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May 27, 2011

Las Vegas - Day V

Hoover Dam Dominic Armato

After four days like that, I'm okay with day five being a little anticlimactic. It's always tempting to try to cram in one more off-strip ethnic joint, one more roadside diner... but sometimes you just want to take it easy, fall into the hotel restaurant, get some eggs and head home.

WaffleDominic Armato

MOzen Bistro (MOzen... Mandarin Oriental... get it? Oy.) is exactly what you expect from the casual restaurant at an upscale hotel. It's crisp, clean, offers a lot of standards with minor twists (Asian ones, in keeping with the hotel's theme), everything's crisply executed and nothing's too risky, at least for breakfast (dinner looks to be another matter). So if you order a Belgian waffle, you get a Belgian waffle. Throw on a few berries, some toasted pecans, a little butter, a small carafe of real maple syrup, charge almost $20 (eek!), and you've got a nice, if pricey, breakfast. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a sucker for this kind of thing. As much as I'm focused on the food, the food, the food, when the room is bright and the china's fine and the staff is polished, it's kind of nice every now and again to feel like you're really dining... like you should be coming in the door with a brightly colored sport jacket and the Corriere Della Sera under your arm... even if that waffle is ridiculously overpriced.

Nantucket EggsDominic Armato

I first ordered the Japanese bento. I love that for breakfast. And moments later, I realized that I didn't want it. I wanted eggs. And... um... seafood. So I went with the Eggs Nantucket, a pair of poached atop spinach and a generous serving of crab, a splash of hollandaise, a little steamed asparagus and roasted tomato, compulsory potato hash and slice of ham. Safe and perfectly executed? You bet. Perfectly poached eggs, crab cakes that were 98% crab, a hollandaise that was rich without getting gluey, fresh spinach, decent ham... it hit all the marks. Speaking only of breakfast at MOzen Bistro, I can't see any reason to make it a destination, but if you're in the hotel or right nearby and did pretty well at the tables, it's a nice stop for a breakfast with a little elegance.

Gus' Really Good Fresh JerkyDominic Armato

And not 15 minutes after walking out of MOzen, it was time to bid Vegas farewell. I heard about Eat At Joe's in Wikieup (check out the website for a hilariously charming blast from 1997 or so) a day too late, sadly, but we were in a hurry to get home anyway. The little ones are darling, but exhausting for anyone to take care of for five days, and we figured grandma was probably just about ready for the cavalry to arrive. I did, however, manage to finagle a quick stop at one of the many beef jerky stands by the side of 93. Gus' Really Good Beef Jerky (that's the name) certainly had the most billboard coverage, and I'd ordinarily try to pass over the big guy for the little guy, but when the big guy is this little, I'm happy to make an exception. Gus' is a dusty little shack a little ways north of Kingman, and though they sell a selection of nuts, honey and dried fruits, I made a beeline for the jerky selection. I love beef jerky and am always looking to sample the local roadside product.

Sweet & SpicyDominic Armato

It wasn't until a couple of days later that I got around to cracking it open, and you know what? It IS really good. You eat enough of the mass-produced junk and you start to forget just how great real, fresh beef jerky can be. With the exception of "natural smoke flavoring" (which, sadly, I presume means liquid smoke), the ingredient list on Gus' jerky is refreshingly plain. I picked up three packs, but trying to make it last, I've only cracked into the sweet and spicy thus far. It's called out as brisket, and I see no reason to doubt the claim. It sure looks like brisket. And it tastes like beef, sweet and tender (as jerky goes) without any gristle or junk. It's a little expensive at $9 for a four ounce bag, but I got more edible meat than I've gotten out of some mass-produced packages twice the size. I like that it's just a little sweet and spicy, not saturated with corn syrup in an attempt to detract from the meat's shortcomings. I don't expect to make this drive frequently, but I'm prepared to make Gus' a mandatory stop henceforth. And I especially like that Gus isn't getting all carried away with overblown claims. A less humble Gus might've named it Gus' Amazing Beef Jerky, or Gus' World Class Beef Jerky. But this Gus went with Gus' Really Good Beef Jerky, which is the epitome of truth in advertising. Bravo, Gus!

The last couple hours of the drive, I felt like I wasn't quite ready to come home, though the full dance card might have dictated an early exit even if our schedule didn't. Vegas is such a funny restaurant town. On the strip it's all big, big, big, and though so much of it is mediocre, there's some really stellar food if you can wade through the marketing blitz and separate the good spots from the pretenders. It's a gamble (ha!). I've had plenty of disappointing meals in Vegas from supposedly excellent restaurants, but this trip was kind. We ate well and had a great time. And I fully expect that the next time I roll into town, half of these places will be closed and there will be two dozen new restaurants I need to try. One thing Vegas can't be accused of is staying the same. Except for Emeril's Fish House. It'll undergo three more facelifts, but somehow that place will still be standing two decades from now. So it's all big plates and big names and big prices, and then just five minutes off-strip is another world, where little unassuming gems are hidden in strip malls. I feel a little guilty for focusing more on the former than the latter for this particular trip. If I were ever to get back to the point where I was coming a few times a year (wow... that's been a long time), I'd dedicate a trip or two solely to trying off-strip spots. But that'll have to wait. Vegas is practically in our backyard now. I both expect and hope that we'll be back before too long.

Vegas - Day I   |   Vegas - Day II   |   Vegas - Day III   |   Vegas - Day IV   |   Vegas - Day V

MOzen Bistro
3752 Las Vegas Boulevard S.
Las Vegas, NV 89158
888-881 9367
Mon - Sun6:30 AM - 10:00 PM

Gus' Really Good Beef Jerky
4001 North U.S. Highway 93
Golden Valley, AZ 86413
Mon - Sun8:00 AM - 7:00 PM


The five courses of Las Vegas decadence you served up have managed to whet my whistle just about perfectly for my upcoming trip. Our food itineraries couldn't be much more different: I'm going to hit as many dives as possible.

Wait a sec... *reads back through* Five days and four nights in Vegas, and not even one buffet? Tsk, tsk. I shall have to drag you up there by the scruff of the neck, my good sir.

It might take that, JK. I'm not anti-buffet (though I've yet to try one in Vegas that I thought was worthwhile... I know, I know, you're high on the Wicked Spoon), it's just... is there really anything there that isn't done better somewhere else in town? Even if I stipulate that it's all very good (which I find borderline inconceivable... no kitchen does a very good job with that diverse a menu anywhere), if you give me the choice between having very good dim sum, very good pasta and very good carved meats or just getting excellent dim sum without the pasta and carved meats, I'm going to choose the excellent dim sum every time. I'd rather have one A+ item than three B items. Quantity means nothing to me and variety is nice, but not at the expense of quality.

I'm not saying it's *bad* to enjoy that variety. I'm just saying I don't personally find it compelling, and unless they're the best in town at most of what they cook (which is impossible), it's going to feel like a waste to me. The few buffets I've enjoyed weren't the Vegas-style sprawling cover every base kind of buffets. They've been smaller, very focused, and they featured the type of foods that aren't going to get any better in a more specialized kitchen.

I'm a big beef jerky fan, too. It might end up not being your personal style, but you should really, really try the jerky being sold by Ed's Roadhouse: http://edsroadhousejerky.com/

amazing stuff. I've been trying to knock it off at home for several months to no avail.. I've got the cut right (eye of round, sliced with the grain on a deli slicer as thin as the slicer will go), but his marinades and process elude me.

Anyway, it's worth the shipping fee, and it's not really any more expensive than the terrible gas station brands.

Good jerky can be an amazing thing. There used to be a place in Sedona that sold decent jerky.

On an unrelated note, I just had a religious experience eating out of Spike Mendelsohn's kosher food truck. Great corned beef and slaw.

Next time, don't even think about not going to LOS because of chili-aversion. They serve many delicious, tasty dishes with zero or near-zero chili content. Honest.

Glad you liked Raku so much, too.

Did you think about eating at e?

Dave... She gets blown out by black pepper. We're talking *highly* chile-averse :-) I just get my Thai fixes on trips to Chicago.

I've had two knowledgeable friends go to e, and both were on opposite ends of the spectrum. One had an awful meal, and one had a great one. So I figured I'd punt on e and have another look next time.

Raku is really something else. Food that good with hours that late was designed to taunt me.

Looking over the Vegas posts, I am eerily reminded of the last chapter of 'The Man Who Ate The World.' That sense of 'yes your food is very good, can I please have about half that portion at a quarter the price...' Well, the Mandrin/Bouchon reviews, if you sort of smush them together.

Still, one heck of an amazing food journey. Good for you!

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