John Curtas is …

Summerlin Strikes Out

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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.”

(Silence)

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?”

It wasn’t.

Pass the Velveeta!

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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

702.534.0200

http://www.facebook.com/PetraGreekTaverna

GRAPE STREET CAFE

7501 West Lake Mead Blvd.

Las Vegas, NV 89128

702.228.9463

http://www.grapestreetcafe.com/home.cfm

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17 Responses to Summerlin Strikes Out

  • I’m sticking with Nittaya’s and Due Forni with Vintner Grill as my go to ‘Applebee’s’ type. I know there are more..just trying to stand up for Summerlin cuz I don’t like generalizations. :)

  • Don’t you publish reviews in a “free ‘zine?” Or two…. or three?

    I do agree that after a while, you can kind of tell… I’ve had this discussion with another food writer who is forever apologetic, only to find I’m typically right. It isn’t fun being a cynic.

  • OMG- Grape Street pre-par- cooks the pasta prior to service, then finishes it off and over cooks it ala minute. I asked for pasta al dente on 3 seperate occassions before I finally said- 3 stirkes- You’re out! I like the location/venue, but awful food.

  • There is nothing worse than freezer burn and dishsoap water. And cheapos use plastic cups.

    I have to comment on some of the pics – What up with the plastic, powdered doritos mac n cheese? All those plate presentations, wanabee foo foo style with parsley thrown about and powder sugar sprinkled all over that shitty dessert. I’m sure the only reason it was good, was because it was sweet.

    And on that second joint, WTF, that pasta has pre sliced ripe black olives. To that restaurant owner you cheap bastard. Shut your Kitchen nightmares style cooking. Your dream of cooking passion is a torturous Freddy Kruger attack on the paying public. Limp dick pizza, Choppy pasta with loads of crap sauce. A picture is worth a 1000 words.

    Why people that live in Vegas support such shit, I have no clue. From local breakfast joints, lunch spots and dinner; generally speaking, local Vegas dining falls flat like a newborn learning to walk with very few consistent diamonds in the ruff. But it doesnt make sense, because theres great inspiration on the strip to steal from and that doesnt mean charge the same prices..

  • With all due respect to the always lovely Food Gal, I have to agree totally with ELV on this. When it comes to food, “Don’t mess with the Zohan,” or no more almond cookies for you!

    And what is this “hassle” about the Strip? If you, as a local Veh-gan, know the shortcuts in & out of the Strip, there shouldn’t be any hassles. And depending on the situation, the “hassle” is worth it.

  • I told you about Petra Cuz. Be forewarned or forlorn as they say.

  • I hope that you get a good meal soon.
    Otherwise, you’ll be referred to as “The Bantamweight Food Critic”. :)
    Tom

  • Having personally watched you consistently get comp’d meals by these so called “gems” on the strip – that you have so negatively made clear that local Las Vegas can’t replicate … my conclusion is that you only write favorably when 1) you’re getting a free meal 2) are kissing ass to the people who are giving you these free meals 3) are getting you’re ass kissed by the restaurant in order to get a positive review. It’s so transparent.

    For the record, I think Petra is delicious AND their prices are a fraction of Milos’. Also, Grape Street Cafe is a great go to restaurant for people who want to actually support the local Las Vegas community – unlike yourself.

  • Wow. A couple of bad meals puts you on the brink of swearing off anything outside of strip? How is Settebello a victim in this, or any of the several other Henderson and Summerlin locally run places that you have written good reviews for in the past? Love the blog, but let’s relax the hyperbole. A couple of shit meals does not an entire shit region make.

    BTW, East Coast Eats just opened in Henderson and it’s a family joint attempting to try something different in a tough economy. I have no skin in the game. just a fan. Give it a try if you can manage to be around mouth breathing locals (as opposed to the sophisticated tourists I see with yards of booze around their neck).

  • I haven’t tried Petra’s yet, so thanks for the warning. I’m kinda pissed cause I was pulling for it since we don’t exactly have a large pool to choose from when eating in Summerlin anymore. VG is still good, but it’s not what it use to be imho. I would have to say Rosemary’s is still my “go to” in Summerlin if I want a solid meal. I haven’t been to the new Marche Bacchus since Alex took over, but I’d feel comfortable to bet it’s darn good.

  • The problem with many Vegas restaurants and businesses in general is that having a mediocre product seems to fly here in Vegas for too many people. To see these restaurants spend millions of dollars on a build-out then serve mediocre food is just laughable

  • Hearing rumors Alex Stratta is no longer associated with Marche Bacchus.
    Any word?

  • I think we get what we deserve out here in the Summerlin ‘burbs.

    It really isn’t about the food for those desperately-wanting-to-be-hip divorced dads packing in at the bar at T-Time at T-Bones, and for the “cougar alley” ladies at VG (and Nora’s, Rosemary’s, Marche Bacchus, Brio, Due Forni etc.). They are just fine with mediocre fare and skimpy pours of overpriced wine, so long as it’s a pretty room packed with their like-looking peers.

    There is very little payoff in this part of town for offering interesting, adventurous eats!

  • As a Summerlin resident, I’m with Adam and VivaLV. Restaurant for restaurant, our community sucks, although no more than most suburban bedroom communities in the American west. However, I really don’t blame the restaurateurs for this. If they did something high quality and unique, it would cost them extra while their customers wouldn’t appreciate it. Heck, they’d be fools to do so. When folks want Macaroni Grill, a smart businessman gives them Macaroni Grill, even if they’re capable of much more (for further reference, see Kerry Simon at the Palms.)

    There was no more tragic example of this than Tre, although not technically within Summerlin. I knew the place was in trouble when I could show up there at any time on any day and immediately get a table when there were crowds across the street at Claim Jumper milling around outdoors with those intolerable flashy pager thingies. IMHO, it’s not the Maccione’s fault Tre failed. The folks out here just didn’t want it. More’s the pity for me.

    Oh, and for those accusing ELV of dishonesty and not supporting our community. (1) Prove it. (2) There’s nothing a food critic loves more than finding a metaphorical gem in a field of turds. I’m sure ELV would *love* to say, “I’ve found a brand new restaurant in the ‘burbs that’s awesome,” before anyone else did. But any critic worth his/her sel de mer knows that if they do this and are wrong, they’re credibility is going to evaporate. (3) IMHO, you’re not doing the community any favors if you cheer lead for crap. ELV is a food snob. He’s giving you a food snob’s opinion. If you don’t want to at least hear that perspective, then what the hell are you doing reading this blog?

  • @npc — really nice writeup

  • I commend JC, for the candor and honesty in calling a spade a spade. The pic (took my appetite away for the rest of the summer!) tells more than the words. Anyone can buy a pizza-dough and throw canned olives and drench it with velveeta cheese and call it a pizza or whatever. The only one’s I frequent on the North West side (more like Desert Shores,) namely Marche Bacchus and Garfields. Good food, good view. Most of the restaurants like GSC, are mom and pop outfits. that survive on diners with mediocre taste, akin to music fans listening to crap with no clue about melody. These places get into kind of an “Orbiting Mode” where they don’t change, lest they will lose these mediocre clientale. As far as the pizza, the best (thin crust ) I had was at “First Friday” on Main&California street, from a oven carved out on the side of red vintage fire engine and I can’t wait for the next “First Friday !”

  • i agree petra food is so bud ever the think is that people dont understand about greek food and today the people they are not idiots going and pay bullshit to eat milos is the best and original greek restaurant not only in vegas

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