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)

 

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.

A Gourmet Corner on South Durango

Fish n Bowl is one of those under-the-radar places that suffers from two major handicaps: a name that failed to pique our interest (when it opened a year ago) and a location that fails to motivate us to drive there.

Fish n Bowl is located in the far southwestern part of town — on Durango near Warm Springs to be specific — and we detest traveling there almost as much as we hate the soul-sucking faux neighborhoods of Summerlin and Green Valley. There’s nothing particularly soulless about the area surrounding it (aside from the fact that all the houses and shopping centers look alike), but getting there is a flat out pain in the ass for anyone who lives in the center of town (as we do).

No matter how you slice it, driving to this part of the valley — whether you take surface streets (30+ traffic lights), or roundabout on the I-215 — is a 12-13 mile slog. And when the wonders of the Strip (or the burgeoning bounty of downtown) is only minutes away, leaving the ELV palatial manse for such aggravation rarely makes much sense.

But duty (and David Leibner) called, so out we trekked this past Saturday….and surprised we were. Because what chef/owner Howard Choi is doing here is so far beyond your same old same old suburb sushi that we were kicking ourselves for not coming here sooner after only a few bites.

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