EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 30. EIFFEL TOWER

September 21, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Critics, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Max Jacobson, Reviews

30. EIFFEL TOWER RESTAURANT

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Is Eiffel Tower Restaurant getting a little time-worn after fifteen years? Yes. Is it a tourist restaurant? By all means. And do they change the menu about as often as most people change cars? Absolutely. Then why is it one of our precious Top 50?

For two reasons, pilgrim. One: it remains one of the most spectacular restaurant in Vegas, if not the entire United States; and, two: more people probably get engaged (or celebrate anniversaries) here than in any spot in the world.

It all starts with the private elevator on the main floor of Paris that whisks you to a lofty perch inside the hotel’s scaled-down version of La Tour Eiffel. The elevator opens and there you are facing … the kitchen! Not just any old kitchen, but a gleaming white-and-stainless-steel area filled with the cacophony and the aroma of great cuisine being created.

Diners are then led past the Art Deco bar to the hostess stand, where the restaurant spreads out before you. The effect transports a diner back to 1920s Paris, but with the flash of casinos as background instead of the Arc de Triomphe.

Executive Chef Juong Sohn gave way last year to Dan Rossi (formerly of Scarpetta) and they both do the cuisine of Chicago’s Jean Joho proud, with consistently delicious renditions of whole Dover sole, olive oil-poached halibut, and a rack of lamb with tarragon jus that would be right at home on the Champs Elysée. Being open for lunch is also a big plus for those who want to experience all this grandeur at much softer prices.

Max Jacobson says: We tend to overlook this room because it caters to tourists who come mainly for the view, but the restaurant offers the complete package: an exquisite Sunday brunch, great cocktails, window tables perched over the Bellagio fountains, and a staff that has been here since day one…If you have a sweet tooth, try the ethereal pistachio soufflé for dessert.

Favorite Dishes: Maine Peekeytoe Crab Salad; Cold Foie Gras Torchon; Roasted Foie Gras With Marinated Grapes; Bleu Cheese Soufflé Pudding; Marinated Quail With Brioche Pudding; Fricassee Of Escargot And Sweetbreads; Olive Oil-Poached Halibut With Herbed Couscous; Whole Boneless Dover Sole; Rack Of Lamb With Tarragon Jus; All soufflés; All desserts.

EIFFEL TOWER RESTAURANT

Paris Hotel

702.948.6937

Tasting Menu Tyranny

September 19, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Critics, John Mariani, Rant, Travel

ELV note:  A quick aperitivo of opinion to whet thine appetite for the flurry of essential eateries to come:

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(ELV’s worst nightmare)

A few of our ardent Facebook foodie friends (and we have many of them) have asked why we didn’t make it to Coi, Crenn, Benu or Saison on our just-finished, four-day trip to Frisco.

Our answer is simple (and – with apologies – a bit insulting): The last thing ELV wants or needs at this point in his insatiable existence is to be enslaved for 3+ hours by a team of 30 year old cooks assaulting his senses with dozens of “wildly inventive” teeny-tiny plates of overwrought food.

Many of you forget that six years ago, DJT was all the rage in Vegas — for about 4 months — doing the same sort of thing. It was all very fancy and a lot of fun. But we thought the whole phenomenon was over with then, just as we thought it was on the wane after being being led through a dozen remarkable courses by Pierre Gagnaire in Gay* Paree a few years before that.**

The trouble is, about the same time, Grant Achatz took the whole concept to “11″ in Chicago, got tons of national press (and Major Awards!) in the process, and became the poster boy for “look at me! look at me!” cuisine. (Wethinks the rise of cell phone-food-porn had a lot to do with it too – see top of page.)

Suddenly, every young chef in the country wanted to show what an “artist” they were by turning food on its head and doing something “different.”

Trouble is, there isn’t that much different in food. Asparagus will always go with hollandaise and ground meat needs cheese like fried potatoes need a sauce. Every chef knows this, but to capture customers (and press) they have to distinguish themselves by various forms of cooking (and visual) jiu jitsu….all to keep the clients “fascinated” and the dollars rolling in.

The real trouble is, this whole tasting-menu-thing is restaurant narcissism at its worst, and what began as a novelty by those wacky Spanish (and Thomas Keller and Gagnaire), has become a form of kitchen tyranny. And don’t forget: it’s a form of fascism you will pay for in hours of your time and hundreds of your dollars. Talk about gluttons for punishment!

(Lest you think we at ELV deplore molecular, avant garde gastronomy, we remind you that we have been big fans of Wylie Dufresne for years. But even he (and Gagnaire and most major frog ponds) allow you to order à la carte — not so at Crenn, Coi, Benu or the oh-so-precious Saison.)

Eating Las Vegas® is happy these things excite Millennial sensibilities (and loosens their food pocketbooks), but ELV (the man, the myth, the galloping gourmand) would rather pick and choose what he eats, not be forced to admire some youngster’s oeuvre…for hours.

Think about it: That’s one of the best things about restaurants — you can decide what you’re going to eat at the very moment you want to eat it, rather than be forced to endure a chef’s “vision” at the point of a fork.

And let’s be honest: It really is a generational thing. If ELV were a budding gourmet, like he was 40 years ago, he would be keenly interested in what his contemporaries were cooking (as he was, back in the day). But now, being a gentlemen of a certain age, watching chefs doing cartwheels in the kitchen just ain’t his thang….and he can’t wait for all of this “behold my creativity” shite to die its slow, unnatural death.

To read what food maven/restaurant critic extraordinaire John Mariani says about this sort of cooking (in his most restrained, diplomatic voice -  in New Orleans of all places) click here, and scroll down to his review of Square Root.

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* As in joyful and full of mirth.

** Keep in mind, we’ve had hundreds of multi-hour tasting experiences at this point in our career, going all the way back to the early 80s when they were still called “degustation” menus. Back then, many gourmets scoffed at them as a sideshow the restaurant put on to make a pretty profit on a plethora of paltry plates.

ELV Leaves Town; Food World Mourns

September 15, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Critics, Travel

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Eating Las Vegas in general, and ELV in particular, will be heading out of town for the new few days to San Francisco, where he will be asserting and defending the legal rights of the City of Las Vegas in his new job as Deputy City Attorney.

Therefore, his posts on this Web site will be taking a short sabbatical. If you wish to follow his eating adventures in the City by the Bay (where he plans on squeezing in at least a half dozen spectacular meals), please feel free to join him on either Twitter @EatingLasVegas or Instagram @JohnCurtas. (Sorry, but our Facebook fan following is filled up with frolicking and fulsome foodies.)

That is all.

Can OMAE Make It?

September 14, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Openings, Reviews, Spring Mountain Road

Japanese cuisine can be subtle to the point of invisibility. – ELV

For once, perhaps a few pictures will (truly) be worth a thousand words.

So, in the interest of brevity (for once), we will post a list of the pictures of seven courses, along with the menu descriptions of said courses, before summarizing our impressions of our meal with a few words at the bottom of this article.

We do this not to damn Omae Japanese Cuisine with faint praise, but rather to let you see the food as it would be delivered to your table, before cluttering your minds with our critic’s take on the experience:

Sakizuke — Ikura (Salmon Roe) and Mushroom with Grated Daikon, Ponzu Sauce:

Zensai — Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp) Tartar, Celeriac Puree, and Tomato Sorbet:

Mushimono — Steamed Scallop, Mozzarella and Grated Turnip with Golden Brown Sauce:

Sashimi — Three varieties of Sashimi from Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan:

Sumiyaki — Charcoal Grilled overnight aged Seasonal White Fish with Truffle Soy Sauce:

Teppan — Grilled Wagyu Steak with Roasted Onion and Wasabi Mashed Potato, or Grilled Kobe Beef Steak ($80 supplement as seen here):

Assorted Dessert:

That’s seven courses for $100/per (or $180) if you opt for four, meltingly tender bites of ultra-premium Japanese beef.

Are the ingredients pristine? Absolutely. Are the preparations exquisite? No doubt. But they’re also very, very Japanese, meaning: subtle (and by subtle we mean very subtle) contrasts of textures and flavors reveal themselves with every bite. Some of these sensations will make sense to you and some won’t. (We’re still trying to figure out what was going on with the melted cheese on a steamed scallop on top of a grated turnip napped with some indecipherable-to-the-point-of-invisibility  “golden brown sauce.”

But if you’re the sort who enjoys dissecting dishes, and love debating what a chef is trying to communicate with his concoctions, and prefer quality over quantity (and the deceptively simple over the uncouth and obvious), then you should make a beeline here while reservations in the teeny tiny (12 seat) space are still available.

And if the chef were to ask us (which he hasn’t and probably won’t), we would advise him not to raise his prices to $150/per at the end of the month. In our humble opinion, a Benjamin a head is probably the limit of what the traffic will bear at this location.

Bottom line: This is a thinking man’s restaurant, and not for someone looking to fill up on a big plate of grub. You will be by turns transfixed and baffled by some of the courses here, but Takeshi Omae is obviously a major talent, with an obsessive attention to detail that you rarely find in anything but the best Japanese and French restaurants. Much like Mitsuo Endo before him, he has raised the game for all cooks in this town just by opening his doors.

You will leave hungry but you will also leave fascinated.

ELV joined three major Yelpers (Matt, Tricia and Norm) and Michael Uzmann for his meal here last night. His portion of the bill came to $175, without booze, and as much as he liked the A-5, in the future he would opt out of the supplement as the wagyu steak was just as tasty if not as tender.

JAPANESE CUISINE BY OMAE

3650 South Decatur Blvd. #26

702.966.8080

Ask ELV: A Tempest Over Tippling Tipping

September 13, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: KNPR, Letter of the Week

The two sides of the American tipping coin have made a deal with the Devil that operates to the detriment of the American restaurant customer. – ELV

 

 

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Dear ELV (aka Dad),

This came up last night and might make for a good “letter of the week”. We figured we weren’t the only ones to have this conundrum.

We ate at a really nice restaurant last night, one we had been to twice before (used to be the best in the area until downtown upped their game). Since it was for our 10th anniversary, we also splurged on a bottle of wine ($150 Chateauneuf du Pape). This might be a normal bottle for most people, but this was definitely a outlier for us.

Bill came: $210 of food, $150 wine plus tax.

Several online forums and columns discussed many different options and the consensus was clear: there is no consensus. Some places also mentioned tipping the sommelier, which never occurred to us.

Tipping options broken down:
20% of everything: $72 tip
15% of everything: $54 tip
20% food, 10% wine: $57
20% of just food: $42

We ended up leaving a $60 tip.

Advice appreciated!

Love,

Your Loyal Staff

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ELV responds:

To begin with, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING SPENDING $370 AT DINNER?

Is that what I pay you for???? To go around like some profligate son flaunting your social status and mindlessly filling your piehole with overpriced food and elitist, unpronounceable beverages made by smelly foreigners in some faraway land???

“Really nice restaurant”? What’s wrong with a good old American restaurant with real American food? Made by American corporations right here in America? Not good enough for you?

And what did my grandchildren have to eat — the usual gruel? — whilst you and missus were spending their inheritance on your fancy schmancy poulet a la this and carpaccio de Trevisio that?

Obviously, we’re paying you too much, and we’ll address that issue later.

To answer your question: Tipping is, ipso facto, STUPID. The rest of the word LAUGHS at Americans for continuing this dumb-ass policy that exists only because a) restaurant owners don’t want to pay their employees a living wage, and, b) waitrons love the immediate gratification and tax-dodging opportunities the system provides them.

These two sides of the American tipping coin have made a deal with the Devil that operates to the detriment of the American restaurant customer.

That being said, until common sense prevails (or a consumer revolt happens), we are stuck with this petty, dishonest, uncomfortable, nonsensical system that bestows an expected gratuity on a person (or doesn’t) depending on the whims of individuals , not according to any hard and fast rules…or any sort of actual contract.

(It amuses ELV that the service industry has not-so-subtly convinced the dining-out public that 18-20% is now the “standard” tipping amount, when, for most of the 20th Century, 10-15% was the norm.)

All that being said, we can proudly proclaim that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, and something in the $60-$70 range is exactly what we would have left — although at a high-falutin’ joint like the one you describe, eighty bucks wouldn’t have been out of the question either.

As for tipping the sommelier separately: that custom, along with splitting the tip among the captains and the waiters, has gone the way of the tasseled menu. And since most restaurants in America the Beautiful (and the beautifully stupid), now pool their tips, handing a double sawbuck to the somm doesn’t have the same “merci beaucoup” effect it might have had 20 years ago. That being said, it’s still a nice gesture and we suggest doing it on occasion, especially if you intend on returning and want to be remembered by the staff.

Now, GO FEED MY GRANDCHILDREN….and we’ll discuss your salary and bonus when you deign to leave the snobbish confines of your elitist, parvenu, east coast existence, and venture to the wild west so we can visit with them at the ELV homestead.

Dad

EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 29. BAZAAR MEAT

September 13, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Critics, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Openings, Reviews

29. BAZAAR MEAT

(see below)

BAZAAR MEAT

September 10, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Food, Openings, Reviews

Calling Bazaar Meat a good steakhouse is like calling Liz Taylor just another pretty face. What it is is a meat emporium pure and simple, featuring the purest of meats served in the simplest of ways — a carnivore’s heaven, if you will — stocked with the best meat on the hoof money can buy. These animals died for your sins pilgrim, and what little rapture they had on this mortal vale should not be forgotten, and you would do well to count your blessings and honor them as you feast on some of the finest protein preparations on the planet.

Religious experiences like this, however, don’t come cheap. The meal for four we experienced below (with enough food for 6-8) would have easily cost $1,000 (before tip and anything to drink), but if you’re the sort who thanks the lord when you slide a sliver of creamy, gamey and dense Jamon Ibérico de Bellota onto to your tongue (and we are), then $70 is more than worth the dispensation:

Jamon Ibérico is truly the ham all hams want to be. There is something about the nuttiness, the silkiness, and density of sensations that no other cured pork leg on earth can duplicate. Even the Italians admit their finest prosciutto can’t hold a candle to these acorn-infused wonders, and the everlasting mouthfeel will stay with you longer than alimony payments.

If those slices of salty-sweet satisfaction don’t satiate, there’s always some bison carpaccio ($26) to tweak your taste buds:

….it being a playful take on buffalo wings, incorporating a tang of blue cheese here and a spot of Frank’s hot sauce there.

Speaking of playful, the croquetas de Pollo ($12) are nuggets of deep-fried perfection — stuffed with shredded chicken in a textbook béchamel sauce, and come stuffed in a shoe:

 

The delivery vehicle being some sort of Spanish slang for the little darlings. Try to limit yourself to a bite or two because they are filling, but they also provide a nice creamy beginning to a meal that will, if you order correctly, will be a non-stop parade of sharp, smooth and mineral rich flavors.

The conceit of this menu is you can go big or go small, raw or cooked, large format or tiny tapas, depending on your mood and/or the size of your party. It’s really quite the stroke of genius on José Andrés’ part to re-invent the American steakhouse as a Spanish food hall, but as huge as the enterprise is (360 seats), there’s an intimacy to the space (and a softness to the lighting) that blunts any sense you’re in a head-em-up-and-move-em-out corporate cattle call.

Another stroke of brilliance is packing a meat-obsessed menu with all sorts of top-notch vegetarian and seafood items. Before we get to the meat (and believe us, we will get to the nonpareil proteins in a picosecond), perhaps a preview of these pulchritudinous palate-cleansers is preferable, or at least propitious.

Abhorrers of animal flesh will find plenty to love among the garden greens and leafy things proudly displayed at the front of the store:

Whether it’s a roasted Padron pepper ($15), or a cauliflower “steak” with pine nuts and preseved lemon ($12), or drop-your-fork-delicious Brussels sprouts “petals”with lemon “air” ($12):

…that float your boat, you’ll find plenty of antioxidants to applaud without getting within a parsec of dead animal flesh.

Pescatarians won’t complain either, since the raw bar here puts out the sweetest clams this side of Nantucket:

…giving these little bi-valves some leche de tigre  (tiger milk) bite, and the texture of a Peruvian tiradito in the process.

Should your salad-seeking be of the seafood sort, you won’t find more sincere sustenance that this soupçon of lobster and Alaskan claws:

And these super-ripe tomato translations are….

….wait for it….

…technically tantalizing and transformingly terrific.

In fact, the “Beefsteak” tomato tartare (above, $18) might be the most jaw-dropping thing on the menu — it being by turns sweet and acidic, and the perfect expression of late summer eating at its best.

Now, for the show stoppers.

Knowing we were in for a panoply of pig and a cascade of cow, we took but two bites of these braised Wagyu beef cheeks ($36):

 

…but can still pronounce them the best braised beef we’ve had this year. The mojo rojo sauce surrounding it was finger-licking good as well, but, as is the fashion these days, there wasn’t enough of it on the plate to actually use to flavor your beef bites…so scraping the sorry schmear off the plate, and licking it off your fingers, is the only way to (im)properly enjoy it. (Sigh)

What can we say about the steaks other than they are simply sensational. We strolled over to the grill with Chef David Thomas and picked out the 28-day aged, Washugyu Ranch, Angus/Wagyu beauty in the middle of the grouping at the bottom left:

…and this is how it came to the table:

Once again, the schmear of mustard was but a suggestion of a sauce, but the steak was so full of umami succulence it hardly needed it.

They may not be doing the super-aged thing here that Carnevino does, but there’s no denying the pedigree of this beef. At $80/pound we estimate this headliner would have run around $100 for a single steak. But it was also more than enough beef for four adults, and made a mighty tasty steak sandwich the next day at the ELV manse.

Then Chef Thomas took it to “11.”

In this case with a quarter suckling pig:

…that was as succulent as its name suggests:

Just how can one describe how good it is? Put it this way: deflowering virgins hasn’t been ELV’s thing for some time now, but if he ever wanted to violate some vegan (and thought has occurred to him on many occasions), all it would take would be slipping some of this crispy, crackly, consensually concupiscent skin into where no turgid flesh has gone before, to turn them to the dark side.

If that didn’t do it, one bite of José’s S’mores — foie gras-stuffed, house-made Graham crackers:

…would do the trick.

In no time flat, all sorts of taboos would be dropping like common sense in the California legislature, and you could get on with having a proper sex…er…uh….we mean eating life, and start popping things in orifices you never thought possible…like these “Foiffles” — air waffles with foie gras espuma:

…that are so good her eyes will be rolling back in her head.

The panoply of desserts are outrageously good too:

 

…but right now we need a cigarette.

Bazaar Meat is about to become one of the most famous restaurants in America. Mortgage the house, rent out the kids, and go there. You won’t regret a bite of it.

Both of ELV’s meals here were comped, but sizable tips ($90 the first time; $200 the second) were left to reward the exceptional service.

BAZAAR MEAT

SLS Hotel

702.761.7610

Definitions

September 10, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Critics

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“In the lexicon of lip-smacking, an epicure is fastidious in his choice and enjoyment of food, just a soupçon more expert than a gastronome; a gourmet is a connoisseur of the exotic, taste buds attuned to the calibrations of deliciousness, who savors the masterly techniques of great chefs; a gourmand is a hearty bon vivant who enjoys food without truffles and flourishes; a glutton overindulges greedily, the word rooted in the Latin for ‘one who devours’. … After eating, an epicure gives a thin smile of satisfaction; a gastronome, burping into his napkin, praises the food in a magazine; a gourmet, repressing his burp, criticizes the food in the same magazine; a gourmand belches happily and tells everybody where he ate; a glutton embraces the white porcelain altar, or, more plainly, he barfs”. – William Safire

If we had to define the local food writing establishment, we at ELV would classify Max Jacobson as a the ultimate gourmet (may his palate and wit return sometime soon), Heidi Knapp Rinella as a gastronome, and Brock Radke and Jim Begley as gourmands.

FYI, BTW,  ELV is AOTA.

What are you?

EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 28. BOUCHON

September 09, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Critics, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Max Jacobson, Reviews

28. BOUCHON

We have run hot and cold about Bouchon over the years. We’ve had stupendous meals here; we’ve had pedestrian ones. Service has been terrific on occasion, sloppy and slow on others. We wanted to kiss all the cooks after one brunch…and felt like strangling them at another — when scrambling eggs seemed to challenge their skill set. A certain “critic” in town (who knows as much about French food as he does about ELV’s bunghole), once complained of being served a cold breakfast of (supposed to be) hot food and, for once, we had to agree with him.

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EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 27. CUT

September 09, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Critics, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Max Jacobson, Reviews

27. CUT

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(Photo by www.kevineats.com)

When Wolfgang Puck and his troops opened this offshoot of his Beverly Hills steakhouse in ’08, they probably didn’t know they were creating the perfect Las Vegas restaurant. It’s a steakhouse (natch), but also a cool and groovy bar/café where you can soak in the vibe and not get soaked in the process.

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