(Fra-gil-e, must be Italian)
It’s that time of the year again food fans: time for the Eating Las Vegas Major Awards!
The only awards that truly address the pressing issues of the day, such as: Who has the best hummus? Or, why is ELV invariably, unassailably, indubitably right about virtually EVERYTHING in the Las Vegas food world?
Yeah, yeah, we know we’ve already handed out those stuffy, starched, well-researched, highly-appropriate Desert Companion awards, but c’mon….they’re no fun. Here’s where we give you the straight scoop, the real poop and the no-dupe from a staff that eats out more than every other writer, critic, blogger, reviewer and Yelper in Vegas put together!!!!
So here goes:
GASTROPUB OF THE YEAR CO-OWNED BY A FILIPINO CHEF WITH AN ENGLISH HUSBAND WHO’S COOKING HIS ASS OFF AWARD: The Smashed Pig.
BEST RESTAURANT THAT’S CLOSEST TO MY HOUSE AWARD: Flock & Fowl.
RESTAURANT TREND OF THE YEAR – JAPANESE DIVISION: Izakayas everywhere.
PLEASANT SURPRISES OF THE YEAR: Old warhorses like Andre’s, Emeril’s, Spago, Marche Bacchus and Delmonico just keep getting better and better.
UNPLEASANT SURPRISES OF THE YEAR THAT REALLY WEREN’T THAT SURPRISING: Just how terrible our oldest restaurants (Golden Steer, Pamplemousse, Bob Taylor’s Ranch House) have become. They shoot horses don’t they?
RESTAURANT TREND OF THE YEAR – WHITE PEOPLE FINALLY GETTING A CLUE DIVISION: The rise of young chefs in great neighborhood joints: Bradley Manchester at Glutton, Howard Choi at Fish N Bowl, Kevin Chong at Japaniero, Daniel Krohmer at Other Mama, Greg Fortunato at Inyo Asian Variety Restaurant, Antonio Nunez and Javier Chavez at Kitchen Table (just to name a few) are revolutionizing local dining. It’s an uphill struggle for all of them to be sure, but each is putting out sincere, well-crafted food of very high quality at relatively low prices. With cooking like this in the ‘burbs, anyone who eats at a chain restaurant ought to be (figuratively) shot.
RESTAURANT TREND OF THE YEAR – CLUELESS WHITE PEOPLE DIVISION: It’s beyond our feeble brain how dozens of crappy restaurants have managed to open in less than one year at Downtown Summerlin (that is neither a town, nor down, nor downtown of anything), but most of them aren’t worth your time or money. (Exception: Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill) Most of them are chains pretending not to be, or franchised joints with by-the-numbers execution of lowest-common-denominator concepts at maybe-they-won’t-notice prices. Most surprising of all is the inexplicable, continuing popularity of Grape Street — a restaurant that must glance far above itself to get even a glimpse of mediocrity. The only great thing about Grape Street is that it provides an easy litmus test as to whether someone has even a hint of good taste. If a friend says they like it, or (quelle horreur!) suggests you meet there, get another friend.
PASTRY SHOP I WISH WAS CLOSER TO MY HOUSE: Suzuya Crepes and Pastries.
GELATO SHOP I’M GLAD MOVED TO THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN: Gelatology. I personally blame Desyreé Alberganti for the ten extra pounds I’m currently packing. When she moved to the southwest earlier this year, my waistline thanked her, The Food Gal® thanked her, and my cardiologist thanked her.
FEMALE CHEF I WOULD LEAVE THE FOOD GAL® FOR IN A HEARTBEAT: Desyreé Alberganti. Neither blood nor love is as thick as ice cream.
(NOT THAT SURPRISING) DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR: The closing of David Clawson.
SADDEST CLOSING OF THE YEAR: Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare.
WHO GIVES A SHIT AWARD: The imminent closing of Blue Ribbon in the Cosmopolitan.
WHO GIVES A SHIT AWARD – HIGH-CONCEPT RESTAURANT DIVISION: The opening of something called Beauty & Essex in the Cosmopolitan. (“Featuring acclaimed chef Chris Santos!”)
WHO GIVES A SHIT AWARD – SO-CALLED CELEBRITY CHEF DIVISION: Anything so-called celebrity/absentee chef Brian Malarkey does.
CONCEPT THAT DESERVES TO DIE ALREADY AWARD: Bringing in so-called celebrity chefs that no one has ever heard of and asking a credulous public to buy into their (non-existent) fame as a reason to eat their pre-fabricated food.
MIDDLE-EASTERN/MEDITERRANEAN/NORTH AFRICAN RESTAURANT RUN BY A THAI-AMERICAN CHEF THAT MAKES SENSATIONAL VERSIONS OF HUMMUS BABAGANOUSH LABNEH WITH FETA BRUSSELS SPROUTS TAGINES SHAWARMA YOU NAME IT AWARD: Cleo. The food here is as great as Thai words are long, and with this logorrhea award, we honor Executive Chef Thanawat Bates, both for his cooking and for the decency to shorten his name so we don’t have to type “Phootiphithakakorn” (his real last name) every time we sing his praises.
BAD RESTAURANT BLOGGING AWARD: The continuing puzzlement that is Eater Vegas. What was once the province of a couple of freeloading worms has become so pathetic that even p.r. whores know what a joke it is. Word on the street was that after advertising for someone to replace these bottom-of-the-barrel types, they couldn’t find anyone who would sell their soul so cheaply, so Susan Stapleton and Bradley Martin (both of whom announced their retirement from the site earlier this year to derisive applause) continue to re-print press releases and the occasional “This is where washed-up sous chef Antoine Turgidity loves to eat brunch” drivel in the hopes the corporate parent can revive this worthless endeavor. The whole enterprise now reeks of desperation.
RESTAURANT WRITER I SECRETLY ADMIRE AWARD: Heidi Knapp Rinella. Okay, she’s not exactly Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and her ratings can sometimes be ludicrous, but the gal has integrity in buckets, and she fills a niche in our food scene — bringing exposure to chefs and restaurants big and small — for a clientele that would otherwise be hitting the early bird specials at Buca di Beppo.
MEAL OF THE YEAR AWARD – FRENCH DIVISION: The vegetarian tasting menu at Twist by Pierre Gaganaire. Blew. Our. Socks. Off.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR AWARD: db Brasserie. Just when we had written this place off for good, Vincent Pouessel (formerly of Aureole) stepped in and took the moribund menu into Bardot Brasserie-land. No one loves a good French brasserie more than yours truly, and we now have three worthy establishments (Bouchon, Bardot Brasserie and db) in which to get a proper Bearnaise and moules frites fix.
BEND YOU OVER AND HOLD THE K-Y AWARD: Carbone.
DISH WE NEVER GOT TIRED OF EATING AWARD: Peking duck. There are three great places to get this crispy roast most fowl: Blossom (Aria), Jasmine (Bellagio), and Wing Lei (Wynn). All make superb versions, but the white-gloved treatment at Wing Lei is in a class by itself.
LUNCH OF THE YEAR AWARD: Artisanal Foods. What Chef Johnny Church is doing at this gourmet food store everyday between 11:00-2:00 is nothing short of amazing. It’s probably the best, most creative lunch grub Las Vegas has ever seen, at remarkably soft prices, in an impossible-to-find location. Grab your MapQuest and prepare to be dazzled.
HOTEL OF THE YEAR AWARD: SLS Hotel and Casino. It’s been through more drama than Bruce Jenner’s proctologist, but there’s no denying the excellence of its F & B program. Hotel Exec Chef Luke Forzano runs a tight ship, and if the casino and marketing dudes ever get their act together, maybe one day this hotel will become worthy of its restaurants. Here’s a tip of the fedora to Ku Noodle, Katsuya by Starck, Cleo, Northside Cafe, Umami Burger and Bazaar Meat.
TASTING MENUS OF THE YEAR FOR INQUISITIVE EPICURES ONLY AWARD: Tie: ‘e’ by Jose Andres and Japanese Cuisine by Omae. Our two most idiosyncratic restaurants — each serving a mere handful of diners a night — are each spectacular in their own way and a must-stop on any foodie tour of Las Vegas. Quirky, expensive, and difficult to book but essential if you want to taste some of the best food in America.
PLACES THAT MAKE ME WISH I WAS AN ALCOHOLIC AWARD: To leave on a high note (and a HIGH note) on this Christmas Eve Eve Eve Eve, here’s a short list of my favorite watering holes this past year (with some of the people who made my imbibing so enjoyable):
Kevin Vogt at Delmonico
Nectaly Mendoza and Joe Pereira at Herbs & Rye
Robert Smith at Picasso
Phil Park at Guy Savoy
Rose at Atomic Cafe
Yukiko Kawasaki at Yellowtail
Devin Zendel at db Brasserie
Kelly Ford at Bardot Brasserie
Jeff and Rhonda Wyatt at Marche Bacchus
Kirk Peterson at Carnevino
Jaime Smith at Charlie Palmer Steak
Gabe and Rafael at La Comida
Frederic Montandon at Le Cirque
Whoever was mixing me up sumpin’ special with those wonderful whiskies at Oak & Ivy all year long…
…and probably a dozen others I’m missing because of an advanced state of inebriation brought on by this sassy little 1952 Armagnac I’m presently polishing off:
Congrats to all the beeg weeners on their Major Awards. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all and to all a good night.