I thought today I'd do a bit of a round up of some of our favourite meals from our time stateside.
We had quite a few meals in and around Venice. Although our house had a kitchen and we were 5 minutes from Whole Foods, none of us really felt like cooking much and it was much easier to just walk to Venice for dinner, not least because there are some really outstanding restaurants in the area.
My favourite was Gjelina, probably the most well known restaurant and where Prince Harry apparently ate the day after the infamous Las Vegas pictures emerged. I was all ready to hate Gjelina for being too cool and too hipster and everything that I hate in a restaurant but I couldn't argue with the quality of the food. It was pretty much the most 'me' restaurant that I've ever been to. Perfect ricotta gnocchi with tomato and basil, the best pizza I've ever had in my life with chorizo and fennel and then a butterscotch pot de creme with salted caramel which even my mother, who hates desserts, described as 'heaven'.
Other highlights were Hal's where they have live jazz on a Sunday night, Joe's which serves European influenced fine food and 3 Square Cafe which captured my heart with its macaroni and cheese croquettes. There may well have also been several trips to N'ice Cream for a scoop of their salted caramel ice cream. I couldn't possibly comment.
We also had a lot of fun checking out the first friday celebrations in Venice when shops and galleries stay open late and the road fills with food trucks. After several glasses of wine, a Korean short rib burrito the size of my thigh hit the spot nicely.
Oh Las Vegas, you taunt me with your big name restaurants and fancy chefs and then disappoint me with your overpriced food and poor service.
We ate in our hotel, the Bellagio, for two of the three nights we were there. The first night, my boyfriend and I went to Prime, a steakhouse which is, admittedly, one of the 'fine dining' options that the hotel offers. The only table we could get was at 9.30pm and we ended up having to wait about 20 minutes for our table. This seems to be a fairly normal occurrence and happened at another restaurant in the Bellagio. I can understand why you make people wait if they haven't booked a table and just turn up but when I book a table at a certain time, I expect to be seated at that time and not have to hang around because the restaurant is on some sort of ego trip (both times, the tables were empty and ready to go).
The food was fine but our two steaks, sides and a bottle of wine was over $300. It was by far the most we spent on any meal of the holiday and really not worth it.
The second night, my parents took us to Circo, also in the Bellagio, before we went to see the Cirque du Soleil show (which was, by the way, amazing). We had gone to the New York branch of Circo a few years ago and quite enjoyed it so it seemed like a good bet. The food was fine - mainly fancied up basic Italian dishes if that makes any sense - although it rapidly became clear that they didn't actually cook most of it in the restaurant's kitchen. The service was appallingly slow despite making it clear when we booked that we were going on to the show and therefore didn't have all night to wonder why it took them so long to bring us a bottle of wine. There was about a 45 minute gap between our starters and our main courses and when they did come, it was obvious that a couple of them had been standing around for a long time. The restaurant did remove one of the dishes from the bill but when we asked why it was so slow, our waiter just shrugged and said that there wasn't a problem.
Really, there was nothing particularly wrong with the food at either restaurant but the arrogance just annoyed us all so much that it was very difficult to enjoy meals that we were spending a small fortune on.
On our last night in Las Vegas, I'd booked a table at Roy's, just off the strip. The staff were friendly, the atmosphere was relaxed and the Hawaiian fusion food was both exciting and delicious. My mother said that the 'Canoe Appetizer' she shared with my boyfriend (baby back ribs, seared shrimp, spicy tuna rolls, lobster pot stickers and ginger chicken skewers) was the best thing she ate all holiday. They also have a gluten free chocolate soufflé which is pretty darn amazing.
Huge thanks have to go to the lovely Kasey who was so generous as to provide some really thoughtful recommendations of places to eat in and around San Francisco. I wish we'd had the time to try every where that she suggested but we had to make do with just two; Commonwealth and Nopalito.
Commonwealth describes itself as a progressive American restaurant. The food is, at times, breathtakingly beautiful and combines unusual flavours without seeming like it's trying too hard. We had the tasting menu with matching wines which was $105 each (including a $10 donation to a local charity) which seemed remarkably good value for what we ate, not least in comparison to our meals in Las Vegas.
I loved the vegetable course of radishes, grown on the roof of the restaurant, with homemade fromage blanc and ancient grains. Most of the savoury courses I didn't finish in the hopes of pacing myself but I couldn't resist pretty much licking this plate clean.
There was a surprise course at this point of carrots in brown butter with scrambled tofu. I was so-so about this dish although it is apparently one of the most popular dishes on the menu. I think it was mainly because I prefer a firmer tofu (it's that whole brain thing again...).
The meat course was wagyu beef with fermented pepper and a few tiny cubes of hay-smoked potato. I would have liked a bit more potato because it was so unbelievably tasty but no real complaints.
A grape sorbet with an almond granita and a poppyseed meringue was an interesting palatte cleanser before the real business of dessert - a peanut butter semifreddo with frozen popcorn. If it hadn't been for that darn radish course, this would have been the highlight of the meal for me. Who would have thought the day would come when I'd prefer a plate of radishes to dessert?
At some point we also had some homemade potato chips (above) seasoned with seaweed and an avocado (maybe, there was quite a lot of wine involved by this point) macaron. And I'm pretty sure that there was another sweet course in there as well. I'm sure I've used the word 'interesting' several times but the food really was interesting. It was unlike anything I'd ever eaten before and for all the unusual flavours and textures, there was never a moment when the taste of a dish was sacrificed. Really, really wonderful.
We also had good meals at Fino, an Italian near our hotel, and R & G Lounge, a slightly bizarrely named but very good restaurant in China Town.
A quick word on New York. We were there at the start and end of our trip and although we had grand plans for fancy meals and food trucks, we ended up being pretty useless. The first night we were there, my boyfriend wanted to go to Ellen's Stardust Diner on Time's Square where the staff serenade you with show tunes as you drink milkshakes and eat burgers. I loved the meal I had with Lauren and Tara at Westville in Chelsea which was bright and fresh. On our return to New York, we had breakfast at Norma's before flying back to the UK. My chocolate waffles filled with peanut butter were the perfect way to round off the holiday.
If you want any more information about any of these places or about anywhere else that we ate (or indeed details of where we stayed), please feel free to email (email@example.com) or tweet me.