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Snacking on the strip - tacos and pizza

My first stop was Tacos El Gordo. The place was pure chaos. Luckily I had read about how their different lines for the different items and I went straight to the one offering beef cheek tacos. Not surprisingly, it was one of the shortest lines. For two dollars I got one of the most meltingly tender taco, on two soft corn tortillas, topped with the salsa Verde. It is definitely on par with Tacos El Amigo in Waltham. For $2 it's probably the best deal on the strip.

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My next stop was Bouchon bakery in the Venetian Hotel. When we were in Napa, Bouchon forgot to put my salted caramel macaroon in the bag, so I decided it was worth walking 2 miles in 100° weather to procure one. I arrived to a set of closed doors, five minutes before the posted closing time (9pm). I now officially hate Thomas Keller.

So then I walked on to Payard patisserie at Caesar's Palace. It turns out they do not sell individual macaroons, but prepackaged sets of six - definitely not what I was after, either.

After watching the dancing water fountains of Bellagio, I decided to check out the Cosmopolitan. This is a new hotel and bridge nationals will be there in 2019 & 2024. I had read about a "secret pizza" place there. I followed the directions from a helpful poster on chowhound - go to the third-floor and down a on ummarked hallway with albums covers lining the walls. I was rewarded with a small pizzeria, with no seating and offering only four types of pizza. I had an excellent slice of white pizza. The crust was thin and crispy, and the ricotta was creamy and just salty enough. It was not exactly a bargain at $5.25, but extremely delicious.

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I have been feeling sick since Friday, which makes for two days of crappy bridge. Luckily, I've been doing much better at the dining table than the bridge table.

Last night, a large group of nine of us went to Viva las arepas, a Venezuelan restaurant just north of the hotel on the strip.

It is a casual restaurant, you order at the counter and they call your number when your food is ready.

I ordered the wood fire beef arepas ($4.50) and a smoked pork butt arepas ($5.50). An additional side of rice and black beans cost me $3.

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My food was delicious. In case you are not familiar, arepa is a kind of flatbread that's made of ground corn meal. It is very popular in Columbia and Venezuela. They use it as bread; add delicious meats, cheeses, avocado and vegetables between two arepas and you have yourself a delicious sandwich.

Although they are not big in diameter, the food packs a punch. I was able to finish my woodfired beef Arepas, but the smoked pork butt sat left barely touched. I'm hoping it will make a decent breakfast. The flavor of the beef was deep and smoky and although there were some small chunks of gristle, overall it was a delicious sandwich. I tried my friends fried plantain; they were sweet and tender, but I missed the crunch.

The prices are extremely low, and the service is fast. It is an excellent choice for a large group because there are options available for everyone, even the fussy chicken people.

http://m.vivalasarepas.com

I could not have planned it any better. Art of flavors, one of the best gelato places in Las Vegas is literally right next door to Viva las Arepas. $3.25 gets one flavor, five dollars gets you too. There are lots of unique choices to choose from, including a baklava, and a green tea Kit Kat. I went with the more traditional salted caramel. Everyone raved about how great their gelato was but the flavors of mine tasted muted. I'm willing to bet that it has to do with being sick and my taste buds though.

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Fat Choy, Las Vegas

Situated in a small, smoky casino on E. Sahara, Fat Choy offers affordable and interesting Asian Fusion eats.

I went with a crowd of 6 and 4 of us decided to share: Peking duck baos ($7 for 2) , pork belly baos ($7), Grandma's potstickers ($6), short rib rice ($14), Sesame noodles ($8) and a short rib grilled cheese sandwich with fries ($10).
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The restaurant was causal and the food came out as it was ready. First was the Short rib rice - 3 large chuck of tender braised short rib, atop rice with greens, carrots, preserved mustard greens and a perfectly running fried egg on top ($2, extra). It was really delicious and satisfying.

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The potstickers would have made Mama Tsoi proud - the skins were thin and tender, encasing a flavorful pork and chive mixture.

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The short rib grilled cheese was our only real fusion dish and it was awesome. The fries were blonde, a la McD's.

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The baos were a big winner at our table. Kim stated that she normally doesn't like pork belly, as was prepared to give Jeff her share, but decided to try it and loved it. I think the duck bao was great, as well. There was a piece of crispy skin tucked in with the meat.

Marc did not like the sesame noodles; he thought it was too spicy and not enough sesame flavor. I thought the noodles were okay, but certainly the weakest dish of the night.

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We shared a peanut mousse ($3) for dessert. There was too much gelatin, and so the mousse was a little stiff.

Our server was super friendly and attentive. There was $1.50 beers available in the casino, which could be brought in,

It is a $6.50 cab ride from the Westgate hotel, or a .9 mile walk.

Dumpling House, Cambridge

A sister restaurant to Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown, Dumpling House just opened on Mass Ave, halfway between Harvard Sq and Central Sq. The menus are nearly identical. They only take reservations for parties of 5 or more, so I was worried about the wait for 6:30pm on a warm Saturday night. But, fear not, the dining room was only half full and we were seated immediately. By 7pm, the restaurant was packed, mostly with Asians, and there was a line out the door.

It seems like Steve and I have a standard Chinese restaurant order, as we have had almost the same exactly 5 dishes at Gourmet Dumpling House, Dumpling Café and Szechuan’s Dumpling.

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Scallion pancakes ($5.25) – These were crispy and flaky, but I thought they lacked in scallion flavor and were a tad greasy. Steve had no such qualms and had the majority of the dish.

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Flat noodles with beef ($8) – These are more commonly known as beef chow foon. These were an excellent rendition. The noodles and beef were tender, flavorful and not too greasy. Steve loved the noodles and proclaimed it his favorite dish of the night.

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Sautéed peapod shoots ($14) – I always order these greens, despite the high price tag and they are always delicious.

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Mini soup dumplings with pork ($7.25) – These soup dumplings were only ok; I still think dumpling café has the best. The skins were slightly too thick and the filling too dense.

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Lastly, we had the steamed bacon with garlic ($7), and it was awesome. I loved it. I was surprised that it was a cold appetizer, but it added to the dish. In fact, this is the first time I ever thought that bacon was refreshing. The meat is slicked with red chili oil, so I was worried it would be too spicy, but it only has a hint of heat from the fresh garlic. It’s not for everyone; Steve had one piece and declared he did not like it, which meant more for me. I ate the whole thing; the only one of the five dishes we ordered to be finished. Just writing this flog makes me want to return for more.

Some of the reviews have complained about the service, but ours was quick and efficient. Water was refilled without asking and the food came quickly. Our table for two was a little small for all the food. Steve commented that we had ordered a lot and I just shrugged and smiled, knowing I would be enjoying the leftovers the next day. Parking is only metered street parking for those not blessed with a Cambridge permit, but I found a space right in front.

There is no liquor license yet, so we took a leisurely stroll in to Harvard Sq to John Harvard’s Brew House, our old Tuesday night haunt for a drink. Steve loved Bow stout and we caught up with our favorite bartender, Fran.

Afterwards, we ducked in to Pinkberry to see if they had my favorite flavor, salted caramel and they did! Eating froyo, walking back to the car was a perfect way to cap off date night.

https://www.facebook.com/Dumplinghouseinc

Scissors & Pie, Boston

This shop, specializing in thick crust Roman-style pizza, opened only a few months ago on Newbury St, in a subterranean space. The Boston Globe raved about it, as well as my friend Neil, who works across the street. I had a long workday and it was 8:45pm before I realized that I had not eaten yet. I was at MIT and decided to take drive across the river for some grub. My parking mojo was working and I found a space right in front. The restaurant closes at 9:30pm, and so there was only a limited selection of pizzas available.

The pizzas are attractively displayed on large sheet trays. You determine the size of the slice you want, they cut it with scissors (hence the silly name), and pay for it by weight (60 cents to $1.05 an ounce, which can add up quickly).

I had a Livingsocial voucher for $12, so I opted for a generous slice of the margarita, which was hot out of the oven, a slice of cotto patate (mozzarella, prosciutto cotto and thinly sliced roasted potatoes), a small taste of the Italian sausage and broccoli.

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The notable thing about this pizza is the dough. It is thick and chewy – too chewy. My jaw was tired after eating my dinner. The website describes the how they “Respect the dough” and that the 72 hour rise yields the perfect crust. I will admit, although tough, it is flavorful.

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The cotto patate was my favorite. The potato and prosciutto went really well together; it was a thick hearty meal. It was less like a pizza, and more of an open faced sandwich.

The margarita had the tenderest crust; I think that is because it was freshly out of the oven, not reheated, like the other 2. But, the flavors were underwhelming and I was not impressed by the lone, wilted basil leaf.

The Italian sausage and broccoli had a nice kick from red pepper flakes, but the dried out broccoli had seen better days. I think it was a victim of sitting out too long, coupled with the reheating.

The prices are high, but that is to be expected on Newbury St. I think that I just prefer thin, crispy crust pizza above all, but it’s a nice change of pace. It is certainly a decent stop for a quick lunch, while shopping. If you go, get whatever pizza is still hot to avoid the tough crust issue.

http://www.scissorsandpie.com/

163 Vietnamese Sandwiches, Boston

Sunday was warm and breezy, a perfect summer day to walk around the city. My friend Leslie and I started at SOWA, perusing through the vendor stalls and food truck offerings. I bought an art print that I still haven't decided if I like or not, but it is hard to find anything cocker spaniel in black (it is almost always in buff).

zelda print

We strolled through the food trucks, but I suggested a walk up to Chinatown to try a banh mi at 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches. The shop is small, but service is fast. I got the cold cut sandwich ($3.5), the classic mélange of assorted pork products, cilantro, picked carrots, daikon and cucumber. Leslie got the BBQ beef sandwich ($3.75). We took our sandwiches to a shaded picnic table, just outside the Chinatown gate. I enjoyed my sandwich, although it does not come close to my favorite Banh Mi in Lowell. I think the filling was stingy, so the ratio of meat to bread was off. Leslie took a bite and I asked her how it was and she said, "I don't know, it was all bread, but the bread was good." The bread was light and crispy. Her BBQ beef was sweet and tasty.

Banh mi

We walked on to Bread + Butter in the North End and shared a Nutella cookie. It was delicious; chocolaty with a perfect chewy texture with a dollop of Nutella on top. We continued walking by Quincy Market, and through the Boston Public Gardens. It was a perfect Boston summer day.

Nutella

163 Vietnamese Sandwiches
66 Harrison Ave, Boston, MA 02111
(617) 542-7903

Carleen's Coffee Shop, Lawrence

Steve and his college buddy Fred ran the N. Andover 10k on the 4th of July and needed a hearty breakfast afterwards. Fred suggested Carleen's, a local restaurant that serves your basic breakfast fare.

We ambled in at 11am and there was a sign stating they were closing early (10:30am) because of the holiday. I let the guy know I had called only an hour previous and was told they were opened till 11:30am. The guy shrugged and let us stay. There was a long line, and 30 minutes later, we were seated.
I had an egg, sausage and cheese sandwich on a biscuit ($3.25) and a side of home fries ($2). The biscuit was tender and made a nice sandwich. The home fries had a crispy crust but were bland; luckily, it was nothing a dash of salt couldn't fix.

biscuit

homefries

Steve's French toast ($6.75) was 3 generous slices, topped with a mountain of apples and whipped cream. I thought it was a little on the doughy side, but he enjoyed it enough to polish the whole thing off. Steve noted that there were 5 different types of sausage available; he got a side of Italian sausage ($3.25) and it came nicely griddled.

apple toast

Fred, impressively, finished his stuffed French toast (topped with strawberries, blueberries, bananas and whipped cream) as well as 2 eggs, toast and home fries. The service was slow, but that was to be expected on a busy holiday morning.

Fred and steve

http://www.carleens.com/
Allison needed to get some steak tips for her upcoming camping trip, so I went with her to McKinnon's in Davis Square. I perused the meat selection and saw marinated lamb riblets. I had never heard of this cut. A quick Google search explained that lamb riblets are cut from the boney end of the lamb breast rib. For $4 a pound, I decided to give it a try.

Most of the recipes I found involved low and slow cooking; but there was no time for that, so I got a nonstick fry pan screaming hot, seared it on both sides, turned down the burner and cooked till it reached a medium rare temperature.

It was outstanding. The meat was flavorful from the marinade and although it had a bit of chew, it was not tough. I think the riblets would also be excellent on the grill. Why pay $12 a pound for rack of lamb, when this is a third the cost and packed with flavor?

lamb

http://www.mckinnonsmeatmarket.com/

Elieen's Pizzeria and Grill, Lowell

We were in Lowell to see Neko Case perform; she is part of the Lowell Summer Music Series. If you have never been I would encourage you to check it out. It is a lovely outdoor venue, perfect for a warm summer night. Bring chairs, blankets and a picnic and you could not ask for a nicer evening.

www.lowellsummermusic.org

We went with Chucky and Sumita and we packed snacks (chesses, crackers, chips, and brownies) and ordered a mushroom and pepperoni pizza ($13) from a nearby restaurant, Eileen's. It's located on Merrimack St, just a short walk from the concert site.

I was pleasantly surprised by the pizza – the mushrooms were fresh, not canned (although they were not sliced, but hacked up in uneven chunks). The crust was decent, although it could have used another 3 minutes in a pizza oven. Given our limited options, it was a fine dinner choice.

pizza

http://www.eileenspizzeria.com/index.php

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Pizza Pie-er, Cambridge

I needed a quick bite before bridge, so I decided to stop in for a bite at Pizza Pie-er, a shop tucked back from the street, next to the Hess station. The space is bright and comfortable, including very clean bathrooms. They don’t serve slices, so I opted for a personal sized (7”) pizza Francesca ($6.74). It was advertised to have sliced mushrooms, prosciutto, tomato sauce and cheese, but apparently the people at Pizza Pie-er do not know the difference between real prosciutto and ham. I appreciated that the mushrooms were fresh, but the crust was too thick and clunky, while the sauce was too tart. I felt like I was at pizza hut. I think the draw here is that they offer 4 different crusts, including gluten free and whole wheat, but if you don’t have dietary restrictions, go elsewhere.

pizza

http://www.pizzapie-er.com/

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