John Curtas is …

Just Thought You’d Like to Know…the State of the Vegas Dining Scene

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As the first quarter careens towards its close, our staff thought it was time to take stock of Las Vegas’s dining scene and share a summary of our recent experiences.

And by “recent experiences” we mean the scenes of the crimes at some recent restaurants….along with the usual gossip, gall and gallivanting for which we are known.

Let’s start with the bad news first, shall we?

Valentino will be closing soon, putting one of our best chefs — Luciano Pellegrini — out of work for the first time in 13 years. Yours truly has done his best to put über-restaurateur Piero Selvaggio in touch with a variety of properties who might be interested in his idea for an authentic take on an Italian trattoria, but the wheels of these things move slowly all we can do is hope for Luciano to land someplace that will (eventually) let us continue to enjoy his ethereal pastas and little birds. (We’re hoping to enjoy one last blowout there before it closes in June.)

On a similar note, NOVE atop the Palms continues to operate, but without head chef Geno Bernardo, who has left Vegas to pursue other opportunities. Nothing against the new crew there, but Geno’s big shoes will be tough to fill.

Speaking of übers…..über-pastry chef Kamel Guechida has left Joël Robuchon, but as wonderful a chef as he is, we don’t expect to quality of the breads, pastries, chocolates, mignardises and petit fours to drop a bit at this epicurean icon.

Out in the burbs, things keep getting better (see below), but on the Strip we’ve had some major disappointments of late. The worst cassoulet we’ve ever had was featured as a lunch special recently at Payard Bistro and Patisserie — proof positive that there are no Frenchmen involved in Caesars F&B program anymore. (We can’t imagine Franck Savoy, Gregory Gorreau or Eric Damidot putting up with such abysmal cooking.) On a similar note, the food at FLEUR has become so dumbed down that there is no reason to take it seriously as a restaurant anymore. A conventioneer feed station is more like it.

Speaking of feed stations (tourists at the trough?), you won’t find a better (worse?) one than Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar in Times Square, New York. Why is ELV mentioning this? Because it’s a lead pipe cinch that he’s coming to Vegas — to the Quad or the Linq or whatever Caesars is calling their mega attraction on Las Vegas Boulevard. We’ve asked Caesars for confirmation, and all we get is terse “we can’t comment on that” responses — which is p.r. speak for “Oh shit, someone found out something before we wanted them to, and now we can’t control the message so we’re going to pretend a fact doesn’t exist.” ELV got the info from a trusted friend who got it directly from Fieri’s mouth, so decide for yourself.

To leave the Strip on a positive note, we have been blown away by recent meals at Pinot Brasserie, AquaKnox, RM Seafood, Table 10 and Le Cirque. At Le Cirque, Paul Lee seems to be a worthy successor to Gregory Pugin, and we don’t see the quality or charm of Le Cirque slipping one bit, even after fifteen years. You can expect to see a lighter, more Asian accented menu there, however, and that sits just fine with us.

Rick Moonen will be closing the formal upstairs dining room at RM, and converting it to….wait for it….a gastropub! That overplayed concept excites us not at all, but the thought of Moonen lending his considerable chops to something other than seafood, does.

Tartare sauce 'taters

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Only Rick Moonen can dress up potatoes this well

Out in the ‘burbs, things are more exciting than ever. The Japanese continue to be our most innovative restaurateurs, with newbies like Yonaka taking their rightful place at the top of our Asian food pantheon along with such stalwarts as Kyara, Monta, Ramen Sora, Nakamura-Ya, I-Naba, Cafe de Japon and the venerable Raku. And for those who haven’t been, or haven’t been in a while, Kabuto (pictured above) kontinues to kill it. $48 still gets you ten courses of ethereal, edomaezushi, and if anything, this place is better than when it first opened.

On other Asian fronts, the less said about the new Nobu, the better, but Shaanxi Gourmet (practically hidden in the same center as China MaMa), is worth crowing about and worth a trip. It might be the best Chinese restaurant to open in Vegas since CM opened its doors six years ago. Chada Thai is so good (and so close to my office) that it takes a herculean effort not to eat and drink there every day. We at ELV are equally happy that Suzuya is a long way from our office — so delectable are its finely tuned pastries and cakes.

Suzuya's life-changing apple pie

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In other news, David Middleton continues to do exemplary work at Marche Bacchus; the Verandah at the Four Seasons does our town’s prettiest breakfast buffet, and La Cave has upped its game considerably in the brunch department.

The Honey Salt v. Poppy Den debate continues to excite controversy around the ELV household – with the Food Gal® preferring the culinary stylings of Kim Canteenwalla at HS, and you know who enjoying the more aggressive seasonings of Angelo Sosa. Regardless of your preference, you can’t help but be excited at the prospect of Bradley and Bryan Ogden opening a bistro in the old Bottles & Burgers space. Expect an opening later this year and expect the place to be a destination eatery from the get go. Best news within the good news: Ogden’s life-changing burger will do its star turn on the menu. Chops are already being licked.

The List* (in approximate order of fork — or chopstick — dropping deliciousness):

Kabuto

Le Cirque

Pinot Brasserie

RM Seafood

AquaKnox

Marche Bacchus

Carnevino

Stripsteak

Suzuya Pastries and Crepes

China MaMa

Chada Thai

Shaanxi Gourmet

Table 10

Poppy Den

Honey Salt

Verandah

La Cave

Nobu

The View Wine Bar & Kitchen (which needs to seriously upgrade its “wine bar”)

Bund Shanghai

Lagasses’s Stadium

Dom DeMarco’s

Yunnan Garden

Ohjah

El Sombrero

FLEUR

Johnny Mac’s

Bar + Bistro

Due Forni

Payard Bistro and Patisserie

Manon Patisserie and Bistro

Tofu Hut

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*Representing restaurants visited within the past month or so. To all of you food writing pikers out there: You don’t come close to ELV’s appetite(s) or output, so don’t pretend you do. No brag, just fact.

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6 Responses to Just Thought You’d Like to Know…the State of the Vegas Dining Scene

  • We can all disagree when it comes to food, but I fail to see how LaGasse’s Stadium even makes it anywhere near this list, not to mention that is rated higher than Due Forni, Bar + Bistro, and even El Sombrero. My experiences at LaGasse’s have been underwhelming to put it diplomatically. In addition, The View Wine Bar and Kitchen should not make the list either, but it is better than LaGasse’s.

  • ELV responds: The list represents all places dined in recently, in a rough order of how much we enjoyed our meal. Without going into detail, both Due Forni and Bar + Bistro were way off their game when we partook of their wares, and everything below Nobu (including Nobu) represents a disappointment of some sort.

  • Guy Fieri is a UNLV grad, so I can see this as much a homecoming as a celebrity chef outpost. Not that that’ll make me want to go, of course.

  • Looking over Fleur’s latest menu, I have to say that I agree with you. This used to be one of my “go to” restaurants when in Vegas, but the latest changes are sadly underwhelming.

    My daughter and I are discussing dining possibilities for our next trip and Fleur’s name isn’t even coming up.

  • Kabuto is amazing. Recently tried all three of their menus. Unparalleled fish and service.

    Chada Thai is our favorite neighborhood spot. Living on the SW side of Vegas has us in a restaurant black hole. Thank goodness for for Spring Mt. Road.

    Honey Salt, sorry to say that the food was underwhelming and the wine list leaves a lot to be desired.

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