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Posted by on Jan 14, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 0 comments

Restaurant Review: Hafez Persian Cuisine (Las Vegas)

 

 

RESTAURANT REVIEW:
HAFEZ PERSIAN CUISINE (LAS VEGAS)

I’ve enjoyed Persian (Iranian) cuisine for more than 30 years. Ever since I ordered my very first Koobideh, the authentic preparations from that part of the world have me completely hooked.

Persian food often gets miscategorized as Lebanese, Turkish, Armenian, and even Greek. Indeed, some of the dishes and many of the basic ingredients are very similar to other nations in the area. However, Persian food, which dates back many centuries, is distinct for its glorious mix of spices and flavors, meticulous preparation and attention to detail, and a few odd ingredients specific to the land which is now Iran.

Las Vegas has half a dozen or so decent Persian restaurants. Zaytoon’s within walking distance of my home, has been a family staple for more than a decade. Shiraz, on Decatur, is also very good. Now, let’s add Hafez to that list of dependable, delicious, and affordable restaurants.

Owned by a family that immigrated to the US many years ago (their photo hangs on the wall and they work in the restaurant), the location is somewhat the outlier. Hafez is smack dab in the middle of Chinatown, which means it’s easy to miss and not so easy to find. But the search and journey is well worth it.

On Monday, Marieta and I enjoyed the house lunch special which is offered 7 days a week. Koobideh (and other items) are complete and sell for only $9.95. What a steal. Marieta added an Aush soup, as well, and noted it was the best she’s tried since Royal Persis (LV’s first Persian establishment, now closed). The soup was plenty large (easily enough to share).

Hafez, named for a 14th Century Persian poet, is a spotless restaurant. The decor is modern and tastefully done. Large television screens with visuals of nature and animal life compliment a bright room that is open and airy. Modern Middle Eastern music was playing during our visit, which was just the right volume and vibe. There’s also a bakery connected to the restaurant. Everything is made in-house.

Dinner prices are about one expects from the typical Mediterranean establishment in Las Vegas. Main entres are priced in the $12-20 range. This makes the lunch special quite a bargain (same food for essentially half the price, though the portion is smaller).

Hafez deserves a visit, especially if you enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine. And even if you don’t give Hafez a try. They merit a strong recommendation and deserve to succeed.

 

HAFEZ:  WEBSITE AND MENU HERE

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Posted by on Jan 10, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 0 comments

Restaurant Review: Aroy Thai Kitchen (Las Vegas)

 

Pad Thai

 

AROY THAI KITCHEN

[On Ft. Apache, just north of Tropicana]

We discovered a new place yesterday, AROY which is right next to the beltway and Ft. Apache in a strip mall. Nothing fancy. Just a cheap and solid lunch spot.

Thai specials were $6.95 to $8.95 and include small soup, fresh Thai roll, lettuce, and entre of choice. Food was every bit as good as any casual Thai place — but super fast and affordable.

Marieta and I dined for $18.50 and left very satisfied.

Inside is clean, somewhat spartan, but real silverware, and amenities. It’s a bargain for the money.

When I used to travel all the time, Thai food was often my “go-to” road cuisine because rarely have I had a bad experience with Thai menus. Las Vegas is packed with cheap and good Thai restaurants. I really don’t need more choices, but do also like to step out and try new places, on occasion.

If you’re in the mood for good Thai food at a bargain price and live on the West Side, AROY is yet another solid recommendation.

Website:  Aroy Thai Kitchen

Note: I had the Pad Thai on my first and only visit. Marieta had the spare ribs, which were fall-off-the-bone delicious.  I’m returning there for lunch again today.

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Posted by on Jan 8, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 0 comments

Restaurant Review: Juan’s Flaming Fajitas & Cantina

 

juan's flaming fajitas las vegas

 

The difference in a good restaurant and a great restaurant can be summed up in one word:

DETAILS

It’s the details that matter. The small things. The little touches.

Flaming Fajita is a Tex-Mex restaurant on W. Tropicana. Marieta and I have dined here perhaps 20-25 times. The food is very good. The service is friendly. The prices are reasonable. It’s an above-average eatery in most ways.

But what makes Flaming Fajita great are the DETAILS.

Consider this complimentary sampler that comes when we sit down, at lunch no less, when prices are cheaper. The warm bottomless basket of chips, with three side dips. But the kicker is the slices jalapeno peppers with roasted onions on the side. Served without asking. Free of charge. To me, that’s class. That’s a bargain.

The lunch margarita is $3.99 — so what you are looking at in the photo (above) is essentially $3.99 worth of food. The Tuesday special is any TWO items off the menu, with rice and beans, for $11.95.

No, this isn’t the greatest Tex-Mex food I’ve tasted, though it’s always reliable and quite good. What makes me take 10 minutes out of my day is when I see a private establishment go out of their way to serve the customer and take pride in the presentation and value. So, let this post serve as my personal endorsement.

BTW, there is one other Flaming Fajita location, on Water Street in Henderson. I’ve had two people tell me that spot is even better than the westside location. But, I have never been there.

Glad to share what I think is one of the better lunch places in Las Vegas, especially if you reside on the west side (or in Henderson).

WEBSITE:  JUAN’S FLAMING FAJITAS & CANTINA

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Posted by on Jan 8, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 1 comment

Restaurant Review: Limoncello (Las Vegas)

 

Limoncello Restaurant (W. Sahara -- Las Vegas)

 

Las Vegas is a highly-competitive city for Italian fare. Fueled by transplants, retirement, and international exposure….quality, ambiance, and price varies widely. I’ve witnessed a dozen Italian restaurants open and close in this city. As soon as one goes out of business, another one down the block opens its doors.

I’ve been greatly anticipating the new Limoncello’s opening for months. It took over a mediocre Mexican-food restaurant location on West Sahara between Cimmaron and Durango, invested heavily in remodeling, and now looks every bit the stylish but traditional Italian eatery-bistro.

The building and decor are magnificent. The dining area is unusually spacious. The first impression was positive. I also liked the host asking if we preferred a table or a booth. Most seating staff doesn’t do this. So, let me give credit where it’s due.

I’ll also acknowledge the service and management did a very thorough job. Service was attentive — perhaps even too much so. On a few occasions, the table conversation was interrupted. I don’t like that. But, that’s a small detail and I’d rather see the waitstaff trying hard to please rather than mired with indifference.

Food quality was good.  Nothing exceptional.  But good.  Admittedly, I saw only three entres and tasted two, so my score of the food probably deserves a grade of “incomplete.”

Limoncello’s mistakes and misses were small, but gradually added up over the course of our 90-minute stay to the overall grade of disappointment:

— prices were a little high for a neighborhood eatery.
— chairs are terribly small and uncomfortable
— there’s no music in the restaurant [this might be considered a good thing by some, but it seemed very quiet on a night with perhaps 10 tables occupied in a 35-table (est.) restaurant].
— the waiter tried to take my guest’s plate away when she had plenty of food still on the platter. I don’t get the “rush” here, and this happens a lot in upscale restaurants. Please stop it.
— I ordered baked lasagne. The temperature was inconsistent. Lukewarm on one side. Piping hot on the other. This would be a non-issue if I paid $11. But for $18 (no frills, everything else ala carte), a poorly heated product is unacceptable.
— Food portions were small.
— Parmesan cheese, which is a standard accompaniment in any traditional Italian restaurant had to be requested. The cheese should have been delivered on the spot at the time of dinner presentation.
— Bread was peasant-style…very rustic. I presume this is a stab at authenticity. But the bread was a teeth breaker. Not good.

Bill for three came to $115 with tip. We shared on an appetizer, had three entres, and two Stella draft beers. That price would normally be in line with most upscale dining establishments that delivered on all fronts. But Limoncello missed too many checkmarks. I simply didn’t feel we got our money’s worth.

There are way too many good Italian places all over town to return. I hope Limoncello improves and eventually does well. I like having good restaurants in my neighborhood.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend them.

 

LINK TO LIMONCELLO’S HERE

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Posted by on Nov 5, 2019 in Blog, Las Vegas, Music and Concert Reviews | 2 comments

Willie Nelson (Concert Review)

 

 

Willie Nelson Concert Review (October 25, 2019 at The Venetian, Las Vegas)

 

No one can say for sure how many more Willie Nelson stage performances remain now that he’s weathered and wrinkled in the final twilight of an astounding musical journey that first began in 1956.

So, when the opportunity arose to go see the 86-year-old country music outlaw, I viewed my surprising good fortune at getting last-minute tickets not so much a passive performance but a personal pilgrimage.  This was the chance to revere and pay tribute.

Nelson is indeed on the road again, currently in the midst of his 2019 American Tour.  This latest show was held on Friday, October 25th, the first of a six-night engagement at The Venetian Theatre, in Las Vegas.

First and foremost, Nelson remains a uniquely gifted songwriter.  But he’s just as well known as a singer, guitarist, and stage performer.  And a film star.  And a political activist.  And so much, much more.

At a time when live musical authenticity has become exceedingly rare, it wouldn’t have mattered had Nelson taken the stage, forgotten some lyrics, and missed a few notes during the show which clocked in at a racy-fast one-hour and twenty minutes.  No one in the crowd of perhaps 1,800 witnesses arrived on this night expecting to see Shotgun Willie.  Instead, most of the sold-out crowd came to pay homage.  Many wanted to see Nelson a first, or one last time.

The show began promptly at 8 pm with a warm-up act — Tennessee Jet.  I knew nothing at all of Jet, who played an acoustic guitar solo for about 30 minutes, with no other musical accompaniment whatsoever.  This was a stripped down show to the very extreme, no doubt intended to create a mellow atmosphere for what was to come later.  Jet wasn’t going to be Garth Brooks.  This was a soft-spoken man on a stool, plucking notes, singing songs, and telling stories.  Jet was perfectly fine in this role, and just the right length of time as a warm up.

Following a short intermission and some sound adjustments, Willie Nelson entered from stage left to rousing applause.  He was joined by five other musicians.  Behind Nelson and his band, a giant red, white, and blue Texas State flag the size of an Olympic swimming pool served as the backdrop.  Two large in-house television screens provided excellent visuals for everyone in the house to watch Nelson, who would be the exclusive focal point for the remainder of the evening.

Immediately, Nelson took his guitar and launched into “Whiskey River,” a surprising breakout hit from 1972 when the singer initially transitioned from an awkward-looking, hopelessly out-of-place third-rate performer into a long-haired bandana-wearing hippie who no longer attempted to hide his twangy rough-sounding nasal-driven voice.  The rebellious honky-tonk tune brought the crowd to its feet, proving again that Nelson still has the ability to work a room, even in glitzy Las Vegas.

The tight set list included 17 songs, including a mix of new material, a few familiar hits, and (surprisingly) many songs by other fellow country legends.  Spontaneity wasn’t part of this act.  This was a meticulously-scripted show from start to finish, intended to deliver Nelson not so much as a nostalgia act, but an artist who very much remains at country music’s creative apex of past, present, and future.

“This one’s for Merle,” Nelson said to the audience as he gave a solo rendition of “Reasons to Quit,” the 1983 hit he co-wrote with Haggard who passed away a few years ago.  Nelson also paid tribute to the late Waylon Jennings, his fellow Texas outlaw.  Decked in a cowboy hat during the first third of the show, he also sang the old Hank Williams’ chestnut, “Hey, Hey, Good Lookin’.”

Nelson’s vocals were remarkably strong, especially for an octogenarian.  But it was Nelson supurb guitar work that was most impressive and the biggest stunner for those unfamiliar with Nelson’s pedigree and skills as an artist.  Strumming and plucking “Trigger,” his hopelessly faded and beat up wooden guitar that was the only personal belonging salvaged from a 1970 house fire that marked his final goodbye after struggling for years as a songwriter in Nashville, the braided troubadour proved his can still bend the strings and pick notes.  In fact, Nelson’s guitar work was, there’s no other word for it but — exceptional.  Many musical icons can rely on younger backup stage performers to carry the heavy load and fill in details during a performance.  Not Nelson.  He plucks and picks every single lead melody of the entire set himself, and his finger work on the frets could easily be seen on the giant screens.  This was truly amazing to watch.

Given Nelson’s surprising guitar prowess, one of the evening’s highlights was the show’s only instrumental number, “Stardust,” the title song off of his 1982 best-selling masterpiece that once showed an alternative side to Nelson’s songmanship.  However, Nelson’s finest moment came when he performed the crossover 1970 hit, “Yesterday When I Was Young,” written and sung by Roy Clark off his Shades of Country album.  When Nelson with his heavy nasal vibrato sang the song’s final stanza, one could have heard a pin drop:

There are so many songs in me that won't be sung
I feel the bitter taste of tears upon my tongue
The time has come for me to pay for
Yesterday, when I was young.

To say Nelson’s band was restrained would be an understatement.  His backing accompaniment had no drum kit, only brush sticks with a single snare.  One sideman played harmonica.  Another plucked a stand-up bass.  Someone else in the band played soft acoustics.  A big black grand piano took up much of the stage, but never overwhelmed Nelson, the clear frontman conducting the entire performance from beginning to end.  No doubt, the singer-songwriter who’s composed more than 1,000 tunes himself, including 40 top country hits, and knows a great many more classics committed to memory, took understandable comfort in having a small screen monitor directly beneath his feet teleprompting the lyrics.  However, it appeared Nelson didn’t need the visual crutch very often.   He didn’t miss a note, not a lyric.  May we all be so mentally astute when we reach his age.

For those expecting to see and hear more of Willie the unapologetic political and social activist who participated in countless progressive causes over the years, including the annual Farm Aid concert to help support America’s farmers, that particular silo didn’t make an appearance on this night.  His show was remarkably apolitical.  One suspects Nelson might be determined to keep some would-be critics at bay, by not speaking to the crowd about controversial topics, despite the great political and social divide throughout the country.  Alas, this was a moment of reflection and unity.

Forty minutes into the show, a large American flag was unfurled and replaced the Texas flag as the band’s backdrop.  Was this a statement?  Not sure what the point of this display was, perhaps to self-identify himself with Americana, or just to prove to his audience that pot-smoking liberals can be patriots, too.

The evening’s most amusing moment came in the 16th song of the set when Nelson, an avowed proponent of marijuana use and legalization, sang “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”  Even though the song might not be as well known as his other hits, most of the crowd could be seen and heard singing the catchy chorus along with Nelson, everyone willing to enjoy the free-spirited celebration.

The show did have some gaps.  One major disappointment was Nelson not performing an encore.  After what turned out to be his final song, “Still Not Dead,” off the 2017 God’s Problem Child album, the band returned to the stage and it seemed Nelson would answer the standing ovation for an obligatory curtain call.  However, the auditorium lights then came on and the show was over.  It’s uncertain whether Nelson was simply fatigued, or the 10 pm hour right on the nose marked a preset termination time.  Given this was the first of six straight nights of shows — probably the former.  Nelson would be justified preserving his energy and voice, and no one in the crowd seemed to mind.  But for $120-a-seat tickets, one final song and a hearty farewell from the country icon would have been the perfect closer.  It was only a small blemish on an otherwise wonderful experience.

Curious to learn more, I discovered that Nelson has been forced to cancel some performances in recent months due to his tireless travel and associated bouts with fatigue.  Performances are likely to be inconsistent, from now on.  But at least a few things are certain:  Willie Nelson can still sing and perform just as well as during anytime in his illustrious career, and there won’t be many more chances again to see a legend of this stature who given us so many wonderful songs for more than 60 years and invented an entire genre of music.

You’d be “crazy” not to go and see Willie Nelson if and when you still can.

 

Note:  Thanks to Dan and Sharon Goldman for the show tickets.

 

 

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