Elote Cafe - Sedona, Arizona

771 HWY 179
Sedona, AZ 86339

What to do in Arizona???? Sedona always comes across one's mind for a beautiful and very scenic day trip or an overnight stay. After consulting various sources of where to eat, the consensus seemed to be Elote Cafe. Elote Cafe serves Mexican food that Chef Jeff Smedstad has learned in his travels throughout Mexico. The restaurant focuses on fresh, local, and sustainable. Always a plus!!!

Chips and salsa
The chips were nicely salted and were pretty standard. The salsa on the other hand, although fresh was severely under-spiced. I found myself dousing this salsa with the hot sauce provided on the table. 

Elote - Fire roasted corn with spicy mayo, lime and cotija cheese - 6.50
This dish reminded me of those Mexican corn cart vendors. These vendors roam around the streets, selling corn on the cob with all the fixin's you could desire. The same components are used in these carts as Elote's version, but instead Elote's is off the cob. The mayo and the cotija cheese impart a creaminess to this dish, while those same components with the lime give off an acidic tang and saltiness. With the sweetness of the corn and the tang, saltiness, and creaminess, all the components came together to create a tasty dish.

Cuitlacoche - Corn Soup - sweet corn and Mexican corn truffle soup - 8
This was one of my favorite courses of the night. The soup was silky and smooth and tasted of real corn and with the addition of truffle, which was definitely present, was just the right touch to make this soup even more luxurious. I wanted to pick up my plate and lick it clean.

Carne Asada - Grilled Vintage Farms skirt steak with guajillo sauce, Shaft blue cheese, avocado and rajas - 18.50
Blue cheese lovers rejoice!!! This is the dish for you!! I, unfortunately, like blue cheese, but don't love it. The Vintage Farms skirt steak was nicely grilled and tender for skirt steak. The avocados and the blue cheese added a creaminess that helped to balance out the spice of the guajillo sauce and the pico de gallo. I enjoyed this dish but could definitely see a blue cheese lover loving this dish.

Pepita Snapper - pumpkin seed crusted wild pacific snapper with roasted corn salsa pumpkin seed crema with guacamole - 18
The other winner of the night was the pepita crusted snapper. As opposed to the usual breading of flour or bread crumbs, the chef used pepita seeds to encrust this beautiful piece of snapper. Despite either being pan-fried or deep fried, this dish still felt light. The use of various textures and flavors really pleased the palate. I loved the creaminess of the guacamole, the freshness, spice, and sweetness of the corn salsa, and flavor of the pumpkin seed crema. Loved every aspect of this dish.

Puerco en Cascabel - slow roasted all natural pork w/ cascabel sauce & homeade queso oaxaca - 17
A couple friends were with us at Elote Cafe and here is one of there dishes. Had a taste of it, but don't remember much about it. 

Carnitas - slow roasted all natural pork served with guacamole, pico de gallo and arbol salsa - 17
Another picture from a friend's dish. Can't comment on this dish either. 

Rice and Beans
Usually not a big fan of rice and beans, I actually enjoyed these quite a big. A perfect complement to the various dishes we had for dinner. 

For all my readers out there. The whole 2 of you out there (this would be including myself). See if you can figure out this riddle? Figure it out yet??? Answer down below.

I'll give you a hint if you haven't figured it out yet. It has to do with the name of the restaurant. Translate the name of the restaurant to English and you shall have your answer and a high five from me.

When in Sedona, go to Elote Cafe. Simple as that. I am usually against eating Mexican cuisine that is priced higher than $5 to $10, because most of the time I usually don't find the food worth paying more than that and I can easily get a cheap Mexican meal. Elote Cafe is the exception to past experiences. Fresh, seasonal, inventive, and delicious. This is definitely the place to go to when in Sedona.


Matt's Big Breakfast - Phoenix, Arizona

801 North 1st Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004-2013

Matt's Big Breakfast motto is "food tastes better when prepared simply with better ingredients." I think that Matt and his crew are on to something here. The restaurant uses only cage-free eggs from humanely raised chickens, grain-fed natural Iowa pork, Angus beef, and local and organic produce. An interesting fact that I learned was that Matt's doesn't have a freezer or a microwave! Sounds like we're off to a good start.

Matt's Big Breakfast is actually not big at all - a small place as a matter of fact. The restaurant is housed in a one-story brick building. We arrived on a Saturday around noon and were greeted with a long line of people who had the same goal in mind. Good Food!!! The wait was about 30-40 minutes, which wasn't too bad.  Thankfully, there was a farmers market going on down the street that occupied our time.

Coffee and fresh pressed apple juice

Whole grain toast with homemade local strawberry preserve - complimentary
Each piece of toast comes from an uncut whole loaf of bread that is cut upon order. The strawberry preserve had wonderful true flavor of strawberries that wasn't overly sweet.

Three meat scramble with fresh jalapenos, hash browns and tortilla. This dish had so much flavor with the addition of the chorizo, jalapenos and cheese. The combination of these three elements really melded so well together. I can see why this is a classic Mexican food pairing. The hash browns at Matt's are perfectly browned on the top and bottom to an excellent crisp, while the inside is simultaneously soft. Part of the reason why the potatoes and most items taste so good is they use real butter for everything.

Waffle - Big homemade Belgian style waffle, sweet cream butter, and real maple syrup with two thick cut bacon slices.
I only tried a piece of this Belgian style waffle and it was excellent. The waffle was perfectly cooked, and it was light and fluffy. Real maple syrup as opposed to Aunt Jemima, nothing against Aunt Jemima. I was raised on that stuff, but I'll take real maple syrup any day.

The Chop and Chick - two eggs and a skillet seared Iowa pork rib chop.
These eggs were perfectly cooked to a specific over easy, real easy. I also opted for the home fries instead of the hash browns. The homes fries had a bit too much of rosemary flavor (must be the use of fresh rosemary). Next time, I would go with the hash browns. But the pièce de résistance was the Iowa pork rib chop. This rib chop is first marinated for at least 3 hours in a homemade pesto sauce and then cooked to perfection. The rib chop ended up being juicy and still tender. I enjoyed this dish quite a bit!

Hog and Chick - Two eggs any style and off the bone ham. 
Another order that I only had a taste of was the off the bone ham. Forget Honeybaked Ham and all those Oscar Mayer hams - this is what ham is supposed to be like. This was a piece of thick cut ham that was unexpectedly tender and full of that salty, meaty, and hamy flavor.

The restaurant looks and runs as though it has been in business for 50+ years when in reality the restaurant has only been around for a little over 5 years. Matt's Big Breakfast has made big strides within the five years that it has been around. After eating at Matt's, I have to agree that food does taste better when prepared simply and with good ingredients.


Four Peaks Brewery - Tempe, Arizona

1340 East 8th Street
Tempe, AZ 85281-4396

Housed in what was once an ice plant, creamery, and warehouse that was built originally built in 1892, Four Peaks Brewery is a favorite amongst ASU students and beer lovers. Our original plans when we arrived into Phoenix (thanks to Southwest $25 deal) was to go to the highly lauded Pizzeria Bianco. I was so looking forward to trying out the pizza here, but unfortunately there was a delay in our flight. By the time we arrived into Phoenix, we only had about 5 minutes to get to Pizzeria Bianco. The pizza gods were not smiling down on us. Like the good food itinerary planner that I am, I had a back up. Four Peaks Brewery here we come.

Pictured below is the inside of the restaurant with the exposed piping and ducts. This restaurant has ample seating in the outside and on the inside. As ample as the seating is, this place still gets packed.

Beer Sampler of 8 - 9 - Kiltlifter, 8th Street Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Sunbru Kolsch Style Ale, Hop Knot IPA, Oatmeal Stout, Raj IPA, and Arizona Peach Ale

Not being much of a beer drinker, I actually found myself really enjoying this sampler of beers. Each beer was unique and distinct enough in flavor to distinguish from one another.

Brickhouse Wings - 8
After examining the menu while doing this write-up, I just realized that you can choose to have these wings flavored as buffalo, Oatmeal Stout BBQ, or Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce. Had I known, I probably would have sampled a few of each flavors. The wings were good, with a nice amount of meat and good buffalo, vinegary, spicy flavoring.

Spinach Artichoke Dip - 8.5
Creamy cheese blend with artichoke hearts, spinach, red peppers, and roasted garlic served with tri-color tortilla chips and grilled pita bread. I appreciated that they gave pita bread and chips to dip. Enjoyed this dip, but wasn't anything out the ordinary.

8th Street Ale Chicken Strips - 9
Strips of 8th Street Ale battered chicken breasts pieces served with beer battered fries. Take a look at the picture and marvel at the golden crispiness of these chicken strips. I may not be a gourmet food connoisseur or a connoisseur of many things, but I do claim to be a chicken strip connoisseur of all things. These were the best chicken strips I have ever had. Perfect amount of breading to meat ratio and the crisp of each strip was excellent. There was one strip left out of the two plates we ordered and we all eyed each other while we eyed this last chicken strip, as if to say go ahead see if you can snatch the last chicken strip before I do.

Also have to comment that the beer battered fries were excellent as well. The battering gave an extra crunch to these already crunchy spuds. 

Although I was disappointed in the fact that we weren't able to try out Pizzeria Bianco on this trip, things actually worked out in the end. We all really enjoyed all the food and beers that we had at Four Peaks Brewery and definitely would come back for some more beer sampling and those chicken strips.


Nob Hill Tavern - Las Vegas

MGM Grand - Las Vegas

Nob Hill Tavern is just one of the many restaurants owned by Michael Mina.  According to their website, this restaurant is a modern interpretation of American tavern fare. The restaurant's space and design are both nicely done, with private-looking booths as you walk in and a large dining area in the back of the restaurant.

Classic French Onion Soup, Gruyère Grilled Cheese 
This was a deconstructed version of the classic French onion soup. Instead of a piece of bread in the soup and cheese to top it, they made a gruyere grilled cheese sandwich. One of the couples we went with ordered this dish, so I didn't get a chance to try it. I remember them saying they enjoyed it, but wasn't the best version they ever tasted. The best, they said, came from a small bistro in France.

Bay Shrimp "Louie", Little Gems, Avocado, Egg, Tomato, Spicy Louie Dressing 
A simple and straightforward presentation of salad. This was yet another dish that I didn't try. The salad looked very fresh and appetizing.

Tasting of ham -  in order from left to right: Italian ham? country ham, and jamon serrano

This was a trio of a tasting of hams. Initially tasting all three hams, I thought the one of the left was the tastiest of the three. After sampling each of the hams a few more times, I really started to enjoy and take note of the complexity of the jamon serrano. Supposedly the jamon serrano comes from white pigs as opposed to the jamon iberico which comes from black pigs.

House-Made Pâté
The house made pâté was served with buttered and toasted bread, some whole grain mustard, and cornichons.  This was a coarser version of pâté but nonetheless very enjoyable.


Kurobuta Pork Chop - Braised Swiss Chard, Bacon Lardons, Toasted Farro Salad, Pork Jus 
Having just eaten the kurobuta porch chop at Spago a month earlier, I wanted to try out Nob Hill's version. I am glad to say that I actually enjoyed this version better than Spago's. I didn't care so much for the toasted farro salad; I think I am just not a grain/farro person and maybe it just tastes too healthy. Although I enjoyed this kurobuta pork chop more than Spago's, this dish was just average/good for me. The pork wasn't as moist and tender as I expected. Lately, I have been striking out with the kurobuta.

Maine Lobster Pot Pie - Baby Vegetables, Truffle Cream 
The couple that we dined with was really looking forward to the signature Lobster Pot Pie.  As the waiter wheeled out a cart upon which a copper pot shrooming with a golden brown crust topping, we were all excited to see what would unfold next.

The waiter then expertly slices away the top of the crust and gently places the crust, which will now be the base upon which all the contents of the copper pot will rest upon and allow the juices and truffle cream to infuse with. As the waiter slices away the crust to unveil what mysterious treasure the copper pot holds, a bouquet of scents finds its way over towards our table. The essence of lobster!!

Here we have the final product plated and ready to be eaten!! After the build up of the presentation and the plating, our expectations were high. The couple that ordered the lobster pot pie thought the dish was just OK. Nicely cooked lobster and vegetables but the depth of flavor just wasn't there. Having high expectations for this dish, this dish didn't reach the mark.

American Kobe Burger - "Secret Sauce", Balsamic Onions
This burger was an attempt at a gourmet Big Mac. I really didn't find anything special or noteworthy about this burger. The special sauce was indeed similar to that of a Big Mac, and the lettuce was even shredded similar to that of a Big Mac. The burger ended up being overcooked to a medium-well as opposed to the requested medium-rare. When ordering a burger at a finer establishment, I expect something different, not a knock-off of a fast food chain.

Truffle Mac N' Cheese 
An excellent example of a gourmet Mac N' Cheese. The truffle flavor was very evident but not overwhelmingly so. The porcini mushrooms added a nice earthy mushroom flavor to this dish.The pasta was more corkscrew shaped pasta as opposed to elbow macaroni.

Valrhona Manjari Chocolate Soufflé - Orange Marmalade, Vanilla Ice Cream
The souffle was not as light and fluffy as most souffles I have had.  This one was a little more cakey-like. The outside of the souffle was sugar encrusted which added a nice texture contrast to the souffle. The Valrhona Manjari supposedly comes from the best beans from Madagascar. Didn't taste remarkably different than other other chocolate taste I have had in the past.

Overall, most of the dishes we had ranged from good to most being just average. To make matters worse, the restaurant seemed to be short staffed and, as a result, service suffered throughout our meal. Our waiter at times was nowhere to be seen and when seen, couldn't be flagged down. There are just too many restaurants in Las Vegas to take the opportunity to dine here again.