EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 23. CARSON KITCHEN

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Carson Kitchen is a small place (only 46 seats as of this writing), that reminds us of Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon, or Bar Jamon in New York City. The open kitchen is framed by an L-shaped bar, and you are so close to some of the action you can practically quiz the cooks on what they’re making as you wait for your plates. There are four tables at the front and then another large bar, on the other side of the small room, which doubles as a cocktail venue and communal seating for an array of drop-dead dishes the likes of which will shock you with their intensity and perfection.

Here for once is a restaurant that is exactly what it bills itself as: great, accessible, farm-friendly food that tastes like something a great chef (in this case Kerry Simon) would serve you in his own home. Not that we’ve ever tasted veal meatballs with sherry foie gras cream (pictured above) in any chef’s home — or any restaurant for that matter — as caramelized, crispy, meaty and silky as the ones pictured above. That foie gras cream is a stroke of genius and makes you wonder why the Joël Robuchons of the world didn’t think of it first.

Plenty of chefs have thought of doing deviled eggs, but Simon’s “Devil’s Eggs”: [imagebrowser id=2119]

….topped with crispy pancetta and caviar are such a creamy, crispy, sweet and salty delight they will have you shaking your head in appreciation.

They are among six of the nine apps we’ve sampled, all of them unique (Spam croquettes, tempura green beans, crispy chicken skins with smoked honey), and all of them begging to be shared. Speaking of unique, the bacon jam, brought forth with a melted slab of brie:

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…is so chock full of the sweet and savory combinations Simon is so fond of, you will find yourself reflexively dipping piece after piece of your baguette into it, blithely ignoring whoever entreats you “not to fill up on bread.” One order will not be enough — even if there are only two sharing it.

Then there is the butter burger:

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…an homage to the butter burgers of Minnesota and Wisconsin, this one bathed in butter rather than stuffed with it. It is a hand-formed patty of good, coarsely-ground meat, seasoned to a “t”, and presented with crumbly Boursin sprinkled atop melted cheddar on a mush-ready brioche bun. It’s a belly bomb to be sure…but also a beautiful one.

Those looking for lighter fare will be tempted by the ten “Farm & Garden” items on the menu — each echoing a certain ABC Kitchen vibe, and every one a winner.

My table couldn’t get enough of the Baked Mac & Cheese, or the Roasted Young Beets with orange and pistachio (great combo that), or the Rainbow Cauliflower, perfectly in harmony with lemon and garlic, or the Broccoli Crunch with real green goddess dressing (hooray!). If ever there was a restaurant to teach the fear-of-food crowd what wonders can be done with common, edible plants, this is it.

All of these are accompanied by the obligatory hand-crafted cocktails, good beers,blah blah blah…. and decent enough wines (well, decent enough for the downtown crowd, not necessarily for moi) — all priced to sell.

Finally, there are three desserts of which we’ve had two: the Bourbon Fudge Brownie (with bacon-brown butter ice cream) and the Glazed Donut Bread Pudding:

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…served with two sauces — three rum caramel and creme anglaise — the whole so much greater than each of its stupendous parts. One order is too much for one, but won’t be enough for two. (Do you sense a theme here?)

It’s hard to put into words just how terrific this little gem of a joint is. Carson Kitchen is the restaurant I always knew Kerry had in him. It is the restaurant Honey Salt wishes it could be. There are more interesting ideas and palate-popping flavor combinations on its simple, one page menu than you will find in a month of dining at tourist traps masquerading as gastro-pubs on the Strip, or an evening endured at Park on Fremont or other dreck passing for quality downtown, or in the ‘burbs.

Max Jacobson says: Bir daha, bizim sevimli qida snob özünü kömək edə bilməz. John onun itirilmiş gənclərin tutma və altında-30 izdiham ilə küçə inam əldə edə bilərsiniz Top 50 bu kimi bir səs-küylü, izdihamlı, kiçik, dəbli birgə qaldırıcı düşünür. Əslində, o, bunu bütün özü bir Guns ‘n Roses konsert (və ya Haute mətbəxi məbəd) Al Mancini daha dumber baxmaq edir. Mən də, burada ərzaq dəhşətli deyil, ona bu verəcəyik.

Recommended dishes: Veal Meatballs with Sherry Foie Gras Cream; Devil’s Eggs; Roasted Young Beets with Pistachio; Spicy Sausage Flatbread; Butter Burger; Baked Mac & Cheese; Tempura Green Beans; Crispy Chicken Skins with Smoked Honey; Espresso–Coated Strip Steak; Fried Green Tomato Sandwich; Bourbon Fudge Brownie; Glazed Doughnut Bread Pudding; Basically the whole friggin’ menu + some pretty potent potables.

CARSON KITCHEN

124 South 6th Street

702.473.9523

8 thoughts on “EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 23. CARSON KITCHEN

  1. Nice touch there Professor ELV! Azerbaijani is a tough language to translate. But the sentiment was well received in Max’s absence from these columns!

  2. ELV responds: We love it when some hambone thinks they have a “gotcha” moment on us…especially when all it does it expose their own ignorance. If they read the post (which would entail actually READING it), they would see that we recognize the “Butter Burger” as being an homage to the Minnesota-Wisconsin classic.

    As for the Tempura Green Beans, anyone who’s ever picked up a cookbook knows the Japanese (and the Portuguese before them) were deep-frying veggies centuries before the rest of the West got around to it. What’s “unique” about these items is their introduction to downtown Las Vegas, and their excellence.

    #youdon’tmesswiththeZohan

    Hoser.

  3. I guess my real qualm would be declaring a restaurant one of the best in town without giving the common courtesy to try the entire menu or respectfully omit it from the list (in addition to Giada etc…) until said restaurant has been around long enough for the honeymoon phase to end. From my experiences at Carson Kitchen and with all due respect to Chef Simon, the food and service were below par from what I would have expected. I tout their effort to try to bring something different to Downtown Vegas but to be honest the talent pool in that sector leaves more than something to be desired. Saying that it is better than a restaurant such as CUT, Chada Thai or the like that are not yet listed shows ignorance on your part.
    Respectfully-
    Hambone

  4. There is actually some validity to what Hambone has written, but perhaps it just comes down to the format. If this list is read as “The Top 10”, and “The Rest”, then I would have no quibbles. But since it is being presented as though it is 1-50 in descending order it is difficult to do that without running intro problems – I do not believe that John is actually saying that Carson Kitchen is better than B&B, Cut, Delmonico, Jaleo, Lotus of Siam, Michael Mina, Nobu, Spago, or SW Steakhouse, and have not been reading the list that way. If #11 through #50 is meant to be a literal order, then the task becomes an almost impossible one.

  5. ELV responds: We remind our loyal readers that our list is of the most “essential” restaurants in Las Vegas…in order of their essential-ness (whatever that means)….as determined by our highly subjective (but generally unassailable, unquestionable, unimpeachable, undeniable, unalterable, unambiguous, unapologetic and expert) opinion on these matters. Of course it’s fairly ridiculous to try to parse (or justify) the difference between #28 v. #35 (for example), but the descending order generally represents our evaluation of the restaurant in terms of excellence AND importance to the Vegas food scene.

    Think of it this way: If the ultimate gourmet/gourmand/gastronome/epicure/gastronaut (in other words someone EXACTLY like ELV!) was coming to Las Vegas for the first time, and asked us to take him (it would NEVER be a her) on a 30 day eating tour of the top 50 restos in Vegas- in descending order of excellence (but factoring in the restaurant’s importance to the overall food scene) – this is the order in which we would take them.

    Taken in that context, placing Yonaka at #11, ahead of B&B and Bouchon, makes sense. Is Yonaka an empirically better restaurant than Bouchon? Probably not, but it is very important to our overall dining out culture that a local place of that quality and price point has opened and thrived off the Strip.

    We hope that makes things a little clearer.

    Humbly yours,

    theworld’sgreatestrestaurantcritic

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