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Desert Companion

Champagne Wishes, Corn Smut Dreams

ube.jpg

Ube
Photography by Sabin Orr

Ube

If your taste in food runs to the adventurous, try these unusual flavors from around the globe, sold locally

From ancient, earthy traditions like huitlacoche to Instagram-worthy trends like purple ube ice cream, the Las Vegas Valley offers a cornucopia of niche food and beverages. While some are indisputably delectable, others are what folks politely describe as “acquired tastes.” All are interesting, though. Here’s a sampling of what’s available across town:

UBE, THE PURPLE ONE Ube is a popular ingredient in numerous sweet dishes from India to Taiwan, but it’s in the Philippines that it achieves apotheosis in ice cream form. Eye-poppingly lavender-toned scoops are added to halo-halo, the sugary sundaes to end all sundaes. The tropical concoctions feature the yammy frozen treat with a host of toppings like sliced plantains, sweet red beans, jackfruit, coconut jelly, and crisped rice. The best place to try ube halo-halo is at Magnolia Ice Cream & Treats inside Seafood City on Maryland Parkway. (seafoodcity.com)

BASIL-FED SNAILS FROM CENTRAL VALLEY Not all escargot come in cans imported from France. Some snails make a relatively short journey to Las Vegas tables from orchards between Fresno and Bakersfield. There, raised by a mollusk wrangler known as “Mary the Snail Lady,” they live out their lives on a diet supplemented by basil leaves. After being dispatched, de-shelled, and pre-cooked, they’re bagged in basil-infused water and brought to town by Mikuni Wild Harvest, a gourmet food supplier. The tender, slightly herbal-tasting snails make it onto menus — sometimes doused in white wine and garlic butter — at upscale restaurants like Marché Bacchus in Desert Shores. (mikuniwildharvest.com)

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TeaSIP ON PU-ERH TEA Visit Tea & Whisk in Henderson to sample a steaming cup of pu-erh tea from China’s Yunnan Province. This hot beverage starts as hand-picked green tea leaves that are rolled together and allowed to ferment, just like cheese, sauerkraut, or aged sausages. Beneficial microbes oxidize the tea leaves over time, giving them deep, dark, earthy flavor notes that come alive when steeped in hot, pure water. Pu-erh tea isn’t even in the same galaxy as pale bags of Twinings or Lipton. (10271 S. Eastern Ave. #116, 702-907-6543, teaandwhisk.com)

INDIE CHAMPAGNES ARE POPPING An effervescent trend is making its way from France to Southern Nevada: grower-producer Champagnes. Widely known houses like Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Tattinger produce fine products, indeed, but they collectively cork bottles at a vast, industrial scale with not much variety in flavors between labels. Many wine connoisseurs are turning to small estates like Goutorbe and Chartogne-Taillet to fill their flute glasses. These leaner operations make Champagnes with more individualized and interesting taste and bouquet profiles — and some say higher quality — than available from the big brands on the block. Visit Henderson’s Valley Cheese & Wine to learn more about grower-producers and their sparkling small-batch wares. (1570 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway, #140, 702-341-8191, valleycheeseandwine.com)

OrangesFUNKY CITRUS FROM THE DOWNTOWN FARMERS MARKET Upgrade your home cooking and drink mixing from prosaic yellow lemons with a panoply of adventurous citrus from the Intuitive Forager’s Downtown Farmers Market. The selection changes weekly, but be on the lookout for uncommon varieties like Cara Cara oranges with pinkish, berry-flavored pulp and calamansi limes with sweet rinds and tart interiors. If you’re lucky, you might be able to score a carton of finger limes. Originally from Australia, the bush tucker is now grown in the Golden State — squeeze them to extrude juice-filled vesicles. They’re called citrus caviar and make for a fantastic garnish. (300 N. Casino Center, Fridays, 9a-2p, facebook.com/IntuitiveForagerFarmersMarkets)

Rattlesnake pieSNACK ON RATTLESNAKE SAUSAGE  Are you a culinary daredevil? Evel Pie in the Fremont East Entertainment District serves up slices of Snake River Special pizza, a cheesy creation topped with rattlesnake sausage. Cold-blooded denizens of the underbrush are united with savory herbs and spices and are baked atop a zesty pie that pays tribute to Evel Knievel’s attempt to rocket over an Idaho canyon back in the ’70s. And nope, rattlesnake sausage doesn’t taste like chicken. (508 Fremont St., 702-840-6460, evelpie.com)

RABBIT CACCIATORE AT PIZZERIA MONZÚ The delicately flavored game animal is uncommon on restaurant menus, so Pizzeria Monzú is a the place to enjoy a classic hunter’s repast full of sweet heirloom tomatoes in a tangy sauce. Rabbits have little bones, so there’s more work in store for diners than with most meats, but every scrumptious bite is worth the effort. Call at least 48 hours in advance; the cacciatore is an off-menu special. (6020 W. Flamingo Road #10, 702-749-5959, monzulv.com)

Sichuan PeppersGET TINGLY WITH SICHUAN peppercorns When paging through menus at Sichuan-focused eateries such as Chengdu Taste in Chinatown, you might be perplexed by the evocative and slightly mysterious description of “numb-taste” accompanying dishes like wontons in pepper sauce. It doesn’t refer to scorchingly hot chilis, but rather the seed husks of the prickly ash tree, which contain one of the coolest sounding organic chemistry terms in the world: hydroxy-alpha-sanshool. The compound makes nerve receptors in the lips and mouth feel numb, and intensifies the sensation of heat from actual chili peppers, which are abundant in Sichuan cuisine. Find dried Sichuan peppercorns at Ranch 99 Markets to rev up your home cooking. (99ranch.com)

BIG-FLAVORED GINS ON THE RISE Go beyond old-school juniper berries with a new breed of artfully flavored gins. Scotland’s Botanist brand features embossed, clear bottles filled with the essence of Hebridean meadows. Italy punches hard with Moletto (made with Mediterranean tomatoes) and Malfy con Limone (infused with sushiney citrus). Germany joins in with lingonberry-spiked Monkey 47 distilled in the historic Black Forest. Peruse more notable gins at Total Wine & More. (totalwine.com)

NIBBLE ON A5 WAGYU BEEF For many gourmands, hard-to-find A5 Wagyu beef from Japan is the quintessence of steak. The cattle are raised in strictly natural settings, making for luxurious beef. Richly marbled A5 slices have a supple mouth-feel and are imbued with head-spinning umami flavor notes. The meat comes with a significant price, of course, but a little goes a long way; knifing into a gigantic A5 tomahawk ribeye would be excess. Try a 4-ounce serving at Forte European Tapas Bar & Bistro, where they serve A5 steak and eggs with a caviar garnish. (Call 24 hours in advance.) (4180 S. Rainbow Blvd. #806, 702-220-3876, barforte.com)

GET GOING WITH BULLETPROOF COFFEE Bulletproof coffee is fresh-brewed java blended with a heaping pat of creamy butter and a healthy drizzle of MCT coconut oil. A favorite of the athletic keto crowd, it’s said to provide physical energy and mental alertness while helping your body burn fat. Sip on your first Bulletproof coffee at the Valley’s two Makers & Finders, where they use creamy, upscale Kerrygold Irish butter. (makerslv.com)

MIKE’S HOT HONEY Help save the bees with a bottle of Mike’s Hot Honey from Murray’s Cheese shops inside select Smith’s groceries around town. Made in Brooklyn, the condiment brings together sweet New York State wildflower nectar and capsaicin-packed chili peppers. Try it on waffles, with cheese and charcuterie plates, on slow-smoked barbecue ribs, and, of course, pizza. (mikeshothoney.com)

GET IN THE HOJA SANTA SPIRIT One of the most enigmatic ingredients found in the Las Vegas Valley is hoja santa, a heart-shaped Central American herb that tastes like a blend of black pepper, anise, nutmeg, mint, tarragon, and even eucalyptus. It’s also called the root beer plant, one of many nicknames for the “sacred leaf.” It’s versatile, and goes well with egg dishes, goat cheese, chicken, fish, and tamales; it can even elevate margaritas. Use the leaves sparingly, as they’re pungent and not to everyone’s liking. Look for packages of fresh hoja santa in local Latin supermarkets like Cardenas and La Bonita. (cardenasmarkets.com, bonitamarkets.com)

WHEW, IT’S NATTŌ TIME! Few foods are as divisive as nattō, or microbe-fermented soybeans. Think stink-bomb durian fruit, odoriferous Limburger cheese, and crispy insects. With origins in Japan, the beans have a slimy, viscous quality — some say snot-like, frankly — and a powerful Gorgonzola-ish odor (aka smelly feet). It’s often served over rice for a Vitamin-K packed breakfast, and it makes its way into sushi. Ready to try nattō? Find it rolled-up inside seaweed at local establishments including Sushi Mon, Naked Fish’s Sushi & Grill, Ondori Asian Kitchen, and Nakata Market of Japan.

RAZOR CLAMS MAKE THE SEAFOOD SCENE For folks living in the Pacific Northwest, gathering cylindrical razor clams on the beach is a seasonal pastime, but they are less known in Las Vegas. They’re named for their lustrous shells — which are reminiscent of old-timey shaving blade handles — that hold substantial strips of delicious crustacean meat. They do show up, however, in season at a handful of local spots, including restaurants like H.K. Seafood Garden, Other Mama, and District One, plus retailers like Whole Foods Market.

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