I had a quick run through Vegas and Utah last week to see Kris Bryant and Marcus Littlewood and ate pretty well overall, with only one bad meal and a few gems in Utah.
First meal in Vegas was west of the Strip at Yassou Greek Grill on West Charleston, serving gyros, hummus, and other basic Greek items at very reasonable prices. Their lemon-herb chicken is heavily marinated and has a strong flavor without any compromise in the texture, and the pitas they use in their gyros are soft and thick, nothing like the dry pitas you get at the grocery store. The gyro passed my tzatziki test – when I held it perpendicular to the table, I didn’t get any glops of tzatziki, which means they sauced it properly. That gyro plus a side Greek salad and rice pilaf (just rice prepared pilaf-style, with no other ingredients) ran about $8.30 before tax and drink.
I’ve been to the original Mesa Grill location in Manhattan but haven’t had a chance to get back in nearly two years, so I dropped into the Caesar’s Palace location on this trip and decided to branch out, trying two appetizers and a dessert, for research purposes, of course. The blue corn pancake with barbecued duck was dominated by the flavor of the hoisin sauce on the duck; hoisin’s sticky-sweet flavor and texture make it the elephant on the plate, and in this case it wiped out the flavor of the duck itself. I liked the presentation and am certainly a fan of shredded meat in a crepe or pancake, but all I tasted here was hoisin. The creamy wild Mushroom Grits with poached egg, charred serrano sauce, cotija cheese, and blue corn tortilla were better, very creamy as advertised, with only the serrano sauce (which tasted largely of burn) failing to add something to the dish. For dessert, the bartender recommended the churros with chocolate dipping sauce, which were the second-best I’ve had, behind only the version at Toro in Boston.
One bad meal on the trip was at the highly-touted Hash House a Go-Go in Imperial Palace, one of two locations in Vegas. I went for breakfast and ordered the top hash on the menu, a roasted chicken hash with rosemary and asparagus. The dish was incredibly dry, especially the chicken, all white meat and often inedibly tough. Great concept – who doesn’t love a good hash? – but horrid execution.
I made a day trip to St. George, Utah, from Vegas – just under two hours each way, including a very cool drive through the Virgin River Gorge – and had an unbelievable lunch at the Painted Pony, which I would say is in “downtown St. George” except that there doesn’t seem to be much to it besides downtown. The Painted Pony is the sort of local restaurant of which Gordon Ramsay would approve, at least for lunch, with simple dishes focusing on fresh, vibrant flavors. Their torta ahogada sandwich comes on this absolutely perfect ciabatta-style roll and features roasted beef tenderloin, caramelized onions, bell peppers, and cotija cheese, with a rich red sauce on the side, so the sandwich becomes a sort of New Mexican take on French Dip. The side salad was also fresh, with walnuts and julienned apples, and none of the wilted leaves that often plague mixed greens.
I skipped their opulent desserts to hit up Croshaw’s Pies on the, um, west side of town, which was a good call. Their “very berry” pie is sweet-tart with its mix of raspberries and blackberries, and the crust was soft and butter, more tender than flaky, which is how I prefer my pie crusts anyway. It didn’t have great structure, since the filling wept slightly on to the plate, but the compensation was that it didn’t have the slightly gluey texture that comes from using too much cornstarch. Croshaw’s recently opened a second location in Mesa, Arizona, on Brown Road well east of the Cubs’ facilities.