“Crass!” “Vulgar!” “Boring!” “I’m done reading you!”
“Time for you to bow out.”
“Quit angling your way into restaurants so you can ogle hostesses and drink for free.”
Thus came the comments after my last post.
Someone even bent their logic so they could criticize me for my supposed insufficient support of the #metoo movement. Ahhh, the internet.
This was to be expected. The provocative title ensured offense to at least some readers, and the clickbait picture was (literally) the icing on my cake of bad taste.
But if you read the article (and you have half a brain in your head), perhaps you sensed the tone as jaded and wistful, not crude and disgusted. I wasn’t so much condemning the restaurants of Las Vegas as I was mourning days gone by, when my ardor was keen and my pulse quickened at the thought of new restaurant mountains to climb.
Yes, I analogized new eating experiences with sexual adventures (and bemoaned how enthusiasm for both can wane as one ages), but the disappointments mostly come from within. I am bored with the restaurants of Las Vegas because I’ve eaten in everyone of them dozens of times. No one else on earth can make this claim, so pardon me if all my experiences have caused me to look at the Las Vegas Strip the way a sultan does when he’s (a bit) tired of his harem. It doesn’t mean I don’t love or admire them anymore, but neither do my loins quiver at the mere thought of approaching their supple charms.
Does this mean I’m going to stop restaurant-hopping? Of course not. I’ve stopped eating out as much as I used to, but I still hit 3-4 eateries a week. (At my peak, around 2005-2007, it was 10-12 restaurant meals a week. No brag, just fact.)
With these thoughts in mind, I thought a “Where I’ll Dine in 2018” post was in order. Note the solipsistic title. This post is going to be about where you’ll find me in 2018, not where I think you should go. There are dozens of places all over town I highly recommend (e.g. Michael Mina, Jaleo, Julian Serrano, Delmonico, CUT, just to name a few) but that I’ve been to so many times I’m not sure I ever need to go back.
(If you want to read about every restaurant I recommend, you can buy the 2018 edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants by clicking here.)
But no longer am I going to scour the town, looking for every new discovery, or trying to beat out other writers with restaurant scoops and scores. I am through eating at places because I think (or an editor thinks) I should review them because they’re new, or hot or popular. That doesn’t mean I won’t review new or hot or popular places, but I’m only going to comment on them if I think they’re worth my time and calories. Nothing Gordon Ramsay does interests me (except his steakhouse), and Giada could invite me to dine in the nude with her and I’d take a pass. (Fooling myself? YOU BET!)
But there are places that don’t bore me, that still cause a tingle in my nethers, and that I still look forward to going to, even for the 15th time. So here they are:
Downtown is my hood. I live and work there. Have for decades now. I used to say that downtown was seven taco parlors in search of an audience, but things have changed. I still love Irma Aquirre’s al pastor and frijoles at El Sombrero, and am long overdue for a return visit. But the news downtown these days is how the gastro-pubs have taken off. A year ago I thought nothing could challenge Carson Kitchen for elevated bar grub hegemony, but the stuff being put out by Gregg Fortunato at 7th & Carson goes roasted beet to roasted beet with anything CK is slinging. Right there with them is Justin Kingsley Hall’s new menu at The Kitchen at Atomic. He’s making everything from barley with blood sausage to crispy rabbit sing at this hipster haunt on East Fremont, and after only a couple of months at the stoves has made this a must-stop on any foodie tour. It’s kind of weird to us how this restaurant can attract such a different crowd from the hipster booze hounds next door at Atomic Liquors, but attract it has, and expect to read a lot more about the splash Hall’s cooking is making in the coming months.
Speaking of splashes, no place has ever made bigger waves from the get-go than Esther’s Kitchen. James Trees is doing everything but grinding his own flour at this ode to Italy, and his bread and pastas and pizzas are not to be missed. (The salads are also amazing as well.) Put it all together with a stylish bar, and an interesting wine list, and you have a game-changer on south Main Street.
When I’m not in a gastro-pubby mood, you can always find me enjoying a carnitas por dos at Casa Don Juan, or a gut-busting pasty at Cornish Pasty Co.. I don’t drink as much beer as I used to, but the selection at Cornish is top notch.
And then, of course, there are the old reliables: Oscar’s Beef Booze and Broads for steaks and a killer happy hour, La Comida for flights of tequila fancy, Le Pho for pho-nomenal Vietnamese, Ocha Thai for terrific, rustic Thai, and the newly launched outpost of Flock & Fowl when the craving for Hainanese chicken rice hits.
Ah the ‘burbs. Bucking the tide, swimming upstream, and fighting the current of Las Vegas’s constant race to the bottom of the restaurant pond. Between greedy and clueless landlords, an indifferent public, and economic realities of the restaurant business, it’s a wonder we have anything but Cheesecake Factories to feed us in the neighborhoods.
God bless those chefs who take the plunge into this stacked deck (how’s that for a mixed metaphor!), because without them, I’d probably move to Albuquerque. And god bless my favorite wine hangout, because on any weekend, you’re likely to find me on the patio at Marche Bacchus, sipping Burgundy and trying to figure out a way to piss off the idiots who rely on Thrillist for their food recommendations.
When I’m in the mood for superior (and healthy) French, EATT always fills the bill. More and more I’m less and less impressed with Green Valley (pretty amazing, I know, since I’ve held it in the lowest esteem since…..1984), and its addiction to franchised food shows no sign of abating. If I find myself hungry in that neck of the woods, there’s now only two places I will even consider are Boteco for it’s cool, Spain-meets-America wine bar vibe, and Prosecco Italian Kitchen for its classic, whole Dover sole. That, or I head over to Valley Cheese & Wine and throw myself upon the mercy of Bob and Kristin Howald for a slice of prosciutto.
The Southwest part of town seems to be where the action’s at these days, and Elia Authentic Greek Taverna is everything its name says. A bit farther down the road (and a pain-in-the-ass to get to from my house) is Andre’s Bistro & Bar — where the bistro fare is always solid. Equally inconvenient is Japaneiro, but Kevin Chong’s boffo beef and inspired uni will inspire a road trip at least once in the next twelve months.
Breakfast gets its own category because breakfast in Las Vegas is almost, across the board atrocious. (I’m talking about the ‘burbs here. ) Unless you love the straight-from-a-freezer bag slop served up by the Hash House A Go-Gos of the world, you are pretty much consigned to the bad eggs pun entrants like Egg & I, Crepe Expectations and the like — none of whom cook anything from scratch except the GMO eggs they break.
Downtown weighs in against this morass of mediocrity with EAT (also in Summerlin) where the food is fresh and the cooks care about what they’re feeding you. On the Strip, Bouchon remains a favorite, as does Morel’s French Steakhouse & Bistro. Bouchon’s nonpareil baked goods are more than worth the aggravation it takes to get to them, and the Dungeness crab Benedict and turkey hash at Morel’s will blow the socks off of any breakfast snob you take there.
But as we’re always fond of saying, “Breakfast is good for only one thing: thinking about lunch.” We are foursquare against a big, hearty breakfast because it always interferes with our lunch plans. That’s why we love eating early the French way, and in Las Vegas, it doesn’t get anymore French than, Cafe Breizh and Delices Gourmands French Bakery. One is close to the regal confines of the Curtas manse, while the other is too friggin’ far for us to frequent, but both put out the best pastries and breads in town, bar none.
On the rare occasions when we want to go big before going home, there’s only one option: Jewish food. Canter’s Deli Jewish food, to be precise. As a certifiable, actually circumcised, almost Jew, I can attest to the primacy of its pastrami and the copiousness of its corned beef. The bagels and cream cheese taste straight from Fairfax Avenue, too. And if you don’t get that reference, it’s time to turn in your yarmulke.
Other than that, you’re on your own when it comes to breaking your fast. Other towns like Portland and Austin have vibrant breakfast scenes — early bird joints where chefs love to strut their stuff with various egg, meat and pastry dishes. In Vegas, there’s a line out the door at Claim Jumper (in the most affluent part of town) every morning. Go figure.
In Part Two of Where I’ll Dine in 2018, we’ll explore our favorite Chinatown haunts, and take a mournful look at the Strip.
So me an da paesans wuz gettin’ pretty messed up da udder nite. Ya know whad I’m talkin’ about?
Let’s just say we wuz so umbriag our capicolas felt more like muzzarell.
Der wuz tree of us, and boy were we were sesenta fame and needed sum beef and we needed it pronto.
One of my jamokes, Vinnie Boombahts sez: “Hey, Jabrone! Why donts we head to Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads?”
I sez, “Fuggedabadit….that’s not a good idear.”
He sez, “Ahright ahready….then where do youse wants to go?”
I sez, “I ain’t never had no buona fortuna there…and I’m sorta kinda persona non grata, gabish?”
Now, this goombah of mine, he’s a gavone, a real chooch, always with the agita, so I told him to go “ah ffangul,” and he “iamo,” and I said, “haicapid?” and he called me a mamaluke, and I called him a scorchamend, and somehow we ended up at Oscar’s.
And you know what? We had a whale of a time.
We started at the bar at happy hour, and were pleasantly surprised (blown away really) by how great everything was. It was just the three, chopped prime rib sliders that grabbed our attention, but also a remarkably fresh, and a no-filler-allowed crab cake:
…that was the definition of this steakhouse mainstay.
Almost as good (if a tad tough) were the Mob (chicken) Meatballs:
…and a series of side dishes — creamed, but not-too creamy spinach, fresh roasted corn brûlée, asparagus cooked right — all served with classic cocktails containing just the right amount of kick-your-ass.
The main courses in the dining room measured up far better than I remembered from four years ago, when I wrote a none-too-flattering review of the place. Back then, the dishes seemed as flaccid as Fredo Corleone. Now, the filet was as perfect as a filet mignon can get — and seasoned just right by the kitchen:
…..and the strip sirloin smothered in crab, asparagus and Bearnaise was the kind of throwback indulgence that made you long for the 70s. A couple of the sides (Brussels sprouts, mushrooms) were by-the-numbers, but the “extraordinary” mac & cheese was cheesier than a Wayne Newton love song.
I’m not sure when Oscar’s got its act together, but obviously, sometime in the past few years it has. Executive chef Jeffery Martell oversees a big menu (too big, really), but he’s pulling it off and people have obviously responded. (The joint was jumping even on a Tuesday night.)
So, whether you’re with intelligent, discriminating friends, or the stunads and scustumads that yours truly drinks with, whether you’re mortadafam or just want a quick bite, Oscar’s has you covered. It may not be ready to muscle into Strip steakhouse territory, but the throwback food and booze is tutto bene! Gabish?
OSCAR’S BEEF, BOOZE & BROADS
Plaza Hotel and Casino
1 Main Street
Las Vegas, NV 89101
LOTUS OF SIAM TO REMAIN CLOSED FOR MONTHS
A botched roof repair job, a negligent landlord, and a fairly typical late summer rain provided the perfect storm for a major roof collapse at Lotus of Siam last Friday night. Because of it, Las Vegas’s most venerable (and internationally famous) Thai restaurant will remain shuttered for a least the next three months.
When reached for comment, Penny Chutima, the general manager of Lotus, said that the landlord, Mark Kaufman, had begun repairs weeks before the fateful rainstorm, but that the roofing contractors were unlicensed, uncoordinated and unfit for the job. “They never coordinated with each other or the businesses in the (Commercial) Center about what they were doing,” Chutima said. “They tore up entire sections of the roof, leaving bare wood and the structure exposed. When I asked about it (because rain was in the forecast), they only tarped my hood ventilation system. “
Chutima then posted on Facebook: “I was forced to go up onto the roof to try to sweep the water away to protect my customers, but it wasn’t enough.”
According to Chutima, she became concerned about the pending rainstorms last week, but got no response from Kaufman, right up until the time “I (had) a legit waterfall in my restaurant.”
With severe damage to both the dining room and kitchen, the operation won’t be back on line “…at least for a few months,” says Chutima. Until then, she anticipates continuing issues with her landlord, but the business has taken steps to repair the roof and water damage itself, rather than continuing to fight with Kaufman about things that should’ve been repaired months ago.
Interestingly, Chutima’s and Lotus’s Facebook pages were filled with loyal customers and fans expressing sympathy, but also more than a few comments decrying the location of the restaurant as a “dump,” and “borderline dangerous,” with entreaties to the Chutima family to find a new location for their iconic restaurant.
The Chutima family (which won a James Beard award in 2011) expressed loyalty to both their employees and the neighborhood: “We’ve been here since November 1, 1999,” said Chutima. “I support this neighborhood because there are many working families who want a job than can get…a house (and) most of them live on this side of town.”
In the meantime, Chutima, her chef mother Saipin, and her wine-collecting dad Bill, are looking for a temporary location to continue serving what many believe is the best Thai food in America alongside one of the great wine lists of the world.