John Curtas is …

Downtown

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The Hottest Dish in Town

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 If you’re they type who thinks supermarket taco sauce is too spicy, read no further. If the mere mention of Mexican food makes you meek, or Korean makes you queasy, or southern Indian inspires thoughts of gastro-injuries, click elsewhere. Because we’re here to celebrate the bringing of the big heat. The pinnacle of pepper-dom. The capsaicin crown, if you will.

Yes, we think we’ve found the hottest dish in town. As shockingly, electrically, volcanically hot as anything we’ve ever put in our mouth. And pilgrim, we’ve stuffed a lot of hot peppers into this piehole in our day.

Before we get to our chili champ, a little pepper primer is in order. Capasicin is the active chemical component of chili peppers. It is an irritant to mammals and produces a burning sensation in whatever tissue it comes in contact with. Pepper plants probably produce this off-putting present as protection against predators, i.e., animals and fungi that might want to eat them. Capsaicin collects in quantity in the seeds and the placental tissue surrounding them. That is why you are told to “scrape the seeds” out of various peppers before you use them, as a way of muting the effect. Amazingly, no matter how much pain a pepper produces, there are no ill effects to the human body from eating them. (Except what you might experience the next day.)

The “Naked Shrimp” dish at Ocha Thai (Gung Che Num Pa) is made with freshly ground Thai birds eye chili peppers. The chefs do not scrape the seeds. Instead, they pound these devils into a paste with mint, garlic, fish sauce and onions, and festoon the raw crustaceans with the mixture. You pick up the shrimp by the tail and take it whole, as it drips with a dollop of chilies. The effect (that takes about 15 seconds to set in) is one of having an electric, hallucinogenic shock sent through your nervous system —  a jolt that gives way to a searing heat that threatens not to leave for a week. After a minute or so panic sets in — a fear that the entirety of your mouth has been irreversibly seared by an oily, unctuous flame that has permanently attached itself to the sides of your tongue.

Only the jolokia ghost pepper at Mint Indian Bistro comes close to this level of heat. The difference being, the jolokia (at over a million Scoville Units) obliterates all taste sensation, these birds eye bad boys (checking in at 350,000 Scoville Units), actually enhance what you’re eating. (By way of comparison, the jalapeno rates a mere 2,500-5,000 Scoville Units.)

Through the pain, you can still taste the shrimp. And the mint. And the garlic. After two bites, you are entranced, spellbound, enveloped by pain and compelled to seek more eating pleasure. Such is the beauty of the dish. Such is the allure of Thai food.

Relax pilgrim, in five minutes your mouth will return to normal. After three or four Thai iced teas.

Serious chili heads owe it to themselves to check this dish out. The rest of you: bring a flamethrower, or just kick back and enjoy the rest of the very solid (and much less spicy) Thai menu.

OCHA THAI CUISINE

1201 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Las Vegas, NV 89104

702.386.8631

http://www.ochacuisine.com/

 

 

My Year of Dining Deliciously

2016 will go down as one of the most eventful years of my life. Getting married took the cake, of course, but publishing two editions of EATING LAS VEGAS The 50 Essential Restaurants (Huntington Press) was quite the undertaking as well. Factor in trips to Atlanta, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Napa Valley, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Washington D.C., Tokyo, Austin, Texas, and Rome (Italy, not Georgia) and you have one whale of a rotation around the sun. Through it all, I managed to eat over two hundred meals in local restaurants. Here are the best of the best that I tasted in the past twelve months:

Wine List of the YearAureole (see above). Not only is it the broadest and deepest list in town, it’s also back to being on the printed page, making it a joy to peruse. Would that all those damned, dastardly digital lists be consigned to the techie hell from whence they came. Digital wine lists tried to solve a problem that wasn’t there. And people ended up ordering less wine, because they’re so cumbersome to use. A pox, a pox I say, on all digital wine lists. End of rant.

Cocktail Bar of the YearLibertine Social

Pasta of the Year – (tie) Carbone; Carnevino; Ferraro’s

Burger of the YearLibertine Social; runner up – Gordon Ramsay Steak

Steak of the Year – (tie) porterhouse at CUT; aged rib eye at Bazaar Meat

Fish Dish of the Year – Scorpina (scorpion fish) at Estiatorio Milos

Sommelier of the YearChloe Helfand at Bazaar Meat

Pizza of the YearDue Forni; runner-up – Evel Pie

Downtown Restaurant of the YearLe Pho

Chinese Restaurant of the YearChengdu Taste

Thai Restaurant of the YearOcha Thai

Vietnamese Restaurant of the YearPho Annie

Korean Restaurant of the Year – Magal Korean BBQ

Japanese Restaurant of the Year – (tie) Yui Edomae Sushi, Hiroyoshi, Yuzu Japanese Kitchen

Fabulous Frenchies of the Year – Nothing can top the lip-smacking delights that Rosallie Le French Cafe, Delices Gourmands French Bakery and Eatt Healthy Food brought to the ‘burbs.

Dim Sum of the Year – No contest: Pearl Ocean at the brand new Lucky Dragon Hotel and Casino.

Coffee Bar of the Year – The just-opened Vesta Coffee Roasters is giving the term “fresh roasted” a whole new meaning.

Appetizer of the Year – “Ham ‘n Eggs” at ‘e’ by José Andrés

Entrée of the Year – Crispy Lamb Belly with Pomegranates and Peas at Sage
 Desserts of the Year – Whatever Mio Ogasawara is whipping up that night at Sweets Raku
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Meals of the YearYuzu Japanese Kitchen; Yui Edomae Sushi; Twist by Pierre Gagnaire; Delmonico; L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon; Bazaar Meat; CUT; Sage; ‘e’ by José Andrés; B&B Ristorante; Yonaka; Strip Steak; Ferraro’s; Carbone; Chengdu Taste; Raku.

Chef of the YearSteve Benjamin at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. No one does it better, or has for as long, as Stevie B.

Restaurant of the YearBazaar Meat. Fork–droppingly delicious is how I often describe a dish (or a meal) that knocks me out with its intensity and perfection. I dropped my fork a lot this year at Bazaar Meat.

(Here’s to you José, and to the best damn steakhouse in America)

(End of) Summer Dish Review – Tacos y Frijoles at EL SOMBRERO

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