I’m not good at obituaries. Never really written one. Didn’t even know Steven A. Shaw that well. But his premature death yesterday (of a heart attack while still in his 40s) calls for some recognition of one of the original internet “foodies,” a James Beard Award winning author, and one hell of a dining companion.
Archive for the ‘Critics’
If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.
Yep, food fans, it’s true. After a year of teeth-gnashing, conference calls and caterwauling, Anthony Curtis, Al Mancini and ELV issued a joint press release yesterday announcing that EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants would be sold to Yelp in order to facilitate the publishing of a new 2015 edition and expand the brand.
ELV note: This article is from the current edition of John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet and originally appeared on Esquire.com. We re-publish it here on the slim chance that a few of our loyal readers do not already subscribe to Mariani’s essential Web publication. Read away in either format and prepare to get hungry.
It’s been a bad month for bad pizza. First, Sbarro announced the closing of 155 of its 400 U.S. stores, then declared bankruptcy. Again. Then, in one of the few conservative judicial decisions I actually applaud, Justice Antonin Scalia, born in Trenton, NJ, declared that Chicago-style deep-dish pizza “shouldn’t be called pizza. It’s very tasty, but it’s not pizza.”
Dear Eating Las Vegas,
You recently wrote a caption on a photo you posted on Facebook, “I think I could eat ‘modern Japanese’ food every day of my life and not get bored.”
It made me wonder how you, as a food critic who’s refined his palate over the course of many years, came to appreciate a cuisine like this which, admittedly, is not a commonplace offering in most of America?
At what point does taste get refined to appreciate the subtleties of a cuisine like Modern Japanese, or even to start exploring? Any art form (film, music, art, etc.) has levels of refinement, as the curious audience member ventures off to more significant, and more difficult to interpret, levels of appreciation. How does it happen with food?
The best way we can answer the question(s) is to give you a brief tour of what ELV calls: The Evolution of a Critic.
Our good friend, author, food writer, Esquire magazine food critic and noted chronicler of the history of American food and drink, John Mariani says there are 3 kinds of food critics: “The slobs, the snobs and the oh goodie goodies.”
So we’re at a restaurant for lunch yesterday.
It wasn’t a location of our choosing, but at the behest of a regular lunchtime companion.
The name of the place isn’t important, but let’s just say we spent plenty of time and typing last year telling people how mediocre (or worse) it is.
We did not, however, ever call it “The Worst Restaurant In Town.” (The importance of this will be made clear below.)
Ah, the dulcet tones, the violin solo, the sweet as hell music video of some Utopian jazz club. I was very excited to see the new joint in the MGM (taking over the Nob Hill spot) is named after my favorite song from one of my favorite bands, Dave Matthews Band (I call them DMB). ”Crush” is a totally great song with good music in it, but will this tapas/wine bar be worth the square footage?
It’s a venture of Michael and Jenna Morton (of La Cave, La Comida, and the Morton Steakhouse Group [but only via familiar relation, not business]), but an interesting one. The space itself is unusually cozy. I was thinking it would be all bistro seats and techno music. Yes friends, I am glad to tell you there is a semi-casual restaurant that isn’t pumping out Teen Disney or geriatric-core rock, but rather simple and soft jazz piano covers.
The interior here is cool, but cool in that way where you make a normal space and put a ton of vintage laboratory equipment in it to make it “hip”. Like all darkened tapas/wine bars, it has already started to attract every lady over 30, probably by way of some kind of pheromone or emitting an extremely low frequency.
The menu, in a very uncharacteristic move for such concepts, is actually NOT a giant unfocused mess! Twenty-three items are tapas (seven of which are pizzas, just thin enough to skirt the entree category), eight are “full-size” dishes. More on the suspicious quotations around that term later in the article.
Some items, like the hamachi or the kale salad, are a bit phoned-in or could have benefited from some simple tweaks or additions. These sour notes only punctuate an otherwise very unique menu. The executive chef, William DeMarco, has taken the next logical step from his La Cave style with pizzas that leave his own flat breads in the dust. The Thai coconut curry shrimp pizza, with asparagus and smoked bacon, is complexly spiced and surprisingly creative.
Despite what the marketers and free magazines are telling you, this is a very slack time in the Las Vegas restaurant world.
Until the SLS Hotel opens later in the year, or someone decides to open something other than a taco stand or pizza restaurant downtown, there is precious little ground to cover that we haven’t written about extensively over the past six years — to say nothing of what we’ve done over the past nineteen.
Accordingly, we’ll be posting a weekly article (usually around mid-week) on this site about one of our recent meals, but we’ll leave the fawning, fatuous coverage of Bobby Flay’s upcoming burger joint, and other sundry non-events to those who are trying to sell advertising.
As our loyal readers know, the only thing ELV is selling is your guide to better taste.
Looking for a last minute X-mas gift for the foodie in your life?
It’s been fourteen years since Mariani first published this seminal work, and no one can doubt there’s been a sea change in the way the world looks at food. Mariani puts it all in perspective with expanded entries on everything from the DIY movement to “molecular cuisine” – which Mariani accurately traces back to an Italian nut job named Filippo Marinetti: a cookbook author, poet and political rabble rouser who advocated eating things like pineapple and sardines while inhaling spritzes of cologne and gazing upon sculpted food to the noise of airplane engines….in 1932! Take that Grant Achatz!
The book is chock full of gems like that, and you’ll learn more about food and food history (and mind-blowing trivia*) in an hour of gazing at its pages than you will in a year of reading some blowhard food blog.
Despite what many think, the pleasures of flipping through pages as interesting as this will never go out of style.
The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink should be an essential part of every foodie’s library. For food professionals it is mandatory; for the casual food or restaurant reader, it will make you smarter and increase your food IQ, in all sorts of delicious ways.
* Who knew that a freed slave named Emmanuel “Manna” Bernoon opened an oyster and ale house in Providence, Rhode Island in 1736….90 years before the Union Oyster House opened its doors in Boston?
In Italy, the whole country is a theatre and the worst actors are on the stage. – George Bernard Shaw
Dario Cecchini and Faith Willinger are two Italians of a different stripe.
Cecchini — the Master Butcher/Intellectual of Panzano – has been called the world’s best butcher. (“To beef, or not to beef?” is his rallying cry.*)
Willinger is a born-again Italian who has spent 35 years exploring Italy, from its Alps to Sicily, searching for the best food this giant, slurp-worthy isthmus of eatability has to offer. (“Good wine and bad wine have the same amount of calories.” is one of her sayings.)
And let me tell you my friends, you can do a lot worse in an evening than sharing a ginormous bistecca a la Fiorentina:
…with these two mavens of meat at a ristorante. In this case that ristorante was CUT last Thursday night — where they both were on hand to kick off the Venetian/Palazzo’s Italian Food Festival.
Cecchini was his usual ebullient self:
….in fact he (along with some ginger friend of his in orange clogs):
….practically defines the term.
And we bonded with Faith (a lady whose guidebooks we would never think of going to Italy without) like we were old friends in a matter of minutes:
Yeah, Italians, born-again or otherwise, are like that.
Just about the friendliest people on earth.
* To beef! …and then not to beef… is his answer.