room and after making some sake selections, the procession of food began. I'll note here that throughout the night, the pacing of dishes was consistent and our server was excellent at making sure our sake and hojicha glasses were filled.

China Poblano - Las Vegas, NV

Dinner - Tuesday, December 28, 2010

China Poblano is a new concept from José Andrés, one of his three restaurants in the brand-new Cosmopolitan hotel (the other two establishments are Jaleo and é by José Andrés). As the name suggests, the restaurant combines the flavours of Chinese and Mexican cuisine, with some characteristic twists here and there.

The restaurant has two separate kitchens for Chinese and Mexican menu items, and these are connected to takeout windows where passers-by can order items to-go. We had originally planned to have lunch here, but after perusing the menu, our stomachs got the better of us and we switched our reservations to dinner that same day. Upon arriving at dinnertime, we were seated at a communal table - service was fast and efficient, and we quickly got around to ordering some items. The menu is thematically divided into 3 "cuisines" - Mexican, Chinese, and Chinese-meets-Mexican.