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Botero @ Encore, Las Vegas – Chef’s Vegan Tasting Menu

Published November 22, 2011 by Vegan Derby Cat Party

I will start out by saying that I tried to get the scoop on Vegas vegan eats a full week and a half before my trip. @LJPendizzle was super helpful and gave me many insights, including checking out Red Velvet Cafe, which I unfortunately missed. I also came across quarrygirl.com‘s many entries on Vegas food which led me to be the last person to find out [even my mom knew!] that Steve Wynn of the Wynn resort hotels went vegan a while back and made all of the resort restaurants incorporate vegan menus! WHAT?! Yes! Here’s a link to sample menus that @quarrrygirl uploaded to her site. While they’re not current, they give you a basic idea of what’s available.

Since I was on my own for dinner, I decided to go ahead and go all out with Botero’s Chef’s Vegan Tasting Menu. A full 5 course meal for $60. (menu on quarrygirl.com says $55, but no longer.) I called the restaurant to confirm that they were still offering it, and to make my reservation, and they assured me that it was offered every night.

After arriving at the Wynn, I realized Botero is actually located at the Encore, the sister hotel connected to it by a corridor of high-end boutiques. Botero’s staff was wonderful from the moment I entered. I was seated at a table overlooking the perfectly manicured garden and pool area, and the ambience was candle light, curtains, dim, and luxe.

my lonely little table for one!

First came the bread, which I was absolutely thrilled by. This is truly one of the things I most miss about eating a vegan diet! Not cheese, not meat, etc… I miss being able to go to a restaurant and get served a beautiful basket of fresh bread! It came with two different types. One of which was like a soft pretzel roll, complete with granules of salt, delicious! The second was a crusty sourdough (I miss you sourdough!) with cranberries. They served it with a ramekin of butter, which they assured me was vegan. (It tasted so much like real butter! Maybe I’ve been doing this so long now that I don’t really remember what real butter tastes like?)

The next course was the Cauliflower Soup, made with soymilk and almonds. The subtle simplicity grows on you spoonful after spoonful. It’s low on salt, but very creamy and lightly seasoned with what I think was nutmeg. There are little bits of cauliflower throughout to give it a little texture, as well as the slivered almonds and herbs it was garnished with. Very good.

Next up was the salad course. The Fall Panzanella Salad described as having apples, pears, and grilled grapes. I was expecting a sweet salad, but the salad that appeared on the wooden plank with it’s lone crouton was quite the contrary. The bitter microgreens and vinaigrette gave it a decidedly sour note. I couldn’t tell which were shaved and which were slivered of the apples and pears, but they were also tart. The occasional grilled grape gave a slight contrast, but I wish there was more of a sweet & sour balance. The single crouton was large, and fresh. Toasty and buttered, but soft in the middle and able to pick up some of the dressing. Not  bad.

The next course was the Quinoa Pasta  described as a spicy gremolata with cashew cream. While it was creamy, it was definitely not spicy. It was a little bitter and a little salty, and not very good. I knew I had two more courses to come, and figured there was no point filling up on the low note, so I pushed it aside and nibbled a little bit more on the tasty bread.

Course four was the Roasted Acorn Squash. It came topped with tofu that had a really nice texture and was subtly seasoned. The squash beneath was served very simply with no discernible seasoning, but it was perfectly decadent just from its own lovely flavor . The pepitas added a smoky note to the dish that worked, but the abundance of bitter microgreens did not. They were just distracting to the central flavors and warmth of the dish, so I pushed them aside, and devoured the rest with gusto.

Throughout my meal, I was studying their regular vegan menu. I noticed that the other of the three dinner entrees was a Gardein chik’n dish. I usually prefer Gardein’s beef to their chicken substitutes, but I’ve had some very good dishes prepared with the latter in restaurants. Initially I was glad they had skipped it on the tasting menu, since I was more interested to see what their chef had created independently, but after the disappointment of the quinoa pasta, and simplicity of the roasted acorn squash dish, I wondered if it may have been a better option?

I also noticed that the dessert not being served was churros. Churros?! With spiced pumpkin dipping sauce?! I was immediately seized with want, but when my dessert arrived, I was placated. The Spiced Pear Crumble came elegantly adorned with a single preserved pear slice atop, and the execution elevated this simple fruit, which is notably not my favorite, due to its gritty texture, to something special. The pear-cider sorbet it was served with was surprisingly rich and provided the perfect contrast to the warm, spiced crumble.

Thoughts: Although there were some nice parts to the menu, I must say, overall, I was slightly disappointed with the food. I was really expecting to be wowed at this caliber of a restaurant. The ambience was nice, the bread was great, and the  service was impeccable, but if I had ordered either of the entrees at the price point they were listed for on the menu, I would have been even more underwhelmed. I realize that this is not a vegan restaurant (actually, it’s a steakhouse!) but I did expect more. While I do appreciate what they’ve done at the Wynn resort so far, I think they still have just a little bit further to go, at least at Botero.

Burger Bar @ Mandalay Place, Las Vegas

Published November 17, 2011 by Vegan Derby Cat Party

So… Believe it or not, I was actually going to skip Burger Bar, even though it was right where I was staying, had a vegan option, and had positive reviews on quarrygirl.com. Why?! While I may be able to tolerate mushrooms a little bit more these days, I’m still chopping them into tiny little pieces and pushing discernable mushroom shapes aside. Mushrooms are just not my thing, and the Vegas Vegan $13, uses two giant portabella caps as the bun. Besides, Jenna gave me the heads up that it was just kind of okay. Essentially it’s a plate of roasted vegetables stacked up in the shape of a burger,  very delicious vegetables, except for the mushrooms of course!

However, Thomas was able to get away for an hour the day of the Latin Grammys (the reason we were in Vegas; He’s a set designer) and it was right there, so went for it. Burger Bar has an immense beer selection of both draft and bottles, craft and popular. So we were pretty happy about that too. 😀 Here is the link to a small version of their menu.

So here is my pretty little plate. Served with the usual burger fixin’s (pickle was great!) and a generous portion of fries. I swapped sweet potato fries for the “skinny fries”, as everyone had suggested, and they were indeed good, though they got a bit soggy sitting in the paper cone.

When I removed the toothpicks the “burger” it held its shape, but there really isn’t a way good eat that slippery stack with your hands. I pushed one of the caps aside to make it both more bearable to me, and small enough to keep the layers, but get it into bite sized pieces. The roasted veggies were fantastic and helped to mask the portabella well! For the record, I did try to eat some of the straight mushroom cap, and failed. (It’s really a texture thing for me; mushroom’s just make me want to gag.) Oh well!

Verdict: It was tasty, and the fries helped to make it more filling, but it really wasn’t that substantial of a meal; I really hate when I have to eat chips or fries to fill up. If you’re craving an awesome beer and something to nibble on, give Burger Bar a try. I wouldn’t recommend it for dinner though. Well, unless you’re having beer for dinner! The beers are available to go as well, and they even have some 22oz-ers and special editions.

Burger Bar is located in the Shops of Mandalay Bay, Mandalay Place, just before the Luxor and across from lots of vegans’ fave body store, Lush. Open 11:00am – 11:00pm Sun – Thurs, and 11:00am – 1:00am Fri – Sat. 702-632-9364.

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Tacos & Tequila @ Luxor, Las Vegas

Published November 9, 2011 by Vegan Derby Cat Party

For my first meal in Vegas, I wanted to stay close to the Mandalay Bay. I went with Jenna‘s suggestion of heading over to the Luxor’s mexican spot for veggie tacos [that could be veganized], Tacos & Tequila or T&T. There’s something that’s sort of eerie to me about being in that mostly unadorned pale pyramid, but you forget that when you enter T & T. The vibe in there is a bit more colorful and cheery, especially with the constant stream of classic songs that have been set to techno beats. Let me tell you, I heard the most unlikely songs layered with a dance track… Eye of the Tiger, Hotel California, Pina Colada, Black Hole Sun, the Rolling Stones, Guns n Roses, etc!

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They have a $5 happy hour menu that’s a pretty good deal if you just need a snack and want to grab some guacamole and a drink. I however, ordered a mojito and the veggie tacos. When I asked her to hold the dairy (comes with sour cream and crema fresca) she asked if I wanted them “vegan style”. Yes, I said, that would be perfect! : ) Heres the regular menu.

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After a while she asked me if I wanted chips & salsa. Really, she forgot and was getting some for the newest additions to the bar, but oh well. This particular bartender seemed to barely have her head above water the whole time. She was apologizing to everyone. I’m gonna go ahead and just assume she was new. The other girl was on top of her game. They serve the chips with a red & green salsa. Both taste like roasted tomatoes, and neither one was spicy, too bad about that.

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And here are my “Vegan Style” Tacos Vegetarianos, $13, Grilled zucchini, corn tortilla, mushroom, corn, chile poblano rajas, [sans] crema fresca

These were super delicious. It was a really nice combination of flavors from the roasted veggies, and I dumped the beans and rice into the tacos too, and ate two of them as soft tostadas. They tasted great with a squeeze of lime (wedges provided) and some of the roasted tomato salsas. The tacos are actually really tiny and the serving sizes are lunch appropriate, but I still left full and happy. So if you’re hungry, make sure you get the chips and salsa too!

Tacos & Tequila is located one level up from the casino, where the BODIES exhibit and Carrot Top’s comedy theatre is. Open daily 11AM – 11PM. Happy Hour is Monday – Friday from 2:00 – 6:00 pm.

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