“It’s a major award! I won it!” – The Old Man (Darren McGavin) to his neighbor in A Christmas Story
It’s that time of year again Food For Thought fans…Time for the News 88.9 FM KNPR-Nevada Public Radio MAJOR RESTAURANT AWARDS….
…and since I’m going to try to chew through all nine of ‘em in three minutes (on this morning’s broadcast on KNPR); let’s start masticating:
For Cocktail Bar of the Year: In a close category with lots of worthy contenders, we toast the original Nora’s on West Flamingo for its trailblazing creativity in the cult of the properly crafted cocktail….runner –up: the Downtown Cocktail Room.
Ethnic Restaurant of the Year goes to Los Molcajetes. Whether you can pronounce it or not, heading to this little corner of authentic Mexican eats in Northeast Las Vegas is a must for lovers of the real enchilada.
Next we have our major award for Excellence In Management and Service. And no one ran a smoother operation this year (against all odds) better than the team at CUT in The Palazzo.
In the category of Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year (East Side), Settebello gets the nod; and for the West Side, none other than perennial favorite Marche Bacchus. Both continue to prove that good, locally-owned, neighborhood restaurants are not an oxymoron in the High Mojave Dessert.
For our Sommelier of the Year: none other than Desi Echavarrie for his superior service at Restaurant Charlie (he’s now head somm at Switch in Encore) — because he paired not only wine, but beer and cocktails with this restaurant’s sophisticated food flawlessly. No doubt he will continue to do the same at his new venue.
The same Restaurant Charlie gives us our Pastry Chef of the Year: Vannessa Garcia – whose de-constructed beauties put a post-modern spin on sweets that still have me scratching my head over their compelling, abstract expressionism. Runner-up: Sarah Kosikowski (Michael Mina) — the early favorite for 2009 honors.
(Memo to all past and future contestants for these exalted honors: You must be open, or at your post, the better part of an entire year to qualify.)
In the home stretch, we have our Chef of the Year – Mitsuo Endo – the first recipient of this award that doesn’t speak English. Of course I don’t care if he speaks Klingon, because what he has done, in taking an invisible corner of a run-down shopping center and turning it into a local and nationally recognized restaurant, is nothing short of remarkable.
If you’ve been living in a cave, the name of that restaurant is RAKU, a 30 seat gem that puts out superior Japanese food on a level that Las Vegas has never before witnessed. Sushi this is not. An izakaya (a drinking establishment that serves food) is what they would call RAKU in the Land Of The Rising Sun; and what it specializes in are small plate wonders of flavor, composition and texture. Endo’s food is healthful, strange, affordable, hyper-delicious and fascinating in ways that westerners are only now starting to appreciate. Not since Spago opened 16 years ago has a more important eatery opened in Las Vegas…making RAKU our Restaurant of the Year for 2008.
FYI: RAKU was just named in this month’s GQ (the one with Jennifer Aniston on the cover pretending to be sexy), as one of Alan Richman’s top three meals of the year.