EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 46. “The New” EL SOMBRERO

October 20, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Downtown, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Openings, Reviews

46. EL SOMBRERO

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The old El Sombrero was Las Vegas’s oldest restaurant. It opened its doors for the first time in 1950, and was considered time-worn and venerable when, in 1970, Teresa and José Aragon took over and started cooking their unique brand of Mexican-meets-New Mexican food. After a 44 year run, the Aragons retired in April and sold the joint to Irma Aguirre. It reopened in August, and what she and Executive Chef Oscar Sanchez have done to the 43 seat space is nothing short of amazing.

Begin your meal here with sangria. Not a fan? Well, neither were we. We’ve always considered sangria to be something of a bad joke. Throw some fruit slices into some shitty wine and voila! …what you have is shitty wine with fruit in it.

Not so at 807 South Main Street. Here you get a variety of sangrias — rosé with watermelon and mint, chardonnay tweaked with bay leaf and green apple, red wine laced with strawberries — each tasting like a well-crafted, herb and spice-laced cocktail. To get off on the right foot, get all three. At eight bucks a piece, you owe it to yourself after a lifetime of crappy spiced wine. Take that sangria!

When such care has been taken with so pedestrian a starter, you’ve gotten a major hint that there are revelations aplenty ahead.

The guac is fresh and good (but could use a little “bam!”),  and the Quesillo Fondue Mexicano with “Hormiga (ant) Sauce” quite serviceable (although we at ELV don’t think the dark red chile sauce actually contains any ants, although knowing Mexicans, it could). You’ll also find the Piquillo Peppers stuffed with herbed goat cheese to be plenty goat-cheesy and surrounded by a mighty tasty roasted tomato sauce.

As good as they are, it’s the Spicy Calamari a la brasa that tells you you aren’t in Casa Cocina de Nacho Cantina-land  anymore. These squid circles are fork-tender, char-broiled and sitting in a pool of jalapeno-infused squid ink sauce that looks as forbidding as it is addictive.

Go down the list of entrees — available at lunch and dinner — and there’s nary a clinker in the bunch. No one in Vegas does a better, fresher, brighter, healthier Chile Relleno, this one filled with butternut squash, potato, onion and a blend of cheeses, and you’ll have to go to Letitia’s way up in Centennial Hills to find a mole that even comes close to the deeply flavored one napping a superior roasted chicken, tasting of a good bird given proper treatment by a trained chef, instead of the usual flabby white breast every other Mexican restaurant in town throws at you. (Face it folks: your generic South of the Border joint uses the cheapest ingredients it can get away with.)

Good groceries are the rule here, so prices are a few bucks higher than you’ll get at Lindo-Chapala-Chalupa, but once you bite into Sanchez’s Tamal de Carne with roasted guajillo sauce or Costillitas en Salso Verde (pork ribs in molcajete–tomatillo sauce), you’ll be spoiled forever. And we haven’t even mentioned the meat platters. And they’re the best things on the menu.

Two platters are offered, each easily feeding two : Tradicional ($35) and Del Patron ($45). Roasted chicken, chorizo and carne asada come on a wooden board on the first one, with sliced filet and rib eye taking center stage on the second. Three dipping sauces come with each: a house-made ancho chile steak sauce, chimichurri, and that ant (hormiga) sauce again, which is really more of oily, slap-my-ass-and-call-me-Sally pureed chile concoction.

And finally, there is the rib eye. Simply put, it is the best damn $32 steak in Clark County — the equivalent of steaks costing twenty bucks more a couple of miles to the south, and better seasoned than most. Sanchez has a way with meat — he used to work at Envy Steakhouse — and it shows in the care he lavishes upon all of his carnivore-craveworthy creations. For the record: his Halibut a La Plancha is no slouch either.

Everything about this place is a gem….except the noise level. Tablecloths would help, but hard surfaces abound and until they start using those, don’t expect much muted conversation during busy (read: lunch) hours.

Aguirre and Sanchez are to be applauded by trying to resuscitate our moribund local Mexican scene with an upscale option. This isn’t a taco joint and it isn’t a tamale house. Our staff likes Mundo and La Comida (its downtown competitors), but they are not working with so fine a brush as this kitchen. This is Mexican made better, much better.

If the food stays this good, we’re predicting another 64 year run.

Favorite dishes: Sangrias; Chile Relleno; Spicy Calamari; Quesillo Fondue Mexicano; Tamal de Carne; Halibut a La Plancha; Costillitas en Salso Verde; Tradicional and Del Patron Meat Platters; Pollo con Mole; Rib Eye Steak; Bread Pudding.

EL SOMBRERO

807 South Main Street

702.382.9234

Letter of the Week – WTF with “Fully Booked”?

October 18, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Letter of the Week

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David knows his Weiners

ELV note: One of our favorite paisans – David Greco – who owns and runs Mike’s Deli on Arthur Avenue in da Bronx, was in Vegas recently, and filed this report (the kind we at ELV love to get from our favorite foodies) on some of his experiences. He also ends his mini-reviews with a question that often bugs us as well as our staff

Dear ELV,

Having a craving for fancy French during my recent visit, I wound up at Twist. I dare say I was disappointed. Dreadfully boring room. OK sure, maybe great place to impress a hot brunette, but service was spotty. For example, no one removed the dirty plates from the entree course until the dessert course arrived.

Both appetizer (Pierre’s salad) and main (pork chop) were rather pedestrian. The pork chop was even on the dry side. The highlight was certainly the “grand” dessert. That was worth the price of admission. Frankly, I think if you want French in this town, there is little reason to go any farther than Robuchon and L’Atelier.

Bazaar Meat‘s praise is well placed. They are doing some really interesting stuff in there. I had the strip steak, and found it a bit boring. But a handful of appetizers and the sides were awesome. I sat at the bar near the charcuterie station and the chefs entertained me and sent some samples my way. The tuna carpaccio was unspeakably good. The dining room there is a bit too busy for my taste though. It seems like there is just some inefficiency in the wait staff where they are constantly running around.

I do have a question. Both Bazaar and Giada were “fully booked” when I approached the hostess stand without reservations. This wasn’t a problem at Giada, I just sat at the bar, but Bazaar does not offer a full menu at the bar. I sat at the bar at Bazaar anyways and the hostess fetched me a couple minutes later saying they had room. However, both rooms were half empty the entire time I was there. Why could neither seat me when the rooms were so empty?

Salumi-ly yours,

David Greco

ELV responds:

Dear David,

It gruntles us to hear you loved Bazaar Meat (especially from a guy who knows his meatballs), and we agree with you about Robuchon and L’Atelier (although we think Guy Savoy must be considered in the same sentence as well). As for Twist, it appears you ordered á la carte — which is not the strength of that menu — but there is still no excuse for a dry pork chop at those prices.

To your question about “fully booked” (or the dreaded euphemism du jour, “fully committed”), we can only offer this tepid defense of the restaurants. In both cases, these places are in their infancy. Management has told us they have kept the reservations down, and don’t want to stress the kitchens beyond 50-60% capacity for the first month or so. 

Given that both places are huge (Giada seats 225, Bazaar 350), and have extensive, labor-intensive menus, this caution is understandable until staff gets their feet on the ground.

Thus are we of two minds about these things. We sympathize with the customer who, like yourself, has traveled far to sample the (highly publicized) goods, and finds themselves being denied a seat when there are plenty to be had. On the other hand, we have four fingers and a thumb.

Seriously, we want to side with the restaurants here, but we must admit your annoyance is not misplaced, and further indication of the food factory mentality that is all too pervasive in Vegas. Anywhere else in the world, it would kill most restaurateurs to turn away a paying customer, but here in Sin City, they know there are plenty of fish ready to be hooked, in the barrel right behind you.

Buon gusto,

Giovanni

EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 45. KU NOODLE

October 16, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Food, Openings, Reviews

45. KU NOODLE

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Chinese restaurants in Las Vegas come in two sizes: on-the-Strip and overpriced, and off-the-Strip and down and dirty. The holes in the walls are stuck into seedy shopping centers up and down Spring Mountain Road. They are generally excellent, but also, due to their being the genuine article, off-putting to most round eyes. Strip Chinese joints usually charge double for dishes remarkably similar to ones you get a mile to the west, but at least you’re not afraid to look into the corners, and the ingredients are usually better.

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EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 44. MARCHE BACCHUS

October 15, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Critics, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Reviews, Wine

44. MARCHE BACCHUS

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We at ELV are not sure if Marche Bacchus even qualifies for the coveted title of Best-Off-Strip-Restaurant-That’s-Not-In-Chinatown anymore, but we do know this: it’s still our favorite restaurant in Vegas, and the only one we ever want to go to to wile away a weekend afternoon, sipping spectacular wine (at the best prices in town) and engaging in our usual witty display of epicurean aphorisms and gastronomic bon mots.

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Bare Naked Tables by John Mariani

October 14, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Critics, John Mariani

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St. John, London

 ELV note: The original of this article first appeared in John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. Click here to read it in its original format, or continue perusing below.

Anyone who has dined out with me knows that, unless I’m eating at the proverbial hole in the wall, I tend to groan over the lack of what was once the simplest amenity in a restaurant: a tablecloth.

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EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 43. MINT INDIAN BISTRO

October 13, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Critics, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Food, Max Jacobson, Reviews

43. MINT INDIAN BISTRO

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Calvin Trillin once wrote that the average Italian restaurant gets more customers in a day than the average Indian restaurant gets in a month. ELV — the man, the myth, the yogurt-yogi-spiritual-advisor — used to agree with him. These days the tables have been turned (somewhat) and from the lines out the door at Mint Indian Bistro, it appears the Indians (dots not feathers) are giving the Italians a run for your money. ELV also thinks every vegetarian restaurant in Vegas is a joke. They should all close up shop immediately, and every vegetarian in town should start frequenting this place  instead.

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Welcome Back: Chefs to the Max

October 12, 2014 By: mitchell Category: Chefs, Critics, Events, Max Jacobson

Max and Kerry Simon, chewing the fat

Max and Kerry Simon, chewing the fat

Special to Eating Las Vegas by Mitchell Wilburn:

The week before last marked a homecoming of great celebration for a missing face in the food community.  Max Jacobson is back in town, surely appreciative of the massive support he’s gotten from so many chefs, friends, and fans.  This most recent “Chefs to the Max” event took place at Carson Kitchen, the Kerry Simon spot downtown known for turning the tide in the Downtown food scene towards the hip.

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Hot Hostess Watch – MARCHE BACCHUS

October 11, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Hot Hostess Watch

Lindsey knows the real object of our attention is focused on the wall of fabulous Burgundies behind her.

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My Food Film Faves on My News 3

October 10, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Downtown, Events, Food, Wake Up With the Wagners

Finally, a Food Film Festival Featuring Fabulous Folks Festively Feasting Freely on Fiction

October 10, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Critics, Events, Food, Liquor/Liqueur/Libations

 

The only thing I love more than great food is a movie about great food.

This Friday night you are welcome to share my passion for the finest in food fantasia at the first, fabulous foray into his fount of feedbag film fare fodder.

Or something like that.

Finally….it’s all FREE….in the cozy little Black Box theatre, with the purchase of a cocktail at the exquisite Scullery bar.

See you tonight, fellow food film fans.