January 31, 2011

Comfort Food in --- Las Vegas?

UNLV Campus in Winter
Photo by Jeff Speer
   When most people think of Las Vegas, rarely do they picture scenes of cold, rain, and snow. However, the city is located in a desert basin at 2,030 feet above sea level and winter temperatures, though usually mild in the day, often get chilly at night with lows dropping into the 30s. And, although snow is rare in the Las Vegas Valley floor, every few years, it gets more than a slight dusting — in December 2009, the city had a 3.6 inch snowfall.
    Without a doubt, this is the time of year, even in Las Vegas, to put away the salad tongs and pick up the soup ladle. Because nothing says “comfort food” like soup. Clear broths, creamy textures, or hearty combinations — soup is coziness in a bowl.

Elements Kitchen and Martini Bar
   Drive a couple of miles west of The Strip on Tropicana and you will come upon a nondescript strip mall just behind a gas station on Rainbow Boulevard. There you will find Elements Kitchen and Martini Bar (4950 S. Rainbow Blvd.), one of the nicest and friendliest small restaurants in a town known mostly for the grand and impersonal.
    Their motto — Comfort Food with a Touch of Sophistication — pretty much describes the place. A favorite with locals, Elements features fresh ingredients, housemade bread and desserts, and a martini selection that will amaze you (over 300 flavors and varieties).
Cream of Carrot with a Hint
of Ginger Soup
    In addition to creative main course options and inventive desserts, Chefs/Proprietors Catherine and Jose Louis Pawelek offer a wide variety of delicious and comforting soups, including Pasta Fagiole, Roasted Tomato, Minestrone, and my personal favorite, Cream of Carrot with a Hint of Ginger. One big bonus: no high-fat additions. Jose Luis thickens the “cream” soups with a bit of potato, making them rich and tasty, but a bit lower in calories. A bargain at $5 a bowl, soup comes with slices of freshly baked bread.
    Naming it as one of the Top Ten Restaurants in 2010, the Las Vegas Review Journal said, “Elements is the kind of neighborhood place we’d all like to find in our own neighborhood.

Viva Mercado’s Mexican Restaurant & Cantina
    If your taste runs more to South of the Border, continue down Rainbow to Viva Mercado’s (3353 S. Rainbow Blvd.), which participates in iDine. The menu includes all the usual items — tacos, enchiladas, chile rellenos, tamales — but crafted with your well-being in mind. Bobby Mercado and his family are proud that they prepare traditional Mexican food in a healthful manner, using only lean meats and no vegetable fats (including the refried beans). In addition, they offer a generous selection of Mexican soups.
    The full meals start with their signature Sopa de Fideo ($2.95 cup; $3.95 bowl; Gordo Bowl $7.95) a rich tomatoey chicken noodle soup that is flavorful, but without heat. Other soup offerings include Pozole, loaded with carnitas and hominy ($3.95, $5.95, $8.95), Albondigas ($3.95, $5.95, $8.95), and the traditional weekend hangover cure, Menudo ($3.95, $5.95, $8.95).
    But for the real soup-as-meal experience, treat yourself to the Peasant Soup ($3.95, $6.95, $9.95) — a base of Sopa de Fideo with added rice, pico de gallo, and a choice of beef, chicken, or chorizo. A great way to refuel before hitting the next casino or golf course.

Nordstrom Cafe
    Gambling, seeing shows, and fine restaurants all make up the Las Vegas experience. But some people come to town for one reason alone — to shop. From the luxurious shopping experiences in City Center and the Forum Shops to the bargains at the Las Vegas Outlet Center and Premium Outlets, visitors have access to stores only found in Paris, London, and New York. Harry Winston, Longchamp, Pucci, Carolina Herrera, and Porsche Design — and we’re just getting started.
    One of the most popular centers, Fashion Show Mall (3200 Las Vegas Boulevard So.), fits somewhere in the middle of the luxury and the bargain options. Anchor stores Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s, Saks, and Nordstrom’s are joined by over 250 stores and restaurants. It’s easy to spend an entire day taking in the live fashion shows, special performances, and the shops.
    Lunch definitely should be on the agenda. But how much time do you want to take from your serious shopping to refuel? The Food Court is quick and has great options, but isn’t very relaxing. The fine dining places have great stuff, but are maybe even too relaxing, taking away time you may not want to spend away from the main event.
    The Nordstrom Café offers an in-between option, and it has soup! Located on the third level of the store, the Café is a pleasantly designed modified cafeteria-style restaurant with plenty of options. Tasty pasta, sandwiches, salads are made to order, and although the line may seem intimidating at lunch, once you get up to the counter, it moves pretty fast. (To beat the worst of the lines, try going at 11:30 a.m. or after 1:30 p.m.)
    One of the most popular food items is also one of the quickest to access — the soups. Nordstrom Café offers two daily soup specials like Pumpkin or Spicy Asian Vegetable, along with their signature Tomato Basil Soup, which is offered every day. All are served with a crispy Parmesan Crostini. The Tomato Basil is thick, creamy, flavorful and one of my all-time favorite soups anywhere. Cups of soup go for $3.50, and a full bowl is only $4.50. Even with a drink and a cookie or brownie, lunch here is inexpensive by mall food standards and a definite cut above the Food Court.
    Your bowl of soup and the friendly and efficient setup and service assures that you will get back to your shopping refreshed and not too much lighter in the wallet.


Elements Kitchen & Martini Bar, 4950 S. Rainbow Blvd., #100; 702.750.2991; www.elementskitchenandmartinibar.com

Nordstrom Café, Fashion Show Mall; 3200 Las Vegas Boulevard So.; 702.862.2525

Viva Mercado’s Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, 3353 S. Rainbow Blvd.; 702.871.8826; www.vivamercadoslv.com (iDine participant)

Originally published at Dishkebab
January 18, 2011

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