Small But Mighty – ROOSTER BOY CAFE

The Rooster Boy Cafe is every food lover’s dream: a small (minuscule really) restaurant where the chef is at the stoves every day, sourcing local ingredients, and cooking and baking her little pea pickin’ heart out to the applause of her faithful customers. It is the type of intimate place that nurtures the soul of a food community. It is the type of place that Las Vegas still has too few of.

Good restaurants start with good groceries and chef/owner Sonia El-Nawal is justifiably proud of hers. Every week she gets a delivery from Kerry Clasby’s Intuitive Forager truck from SoCal, and every morning you can taste the difference they make. If there’s a more locavore, personal, handmade restaurant in town, I haven’t found it.

El-Nawal is a veteran of the New York and Las Vegas food scene. Having worked with industry giants like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Julian Serrano, her resumé has taken her from San Francisco to the Big Apple to Miami and finally, Las Vegas. Along the way, she’s invented desserts for Nobu, boiled bagels in Brussels, and catered in Mexico City. Looking at her history, you’d think running a minuscule breakfast/lunch spot in at out-of-the-way shopping center is the equivalent of A-Rod coaching Little League. And so it might be. But we in Las Vegas are lucky to have an all-star of her quality slumming it in our midst.

There’s nothing low rent about the food, however, or the beverages. They serve excellent La Colombe coffee here, and the espresso is one of the better ones in town. You pour your own if all you want is a cup of Joe, but the fancier cortados, cappucinos and con leches are just as compelling.

From the moment you approach the cozy dining alcove (practically hidden from the parking lot) and see the table laden with pastries, you know you’re in the hands of a baking and breakfast master. The vibe tells you whatever you get is going to be top notch, and watching the chef/owner patrol the premises (and work the line) just confirms the point.

(Get this galette)

Much is made of El-Nawal’s “Rooster Boy Granolas” and if your idea of going to a restaurant is to eat something you can just as well dump in a bowl at home, go nuts. (Lots of her roughage-seeking customers do.) For our dinero, though, your breakfast cravings will be better served by one of her hand-crafted galettes, pastries, or pancakes. No matter what you order, when you see a Dutch Oven soufflé pass your table, expect to be immediately gripped by ordering envy.

Veggies are market-driven, so whatever looked good that day is what you’re going to get. If you’re lucky, there will be fresh corn (above) tossed with green onions and then walloped with a dollop of creme fraiche and caviar. If you insist upon something lighter, the “From Back Home” brings Middle Eastern healthiness in the form of a pillow-y flatbread surrounded by labne, cukes, tomato and a dusting of zaatar.

That same fluffy pita provides a foundation for Shashouka  — eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce  — while El-Nawal’s brioche provides the starch surrounding the Frenchy — a superlative baked egg unfortunately dressed with white truffle oil. (I suppose even a chef of El-Nawal’s caliber has to take a shortcut now and again.) They also cure wild-caught salmon here into a firm, gorgeous gravlax. Try finding another breakfast/lunch spot anywhere in Vegas that does this.

(Check out these chilaquiles!)
All of these are worthy contenders for top menu honors (as are the croissants, ginger cake, and pain au chocolat), but the “Mi Corazon” chilaquiles (above) deserve special recognition. These are not your mamacita’s chilaquiles. In place of forlorn tortilla chips drenched in sauce and topped with an indifferent egg, here you find a tangle of fresh-fried crisps laced with cotija cheese, cubes of perfect avocado, and tomato and onion — all sitting in a pool of tangy, herbaceous green chile sauce laced with Mexican crema. The peppery bite is there, but also something deeper, more elemental, more ingredient-driven. In other words: exactly what you’d expect when a cultural standard gets refracted through the lens of a top chef.

On weekends the lines form early, so first timers are advised to go midweek and early, when it’s just Sonia, her tiny staff, and a few regulars at the counter or outdoor tables.  What they accomplish in a restaurant less than 500 feet square is something you need to see for yourself.

One day recently we caught her cooking in a dress and pearls after she’d returned from an early morning photo shoot. “No time to change,” she smiled. “This place fills up fast.” And so it was and so it does — our smallest, most intimate restaurant doing what every chef claims is their golden grail — cooking heartfelt recipes for loyal clients who know and appreciate the good stuff. Las Vegas needs a dozen more Rooster Boy Cafes, but there’s only one Sonia El-Nawal. She’s the best thing to happen to cooking in pearls since June Cleaver baked cookies for Wally and The Beav.

Prices range from $8-$13, meaning: it’s really hard for a couple to spend more than forty bucks here, even if you go crazy with ordering toasts, eggs, pastries and galettes…as you should. Get This: chilaquiles; shakshouka eggs; Frenchy – baked egg in brioche; croissant; pain au chocolat; ginger cake; granola; breakfast galette; wild salmon gravlax; Dutch Oven pancake; buttermilk pancakes; From Back Home – labne with pita; coffee.

ROOSTER BOY CAFE

2620 Regatta Drive #113

Las Vegas, NV 89128

702.560.2453

(Small but mighty)

 

In Praise of EAT.

Is it the pancakes?

The hash?

The hash before and after you break the perfectly poached yolk?

The Stumptown cold brew?

Or is it something else? Something else that makes us fall in love with the food at EAT. every time we eat here?

Well, it’s all of those things and more.

It’s the unexpected kick of a kick-ass posole:

…and the freshness of the bread and the care of the cooks. It’s the lickety-split service staff and the Black Bean Veggie Chili and the truffled egg sandwich and the Huevos Montulenos — the latter bathed in some incendiary chili sauces that will light you up.

They also do a very respectable chilaquiles, and probably the best eggs Benedict you’ll find outside of a hotel.

Most of all, though, what we always fall for are the pancakes and the hash. Now that Glutton and Du-par’s have closed, there’s no where else to get good buttermilk flapjacks, and if you’re a fan of big, chunky, salty corned beef (and let’s face it who isn’t?), you’ll think you’ve died and gone to hash heaven.

There’s been a lot of stuff written about all the failures of the Downtown Project (and believe me, there have been a LOT of failures), but one of the few smart things it did was to form a partnership with Natalie Young and let her concoct the tastiest breakfast-lunch nook in all of Vegas.

Downtown or otherwise.

P.S. For those of you too timid to brave the wilds of DTLV, a new location is set to open this summer at 1910 Village Center Circle, smack dab in the middle of the  Land of the White Range Rover, aka Summerlin.

EAT.

707 Carson Street

Las Vegas, NV 89101

702.534.1515

http://eatdtlv.com/

Breakfast…If You Insist

My disdain for eating copious amounts of carbs, fats, meats, sauces and sugars the first thing in the morning is well documented. (See previous post)

Packing in proteins, breads, and fat when you first wake up (when you’re not even hungry) is the stupidest thing to do in food.

What Americans have done to breakfast (and its unholy cousin/devil spawn: brunch) is unconscionable.

You want to know how disgusting breakfast food and America has become? Just check out this list of abominable breakfast creations from a few years back.

But hating breakfast as a meal doesn’t mean I hate breakfast foods. In fact, I love almost all of them.

I love a well-made omelet, hand-made pastries, and fresh-tooled sauces. Nothing beats a straight from the oven biscuit, a couple of perfectly poached eggs, or ripe, fresh fruit. And who among us doesn’t lust for the yeasty tang of a fresh buttermilk pancake, smothered in good butter and real maple syrup?

The trouble is, you will never find any of these things in any egg-centric restaurant, specializing in breakfast. You know the type: the ones with punny names like  “Hamlet and Eggs,” “Egg’lectic Cafe,” or “Great Eggspectations.”

Egg-centric restaurants use the cheapest ingredients possible and routinely massacre them.

Dollars to doughnuts, if the word “egg” appears in the name of a restaurant, it means the chili is from a can, the pancakes are from a mix, the sauces come from a freezer bag, and the pastries all fell off a truck. And you don’t even want to think about where the eggs came from.

A correlation to this rule applies to any joint advertising “soup, salads and sandwiches” — none of which has anything fresher than the cryovac’d meat they defrosted four days ago, or the rapidly browning lettuce being served one step ahead of the health inspector.

Anyone who eats “soups, salads and sandwiches” ought to have their head examined.

But let us not belabor the atrociousness of cheap breakfast food. Let us instead celebrated the few places where wonderful food is made every morning in Las Vegas by people using top shelf ingredients and cooking them the way your grandma did:

EAT – Downtown’s mainstay is better than ever. Get the hash (pictured above). Get the posole. And by all means get the pancakes.

DELICES GOURMANDS FRENCH BAKERY & CAFE – More of a small bakery, offering a few jaw-dropping pastries, plus quiches and a crêpe or two — every one of which is wonderful. Good coffee too. The only place in town I buy bread anymore.

ROSALLIE LE FRENCH CAFE – Best. Pastries. In. Town. Period. Wonderful quiches, with serious coffee as well. (See tasty snap at top of page)

http://s3.amazonaws.com/citybuzz/2014/05/vegas-restaurants/15-restaurants-las-vegas-2.jpg

BOUCHON – The pastry basket is justifiably famous; eggs Benedict don’t come any finer, and the omelette would make Jacques Pepin proud.

Notice what all of these places have in common? None of them has the word “egg” in their name. And you’ll never find a bunch of sloshed women slugging down cheap mimosas at any of them.

I rest my case.