August 27, 2023
by Terry Ratner


Psistaria Greek Taverna
4711 W Touhy Ave.
Lincolnwood, IL 60712

Consort and I broke our 60-day record of home cooked meals by visiting a renown Greek restaurant in Lincolnwood – four blocks from where I grew up and just down the street from the old purple Hyatt Hotel.  Pulling into the entrance, one could easily mistake the restaurant for a Mexican taqueria, complete with a prominent ‘Valet Parking Only’ sign. Its Southwestern tile roof and one-level nondescript architecture belies the quality of the Greek cuisine served inside Psistaria Greek Taverna.

We sat side-by-side at a four-top, complete with white linen, side of sliced lemons, and an authentic Greek olive oil, Horio EVOO. Our server, Andrea, presented a half loaf of crunchy, crusty, sesame toasted rounds dotted with oregano and brushed with a garlicky butter which had us salivating like Pavlov’s dogs.

We scanned the extensive menu, starting with a meze (appetizer), and settled on taramosalata, a creamy peach-colored fish roe spread, known as Greek caviar, high in omega-3 fatty acids, three times more protein than hummus, and a great source of vitamin D. Think Mediterranean diet. The roe, a perfect match for bread service, except for one thing, we’ve always had it with Pita. WHERE’S THE PITA?? When I posed the question, our server said they could sell us a fresh quartered pita for seventy-five cents. We decided to pass on the side order and dip the previously proffered toast in the roe, as suggested. Hey, if we’re visit Greece one day, we need to be hip to the local foods. This pita frenzy turned out to be our misconception, as we were informed by the owner, Pete Bournas, how the Greeks eat loaves of sesame bread with everything. It’s heart Healthy.

For a second meze, we chose four small dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with onion, ground beef and lamb, rice, and served in an egg-lemon sauce. Lots of lemon at the table. Consort has loved this dish for years and always chooses it whenever we eat Greek. He dubbed them ‘perfect’ as he spooned extra yellow sauce over the rolled delicacies.

Next came our favorite, avgolemono, a traditional Greek soup made with chicken broth, rice, and an ‘egg-lemon’ aioli, cooked fresh daily and probably the most popular item on the menu. If it was a drug, we’d both be addicts.

For a main entrée, we opted for six petite loin lamb chops to share. At this point, I was feeling full, mostly from a bread overdose and not sure if I could handle more than a few nibbles. The perfectly seasoned grilled chops featured a small flavorful nugget of meat around a tasty midget size T-bone. We ate a few bites of cooked roasted potato, not because it wasn’t delicious, but we were full-up.

If you’re licking your lips now or drooling for some great gourmet Greek, know that soup and potatoes are included with your choice of entre. What a deal!  

Andrea brought us our check with a to-go container filled with a double decker dessert – Ekmek, kataifi, a finely spun Greek pastry, layered with vanilla custard, whip cream, slivered almonds, and sprinkled with cinnamon. She told us, “Enjoy!”  

The staff, attentive, personable, and knowledgeable, were as flamboyant as the saganaki (flaming cheese) and homemade bougatsa (flambéed custard desert).

Each time we visit a Greek restaurant, I long for a vacation in Greece. The assistant manager, Gregori, originally from Ipiro, a village in the mountains in northern Greece, when asked which island he prefers, answered without hesitation, “Go to Crete.” His reasons followed: You can scuba dive, parasail, take a glass-bottomed boat tour, and walk miles of sandy beaches and craggy coves.”

If you were dating Crete, you could Tinder-swipe dozens of monasteries, fortresses, and antiquities.  

I just remembered he ended with “Crete has the best cheese’, but if I wanted a primo fromage, I’d visit Wisconsin, less than an hour drive from Chicago, or fly to Paris.

Psistaria Greek Taverna is a family-owned restaurant serving traditional Greek cuisine from all areas of Greece. The recipes are the brainchild of chef owner, George Bournas, who began his culinary career bussing dishes and line cooking in Greek Town.

March 5, 2018
by Terry Ratner

Enchantment Under the Sea

The Venetian
3355 South Las Vegas Boulevard
(The Las Vegas Strip)
Las Vegas, NV 89109

“Seasonal. Sustainable. Fresh.” We’ve all heard this promise before – especially when it comes to most tragically-hip upscale restaurants. In the case of AquaKnox, the seafood option at the Venetian in Vegas, there is a clear difference – Chef James DeFraga.

While drinking in the ocean theme with soft blues and coral tones, diaphanous booth draping and high ceilings, Chef DeFraga joined us for a face-to-face. Speaking with conviction and energy, Chef exposed his dedication, edgy vision, pride in product and presentation with keen attention to minute details.

But of course, this isn’t the whole story. Chef DeFraga began his journey into the restaurant business early in life – at age sixteen. His career path followed a steady upward trend starting out as a hired ranch hand on an organic farm, to becoming a line-cook graduating to prep cook, then a sous chef before his current gig as a top-notch executive chef. He isn’t thought of as one of the ‘rock star’ chefs typical of many Las Vegas eateries – no TV show or partnerships in a long string of 5-star bistros, but to his advantage, he’s a great chef and a genuine “good guy.” OMG, he’s actually in the restaurant and talks with his patrons. You can’t say that for Las Vegas’ invisible celebrity chefs such as Tom Colicchio, Wolfgang Puck or Jean-Georges Vongerichten.


After placing our order with the captain, the sommelier, Louis Hamilton, started us off with some bubbly, Tavistock Reserve Prosecco (the house brand), quickly followed by the presentation of AquaKnox’s ‘Seafood Plateau’—a revolving mountain of fresh seafood delights. This iced platter of delectables featured steamed lobster, prawns, three varieties of oysters, clams, mussels, king crab leg, pink shrimp ceviche and a pair of ponzu oyster shooters with sides of mustard, mignonette and cocktail dipping sauces – wow!

While waiting for our mains, we were served our selected wine – the Whispering Angel Rosé from Provence. My readers know that I’ve been lauding the virtues of rosé for years and AquaKnox seems to share my zest for the good pink.


I selected the Chilean Sea Bass with lobster succotash, black truffle, and sea greens. Of the three occasions I sampled sea bass during my Vegas junket, this was, by far, the best. The fish was flaky, moist and extra flavorful, and the garnishments were equally tasty. Consort went for the daily special ‘Surf and Turf’ including a crab-stuffed half Maine lobster and a masterfully grilled petite filet. It must have been exceptional because when I turned my head to ask for a taste, it was almost gone.

We ordered the Butterscotch Bread Pudding to assuage Consort’s sweet tooth and again we were surprised –this time by a visit from a ten-year old Australian aged wine – Yalumba Antique Tawny Port – which paired perfectly with the sweet gooeyness of the desert.

Sitting back and contemplating the end of a perfect meal (Consort let out his belt a notch), while I took a closer look at AquaKnox’s cylindrical ocean-blue wine tower—the dominating presence located center stage. I flashed on Back to the Future’s senior prom dance theme ‘Enchantment Under the Sea’ as a perfect description of this romantic evening.

January 22, 2018
by Terry Ratner

a bruin café in lincoln park

De Quay Restaurant
2470 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

The outside of this conservative Indonesian-Dutch restaurant is easy to miss, with its black-metal lanterns that look like antique gaslights glowing across the front of the building. Once inside, an old-world style bar, stretched the length of the restaurant, lends itself to a warm atmosphere which includes a smiling bartender offering an array of drinks. Chocolate-colored tables and chairs are set with flickering tea lights. The restaurant seats 42 patrons at tables with an additional 15 seats at the bar.

I suppose the little wooden Dutch shoes with fake tulips hanging from the walls are a nod to Chef owner David de Quay’s heritage, while a hand-carved mirror that hung over our table reminded me of Pier One Imports. The décor didn’t transport me into the Netherlands, nor to Indonesia. De Quay felt more like a neighborhood hotspot (literally) than the advertised blend of Dutch and Indonesian food.

The menu is limited, offering seven small plates, six side dishes, and seven entrees. There were three of us, all well-versed in global fare. We began with drinks, a Belgian beer, a dry cider, and a club soda with three green olives. Drinks were perfect.

We shared appetizers: Javanese chicken sate (Indonesian spelling of ‘satay’) with peanut sauce and homemade slaw, black pepper gouda dumplings served with potato, peas and bacon in wonton wrappers with mustard sauce—nothing too exotic there. We favored the dumplings, but did not taste any peas or bacon in the filling, only cheese. The mustard sauce tasted incredible, but they might have forgotten the mustard. It tasted more like an aioli you might prepare for artichoke dipping.

Entrees included curried chicken, a sate glazed pork rib chop, and nasi goring (fried rice) “Istimewa” meaning special. It wasn’t.

The curried chicken was touted as marinated in buttermilk and aromatics for 24 hours, a process which didn’t disguise the ordinary nature of the breast. It tasted plain and salty, drowned in a sea of curry sauce sprinkled with toasted almonds on top of dried apricot seroendang. They may have run out of apricots because that tart and sweet flavor never crossed my palate.

My friend, a distinguished professor of linguistics with solid experience in as many of the world’s cuisines as the languages he has studied, ordered the glazed pork chop, which he tried unsuccessfully to ‘saw’ with the sharpest knife the restaurant provided for their guests. The waiter offered to substitute his dish for another, but he declined. Ultimately the manager took that charge off the bill.

The nasi goring, de Quay’s version of the Indonesian classic, is fried rice elevated by a pair of sunny-side up eggs and flavorful pork belly. This spicy dish comes with a warning from the waiter as to its heat and potency. The bottom line is it’s not much more than a bowl of fried rice for twenty bucks. I should mention the side of krupuks, a popular fried Indonesian cracker, airy and light made from starch and other ingredients. Sadly, nothing to rave about.

But here’s something quite ‘istimewa,’ Spekkoek, a scrumptious dessert—thin layers of cake and almond paste served over a scoop of pandan (tropical green) ice cream. Surprisingly sweet and savory.

I recommend this restaurant for drinks, appetizers, dessert and before or after theater munchies. There are several theaters within walking distance. Take your appetite for entrees elsewhere.


March 7, 2015
by Terry Ratner

it takes a village

31 W 17th st
New York, New York, 10011
(between 5th and 6th ave.)
(212) 675-7223

We accidentally went to one of the best restaurants in New York City. Who knew?

We shopped the racks on 5th Ave and the East Side despite the windy damp weather that besieged us as we boutiqued our way through Manhattan. While escalating through  Barney’s, we stopped to admire a Westie. The animal’s owner, a tragically hip young man, both intelligent and engaging spent time with us ‘hillbilly tourists’ (anyone not from New York) and shared his vast knowledge of the City. Over a period of about 25 minutes, we played with the pup, and discussed the best areas to live (Battery Park City and Astoria Queens) plus a myriad of big apple related subjects. At one point in the discussion, he dropped the name, ‘Aldea’ and labeled it as a trendy eatery in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood. Later, while looking for a place to dine, we recalled the recommendation and made a reservation and grabbed the last slot available—9:30 PM.

booksmIt wasn’t until a month later, when I received a review copy of Chef George Mendes’ memoir and cookbook, ‘My Portugal’ that a bolt of understanding hit me and I realized why Aldea (village in Spanish) was one of the highlights of our Thanksgiving trip. The place had garnered Michelin stars for four straight years and numerous other major awards and accolades.

It was a cold bleak windy night when we fled our cab and found refuge inside Aldea’s windbreaker vestibule. The entry opened up into a railroad layout, long and skinny with double high ceilings. Supposedly inspired by the beauty of the Iberian coast invoking images of water, air, wind, clouds, sky and earth, the restaurant imparts the serious austere countenance made of sharp honed wood panels, weighty horizontal concrete planes and sheets of standing rippled glass.

barThe hostess announced a 20-minute table wait, so we plopped down at the sleek modern bar. Consort ordered us a pair of one of Aldea’s signature cocktails, the DeNada, made with rum, apricot liqueur, lemon and egg white. The drinks, prepared with a flourish by the establishment’s expert mixologist were complex and airy and showcased his talent—he knew the proper two-step technique to shake egg white cocktails without ice to create the smooth, frothy meringue, then add ice for a second chilling shake. One taste of the pert and perky concoction and we knew that the evening was off to a profound start.

We were seated in a banquette two-top bookended by a pair of young Canadians with Portuguese ancestry and a party of four Long Islanders doing a night on the town. With assistance from our server, we settled on one snack, two appetizers and a shared entrée.

uniThe ‘bread steward’ came by with a tray of three kinds of house made breads. You know how picky we are about bread—it can break or make a meal. We sampled them all twice and they were wonderful. The only low point, as was alluded to by our Canadian neighbors, was an 86ed fig bread of some repute. While we oohed and ahhed over the bread, our waiter plunked down our snack of sea urchin toast with cauliflower purée, mustard seed, shiso and lime. If the server hadn’t pulled her hand out of the way, she might have been injured in the frenzy that followed. The fresh uni punctuated with spice and citrus disappeared in 30 seconds—washed down with our first few sips of a glass of French rosé.

Our apps arrived simultaneously, the wild mussel soup for me and the charred octopus for Consort. The savory soup served with perfect, plump sweet mussels, flecks of fennel, and chorizo all in a smooth coconut-curry sauce was quickly devoured by the two of us. The octopus, plated with a potato confit and a pool of squid ink puree spiked with lemon turned out to be the best version of the dish we had ever tried – tender octopus and charred crisp at the same time with deep and rich flavors.

Halfway through our meal, we were disturbed by a row between management and the Long Islanders. It seems one of the woman guest’s hanger steak was too rare and her husband’s lamb was too tough. They wanted the items removed from the check despite the fact that they had left only a memory of the meals on their plates.

The battle over, our entrée was served. The wild striped bass fogged our table in a warm, welcoming cloud of coconut broth aroma. The kitchen split the dish for us and it was a race to the finish that consort won. The verdict is outstanding—a silky broth, perfectly cooked filet of bass and excellent melange of root veggies.

As members of the Clean Plate Club we had earned our pudding. In this case, it was a phenomenal cinnamon rice pudding papered with slices of apple cider gelée and sprinkled with a crunchy crumble of cinnamon toast peppered with bits of white chocolate.

All in all, Aldea was a pretty sweet place to stumble into on a cold and stormy night.

March 6, 2015
by Terry Ratner

freak show and big food

ElviHash House A Go Go
Linq Hotel and Casino
3535 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 254-4646

Working up an appetite in Vegas isn’t difficult. Every destination is a hike and a freak show. Trekking over bridges, through smoky casinos, dodging flippers and panhandlers as we weave our way through topless performers, Elvi, street people, buskers, and an imitation Pee-wee Herman on his X-1.

From the Bellagio lobby to Hash House A Go Go: Round the lake, through shops, over a bridge to Caesar’s, another bridge walkway (over Las Vegas Blvd) by Ballys, through Flamingo, crossing a driveway into the Link Resort Casino where Hash House A Go Go is located. Along the way expect moving and dead escalators which are perfectly suited for photographers.

peeweeConsort here. You might ask why I’ve interrupted Dinner Slut (DS) in her review of Hash House. It’s because I am a huge fan of this restaurant—its twisted farm food cuisine and the renown as-seen-on-TV specialties. And, (DS), a petite night person, not an admirer of giant breakfast portions, came along to moderate my calorie intake.

I’m a Hash House fanboy since it opened. A quick history links it to Imperial Palace, a dump, the Quad for such a few heartbeats that I missed that iteration entirely, to the renovated, all modern and upscale, and renamed Linq—the restaurant with its hip Indiana farm ambiance finally has a home that stands as an equal.

At the back of the casino, up an escalator—an overflowing crowd waits to be seated. This is Hash House—packed for breakfast and brunch. (dinner is typically a shorter wait). No rookie, I weaseled our way through the throng (huge both in quantity and individual size), lorded my VIP status at the desk and we were escorted to a table without delay. It’s good to be Consort.

We started our noon-time breakfast with Fiji water to dilute the effects of Friday evening, then DS ordered herbal tea and I called for the famous 20 oz HH BLT Bloody Mary (hold the T – tomato allergy). The Mary is served with the usual accoutrements plus two slices of crisp bacon and a side of toast. A meal in itself if you’re inclined to dine on huge bar drinks.

baconscrambleDS ordered the regular-sized Farm Scramble with smoked bacon, avocado, onion, and swiss mix-ins. Plated with crispy potatoes, fresh fruit garnish and Hash House’s huge buttermilk biscuit. She was pleased with all of the breakfast goodness placed in front of her. Then my order came and her jaw dropped.

porkHaving sampled most of the menu on previous visits, including the mountainous Chicken and Bacon Waffle Tower and the Man V Food favorite Fried Chicken Benedict, I had selected the huge Crispy Hand Hammered Pork Tenderloin Benedict. About as akin to the usual eggs Benedict as a minnow is to a whale—gargantuan. Start at the bottom of the platter with a mound of griddled mash, then add one of the giant HH biscuits split in two and pile on a scoop of spinach. Normally a tomato slice goes here but not so much for me – see allergy reference above. Now take a pound or so of pork tenderloin and pound it flat until it resembles the sole on Bigfoot’s sandal, bread it and fry it until it’s crispy, tender and down-on-the-farm tasty and lay it on top. Add three scrambled eggs, a slathering of ‘bar b’ que’ cream and a few other odds and ends, like strands of deep fried spaghetti.

“You’re never going to eat all that!” DS teased (of course, she was right). Looking around, we saw monstrous platters delivered to tables, booths, and bar. First they were photographed, then pointed to in disbelief, and eagerly devoured. Some diners left with grocery-sized doggie bags, but, in most cases, plates were cleared with much less in the way of leftovers than one might imagine. Hash House serves a food gasm that rocked you.

Next time I’m in Vegas, I know I’ll head back to H H. I’ll order the Chicken Pot Pie that our server said had to be brought to the table by itself because he couldn’t lift anything else at the same time. It will be worth the wait.


March 5, 2015
by Terry Ratner

let’s make a deal

dealEstiatorio Milos
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 698-7575

Lunch at Estiatorio Milos could be the best dining deal on the Strip. Clustered among a slew of ritzy restaurants in the Cosmopolitan’s chic ‘food court’, Chef Costas Spiliadis’ eatery joins the likes of noted Chefs José Andrés (Jaleo, é and China Poblano), Stephen Hopcraft (STK), Scott Conant (Scarpetta and D.O.C.G) and David Myers (Comme Ça).

fishMilos is a Jeckyl & Hyde establishment. By night, Mr. Hyde is a pricey $$$$ fish house overlooking the twinkling lights of the Strip’s City Center. Their hook concerns how one orders: you walk up to a display of iced flown-in-fresh fish to interview the object of your evening’s meal – sort of like speed dating for dinner.

But, by day, Milos’ Dr. Jeckyl is an entirely different animal. Here comes the deal.

For the prix fixe of $25.15 (the punny 2015 price) you get a three-course choice of appetizers, entrées and desserts that will make your mouth water and your taste buds swoon. And, the Greek wine pairing at $16 costs less than the single glass at most other restaurants.

serverWe ambled in for a late lunch as the pescadors (fish wranglers) were setting up the evening’s display of daily catch imported from exotic places like the Bay of Fundy and the shores of Morocco. While we scrutinized the menu, our tattooed, CIA-trained server brought us a bottle of still to quench the thirst we had built shopping the Crystal at Aria. Our only disappointment on ordering from the half-dozen dishes in each category was the wine list’s oversight of Retsina, an iconic pine-resin flavored Greek wine and Consort’s fave.

The apps appeared quickly, Grilled Octopus ($10 supplementary) for me and Hortopita for Consort. Loaded with charcoal-broiled flavor, I devoured the octopus. I don’t think Consort was able to stab more than one tender blackened morsel for himself. I promised to share next time. The Hortopita, a flaky stuffed pastry served with a small herb salad, started off Consort’s prix fixe with notes of tangy feta and fresh herbs.

mealFor mains, I ordered Lavraki, a whole grilled sea bass butterflied and made piccata-style with olive oil, lemon and capers. Fresh from the Med, the boneless fish, flaky and flavorful became a favorite. A glass of Greek Agiorgikiko rosé paired with Consort’s Shetland Island Organic Salmon—a lunch-sized ingot of Scottish salmon also grilled with capers, herbs and lemon. Tasting both, I think mine was the winner, but his won a close second.

Though happy and satisfied with the meal, our server insisted we try dessert. His recommended Greek yogurt presented like rich and tangy vanilla ice cream covered with fresh berries. Again, simple, classic and the perfect capper for the meal.

Taking account of the price and the extent of the menu, Estiatorio Milos should be good for six straight Vegas lunches without fear of redundancy, boredom or disappointment. Kalí óreksi! (Bon appetit in Greek.)


February 28, 2015
by Terry Ratner

Fish Eggs

CaviarPrime Restaurant
Inside Bellagio
3600 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas NV 89109
(702) 693-7223

I think the role of a chef, is not just to cook, but to create cravings.” – Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Famous rock-star chef Jean-Georges causes foodies to swoon just hearing his first name. With his three-star Michelin achievement comes a strong-willed Alsatian background with culinary history running through his veins. It wasn’t a difficult decision to end our gustatory Valentine’s Day weekend with a dinner at Prime, located in the Bellagio Hotel, which in ‘Vegas’ means a long walk through a smoky casino. You sink to a new low trudging in four-inch heels with your man to Prime steakhouse. You don’t have to lower your standards, but you do have to descend physically down long corridors to the lower level of the hotel. The hike is well worth the effort as it allows you to dine while gazing out multi-paned French windows at the legendary and talented dancing fountains in Bellagio lake that perform every fifteen minutes or so they say. More about that later.

Prime’s chichi eatery shows some of the refinement of an Eastern chophouse – dark, warm colors, comfy chairs and crisp white tablecloths. But it is also true to its Vegas-baby location, displaying just the right amount of glitz, bling and smarmy opulence which the owners designate as chocolate brown and “delicate Tiffany blue décor” the elaborate design of Michael DeSantis. Chef Jean-Georges has two establishments in Las Vegas, the other is his self-named steakhouse at the Aria, plus over two dozen additional upscale restaurants scattered throughout the world.

FountainOnce seated at our “ring-side” table we were greeted with a complimentary champagne cocktail and a timely explosion from the star of the show, which interrupted our intimate moments more than once. We timed the intervals and they were irregular between 5 and 6 eruptions an hour. To be honest, after a couple of acts, I was more taken by a family of ducks cruising around the lake seemingly unaware of the carnage going on around them.

We sipped our champagne, toasting one another in between kisses before we picked up the comprehensive steakhouse menu loaded with starters, soups, salads, steak, seafood, sauces and sides, and began to ask our server questions. Our Captain had been with Prime since the day Bellagio opened in 1998, so his knowledge was immense and he would toss in a bit of trivia or add an aside of history with every answer and explanation. We looked at each other, and agreed by telepathy that this was our guy. So, we gave him free rein to order for us. We were not disappointed.

For a first course, he brought us a classic presentation of luxurious, ostentatious and pretentious golden Osetra caviar. It was to die for. Chilling in a large bowl of meticulously hand-cracked ice lay a tiny cup of silky grey-gold gems destined to be scooped onto silver-dollar buckwheat blinis with a mother of pearl spoon. The accompaniments made the deliciousness stretch to last as long as possible— minced red onion, chopped hard-cooked egg yolks and whites, creme fraiche, lemon, capers and chives. Oh my! I guarantee that after a few minutes of caviar—feeding-frenzy there was not a single sumptuous ovum left in sight.

After basking in the afterglow, over a cleared and meticulously crumb scraped table, the salad was delivered. For this, our server had recommended the roasted beets with apple, ricotta and quinoa. It was perky and tasty, but certainly not as amazing as course one, so we concentrated on the wine. We had ordered The Prisoner, a personal favorite since Consort once won a bottle at a pizza cooking party (but that is a whole ‘nother story), a trendy red blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Charbono.

The main course came with a flourish, three varieties of A5 Japanese Wagyu beef, filet, strip and ribeye, to be carved tableside and presented with simple vegetables and bearnaise, peppercorn and rice wine sauces. Some people call this Kobe beef, because of its relation to the city of Kobe, Japan. Prime more accurately labels it as Wagyu, or Japanese Black Beef, and the A5 designation translates as “best of the best.” However, as it is with most “done three ways” offerings, one way is always better than the other two. In this case it was the filet – the ribeye and the strip both seemed to need an extra minute on the fire. Our server had recommended a pair of sides for the main course, Brussels sprouts with maple-roasted quince and hunks of bacon, gnocchi and mushrooms in a gouda fondue. Both were good, but a bit too heavy handed after all the previous viands.

DessertOur Captain, along with server and busser teamed up and would not allow us to leave without one complimentary anniversary dessert, so they brought two – an amazing cheesecake with pineapple snow and a chocolate bombe that melted under a pour of warm caramel sauce to reveal a prize inside. They were ambrosial, but the gesture was all too Vegas – a redundancy of lavish excess. We capped off the night with a Canadian classic, a rich, sweet and indulgent flavorful icewine. We toasted each other, and tasted the syrupy wine on each other’s lips. One more toast to the team, Captain Danny, Server Julio, and Busser, Miguel.

“L’amitié peut entourer la table.” (May friendship surround the table.)

FYI: The Bellagio Lake, the size of eight football fields, holds the same amount of water as 2,000 swimming pools and would take more than a year to fill with a garden hose.


February 25, 2015
by Terry Ratner

Twistin’ the Night Away

twistersTwist Restaurant
Mandarin Oriental
3752 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Consort and I celebrated our Valentine’s Day anniversary in Sin City—a great place to romance and chillax. The foodie extravaganza began with an evening that upended all expectations. We experienced an unconventional, wild, and outright mélange of cuisine and service with unlikely food combinations paired together for the happiest of unions—a twisted evening affair for lovers.

Twist, three Michelin Star Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s only US restaurant, is nestled high in the swanky Mandarin Oriental Hotel; a place unique among its casino resort neighbors – no gambling, no smoking, just sophistication and sensuality.

When we arrived at the Mandarin, we stumbled around an unmarked lobby, looking for signage or arrows directing us to the restaurant. It was then Consort gently removed my elbow length black laced glove, blindfolded me and led me through the labyrinth.

On arrival, he peeled off my mask just in time to take in the Strip view from the 23rd floor. The contemporary style setting by Adam Tihany with its floor-to-ceiling windows, suspended wine loft reached by a glass staircase, and golden globes floating in space like fireflies gave way to a most romantic evening with outstanding French eclectic gastronomy.

amuseOur host led us to a window table where our server greeted us with a champagne cocktail – Kir Royale’s, our fave. How did he know? While we perused the special Valentine’s Day menu, the requisite amuse bouche arrived. It was a trifecta of tiny delights including a show-stopping dice-sized cube of shimmering gin & tonic pierced through with a spear of vanilla bean.

The four-course Valentine’s Day tasting menu started with a Terrine of Foie Gras with Sauternes – a delightful pâté of lush goose liver made even richer with the addition of a few spoonful’s of exotic sweet French wine. It partnered with tiny specks of intense flavor architecturally arranged on the plate—a cube of red cabbage gelée, bits of apple and quince compote, a toasted brioche square smeared with quince paste and mini drizzles of beetroot and cranberry syrup. Since we had ordered a wine pairing, a two ounce pour of the 2009 Chateau Haut-Mouleyre, from Cadillac, was charged with matching this amazing starter. The results: smooth, unctuous with a hint of sweetness, the Haut-Mouleyre only heightened the Chef’s quirky creation.

souffleThe second course, an eye-popping Scallop and Haddock Soufflé – a lightly oven seared “pancake” of goodness from the sea drenched in a rich sauce oozing American hackleback caviar. The soufflé sat in a nest of sea bean slivers (normally painfully salty, these weren’t) on a bed of perfectly cooked gnocchi. A side to this course was an amazing savory pudding of this and that dished up in a champagne glass looking like a child-sized sundae – but definitely crafted for adults. The wine was an Australian red blend “Rose” from Weingut Gerhard Markowitsch, Carnuntum. Like any modest rosé, it allowed all of the flavors of the second course to live on the palate while keeping our whistles wet.

The main course presented a conundrum – a choice had to be made between the Fricassée of Lobster A L’Américaine or the Black Peppered American Wagyu Striploin Steak. However, this being Valentine’s Day, a couples holiday, the solution came easy – Consort had the steak and I ordered the lobster with a promise to share.

lobsterThe halves of lobster tail were butter poached, sweet and delicately tender. They were dressed in the buttery smooth white wine sauce and accompanied by a salsify and carrot purée and sautéed shiitake mushroom caps. I honestly don’t know what happened to it, except to say, I didn’t play fair—I didn’t want to trade my lobster for a piece of meat.

Consort’s striploin was presented as perfect rectangular Lincoln logs of seared pepper-crusted beef tastefully laid out under a blanket of a rich, creamy bordelaise sauce with plenty of shaved black truffle for good measure. Consort thought the truffled mash croquettes tucked up next to the steak were a bit gooey and bland, but praised the miniature purses of artichoke barigoule for their earthy umami taste.

The entrée course was paired with a unique wine from the Vipava Valley Herzogovinia (first time I ever had to spell that) – the 2006 Monastery Tverdos’ Vranac. This was a deep dark red that had a lot of barnyard on the nose but was fruity and complex on the tongue. Although it was an ideal pair for the Wagyu, it lacked the finesse necessary to accompany the lobster, so my glass was left lonely.

DessertConsort slid his chair an inch back from the table to mentally let out his belt preparing for the dessert course – the Chef’s eponymous Grand Dessert Pierre Gagnaire. If a three Michelin star chef put’s his name on a dish, you don’t pass on dessert. Close your eyes. Now. imagine a tower composed of an orange and ginger roulade cake topped with cheese cake mousseline, chestnut ice cream, cassis marmalade, almond nougatine, caramel, raspberries and meringue straws strewn all around with colorful edible flowers. The fact is, it’s unimaginable. The Hou Hou Shu “Hana Pink,” another personal favorite, sparkling sake was the pair for the final course and they made a beautiful Valentine’s Day couple.

Dinner ended, but our evening was just beginning. We’re not going to go into our usual ‘attention to detail’ narrative. Just use your imagination.


February 24, 2015
by Terry Ratner

high in vegas

HeartBed2Alizé Restaurant
Palms Casino Resort
4321 West Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV, 89103

We road-tripped to Vegas from Phoenix. During that time, I thumbed through four New Yorkers, a New York Times book review, and tweeted a photo of Mr. Ed, a horse in front of us who stuck his head out the window for most of the trip.

We rolled in after four and a half hours and were escorted to the VIP check-in at the Bellagio where we were assigned a media rate room for our Valentine’s Day restaurant review and anniversary weekend. They fed us hors d’oeuvres and wine before escorting us to our quiet corner suite on the 25th floor. The walk from the elevator to our room equaled the distance of three city blocks.

The CEO welcomed us to our suite with a hand-written card, heart-shaped arrangement of rose petals on the bed, and a bottle of Champagne and chocolate covered strawberries. We couldn’t resist chuckling about the romantic snack—I have an aversion to chocolate and consort has a severe allergy to strawberries.

Our dinner reservation at Alizé s (French for Tradewinds??), known for its spectacular views of the strip and outstanding French cuisine was set for 8 PM. I wore a low-cut, short black dress with sexy lace tights and gloves, and high-heel ankle boots. Consort wore black jeans, black shirt, a black sports coat, and his French cap. Yes, we love to dress in black.

We cabbed it to the Palms Hotel, an older philistine establishment, rushed through clouds of smoke through the dingy casino without taking a breath—trying to protect our pallets. We were cleared by the elevator police before being allowed to ride to the 56th floor. Not a great first impression.

Window2We walked past the restaurant’s center piece, a glassed-in wine cellar displaying several levels of their renowned wine and cognac collection. Sitting at a table overlooking the Rio, the rear-end of the Bellagio, with a great view of Vegas’s brand new Big Wheel (550 foot- High Roller) spinning in the distance, delivered the sparkling glitz one expects from Las Vegas. We ordered our usual Kir Royales to sip while we took in the delights of the Chefs’ classic menu—a selection loaded with quality and not much in the way of innovation. I realized that the value of the dinner had to be measured by how well the cooks execute their vision, not on creativity.

keyAs the cocktails arrived, the server ceremoniously placed a gold key with a red velvet tassel on the table and said, “This fits a treasure with a surprise at the end of the meal.” The suspense was palpable. I could hardly contain myself imagining all kinds of gifts.

After we ordered, an amuse bouche so small as to be nearly invisible appeared – a cocktail spoonful of cauliflower soup with a tiny cube of raspberry gelée and a few drips of basil oil. Delicious! The concept of the amuse—to titillate the patron’s tastebuds, build anticipation for the meal, and to introduce the chef’s style of cuisine.

I ordered Roasted Lobster Bisque with saffron polenta lobster tortellini and a slash of tarragon oil and Consort had the Seared Foie Gras with brioche pain perdu, sweet potato purée and apple chutney. We intended to share. My bisque was a silky smooth seafood cream lightly populated with floating pillows of lobster-filled pasta—wonderful. Sorry. Forgot to share.

The foie was well seared, simply oozing fatty flavor and goodness. The pain perdu (think bit o’ French toast) was the snappiest of the accompaniments, sweet and savory at the same time and a good match for the foie. We paired the meal with a Cote de Provence Rosé.

Dinner1Entrées followed. My Dover Sole was expertly prepared and the sauce Véronique presented with a queue of grapes in a military formation along the top of the filet like rotund, yet tasty, marching soldiers. Consort’s Veal Wellington, seemingly the only innovative dish on the menu, was both visually appealing and flavorful. The rounds of veal were run thru with asparagus, almost sushi-like, rolled in puff pastry and served in a pool of truffled jus. It cut like butter and tasted like food of the gods.

Still dreaming about the fabulous contents of our treasure chest, we stumbled blindly through dessert. I think it was a less-than-extraordinary kiwi/lime Panna Cotta. This time I shared.

Finally, I was given the key to unlock the mystery prize. Trembling, I twisted the key to reveal the booty. It was a mushy chocolate and caramel cupcake boxed and wrapped in plastic wrap. Big deal! It melted by the time we made it back to the room.

Our dining experience at Alizé seemed adequate to begin the romantic weekend tasting—a pretty place with a knockout view, but its French cuisine desperately needs a makeover.

FYI: When cabbing back and forth in Vegas, be sure to get the number of the vehicle (posted on the side of the cab) and a receipt, just in case you lose something valuable. Yes, I know, we learned the hard way. What’s left in Vegas, stays in Vegas.






January 10, 2015
by Terry Ratner

fse & tlc

fseBella Vista Biltmore
1260 Channel Drive
Four Seasons Resort
Montecito, California

Consort and I road-tripped from Phoenix to Santa Barbara in eight hours, counting the two brief pit stops for ourselves and our Bedlington terrier, Gracie. Yes, we drove with our well-behaved two-year old dog, who slept most of the journey in her sheepskin doggie seat.

We had dinner reservations at Bella Vista for 8:30 PM, but because of L.A. traffic, arrived at 9:25 PM. They stop seating at 9:00, however we were treated like royalty from start to finish despite our late arrival.

We chose to sit inside next to the large, double-sided stone fireplace under a ceiling of glass. The restaurant’s ambience and décor, including a sense of quiet elegance with fresh flowers on the table and intimate conversation in front of a cozy fire set the tone for a romantic evening, which is difficult to do after riding in a car for 468.2 miles.

Harold, our waiter, welcomed us with an endless grin, laughter, and kindness. Imagine this—a server excited to greet his last table of the night. He told us he had worked at the restaurant for the last thirty years, give or take a few years. Harold is our FSE (favorite server ever).

Our first course, antipasti, an organic green salad with delicately sliced apples, salted ricotta cheese, and a lemon verbena vinaigrette, was a close second only to the porcini sformato, a custard with wild mushrooms, spinach, and a pecorino cheese sauce. We made love to the sformato—sex on a place.

LobsterOur primi course, lobster radiatore, tasted tender and succulent, a sweet lobster mixed with homemade perfectly al dente pasta. The offering of bread included warm, fresh from the oven fragrant focaccia, light and tasty, served with sun-dried tomato spread that melted in our mouths. You know our feeling about the importance of bread—how it sets the tone for the evening.

My choice for secondi (main course), a grilled tenderloin bistecca, served with chili roasted Brussel sprouts and an olive oil potato puree seemed as if the ingredients were meant to be together. Consort ordered the smoked lamb chops with cannellini beans, sautéed hen of the woods mushrooms and rainbow chard sauced with an apple agrodolce. Over a glass of rosé, we fed each other forkfuls of the amazing entrees . If that wasn’t enough to wow us, we were served a scrumptious side of course-ground white corn polenta with wild mushroom ragu.

LambIn case you’re wondering how we know so much about what we consumed that evening, we’ll let you in on a secret. Both the executive sous chef and manager were happy to share the philosophy of this modern Italian cuisine featuring farm-to-table ingredients as well as a few tips from the kitchen.

Dessert seemed to follow as naturally as firing up a cigarette after sex. And no, neither of us smoke, but we’ve read about it and seen it in movies. We selected and savored ‘Going, Going, Gone Bananas,’ a rum-soaked banana with passion fruit and vanilla bean gelato.

The Bella Vista, one of the finest most sophisticated restaurants we ever reviewed, has high standards which they live up to. Imagine if all restaurants were genuine and gracious to their guests while showcasing quality, healthy and innovative cuisine. But this review isn’t only about service and food, it’s about a type of rare hospitality—the perfect place to unwind, relax, and recharge after a long journey.