JOEL ROBUCHON

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(Ed. note: In celebration of Nevada Day (and we suppose Halloween, although no one over the age of 12 should be celebrating Halloween), we at Being John Curtas thought an updated look at Nevada’s best restaurant was in order.)

Having a Joël Robuchon restaurant in your hotel is like having a Vermeer hanging in the lobby, or Yo-Yo Ma playing in the house band: most people will walk right by and not know what they’re missing. The cognoscenti will thank their lucky stars, while the rest of the world will just shrug. That’s the way it is with quintessence. Most people wouldn’t appreciate it if it bit them on the ass.

Imagine being so good at something that the only competition you have is with yourself. Every day the air you breathe is rarified; the tasks you perform, unparalleled in your industry, save for a handful of similarly gifted colleagues strung across the globe.

Then imagine that your toils take place within a soulless environment, populated by slack-jawed Philistines, sharp-eyed grifters and bulbous middle-managers. The town where you exist practically ignores you, and, but-for a handful of high rollers and black belt foodies, you are invisible. Nevertheless, you persevere in a corner of behemoth casino and perform at a level of craftsmanship almost unequaled…anywhere in the world.

Image(A little potato with my butter, s’il vous plait?)

Such is the role of Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas – on any given night one of the best restaurants in the known universe; a restaurant that exists solely to provide a certain level of luxury for MGM patrons and destination dining for those gastronomes with the perseverance (and the coin) to find it.

Robuchon the man (who died in 2018) and the restaurant represent a level of high-toned, fanatical perfectionism that is impressive even by French haute cuisine standards. Nowhere but here will you find a bread cart so elaborate, the amuse bouche so precise, butter so luscious, or proteins so refined.

The good news is all of these can now be enjoyed during something less than a culinary forced march. There are a variety of 4-5 course menus offered that run well below the $455 degustation, and allow garden-variety gourmets to enjoy this cooking in a two hour time frame, and at a $150-$250/pp price range. Still steep it may be, but the climb isn’t so daunting, and the payoff more than worth it.

Image(Campbell’s this is not)

What you get will be seasonal, extracted and intense. Chilled corn soup (above) makes you wonder how corn could be so silky.

Image(Superveggies!)

Morels and asparagus atop an onion jam tart (above) ask the question: how can vegetables taste so much of themselves and yet even more?

Foie gras in whatever guise will make your knees weak, and however they’re stuffing noodles (with truffled langoustines, perhaps?) will redefine your idea of how delicate a pasta can be.

Image(Shiso beautiful)

They have fabulous beef here (and, of course beautiful duck), but seafood is the thing to get, whether it’s scallops in green curry, a flan of sea urchin, or John Dory under a shield of tempura shiso leaf (above).

Another hit involves placing a soft-boiled egg in a light Comte cheese sauce topped with an Iberico ham crisp — and idea so layered with umami it ought to be illegal.

Image(No foie in New York? No problem.)

Commanding this brigade de cuisine is Christophe De Lillis, who, despite his youth, brings an artisans hand and a general’s authority to the proceedings. At this level of cooking, mistakes are something other kitchens make. You won’t be able to resist dessert or the petit fours cart so don’t even try. I give Robuchon’s cheese cart the nod over Guy Savoy’s by the width of a ribbon of Tête de Moine.

As for wine, you oenophiles will be happy to know the Great Recession did for this wine list what my last divorce did for my sex life: improved it immeasurably with lots more variety at different price points.

Get this: Four-course menu; five-course menu; degustation menu (for tri-athletes with time on their hands); chilled corn cream soup; asparagus velouté; morel-asparagus tart; duo of beetroot and apple; Robuchon potatoes; foie gras; boiled egg with Comte sauce; sea-urchin flan; truffled langoustine ravioli; frog leg fritter; scallops in green curry; John Dory with tempura shiso leaf; caramelized black cod with pepper; spit-roasted duck; grilled wagyu rib eye cap; all the bread; all desserts; petit fours; mignardises.

JOËL ROBUCHON

In the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

702.891.7925

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Introduction – EATING LAS VEGAS 2020

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(Ed. note: As we are up to our armpits in writing the 2020 Edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants, our staff thought a little teaser from this year’s edition might be in order. If all goes according to plan (and it never does), this year’s book should be published some time in November.)

What does “essential” mean? Does it mean “the best”? Yes, but it signifies something more. The best will always be essential, but what is essential may not always be the best. When it comes to restaurants — more specifically the restaurants of Las Vegas — “essential” stands for those places that stand out and are setting a standard. The first places I would take a visiting gourmet, or a fellow food writer. They are the ones my mind always wanders to when I’m hungry, and the ones doing the most intriguing work in the kitchen. They tend to be passion projects, not money projects — eateries reflecting the particular sensibilities of their chefs and owners, not the calculations of a casino corporation. When I list a restaurant as “essential” it means I would take you there, my friend, if you dialed me up and asked, “John, what’s a place I have to go to in Vegas right now?”

This is the eighth edition of Eating Las Vegas; I’m not sure there will be a ninth. For ten years this little guidebook has consumed my summers, expanded my waistline, lightened my wallet, and kept me patrolling the streets and hotels of Sin City for the best places to eat. I like to brag that no one has ever “eaten Las Vegas” as much as I have, because it’s true, and because we look for strokes wherever we can find them, even when they’re self-applied.

In the beginning all I wanted was to write a book called “The Restaurants of Las Vegas.” My fantasy (way back in 1995 when my food writing career began in earnest), was to publish a guide similar to the ones I saw coming out of New York: gourmet tours-de-force by writers like Bryan Miller and Seymour Britchky which explored the culinary canyons of the Big Apple. If you will allow me another self-congratulatory morsel, I think I recognized before anyone that Las Vegas was destined to become a world-class restaurant city, and it would need someone to chart its rise to preeminence, and lead a certain type of discriminating consumer through the green felt jungle to oases of dining pleasure worth their time and money.

By the time the first edition of this book was launched in the fall of 2010, fifteen years of hard labor had been put into covering the Vegas restaurant scene. Now, a decade later, more calories have been consumed than I can count, and the landscape has changed so much that those days feel like a gauzy dream. The early editions featured only a handful of local restaurants as “essential” — this year, almost half the book celebrates off-Strip eateries.

Image(Is Hatsumi essential? You’ll have to buy a book to find out.)

Local dining options have expanded (and improved) so much recently that the world has taken notice of what we Las Vegans have known since the early aughts: Vegas hotels contain a wealth of kitchen talent  — young folks itching to strut their stuff for residents, not just fill the bellies of distracted tourists. True, the Great Recession hastened this migration for many chefs. But as with wine, stressed vines make for better juice, and the rigors of that depression (yes, in Vegas it was a depression) gave bloom to vibrant neighborhood dining cultures, especially downtown and in Chinatown, where cash-strapped Gen Xrs and Millennials demanded a better supply of quality grub at affordable prices.

In some ways, it seems like 2020 should be the natural end to this obsession of mine. Where once I was the only voice in the wilderness, beseeching people to patronize better restaurants, now the internet is crawling with opinions on where you should eat. I’ve become a dinosaur and I know it. Never again will Las Vegas see someone as foolish as me — someone compelled to eat everywhere and try everything. Someone who spends a mountain of their own cash to promote restaurants he thinks are worthy. A person who sacrificed success in one career (law) for notoriety in a much less lucrative one. In essence, what I’ve always been is an unpaid press agent for the best restaurants of Las Vegas.

But don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve been paid, and I’ve been paid well — in great food, great friends and wonderful experiences, stretching back for half of my adult life. And you paid for this book, and for that, and for all of this, I am grateful.

The List – Summer 2019 Edition

 

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We are elbow-deep in writing the 2020 edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants, so postings on this site have been slim this month.

While we’re in the process of gleaning and vetting and grooming and culling the herd of worthy restaurants down to manageable size (as well as re-writing the intro and other chapters), we thought we’d give you a little sumpin sumpin to chew on….

…and by “chew on” we mean a list of all the worthy places we’ve dined over the past several months, as well as a few unworthy ones.

As always, if you find anyone who eats out in Las Vegas even half as much as we do, lunch is on me.

As usual, all restaurants come highly recommended unless otherwise noted:

Image(Trés cazuelas at Trés Cazuelas)

Trés Cazuelas – Fab food in a funny location. And when I say “fab” I mean our most interesting, pan-Latin cooking, in a tiny, 40 seat space that is quite inviting once you get inside. Ignore the shitty building and dive in. You can thank me later.

Le Cirque – Ivo Angelov has left after 11 years of handling the front of the house like a maestro. As great as he was, no doubt the old pros running things will keep it humming along smoothly. Alan Mardonovich’s food fits the setting like pearls in a gorgeous oyster.

Joël Robuchon Christophe de Lillis keeps this place at or near the top of America’s (and the world’s) best restaurants.

Esther’s Kitchen that place is so crowded no one goes there anymore.

Flock & Fowl I don’t know what’s going on here, but two mediocre meals in a row tell me this place has lost its mojo.

Image(This soup won’t leave you wonton)

Nuro Bistro – our best Hainanese chicken. Don’t argue with me about this. Killer wonton soups, too.

Bazaar Meat – 1-2 with CUT for Vegas’s best steaks.

Jammyland – come for the drinks; stay for the Jamaican meat pies.

Image(Two terrific Thais, less than a half-mile apart)

Lamaii – Las Vegas is Thai’ing one on these days, haven’t you heard?

Weera Thai Kitchen – already a tough ticket at peak hours. Worth the wait.

Cipriani – my Friday fave.

Vesta Coffee – our hangout.

PublicUs – our hangout with good pastries and great bread.

Water Grill a chain seafood place for those who miss McCormick & Schmicks.

Image(Duck panang curry at Lotus)

Lotus of Siam – our greatest Asian has gotten even better.

88 Noodle Papa – brand new, and a solid second place in the Hainanese chicken sweepstakes.

Ocha Thai – always solid, if unspectacular, Thai favorites.

Orchid Vietnamese by-the-numbers Vietnamese.

Good Pie – others get more pub, GP makes the best pizza pies.

Pop-Up Pizza – another unsung hero in our pizza revolution. The stromboli is out of this world.

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Sin Fronteras Tacos – way up on Tenaya. Frightfully good Mexican food, not out of a can, made with real passion. Quite a find.

District One – best pho broth in Vegas….says noted pho expert The Food Gal® (honest to Christ, she’s tried them all).

Jaleo – we love the D.C. original, but the paella here is nonpareil.

Maker’s & Finders – the charms of this place never cease to escape me.

DE Thai Kitchen the best Jerry, the BEST! (Thai street food)

Santos Tacos – the best tacos within a 5 mile radius of downtown. Fight me.

Image(We’re secretly in love with Mio-san. Please don’t tell The Food Gal®)

Raku Sweets – Mio-san (above) makes our best sweets, and the sweetest weekend lunch in town.

Hatsumi – get skewered and sake’d in downtown’s hottest new joint.

Mabel’s BBQ – our best barbecue. Something else you shouldn’t argue with me about.

The Kitchen at Atomic – casual vibe, serious food. Not sure if downtown realizes exactly how good it is.

Image(Righto, Guv-nah!)

The Smashed Pig I’m not going out on a limb and recommend the whole menu, but the fish and chips (above) are worthy. A pleasant surprise on East Fremont Street when I was famished one weekday.

Gauchos Sacred Flavors – This place will be a lot nicer when it’s not 105 degrees outside (the only place to sit).

Pamplona – 5 years ago I would’ve been at Pamplona every week. Now, there’s too many good restaurants to choose from. #firstworldproblems

Locale – been once, liked it. Too fucking far to rush back….especially with downtown and Chinatown practically in my backyard. 

La Strega – been twice, want to like it more than I did. Cookie-cutter Italian menus just don’t tingle my nethers anymore. That said, the ingredients are top-drawer, the cooking is precise and the wine list is great.

Daigu Rice Noodle another in a tsunami of Asian chains (Korean, mainly) threatening to swamp Chinatown. This one advertises for you to buy your own Daigu Rice Noodle franchise….right on the menu! The food isn’t worth investing in.

Image(José Andrés would be proud)

Valencian Gold – $10 bowls of paella never tasted so good. Neither did patatas con bravas (above).

Vetri – the polar opposite of cookie-cutter Italian. Not for everyone, but the food is as awesome as the view.

The Goodwich – I have dreams about the Reuben-ish and The Patty.

Saga Pastry + Sandwich – Gert’s sandwiches and pastries could make a new Nordic lover out of me.

Image(James Trees puts the putta in the puttanesca)

Ada’s – I like Ada, but I like her big sister Esther better.

Rooster Boy Cafe – Las Vegas’s best breakfast.

Serrano’s Mexican Food – a hole-in-the-wall worth seeking out.

Old Soul – Outstanding food in a less-than-outstanding location. If it makes it, it’ll be a miracle, but I’m rooting for the miracle.

Café Breizh – our best French pastries. I’m glad they’re so far from my house.

The Black Sheep – fantastic fusion food. Jamie Tran is a treasure.

Image(In heaven, all cookies are warm and chocolate chip)

Spago – our best old reliable. The people-watching isn’t as good as it was at the Forum Shops (how could it be?), but the place feels cozier and the food never misses a beat. And the chocolate chip cookies (above) might be the best on the planet.

New York Bagel and Bakery the best bagels in town. I’m tired of telling you this. Go see for yourself. Loser.

CUT – a meat lover’s fantasy come true. Not sure any steakhouse in America has a better selection of top grade beef.

China Mama – soup dumplings, crispy shrimp, cumin lamb and pepper beef…what more does a man need?

Not bad for one summer, considering we took two week’s vacation and visited a number of them more than once.

With a little luck, and a lot of hard work at Huntington Press, the 2020 edition of ELV should be released in November….and boy will there be some surprises…

Image(Chilaquiles at Rooster Boy Cafe)