Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Savannah's Candy Kitchen, Atlanta GA and Enoteca San Marco, Las Vegas NV

Say what you will about it - I’m a planner. I book reservations, I have bags loaded three days in advance, I pack travel foods like a mother with a toddler and my schedule is crowded but rarely “overaggressive.” When I travel I try to maximize my time; the things I see, the friends I visit, the foods I eat – it makes for a busy trip, but a very rewarding one. That said, it seems as though Delta’s life goal is to frequently confound my plans to the max – on this trip by skipping their nightly safety check and beginning the two hour required check at 7:25am. My plane was supposed to take off for Vegas via Memphis at 7:20am arriving in Vegas at 10:55am. After a frantic and expletive laden conversation with “customer service” regarding their “rescheduling” me via two layovers to arrive at 7:52pm I managed to get the issue remedied though Atlanta with me arriving in Vegas at 2:00pm.

Pissed off with my two hour layover in Atlanta I decided to make the best of it – I’d eaten a light breakfast and packed a protein bar plus some celery for the original trip but clearly that wasn’t going to make it. Hopping off the plane and browsing the options all I saw was the usual suspects – aside from one, Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. Walking into the small shop after grabbing a Starbucks (best of a bad lot) grande Coffee I decided to skip the protein bar and indulge – celery, a praline, and a slice of pecan pie.

Starting first with the Praline – excellent and quite ample in portion. Charged by a rate of $16.99 per pound the $2.25 sample was a well balanced butter/sugar concoction with just a bit of “sugar grit” that contrasted well with the smooth and softened nutty textures.

Contrary to the praline, the pecan pie was not ample in portion – a small slice for $4. Judging from the texture of the pie I’m going to venture a guess and say the pecans were cinnamon baked prior to being added to the pie – something I’ve not really tasted before that made the pecan/”filling” contrast less notable and while not ‘ungood’ just not as pleasing as other pecan pies I’ve tasted. A solid pie, but nothing I would crave – it went well with the coffee and provided a nice sugar peak to wake me up. In case you were wondering, the celery was excellent.

All told – decent enough for a layover in a pretty nice airport and good fuel for writing a spiteful letter to Delta – they can take their $50 voucher and cram it - after the San Francisco incident they’ve now burned their second chance.

Finally arriving in Vegas and calling ahead to push back plans (both lunch and dinner) I checked my bags and made it to my first food destination – Enoteca San Marco. Having purchased a $25 voucher for a mere $4 weeks before traveling and already having lunch plans for the subsequent days I had it on good word that this trip would be worth it and after great meals at Babbo, Otto, and Mozza in the past I more or less knew what to expected.

Seated canal-side in the beautiful Venetian where we were staying, ESM’s pseudo-sky and interesting street performers add an appealing feel to the already “cool-casual” approach of the restaurant and arriving in the lunch/dinner break I was seated immediately, handed a menu and explained the specials, and given water and bread. Similar to Otto the bread entailed a hard/crusty bread that was clearly pre-made alongside pre-packaged Barbaro bread sticks. No butter, no olive oil – pretty boring.

With many menu items looking/sounding excellent I knew I needed to spend $50 to use the gift card but was equally aware of my reservations at Joel Robuchon six hours later. Selecting carefully I opted for a salad, a contorti, a fritti, and a pizza – trying to save from for dessert. Arriving first, my contorti dish consisted of 8 large figs “agrodolce” cured in balsamic vinegar – at only $6 the dish was a steal and tasted wonderful with the sweetness of the figs proving a substantial match for the sour and acidic vinegar. No pits, no stems, soft flesh and crispness to the skin – all told, excellent.

Waiting only a short time my next arrival was the salad – or at least the dish listed as a salad. Entitled Due Uova the plate was certainly overpriced at $14 but the taste/flavor certainly made up for it. Featuring a creamy and rich risotto cake flash fried and filled with cheese the dish was next topped with a farm fresh hen-egg served sunny side and then accented with an ample portion of mullet bottarga – hence the “two eggs.” Textural and rich the dish shined despite its price tag and once again showed off Batali’s skill with eggs.

Arriving next was my pizza and fried item. First off, Zucchini Blossoms with Picorino Fritti consisted of five flavorful and lightly fried blossoms loaded with a zesty pecorino that melted just enough to give contrast. Light and sweet to complement the savory cheese, the blossoms were actually more fragrant that I was used to and had a great “aftertaste” that lingered on the palate.

Finishing the blossoms I suddenly realized just how large the pizzas were and knowing I A) needed to spend $50 to use my certificate, B) wanted dessert, and C) had the previously mentioned dinner in a few hours I decided to only eat half the pizza – a half that turned into 4/6 of the pizza plus all of the toppings from the remaining slices after a couple bites. Featuring a perfect and buttery cracker crust topped with pulled Ham hock, braised Endive, ricotta, and mozzarella the pizza was stated to be a daily special and it was incredible – possibly the best pizza I’ve had in a couple of years. Smoky and savory yet sweet the ham was wonderfully tender while the crispy endive proved a nice foil with its mildly pungent tones. The blend of cheeses worked well to accent the toppings without overwhelming, something I’ve found Batali’s team particularly skilled at in past experiences.

Allowing my servers to clear the table (at this point inexplicably still holding the plates of every dish I’d consumed) and to finally refill my water (only 1 refill during the 70 minute meal) I watched the “Street performers” while awaiting my dessert. Feeling somewhat full I decided against the “dessert du jour” – profiteroles, and instead opted for one of Enoteca’s signature gelato sundaes - Concord Grape Sorbetto, Peanut Butter Gelato, Peanut Butter Cookie, frozen Concord Grapes. Presented beautifully with a small gelato trowel I proceeded to crumble up the cookie and take a taste. First impressed by the incredibly “grape-like” flavor of the sorbet and its tart almost wine-like aroma I next took a bite of the smooth and creamy gelato – literally like a blend of butter and peanut butter but cold. Finally, mixing the two – heaven – like the best peanut butter and jelly you’ve never had.

When it was all said and done my total bill came out to $57, or $35ish including my certificate – quite frankly, a steal for a Batali meal and especially in such a unique setting. While clearly not as “refined” as Babbo or Mozza, I actually liked the atmosphere and food at Enoteca much more than that at Otto – I also didn’t have to wait for 2 hours for a seat. While service could have been better and prices perhaps slightly lower on the due uova, nothing was out of line and I’d certainly consider returning to Enoteca San Marco for a casual lunch on future visits to Vegas. Say what you will about Mario – the man does great things with cheese, pork, and eggs…perhaps a breakfast joint to compete with Bouchon is in order?

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