ELV note: Our maternal grandmother, Hazel Alice Brennan Schroader (1905-1998), always referred to us as “Johnny” (and is the only person ever to do so), so we thought our childhood moniker would be the appropriate name for the major awards we will herein bestow upon the worthy recipients at this, our first annual restaurant awards. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all…and without further ado…. here’s Johnny!
Two Pastry Chefs We’d Like to Take Home with Us: Crystal Whitford (Spago) and Theresa Gwizdalowski (who is called “G-wiz” in her restaurant, but who ELV refers to as: “Eye Chart” – RM Seafood).
Paisan of the Year: Luciano Pellegrini:
Week in and week out, he puts out jaw-dropping, lip-smacking Italian food at the James Beard Award winning Valentino (including world-class macaroni) and is also one of the great conversationalists in our culinary kingdom. He’s always in his restaurant and always ready to share a joke or an insight with you over a plate of palate-pleasing pasta. Truly, one of our humble burg’s gastronomic gems.
Savory Dish of the Year: Gregory Pugin’s oxtail bucatini flan at Le Cirque:
…a dish that looks like a plain, savory custard, but is un-spooled to reveal the bucatini strands hiding insanely rich braised oxtail. It tastes like a meat dish made by angels who decided to give it a devilish calorie count, and might be the biggest umami bomb of the year. Drink it with the biggest, richest red wine you can afford (a Chateauneuf du Pape perhaps?), and prepare to have your eyes roll back in your head.
Sweet Dish of the Year: Eye-Chart’s eye-popping mascarpone cheesecake with bubblegum sorbet, malted milk foam and caramel sauce at RM Seafood:
…a deceptively simple dish of sublime sophistication which performs the seemingly impossible feat of being both adult and childlike — combining silky, grown-up cheesecake with three flavors straight from the kiddie-pleasing playbook. No one on earth hates the plastic, chemicalized-smell of double-bubble more than we do, but put these three flavors on a plate (and pop them in your mouth) and you experience an alchemy of enticement – sweet tastes and textures that never cloy, and are quite addictive — like a delicious gum you can’t stop chewing:
Most Interesting Restaurant Phenomenon of the Year: Everybody’s Turning Japanese (Anime Ramen, Cafe de Japon, Nakamura-Ya) along Spring Mountain Road and elsewhere (Kyara). Runner Up: The Nicole Invasion, i.e., the ascension of two, comely/cute Nicoles (Brisson and Grimes) to top toque status at two of our top restaurants: Carnevino and Rao’s).
Restaurant We Wish We Had Eaten At More: (tie) L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon/Twist by Pierre Gagnaire/Le Cirque/Valentino.
Restaurant That Might Be Better Than It Gets Credit For Being: Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill.
Restaurant Most In Need of a Menu Change: Vintner Grill.
Two Restaurants that Need to be Put Out of Their Misery: Pamplemousse and Golden Steer.
Best Chinese Food of the Year: Beijing Noodle #9 — Two casual lunches here with the Caesars Palace bigwigs brought forth a blizzard of noodle and meat dishes that would have been right at home at a Mandarin banquet.
Worst Chinese Food of the Year: Beijing Noodle #9 — One dinner here (with a prominent New York food writer to whom ELV had bragged incessantly about this place) brought forth beef chow fun that looked like someone had smashed the lukewarm noodles down on the plate, tough, rubbery, bland twice-cooked pork, crudely cut cucumbers and tepid lamb with cumin (a dish that had real pop and curb appeal the previous two times we’d had it). All served by a staff who seem perplexed why we weren’t eating anything. If ever there was an example of how a “made” food critic gets one version of a dish, while the public settles for another, this was it. To say we had egg foo yung all over our face is an understatement.
Best Chinese Food Not Consumed in Vegas: Golden Spoon in Rowland Heights, CA (owned by China MaMa’s co-owner Mary).
Worst Meal(s) of the Year: Hot ‘N Juicy Crawfish/Cravin’ Cajun — We lump them together because they’re part of the same, cheap, nasty, farmed seafood infestation that has taken to Vegas like Asian carp to the Illinois River. It’s as crappy as “seafood” can get…all cooked and slopped to you in plastic bags. ‘Nuff said.
Favorite Food Memories of the Year: Taping 2 Episodes of Iron Chef America and 3 of Top Chef Masters (including the finale where we will sit in judgment on the two finalists along with Alan Richman, Ruth Reichl, James Oseland, et al).
The Irving G. Thalberg/Bobby Flay/Jean-Georges Vongerichten Lifetime Achievement Phoning It In Award: Todd English — ELV understands these restaurant empire-builders are busy guys, but if any of them ever comes to town, we don’t hear about it. And if we don’t, who does? Vegas needs their star power, and they surely depend on Vegas to keep their coffers full, but unlike Puck, Batali, Ducasse, Savoy, Lagasse et al, these three musketeers use our humble burg like a cheap whore, never giving us the pleasure of so much as a reach-around. Big shots like Sir Elton John aren’t exactly appearing at Opportunity Village lighting ceremonies either, but at least he sings for his supper. This trio barely pauses long enough to pick up their checks.
Flash in the Pan Award: The food truck phenomenon — Some good ones are still around, but the fever has broken…perhaps because, even at their best, all they offer is highly caloric food eaten standing up.
Worst Concept of the Year: Oscar’s Beef, Booze & Broads — Dumb, Dumb & Dumber.
Cocktail That Made Us Wish We Drank More: J. R. Starkus’ Evening Walk at RM Seafood:
...a intriguing blend of Tanqueray Rangpur, Cocchi Americano (a white vermouth) and Zirbenz (a pine-scented liqueur) that proves how complex a strong, take-no-prisoners adult cocktail can be. A serious drink for serious drinkers, and perhaps destined for eternal enshrinement in the cocktail hall of fame.
Runner Up: Roasting Hazelnuts by an Open Fire at the Grant Grill in the U. S. Grant Hotel in San Diego:
…Bulleit Bourbon, torched hazelnut liqueur, and smoked brown sugar syrup made this winter wonder the perfect evocation of sitting (and sipping) by an open fire.
Here’s looking forward to a bigger and better 2012. Things improved in 2011, but if Vegas is going to pull itself out of this culinary depression/recession, it’s gonna need more cowbell.
Kanpai and Merry Christmas!