Epiphany (noun): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
Ask any food writer how they became interested in food and they will point to an epiphany, or perhaps several, that spurred them into a life of obsessions. Here are a few of mine:
People are always saying Antoine’s (est. 1840) isn’t as good as it used to be…which is something people have been saying since the Civil War. Be that as it may, this New Orleans institution gave a 12-year old his first taste of extraordinary cooking when it placed a bubbling, sterling silver oval, about the size of a large candy dish, in front of him in the mid-60’s. Filled with lump crab meat it was, spitting and gurgling sherry-tinged butter from its elegant confines. “Why don’t you cook like this?” the 12-year old asked his mother. They all had a giggle, the butter gurgled, and the boy gulped it all down. You never forget your first time, he has often thought to himself in the ensuing half-century — with booze, drugs, sex, or crab meat bubbling in sherry butter.
Before there was Antoine’s, though, there was fresh-baked bread and apple butter at Grandma’s knee. In Wexford, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh, where yours truly first entered this mortal coil, he often visited his grandparents as a mere tyke. Sometime, as a little shaver (probably not more than 6), he recalls standing beside a huge white stove, his grandma (a big woman) standing there with her giant arms, slicing him a piece of bread right out of the oven, and slathering it with her homemade apple butter. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, bread was something with the texture of cotton balls you got out of a plastic bag. My grandma (Hazel Brennan Schroader) taught me that it wasn’t, but it would be another 20 years before I would taste bread as fresh or as good, and back then (the 70s) I had to make it myself.
“This is the best tasting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth,” is what the young pre-teen thought when he first encountered barbecuesauce — that heady mix of ketchup, brown sugar and assorted spices which is as common as ketchup now, but was a rare and exotic thing back in the day, outside of the barbecue belt. To this day, after eating ‘cue across the country, and making everything from brisket to hot vinegar sauce from scratch, we still hold a special place in our heart for the standard, Kraft-level, sugary stuff. P.S. Stubb’s make a fine one.
One wouldn’t think a pumpernickel rollcould make such an impression, but the one’s at Ronnie’s in Orlando, Florida set a standard that is yet to be equaled. About the size of a small woman’s fist, these dark-brown, double-folded beauties were filled with finely-chopped, melted onions, and possessed that malty, dark-roasted tang most brown breads can only dream about. And dream about it to this day I do– with smiling thoughts of eating them at home or in this booth (below), which my dad commandeered for our family of six almost every Sunday.
(Where we ate in 1958)
Her name was Syndie and she was small, cute, fair-skinned and raven-haired and I was totally in love with her for about twelve minutes in 1968. On one of our first dates we went to Arby’s. Yeah, that Arby’s — the one with sandwiches made with a compacted brown substance having more in common with cardboard than actual meat. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the case at the early Arby’s were filled with actual roast beef, from which they would finely slice and pile high the ribbons of rib eye that would make this place a success. Like the original McDonald’s, or the smashed, caramelized steakburger of Steak n’ Shake fame (two other epiphanies), the original Arby’s sandwich was a revelation in tasty fast food. Alas, they all have as much in common with the edibles that put them on the map as a cafeteria has with haute cuisine.
My first experience with oysters was with a college buddy named Bill Bardoe at a place called Lee ‘n Rick’s Oyster Bar in Florida, if memory serves. Don’t know what happened to ole Bill, but still thank him for turning me on to these beauteous briny bivalves back in my college days. Try them steamed, Bill advised, and he had a point. To this day, it is how we prefer oversized Gulf oysters. Oyster epiphany #2 happened in Brussels two decades later — where the small, flat, coppery Belons (above) were so fresh they contracted when hit with a drop of lemon juice. These have been my holy grail of ‘ersters ever since. Only in Paris have I come close to re-creating such perfection.
Nantucket seafood is its own thing: straight from the boats onto your plate, at a phalanx of restaurants with the coin and clientele to treat it right. Nowhere in the United States have I found the bounty of the sea as succulent…although on a good day the Pacific Northwest comes close.
Carnegie Deli corned beef — piled higher than a B-52, served by mock surly waiters — taught me more about New York eating than the Union Square Cafe and Lutèce ever did.
Unlike most oenophiles, I don’t consider great wine with the reverence usually afforded it. Having had them all — from the classified growths to the Grand Crus to vintage champagne to the rarest of Rieslings — I have always kept it in perspective. Wine is a fermented grape beverage designed to be enjoyed with food, not fetishized like fine art. Screaming Eagle and DRC don’t taste that much different from bottles costing hundreds (thousands?) less. That said, a private Grand Cru tasting of Chablis in NYC, back in 1988 with winemakers named Dauvissat, Raveneau and the like was quite the palate opener, spoiling me for mediocre chardonnay forever.
(With LT in Gay Paree)
For the epiphany of all French epiphanies, I heartily recommend spending two weeks in France with Laurent Tourondelsometime…eating in nothing but Michelin 2 and 3-star restaurants (see above). Gained 11 pounds. Was totally worth it.
Christmas at Duran’s Pharmacy has nothing to do with the holiday season, and everything to do with red and green New Mexican chile (above). New Mexican food is its own thing: an amalgam of Native American, Mexican, and Southwestern cooking, and the lady Latino cooks at Duran’s do it as well as anyone. Sitting at the counter, and watching them work, is almost as lip-smacking as polishing off their definitive carne adovada.
Our days of enduring marathon tasting menus are deader than Craig Claiborne. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak for things like a four hour dinner at Le Grand Vefour. When we go haute cuisine hunting in France nowadays, it’s more likely to be at lunch than dinner. But way back when we were up for it all…including three-hour lunches followed by feasts that would make Lucullus blush. I’ve been back to LGV several times since that first meal in the early 90s, but it has stayed with me, right down to the perfume of truffles wafting from within a Bresse chicken, and slab of goose foie gras so silky it was like an Hermés scarf for your tongue.
(Canocce – Mantis shrimp)
Our first sojourn to the original Harry’s Bar in Venice was love at first taste — that taste being of Venetian seafood that seems to attain an unworldly sparkle from the Venetian Lagoon and surrounding waters. Croatians may carp, Norwegians say nay, and the Japanese take umbrage, but the simple creatures of Venice are, to my mind, the greatest seafood on earth, perhaps because of the elegant, elemental way they are prepared.
Maison Troisgros is the finest French restaurant I’ve been to outside of Paris. So good I once accomplished a lunch-dinner-lunch hat trick there in a single 24 hours. Haven’t been back since, to my everlasting regret.
That croissant outside of the Gare du Nord train station in Paris — 7:00 am on a freezing day and starving (after a night of carousing at Brasserie Flo), waiting for an early train back to Germany, I spied a lightedboulangerie a block from the station, just opened it seemed, with a few folks lingering outside in the morning chill. With time to kill I wandered over, drawn by the smell of fresh baked goods and patrons jockeying inside to get pastries directly from the oven. When it came my turn it was an easy order: “Un croissant et un pan au chocolat, s’il vous plait.” (Pretty much the limits of my French at the time; pretty much the limits of my French to this day.) The pastries were still warm when I took them out of the bag on the sidewalk. Their crusts were as thin as tissue paper, as brittle as spun sugar, with a bronzed sheen of uniform perfection. They shattered with the lightest of bites, scattering shards of butter-soaked mille-feuille all over my jacket and pants. I can still see the little spots of butter soaking into my clothes. Never had a croissant since that was as satisfying.
The French practically invented the word epiphany (actually, the Greeks did), so it’s no surprise many of mine have come at their hands, including:
L’Auberge de L’Ill’s carte des fromages. Getting engaged to The Food Gal at this venerable Alsatian 3-star was nothing compared to jaw-dropping, heart-fluttering effect of first seeing this multi-level cheese cart in 2005. Did I try one of everything? You know I did.
Guy Savoy’s wild turbot, Lièvre à La Royale, and buckshot in the grouse. “I told you eet was freshly keeled thees morning, ” he beamed as we showed him the BB.
Daniel Boulud’s masculine/feminine tasting menus, along with roasting a woodcock’s brain over a candle at Daniel. Yes, you hold it by the beak until the thimble-sized cerebrum starts bubbling. (Sorry, no pics, this happened during the Stone Ages – 2002.)
Lexington, Texas has one of the best briskets in Texas at Louie Mueller’s; Lexington, North Carolina is chopped pork heaven with a host of local joints specializing in a simple sandwich. The whole hog rules in Ayden, N.C.. Until you make a pilgrimage to all of them (or at least one of them), don’t talk to me about your weak-ass, set it-and-forget it ‘cue.
And then there were the Alpine cheeses of the Savoie at La Bouitte — Comte, Gruyère, Beaufort — whose nutty, creamy, concentrated fruitiness can only be fully appreciated when you’re gazing upon the pastures where the cows once grazed while you’re eating them with a glass of vin jaune. Prosciutto slices at Sabatini in Rome, where the slicing of each piece is treated with the delicacy of a straight-razor shave. Tortellini en brodo in Bologna, a dish so deceptively basic it almost comes as a shock when its soul-satisfying qualities threaten to overwhelm your senses. And finally, Cecilia Chiang’s minced squab lettuce cups, at the Mandarin in San Francisco, when you were but a neophyte feinschmecker, but one smart enough to know you were at the epicenter of a sea change in thinking about Chinese food.
A lunch with John Mariani at the Ritz in Paris — the ideal gastronomic experience, where it was all about the conversation, the company, and the cuisine, with nary a false note on any front.
Epiphanies come fewer and farther between as you age. As with sex, the ground doesn’t shake so often. But as with all life-affirming events, they stay with you.
I suppose, that’s what these are all about: events seared in your memory as something so ethereal you can never forget them. An epiphany is always there, pulling, nagging, worming, tickling our thoughts with the sublime as we struggle with the corporeal and prosaic in our daily lives. Epiphanies give comfort that way — comfort and private little joys — soothing our souls while giving us the inspiration to carry on.
(Keep drinking and carry on)
Fish Fight: MILOS v. COSTA di MARE
Las Vegas is to fish what tumbleweeds are to Tahiti.
Seafood and the High Mojave go together like Hawaii and gambling. (If you don’t believe me, just look out the window.)
There’s an old rule of thumb that goes: for every ten miles you move inland, the fish gets ten percent worse.
By this calculation, seafood in Las Vegas should be 150% worse than it is on the coast.
Of course this isn’t true. The miracles of refrigeration and air freight have made fresh (or reasonably fresh) fish a reality no matter how far you are from an ocean. All you need is an airport, and presto change-o! – you can charge prices for a wild-caught turbot that would make a potentate’s knees buckle.
That said, seafood in Las Vegas is still something of a crap-shoot. Much of it is farmed, and too much of it is the same old same old salmon and sea bass in restaurant after restaurant.
But we are blessed with two, world-class, seafood emporiums: Estiatorio Milos and Costa di Mare. Each of them is special in its own way, and together they put to shame the fish being flung at all but our toniest steakhouses and sushi parlors.
(Something fishy is going on…will salmon help me order?)
So, as a public service, we at #BeingJohnCurtas thought we’d outline their similarities and differences, to better help you decide where to drop a boat payment the next time you want to swim in the deep end of our best seafood restaurants.
As usual, only the most skillful, precise, and scientific measurements were used to chart the distinctions between the two. And by “skillful and scientific” we mean our own, historically-proven, unchallenged omniscience and infallibility.
(Feng shui in spades)
Milos’s reboot in the Venetian is soothing, dramatic, reminiscent of the Greek Islands, and appetite-inducing. It’s feng shui is so good there should be a picture of it beside every definition of feng shui. Plus, the fish display alone (see above) is worth major design props.
Advantage, Milos, for feng shui and all that tasty fish.
(A great place to set the hook, just for the halibut, or on porpoise, if you’re fishing for a gill-friend)
Costa di Mare’s re-launch in the Wynn reopens a space that is by turns eye-popping, comforting, and mouth-watering. As gorgeous as the new room is at Milos, it’s hard to beat the bi-level views and poolside drama of CdM.
Advantage CdM for outdoor dining, romantic lighting and jaw-dropping design.
In other words: Draw
At Milos, they treat me like a big shot who owns the place; at CdM, they treat me like the King of Siam. I’ve been comped at both and I’ve paid through the nose at both.
(Oh for cod’s hake, we’ve haddock enough! Stop floundering and choose!)
Intensive care service is the rule at both. Milos is still in its shakedown cruise, so things are a bit wobbly — well-meaning, but not as polished as they will be.
CdM (above) is operating like it never closed in the first place. Both plaices are so solicitous it feels like someone would cut your food, sand dab the corners of your mouth and troll you to your car if you asked them too.
You expect nothing less than consummate professionalism from both operations since two of the smoothest cats in the business (Ivo Angelov and Fabian Forlini) hold down the front of the house — at CdM and Milos, respectively.
You also can’t fault Milos for having to adjust to a huge new space with a brand-new crew, but at this juncture, we’ll award…
Slight advantage, Costa di Mare
Bring $$$. Lots of it. Seafood this spectacular has gone through quite a journey to get to your table within a single day. What you’re eating Thursday night was probably flopping around on a boat Wednesday morning….6,000 miles away.
A small rouget or racasse (for two) will easily run $150 at either place. A five pound St. Pietro (John Dory) set us back $275 at CdM, but easily fed five. Plan on at least $125/pp minimum. These beautiful scallops at Milos, are $17 apiece, and you’ll want one each…or two.
(So good we can’t clam up about them)
Ordinarily, we’d call the price war a draw, but Milos scores an early knockdown with something in its arsenal CdM can’t defend against or counter…..
(We’re in lavraki)
Milos serves lunch. A great one. And quite a bargain to boot. Its special $36, 3-course dejeuner is justifiably famous as the best lunch deal on the Strip. Yes, there are surcharges on some dishes, but stick with the basic menu (like the gorgeous lavraki above) and you’ll eat a very healthy, very Greek midday repast and feel a little like a thief while you’re doing it.
Costa di Mare: no lunch. This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions, and thus…
For the time being, CdM is only open Thurs.-Sun nights. Milos is open 7 days for lunch and dinner.
We’d like to give a point to Milos for being so accessible, but the shutdown of restaurants put them in a no-win situation, so as they re-open, it wouldn’t be fair to judge them harshly on what they have to do to stay afloat. Still…
Costa di Mare gets its superior basket of baked goodies from Wynn’s in-house shop. Milos serves its single, toasted, thick nutty slices of sourdough pain de campagne with some of the best olive oil in the biz.
Both are minimalists. Both let the ingredients sing for themselves. Each does the best langoustines and crab dishes Las Vegas has ever seen. Even with Milos offering the nonpareil “Milos Special”:
…we ‘re calling it a….
This one is relatively easy: there is no competition with Milos when it comes to a daily variety of fresh fish and seafood. CdM has a beautiful, impeccably chosen but smaller selection.
(Swanky and sexy)
The new bar at Milos is huge and a focal point. It is destined to be a hangout in its own right. CdM bar is smaller and more of a way station for those waiting for a table. Both have impressive collections of pre- and post-prandial booze. I’m not the guy to judge the mixology, but I’ve never had anything less than a stellar cocktail at either.
(Uni pasta a la LoRusso)
No contest. Costa di Mare has some of the best Italian pastas you will find in Las Vegas….or anywhere in America for that matter.
Advantage, Costa di Mare
Milos doesn’t know how to improperly cook a piece of seafood. But CdM has serious kitchen talent at the stoves in the form(s) of Mark LoRusso and Daniela Santos.
Milos has tried and true formula which works across the world; CdM is more inventive with its menu and cooking, and its pastas alone are worth a special trip.
Advantage, Costa di Mare
(We heart Daniela)
Once again, you can’t fault Milos for its tried and true Greek sweets, but CdM has a first-class pastry chef (Santos) in the kitchen.
(Berry, berry good)
Advantage, Costa di Mare
Greek wines go with seafood like mint leaves and lamb. You may not be able to pronounce them (see below), but that’s why they’re so reasonable.
The list at CdM is objectively better, deeper, and broader in its selections. It is also priced for the big boys, not mere mortals. Trying to find a wine bargain at the Wynn is more useless than looking for a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah, BUT Covid has caused a huge surplus of un-drunk bottles up and down the Strip, so CdM now offers some discounted “Cellar Selections” with softer markups.
Selection – Advantage, Costa di Mare
Price – Advantage, Milos
Wine Service – Advantage, CdM
Country of Origin – Advantage, Milos (You may disagree, but Greeks were washing down their Χταπόδι (Chtapódi/octopi) with Asyrtiko when the Romans were suckling on the teats of wolves.
Therefore, Draw…unless you’re fishing for big game, in which case you’ll love the Costa di Mare list. If you’re looking for a good bottle at a less predatory-shark price, it’s Milos.
Wine – Draw
Dessert – Costa
Food/Cooking/Menu – Costa
Pasta – Costa
Bar – Draw
Bread – Draw
Appetizers – Draw
Seafood Selection – Milos
Hours – Milos
Lunch – Milos
Price – Draw
Service – Slight advantage to Costa because of Milo’s new digs
Decor – Draw
If you’re scoring, you’ll see a 1 up victory for Costa di Mare by the thickness of a soft shell crab shell:
However, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that what looks at first like two similar restaurants are, in fact, two entirely different experiences.
Costa di Mare is a big deal meal Vegas restaurant with all the luxury trappings, right down to the exotic amaros, ports, and digestivos.
Milos is very much like its chef/owner Costas Spiliadis: welcoming, informal, but very serious about its Greek food.
Wherever you find a Milos (from Montreal to Miami) it is always one of the best seafood restaurants in town. It is, by far, the best Greek restaurant within ten miles of the Las Vegas Strip, and you’ll have trouble finding a better one anywhere west of the Mississippi.
Costa di Mare is Italian in focus, a lot more chef-y, and sui generis. If I wanted to impress a date, I’d take her to the Wynn; if I want simple, beautiful fish that tastes like it jumped out of the sea and directly onto my plate, I’ll go to Milos.
No matter where you end up, you won’t regret it, because, and you can sea, both are fin-damentally….wait for it….wait for it… soleful:
(Face it, you’re bass-ically hooked on these sofishticated puns)
COSTA di MARE
Wynn Hotel and Casino
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Venetian Hotel and Casino
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
The Final List – 2020
A man cannot be too serious about what he eats. – Confucius
I can’t stand people who aren’t serious about their meals. – Oscar Wilde
We’ve spent the past week quizzing friends (many of whom we’ve dined with over the past year) about how many restaurants they thought we had been to during the pandemic. Some guessed as few as 5; most hovered in the 20-30 range; while a few put the number at around 50.
It was amusing to point out to them how wrong they were.
Care to guess?
Consider this before you do: A popular notion now holds that you have to do something 10,000 times before you get really good at it — be it hitting a baseball, knitting, or playing chess. When it comes to eating out, I eclipsed that number twenty years ago. Now, it’s too many to count. Even in an off year, I accumulated restaurants like some people do bad habits.
(Tempura lunch at Kaiseki Yuzu)
Yes, even in this down year (the understatement of the century), the number — according to my records (receipts, social media postings and such) — was almost 100 (96 to be precise), and I’m probably missing a few.
Many of them were visited more than once. Cipriani I probably went to 25 times; Esther’s Kitchen a dozen; Guy Savoy twice; and Kaiseki Yuzu at least 5. We finally got back to an old Mexican friend in the northeast (Los Molecajetes), discovered a great wine program in an old haunt (Grape Vine), and gained new-found respect for some superior Italian seafood (Costa di Mare).
We have mourned the death of our great frog ponds (Robuchon, Gagnaire), swelled with pride at the resilience of Chinatown, and marveled at the resurgence of downtown.
Through it all we’ve been battling the soul-crushing weight of America’s obsession with Covid. With that obsession has come wave after wave of regulations, each a cruel blow to small business owners, none more ravaged than the hospitality industry.
The irony of Covid hitting right when America’s participation in eating out was at an all time high is not lost on us — a “market correction” which was neither inevitable nor necessary. Restaurant-going was not a stock market/real estate bubble. It was an enjoyable human activity from which everyone profited.
And then we killed it, or at least let it be killed — ruining the lives of many in service of the few.
But the Curtas household couldn’t/wouldn’t let groupthink take over our lives. We certainly didn’t let it prevent us from supporting the restaurants of Las Vegas which we hold so dear.
I don’t bother with mediocrity anymore. I’ll leave exploration of the obscure to the intrepid, and of the absurd to Instagram influencers. What goes into my pie hole is the best food Las Vegas has to offer. So it has been for thirty years, and so it was over the past 12 months.
As usual, all places are randomly listed and come highly recommended unless otherwise noted. Our restaurant bills this year would choke a horse, but was money well spent and I’m proud to have spent it. You should consider parting with some of yours at one of these as soon as possible:
(Lobster mac ‘n cheese at Barry’s)
THE LIST 2020
- Barry’s Downtown Prime – 2 visits down, 1 to go before we take the measure of this new entry in Vegas’s high-end sweepsteaks.
- Yui Edomae Sushi – still gets our nod over Kabuto by the thickness of a piece of gari.
- Kaiseki Yuzu – a little slice of Tokyo for those who appreciate the real deal.
- Letty’s – best tacos downtown. Don’t even think about arguing with me about this.
- Good Pie – new digs are impressive…now all they need is the right to use them.
- The Black Sheep – another joint we don’t get to enough…because there’s only one of us to go around.
- Kabuto – exquisite sushi. Some prefer it to Yui; we think it’s a toss-up.
- 7th & Carson – haven’t been in a while but thankful for them feeding us for months during the shutdown.
- Carson Kitchen – new menu = renewed vigor for a downtown pioneer.(Esther’s is re-intenting itself)
- Esther’s Kitchen – we go for the pasta, head for a tent (above), and stay for the wine.
- Grape Vine – improved food – better than it was under the old ownership (Grape Street) – the wine program worth a trip all by itself.
- PublicUs – saved our bacon during the darkest days of the Covid shutdown.
- Los Molecajetes – so good, so far from where most gringos prefer to tread.(Chip chip hooray! For Sin Fronteras salsas!)
- Sin Fronteras Tacos – northwest Mexican worth a trip from any part of town.
- Elia Authentic Greek Taverna – new digs (and an expanded menu) have us more excited than Zorba at a lamb roast.
- Yummy Rice – The Food Gal’s® says the unagi rice bowl here is eely, eely good.
- Pop Up Pizza – still fave; still under-appreciated.(“Blueberries” at Guy Savoy)
- Restaurant Guy Savoy – I go here as often as my wallet and waistline will let me.
- Rao’s – surprisingly delicious no matter how depressing the Strip gets.
- Elio – remarkable, inventive, elevated Mexican, but will it make it?
- Ferraro’s – closed until February at the earliest (sigh).(Prosciutto & figs at Osteria Fiorella)
- Osteria Fiorella – started as a pop-up, now firmly ensconced at Red Rock; a hit from day one.
- Saga Pastry + Sandwich – the only thing wrong with this place is it’s too far from my house.(Pithivier at Partage)
- Partage – only went once this year and it was spectacular.
- Jaleo – no one does Spain better than a man named José.
- Capital Grille – our old reliable; also our best chain steakhouse.
- Pizzeria Monzu – there ought to be a line out the door for this food.(Dat sum dim sum)
- New Asian BBQ – best dim sum on Spring Mountain Road.
- Aloha Specialties – I like this place for a white-on-white bite (like Kahlua pig with rice and mac); The Food Gal® loathes it.
- Costa di Mare – so good, still stunningly beautiful. The pastas are as great as the fish, which is really saying something.
- Weera Thai Kitchen – one of many superb Thai restaurants in Vegas now. We’re really spoiled when it comes to our Asian alimentation. Only LA sports a better array.
- Toridokoro Raku – stunningly good chicken parts, as only the Japanese can do them.
- Raku – Japanese food doesn’t get any better, anywhere but Japan.
- Hiroyoshi – it’s so small that capacity restrictions are laughable. Beautiful, finely-wrought Japanese food, less expensive than the sushi heavyweights on Spring Mountain Road.
- Bazaar Meat – haven’t been in a while; always drop a bundle when I do.
- 8oz Korean Steakhouse – for the Korean steak lover in you. The best of the bunch.
- Lamaii – holding on, like a lot of its brethren. Fabulous wine list; inflammatory Thai.
- The Real Crepe – galettes, crepes, and a slice of Brittany on the cusp of Summerlin.
- La Maison de Maggie – essential when you need a French fix.
- Delices Gourmands – they do the most with the yeast here. Bread so fine it will have you Loave-ing Las Vegas.
- Rosallie Cafe – as crumby as they come when it comes to baking your day. Don’t get me tarted.
- Cafe Breizh – always gets a rise out of us, especially when we’re leaven beyond our means. With Pierre Gatel’s creations, we’re never bun and done. He’s always up to his baguette of tricks, and it’s usually a give and cake proposition, guaranteed to have us leaving in a glaze of glory. Think of it as cream and punishment.
- Japaneiro – Kevin Chong was our first post-shutdown dinner. Still the best steak in the ‘burbs.
- Khoury’s Mediterranean – every time we eat here I kick myself for not eating here more often.
- Weiss Restaurant Deli – good, but not as good as….
- Saginaw’s – the best deli sandwiches in town, which, sadly, isn’t saying much…about our town, not the sandwiches.
- Cipriani – I’ll see you there for lunch this Friday…and almost every Friday.
- Ocha Thai – downtown’s most reliable Thai.
- DE Thai – downtown’s most convenient Thai, now with a second location!
- China Mama – noodles, dumplings, cumin lamb and crispy beef to die for.
- Edo Tapas & Wine – now open every weeknight and killing it.
- Ohlala French Bistro – if it were in my ‘hood, I’d be here once a week.
- Rooster Boy Cafe – ditto.
- CUT by Wolfgang Puck – 1-2 with Bazaar Meat when it comes to beef emporium hegemony.
- ‘e’ by José Andrés – amazingly, re-opened this fall and is still a tough ticket.(2020 drove us to drink…a lot)
- Delmonico Steakhouse – now a senior sirloin statesman, still a superb one.
- Matteo’s Ristorante – superb pasta, perhaps the best on the Strip. Right now I can’t think of any better.
- Yum CHA – our go-to for dim sum in the southwest.
- Soyo Korean Restaurant – we go with our Korean friends so they can explain everything to us — one umami bomb after another.
- Majordomo Steakhouse – Vegas’s most interesting steakhouse; see, I said something nice about David Chang.
- Estiatorio Milos – closed at Cosmo, set to re-open in February in the Venetian. We wish them luck. They’ll need it.(Kinnara Thai)
- Serrano’s Mexican – nice neighborhood standby.
- Marché Bacchus – still the most romantic spot in town. Rosé all day? Better off red? Experiencing growing champagnes? Drawing a blanc? Wine not dine here?
- New York Bagel N Bakery – best bagels in town.
- Every Grain – Sheridan Su can still score.
- La Strega – too far from Chez Curtas but mighty tasty.
- Trés Cazuelas – difficult location, great food.
- Players Locker by Wolfgang Puck – an under-the-radar gem.
- Locale – also too far from civilization, but we wish them luck.
- Kinnara Thai – eye-popping Thai in an unlikely location.(Roll with it)
- Cafe Mong – I didn’t think I’d love a rolled crepe (above). Boy how wrong I was.
- Bajamar Fish Tacos – good tacos but the bums at the front door drove us away, for good.
- Sin City Smokers – love their pulled pork…and the ribs.
- Big B’s Texas BBQ – love their brisket…and the sides
- The Goodwich – under new ownership. Not a good sign, especially in this climate.
- L&L Hawaiian BBQ – strictly for the loco moco lover in you.
- Magal Korean BBQ – open for lunch, so we go for the bibimbap at lunch.
- 8East – remarkable Asian fusion, tucked in an obscure corner of an empty hotel (for now).
- Victory Burger – big burgers, good beef, slightly overdone.(A happy Chutima clan means a well-fed Las Vegas)
- Lotus of Siam – both locations now reopened (see smiling Chutimas above)!
- Spago – not the superstar it once was, but still in the game.
- ShangHai Taste – superb dumplings and other things to numb your tongue.
- Pho So 1 – our old Vietnamese reliable.
- Shang Artisan Noodle – with Covid restrictions, can only seat a comically small # of people.
- Oscar’s Steakhouse – sometime this year, we’ll do an Oscar’s v. Barry’s downtown throwdown. You’ll be able to read about it here.
- Oodle Noodle – Udon’t need to look any further for your wheat starch noodle fix.
- Kung Fu Thai & Chinese – I had a Covid fever dream that when every other restaurant in Las Vegas has closed, Kung Fu (since 1973) will still be slinging yen ta fo and cashew chicken to its loyal customers. God bless them, every one.
- Mg Patisserie – Crust in case, dough yourself a favor, and don’t be a hothouse flour. You’ll only make batters worse by not rolling in here when you knead to.
- Yu-Or-Mi Sushi – What’s going on in the Arts District right now is like a little foodie X-mas present for all of Las Vegas: three new restaurants, all within a stone’s throw of each other, have opened in the last three weeks. This gorgeous little bento box is the hidden gem of the bunch.
Also Visited This Year but Closed for Good
Cucina by Wolfgang Puck
Santos Guisdados Tacos
Mordeo Wine Bar
Flock & Fowl
Hall of Shame
Eiffel Tower – went here on my birthday. Two bites in I regretted it. Never again, even if it reopens.
Mon Ami Gabi – when management will treat yours truly as a pigeon to be plucked, you know they have no shame. “Keep your hand on your wallet,” as my dad used to say. You have been warned.
Final one to visit before the end of 2020…
97. Main Street Provisions – looking forward to trying it as soon as their shakedown cruise ends.
Someone recently asked me why I go to so many restaurants. I answered by saying I’ve become the (un)official, upaid publicist for about 60 of them.
It is a role I will gladly embrace until we retire all this restricted dining nonsense…and I can get back to the role I’m best know for: being a lovable curmudgeon.