“You Make Me Feel So Young”

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Is one of the most famous lines ever uttered by a Mafia Caporegime in cinema history. That line of dialogue brought uneasy laughter after watching a gangland killing in a Cadillac. How can one not think of that line going to an Italian restaurant in Las Vegas called Capo’s Restaurant & Speakeasy? We had been there before, but my children and grandchildren wanted to go there again. From the moment, you walk into the restaurant foyer and it is a closed room with an old-fashioned pay-phone on the wall; all of a sudden, a small trapdoor opens and they ask you if you have a reservation. The part of the wall with the telephone on it all of sudden swings open, and you are led into a stylized nightclub of old school charm. They led us to our table of ten and the few times the grandchildren even got a bit fidgety is when they took turns going up to the lounge singer asking for requests. They have to be mine, all of the songs that they requested were hits by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin, he even sang the song that was our wedding song “You Make Me Feel So Young.” In fact, the only song that was not in his repertoire that my Granddaughter asked for was “The Theme from Love Story.” The singer was not performing when we were escorted to our table and I had my back to band, and when he started his show, I thought I was listening to recordings, he was that wonderful.

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We were seated right next to the Chairman of the Board table, which featured a large famous mug-shot of Francis Albert, other framed photos featured legendary real criminals and cinematic criminals. The room itself had an ambience, because the lighting was so dim, the menus had an attached flashlight so that you could read it. The menu read like a classic Italian menu, but updated with a wink and a nod to the “gangsters” both real and fictional. The food was coming out in waves and even the grandchildren were troupers and when all of the assorted steaks and entrées arrived the whole table was hushed for a change as everyone was enjoying the dinners. In fact, one couple that were in a booth behind my Bride as they were leaving, stopped to compliment her, on how well her grandchildren behaved in public. I guess there is no denying that we must look the part of grandparents.

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Once again, it was only my Bride and I, among a table of heathens, as we were the only ones to have wine with dinner, cocktails and beer (including root beer) were the odds-on favorites for beverages that evening. I thought that we had the best of the affordable wines on the wine carte and it was the same wine that I had the last time, just a different vintage. We were enjoying Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre Veronese IGT 2012, that they were listing as a “Baby Amarone.” The Allegrini family has been making wine since about the Sixteenth Century and they only bottle estate grown wines. This wine carries the Veronese IGT because it is a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Sangiovese, otherwise it would have been a Valpolicella if instead of Sangiovese they had used Molinara. The reason that this wine is referred to as a “Baby Amarone” is from the fact that it is produced using the Ripasso Method with whole partially sun-dried grapes. Even in the dimly lit room I could tell that the wine was a deep color and with way then enough character to stand up to the rich Italian dishes, even the Creamy Garlic Salad Dressing was put in its place. This was a bittersweet night, as it was the last night that we would all be together for some time. As I was leaving in a rather sadly, until the next time, all I could think of was the line from the other ill-fated Caporegime “Tell Mike it was only business. I always like him.”

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Abstract ’15 and Bavette

The weather was starting to get more agreeable in Las Vegas and we had made plans to have an adult dinner one night, of course two of the adults were our children. Where to go? As if there are not enough places to dine in Las Vegas, but my Bride wanted to have dinner at Echo & Rig, so it was easy for us, as all we had to do was cross the road and it was just a short trip for our children to get there as well, and nobody had to fight the traffic that is on The Strip.

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It was also a chance for our children to have a night out in peace and to a restaurant that they would not normally go to, as raising families tends to reduce the amount of discretionary income that they have, and I have “been there and done that” as the saying goes. The menu at Echo & Rig is not massive and it is, as one would expect rather meat oriented, since they also have a butcher shop on the main floor. As to be expected, most of the dinners were filets and I would have ordered one myself, but I wanted to try something different. We also ordered several side dishes to be shared during dinner. There was Cauliflower with Chili de Arbol, crispy shallots and onions, Brussels Sprouts with pistachios and fresh lemon and we tried the Butcher’s Sausage. My Bride ordered Horseradish Crusted Butterfish with roasted root vegetable and a Tarragon Pinot Sauce. I on the other hand decided to try a meat that I had read about several times and felt that this would be the best place to try it. I had the Bavette with Béarnaise Sauce. The Bavette is the meat flap from the bottom of the Sirloin, it is thick and coarse if not cooked properly and full of flavor, it is considered one of the Butcher Cuts that are becoming more popular these days as restaurants are trying to use all the cuts from the animals. I was right, this was the perfect place to try this cut of meat. Of course, we ended up ordering a few desserts and we all just shared family style.

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While most of the table was enjoying cocktails or beer, there were two standouts that had wine. My Bride had Cantina Valdadige Vallagarina IGT Pinot Grigio 2015. Vallagarina IGT is the main IGT for the Trentino-Alto Adige area of Italy and because the wine was pure Pinot Grigio and not one of the classic grape varietals for the region. The grapes were aged in Stainless Steel and had the crispness that one associates with a good Pinot Grigio, just a good sipping wine. I on the other hand went for a fuller bodied wine for the evening with Orin Swift Cellars Abstract 2015. Orin Swift Cellars originally made a name for themselves with the Zinfandel based The Prisoner which they eventually sold off, after it became a cult favorite. Their Abstract wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah that was aged for ten months in a combination of new and old French Oak. The wine carries a California designation because the fruit came from Napa Valley and Sonoma, Mendocino, Amador and El Dorado Counties. This wine was just big enough to compliment the full beef taste of my meal and I feel that it really should have more years in the bottle to really shine.  It was a fine evening and not having to worry about keeping the grandchildren entertained, though their presence was missed.

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Cork & Thorn

I am always looking for new venues to try wines, and Cork & Thorn is one that I discovered through Social Media. As we took our daily walks from our hotel to Tivoli Village across the road we found this unique setting. This is a wine shop and a floral shop by Naakiti Floral. Upon walking into the shop one immediately noticed a large bar in the center. One can order an arrangement and while it is being created, one can sit back and enjoy a glass of wine and relax. They also offer classes on floral design and arrangement.

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The shop was very quiet when we walked in, and I knew that they had only opened a week or two earlier, so I was not sure what to expect from the shop. We were greeted by the manager and I told him how I had discovered the shop and a mutual friend. The conversation slowly started building and I found out that the manager was from the East side of Detroit and we began discussing schools and areas, and I kind of brought him up to speed on the many, many changes that have occurred in Detroit since he had left the area. I tend to be a talker and the conversation went into all sorts of tangents and it was a pleasant experience.

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Of course, all of that talking made my mouth a bit dry, so we settled on some wine, so that we wouldn’t dehydrate out in the desert, after all we were in Las Vegas. They were still working out the wine list to offer, so we settled on Lo Nuevo Covello Albarino Rias Baixas 2015. A very pleasant and easy to drink wine that evokes the flint from the terroir of the Rias Baixas district. To carry that designation, the wine must be a minimum of seventy percent Albarino, and this wine was pure Albarino. The wine is called Lo Nuevo because they use a modern approach to winemaking for the area, and they have adopted the small town of Covello as their mascot in name. The wine and the conversation was great and it was a splendid way to spend some time, until we would be back with the family later in the day.

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Naggiar Barbera

One of the nice things for us to do in Las Vegas when we weren’t with our children and grandchildren was the chance to take some leisurely walks and have some casual lunches. I was also able to find another wine that I have only read about since I began writing these articles. I have been following the winery blog almost from their beginning, and I had my chance. Some wineries have limited production and due to the three-tiered archaic structure of the wine trade in Michigan, there is plenty of wine that is just not available here, and some of the wineries do not ship here as well.

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On one of our daily walks we went to Tivoli Village, actually we haunt that area quite a bit, because of its convenience and its ambience. There is a spot that we really enjoy going to, the View Wine Bar & Kitchen and we have partaken of their services several times in the past. We will go and have a light lunch after walking around and we usually share a couple of different dishes, because the View offers small plate servings, as well as Charcuterie and Artisanal cheeses. We took the table that we enjoy the most, because it has a great view of Tivoli Village and it is very near to the bar. We shared three different dishes on that trip. There was Prosciutto wrapped Tiger Prawns on a bed of seaweed salad and drizzled with an aioli dressing. A Charred Caesar Salad with truffle croutons and the proper dressing, though not as good as my Bride’s recipe. The third dish was a plate of Brussel Sprouts with beets, carrots, browned butter, pumpkin seeds and almonds. The three dishes were ample enough to hold us until we had dinner later on with the family.

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My Bride was not feeling very adventurous that day with her wine selection, as she went safe with a glass of Tisdale Vineyards California Chardonnay NV and it had that soft buttery flavor, but I could really not find very much about this wine. It was just an easy drinking wine and that is what she wanted. I on the other hand immediately knew the wine that I wanted to try, namely Naggiar Vineyards Sierra Foothills Barbera 2012. Since I have been writing there have been certain wines that I just really wanted to try and this was another one off of my bucket list. Naggiar Vineyards is in the Sierra Foothills, which is probably the largest AVA in the United States and it is known for having great success with classic Mediterranean varietals. Naggiar Vineyards has sixty acres of land and they are able to grow eighteen different grapes for their Estate Grown, Produced and Bottled wines and they still are able to supply some other winemakers with fruit as well. This particular vintage was aged for twenty months in French Oak, of which thirty percent were new barrels and a total production of one-hundred-ninety-five cases were made. It was a pleasure savoring this wine and I kind of nursed it along to enjoy all the richness and nuances that I could discover. I know that my Bride enjoyed my choice much more over hers, but I did share. I was as giddy as a teenager over this find, so much for my so-called maturity.

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Bottomless Mimosas

Is there anything more enticing than the two words “bottomless Mimosas?” Ever since our last trip to Las Vegas, we have been discussing the great Sunday brunch that we had just across the street from our hotel. We could have had breakfast by room service, or even at several of the restaurants in our hotel, but we wanted to go back to Echo & Rig Butcher and Steakhouse at Tivoli Village. Over the many years that we have been staying in Summerlin we have watched as this prime corner went from nothing and now it is growing in a well-organized manner and I am sure that in a few years we could spend a whole day there without even noticing the passing of time.

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We were escorted to our table on the upper porch overlooking the entrance to Tivoli Village and though it was chilly that morning in Las Vegas, the propane torches and overhead heaters made it perfect to enjoy our meal. My Bride had the Smoked Salmon Benedict, which is kind of self-explanatory in that it was house-made Smoked Salmon, poached eggs, Crème Fraiche, red onions, sautéed greens and Hollandaise Sauce, but instead of over an English Muffin, it was served atop a potato pancake. Try as I might, I had to repeat my last year order, which is the house specialty. The Short Rib Hash with Yukon Gold potatoes, bell peppers, poached eggs and Smoked Paprika Hollandaise Sauce was just too good to pass up.

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Now as for the “bottomless Mimosas” they were true to their word, as the wine goblet was filled as often as the water glass. The fresh orange juice must be more dear than the sparkling wine, because the juice was brought out in a small carafe for us to pour, while the sparkling wine was almost filling the goblet. The last time we were there, I had never heard of the wine that was being poured, but since then I have noticed other restaurants back home touting the same wine for their Mimosas. Wycliff Brut California Champagne is by the William Wycliff Winery which is under the umbrella of the Gallo Winery group. This screwcap bottle of sparkling wine is geared strictly to restaurants and catering companies, so that the consumer cannot check the retail price of the wine or buy it on their own. Since it is part of Gallo, I am sure that they have made sure that they were grandfathered in with the term “California Champagne.” This wine is made by the Charmat Method, which is a more economical way of producing a sparkling wine and since it was being mixed with orange juice, it was more than adequate. Traditionally the wine would be made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier and I will presume that all or part of those grapes are being used. All I can say is that it was a great way to start the day off.

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St. Valentine’s Day

Armenian wine and food interrupt my memories of wine in Las Vegas for a day, but it ties in, in a way, since the wine was a gift from “My Favorite Daughter” who lives in Las Vegas. There are a couple of St. Valentines that are listed in the lore of this canonical holiday and it now has become an exploited commercial day. As a kid in elementary school, I remember giving out little cards to the other kids, and one hoped that one was going to take home a similar number of cards at the day’s end. The day is for romance, but alas, it is one of those days that I try to avoid the restaurants, not that I don’t want to have dinner with my Bride, but the restaurants are over-booked, a lot of them use an abbreviated menu and the worst part is that the service is usually under-par, because the wait staff is over-burdened with diners that only eat out on these designated holidays.

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The Sword of Damocles was dangling over me and what to do? I decided to make a dinner while my Bride was at work. I am by no means a chef, while I love to indulge in fine dining, the Heavens know that I cannot reproduce splendid dinners, even with our library having cook books by Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. I decided to make “Potato Boereg” an Armenian dish, similar to what is known as “Shepherd’s Pie.” The Armenian version is just spicier with the lamb seasoned with garlic, allspice, peppers and onions. The old country recipes don’t have time suggestions, just wait until the egg wash is a nice golden brown. The dish is not really intricate, just time consuming to prepare, so I was off to the races.

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I thought of the perfect wine for the evening, as it was a gift as I said from “My Favorite Daughter” who we had just seen in our last trip to Las Vegas. The bottle of wine is Zorah Karasi Areni Noir 2012. Karasi means “from amphora” the vessels that were used way back in the day for wine storage. Zorah Karasi and their first wine was a tribute to a sixty-one-hundred-year tradition of wine making in Armenia. During excavations of “Karmir Blur” or “Red Hill” near the capital city of Yerevan in Armenia, four hundred ancient wine barrels were found. Around the same time excavations in Areni 1 cave in the Yeghegnadzor region they found the world’s oldest winery and the first historical evidence of wine making on an industrial scale. The vineyards of Zorah in the small village of Rind are in the heart of the Yeghegnadzor region and continue the tradition of the earlier vintners of antiquity. Zorah Karasi is made from the Areni Noir grape, which is indigenous to Armenia and of course later on in Turkey. It is its own grape dating perhaps back to the time of Noah, when his famed Ark landed on Mount Ararat in Armenia. I guess it is only fitting that this Armenian grape is just as singular as the Armenian language and alphabet are as well. Bloomberg listed this wine as one of the “Top Ten Wines of 2012,” quite impressive for a new winery. The wine was earthy with a detectable amount of heat to the taste and it really worked well with the hot spices of the dish. “My Favorite Daughter” did a great job in getting this particular wine.

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Back to Grape Street

A little free time while in Las Vegas we went to Downtown Summerlin which is a quaint outdoor shopping mall anchored by some large department stores and the usual mix of specialty stores that one can find anywhere in the country, which is one of my pet peeves, there are hardly any independent stores left, let alone independent restaurants. It can be difficult to find experiences that are singular to one city. I know you will say that Las Vegas is singular because of the flash and glitter that one associates with it, but if you actually look at all the chains, it is very similar. We like to walk around to get some exercise and I like to look at the stores, not that I have a need to buy anything, but after years of being a retailer, I just find it interesting.

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We found ourselves having a light lunch at Grape Street Café, Wine Bar & Cellar once again. The name explains it all and why they are celebrating nineteen years of business. The wine shop had some interesting labels, the bar was extensive and I even noticed that they were also getting into the craft beer trend as well. The décor is brick walls and industrial components visible from the rafters, but my favorite is that all the tables are paneled with end crates from wine cases and there were many wines that were old friends. My Bride had the Orange Chicken Salad of mixed field greens, Mandarin oranges, roasted red peppers, wontons, peanuts and a Sesame Ginger dressing. I also went for a salad, but mine was the Steak Salad of iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, cherry hot peppers, pepperoncini, red and green onions, shave Parmesan and a Lemon-Oregano dressing.

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Of course, we had to have some wine while we were at it, and picking wines for salads can be a bit trickier because of the dressings. My Bride went with Miner Family California Viognier 2015. The Miner Family Winery is celebrating their Twentieth year of vintages and while they are located in Oakville in the Napa Valley, they own no vineyards, but have long-term buying agreements to make their wines. The wine that my Bride had was pure Viognier, but a blend of sixty-two percent from the Steinbeck Vineyard in Paso Robles and thirty-eight percent from Naggiar Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills and hence the California appellation. I was excited to see that some of the fruit came from Naggiar Vineyards as it is the first chance for me to give a “hello” and a salute to another blogger that I follow and enjoy reading and that is Danielle who goes by DWDirwin. The wine was aged in Stainless Steel and that allowed the wine to show off its crispness and its unique scented nose. I on the other hand had a red wine to go with my salad and I thought something basic to work with the dressing. I enjoyed Ontanon Rioja Reserva 2005 which was a blend of ninety-five percent Tempranillo and five percent Graciano. In Rioja, the rules for a Reserva wine is a minimum of one year in oak and then in glass for three years before release, and this wine was aged for twenty-four months in American and French Oak (a mix of new and old) and then a period of twenty-four to twenty-six months in glass. It was just what I expected from a Rioja Reserva and I have been enjoying them for decades. After lunch, it was time to get back to the hotel and get ready to be with the families again, after the grandchildren did their homework.

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