John Curtas is …

The Beatings Shall Continue Until Morale Improves

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There’s a reason we’re leading off with a picture of the crave-able curry at Zen Japanese Curry, but before we get to that, let’s take stock of the continuing moribund state of the Vegas dining scene, shall we?

On the Strip we’ve had Carmine’s and Buddy V’s open in the past month, featuring….wait for it….red and dead Italian cooking!

Coming soon from two mega-watt celebrity chefs (if the hype is to be believed) are…wait for it….wait for it….burger restaurants!

And Shawn McClain has taken his considerable gifts and given us a….wait for it…wait for it….wait for it….more pizza!

Meanwhile, on the literary front, we have SEVEN magazine’s major restaurant awards for 2013, which are chock full of such stupidities as “Most Improved Restaurant” – Twist (Really? Just when did this place stop being anything but excellent?), “Best Garnish” – some dumb cherry looking-thing at Comme Ça, and a “We’re So Over It” letterbox announcing that the writers and editors of this rag (who should know better) are soooo over “fusion confusion” — which has been a dead issue (not to mention a hackneyed phrase) among real food writers in most real food towns for almost a decade.

And BTW, Max Jacobson and Grace Bascos, please explain how you get “over” a vegetable (in their case – Brussels sprouts and kale); you either like them or you don’t.

No, the real reason for these award issues is not to impart real, usable information; they exist to make the writers and editors feel powerful (no matter what nonsense they’re spouting), and to fluff up the egos of the recipients.

The point of the preceding 254 words is to remind our loyal readers that our vaunted Las Vegas (Strip) dining revolution (1993-2008) is deader than Woodrow Wilson, and those highly paid accountants running things are playing it safer than a basic cable producer desperately searching for another pawn shop show.

Just like television, we have become a copycat medium, and instead of exploiting our position as the world leader in concentrated, great dining options, our hotels are content to milk the old cows for all they’re worth, and regress into the know-nothing populism of glorified diner food.

For someone who had a front row seat at this revolution, it’s all really quite depressing, even if its downfall was quite predictable.

You see, ours was always a top-down transformation. There was nothing organic about it. Big money casinos, awash in cash, saw what Steve Wynn wrought with his murder’s row of restaurants at the Bellagio in 1998, and suddenly, everyone wanted in on the action. But like all non-organic changes, the results were destined to be fleeting. You can’t buy your way into gourmandia anymore than you can purchase a personality.

If we needed anymore proof of these points, we got it last week in the form of a conversation with a world-famous chef.  He was in town to check on one of his places and wanted to get our read on the current status of the Vegas restaurant scene.

“The most interesting stuff is going on off the Strip with the Japanese,” was ELV’s ready response when the question was popped. Armed with iPhone photos, we then proceeded to show him the jewel box perfection of Kabuto, Raku Sweets and Zen.

“They’re not going to make much money with those,” was all he could say with a cynical shake of his head.

“It all depends on how much money you want to make,” was our stupefied reply.

And there lies the rub. Our chef, like all of them with outposts in our humble burg, was never interested in making great food here, he just wanted to make money. Making the food good enough to do that was all that ever mattered….and all that still matters to our celeb chef culture.

Because of this, ELV intends to administer frequent (figurative) floggings to these fatuous feedlots until one of them shows itself to be anything but a carpetbagging money machine.

There, we said it….and we at ELV hope you now understand the headline.

(Coming up tomorrow: Why teeny tiny Japanese restaurants are the only places you should be eating at these days.)

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13 Responses to The Beatings Shall Continue Until Morale Improves

  • You live and publish about the LV scene so understandably you are looking for new, fresh and exciting. As a twice a year visitor I think there are enough interesting places that great eating is still a big part of the trip experience – even with a drought of really new spots

  • John, I rarely resort to ad hominem, but since you feel free to mention me by name, this time I will make an exception. As Andrew Cherng of Panda Express so succinctly put it, “it’s not what you and I want, it’s what they want.” They is not you, but as one of the most narcissistic people I’ve ever met (one of your former wives told me you called out your own name during sex), I wouldn’t expect you to understand. As to Twist, can’t an excellent restaurant get better? Your Friend, Max.

  • Eh, just have fun with it.

  • I completely agree with John. I really don’t care if he’s narcissistic. John’s food writings are much more accurate and entertaining than any other so called food critics in Vegas. Max should recognize that if you call yourself a food critic and write articles then you are a public figure–don’t get butt hurt for being quoted and mentioned by name especially if you make moronic statements. I’m not sure why his narcissism or what whoever founded possibly the worst crap fast food pseudo chinese food thinks is relevant to this conversation. Keep doing what your are doing John.

  • I agree with Jon generic repeats. Barely a step above smoke filled buffets with keno and dry prime rib. Accurate article except Zen is good but way too unhealthy to be great.

  • To Keita. I’m not “butt hurt”, whatever that means, or in fact hurt at all, by being mentioned. But so called critics, and that isn’t the word I use to describe what I do, have to give a service to the public. John is doing such a service for his followers, as I am for mine. I agree Panda is crap. Unfortunately, the first duty a restaurant owner has is to turn a profit, lest he be forced to close. So in the stratospheric world of the best places, such as Robuchon or French Laundry, Curtas is right. The problem is, I am not judging places by those benchmarks. You should know that. And as to my cheap shot about John’s narcissism, stroking your own ego may be entertainment, but writing about oneself is only interesting if the writer himself is interesting. Except to, and these are your words, morons.

  • Great review John. Spot on with what the celebrity chefs have wraught. Except Carnevino. Carnevino is still the shit!!!!

  • LOL…enter Batali and Bastianach burger joint coming soon…

  • Remember “The Devil Wears Prada” when she is given a lecture about how all normal items come from this “silly” dissection of the high end? She laughs at a belt decision and is informed that the color of her sweater is a result of a “menial” decision made 5 years prior.
    It is the people that truly care about food and who continue to evolve the experiences of restaurants, bakeries, etc. that allow the “they” to have what they want. It’s a shame they’re too simple to explore, but the world needs them to keep the machine moving.
    A Southwestern Eggroll does not happen in a Chili’s Test Kitchen without a chef doing multiple different eggrolls and then having it be extracted for homogenous use..
    Chefs are only now making a circle and going for the low end profit on burgers and pizza before venturing out again. Shame they have to invest their time that way, but competition controls the creativity in that regard.
    I’m sure TGi Fridays Agedashi Tofu will be fantastic. OR its new Ramen menu will be a great deal. Don’t think it can’t happen. Keep on cookin.

  • Wow !! I usually don’t read john Curt-ass posts but was directed by a collegue of mine to give a glance . I don’t disagree with most of this, all though it seems your reviews are mostly based on shitty restaurants to begin with “point out the obvious” type reviews I don’t find substantle if you claim to be the most knowledgable food writer in Las Vegas .. From the little I do know about you I was under the impression you gave up writing to become a tv celebrity ?? Your try to be posh ways are offensive. For instance I’ve had the “dumb” looking cherry garnish filled with foie gras mousse from Comme ca .. All though the category silly, no reason to bash one of the restaurants most would consider to always be on top of their game, put that garnish in guy savoy or twist as a stand alone dish and you would celebrate the idea.. Point being stop being an asshole to those who make this city’s dining relevant ! And buy a new suit douche bag

  • 2013 awards-for Best Dessert-Sticky Toffee pudding at Gordon Ramsay, so sticky had to call F.E.M.A to untangle !

  • 2013 awards- Best Pizzeria Located Adjacent to a Sportsbook that has serves Calamari with Onion Rings

    FIVE50

  • Ah yes, the 2013 year in review mags. While I did just purchase my local one (Portland Monthly), I am a bit thrown by the categories and who wins what but all that is in a matter of taste. This is only my first year here and have not managed to eat my way through this city yet, I feel like some things are revolutionary for sure but that most, feels like a copy of a copy.

    I like what Lou mentioned about The Devil Wears Prada and that whole scene about the selection of a colour on a discount sweater coming from a high end decision made long before the discount ever caught on.

    It seems like the excitement and revolutions in food seem to come in waves…like I am hit with so many new and awesome things in one year then for many after that, it feels like we just get slight changes until someone comes up with an amazing idea again.

    Alas, I feel like my post is not making much sense as I attempt to type with a 16 month old climbing on me but hey, my main point is, I was bored with 2013 (and the magazine list kinda proves it) and hope there is an amazing wave of new in 2014 ^_^

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