I desperately need for the first thing you read here to be: Just GO try the Polpettine. For $7 you get a little bowl of house-made meatballs in tomato sauce. I think there were five meatballs, all-told. I’m a little hazy on the entire thing because they were mind-numbingly good. You can go in there, sit at the bar, and just have the meatballs. If that doesn’t convince you you’re in the hands of people who know what they are doing…I’ve concerns about your soul.
Okay, moving on.
If I’m honest, we didn’t leave the peninsula specifically to finally try Beacon Hill’s shining light of a restaurant atop the promontory visible to the east every time any of us leave our neighborhood via the high bridge. We were actually returning from a big loop of a day which took the entire family to the Sounders game Saturday afternoon before heading north to Lynnwood so Owen could have a sleepover at Grammy and Pops’ house (which also means adult time for the Missus and I).
Full disclosure: A former coworker is now a co-owner of the restaurant. Read into that what you will.
Bar del Corso has been open for over a year. At least, I’m pretty sure it has. I know it seems like it’s been at least a year that many of my coworkers with great palates have been asking me regularly whether I’d yet had food there and then looking astonished that I’ve continued to neglect trying it.
Did I mention the Polpettine? Good gravy…
We had heard enough about Bar del Corso to know it was bound to be busy on a Saturday night, even a little before dinnertime (it was near 6, but not quite there). Even so, I didn’t expect to see a good-size huddle outside the front door of the restaurant awaiting their turn to pick at the menu.
I’m admittedly bad at waiting in line for anything, much less food. However, the Missus had her heart and mind set on finally dining here.
Plus, even when not in a third trimester of pregnancy, she has a well-established reputation for an appreciation of pizza.
We were going in, line be damned.
Shockingly, when we told the greeter/hostess-type at the front door we’d need seating for two, we were immediately offered seats at the bar.
Now, I have always liked sitting at the bar for dinner. It may not be for everyone. Despite having the word “bar” in the name, the bar in Bar del Corso, at least during dinner rush, was packed with diners rather than drinkers. You can just bar the concept of “bar” from your head when considering the bar in Bar del Corso.
That was annoying, no?
Let’s just get to the food.
First, the Polpettine are simply marvelous (not entirely) little spheres of…
What? I already mentioned the meatballs? You sure?
We decided to go with a few small plates and a pizza. We asked the bartender (server working the bar?) whether that would be enough food for two. She seemed to be leaning toward “maybe, but probably not.”
I assure you, it’s enough.
Not that I would have been unable to wolf down an entire pizza on my own. I’d gladly do that. In fact, I may just do that some night I’m on my own for dinner.
But, in general, one pizza supplemented with a few appetizers should suffice for two people.
There was/is a seasonal menu on the wall. I love seasonal cooking. Apparently, so too does Jerry Corso (owner and executive chef?).
Among the “little plates” available seasonally was three wedges of cantaloupe draped with thin-sliced prosciutto with a few fresh figs on the side. Some of you have likely already tried some version of this dish in the past and know how good
it is. I wouldn’t sell this as hard as I would the meatballs (Have I said to try the meatballs, yet?), but it is a worthy order, especially if sitting at the bar where you get to see the big hunk of prosciutto shaved a few feet and mere moments from where you’re dining.
The dish brings out the best overall praise I have to offer from my dining experience: simple, seasonal, fresh, and delicious.
Of course, it’s only fair to note that the third appetizer we ordered was a bit of a let-down.
I grew up watching my grandfather eating canned sardines and wondering just how he was managing the trick. All these years later, my wife wonders the same when I bust out a can of sardines and crackers as a snack.
Hence, there was no chance I was going to pass on the zucchini blossoms stuffed with anchovies (and maybe other things my age-addled memory has omitted). Each order is only one of the stuffed blossoms, but they’re only $2.50 each. Unfortunately, for me, they just tasted like batter-dipped-and-fried just about anything else in the world. I didn’t get much out of it otherwise. It may be my palate, of course, but I was hoping for a lot more flavor, while all I got from this in particular was texture. On that angle, they were executed beautifully. Flavor-wise? Not much to offer, I’m afraid.
If you want something fried, steer to the Suppli al Telefono. Described as “Roman street food,” these are fried balls of risotto packed around mozzarella cheese.
They’re even better than they sound.
They’re even better than they look.
Luckily, there are just three to an order. I could easily eat a dozen without blinking. I can see why they’d be street food in Rome. After a night out imbibing in the appreciation of the oenological arts, you’d be only too happy to stumble over cobbblestone streets dodging mopeds while munching on them.
Can you tell I’ve never been to Italy?
Finally, we went with the seasonal pizza on offer, which I know had zucchini and pesto on it.
Realistically, if I am going to bother to post about these things, it might make sense to write stuff down and all that, but I was too busy stuffing my face. Besides, you have enough information to figure it out if you’re going to go, yeah?
The wood-fired oven and the pizzas prepared in it are the stars of the show here. While there is plenty to enjoy all over the menu, it is a small menu with pizzas featuring exclusively in that whole main dish area.
Unless you’re one of those people who just want a salad on your night out. You’re not one of those, are you?
It is Seattle. I try to not judge, but…don’t be that person. Not tonight.
Here is where I preface commentary with the admission I am part of a mixed marriage. I prefer thin-crust pizza. The Missus prefers thicker crusts.
Somehow, we manage to make it work.
The pizzas here are, predictable, on the thinner side, so I was bound to be happy with it.
And, I was.
The Missus, however, took the opportunity to clarify that, while she does not generally prefer thin-crust pizza, she is always happy with this particular style of thin crust. After which she took a full, two-handed whack at the pizza restaurant I grew up enjoying in my small-town Michigan childhood.
What was put in front of us was a beautiful disc of dough dotted along the edges with the brown spots familiar to those who’ve enjoyed pizzas prepared in a wood-fired oven and topped with plenty of color surrounding the numerous melty pools of cheese.
Or, simply, a damned good pizza.
DAMNED good, I tell you.
I mean, good enough to leave the peninsula on the weekend. THAT good!
And that really is all I meant to say here. I am particularly fond of getting back to West Seattle from work Friday night and doing whatever I can to not leave the ‘hood until Monday morning, so I would understand those hesitant to venture away from our part of the city. But going over to Beacon Hill is about as painless as it gets in this regard as you just cross the high bridge there and back. Consider it an adventure, if you must.
Besides, you have to try the meatballs.
The Missus and I took an anniversary trip to Las Vegas this week. We got married there four years ago (by Elvis, of course) so what better place to go for a quick celebratory vacation?
Unlike the hordes I saw teeming at the counter of a McDonald’s on the strip well past a reasonable hour for eating much of anything, the planning of our meals was of utmost importance.
That’s not to say we don’t like to indulge in the occasional burger, though.
Compound that with a bit of a celeb-chef crush on Hubert Keller, and there was no chance we were going to go two days in the city without a visit to his burger bar called, simply, “Burger Bar.” It went on our very short list of “must-do” restaurants for our very short trip right behind Bouchon.
In my pre-trip planning, which involved entirely too much poking about on the internet, I stumbled onto some mentions of a burger bar run by Kerry Simon, another celebrity chef sometimes referred to as the “Rock-n-Roll Chef,” though maybe mostly because of the long hair?
Anyhow, what I read was mostly positive and, honestly, sounded like KGB: Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers might even rival Chef Keller’s joint in burger bar superiority.
KGB went on the list.
Ultimately, KGB became our first meal on the Vegas strip for a late Monday night dinner, while Burger Bar was our destination late lunch the next day. Coming so close together and considering the similarity of the cuisine, it was natural to compare every aspect of our visits.
Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers: After winding our way through Harrah’s casino floor (smoky and annoying, but…it’s a casino. Not KGB’s fault), we turned a corner to find the restaurant. The host stand was completely unattended, though there was someone ten feet away anchored at the KBG merchandise stand. It was several minutes before someone came to the front and, even then, all we received was a brief “I’ll be right with you.” It wasn’t unpleasant or rude, mind you, but not a great start. Further, the extended delay gave us ample opportunity to note how very not-busy the restaurant appeared to be and how not-tidy the waiting area was being kept. It was a Monday night and close to 9 p.m., but I’m not sure how such things impact the business flow of a restaurant in the middle of a casino floor.
Sidebar: This might be a good time to note that I spent several years working in casual chain restaurant management. I do have some (questionably?) valid insight into the business.
Burger Bar: As Burger Bar is located in a mall (between Mandalay Bay and the Luxor), the walk to the restaurant was much less smoky. The young woman at the host stand saw us approaching, greeted us with a smile and barely caused us to slow on our way into the restaurant to our table.
Advantage: Burger Bar
KGB: Loud, awful, ubiquitous, contemporary pop music (that of the hip-hop/r&b variety) which matched neither the “rock-and-roll” reputation of the chef whose name is attached to the venture, nor with the decor/theme, which was influenced heavily by old Soviet propaganda posters. Plus, it was at least 15 decibels too loud (being generous). At one point, the keyboard start of Van Halen’s “Jump” started, making me think I was about to get a respite. Instead, it was some awful mash-up of the original with some forgettable rap lyrics.
Matching perfectly the idea of “nothing seems to go together” were the uniforms of the service staff. Well, I guess the extra cleavage does match Las Vegas, but The Missus and I actually had a conversation about how they could certainly have kept the element of cheesecake while incorporating something along the lines of the Soviet theme. (We landed on a strategically tailored army jacket that could reveal both midriff and cleavage just as well as the barely-there tops they were wearing.)
BB: Even though we breezed by the host stand to our table, it was evident that no cutting of staff post-lunch (after 2 p.m. on a Tuesday) was giving anyone an excuse to allow anything to look dingy. There was music, but I don’t remember what it was because it was neither out-of-place nor loud enough for me to note.
Or is is just that I was too busy actually having a good service experience to notice?
I also am not sure whether there was a uniform policy at work here. Of course there was, but it wasn’t as evident. Simple, classy black shirts. Sharp.
I could have done without the TV in the wall in our booth, but it’s a matter of personal preference. I get easily distracted by sports stuff.
Advantage: Burger Bar
I don’t recall waiting too long for a greet by the server in either restaurant.
KGB: The Missus does not generally go through a menu and land on just the one thing that is clearly the best thing for her to order. Hence, she almost always engages the server to help guide her selection, the premise being that someone who works in the restaurant will have eaten enough of the food to be useful or will at least use her experiences with other guests to know what has been successful and what has not.
In this instance, The Missus was having trouble deciding between a few items, including a conflict between the promising-sounding grilled salmon fillet burger and a desire to experience a ground beef burger, assuming that would simply be an elevated experience in such a location.
When asking for help in making the decision, the server offered, essentially, that if she wanted a burger, they have the “American Standard” which is a basic burger.
It was the single-most unhelpful bit of advice I’ve ever seen a server offer in such a circumstance, including when encountering a server who admitted to being fairly new and not having yet had chance to try the items in question.
Even better, when I said I’d like to order “The Cheddar Cheeseburger,” I was asked whether I knew that it was “just meat and cheese.”
My retort was a rather dry, “Well, is it any good?” before changing tack and going the “Build Your Burger” route.
Luckily, our server did know enough about the Buffalo Chicken Roll to clear up our confusion as to what the ‘roll’ part of the equation was (they’re like egg rolls, it turns out). We requested them as an appetizer. I also ordered a beer, but said I was reserving my right to try a milkshake (because who wouldn’t want to get a milkshake?)
She did inform us that the side of fries was not included with our decision to order from the “Build Your Burger” area and that the a la carte orders of sides were large enough to share, saving us from ordering a second and having far too much fried starch on the (unnecessarily small for a mostly empty restaurant, now that I think on it) table.
BB: Our server at Burger Bar was completely unfazed by my wife’s inquisitiveness, offering perfectly packaged descriptions of each menu item about which she inquired, as well as helpful recommendations as to what might be preferred. She delivered textbook-perfect guidance, yet never seemed like it was a rote recitation, rather a genuine spirit of helpfulness. Complete professional.
We ordered Buttermilk Zucchini Fries as an appetizer. In the anticipating needs category, my wife had barely gotten the last syllable of ‘zucchini’ out of her mouth before our server asked, “with a side of ranch dressing?”
Anyone who’s worked in restaurants with anything fried will tell you that Americans LOVE their ranch dressing. “Can I get a side of ranch?” ranks up there with “water with lemon” in most-commonly uttered phrases by casual restaurant guests. I don’t know whether she just expected it to come next or she just knew ranch went well with the zucchini, but, again, it was a total pro move.
She also asked whether we wanted Dijon, mayonnaise, or hot sauce with our burgers, explaining the kitchen didn’t put sauces on the burgers.
Advantage: Burger Bar (and it’s not even close, if you couldn’t gather)
Delivery of Food:
KGB: While we received our beverages in perfectly reasonable manner, we sat long enough after that for The Missus to note that we were getting to a point where we may need to hurry in order to be on time for the show. Being pinched for time seemed an impossibility when we left the hotel, but, sure enough, as we blew through 9:30, it did seem like appetizer, meal, and dessert was going to take far too long.
If you guessed that the server probably ordered the appetizer and mains at the same time (or, at least, in quick succession), you are correct. This may have been a blessing because, between the time she brought our drinks and the the time we were done eating our burgers, we saw our server only in passing.
That is, she wouldn’t have known our appetizer had arrived so she could fire the burgers. Although it’s a huge pet peeve of mine for the entrees to arrive right on top of the appetizer, that was preferable to sitting an agonizingly long time before realizing we’d have to either cancel dinner or the show.
BB: Before anything else arrived, we had two separate small bowls (not ramekins, but bowls!) of ranch dressing brought to the table, as well as small ramekins of mayonnaise and mustard for the burgers.
The appetizer landed in fairly short order. I would say that it was probably because the restaurant appeared to be in a post-rush lull, but that was also the case the night before at KGB and our food took nearly 30 minutes to arrive.
We had enough time to have eaten the zucchini before the burgers and fries arrived, but not so much time we even wondered how much longer before the main attraction landed. Again, completely professional execution of service.
Advantage: Burger Bar
KGB: Our appetizer plate was cleared the same time our entree dishes were, which was after the check was delivered. As I said, we didn’t see the server at our table most of the night. However, at least three other members of the staff walked by the table close enough to nearly bump into it without even glancing at the pile-up of dirty and clearly unwanted plates. This should not have been a surprise, as the table next to us remained uncleared for fifteen minutes after the party seated there had departed, leaving behind an unappetizing clutter of half-finished meals and drinks.
Another pet peeve. Don’t make dirty tables part of the atmosphere of your dining room. Nobody wants to see that. The fact of the matter is the service team should be clearing things throughout the meal, removing the possibility of such a mess in the middle of the dining room.
The beer bottle I emptied mid-meal was neither cleared, nor did it signal to anyone the opportunity for increased sales, whether it’s suggesting me to get another beer or to get into that milkshake I’d suggested I had wanted.
BB: I had a Diet Pepsi with my meal. I am not exaggerating when I say the level of the soda in the glass never was lower than 1.5 inches from the rim. It was nearly intrusive, to be honest, but vastly preferable to not getting more to drink when you want it. Plus, I could have moved my glass to the outer part of the table if I were really bothered by it.
Our server dropped by to check on our satisfaction with each course within a few bites of their arrival to the table, but was otherwise a very light presence, allowing us to actually eat. I think maybe at least four other people on the team took some part in delivering food, refilling beverages, and/or clearing plates.
Advantage: Burger Bar in a blow-out
KGB: Despite everything else, the culinary team at KGB will receive no harsh criticism from me.
The Buffalo Chicken Rolls were not greasy, despite being fried. I’d be shocked to hear they were not made fairly freshly. The vegetables were crisp and retained flavor. The only thing about the plate that missed, for me, was the giant pile of shredded iceberg lettuce in the center of the plate. I don’t know who likes iceberg lettuce, but it ain’t me. To put a big mound of it in the middle held no appeal as part of the food item, nor as a decorative garnish.
My burger was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and had a generous pile of smoked Gouda atop it.
It was delicious, as was my wife’s burger. We both commented on what a shame every other aspect of our visit was because the food was outstanding. Even the side of Sweet Potato Tots were notably superior to any other variation on the fried sweet potato side we’ve experienced in the past. They had a perfectly crisp outside surrounding a warm, squishy, delicious filling of what was unmistakably sweet potato. My wife actually wanted to try dipping them in ranch dressing (we really aren’t those people, I swear!), but, as you can probably interpolate, by the time anyone stopped by our table, it was far too late to bother.
Sure wish I could tell you about the milkshakes, though. The “Chili Chocolate Shake” sounded like a perfect match for me.
BB: Like KGB’s tots, the fried zucchini was shockingly superior to any other effort at the dish I’ve had in the past. The zucchini held its texture fairly well and had a terrific crispy coating.
The burger was again cooked to a perfect medium-rare. The Missus had ordered a medium and received something closer to medium-rare, which is the one slight mark on the meal. It didn’t stop her from enjoying it, though. We both pushed ourselves beyond ‘full’ and into the ‘Hey, we’re in Vegas’ region of excess.
I’ve read conflicting opinions on the value of “Kobe” beef vis-a-vis any other kind of beef. The burger made from it here, topped with a generous pile of grilled bell pepper, was more flavorful and moist than any burger I’ve ever had. Kobe-skeptics can take their wares elsewhere; I’m a believer.
I’m convinced we decided to go ahead with dessert at least in part due to the fact we were enjoying the overall experience as much as we were, because it would otherwise have seemed like punishment to be compelled to eat anything else at that point in the day.
The Missus inquired about a dessert trio that seemed to be a special or recent addition to the menu. Our server offered that it was good, but that the “banana split and milkshakes are special.”
Again, this is exactly the sort of thing you want from your server in this situation. I’m sure we’d have enjoyed the others just fine, but the server’s recommendations hit the mark full because that banana split was an indulgence well worth the indulgence.
Advantage: Burger Bar, but it was really, really close.
Well, yes. This is a blowout, for the most part. If you’re going to eat one burger on your Vegas trip, I could never recommend you choose KGB over Burger Bar.
However, as I said, the burger at KGB was excellent. I would find it hard to believe the experience we had there was typical. From an operational standpoint, it did seem like the problems we experienced were likely the result of poor management, so I do think you are more likely to get bad service at KGB than at Burger Bar, where the team worked together effortlessly and to great effect. If a manager-type can walk by a dirty table and not clear it (or, at least, send someone to clear it immediately), much less read the guests who clearly were not having a good time and intervene to turn it around, there are problems in the house. Ineffective management leads to ineffective staff.
So, unless you’re trapped at Harrah’s with no way to get down to the Mandalay Bay area, opt for Burger Bar. I’d even say to go twice to have dessert at a separate time to avoid the ugly gluttony required to eat a burger AND banana split at the same seating, though you can just go slow and enjoy the experience, as we did.
If you are trapped at Harrah’s somehow, you can get a damned fine burger at KGB. I just recommend you order that milkshake right up front and not be in a hurry to get anywhere.