Sunday, February 21, 2010

I love the Olympics!

There is a reason I don't blog about sports -- I'm hopeless. I wore bifocals starting in kindergarten, so I was the last kid chosen for any athletic team. Yet, I love the Olympics! I am in awe of the talent collected in one place. For the most part, the Olympics we see as spectators is the epitome of sportsmanship. Yeah, the Russian figure skater bad-mouthed the US win, but, hey, that's left over from the cold war. Usually, when a skier goes down, there are many countries represented in the group rushing to help. The Olympics bring out the best of international relations and remind us of what the world could be.
In terms of the sports, I cannot imagine being competent at most of the sports. I know Courtney Zablocki who finished fourth in luge in Torino and I know how hard she works and how easily she is injured. I simply cannot even imagine being able to do what she does. I stood at the top of the ski jump hill in Park City and I got dizzy standing there, never mind sliding down the hill with the intention of jumping 1 centimeter, let alone 100 meters or whatever distance they fly through the air.
There is one event even we couch potatoes can relate to -- curling! At the moment, I am watching the American women lose miserably to the Canadians, but I can relate to this sport. These women are "real" women -- sizes 12 and 14 are represented. There are little rolls around the waists, thick thighs, hips, even arms that don't even hint at muscles, all the less attractive aspects of our physical selves are visible on the athletes in this sport. If we concentrate, we can see the strategy. Granted, seeing the strategy and actually placing the rock where one wants are two completely different things. This sport is bocce on ice with a few extra twists. The strategy is not unlike pool -- place your rocks where you want them while knocking your opponent's rocks out of play. The catch is that the cue is a human sliding on ice without benefit of skates. I'm not saying I could master the sport of curling, but I can imagine not embarrassing myself in the sport. It is good to have a sport where a mere mortal can imagine some success.
I love the Olympics! There are times to dream the impossible dream and times to imagine our own participation. Most important of all, the predominant theme is one of peaceful competition. And that is a theme that we can dream would predominate even when the Olympic torch is no longer visible.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This is the place for seafood in Las Vegas

When the Sampsons and the Eichenwalds do anything together, one of the major components of the planning process involves food. Our excursion to The Lion King was no exception. The discussion began almost as soon as we got the tickets. Now, where shall we eat? Because the show was at the Mandalay Bay, it made sense to eat in that facility. We read reviews, we asked people, we tried to look at menus to assure that I could find something to eat there. We heard a lot about RM Seafood. Interestingly, after the show, Thom Smesma (Scar in The Lion King) suggested RM Seafood if we were looking for a good place to eat. Ahhhh.... even I can eat at RM Seafood. Actually, I can eat quite nicely at RM Seafood!
Our waiter was George and he was quite a personable sort. We had a fun bread basket of little biscuits and cornmeal muffins. Very homey! That bread basket set the tone for a meal that was comfortable, with food that was simple in that there were no fancy sauces and complex gimmicks, and with no pretensions.

Robert and I chose Hawaiian Walu which was served with broccoli and little bits of puffed rice in a shitake-dashi broth with shitakes on top as well.
The firm-fleshed, mild fish had a little top crust formed with a soy glaze and run under the broiler. This was a dish created with a lovely light hand. The fish was the star of the dish and there was nothing to compete with it. The veggies and broth came along to add their unique flavor perspectives and it was truly enjoyable and comfortable food.
Sonia and Howard chose Diver Scallops. I tried just a tiny taste of the accompanying cauliflower gratin in which the cauliflower was clearly the point of the dish, not the sauce. The scallops sat on a golden raisin emulsion.
Chef Moonen used couscous as a crust on the scallops and we all marveled at such an interesting idea. Again, the theme of this dish was the simplicity that featured the fish.
The four of us agreed on a lovely Austrian Gruner Veltliner. It had a nice minerality that complimented both scallops and Walu. I am kicking myself for not recording or remembering more than the grape because I would certainly buy a few bottles when I get home. I have a vague picture of the label in my head and I hope it will serve me when I go looking for this wine. When George served the wine, we had a little conversation about the screw-top and its increasing use in the fine wine industry. George proudly pointed out that the screw-top fit well with the restaurant's policy of sustainability.
It is my habit, following a couple of times when I forgot major features of my food before I sat down to blog as I did just now when I forgot the vintner for our wine, to admit that I am a food blogger and ask for a menu to help me get things right on the blog, to admit I am a food blogger and request a paper menu to take with me. George jumped on it. He even introduced us to Rick Moonen, the man whose initials provide the name of the restaurant. He graciously discussed with us his concept in using a couscous crust for the scallops and generally answered our questions about the meal. He even agreed to pose with me for the picture below. Chef Moonen is getting a bit of national attention, so plan accordingly!
If you are in Las Vagas and looking for a superior seafood dinner, don't hesitate -- head to the Mandalay Bay and RM Seafood. It is just outside the casino in the Mandalay Marketplace for the more casual dining (about $50 a person) where we ate or up the escalators to the more formal version (around $95 a person). The official website tells me upstairs is RM Seafood and downstairs is RM Casual. Phone is 702-632-9300.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spago Las Vegas Style

One of the amazing things in Las Vegas is that, no matter when you want to eat, the restaurants are packed. Our best choice at the Forum was Spago. We were too hungry to wait for one of the choice tables that project into the mall and allow one to see the storm come in and the statues move. the large back room was farther from the crowd and a pleasant break from the noise and crowds that are a fact of life around the Strip.
The meal started with a lovely selection of breads, all of which were good, but the crispbreads were exceptional. The bread disappeared fast, but I caught a picture of the accompaniments -- salt, butter and rosemary-infused oil.
In fact the breads went so fast, we had to ask for a second go around to be sure they were as good as we thought and not "good because we are so hungry."
It required quick photography with my new 'Droid to get shots of the meals before they were devoured. That was particularly true of my friend, Howard, with his pancetta-wrapped meatloaf
on a base of potato puree, mushroom gravy and port wine sauce and topped with three lovely onion rings.
Sonia grew up on Lake Como, so she knows from Bolognaise. She pronounced her Pappardelle a la Bolognaise very good. The menu described braised beef, roasted double blanched garlic, plum tomatoes, house-made Ricotta and Italian parsley.
Robert ordered the mesquite grilled Snake River Farm Kobe Beef Burger which he pronounced some of the "smoothest" beef he ever ate.
I nibbled some of the pommes frites which were, I promise you, some of the best fries I have ever eaten. Dusted with parsley and just the right amount of salt, they were absolutely the perfect level of crispness.
I had hand-cut fettuccini with mushrooms, peas, and glazed shallots.
What sounded innocuous in the menu, glazed shallots, turned out to be glorious -- shallots glazed in a lovely balsamic vinegar reduction that changed what could have been a somewhat ho-hum pasta dish in to a flavor explosion. In fact, about half of that lovely pasta is in the refrigerator, so, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll enjoy it again.