Review: The Cheesecake Factory at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas

I am putting together a Las Vegas with Kids webpage, containing all my reviews for Las Vegas.  Some of those reviews never made it to my blog, so I’m adding them now. 

You can get great food on the Las Vegas strip, and you can get cheap food at the myriad of food courts, but finding tasty, affordable food is very hard.  That’s probably why the Cheesecake Factory has actually become one of our favorite places to eat in Las Vegas.  The food is tasty, the portions are generous and the prices are reasonable.  Plus they have cheesecake! We now make it a point of shopping at the forum shops, watching the Fall of Atlantis show and then having dinner at the Cheesecake Factory every year.

I’ve been quite happy with pretty much everything I’ve eaten there.  Last visit I had their Pasta Da Vinci ($17), penne in a Madeira sauce with chicken, mushrooms and onions.  It was as good as it sounds.  Another year I had their spaghetti & meatballs ($15) and it was as good as you can expect.  They no longer seem to carry the Monterey burger ($12) I had another year. It came with cheese, onions, arugula and avocado. It was cooked to order medium rare, but it was drier than I would have liked it.  Still, the accompanying sweet potato fries were phenomenal.

The Cheesecake Factory has a well-priced children’s menu. Last time, my youngest daughter enjoyed the pasta with marinara sauce.  In a previous visit, my oldest had the pasta alfredo ($7) but was disappointed by the lack of flavor.  My youngest had the kids cheese pizza ($6), which was the size of a regular dinner plate – basically, adult size. The pizza tasted like an Italian pizza margherita rather than your typical American cheese pizza, so she didn’t like it. I, however, did.

Portions at the Cheesecake Factory are usually large, so we get to enjoy leftovers when we stay at hotels with kitchenettes.

Of course, one of the main reasons to go to the Cheesecake Factory is the cheesecake.  Slices are large enough to share and $8-$9.   I prefer the plain cheesecake, but the Dulde de Leche cheesecake we had once was pretty good.  The Adam’s Peanut Butter fudge cheesecake, however, was too sweet.  My youngest had the kids hot fudge sundae once ($2!). It was a large enough portion that she couldn’t finish it.

There is usually a long wait when we go to have dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, but you can pass the time shopping or watching the show.  Service has been mixed.  The first time we went, we barely saw our waiter.  The second, service was great, even though we were in the second floor.

The Cheesecake Factory
Caesars Palace Forum Shops
3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV
702-792-6888
http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/

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Review: Magnolia’s Veranda at the Four Queens Hotel & Casino

I am putting together a Las Vegas with Kids webpage, containing all my reviews for Las Vegas.  Some of those reviews never made it to my blog, so I’m adding them now.  This one is rather old, from July 2012.

We stopped for dinner at Magnolia’s Veranda after checking out the Fremont Street Experience and we were pretty happy with the food. Both of my girls ordered pancakes for dinner and they were pretty good, in particular the blueberry pancakes. They are huge, the size of a regular dinner plate, so of course none of them could finish their portion (I had anticipated this, so I dined on their leftovers).

My husband had the ribeye dinner ($14, I think) and he enjoyed the soup (a liquidy jambalaya) that came with it. The ribeye wasn’t as thick I’d like it, but it was perfectly cooked medium rare and it had a great flavor. The mashed potatoes were also good. Service was very friendly and efficient.

In all, it was a great dining experience – made better by the fact that we got a coupon for $10 of bonus play when signing up for a players’ card and we won $24 on the poker machines – which paid for most of the dinner.

The only minus was the fact that the restaurant is open to the casino floor below and therefore the smoke flows right in. Still, I’d go again. Make sure to get a players’ card first, as there are many specials for cardholders.

Magnolia’s Veranda
Four Queens Hotel & Casino
202 Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 385-4011

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Review: Garden Court Buffet at the Main Street Station casino, Las Vegas

I am putting together a Las Vegas with Kids webpage, containing all my reviews for Las Vegas.  Some of those reviews never made it to my blog, so I’m adding them now.  This one is rather old, from July 2012.

If you are looking for a cheap buffet and/or want an introduction to classic American home cooking, then the Garden Court Buffet at the Main Street Station casino is for you.  The buffet is only $11 for dinner ($10 if you join their player’s club) and offers a whole array of American classics, from fried chicken to roast beef and manicotti, to pork shoulder and make-your-own-tacos.  There are also pasta salads, mashed and baked potatoes, green beans, steamed carrots, etc.  The only thing really missing are ribs.  The casino seems attract Filipino/Hawaiians, so there were a few Chinese/Filipino/Hawaiian offerings as well.

We weren’t too hungry so we didn’t taste that many dishes, but the manapua (Hawaiian steamed pork buns) were the best I’ve tasted.  The pork had the perfect combination of acid and sweetness and they kept very well in the steam table.  I wholeheartedly recommend this.  The other winner are the mashed potatoes.  They are perfectly seasoned and taste just of what they are.  The kalua pork was also pretty good, but as the main flavor in this dish is liquid smoke, it’s hard to get it wrong.

Other dishes weren’t as great.  My daughters enjoyed the “make your own tacos” station and I liked the tortilla chips, but the guacamole needed more avocado.  The fried chicken was crispy, but it tasted like the microwavable kind.  The lumpia and chow mein both needed more seasoning.  My husband liked the pasta salad (or was it potato salad?), but it wasn’t cold enough.

The biggest loser of the day was the mac & cheese  I didn’t taste it, but my daughter could barely stomach one bite – and this is not a picky child.  The other loser was the melon, which was unripe and not sweet.

Desserts were the best part.  Their banana cream pie was particularly tasty, but their key lime pie wasn’t bad – though too sour.  The cheesecake was great, if a bit sweet.  Everyone’s favorite, of course, was the soft-serve station.  There are many other choices, however: from pies to pastries to puddings.

Service was great, our waiter refilled our glasses often.

In all, it was a very pleasant experience.

Garden Court Buffet
Main Street Station Casino
200 N Main St
Las Vegas, NV
website

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“Buffet of Buffets” deal in Las Vegas

The Buffet of Buffets is a deal offered by Ceasar’s line of hotels which allows you to make as many visits of the participating buffets as you’d like, within 24 hours.  If you want to spend a day doing nothing but eating – and what is Las Vegas about, if not excess – then it’s not a bad deal.  We’ve done it twice and might consider doing it again, but given our last experiences with the quality of the participating buffets (see below), we probably won’t do it again.

How Much Does it Cost?

The Buffet of Buffets is $60 for weekdays and $75 for weekends.  You get $5 off that price with a Total Rewards card.  Children’s prices are the same as adults, but you can get the discounted Total Rewards price if a parent buys it for them.

Weekend prices apply 11 AM Friday to 11 AM Sunday.

Caesar properties often offer deals that include 2 Buffet of Buffet passes with a 2-day reservation.

Buffet of Buffets prices are for food only. They don’t include drinks (unless already included in the buffet price), nor VIP access to the buffet, which allows you to cut in line.

How Much Do you Save?

The Buffet of Buffet can save you money, but with some caveats. The pass costs about as much as a lunch and dinner buffet combined – so to get more than the pass value, you should use it for at least 3 meals – but don’t count on using it for more than that, it’s pretty much impossible to consume more than 3 buffet meals in 24 hours. There are no discount passes for children, so if you have children in your party, you may not save much money at all by using the pass.   To get the best value out of your pass, consider buying it for a late dinner, and using it again for an earlier dinner the following day.  The weekday pass is a better deal than the weekend pass – and the buffet offerings are not that different on weekends.

Also note that you can get 25% off passes for some of these buffets at Tix 4 Dinner (at $3 a head) and occasional discounts at Groupon.

Individual Buffet Prices & Comments (Adult/children & under, substract $1 for Total Rewards members)

Flamingo’s Paradise Garden Buffet: Open for Brunch, 7 AM – 2 PM. Weekday: $22/11 Weekend: $25/11, and weekend dinner, $30
Small buffet with mostly inedible food, but great view of flamingos. Groupon deal often available.  Children price = 4 – 9  yo

Harrah’s Flavors: Weekday Breakfast $21/12, Weekend Breakfast $23/12, Weekday Lunch $23/16, Weekend Brunch $28/16, Weekday Dinner $28/16, Weekend dinner $30/16. Groupon deal often available. Children price = 4 – 10  yo
The dinner buffet has gone downhill and it has mostly overpriced generic food.

Paris’ Le Village Buffet: Weekday Breakfast $22/13, Weekend Breakfast $24/15, Weekday Lunch $25/15, Weekend Brunch $31/16, Weekday Dinner $31/16, Weekend Dinner $31/20. Groupon deal often available. Children price = 4 – 10 yo
Quality has gone down as have flavors. Crepes are still great but long line!

Planet Hollywood’s Spice Market: Breakfast $20/13, Weekday lunch $23/$15, Sa/Su Brunch $28/$20, Dinner $31/$20 – $5 off coupon often available, Groupon deal often available. Children price = 4 – 10 yo
NOTE: the Spice Market had a flood and it’s now only partially open. Prices have also been halved from those above.  It wasn’t great before, I doubt it’s good now.

Rio’s Carnival World Buffet: Weekday breakfast $21/13, Weekend breakfast $24/15, Weekday lunch $23/15, Weekend Brunch $24/15, Weekday Dinner $31/18, Weekend dinner $36/20.  Groupon deal often available. Children price = 4 – 8 yo
Extensive array of mediocre food. Not worth the price.

Available for a supplement:

Caesar’s Palace Bacchanal: Breakfast $26/11, Weekday Lunch $36/14, Weekend Brunch $45/20, Weekday Dinner $51/22, Weekend Dinner $54/22, Buffet of Buffet Supplement: $15/Breakfast, $25/Lunch/Brunch, $30/Dinner. Groupon deal very occasionally available. Children price = 2 – 10 yo

Rio’s Village Seafood Buffet: Dinner only $45/25, Total Rewards members: $36. Buffet of Buffet Supplement: $15. Children price 4-10 yo.

 

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Restaurant Review: Carnival World Buffet at Rio Hotel in Las Vegas

I am putting together a Las Vegas with Kids webpage, containing all my reviews for Las Vegas.  Some of those reviews never made it to my blog, so I’m adding them now.  This one is rather old, from July 2012, but as I’m not planning to return to the Carnival buffet, it will have to do.

We were not impressed with the Carnival World dinner buffet at the Rio.  The buffet offered tons of choices, I don’t think we tried even a fourth of what was available, but none were dishes worth going for a second helping.  The only exception to that was the steak with mushroom sauce.  It was thin, but tender and had a great beef flavor.

My daughters were not impressed with any of the child friendly items and ended up eating a lot of shrimp.  Hey, they have protein, but not worth the price of admission.  The crab legs, which they’ve enjoyed in the past, were very small and not worth the trouble of eating.

I can’t quite remember what I tried (which tells you something).  I know the prime rib was OK while the chicken parmigiana tasted like chicken nuggets (yuck!).  The pork ribs were tough, the beef ribs were better and had a nice BBQ sauce.    I can’t remember anything else.

The desserts we tried, OTOH, were uniformly good.  The kids loved the gelato, and I enjoyed the cheesecake and flan (though dig in for the caramel as otherwise it’s not sweet enough).  The one disappointment were the eclairs, as tends to be the case in most buffets.

In all, I wouldn’t go back to this buffet.  In particular given the wait – 45 minutes on a Tuesday night in July.   People who are paying full price (not using coupons or the Buffet of Buffets deal) do get in much faster as they have an express line for them.

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Lightlife Crispy Gold’n Chik’n Nuggets Review

My 12-yo vegetarian child has been pretty reluctant to try vegetarian frozen entrees. She’s particularly offended by fake meats.  She’s a vegetarian for ethical reasons, and she doesn’t see the point in eating fake animals.  But she probably was tired of eating pasta, so she gave this entree a try.  She was underwhelmed.  She said the chik’n nuggets tasted mostly of potato, but they lacked flavor altogether. They were edible but not enjoyable. She wouldn’t have them again, but she’d eat them if there was nothing else around.

 

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Jimmy Dean Frozen foods

grilled-steajimmyI’m once again in a funk about cooking, so I’m back at eating frozen meals from time to time.  Grocery Outlet is now carrying the Jimmy Dean Delights brand, which I hadn’t seen before.  It’s pretty much just like every other frozen food brand – forgettable.

I had their pulled pork sandwiches in chipotle bbq sauce. An acceptable snack for $1.50, but with too much bread to meat ratio. The pork is pretty much a paste (not chunks as in the promotional photo), and the sauce tastes like your generic tangy/sweet bbq sauce.

My vegetarian oldest was OK with the three cheese pasta bowl, but she’s not that demanding.  The grilled steak bowl was edible but unmemorable.  The photos on the boxes definitely look better than the real thing tastes.

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Frodo Joe’s Petit Cafe – Fremont – Review

(I started writing this review back in August, 2014, when I visited the restaurant).

It’s hard to believe that this cute, little cafe is located in a strip mall near office parks in Fremont.  You definitely forget about that once you are inside, relaxing in the air conditioning on your stylish banquette.  I went there with my daughter after a visit to Kaiser, across the street, and had a wonderful time.

While Petit Cafe serves sandwiches, the focus of their menu is on crepes and they have a wider variety of them than I have seen anywhere else.  Mika and I decided to split both a savory and a dessert one, a combination I’d suggest for anyone dining with a partner.  The only problem is that we got the dessert crepe before the savory one – and we had to wait for a long time for both.  Don’t come here if you’re already starving.

We had the mozarella, mushroom and avocado crepe, which comes with a side (we chose pasta) and drizzled pesto sauce.  It was excellent.  I had been doubtful about whether mushrooms and avocado would work together, but they did wonderfully – though it was the magnificent pesto sauce which really brought them together.  Mika loved it as well.

We had the La La Lo Lo crepe for dessert. These are actually several mini-crepes, stack together and filled with strawberries, bananas and chocolate sauce, and served with a side of vanilla ice cream.  It was also divine. The chocolate was real chocolate, not nutella (which, in the US, is mostly palm oil) and the flavors combined beautifully.

Most crepes, both sweet and savory, are $8.

We also split a strawberry blitz smoothy ($4.50, I believe), which we both liked.

Service was good, though as I mentioned, slow, though I won’t fault the kitchen for not making the crepes in advance and then reheating them.   In all, I’m looking forward to going bakc to Kaiser just to have an excuse to go back.

Frodo Joe’s Petit Cafe
39286 Paseo Padre Pkwy (b/t Capitol Ave & Walnut Ave)
Fremont, CA
(510) 790-0999
T-Sa 9 AM – 9 PM
Su-M 9 AM – 4 PM

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Grand Cru Fondue

I grew up loving fondue, and I still love it.  It turns out that so do my children, so I make it from time to time.  Not only is it delicious, but it has the advantage of being fairly quick to make.  Sure, the dippers can take time, but on lazy nights like tonight we just default to bread.  Bread and cheese, what can be better?

I no longer make the “classic” fondue recipe because I have little desire to hunt for the right cheeses – plus they are expensive!  Instead I wing it with whatever cheeses I find that I think can combine well.  I like going for two mildish-to-medium cheeses, one slightly sweet, and then a sharper one to elevate the flavor.  But really, I wing it.  To the grated cheeses I add just 1/2 a cup of white wine (hunting after kirsch is too much trouble), and some nutmeg if I remember.

Today’s fondue was phenomenal, much better than the classic fondue.  It had

This serve 4 of us and we had more than enough.

For those who actually need a recipe, what you do is: Shred or chop the cheese (I just put it in my food processor), mix it with a little cornstarch and set aside.  Meanwhile rub the fondue pot with a garlic clove.  Set on medium-high and add the wine.  Wait until it boils and then add the cheese by the handful, mixing well and making sure it all melts.  Bring down the temperature to a simmer, and enjoy!

 

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Ristorante Di Palermo – Hayward – Review

photo borrowed from restaurant's website

photo borrowed from restaurant’s website

Ristorante di Palermo is, as one Palermitan Yelp reviewer made clear, not a Palermitan restaurant.  It’s not even a Sicilian restaurant, though they have a couple of Greek/Mediterranean dishes which I assume may be found in Sicily.  Ristorante di Palermo is your basic Italian restaurant, and as long as you don’t have higher expectations than that, you shouldn’t be terribly disappointed.

We went there for Christmas Eve dinner and we had a rather good meal.  It was nothing extraordinary, but it was solidly executed and I would go again.

We started by sharing the “fungi de portabella” ($12), a grilled portobello mushroom cap in a gorgonzola sauce.  The only thing I can fault this dish is the price – $12 is too high -, but flavor-wise it was a real winner.  The grilled portobello had a meaty, somewhat smoky flavor and it went very well with the sauce.  This isn’t a complicated dish, however, and it’s one I’ll try replicating at home.

For our main dishes, I had the chicken marsala ($16), Mike had the salmon special for the night, and the girls had the gnocchi de la casa (in tomato sauce – $12.25) and in gorgonzola sauce ($12.25).  Both girls liked their gnocchi, though I didn’t taste them so you may want to take that with a grain of salt. The one in tomato sauce seemed to have plenty of cheese, and I assume the other one shared a sauce with the mushrooms.  My chicken marsala had a very nice sauce, it was a little darker than I cook it myself, which I thought was good, and there was some smokiness to it as well.  The chicken breast, however, was pretty dry in the manner of chicken breasts everywhere – I wish they would make it with chicken thighs instead.   Mike’s dish of salmon with shrimp in some dark sauce was probably the least successful of the evening.  He felt the sauce, whose specific flavor he can’t remember, overpowered the seafood.  My main complaint about the entrees is that they were in the small size.  None of us were left hungry – but I had had an appetizer, the girls don’t eat much (but they cleared their plates) and Mike wasn’t hungry when he started.  I think they could increase the portions without hurting their bottom line and make customers’ happier.

For dessert, I got the cannoli ($6?).  It was quite good, though nothing out of this world, pretty much your standard cannoli.  I’d say the same about the tiramisu ($6) that Mika got.  Camila ordered the blood orange sorbet ($5), I didn’t taste it but I suspect it was Ciao Bella.  It’s a great sorbet and Camila didn’t complain.

I had two glasses of the sparkling Barbera ($9 each), which was basically sparkling grape juice with a kick.  I liked it, but it’s extremely sweet.

Service was very good, our waiter was very attentive.  The restaurant is quite nice, but more of a casual place.  It’s very roomy, so it’d be a good place to dine when you don’t want to be overheard.

Ristorante di Palermo

22532 Foothill Blvd (b/t A St & B St)
Hayward, CA
(510) 885-9943
http://www.ristorantedipalermo.com/
Lunch daily: 11 AM – 2:30 PM
Dinner: Su-Th 5-9 PM, F-Sa 5-10 PM

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