John Curtas is …

Letter Of The Week

Readers of ELV: The following letter was sent to KNPR – Nevada Public Radio by a listener. Eating Las Vegas thought you might be interested in its contents and our response.

Dear Editor,

I recently read “My almost dinner with Andre”, column, posted at www.eatinglv.com by John Curtas, KNPR’s “Food Critic”.

In it, John Curtas brags about spending $19,000 a year in restaurant tabs.
Let’s look at this figure and break it down some.
- 20% of this amount consists of gratuities, leaving $15,833 in gross
restaurant tab
- 7.75% of this is tax, leaving $14,694 in net restaurant tab
- Divided by 12 months, this makes it $1,224 per month in restaurant tab or, per week, $282.57.

$287.57! That’s just what one expects to spend on an average check for
food and wine, for two people, at the great majority of fine restaurants in town (The kind Mr. Curtas promotes on his website).

One could conclude that Mr. Curtas either eats out only once a week,
hardly the hallmark of any serious food critic’s research standards, or, eats “freebies”
the rest of the days and thus, looses the objectivity required and expected of a true crtic. Which is it?

John Curtas, a Bona Fide Food Critic? Where is Ruth Reichl, I ask? Enough said.

Chris Mullis
KNPR Listener
Las Vegas

Dear Mr. Mullis,

Your arithmetic is correct but your methodology is wrong. For every $300 dinner there are 3-5 meals costing between $25-$75. Sometimes, I
cruise by very expensive places and just try two appetizers, or an
entree I missed the first time around — resulting in a much smaller
tab at a place that would ordinarily be at least a couple of hundred
dollars.

And despite many people’s perceptions, I eat at places like Hedary’s
and Los Tacos more than Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy. And (with a few exceptions), I always go multiple times to a place before publishing a review.

On average, I eat out at least eight times a week (at 6-8 different
restaurants — usually split equally between lunch and dinner). Plus, I
dine alone, or clients or friends pick up (some of) the check, some of the time.

It’s not a brag, it’s fact that I eat out more than anyone in
Las Vegas — and have done so for the past thirteen years. I challenge you or anyone else to prove otherwise.

I also spend a substantial amount of my own $$$ (about half of my total eating out expenses are paid for by me after taxes — making me possibly the only critic in America who puts his money where his mouth is).

And FYI: I averaged over $30,000/yr. in restaurant expenses from
1999-2005 (after the Bellagio/Mandalay/Venetian/Caesars boom). One year
it was closer to 40k.

Best and bon appetit,

John Curtas
www.EATingLV.com

Commentator/Restaurant Critic
News 88.9 FM KNPR
Nevada Public Radio
www.KNPR.org

KLAS TV
CBS Channel 8
Las Vegas
www.KLASTV.com

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8 Responses to Letter Of The Week

  • Curtas-you might catch up with me in 10 years. But I enjoy the hyperbole. Max

  • Mr. Curtas I love that comment from Max “the food critic, who never had a free meal he didn’t like” while eating under the flag of greenspun media! Who of course has almost every restaurant group pay for ads in one of their magazines.

  • Max certainly wins the Lifetime Achievement Award for patrolling the Los Angeles Basin, San Fernando Valley, Orange County AND LV eateries for twenty-five years. But in terms of week in, week out on the Vegas beat….methinks I have him beat.

  • To both Mr.( I don’t pay the check anywhere) Jacobsen and Mr. ( tips 20% so rarely he could count the times on 1 hand)Curtas,

    Unfortunately I have had the displeasure of waiting on the both of you in the past at different establishments. The one thing you both seem to forget is that real food critics don’t make reservations to announce their arrivals and most normal people tip 20% these days for normal service. Being in the hospitality industry also suggests that after receiving free anything, you may want to consider tipping a little extra to your waiter…….or at least the chef! One would think that after all the years of dining out you might have had some sort of epiphany in regards to my prior statements…..Take a lesson from across the pond where the real critics give stars.

  • jacobsen and curtas the names remember me out of skills and without knowledges, how to be a food critic and take advantage of the peoples working very hard for real good customers in this economic crisis\, when you guys can make the diference in some welch grape juice and a good chardonnay and say at least thank you to your server if you dont tip him like usually then come in my restaurant untill that stay in your place make your kraft dinner and shut the f….. up

  • I didn’t enjoy stream of consciousness when Faulkner did it. With you, Slave, it is completely lost on me. Can we get a translator on this one please?

  • If anyone doubts Mr. Curtas’s sincerity, you need to take a look at an interview I did with him a few months ago on my site. I know enough about food critics to know that freebies are often their bread and butter. While whether or not John is a lunatic is arguable, his passion for food is not.
    http://vegaswineaux.com/2008/08/spotlight-john-curtas/

  • In regards to the debate over whether or not John Curtas is “qualified” to be a restaurant critic, allow me to chime in with some facts in defense of my support for John and his work.

    Upon reflection, who would have imagined that what began as a childish spat brought on by the supporters of Chef Rochat, would turn into a grown-up attack on a man who was simply offering an opinion. An opinion I happen to support.

    It was apparent, (at least to me), that the deck was stacked against John from the start. As so often is the case in today’s world of food writing on the Internet, the focus of what the “Critic” reported became secondary to the vicious, outrageous attacks against the personal character of the Critic.

    In other words, the “Critic” became “critiqued”-his opinions about his food and dining experiences at Chez Rochat fell upon deaf ears as the opponents took up the fight.

    The “Critics of the Critic” seemingly were out for blood, side-tracking the debate away from the texture of the sweetbreads and the bouquet of the wine into an all-out war that sunk to such a low point I felt compelled to step into the ring and call time-out.

    Any Food Writer worth his sea salt obviously realizes that not everyone will agree with his or her review of a restaurant or a particular Chef. That’s fair and John certainly realizes that. And it’s also fair to challenge the critic to explain his or her review-as long as the debate focuses on the food and service. Back-up your claims with facts and a first-hand report on the dishes you tasted when you dined at that restaurant. If you disagree, tell us why-that’s fair.

    But when the audience turns to throwing rotten tomatoes at the Critic and makes outrageous statements, without merit or fact, which disrespects the personal integrity of the Writer-that’s when I’ve had enough.

    That’s what some of you did when you criticized John. I found it disrespectful and lacking in class. (aka, accusations that John’s “articles are buyable and you write to further whatever agenda you have,” and “the restaurant scene in Las Vegas knows John Curtas and they know his game.”)

    He’s not a hack or slave to anyone. He writes and reports about the Las Vegas food and dining scene because it’s one of his passions. He doesn’t have a hidden agenda, nor is he pressured by anyone to be a lackey for a particular restaurant.

    First, let’s talk about credentials. Chris questioned John’s qualifications to be a critic because he didn’t have a piece of parchment paper with a gold seal on it certifying that he attended the University of Food Writing.

    Chris then changed the platform of his argument to state that it’s a matter of birth rite-“over 150 years my family has owned a vineyard in the Champagne region of France…..establishing solid credentials for the basis of my letter.”

    I doubt the substance of either pretense as it relates to the qualifications of John Curtas as a Restaurant Critic. The place of one’s birth nor their graduation from a particular University doesn’t pre-determine one’s success to write about food.

    More than any other individual in the past fifteen years, John has fought to encourage and promote the Las Vegas dining scene through his reports. He’s done that by being both a Critic that constructively calls for the Chefs to improve their craft and to be a supportive voice when they triumph.

    As you read in his response to C. Mullins, Mr. Curtas has invested literally hundreds of thousands of his own dollars and countless hours of his own time to share his experiences with the public.

    Yet spending time and money does not in itself make Mr. Curtas a qualified Critic. It does, however, show a sacrifice and commitment that few of us would follow and an admirable qualification at that.

    John was mistakenly accused of not being able to address the technical aspects of Béarnaise, (a false accusation that was later uncovered to be intended for another gentleman named “John.”)

    I’d rather hear the question presented in terms of “does a Restaurant Critic have to have a knowledge of food, ingredients, technique and the skill to craft a passable “Béarnaise” to be qualified?”

    Yes, in my opinion, it’s a critical qualification-but you better know which “John,” (or Jason, Joe or Jenny for that matter), is in the kitchen before you proclaim he can’t stir eggs.

    Another crucial point is to look at history-and I think some of you have overlooked the history found in John’s writings.

    If you take the time and effort to review the breadth of his work, you’ll realize that he does in fact have the depth of knowledge to be able to astutely discuss and report on intense dining issues as far-ranging as the “terroir” that is so vital to Nicolas Joly and the wondrous Chenin Blanc that he crafts, to the politically-charged issue of farm-raised salmon.

    John can school you on the finer points of the chemicals fed to these poor salmon, down to the colors of the dyes used to intensify the redness of the flesh of the fish-and why that fish doesn’t come close to the clean, fresh taste of wild, Copper-River salmon from Alaska.

    And yes, he can in fact differentiate and prepare a classic Béarnaise or Hollandaise. He’s also quite adept at Bouillabaisse, Cioppino and searing whole beef tenderloin.

    One final qualification that John has that I think is vital to his success and the success of the Las Vegas restaurant community is that he is respected by the Chefs and the employees who work in the trade. They welcome his feedback. At least that’s my interpretation of what I have personally witnessed. (I realize some of you doubt that assessment).

    The success of John’s work is measured in part by the fact that KLAS, KNPR, The James Beard Foundation, Bon Appétit Magazine, The University of Nevada Las Vegas and The Food Network have called upon John to work with them.

    Do you honestly think that these companies would continue to call upon John if they didn’t have the utmost respect and confidence in his work? Of course not.

    They realize that Las Vegas is one of the most exciting dining destinations in America and is the home to a growing fraternity of talented chefs. Their customers, viewers, listeners and readers are craving more and more information about the restaurants of Las Vegas and they realize John is a conduit that can help them deliver that information.

    Now to the point of those servers who felt that John disrespected them by not leaving what they felt was an adequate tip for their service-especially given the fact that they reported the meal was complimentary.

    I can’t dispute those reports because I wasn’t there. But I have had the pleasure of dining with John on many occasions, and what was reported is far from the truth of my experience.

    I can say based on personal experience that more often than not our (Food Writers) meals are fully paid for out of our own pockets.

    We never, ever, “expect” a complimentary meal. On the occasions where we are given a complimentary meal, without hesitation, we always, always, present the staff with a tip that equals to or is greater than the actual cost of the dinner. That’s our gesture to insure that the staff knows we appreciate their efforts.

    “Andre’s Chef Downtown” was one of the early critics of the Critic who eventually showed grace and the voice of reason when he said, “the Michelin star is a daily mantra of passion and dedication I meditate on to find consistency and energy.”

    Bravo Chef. Continue to set your sights on that goal and listen to the voices of your Critics—and your supporters.

    Let’s not forget that the success of the “Critic” is predicated on the success of the Chef. And likewise, the success of the Chef is contingent on the success of the Critic.

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