My Legal Life in Las Vegas

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Ed. note: Nothing chaps my ass more than having some nimrod tell me to “stick to food” whenever I offer an opinion on something other than restaurants. Many people only know me as a food writer, since restaurant writing has defined my public persona for more than two decades. In fact, though, I have been a practicing attorney for much longer than that. Below is the first of two short essays to give you an idea about my other personal odyssey.
28 years ago last month, I moved back to Las Vegas from Danbury, Connecticut.
For 6 years I practiced law in this building with some very fine people.
I left that practice and those fine people for a larger firm which, I thought, at the time, was more in line with my ambitions as a lawyer.
For almost 5 years, my new position was beneficial for all involved, but the relationship ended badly (along with my third marriage).
After I was shown the door, I ran unsuccessfully for judge, then started a solo law practice in January, 2003.

That solo practice was challenging, anxiety-provoking, and nerve-racking, but after another 5 years it was starting to gain traction and bear some fruit.

I was lured away from my one-man operation by another large firm, but almost to the day I started (January, 2008), the Great Recession blew into town with gale force winds, dooming whatever was left of my legal practice, and my prospects for a comfortable life with a big firm.

By late 2010, I was back at ground zero – just like I had been in 2003 — only this time there was no traction to be gained, and I spent the next 4 years hanging on by my fingernails. (As I told the Food Gal® at the time: “It’s like having a nervous breakdown once a month.”)

In the summer of 2014, the clouds parted and I became a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Las Vegas — a job full of challenges, but also something I can be proud of, without the pressures private practice.

If I’ve learned one thing from my 40 years of being a lawyer it’s that the only thing you can depend upon is change. Even if you stay in the same place your whole life, you are not the person (or the attorney) you were 10 years ago. Sometimes you progress, and sometimes you regress, but the entire journey makes you a better counselor in late middle age than you ever were when you considered yourself a hot shot litigator.

I’ve also learned that the key to life is continually having something to look forward to. Whether it’s this day, this week, or this year, there should always be a goal, or an activity, or a simple pleasure that motivates you to move ahead — to never be wholly content with where you are, to always be excited about what’s coming up.

By the same token, I’ve learned never to plan too far ahead, because curve balls come at you from all angles in life, and sometimes you throw them at yourself.

Can CLEAVER Cut It?

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I like everything about Cleaver except the food.

This is a good omen.

Because über-bartender/award-winning cocktail maven Nectaly Mendoza owns it.

And the last Mendoza restaurant whose food I hated (Herbs & Rye), turned out to be a big hit.

I’m not going to go on and on about its menu miscues (in one of my 1000+ word articles with a bunch of pictures), but I will point out a few things. So here goes:

Cleaver has an ambitious name and a very ambitious location (directly across the street from a Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse), and it has a cool, comfortable decor with a long, capacious bar and comfortable booths bathed in a soft, flattering light that makes everyone look good and a noise level conducive to enjoying good drinks and conversation, not to mention tucking into steaks and sides straight from an old school steakhouse’s playbook, which seems like a really good idea until you realize this place has been death to several other steakhouses that all thought they could make a go of it with the same template and each failed miserably within a year, even though they didn’t have this joint’s pedigree or ambition, which might be enough to bring a big industry crowd in, but  which won’t be enough to keep this place afloat because it needs to chip off a bunch of conventioneers to make a go of it and to do that you need to have food and wine and drinks that compete with our top (and even 2nd tier) steakhouses (like Del Frisco’s), and from what I’ve tasted in two dinners here the steaks are worthy but the side dishes — from almost uncooked Brussels sprouts to grainy-bland cheese sauce to dusty-tasting calamari to an atrocious steak tartare — won’t do anything to turn anyone’s head from a more well-known venue, none of which bodes well for Cleaver’s chances if they can’t find a way to turn out at least B- side dishes to compliment their B+ to A- beef.

They also don’t know how to make a Bearnaise sauce to save their life, which is pretty much a cardinal sin in the steakhouse world. And the carpaccio won’t have anyone forgetting Harry’s Bar, either.

None of this comes cheap. The sort of neighborhood budget-steakhouse vibe that packs them in at Herbs & Rye won’t cut it a half a mile from the Strip — not in the $60 steak arena, and not with the stiff competition Cleaver is facing.

But like I said, the design is super-groovy (dominated by faux-military framed paintings of Chris Farley, Martha Stewart, Eddie Murphy and their ilk), and the service is great and the bartenders are skillful. I even love that they do a Kansas City strip here — a bone-in cut I thought had gone the way of tournedos Rossini — and they know how to season and sear it.

But if they don’t get their act together with the rest of the menu, this place is going to go the way of Mr. Farley.

There, I said it.

CLEAVER BUTCHERED MEATS, SEAFOOD & COCKTAILS

3900 Paradise Road Suite d-1

Las Vegas, NV 89169

702.538.9888

http://www.cleaverlasvegas.com/

 

 

Dim Sum Dilemma

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What should you do about mold on your food?

To complain or not complain? That is the question.

And does it matter whether you’re in a Chinese restaurant (where they may or may not speak English that well) or a less “foreign” one?

Allow me to explain.

Here’s the scenario:

You’re driving to Los Angeles.

Part of your tradition is always to stop in the San Gabriel Valley (Monterey Park, Alhambra, etc.) for some dim sum fun.

You’ve been doing this since 1991 — decades before Instagrammers and Yelpers discovered the place, and long before Jonathon Gold made it cool to go there.

In other words, you know what to expect: huge, open rooms, packed with Asian families of all stripes, and rolling carts (or menus) filled with a mind-blowing assortment of small bites, steamed, fried, and baked goodies straight from the Cantonese playbook.

You also know that kitchen hygiene can be a rather flexible concept in certain Asian restaurants. But no matter, the food is usually spectacular (especially compared with the meager dim sum offerings of Vegas), so you look past these shortcomings.

Every time you come to the SGV, you try to hit a new joint. On your last trip you made it to Sea Harbour and it was spectacular.

This time, you decide to try a place that’s received some buzz called Lunasia Dim Sum House.

You get up early so you can get there when it opens, because these places get nuts around lunch time, especially on weekends.

You’re super excited (and starving) when you drive up, especially when you score a parking spot right in front of it.

Right away, you see it checks all the boxes:

Giant crowded room full of Asians – check

Fish tanks brimming with crabs and other creatures of the sea – check

Smells like soy, steam, shrimp, and Shanghai – check

People scurrying about with trays full of delicious looking dumplings – check

Everyone smiling as they stuff their maw with har gow, shu mai, don tot, and char siu bao – check

Chopsticks flying across tables in a pitched battle for the last bite — check

All of this gets you very excited. But then, just to pee in your cornflakes, The Food Gal® — a clean freak but also someone with (slightly) bendable standards when it comes to certain, hyper-delicious Chinese food — notices the sign on the front door:

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“Are you sure you want to go here?” she asks. But you are undaunted — you wade right in, confident it was simply the kind of misdemeanor that would fade from consciousness as soon as your table was swamped by a tsunami of dim sum umami.

And it did, and for a while, it was.

For a while, you were transported by golf ball-sized sui-mai:

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Concupiscent spicy clams:

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Sticky/terrific/thick/sausage/turnip cake:

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…and delectable don tot:

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It wasn’t the best dim sum we’d had by a long shot. But it hit the spot, even if it fell short of Elite, Ocean Star or Sea Harbour excellence.

As you know, dim sum can be a willy-nilly eating experience. Everything shows up in random order, and you might find yourself slurping a beautiful almond milk-puff pastry sweet soup — or those warm-from-the-oven Macao-style custard cups — before you’re done with the savories. No matter, when it’s all good, it’s all good.

Right up until it isn’t.

Because of that delicious chaos, sometimes you circle back to a savory after a sweet. Which is what we did with these peppery stuffed peppers:

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They were hot — that innocuous-looking black pepper sauce was a scorcher — but they were also real good, so you want to tackle one more before pushing away from the table.

Big mistake.

One bite and you know something is wrong. Where before there was pillowy minced shrimp on bright green, herbaceous pepper, now there is an moldy, old, damp and musty taste in your mouth. The textures are still right, but the aftertaste is of dank cardboard — as if you’d just licked a fuzzy petri dish.

It turns out you had.

Tearing the top off of the pepper, there was the culprit: staring at you like a fungal funhouse of funky mold — the kind you grow in labs, the kind vegetables grow by themselves when they’re left too long to their own, organic devices:

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Is this a cardinal sin for a restaurant? Not really. But it shows a certain sloppiness. The kind that gets a “C” grade from the health inspector.

Does it give your wife a gigantic “I told you so”?

Of course it does. And she ain’t lettin’ you forget it for a long time to come.

Was it worth pointing it out to the management? Ah, there’s the rub and the dilemma.

Would it have resulted in them taking $7.88 off the bill? Maybe, but only after discussions, delays and sideways glances, and having to convince them you weren’t trying to get a free meal out of the ordeal.

There might also be debate over what it was. No restaurant is going to willingly admit it serves moldy food, so you’d have to be ready for an argument…an argument that could be won if they’d take a bite out of that musty-dusty pepper….which, most assuredly they would not.

Then you have to consider: will your complaint cause them to clean up their act?

Probably not. If the “C” grade didn’t do it, showing them some fungi fuzz tap dancing on their produce won’t.

So you pay the bill in silence….all $76.28 of it.

But you won’t be back, even though you were probably never going to go back anyway. And now your California food fantasies are a little less fanciful. There is no dim sum Santa Claus in San Gabriel, and you’ve learned no matter how rave-worthy some of it is, some of them are cutting the same corners as everyone else.

And it’ll be a cold day in hell before your wife lets you walk into another low-rated restaurant.

(Sigh)