Happy F*cking Thanksgiving

Governor Sisolak signs bill ensuring mail-in voting for Nevadans next election | KSNV(Trust me, I’m the Gubernator)

God I wish there was more to be thankful for this year….but when it comes to being grateful, my toasting cup is almost empty.

For the past 6  years we’ve cooked increasingly elaborate meals for a crowd ranging from 15-20 hungry souls. This year there will be six of us.

Friends as diverse as a 70 year old regular to 40 year old couples to a and healthy-as-a-horse 25 year old Millennial have begged off, citing, “I really don’t feel comfortable going to people’s houses” as the reason.

In other words, boneheaded government and fear-stoking media have done their jobs well(?) — continuing to convince a large segment of the public that this “pandemic” is as dangerous as the Bubonic Plague and Polio rolled into one.

Groupthink and fear are powerful tools. Perspective takes time and thoughtfulness, two things politicians abhor. At this point it will take a mighty strong vise to break the grip of these things on people’s psyches. Or a vaccine.

All we at ELV know is that common sense and logic haven’t worked. Even if a statistically tiny portion of people are getting infected (67 per 100,000 population in Clark County, Nevada at last count), and an even tinier number are actually dying from it, people’s sense of health and safety has been shaken to the core.

We shudder to think how long it will take to return things to normal.

So, rather than giving thanks this year, mostly all we have to give is concern — worrying for the future of so many things we hold dear. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still raise a glass to those who deserve a chorus of huzzahs for all we’ve been through this year. And so, with all the enthusiasm of man being led to the gallows, here they are:

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A toast to Las Vegas! Sin City, the boulevard of broken dreams, now broken. Thirty years of progress reduced to a ghost town in mere months. Now, it is a sad shell of itself — a convention city without conventions, empty and without purpose. Though conventions may be gone, our giant, forlorn hotels still beckon them with empty rooms, unused spaces, and the defeated countenance of twenty vertical Titanics about slip beneath the waves and into the sands of time. (Mix. That. Metaphor!)

Three cheers to all of the restaurant owners and workers who have kept up a game face through one bone-headed shutdown order after another. More than anyone, they have seen and felt the insanity over the past nine months. How any of them can smile about anything at this juncture is beyond me.

Carolyn Goodman is mom before mayor for adopted children | Las Vegas Review-Journal(She’s everything Sisolak isn’t: smart and nice)

Toast GIFs | Tenor

A clink of the martinis to Carolyn Goodman (full disclosure: my client), who got things right back in the Spring and got crucified for it on social media. Las Vegas needed to open up and it did, to none of the plague-like, super-spreader consequences so many were predicting. To all of those who vilified her, we wish nothing more for you than a day of eating crow.

Let us hoist a cup (or three) to the nimrods and know-nothings, to the knuckledraggers and the MAGA hat-wearing, face mask dismissing, rock-hard conservatives who pointedly politicized this Covid crisis by objecting to the government ruining people’s lives (and livelihoods) in the name of keeping them “safe.” Not since the Vietnam logic of “We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” has government stupidity been writ so large before us. Without these noisy conservatives, no one would be calling out these continuing affronts to common sense and human freedom.

A Toast GIFs | Tenor

While we’re at it, let’s pop some corks tomorrow for all the liberals — those folks who really really care about everyone — who want government to do its utmost (at whatever cost) to fight the virus. Every yin needs a yang, and every selfish, libertarian asshole needs the counterpoint of some clueless do-gooder who thinks she can save the world.

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And speaking of cluelessness, let’s bend the elbow for our Gubernator in Chief, Steve Sisolak, who reminds us of a burly bear caught in the headlights of his own contradictions. He hasn’t gotten anything right yet, but dadgummit, he’s still trying to fight Mother Nature with the only tool he has: seating arrangements.

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Finally, let us drink to 2020, to the death counts, the infection rates, the curve-flattening, the hyperbolic media, and the gullible public. To social media that fanned these flames. To people jogging and driving with masks on. To those huddled in their caves. To the constant stream of fear-mongering that millions swallowed hook, line, and sinker, never thinking to ask, “Why don’t they show us all the people who have recovered from Covid? Or at least mention them?” Here’s to all of this and all of them, for they got exactly what they deserved…even if the rest of us didn’t.

And, because it IS Thanksgiving, we should take stock of how grateful we are for the things that we truly are thankful for. In my life, today, these would include:

A 96 year old mother who is as spry and sharp as she was at 50.

Two wonderful sons who have found two quality women to share their lives with.

Totally adorable grand-kids.

A wife who puts up with me.

A job that is a perfect fit for this time in my life.

A house that I love.

Good friends, both new and old.

All those who follow me on social media, and you who are reading these words right now. Though blogs and blogging have diminished across the board over the past ten years (and Covid will be the death of food writing), I still cherish what few “regs” I have who take the time to read my stuff and reach out to me when they can. G. B. Shaw once said, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food,” and by that token, there are no more fascinating people than those who share a love of good food and drink.

A closet full of decent wine whenever I’m thirsty.

Along those lines: Mail order wine…and food….because the selections in both in this town basically suck harder than a Sisolak presser.

My health.

My wife’s health.

My wife’s body.

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The restaurants of Las Vegas and all who work in them.

And for Las Vegas itself I am thankful — a town with which have have had a 40 year love-hate relationship, but has allowed me to pursue my passion for 25 years, and gain a great deal of notoriety in doing so.

For these and many other things I am eternally beholden for what they bring to my life on a daily basis.

On a sour note, for this year of Covid idiocy, I wish nothing more than a bucket of rancid natural wine, and a salmonella-infected slab of putrid headcheese. Here’s to you, 2020:

Happy F*cking Thanksgiving

33 Things I Now Know About Mexico

Image(This isn’t even the half of it, or the quarter of it)

Ed. note: We recently returned from a short vacay to Mexico. We went to escape the craziness that is America, and because it is the only country on earth that is accepting American tourists these days. As usual, when we have a great time in a foreign land, we like to share.

Mexico City is so big it makes Vegas look like Boulder City.

They used to call Mexico City D.F. (Distrito Federale), but that’s now as dated as the Frito Bandito.

Trying to see Mexico City in a week is like trying to tour the Louvre in an hour.

If all you know of Mexico are its border and beach towns, then you’re missing the real deal.  Diving in to where it all started is a cultural eye-opener.

Mexicans eat better and cheaper than we do.

They are more vigilant than Americans about Covid protocols as well.

CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico, aka City of Mexico) is a walk-able city, but the distances are vast.

As with Tokyo (and most huge, international capitals), it is best to pick a neighborhood (Centro, Reforma, Polanco, Roma, etc.) and spend a day getting to know it.

Roma is tree-lined, peaceful, and filled with places eat — a nice antidote to the crazy cacophony of the city surrounding it.

There are more museums in one park (Bosque de Chapultepec) than in the entire state of Nevada.

Image(The Polanco at 2:00 am)

The air there is so lousy you can’t see the stars at night, none of them. (That little dot in the picture above is a helicopter.)

The air may be terrible, but I didn’t notice. The Food Gal®, however, was starting to complain of an irritated nose and throat by Day 4.

Uber is über-cheap – there is no reason to take any other form of transportation.

Speaking of cheap, food and drink are a serious bargain: from superb street tacos to modernist cuisine meccas, prices are laughably low.

Service with a smile is also the universal rule. The language barrier is also no big deal. To figure out the price in dollars, divide everything by 20.

Image(Pujol)

Modernist cuisine — as exemplified by hyper-local, multi-course, fixed priced menus — is alive and well. We hit the two biggest names (Pujol and Quintonil) and both were jammed with Rico Suaves and their lovely ladies. As I’ve said many times, the whole tasting menu thing has run its course, but as long as the World’s 50 Best nonsense is around, there will always be gastro-tourists (with more money than taste) keeping these things afloat. For this reason, the next time we’re here, I expect to be at the Taco Omakase at Pujol, or ordering a la carte from Quintonil.

You don’t see/hear many American accents (we counted three); this is a good thing.

You don’t see many fat people either (even among the mobs at Mercado de Merced).

People have asked me if it’s “clean.” Yes, cleaner than the human toilet that is downtown Los Angeles; more pristine than San Francisco. In many ways, CDMX reminded us of an Hispanic Chicago: spotless streets, wide boulevards, nice people and a remarkable lack of trash.

Image(Roma)

It is also safe. There is, literally, a cop car on every corner.

Crossing the street can be take-your-life-in-your-own-hands endeavor, however.

Beggars are a nuisance, but not an issue. Sit or stand anywhere for more than ten seconds and someone will approach either asking for a handout or to sell you some junk. You learn the words “no, gracias” very quickly, and will say them about fifty times a day.

Image(Anyone for an Orthopteran?)

They take their insects seriously here, at lunch and dinner.

As impressive as Pujol and Quintonil were, the first meal I’d revisit would be Guzina Oaxaca — a chic, casual spot in the Polanco specializing in Oaxacan cuisine in all its glories.

Image(Holy mole!)

Mexican wines were also a nice surprise. They use a lot of European varietals, to varying degrees of success. Pro tip: this is uncharted territory for even serious oenophiles, so let your sommelier guide you. No matter what you buy, it will probably be under $50. Pro tip #2: They’re doing better with their reds than their whites, but this is only based on a very limited sample.

La Merced is a zoo, a labyrinth, a maze of shops: a tangle of warren after slithering warren of alleyways and side streets selling miles and miles of junk. There’s also a food section (our real reason for going), but we never found it. Pro tip: Don’t go on a Saturday morning. Pro tip #2: Don’t let your Uber driver drop you off blocks from the main market — you’ll never find it, no matter how much you look at Google maps. Pro tip #3: Sign up for a tour, unless you enjoy being swallowed up by a sea of humanity seemingly enthralled with miles and miles of plastic junk. One of our companions remarked how ubiquitous and similar these “street markets” are around the globe — selling cheap clothes and toys to tens of thousands every day. “The one in Istanbul is even worse,” he sighed as we struggled to find an exit ramp from the human highway that enveloped us.  It was almost enough to make us miss Walmart.

Mercado Roma was as disappointing as Mercado de Merced was frustrating — it being little more than a glorified food court.

Image(Cochinita pibil tacos at Turix)

The tacos are insane, but I already knew that.

Even the bad tacos in Mexico City are good tacos. The tacos at El Turix (a hole in the wall in Polanco) are some of the best of all.

Image(Sensational seafood at Contramar)

Mexican seafood is its own thing, treating fish in ways that would have a Frenchman crying sacre bleu! Like most of the country’s cuisine, it emphasizes strong flavors over delicate technique (see above).

That said, the better restaurants know how to treat fish right. Contramar (in the Roma neighborhood) is such a restaurant (reservations essential).

There is no such thing as a bad trés leches cake.

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Muchas gracias to foodie friends Greg and Deanna, and JB and Kathy, for setting up so many fabulous meals and acting as interpreters for the trip. All of us can’t wait to return, because….

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Mon Ami No More

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Ed. note: The following letter is self-explanatory. It was sent approximately a week ago:

Ms. XXXX,

I have taken my time in composing this to allow my emotions to subside, and so I could relay my thoughts with a minimum of rancor.

To refresh your recollection: a group of 9 of us recently had a special dinner at MAG, composed for us by Vincent Pouessel. The meal consisted of a multitude of courses and wines, all served over several hours to two separate tables – one a four-top, the other a five-top. Our party was comprised of Las Vegas locals, including a vendor of your restaurant, who have all been to your restaurant numerous times. (I myself have been to Mon Ami Gabi dozens of times over the years, and have been a big supporter – both on my traditional and social media platforms.)

Having been such a supporter for so long, the last thing I expected at the end of the meal was to be clipped by the restaurant like we were a pack of clueless conventioneers.

When the bill came, it broke down (approximately) as follows:

$2,000 food
$2,000 wine
20% tip (on both the food and wine)
4% “event fee”
$60 corkage fee on two bottles

Leaving aside the wine (and Strip wine prices) – some of which wasn’t opened, and $342 of it (the Port) was poured as we were leaving and hardly touched — what you did with the rest of the bill teeters somewhere between the inhospitable and the unconscionable.

This is not to criticize the food or the service, both of which were stellar and made for a great evening. We weren’t looking for any freebies, but neither were we expecting to be squeezed with the extra “fees” and automatic 20% tip on Strip-priced wines. (Nowhere I know of is it considered customary to leave a 20% tip on the total bill, including wine, no matter how much the restaurant and its waiters wishes it were so. No one in our party was told this 20% surcharge would appear on wine that was already marked up by 300%.)

For the record, I’ve brought bottles of wine to your restaurant(s) on multiple occasions (or been with others who have) and have never been charged corkage. But please don’t think this is about the sixty bucks – no one in our party cares about $60 – what we care about was being taken advantage of, to the tune of those last three items above. And that’s just what happened.

No doubt there is a “company policy” defense to justify these charges, but the sad fact is, this sort of “hit ‘em hard” pricing behavior is all too common in Las Vegas…and one of the reasons locals are so disdainful of the Strip.

But on one level I must thank you. Seeing how you operate when a customer lets his guard down, gave me some additional insight (as if any was needed) into the meretricious minds of corporate restaurants. Silly me, I thought being a local (and being me) might spare my party from being treated like a bunch of pigeons to be plucked.

I understand that this happens to tourists — a sad but true fact when people are reduced to numbers — I just never thought it would happen to me. I’m not looking for apologies or explanations. What I seek are restaurants who don’t make a mockery of the words “hospitality” in their lust for profits. Like I said: silly me.

It is only out of respect for your executive chef that I haven’t made a bigger deal out of this. It is out of respect for myself (and my followers) that you won’t be seeing me at Mon Ami Gabi again.

John Curtas
EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants
www.eatinglv.com
702.528.7454