Monday, November 22, 2004
border grill vegas
yes, i know, it's insane, eating at all these los angeles establishments when i've got vegas at my feet. all i have to say in my defense is never underestimate the power of sharkvision and a giant bathtub.
i went to border grill at mandalay bay because it was a gorgeous day and i knew for a fact it has a patio overlooking the pool, we woke up totally late and lazy and didn't feel like leaving the hotel, and i knew it would take a minor miracle to get me out to the santa monica restaurant as i rarely venture to that part of town--i do love them two hot tamales, but it's fairly easy to reproduce their food with the help of their cookbooks, and a few of their menu items can be found in the prepared foods section of whole foods markets.
i love the look of border grill. bold graffiti'd murals and images adorn the warm walls, and the chunky, clean-lined furniture is painted in equally bold colours. it's a clean, modern space with few adornments outside of the murals, but the star of the show is the food. the supervising chefs and owners, mary sue milliken and susan feniger, take the same aethetics they have in decor and apply it to their mexican-inspired food: it's clean, bold, warm, modern. chunky.
i don't know if this is true of all the joints in town, but wherever we went, the first thing any server at a restaurant asks you is what kind of alcoholic beverage can they bring you. oh vegas, you like your ladies loose and liquored up, dontcha. (in the grill's defense, it has an extensive and interesting tequila collection, and it makes a great margarita--unblended please!) we declined and instead opted for the grenada limonada, pomegranate lemonade. oh, that i had shares in pom, as this was a truly wonderful discovery, although i think grenadine was also thrown in there, as it was on the sweet side. if i made this at home, i'd keep it out. or, i'd add vodka.
our starter plate, two of each: chicken panuchos--"stuffed" fried tortillas with shredded marinated chicken, guacamole, and onions pickled in beet juice; green corn tamales, wrapped in corn husks and served with a fresh salsa and sour cream; and these fantastic empanadas made from a dough of mashed plantains, then stuffed with black beans and served with a little crema. i couldn't try the panuchos (avocado allergy), but the green corn tamales were sweet and delicate (if i recall, their recipe calls for very little besides fresh corn), and the plantains were sweet and bold. a thin, crunchy layer of plantain, filled with creamy and smooth black beans. mmmm. i forget what these are called in spanish (cousin says that guelaguetza, a popular local restaurant serving oaxacan cuisine, serves these), but they are sort of a cross between alcapurrias and tostones relleños.
my mom ordered the grilled turkey platter: turkey breast meat, pounded down into a paillard and marinated in epazote, oregano, garlic, and black pepper, then grilled, and served with black beans, roasted peppers and onions, watercress salad, and warm flour tortillas. dang, that was one fine turkey. despite it being lean white meat and grilled, it was juicy and flavourful. turkey tastes like something! the generous spicing helped, and was complemented the sweetness of the roasted peppers and onions.
i ordered cochinita pibil--pork loin marinated in citrus juices, annatto, garlic, oregano and other spices--at the urging of our server. i have had a pretty good version of this at lotería, a favourite taquería in the farmers market, but the border grill version knocked me off my socks. unlike most versions of this which are shredded, it was served in fat chunks, because the marinade is so strong, the pork needs a little heft to fight back. the citrus oregano flavour was so strong it was almost like eating a marinara sauce, but with many an undercurrent--cumin? cinnamon? garlic? pumpkin?! ah, good thing i found the recipe because i need to make this back on the island. the strong entree was tempered by warm corn tortillas, fried plantains, black beans and rice. i highly recommend this if you ever find yourself in a border grill.
needless to say, there was no room at the stummy for dessert. i've had their sweets before, and all of them were exceptionally good--torta de tres leches with prickly pear and passionfruit puree, flan, and a mexican flourless chocolate cake come to mind. the nice thing is you can order half-sized portions of two or four of the desserts on the menu if you want to try them all. i say, bully for you if you can manage it!
near the convention center entrance/shark reef
3950 las vegas blvd south
las vegas nv 89119