John Curtas is …

Spring Selections Signal Savory Upswing

Things are improving, food-wise anyway, in our humble burg.

As young Wilburn points out in the previous post, our chefs and restaurants seem to be lifting themselves out of the doldrums. Menus (and cooking) seem more invigorated with passion this year, especially as compared to the last four. The molecular and the avant-garde seem to be fading (although foams are dying a slow, slow death, not fast enough for us) and fifteen course tasting extravaganzas (does anyone call them “degustations” anymore?) appear to be going the way of tasseled menus and tastevins.

One thing that will never go out of style is the well-crafted cocktail…and the list at Herbs & Rye is one of Las Vegas’s treasure troves of luscious libations:

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We at ELV consider a Bucks Fizz or Hemingway daiquiri to be the perfect way to launch (or end) an evening, and owner Nectaly Mendoza deserves major props for finally bringing the steakhouse fare up to something worthy of the cocktails.

After drinking at H&R, it’s an easy jaunt south on Valley View to Flamingo, where all sorts of modern, seasonal Japanese delights await at Yonaka,  like this ethereal tempura of shiso leaf:

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…exceptional scallop sashimi:

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….some gorgeous, soon-to-be-out-of-season uni:

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…and finally, a haunting, palate-cleansing fruit salad, lightly dressed with a peppery, ponzu vinaigrette(?). The barely-there sauce is such an interesting accent to the fruit you will be tempted to lick the plate:

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One seafood meal an evening never being enough for ELV, he loves to take the short hop down Flamingo to the Cosmopolitan, where the world’s greatest pressed fish roe (avgotaraho aikieroto aka bottarga) awaits him at Milos:

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…along with one of Nico Georgousis’ big fish (like this milokopi – sea drum) from the islands of Kefalonia:

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But man does not live by fish alone….or maybe he does? Because lately we’ve been eating a lot of it, and being impressed by the offerings even off the Strip. (In years past, our mantra was always: Only eat seafood on Las Vegas Boulevard or within a mile of it.) The reason we’re changing our tune is because of first class chefs like David Middleton at Marche Bacchus, who spins his seafood-y web of wonders around such things as gorgeous grilled shrimp with cranberry beans — a dish that could go toe to toe with anything at American Fish:

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Jacques Pepin told ELV thirty years ago that soup was the measure of a good chef. It is a lesson we have never forgotten. The stock, ingredients, balance, seasonings and texture must all be harmonious. Because soup is so easy to do poorly, it is easy to tell when someone has chosen to do just that, is how he put it. Thus, has a lifetime of soup tasting taught us when a great one is in our midst…..and this tomato soup:

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…from Angelo Sosa’s Poppy Den is just that. It may strike some as a tad sweet, but it strikes us as the perfect evocation of ripe, roasted tomatoes topped with the perfect touch of curry foam.

A perfect, perfectly simple soup is not so simple, and neither is a flawless micro-green salad like the one they feature at Pinot Brasserie:

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It is as beautiful to taste as it is to look at (that balance thing again). When salads get this good, you know Spring has sprung.

One of the first (actually the first) measures of a restaurant is when you ask yourself: “Self, do I want to come back here?” In other words, is there something, anything that makes you immediately think you would like to return as soon as possible. It could be the decor, the service, a sexy maitre ‘d,  or the taste of a single dish. Our loyal readers know it doesn’t take a lot to get ELV to Le Cirque, but if he had never been, didn’t know a thing about the place and was clueless about the food, Paul Lee’s Spring pea, mushroom and egg starter (topped with a cheesy crisp) would be enough to make him a regular faster than you could say crêpes fourées aux oeufs brouilles au Parmigiana-Reggiano.

Yeah, it’s that goodechoing Guy Savoy’s iconic vegetable dishes while paying homage to the best of the season:

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Finally, no seasonal eats are complete without a Bacchanalian feast and you won’t find a better one than brunch at the Border Grill:

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…where Mike Minor and crew put out a blizzard of small, tasty plates that re-affirm with every bite why it is not only our best Mexican, but also the rare celebrity chef offshoot that keeps getting and better.

Better and better being what our food scene has not been since 2010.  But things are finally looking up. And ELV for one, and his staff, think it’s high time Las Vegas went back….to the future!

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