Experiencing Great Restaurants and Delicious Libations

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Mabel Gray – Hazel Park MI

23825 John R. Rd. Hazel Park, MI

Visited February 2017

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2017 Restaurant of the Year – Detroit Free Press

A month ago we made reservations at Mabel Gray for a birthday dinner. As luck would have it, the day of our dinner Mabel Gray was named Restaurant of the Year by the Detroit Free Press. There was a buzz in the air.

This surprisingly small restaurant is a redo of an old diner – or partial redo. It still looks and feels like an old diner, outfitted with thrift store mismatched china and 1970’s vacation souvenir and 4th of July water glasses. I am not sure if the design intent was to be eclectic, campy, clever, or just cool. My impression was that it has a 70’s suburban recreation room vibe. It was packed with anxious patrons, including the Mayor of Detroit, ready to find out what the buzz is all about.

The staff was impressive – engaging, friendly, attentive, and described the details of the dishes as if they had prepared each themselves.

The Food:

We started with a few shared plates. Duck Heart Yakitori, Root Vegetable Salad, Kabucha Squash, and Crispy Yukon Gold Potatoes. All were delicious, beautifully presented – with only one reserved review on the duck hearts…because they were duck hearts.

The entree courses ordered at the table included Fried Pork Belly Salad, the Lamb Chops and the House Gnocchi. The reviews of the Pork Belly and the Lamb Chops were very good, and the presentation was appealing – but I had the Gnocchi. It was the only disappointing dish of the evening.  It was soupy, and extremely garlicky -too garlicky for my taste (and I like garlic). The plating /presentation also was not appealing at all, more like a diner dish from the building’s previous incarnation.

The desserts were all big hits – and we ordered one of each of the items from the dessert menu to share. The evenings selection included Heath Chocolate Cake, Goat Cheese Cheesecake and the Bananas Foster. All looked great, and all tasted great – a perfect end to the evening.

With the exception of my entree, the food was delicious. I do plan on returning for the Chef’s Tasting Menu. You do not know what you will be getting, but based on what we experienced, it promises to be inventive and interesting – I just hope there is no Gnocchi on the menu when I return.

Sage – Las Vegas NV

Aria Resort

Visited January 2017

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Aria Resort and Casino in City Center, Las Vegas

Shawn McClain, Chef

Sage is one of the original restaurants in the Aria Resort and Casino in CityCenter Las Vegas. This trip was the first time I was able to have dinner at Sage. I have always been impressed by the restaurant design. The bar and lounge visible from the entrance and through a couple of windows open to the main lobby of Aria is a stunner. The high ceilings, the long bar with a long row of simple pendant fixtures suspended over the bar set the scene for an elegant experience. The back bar has a great selection of whiskeys and bourbons presented in a simple tryptic framed display are flanked by grand oversized european art scenes illuminated with a brilliant glow in a purple hue. The only element that I thought did not feel right was the size of the chandeliers above the dining space in the lounge. They are too small.

I had not realized that there was a separate spacious main dining room tucked away beyond. It has a similar elegant vibe, repeating the elements from the bar/lounge with the purple hued art pieces…and chandeliers that are too small.

I started with a Sazarac cocktail and sat back and enjoyed the room. I knew I was going to have a great meal in this room.

I started with the Wagyu Beef Tartare with crushed caper aioli, slow poached egg and crispy chocolate. Looked great, tasted great. (note that the photos do not show how beautiful the dishes were due to my camera picking up the purple hue from the adjacent artwork) – I try to be as unobtrusive as I can be when I take photos and never use the flash, respecting the environment and the other patrons)

For my entree, I selected the Spice Crusted Venison Loin with salsify, licorice and black trumpet mushrooms. Another perfectly prepared dish that tasted equally perfect.

For dessert I knew going in that Sage also has a good absinthe selection, with all of the appropriate accoutrement. I selected a California absinthe with a flavor profile in the anise and herbal range. A subtle nice way to end the dinner.

Il Fornaio – Las Vegas NV

Located in the New York New York Casino

Visited January 2017

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This is a special entry in my restaurant blog.

It is the first restaurant I am recommending because of the toast….. yes the toast (oh and the rest of the food is very good as well).

Years ago while I was in Vegas often for work, I would always try to make it to Il Fornaio for breakfast, just so I could get the toast. It had been 3 years since I was in Vegas, and my first morning there I made my way to New York New York to see if the restaurant – and the toast- were still there. They were, and I was happy!

As many restaurants do, their menu states that they bake their own bread, by hand from scratch with no preservatives. Well in this case I believe every word of it. The toast is worth the trip to Vegas!

Firefly* – Las Vegas NV

3824 Paradise Rd. Las Vegas NV

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Off the strip local favorite.

Nobu (Hard Rock) -Las Vegas NV

Located in the Hard Rock Casino, Las Vegas

Visited January 2017

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Revisited one of my favorite restaurants

Hakkasan – Las Vegas NV

In the MGM Casino and Resort

Visited January 2017

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Both a Restaurant and a Nightclub

Bad Luck Bar – Detroit MI

1218 Griswold – Alley Entrance

Visited December 2016

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A Detroit Optimist Society Project.