JALEO BY JOSÉ ANDRES
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
I love Jaleo, in Las Vegas’ Cosmopolitan Hotel, which is somehow both laid-back and bustling, centered around a “paella grill” and offering a huge variety of small plates. There’s a busy atmosphere to this large open space, as you’d expect in Las Vegas, but somehow all the activity is easily tuned out while you concentrate on the foodie pleasures. While the paella is obviously a standout, they’re all about small plates here, and celebrity chef José Andres presents a huge variety of selections, both traditional and not-so, with his signature creativity making them an adventure in inventive Spanish cuisine. Patatas Bravas, potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce, are a perennial favorite, as are the lovely Croquetas de Pollo (chicken fritters) and the uniquely presented salmon tartare “cone.” Bacon-wrapped dates are a standard dish, but here they’re fried and served with an apple- mustard sauce for a unique combination of sweetness and kick. Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp grilled with garlic) are, as the menu states, “the very, very famous tapa,” while something like Berenjenas (fried eggplant with local honey) is a less-expected pleasure. Wash it all down with their sangria, or perhaps a rosemary lemonade for the non-imbibers. Too many choices? Take a “Tour de España” and let the chef make all the decisions for you! As tapas both traditional and modern appear one by one on your table, you’ll know you left things in good hands. 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas Nevada. Tel: 702-698- 7950. www.jaleo.com/location/las-vegas
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Dragon Beaux, in San Francisco’s Richmond district, is not your usual dim sum joint. This is clear the minute you walk in and see the elegant setup, with carved wrought iron screens and posts holding globe lights at the ends of the tables. Then the food arrives and all you can say is “fabulous!” Traditional dim sum are given modern and sophisticated spins, such as their signature “Five Guys,” a series of five xiao long bao (steamed buns) served in soup spoons and spanning the rainbow: the naturally-hued outer “skin” is flavored with pork inside, while skins tinted with beets are filled with beef, and others are respectively squid ink/black truffles, turmeric/crab roe, and spinach/kale. As my friend Kim commented, “This is not your mama’s bao!” That’s just the beginning of the gorgeous food on offer here, which somehow both adheres to the Chinese traditions and takes them in totally new directions. Perfectly un-greasy fried rice comes with bits of Wagyu beef, while amazing little daikon cakes are about a million times better than they sound, with a silky smooth texture and a slight kick from the daikon. Jumbo Scallop Shiu Mai are a delight, as is roasted duck (which has the traditional sauce as well as a little dish of a tangy accompaniment that tastes to me like tamarind). Tiger prawns are coated in “supreme soy,” a soy sauce reduction that gives a pleasant sweetness to the just-the- right-amount-of-chewy prawns. Presentation is absolutely beautiful, and the taste matches the beauty. Another plus (anyone who’s driven in San Francisco can relate): there’s a parking lot right next door. So settle in, order about a mil- lion things (as we did) and prepare for a visual and culinary treat. 5700 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, California. Tel: 415-333-8899. www.dragonbeaux.com
TAPAS PAPA FRITA
The popular Scottsdale spot Tapas Papa Frita awakens all your senses. The first thing you notice is the wall of twinkling lights (take a seat behind it for a semi-private dinner). Then there’s the live music, filling the room with Latin sounds. Then, of course, come the tapas themselves, displaying an endless variety of taste sensations from fruity and mild to spicy and wonderful. You’ll find such standards of the tapas world as Pan Boli, so simple but amazingly good, the fresh tomatoes playing against the grilled bread, or Gambas al Pil Pil, an Andalusian dish of grilled shrimp with a spicy sauce of guindilla peppers, white wine, and garlic. Alcachofa a la Romana (egg- dipped artichoke) is a colorful little dish with zig-zags of green and red, and just as colorful on the palate. Watermelon and tuna might seem like an odd combination, but it works nicely in the Atún Con Sandia, a cube of fruit topped with the luscious fish, a sprinkling of red and green making the hues even more vibrant. Whether you try ham and cheese cro- quettes, portobellos stuffed with goat cheese, or mussels in a sherry sauce, you’ll find all areas of Spain represented, from Málaga to the Basque regions, Andalucía to Aragón. Of course, you’ll want to add in a dessert, such as a classics flan, churros, or crema Catalana, and perhaps a Carajillo (espresso with brandy) to finish off your meal. You can see why this place is always buzzing with activity, and it’s not just the coffee drinks. 7114 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale AZ. Tel: 480-699-5004. www.tapaspapafrita.com
Seven North, located in the Max Brown design hotel, is a buzzy, friendly spot with a broad selection of small plates, where you can get a variety of dishes that demonstrate Chef Eyal Shani’s unending creativity. Take a little French, a little Italian, a little German, toss in a wild spirit of adventurousness, and you get this astounding cuisine that’s unlike Gambas al Pil Pil at Tapas Papa Frita any other I’ve experienced. You might start with the Freekeh, roasted and herb-tinged green wheat resting on a bed of yogurt. From there move on to spinach stems (yes, just the stems), which are steamed to tenderness so they’re actually totally amazing, served in a large envelope of parchment paper (or, as the menu puts it, “perfectly arranged in a paper envelope”). One of Chef Shani’s signatures is turning everyday foods (even those that many aren’t crazy about) into culinary delights. Masahaba, for instance, transforms lima beans into a must- have with red onions, tomato seeds (yes, seeds), and mild chiles whose crunch and heat contrast nicely with the beans. Eggplant moves from “ewww” to “wow” in the dish Sabih, in which Shani places it atop “clouds” of tomato swirled in tahini. The look here is semi-industrial, with an open kitchen at one end of the long room, green- tiled columns, and every table full even on a weeknight. Shani has created a bold voyage of culinary creativity, and it’s thrilling for the traveling gourmet. Schottenfeldgasse 74, 1070 Vienna Austria. Tel: +43-1-376-1077. www.sevennorthrestaurant.com.