John Curtas is …

Food

JEAN GEORGES STEAKHOUSE

They had me at “wagyu brisket.” More on that in a minute. Actually, Jean-Georges Vongerichten has had me in his thrall since August 30, 1988, when I first tasted his then-groundbreaking Alsace-meets-Asia  take on French cuisine in New York City (at a birthday dinner for my then-spouse).

Back then, he was a wunderkind of French chefs, mixing and matching French technique with the mysterious scents and accents of Thailand. Today he has dozens of restaurants all over the world, and two of Vegas’s best steakhouses. The oldest one — Prime in the Bellagio — will always hold a special place in our heart. For nineteen years it has been Las Vegas’s prettiest steakhouse, and the food still sparkles as much as the room.

It’s seven year old sibling — the Jean Georges Steakhouse  —  has always had a more casual vibe.  The classic feel of Prime extends to its menu (which changes about as often as I go to a monster truck rally), while JGS is where Vongerichten lets his chefs play with their food. The lucky chef in this case is Sean Griffin, a baby-faced veteran who knows his way around steaks like his boss knows a khao niao from a kai yang.

Truth be told, we’ve eaten here several times in the past and always felt like menu was derivative, dumbed-down, and a pale imitation of what big brother was doing. With the new re-boot, JGV has finally found its sea legs (?), and Griffin’s cooking feels more confident and focused.

The operation hits all of the stations on the steakhouse cross (dry-aged, Japanese-raised, grass-grazed), along with the requisite Flintstonean tomahawk chop (42 oz.) and the  ungodly-priced A5 Kobe — for those who like to feel their arteries hardening while they eat. But what really distinguishes this place are the little touches Griffin brings to things like a Summer Fruits salad:

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….phenomenal eggs-on-egg oscetra caviar toast — a construction so simple and perfect (rich, just-cooked yolk sandwiched between two thin pieces of toast, topped with fish eggs) that I couldn’t believe I’ve never encountered it before:

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If those don’t inspire a tip of the fedora to the kitchen, then try this pepper-crusted foie gras (with strawberry-rhubarb compote) on for size:

…and a crunchy breast of chicken in a shallow pool of uncommonly good hot sauce. By-the-numbers cooking this is not —  whether you’re diving into a big lumpy crab cake, or a citrusy-glazed sea bass. The steaks are grilled over apricot wood (and finished with rendered beef fat) and take a back seat to no one’s, but it’s those apps and sides that will get your attention. Summer corn is brought to life by Manchego cheese, chili and lime, and if there’s a better potato dish in town than Griffin’s smashed Yukons with jalapenos, I haven’t found it.

It’s the aggressive-yet-balanced use of strong, tangy accents (peppers, citrus, soy, etc.) that distinguish this menu from so many others, including its big brother. These flavors announce JGS as a steakhouse with real kick, and one that will keep your palate awake throughout the meal.

Back to that brisket, it was black as coal and smoky as a Texas wildfire. It tiptoed between fork tender and slightly chewy and was all the beef-eaten a rootin’ tootin’ carnivore could ask for. It needed a little sauce, but the four they make in house — chili glaze, JG steak sauce, soy miso and Bearnaise — are all equal to the task. The desserts are superb, and par for the course for a chef who’s had my gastronomic attention for half of my life.

JEAN GEORGES STEAKHOUSE

Aria Resort and Casino

3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702.590.8660

https://www.jean-georges.com/restaurants/united-states/las-vegas/jean-georges-steakhouse/

P.S. My sister and her grandnephews are probably still talking about the Brontosaurus (marrow) bone we were served:

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Like everything else coming out of this kitchen right now, it was overwhelming (in a good way) and just about flawless.

ELIA AUTHENTIC GREEK TAVERNA

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

702.284.5599

https://www.elialv.com/

BOTECO Bucks the Odds

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.

BOTECO

9500 S. Eastern Ave. #170

Las Vegas, NV 89123

702.790.2323

http://botecolv.com/

 

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