The pizza ovens will remain. The pastas will continue to be made. The uber-cool drinks, funky wine list and Neapolitan pies aren’t going anywhere.
But Due Forni is losing the man who (along with Alex Taylor) invented the concept and has kept it going for the past six years.
Yes, Carlos Buscaglia is moving on, going back to the Strip, and leaving his pizzeria progeny behind.
And suddenly, Las Vegas feels a little less artisanal, more by-the-numbers, and not quite as culinarily compelling.
Six years ago it was a match made in heaven. Six years ago, the Strip was in the doldrums, and chefs like Buscaglia, Howard Choi, and Daniel Ontiveros were looking to make their mark in the ‘burbs. One by one they sought to pioneer and present a better way of eating to the citizens of Las Vegas. One by one they tried to elevate our food scene, and one by one they (along with David Clawson, Bradley Ogden and others) have crashed upon the rocks of our insatiable addiction to prefabricated, freeze-dried and franchised food.
There have been some success stories, to be sure: Dan Krohmer’s Other Mama being the most notable of the bunch. But by and large we are a blue collar town who prefers the sanitized and safe to the original and thought-provoking.
“There’s too many chain restaurants and too many people who want to eat in them,” is how Carlos put it to me last night. “It can be very discouraging.”
Indeed it can. Every day at my office I’m confronted by staff and co-workers who prefer Jimmy John’s and Claim Jumper to something owned by a local. All they really know is that these places are safe and predictable, and that’s all they really want. Instinctively they know, what Buscaglia and I know: that it takes a certain leap of faith to put yourself in the hands of a local chef. Better by far to trust the judgment of thousands before you, and give yourself over to a formula that’s worked millions of times, be it in making a mediocre sandwich or a fried chicken chalupa.
That’s what Due Forni and Buscaglia have been up against from the get-go, and that’s what they’ve succeeded against, against all odds.
But, as he explained to me, it’s time to move on.
“Frankly, I’m tired of cooking everything in two ovens and in a 400 square foot kitchen with no stove. I’m looking forward to managing a big kitchen again.”
That shouldn’t be a problem where’s he’s going since HEXX (where he’ll be running the kitchen), is a multi-tiered, high-volume operation that will keep Carlos on his toes.
What they are gaining Due Forni will be losing: a chef with great taste, and serious cooking chops. Buscaglia has been on the Vegas food scene since the early 90s when he was slinging noodles at Pasta Mia. From there he worked his way up the kitchen ladder all the way to becoming top toque at Fiamma, before departing to pursue his dream of bringing great ingredients and great pizza to the neighborhoods.
He succeeded and Due Forni succeeded, but time marches on and new challenges must be faced. From the sound of things, new ownership is taking over DF and, for the time being, the template will remain in place. (It still does a bang-up business most nights of the week, despite being surrounded by shopping malls with loads of shitty dining options that the public can’t get enough of. I’m talking to you, Downtown Summerlin.) It remains to be seen if they do Carlos’s legacy proud, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that the dough will be just as crispy-chewy, and the toppings just as top-shelf as ever.
Even if they do, however, not having Carlos Buscaglia cooking off the Strip just made eating off the Strip a little less tasty.
“The food in Las Vegas is a lot better than it has to be.” So said John Mariani to me over a decade ago as we were touring the Strip.
These days, a case can be made that the same could be said about our suburbs.
Do the steaks at Andiron have to be so top shelf? Does the seafood at Other Mama or Japaneiro have to be so impeccable? Couldn’t Marche Bacchus get by with lousier pork? The answers are: no, no and yes. Each of them could shave a buck or two on ingredients and it probably wouldn’t hurt them at all. No one would notice, except maybe a chef (or finicky critic), and their bottom line would be boosted in the process.
The point is they do care about quality, even if their customers can’t tell the difference. This makes them proud of the product they serve, and builds a level of trust between them and their clientele.
Restaurants like the ones mentioned are few and far between in the ‘burbs, but they are slowly increasing in quantity (even in Henderson – thank you Standard & Pour), and we at ELV are glad that their number just increased by one.
André’s Bistro & Bar took over the old DW Bistro space a few months back and has been packing them in from day one. They’ve kept the same floor plan but lightened up the space, given it a serious bar (and interesting, well-priced wine list), and took to cooking real French bistro food with no compromises.
In other words, they finally took my advice and picked up the restaurant gauntlet I’ve been throwing down for this entire century.
To say I’m pleased by all of this is an understatement. French bistro food is the most comforting, eat-every-day restaurant fare in the world. Only true trattoria cooking comes close, but no one in Vegas has the guts to go the full Roman, so Italian authenticity always gets drowned in a sea of cheap cheese and pizza sauce. I’ll leave the I-told-you-sos for another time(?), but let’s just say they’ve taken a classic formula here and run with it. And the public is responding.
One of the reasons, of course, is that the Stacked Hospitality Group had the good sense to move to this area of town — southwest Las Vegas being so restaurant-starved it makes Downtown Las Vegas look like mid-town Manhattan. The other smart thing they’ve done is to put Joe Marsco and Mark Purdy in charge of things. Marsco is the business/front-of-the-house guy and Purdy the Executive Chef, and years of working at Andre’s in the Monte Carlo taught them both a thing or two about executing a menu of French classics.
French classics is what this menu is all about, no matter how many times they tell you that it’s “American Tavern Cuisine.” (For the record, we know that they have to use monikers like “American Tavern Cuisine” in order to appeal to the yokels who might be scared snail-less by an escargot, but make no mistake, this menu is as French as a sidewalk cafe.)
You don’t get much more French than foie gras, and you won’t get any better seared foie than this beauty sitting atop stewed apples and a caramel custard sauce:
Does it taste like an apple pie under that unctuous liver? Absolutely. Does that make it the most decadent starting course this side of Guy Savoy? “Mais oui!” as the French would say.
Speaking of frogs, you can get their legs here (although we haven’t tried them yet), along with a roasted vegetable terrine of concentrated tomato richness:
Just as good are the escargot (swimming in butter, garlic and parsley just the way they’re supposed to be), and moules frites that cede no ground to anything you’ll find at Bouchon, Mon Ami Gabi or Bardot Brasserie.
Of the salads tried, the Lyonnaise was proper in every way….if a bit uninspiring…and the beets with goat cheese were as beet-y as you could want them. (Chefs know I hate beets and are always torturing me with them, but if you like the taste of dirt, these are as tastily done and prettified as any gussied-up dirty root vegetable can be.)
Seafood continues to improve in the neighborhoods, helped along by a more knowledgeable public that now demands it. That explains the existence on the menu of this seafood risotto:
…as well as a textbook-perfect Dover sole “Veronique” that is old school French at its finest:
Neither of these items dishes would ever have come close to a local’s restaurant menu a decade ago, now everyone sees them and dives in. (I’m told the Dover sole sells out quickly on the nights it is offered, and one bite of the thick, sweet fish and you’ll know why.) Someone on my Facebook page said snarkily (when looking at the sole pictured above), “1985 called, they want their plating back.” Yes it’s as old fashioned as it gets, but it’s also as tasty a fish as you’ll find this far from the ocean.
None of this is ground-breaking cooking; all of it is grounded in good ingredients, treated with respect and proper (which is to say French) technique.
We also enjoyed the house-made sausages immensely — sitting as they are on top of some nice, sweet-sour Lyonnaise potato salad — as well as the nutty golden trout amandine:
…lightly sautéed (not heavily coated and fried) and properly adorned with a nice, brown butter sauce.
Both the trout and the flat iron steak are about the best $22 entrees you can find off the Strip, and the $12 burger is quite a mouthful (for $12) as well.
On our two visits, things seemed to be running preternaturally smoothly for a brand new operation, which is, again, a testament to having grownup professionals in charge of things.
No doubt there are kinks to be worked out (the wine list is tough to read, both the sauce and maître d’hôtel butter for the steak were too cold, and the mason jar hot fudge sundae tastes better than it looks), but quibbles aside, this place hit the ground running and doesn’t look likely to stop.
One place you will want to stop and linger is the dessert menu. Tammy Alana’s creations are the best thing to hit the ‘burbs since free parking.
All of them are classics — tarte tatin, chocolate walnut gateau, milkshakes (with malt!), Grand Marnier soufflé, lemon tart (pictured above) — all of them are made in-house, and all of them taste like you’re in the hands of a master.
Which you are.
Just like I told you you would be.
ANDRE’S BISTRO & BAR
6115 S. Fort Apache Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89148
Why is Matthew Hurley smiling?
Because CUT Las Vegas celebrated its 9th birthday yesterday.
Why are we smiling these days?
Because we, like Matthew, are fromage-a-philes. Lovers of the fermented curd. Crazy for quark. Choosy about cheddar. Passionate for Parm. You get the idea.
Cheese carts are in short supply in Vegas these days. Cheese in general is not given its proper place at the table in all but a few places. Spanish cheeses are well-represented (but not displayed) at Jaleo, Bazaar Meat, and Julian Serrano, Morel’s does a nice job with its eclectic selection, and our big hitter French joints (Robuchon and Guy Savoy) are ripe with the stuff. But when’s the last time you were offered cheese in an Italian restaurant? Or saw any displayed?
Is it because Italy doesn’t make much cheese? Or isn’t proud of what its formaggio? Or perhaps Italians don’t care enough about their curds and whey?
However you slice it, Italian cheeses are the Rodney Dangerfield of ingredients in Las Vegas’s Italian risorante.
But what about American cheeses? Our artisanal cheese industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 30 years, and American cheeses are now some of the best in the world. Why don’t they get any love in Las Vegas?
Is it because Americans don’t eat much cheese?
That’s probably, partially true. We are only 19th in world cheese consumption, well behind such cheese consumers as Norway, Luxembourg and Iceland.
Or perhaps it’s because we’re ignorant about how to eat cheese — as most Amuricans still think of it as a gooey topping for pizza and burgers, or shredded into taco oblivion.
In case you haven’t heard, handmade real cheese, made with the purest, freshest milk is now being made by American fromageries from Vermont to California, Oregon to Georgia.
Many of these cheeses echo iconic European curds — Meadow Creek Grayson is trying very hard to be an Alsatian Munster; Cabot Clothbound Cheddar wishes it were a Neal’s Yard Montgomery — while others like Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue could only be made in the U.S. of A.
The fun part is tasting all of them and deciding for yourself. Europeans have the right ideas when it comes to cheese: either make a meal of it by itself (with some bread, fruit and/or a bottle of vino), or use it as the ultimate digestivo — the amino acids and enzymes in cheese making it quite useful to help you digest whatever came before it.
Great cheese is a fitting climax to any great meal in a restaurant that’s not a sushi bar. Sadly, the head-’em-up-and-move-’em-out mentality of most of our Strip restaurants does not allow for choosing and eating cheese in the leisurely way it should be enjoyed. Kudos to CUT (and Hurley) for bringing something new and fresh (in the form of something old and fermented) to one of the best steakhouses in the country.
What a fitting birthday present for CUT to give itself, and its customers.
The Palazzo Hotel and Casino
Below is the cheese menu at CUT with appropriate wine pairings. You’ll notice there’s nary a red wine in the bunch — the tannins in red wine always fight cheese, and increase the wine’s sourness. If you want to enjoy wine with cheese, drink a white, or something with a touch of sweetness in it. Port works beautifully. Cabernet sauvignon works not at all, no matter what the Bordelais say. If you’re buying, I’d pick the Beerenauslese; if I’m buying, that Taylor-Fladgate will do just fine.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Uplands Cheese Company – Dodgeville, Wisconsin
Rocket’s Robiola, Boxcarr Handmade Cheese – Cedar Grove, North Carolina
Appalachian, Meadow Creek Dairy – Galax, Virginia
Grayson, Meadow Creek Dairy – Galax, Virginia
Goat Gouda, Central Coast Creamery – Paso Robles, California
Wabash Cannonball, Capriole Farms – Greenville, Indiana
Humboldt Fog, Cypress Grove Chevre – Arcata, California
Freya’s, Briar Rose Farms – Dundee, Oregon
Bohemian Blue, Hidden Springs – Westby, Wisconsin
Lamb Chopper, Cypress Grove Chevre – Arcata, California
San Andrea’s, Bellwether Farms – Sonoma County, California
Peekville Tomme, May Fold Farms – Chatahooche Hills, Georgia
Artisanal Cheeses, Honey Comb, Toasted Nut Bread
Three 17 / Five 22
Elio Perrone “Sourgal” Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy 2014 14
Torbreck Muscat “The Bothie”, Barossa Valley 2009 14
Château Rieussec, Sauternes 2005 32
Taylor-Fladgate, 10 Year Tawny, Port 14
Grahams “Six Grapes”, Port NV 14
Foreau “Clos Naudin” Moelleux Reserve, Vouvray, France 2005 [750ml] 165
Weil, Riesling “Kiedrich Gräfenberg” Beerenauslese, Rheingau 2002 [375ml] 228
Jermann “Vino Dolce Della Casa”, Picolit, Collio, Friuli 2007 [375ml] 95
Valdespino “Cardenal” Palo Cortado, Jerez, Spain [375ml] 456
Domaine La Tour Vieille, Vin Doux Naturel, Banyuls, France 2007 [500ml] 68
D’Oliveiras Terrantez Reserva 1977, Madeira [750ml] 450
Dow’s, Port 1985 [750ml] 218
Taylor-Fladgate, 10 Year Tawny, Port [750ml] 72