Aureole – New and Improved

I’ve waited long enough to post this. I apologize for the delay, there are some issues with the website and they are being dealt with. To see ALL of the pics, please visit Good for Spooning on Facebook. 

Aureole is new and improved Johnny Church at the helm

In December The Hubs and I celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary and we chose Aureole as our dinner spot. We always choose someplace nicer than our norm for our celebration of us and Aureole didn’t disappoint. Aureole is new and improved IMHO with Friend Johnny Church at the helm. While Johnny wasn’t in house that night, we were still treated like royalty and the food was superb.

Attention to detail is paramount

Luckily I have the opportunity to dine at a lot of great places and friends in the culinary community fill me in on their favorites. When I learned Johnny was at Aureole, we made plans to dine there as soon as scheduling allowed. Part of the appeal of fine dining is the service. Of course the menu and attention to detail therein is paramount, but the service is what really makes it special. Aureole’s new décor, along with a fresh new menu and outstanding service made this a meal to remember.

Delight at every plate that was brought to the table

I am no slouch in the kitchen, but my biggest weakness, I feel, is my plating. I do not have an artistic bone in my body, so when it comes to gorgeous plating I am always blown away. Flowers, artfully swirled sauces, microgreens placed “just so” all make me smile because I can’t envision it in my head. I can DUPLICATE it, but I can’t create it. So imagine my delight at each and every plate that was brought to the table. Here is just a portion of what we enjoyed. I encourage you to make a plan to get over there and dig in. With JOY!

Our meal started with delicious champagne, and because we like to share plates, we ordered everything to share and enjoy together. Additionally Chef sent a few things additional for us to try. In addition to all of the fabulous food pictured here, there were fried chicken “oysters”, a wonderful tortellini dish that made me rethink whether I am done with molecular gastronomy and “foams” and a glorious panna cotta with fresh berries.

Lionfish ceviche with fried shishito leaves.

A delicate oyster topped with peach sorbet. Sounds  like it shouldn’t work, but totally does

Beef carpaccio with octopus as the eye of each slice

Lamb loin wrapped in Merguez sausage

This chocolate almond tart was as delicious and rich as it was pretty.


The Best Things I’ve Eaten in 2016

I KNOW it has been some time since I posted, but in my defense, it IS LeAnneuary and I have been trying to learn to use my new photo editing software with marginal success. I was holding off on posting this to edit all the pics and make them look perfect but that may not happen this year, let alone this month. So without further procrastination. Here’s the list of my fave bites of this year.

My dining this year consisted of a lot of tried and true places and dishes with several new places disappointing me. Here is the short list of the Best things I’ve eaten this past year. There were a few standouts as per usual, but on the whole, it was not a year of eating dangerously.

All pictures here are mine and mine alone, except where noted. Some taken with my phone and others with a “big camera”. Many are not watermarked (see above learning curve issues). Each of the things on the list this year are items I would go back to that particular place and order on its own  In no particular order…

Sugarcane – the Tobacco Rum Old Fashioned – Ab Fab – the tobacco bitters are unusual and don’t taste the way you think they might. GO and have it. Trust me. Photo by Friend Lebette.

Tobacco Rum Old Fashioned at Sugarcane in the Venetian/Palazzo Restaurant Row.

Egg Ravioli at Herringbone in the Aria – Chef Geno Bernardo knows what he is doing when it comes to pasta. This is ravioli for breakfast! Inside this lovely pocket of pasta is a perfectly cooked poached egg.

It’s ravioli for breakfast? Hell YEAH!

John and I consider Valentine’s day to be “Amateur Night”, so we almost always stay in and I get out of my comfort zone in the kitchen and make something I don’t usually tackle. This year it was a 3″ thick Ribeye cooked en sous vide and  it came out beautifully! The model linked below is the one I have; watch for sales!

Made at home with the Anova Immersion Circulator

Steak tartare at Bazaar Meat at the SLS – I love a good tartare and this one is exceptional. It comes to the table presented as seen on top. They prepare it tableside and it is glorious! It’s a splurge worthy place, so plan accordingly.

This is the prep for the tartare.

The finished product.

Paccheri Carbonara at Cafe Martorano in Fort Lauderdale – Sister Nancy turned 50 and the party was in Ft. Lauderdale, so I went (of course!). Literally around the corner was Cafe Martorano – the original that launched the Vegas location. I am not a fan of this shape of pasta and of course I am that asshole that asks for something NOT on the menu from time to time. I asked if this could be prepared with a different pasta and I was told no, but I ordered it anyway. Sorry Steve for doubting you! This was PERFECT! Sorry too about the sucky picture!

Seemingly simple, but utterly subtle and delicious. Paccheri Carbonara.

Mashed Potatoes at Carnevino at the Palazzo – Yes, it’s a side dish, but Nicole Brisson takes these humble spuds and makes them amazing super heroes of the table. I don’t even want to know how much butter and other wonderful goodness goes in, I just want to eat them. I seriously considered NOT sharing them with the rest of the table.

Mascarpone and a poached egg make these mashed potatoes a winner.

Truffle Frites at Lionstone Brewing in Geneseo, IL – Stout braised brisket, saison beer cheese, chipotle cream and Lionstone relish top your basic truffle fries. Think of them as the happy bastard child of poutine and nachos. You’re welcome!

Truffle Frites at Lionstone Brewing

Fried Conch at Oh Andros – Nassau, Bahamas  – If and when you get to Nassau, get off the beaten path and find this place. It will be packed. It’s cash only and you may very well be the only tourists. Service isn’t fast because it is all cooked to order, but it is VERY friendly. I love conch, I know it is not sustainable and I only eat it occasionally and fried is my favorite way to enjoy it. This was so big, it was hanging off the plate, and did you notice that OTHER whole fish there? Yeah…WAY too much food. Bring a friend and share!

The biggest Fried Conch I have ever eaten. NO, I couldn’t finish even half of it!

And lastly…

Sheep Ricotta Tortellini at Aureole – Chef Johnny Church has recently taken the helm at the newly renovated Aureole and the menu is amazing. I THOUGHT I was done with foams and all things molecular gastronomy, but this dish proved me wrong. Perfectly cooked tortellini with duck confit, fava beans and a parmigiana foam. ridiculously good.

Filled with sheep ricotta and topped with duck confit? Sign me up!

Up next more info on Aureole and a fab meal I enjoyed there recently AND my wonderful birthday dinner at Bouchon!





Pop Art Dining

One of the most fun dining trends that has been growing over the past couple of years are the so called “Pop-Ups”. Chefs create special one-night-only menus to be served from their resto or an unlikely place. What makes these so much fun and so cool is that you NEVER know what to expect. Seating is ALWAYS limited and prices range the entire gamut. Locations are as diverse as our city’s dining landscape.  Here are some to watch:

  • Project Dinner Table does their events as a fundraiser and they are limited to pleasant weather months because they are mostly outdoors (think Cashman Field, Downtown Third, Gilcrease Orchard).  Their next event is September 13th and even though this is the highest priced option on the list, they sell out FAST! They actually offer a membership so you never have to miss an event.
  • MTO’s Sunday Supper Series –usually the 4th Sunday of the month and it is always fun.  Chef Johnny Church gets some culinary buddies together and they whip up some truly inspired menus.  Past events have been Swine & Wine (My fave), Not Your Daddy’s BBQ and El Chapo’s Cantina.  Price is $65 and seating is limited to 65 people. Watch for upcoming dates.
  • Desnudos Tacos and Naked City Pizza on Paradise – The culinary brains behind these two properties – Christian Dolias and Chris Palmeri respectfully – plan to switch off every other month so one month at Desnudos and the following at Naked City.  The most recent offering at Desnudos was “Unbreakable” and it was incredible.  $75/pp and the seating is limited to 35, so my suggestion is to book as soon as you hear about it. The next event is at Naked City on Paradise – “The Mind of a Chef – Round 2” on August 24th.  $65/pp and seating is limited to 40 people, so call ASAP to reserve your seats.

What you will find at all of these events is fantastic food and artful plating in unexpected venues. The crowd will be as eclectic as the food served.  All of this is done in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.  Rarely do you have to dress up beyond business casual. What you won’t find are rules.  Rules are made to be broken and these events prove that.  Enjoy the pics from past and very recent events!

Charcuterie plate from Echo & Rig at MTO's Swine & Wine event

Charcuterie plate from Echo & Rig at MTO’s Swine & Wine event


"Deviled Egg" - 3 eggs, 3 ways at Desnudos' Unbreakable

“Deviled Egg” – 3 eggs, 3 ways at Desnudos’ Unbreakable

Uni, Caviar and Parmesan pasta at Desnudos' Unbreakable

Uni, Caviar and Parmesan pasta at Desnudos’ Unbreakable

Bloody Mary Mussels at Desnudos' Unbreakable - this was "

Bloody Mary Mussels at Desnudos’ Unbreakable – this was “

Beet Salad at MTO's Not Your Daddy's BBQ

Beet Salad at MTO’s Not Your Daddy’s BBQ

BBQ Braised Beef Cheeks and Creamy Polenta at MTO's Not Your Daddy's BBQ

BBQ Braised Beef Cheeks and Creamy Polenta at MTO’s Not Your Daddy’s BBQ

Sunday Suppers at MTO

This past Sunday I went to the first of the Sunday Suppers series at Johnny Church’s MTO Café.  WHAT FUN!  Hubby John and I were seated at the bar, and while most people might be annoyed by that, I wasn’t at all.  Yes, our backs were to the rest of the room, but we had a bird’s eye view of what was going on in the kitchen!  Johnny, joined by Tim Doolittle, Vincent Pouessel, Marty Lopez and Michael Van Staden and Heidi Koval on desserts put out a fun dining experience.  Pair it with beers from downtown denizens Banger Brewing, and you have a winner!  Each Chef created an appetizer and a main course.  You chose one app and one main and one dessert and there were 4 different styles of beer to choose from, try all or just one!  Of course, John and I chose differently so we could try as many dishes as possible.  My only complaint was that I couldn’t try all of them.

Chef Johnny Church

Chef Johnny Church

When I first read about it, I thought it would be sampling menu of all, not a true supper theme.  Once I wrapped my head around the fact that it was intended to be a supper like you would get at Grandma’s house (not MY Gram’s house – she was a terrible cook.) I was hooked.  I really wanted sample sized portions of everything because the whole menu looked great, but still, I loved it!  The biggest problem was making decisions.  BTW – they offered a supplement if you wanted to try more than one, but with Restaurant Week going on (it ends today), I knew the leftovers wouldn’t get eaten.  A huge Bonus for Hubby was that it started at 5:30 so he wasn’t out too late on a “School Night”.  What was really interesting to me is that I knew almost NO ONE there.  Because I go to a lot of foodie events, I usually run into someone I know, but the only person there I knew at all was Jim Begley.

White oak grilled delta asparagus, poached Pahrump egg, frisee and Parmesan

White oak grilled delta asparagus, poached Pahrump egg, frisee and Parmesan from Chef Johnny Church

The "Covergirl" to quote Bacchanal Chef Michael Van Staden and Assoc. Beet & radish salad with hazelnut bacon vinaigrette

The “Covergirl” to quote Bacchanal Chef Michael Van Staden and Assoc. Beet & radish salad with hazelnut bacon vinaigrette

BBQ braised beef cheeks with polenta

BBQ braised beef cheeks with polenta from Chef Marty Lopez

Grilled Open Blue Cobia, Rustic Ratatouille, Confit Lemon & Capers Gremolata from Chef Vincent Poussel

Grilled Open Blue Cobia, Rustic Ratatouille, Confit Lemon & Capers Gremolata from Chef Vincent Pouessel

Plum Butter Almond Cake with Roasted Plums - from Chef Michael Van Staden

Plum Butter Almond Cake with Roasted Plums – from Chef Michael Van Staden

Berry Cobbler

Berry Cobbler from Heidi Koval

The next one is scheduled for Sunday 27 April and I suggest you make a reservation and get there early – the place was PACKED!  Johnny assures me the events will continue and change and the participating Chefs with be different each time.  Rumor has it that Naked City’s Chris Palmeri and Desnudo’s Christian Dolias are on tap for the next one.  I can’t wait!

FYI – I have been attending a LOT of beer-centric events lately and since Joseph James will be featured in two of them, I will write about those together, even though the first one was last month.