False advertising by restaurants is taken for granted. How many times do you just shrug when you see “homemade” on a menu, or “best ___ in town” on a sign? So inured are we to the hyperbole of food puffery that we barely blink when something tells us that some foodstuff is the greatest this, or the the most authentic that. Most of the time, most of us presume the exact opposite of what is being touted, and no one bats an eyelash.
When it comes to “real” Greek food, most Greek restaurants are co-conspirators against consumers and the land of their birth. Like the Chinese and Italians before them, these immigrants created facsimiles of recipes that dumbed-down the real thing, because, they thought (rightly at the time), Americans couldn’t handle the truth. Unlike other ethnic restaurateurs though (who simply watered things down), Greeks decided to invite entire countries into their kitchens. Thus can you often find everything from mezze platters (Persia), to falafel (Syria), to hummus (Israel), to Caesar salads (America) to kebabs (Turkey) in your average Greek restaurant. Imagine French chefs cooking up a passel of pizza, bratwurst and bangers in a bistro and you’ll get the idea. The bastardization of real Greek food started decades ago, and it shows no signs of abating, as most Greek food now gets compromised by a lava flow of babganoush and a enough shingles of pita bread(Lebanon) to tile a roof.
Amidst our Aegean sea of mediocrity there is an island of Hellenic serenity. With nary a cliche in sight, Elia Authentic Greek Taverna opened its doors a little over a month ago, and immediately started changing people’s preconceptions about this cuisine. There are no Greek flags flying. No hideous Greek statuary adorns, nor is the color scheme another variation of bright blue and white. The walls are muted, the linens are thick, and the tablecloths are real cotton. Even the bouzouki music is tuned to a nice, conversational level. In short, this small, 30 seat space is unlike any American-Greek restaurant you have ever been to.
Small it may be, but mighty are the things coming out of this kitchen. Whole fish, supple, grilled octopus, spanakopita (pictured above), gorgeous, oregano-dusted lamb chops, oven-roasted lemon potatoes, superb tomato salad, gigante beans, and the big 4 of savory dips (tzatziki, tarama, tyrokafteri, and skordalia), all pay homage to the kind of food that Greeks take for granted — be it at home or in the neighborhood taverna. The all-Greek wine list is well priced, and the welcome makes you feel like you belong — because you do, and because real Greek food finally does in America .
The only untrue thing about Elia is that it’s not located on a side street in Athens.
ELIA AUTHENTIC GREEK TAVERNA
4226 S. Durango Dr.
Las Vegas, NV 89147
When Standard & Poor closed, my (already low) opinion of Green Valley plunged even further. For years I’ve called GV the land of $400,000 homes and $40,000 cars where no one wants to spend more than forty bucks on dinner. Just weeks before S&P shuttered, this little jewel box opened in a giant strip mall that houses at least two dozen other food options. Boteco is so small and so obscure — wedged between something called the “Beach Hut Deli” and a pet food store — that you can be parked right in front of it and miss it. But miss it you should not do, not if you want to taste Spanish-styled, chef-driven, Robuchon-inspired food the likes of which this backwater probably can’t appreciate.
But appreciate it you should. Because if you’re reading these words, you are obviously a person in search of good taste, and tastes don’t get much better than what chef Rachel LaGloahec is putting on these plate. This is not complicated food, a la Sparrow + Wolf, nor is it the “too hip for the room” cooking that failed down the street. These are the musings of a confident young chef, who has obviously been well-trained, and who hits her marks with every beat.
Take her weekend brunch for instance. Everyone knows I hate brunch. And I hate it because most brunch menus are about as inspiring as a Mitch McConnell press conference. LaGloahec got me interested from the first bite of her house-vodka-cured salmon:
…and spices things up further with Tacos da Moda — scrambled eggs with strips of steak and Spanish chorizo, ready to be rolled into some house-made corn tortillas — as beautiful a breakfast concoction as one can construct. Don’t miss the Dutch Baby-style pancakes, either — served with a strawberry coulis and champagne zabaglione — her trio of Botequito sliders dripping with melted onions and smoked Gouda on a brioche bun that’s a wonder unto itself. If that’s not enough to get you out of your brunch rut, the trio of prosecco “flights” — bellini, cassis, and limoncello — is a lip-smacking steal at $12.
At dinner, there are only twelve things on the menu, but those sliders, an avocado crunch salad and a Singapore Chilli Crab dip are a delight, and the kind of food that’s unknown this far from the Strip. There’s even a poutine on the menu for the calorie-challenged, fabulous Spanish ham, good oysters, and escargot croquetas and braised beef with Piedmontese rice for ectomorphs in need of a good rib-sticking. This is a mix and match menu that’s made for fun. Boteco means “meeting place” for friends and family, and if you and yours are looking for a place to congregate, you won’t find any better in this neck of the culinary desert.
9500 S. Eastern Ave. #170
Las Vegas, NV 89123
The paella pit alone is worth the price of admission. On it lies a rectangular grill, fronted by several small bonfires that blaze away underneath pans the size of a manhole cover. In those pans are the purest, smokiest expression of Spain’s most iconic one-dish meal. If you’re the sort who gets excited by these things, you can stand and watch the flames lap up the sides of steel loaded with various proteins and veggies on their way to becoming the best paella in America.
You can sit at the highboy tables beside the pit, or at the cocktail bar. Or hunker down in the large, low-ceiling room at one of low-slung banquettes and pick from a variety of gin and tonics – practically the Spanish national cocktail. Wherever you sit, you will be treated to the ongoing action of the fires and the cacophony of a tapas bar that never misses a beat. It is a room that mimics the vibe of the original in Washington D.C., but presents as a big Vegas joint that hasn’t lost its original point of view — a perspective that embraces the foods of Spain, both traditional and modern.
This attitude is informed by the force of nature that is José Andrés. Andrés doesn’t so much cook as he does inspire, cheer-lead and imbue ThinkFoodGroup (the corporation behind him) with a passion for quality that most other celebrity chef outlets never approach.
It is impossible to get bored with Andrés food. The menu is so varied, and the quality so high that pointing and picking is half the fun. If there’s a first among equals in the tapas it is the tomato bread — crusty, rough bread upon which fresh tomatoes have been grated into pulverized mass of sweet flesh and juice. It is the simplest sounding thing in the world, but when done right (as it’s done here), it will send your palate into spasms of satisfaction. The same bread contributes to the best tuna salad sandwich you’ve probably ever eaten, and you won’t find a better goat cheese salad (or gambas al ajillo – shrimp with garlic), on any $25 (for 3 courses) lunch menu anywhere. No one makes a better gazpacho or patatas bravas, and the hangar steak is the envy of many a steakhouse.
I like to come at lunch; when the douchebags and bachelorettes are in fewer supply. The time not to go is definitely weekend evenings — when both food and service are stressed to the max. Whenever you go, get a G&T, get that paella, and by all means, fill up on tomato bread.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino