If ELV could wave a magic wand over the proceedings, he would use his powers to inspire the three gentlemen above (Piero Selvaggio, Sonny Ahuja and Luciano Pellegrini) to make a deal to bring a small, stylish, casual Italian trattoria to downtown Las Vegas, serving real Italian food and good wines to people who don’t think cheeseburgers, pizzas and tacos are the only sustenance on earth.
Because if there’s one thing downtown (especially the area surrounding East Fremont Street) doesn’t need, it’s another casual eatery. Once Comida comes on board (with its “authentic”, “new cusine”, yeah right) this area will have more than enough middling makers of mediocre Mexican mastication. What it won’t have is really good food. The kind where you can taste the quality in the kitchen.
We’re not talking white table cloth, reservations-required kinds of places, folks. No, what we mean is a 75 seat joint with atmosphere, a decent-but-inexpensive wine list (really quite easy when you think about it) and a real chef running things — not some line cook whose reach exceeds his grasp.
ELV knows what the appeal of Mexican is: familiarity + cheap ingredients (i.e. lower overhead). But any day now, up on Charleston at 3rd, Mingo will open, featuring, you guessed it: “authentic and new age Mexican food!” Once Comida joins this Mexican hat dance next month, the two of them will be competing with Mundo, Mamacita’s, El Sombrero, Casa Don Juan, Dona Maria’s Tamale House and a few taco trucks, not to mention Tacos El Gordo, Tacos Mexico and Los Tacos down on East Charleston.
“WTF,” is all ELV can think to himself when he reads this shite. “Don’t these people have any new ideas? And just how stupid do they think the Gen-X, Y and Millennials are?”
The answer is: very.
Because tacos have become the supposed panacea for whatever ails downtown dining. It’s as if the music industry were trying to revive its moribund sales by shoveling Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber at everybody. (Okay, bad example.) But believe us, it’s going to get worse. For when we spoke to another, well known, local restaurateur a year ago (we were trying to get him interested in building a better sandwich joint – or at least something interesting – at the time), all he could talk about was “opening a really good taco restaurant downtown.” You don’t need real cooks to pull off these concepts, he told us, just enough teenagers and semi-legal workers to follow a few, simple orders. Hence, a cheap price point, large profits, and their appeal.
Moreover, the downward dining mobility of the past five years has left restaurateurs gun shy about opening anything that isn’t some kind of permutation on fast food. And they (the money guys behind these places) think that’s the only kind of eating out anyone under 40 is interested in. This might be true of folks still basking in the glow of not having to use a fake ID, but once you start growing up (something, admittedly, ELV has never quite accomplished) your tastes in booze and food change, and conversation and good eats slowly start trumping getting wasted and sobering up on cheap protein.
But just like the military — which is always ready to fight the last war, not the next one — restaurants (especially in a notoriously cheap and easy tourist town like our humble burg) lack the imagination to see the future and profit from it. If they could, they would see a lot of hungry mouths, and fatter wallets, begging for a touch of sophistication to go with their statement facial hair and various affectations.
When Selvaggio asked us what we thought of the prospects for a good restaurant downtown, our advice (and wisdom) was as crisp and bracing as a Müller-Thurgau from the Alto Adige: “It would be a gamble, Piero,” is how ELV responded, “but then again, so was opening a small, wine-centric Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Santa Monica in 1972, and whoever has the guts to do it is going to make a mint.”
“Downtown Las Vegas needs a real restaurant run by a real restaurateur,” we concluded in our diatribe to him, “not more clowns cashing in with inferior products shilled to the lowest common denominator.”
What it doesn’t need is more fucking tacos.