Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Capo's Italian Steakhouse

Vegas... I'm still only in Vegas...  I'm gonna be here a week ... waiting for a mission... getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger. Each time I look around the walls move in a little tighter. My apologies to John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, but that's what it feels like when you stay in LasVegas for a week. It's too long man. you lose your inner compass, your verve for life. It deadens you and weakens you. you become one of the walking dead, never venturing outside during the day. Breathing fake air through vents in buildings called casinos that have been lightly scented with vanilla to keep the masses happy and content. Stepford wives Hell! this is Stepford wives meets Westworld,where everyone on the strip is in on the game except the zombies who roam through it on "vacations".
Staying at the Paris Hotel in a room where you couldn't tell it from the Clarion up the street. most Vegas hotels are like this. no frills. The object is to get you out of the room to roam with the zombies and drop your coin into the vats of Vegas. Although I have been known to don a 007 dinner jacket and head to the craps tables, I'm not a gambler. Life is a gamble enough for me, Hell, just driving here is a gamble. 6 1/2 hours it took this time. My God, I have made this trip more times than I care to remember on wheels. This time I drove straight through, not stopping at Peggy Sue's or Mad Greek's, No Alien Jerky for me this trip. I wanted to get there fast and get out quicker.
There was an Avon convention at the Hotel as well. Nothing like seeing overly made up Avon ladies with one to many cosmopolitans in them, cruising through the jungle looking for prey. It was quite a sight to see every night. the continual parade of drunken cougars in there finest Avon make up looking for 20 somethings and their male counter parts, "Manthers" looking for the same. never noticing each other. For me. I'm content on my bar stool with my favorite bar tender "Big D", sipping my double Crown Royal with a twist and watching the game play out before me. This is life. Like watching ants parade in front of you.
Hunger set in hard as we had worked all day long for 12 hours straight. An associate suggested we go to Bally's Steakhouse. it was close by, So off we went. I had never been to this place before, but can assure you I won't be back. was in the mood for a nice cut of Prime rib. You know that wonder of the buffet line. the cut of meat that has been downgraded to $4.99 specials at low brow casino billboards all over Vegas. I wanted to see what "fine dinning" / "Steakhouse" could do with it. This is a great cut of meat. a roasted whole rib eye. It was absolutely horrid. I actually felt that the animal was so defiled by this I could have become a vegan on the spot. $36.00 for it a la Carte and it was tougher than Rosie O'Donnell in a fight with Oprah Winfrey over a canned ham. The service atrocious.
Next evening after another long day we decided to go to one of my favorite steakhouses in Vegas. Mon Ami Gabi, which of course is in the Paris Hotel. they have the best aged rib eye steak I have had in the area. When the Europeans come to the US. they all order the beef. In Europe they don't "age" beef as we do. It's OK in Europe. But US beef is still king. aging breaks down the fibers and makes the flesh turn to butter. truly worth the price. But not this time. I was shocked that my beloved dry aged rib eye that I order every time was of the same quality as the prime rib at Bally's! Tough, tough tough and I ordered it rare. Not black and blue, but rare.Oh the humanity. Too tired to complain, Hell it would have taken another 45 minutes at least for a replacement to arrive. I opted instead to focus on the Escargot. Now these are perfect, succulent little garden pests swimming in a sea of garlic, parsley and olive oil. slathered on a piece of bread. oh my, these go down quicker than a Clinton intern.
Which leads us to Capo's Italian Steakhouse. Tired of the fare on the strip and looking for something else, maybe even a place that was worth the money. I don't mind paying top dollar, but I want more to my meal than a busting out everywhere server.
Located a few miles off the strip in a rather nondescript shopping mall is the Capo's. It doesn't look like anything special at all from the outside.
Opened in 2004 by two brothers, Dominic and Nico Santucci. Who moved the families eatery that had been established since1964, from Chicago to Las Vegas.Serving Southern Italian food and themed after a 1920's "speak easy". OK I wanted out of Vegas and was tired of the themes. and here I was in a world  that looked like it was put together by Disney imagineer's. It worked though. definitely Vegas over the top. They say that things are bigger in Texas? Pffft. No way. maybe pork and beer bellies. but Vegas is king of over the top huge! You enter the place via the front door, which really isn't the door. you walk inside and have to knock. and from behind you slides a door where the "guy" looks you over and asks what you want.

Your eyes are not prepared upon entering. it's dark. I mean really dark. no lights. candles on tables light the way. the bar has a slight back light to it. You literally have to be guided and told where steps are. Like Frau Blucher guiding Doctor Frankenstein up the star well from Young Frankenstein.
We are sat and left in the dark. just the candle light glowing dimly in front of us I can't see my dinner companions faces. I can make their figures out in the dark but that's it.
After being in the light all week. I find the darkness soothing, comforting maybe. I don't have to smile and play Vanna White. It hides me and I can breath for the first time in a week.
 Your eyes start to adjust as the waitress approaches, She's genuine, real. Not like the zombie wranglers that work the strip.  

She handed us the menus and we grabbed for them fumbling and grasping for them in the dark. The menu's had miniature flashlights attached to them. It was the only way to read them other than if they were printed in Braile.
Classic Italian food. more upscale than the normal red and white checkered tablecloth places. Themed menu, yes. But quality stuff. I had the Makers Mark 100% certified Angus Beef with whiskey peppercorn sauce. Not really a sauce on steak guy. but wanted to try it out. It was good. My God, after a week in the jungle I found a good steak at last. It had to much sauce on it for me. I just pushed most off. but the beef had flavor to it. creamy and buttery. melted in your mouth. for $36.00 it was worth it. I had to use a quick flash to snap a picture of it. The flash lit up the place like someone threw a shock grenade through the front door. no one could see for at least 15 seconds.

Soon as our dinner had arrived, so did the stereotypical crooner. He started to belt out really classic Sinatra tunes that no one hears anymore. his voice circled the room in a low pitch adding to the place and not taking away from the experience. He wasn't the show. he was the ambient music and it worked. When you dine in the dark your senses are heightened. your smell, your hearing. I felt rather fine doing so. I was able to relax and felt free and ready to tackle the rest of the week.

Capo's Italian Steakhouse
5675 W. Sahara Ave
Las Vegas, NV 




Tuesday, April 20, 2010

SKYY Ginger Infused Vodka

Recently at the palatial Foodopolis estate we held our annual Tiki-tini party to benefit the Salvation Army's work. Such a great cause and one of the truly great charities out there. We had the opportunity to try out the latest infused concoction from SKYY Vodka. It's infused with the essence of one of my favorite little roots. The ever so humble and yet so powerful, ginger root. Just a a few slivers will change the complexity of any dish from bland to exotic. A little to much of it and it will take over, overpowering everything in its sight. So I approached this bottle of enticingly infused spirits with some trepidations. Visions of overpowering "Monster" type "power" drinks danced in my head.

Prior to the event we made up or changed is more like it, drink recipes that we thought would match this ginger vodka concoction. The menu, of course, was purely 50's Trader Vic's "Polynesian". And the Hawaiian shirt dress code was strictly adhered to. Guests entering without proper attire, were quickly whisked to a rack with assorted thrift shop Hawaiian attire and held at drink point, (no drink,until changed) until they relented and changed into one of them.
 OK, so back to the SKYY Ginger Infused Vodka. So, I sat back prior to mixing anything with it and after making sure it had a nice stay in the freezer. I lined up a few Snifter glasses of the stuff so we could try it out. Most of my friends are into very exotic brands of Vodka, that I won't mention here, But I find most to be just average at any cost. So this was going to be interesting.We lined up a finger of this ginger vodka in a few glasses and studied it at first like those apes from 2001, poking sticks at a monolith. we smelled, talked, smelled some more, talked, took the lightest of whisper vapor amount into our mouths and finally tasted the stuff. I was shocked. It was good! It was light and the ginger was a note in the vodka and not the star. the ginger was infused to the right level. it hung in the background without overpowering. To say the least we were pleased and delighted with this Vodka, which now will become a staple at our bar.

We came up with a few variations of those classic Tiki drinks and here are a few.

An Island, Delight with Hues of the Ocean. Made with SKYY Ginger Infused Vodka, Blue Curaco and Pineapple juice.
The blue Hawaiian, we just throw copious amounts into a shaker and let the requester shake it up on the dance floor. Grass skirt is required.

  • 1 oz. Matusalem Gran Reserve
  • 1 oz. Appleton V/X
  • 1 oz. Mount Gay XO
  • 1/2 oz. 151
  • 1 oz. grapefruit juice
  • 1.5 oz. SKYY Ginger Infused Vodka
  • 1 oz. orgeat
  • .5 oz. cranberry juice
  • .5 oz. pineapple juice
We can go on and on. It will mix very easily into your favorite Polynesian drink and we even substituted it for rum on a few occasions. As I'm not a fan of rum. I know, I know, 90% of all Tiki drinks are made with rum. but I would rather have Vodka in them.

You know the best way I like this vodka is just plain, chilled and straight from the freezer and substituted for Saki with a nice plate of sashimi. I find she can be a party girl but she can also be an elegant dinner guest. It is the perfect compliment for classic Japanese. And like a good dinner date it doesn't over power you with talking about itself all night, but brings something to the table and makes you want to spend the whole evening with her.

So if you are in the mood for a slight change of the regular. This is good stuff.



Thursday, April 8, 2010


Ahhh, the Chuck Box. Located in Tempe Arizona just outside of the gates of ASU. One of my favorite burger joints. Ya know sometimes I really get fed up and tired of going to restaurants that have mini novels for each item on their respective menus. naming everything from the grass the cow ate to it's name and what was its favorite color.Come on now. There's a few places and one in particular in San Diego that even have a cast of credits on the front of it's menu detailing every vendor they have. Ridiculous. I guess it's why I love Asian cuisine and it's eateries. They usually have extensive menu items and family owned with recipes handed down for generations. You would never go into an Asian eatery and have a novel written about each item. It would be an hysterical SNL skit though. I can see it now. Menu item #1. Frog legs in curry. Made with farm raised  hand fed frogs from the Ohio valley, where farmer Gustov massages each frogs legs everyday under the glow of a natural environmentally ecco green lamp prior to lopping off their meaty little legs.The curry made of 43 distinct ingredients of which we will breakdown now.....Anyway, you get the point. I find these establisments extremely pretensous at best. When you go out to eat you should expect the best the place has to offer and not a constant reminder of where, when, how, who, whatever.
But the Chuck Box is in a league all to itself. It's as unrefined and unpretentious as it gets.  None of that pseudo intellectual tripe here. Just good burgers. I was amazed to see this place run by just two college students on the night I went there. from cooking to cashier to busing tables. 
The place has a sign out front that says over 278 sold! hilarious place, but with serious food.

 The burgers are cooked over a mesquite charcoal grill and you step right up to "Juan" as he's grilling and tell him what you juan, and he slaps it on the grill in front of you and you move down the line and get your beer or soda. Just like they do at Pinks hot dogs in LA. Then you travel back around and wait for your burger to be done.

I love fries, but I love onion rings more. The rings at Chuck Box are not the best item on the menu. maybe because I like my rings with Panko crumbs and not a batter base, which the ones here are.
They were cooked to perfection though and very crispy with a nice fresh onion underneath. great beer drinking companions. Next up, the famous Chuckbox burger. For some reason my pix all came out very, very bad. so it's not your eyes. it's mine.

They cooked my burger to exactly how I wanted it. a nice red line through the middle. The taste of the charcoal mixed with the freshness of the beef was outstanding. The mesquite adds just enough smoke to give it that little something extra. The bun had just enough texture and give to it without really adding any flavor at all to the mix. Which was a good thing I thought as you really want to focus on that big beefy mesquitee charcoaly thing.

 Ok so it's by a major college campus and it has a funny spokesman. but it really works and is a very good little dive of a place.
So if you are ever in Tempe Arizona and are in need of a great burger with no frills attached, then the Chuckbox is worth searching out.

 And if you want to volunteer to take pictures. I will buy ya a beer....or two.



The Chuckbox
202 E. University Dr.
Tempe, AZ
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