In ELV’s world, bad meals come in bunches, and they usually come off the Strip.
Lately, they’ve been comin’ in Summerlin.
We have a good friend, let’s call her the Restaurant Maven, who refuses to eat anywhere but on the Strip. ELV has tried and tried to convince her (and her chef/husband) there’s some quality eats in at least a handful of spots miles away from Las Vegas Boulevard South, but every time we have hit Nora’s or Vintner, they’ve brought their “B” game to the table, so now, it’s well nigh impossible to get her anywhere but a handful of hotels.
Sadly, if Eating Las Vegas endures many more days like last Friday, we’re likely to start agreeing with her, and leave neighborhood joints to grovel for whatever attention they can grab from whatever free ‘zine is handing out accolades. Because if the cooking doesn’t start improving all over Summerlin and Henderson, include us out, as Yogi would say.
Case in point: Petra. A brand new, nice looking, nice feeling place in Tivoli Village, with food that wouldn’t pass muster in a cheap, greasy Greek cafe. Cheap lamb, smelling of freezer burn, spanakopita with barely any spinach, dolmades filled with starchy, pasty rice, inept waitrons and a scary looking mac ‘n cheese, sitting atop cooked corn(?), with no delivery of the “fire” as promised — yeah, you could call it a disaster, at $80 for two.
Had our company not been so engaging, and the wine list so reasonably-priced (all selections under a fiddy), and the day so pleasant on the patio, we would’ve been really cheesed off. When you consider the quality of Greek food at Milos — for twenty bucks a head at lunch — you might understand why we were kicking ourselves for the rest of the afternoon. Petra serves the sort of shitty Greek food that shitty Greek restaurants have been pawning off on America for decades. Pop a bottle of Tsantali Moschofilero for forty-six bucks, grab an outdoor seat, and watch the fourteen people who are shopping here stroll by. But eat somewhere else.
Then it got worse.
“Let’s hit the Strip,” said ELV around 6 pm the same day. “I had a lousy lunch today, and nothing puts me in a worse mood.”
“I’m in,” said our best buddy (the bald but ever-youthful Legal Eagle). “But I don’t want to go to the Strip. Too much hassle.”
Then, more silence.
Once we composed our self, and resisted a certain urge, we pleaded: “Look, I’m starving, I had a cheap-but-expensive, unsatisfying lunch, and a P. J. Clarke’s burger or steak sounds just about wonderful right now….come on already!”
Ever the diplomat, The Food Gal® stepped in: “How about Grape Street Cafe? I heard they have a new owner. Quit being a stick-in-the-mud and let’s give it a try.”
Before you could say: “outvoted” we were in a car humming our way to Sum-R-Lame to another disaster.
Our heart grew heavy the second we looked at the menu.
“Where did you read there’s a new owner?” we meekly inquired.
“Oh, somewhere,” was her response. The Food Gal® (like a lot of women) is like that: constantly reading things but not exactly sure of her facts.
“Well, the owner may be new but it’s the same menu they’ve had for a decade, the same clueless crowd, and the same shopping mall vibe that is irresistible to middle managers and their spouses,” was all ELV could mumble to himself.
“Oh come on,” she urged. “Lighten up, maybe it’ll be good?”
If anything, it was even worse than lunch and more pathetic than our last meal at GSC several years ago.
Allow ELV a brief digression. There comes a time in every critics’ life when you just know. Call it a sixth sense or call it karma, but you just know someplace is going to be good or bad within seconds of being in the joint. ELV has sussed out good eats in the back alleys of Bologna and warehouse districts in Washington (D.C. and State). We can find good food (be it in Hong Kong or Kansas City) the way a great fishing guide finds hungry trout.
What it really is is experience. Thousands of meals in thousands of restaurants build up a personal rolodex of memories and senses that are just sharper than the average casual (or even veteran) fresser’s. We once heard some gasbag critic (from LA, no surprise there) claim he could tell just by smelling a restaurant if it was any good. That might be a stretch, but combine kitchen scents with common sense and you can take the measure of a place pretty quickly.
And every fiber in our body was attuned to the disaster that befell us a nanosecond after we entered GSC. There it was, that nasty phlegm ball of melted, baked brie they’ve been serving here forever, paraded before our very eyes. Then, the same hard to read menu, the same panoply of mediocrity staring us in the face.
Then, things got really bad.
Because the ice water showed up.
In the interest of mercy, we will make this quick. We ordered two glasses of water and both came in a tall plastic tumbler reeking of disinfectant. We told the server the water (or the glass) had a funny smell and he brought back a second glass that was just as bad. Meaning: he either refilled the same glass or a lot of their dishware is being polluted with nasty smells that no one in the place gives a damn about.
The pizza was worse than frozen — bathed as it was in a syrupy sweet barbecue sauce and strips of off-tasting chicken. Certainly the crust was had been (frozen). It is the same lousy pizza they’ve been foisting on their mouth-breathing, upper-middle class clientele forever, who shovel it in without thought or complaint. Our bow-tie pasta in a “creamy cheese sauce” tasted of grit — imagine taking Velveeta and melting it at the beach and you’ll get the idea. Correction: Velveeta-on-the-beach would’ve actually tasting like something, so we apologize to Velveeta.
Worst of all was the pasta with clams — in a sickeningly-sweet, tooth-aching red sauce (are you sensing a theme here?) that Chef Boy-Ar-Dee would’ve cringed at, sprinkled with itty-bitty-tinny canned clams. It was unburdened by even a hint of seafood essence, and would’ve been right at home at a Chuck E Cheese birthday party. After two bites, ELV contented himself with picking at the bread basket and disinfecting his trachea, while his two peeps ate crow.
Maybe the Maven is right. ELV doubts he’ll be going to bat for Summerlin anytime soon.
You have been warned…and not for the first time.
The meal above, with a single glass of wine, came to $70 including tip.
PETRA GREEK TAVERNA
440 South Rampart Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89145
GRAPE STREET CAFE
7501 West Lake Mead Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89128