New York Pretzel and Auntie Anne’s, Las Vegas

Happy 4th of July to you Americans out there. I figure it’s appropriate that I start my Las Vegas trip posts today. But I bet you didn’t think my first post about Vegas was going to be about pretzels, did you?

We landed in Vegas and by the time we had our rental car and checked into the MGM Grand hotel it was past 9 p.m. Now, Vegas is a 24-hour kind of town, but we were exhausted and only wanted a snack. So instead of having a full meal we decided to take advantage of some coupons I had found online and pick up a couple of pretzels.

New York Pretzels is scattered in a few of the different Strip hotels, and seems to be connected to Nathan’s Famous. These initial pretzels were from the location inside the New York New York hotel. The staff were efficient and friendly. I decided to go for one salted pretzel and – to change things up a bit – one jalapeño and parmesan pretzel. The salted pretzel was gorgeous: fresh out of the oven, buttery and soft, and with the perfect ratio of salt. It had a golden crust and super soft bread inside. It reminded me of pretzels that I ate years ago during a visit to New York.

The jalapeño one had been sitting under the warming lights for a little while and wasn’t hot anymore. The pretzel itself was a little dry, but the flavour was quite good and they had enough jalapeños to satisfy but not too many that you’d burn your mouth off. I would have loved to have tasted this one freshly baked.

salted and jalapeño parmesan pretzels from New York Preztels in New York New York

salted and jalapeño parmesan pretzels from New York Preztels in New York New York

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Cactus Club Cafe, Edmonton

Some friends and I planned a dinner out on Saturday, April 25th, so I suggested we try out the newly opened (as in opened two days before on the 23rd) Cactus Club Cafe location over at West Edmonton Mall. Edmonton used to have a local location of this Western Canadian chain a long time ago, but it didn’t fare very well and closed relatively quickly.

Despite its brief stint in Edmonton, the Cactus Club Cafe has been around for many years. More recently in the past few years, much like how Earls and Moxie’s is also doing, the Cactus Club Cafe is working to make their menu, decor and atmosphere more sophisticated. When (Canadian celebrity chef and  Iron Chef America winner against Masaharu Morimoto) Chef Rob Feenie’s assocation ended with Vancouver’s Lumiere and Feenie restaurants, he later popped back into the public eye as the new “Food Concept Architect” for the Cactus Club Cafe. They’ve used his name to great advantage; his face is all over the website, he often talks to the media about the food at the Cactus Club Cafe, and all of his specific dishes are marked on the menus with a special RF logo.

As the restaurant had just opened, I half-expected service to be a bit slow but all of the staff were unfailingly attentive and helpful, and the food arrived quickly. (Other blogs and Chowhound discussions say that staff were flown in from Vancouver to ensure smooth service.)

The restaurant is located in a free-standing location in the northwest corner of the mall where a car repair shop used to be (Sears, I think). There is no entrance via the mall at all; an interesting decision that I hope doesn’t hurt them later when the tourists and locals stay inside the mall and don’t want to walk outside in bad weather.

The decor is modern but comfortable, with a mix of different textures and materials. Red leather seats, wood panelled walls and tables, glass, and even a concrete block wall gives the place an interesting look. The lights are dimmed somewhat so the red of the seats are muted. The booths are spacious, and art is featured on many of the walls (including some from Andy Warhol). A large patio was already set with lounge-style outdoor furniture, although at the time it was still too chilly for people to sit outside.

To start, a couple of people ordered bellinis and promptly declared them delicious. (Sorry, no photo. They stirred and slurped the drinks before I could take the camera out.)

We all shared a couple of appetizers. The first dish was an order of calamari, red pepper and jalapeño, dusted with fresh dill and served with chipotle aioli and tzatziki dips. The calamari was tender and the jalapeños gave the dish a lot of heat. (Lots and lots of heat.)

calamari

calamari

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Salsa fresca with a twist

It was a beautiful day on Saturday; the sun was shining and the weather was crisp but not freezing. I even opened the windows for a short time to let in some fresh air. If I didn’t know better I would swear that it feels like spring weather is coming soon! (Hard to tell with weather here… a few days ago it snowed, and then promptly melted the next day.)

To go along with the nice weather I made some fresh salsa inspired by a recipe that I was told came straight from a cook in Mexico. I have a doubt about the authenticity of that recipe though, as it includes celery and I’ve never seen a salsa recipe that includes celery. The vegetable does give the salsa a nice crunch. The other thing about this recipe that struck me was the large amount of green in it, as opposed to other salsas which are more about the tomato than the other flavours. It gives the salsa a really fresh taste. For my version of this salsa, I ended up adjusting the quantities of some ingredients and adding seasoning.

Salsa fresca with a twist

Salsa fresca with a twist

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