John Curtas is …

Openings

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The List

It’s been quite the Winter/Spring. Trips to Italy, France, Germany, and Georgia. Countless trips to Chinatown, and too many trips taken (kicking and screaming) to inexplicably popular Italian-American restaurants.

Since I live and work downtown, I pretty much cover that beat without breaking a sweat, and getting to the Strip is no big deal either, although more and more I find myself less and less interested in dining there.

Maybe that’s because the Strip has finally settled into what it was always destined to be: a conglomeration of tourist restaurants, each formulaic in its own way, each playing a massive numbers game. That doesn’t mean there isn’t inspiration to be found there, but for every Le Cirque, Bazaar Meat or Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, there are dozens of places just going through the corporate motions.

And let’s face it: we at ELV can only tell you so many times what a wonderful place Prime or Libertine Social is without sounding like a broken record.

And dollars to doughnuts, the next time (if ever) we re-visit the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Yellowtail, Rao’s or Mizumi, we will have the exact same experience we had five years ago. That doesn’t mean these places aren’t any good, it just means that they’re not that interesting (anymore) to anyone who has eaten in them multiple times.

So, in our constant attempt to keep ourselves interested, and this site fresh in its 10th year of operation (Yes, we celebrated our 9th anniversary on April 1. Hooray us!), we periodically publish The List: a current snapshot of everyplace we’ve eaten in the past several months, along with the occasional pithy, erudite, incisive and astute commentary for which we are known.

As usual, all places mentioned are listed randomly and come highly recommended…unless otherwise noted:

THE LIST

Urban Turban Remarkable, chef-driven, upscale Indian (dots not feathers). Not your usual mix and match soups and stews.

Evel PieVincent Rotolo shoots and scores! By bringing a slice of the New York streets to Fremont.

Andre’s Bistro & Bar – The Dover sole is worth traveling across town for. Fabulous short wine list. Equally fabulous desserts.

Prosecco – Only one quickie meal so far, but encouraging enough that we will return.

Cleo – Still our best Mediterranean.

The Kitchen at Atomic – First bites were tasty and well-composed, if under-seasoned. The rib cap was a standout.

Le Pho – The soup that saved Las Vegas.

Carson Kitchen – Almost three years old and better than ever.

La Comida – Tequila heaven, solid if uninspiring Mexican.

Rosallie Le French Café – Now with wine to compliment Vegas’s best quiches and pastries.

Cornish Pasty Company – Gut-busting fare for the Welsh coal miner in you. Nice beer list, friendly people.

Vesta Coffee Roasters – Compelling coffee, amazingly good (if limited) food, always a superb soup-of-the-day.

The Goodwich – The Patty deserves to be in the hamburger hall of fame.

Bazaar Meat – I’ve run out of praise for this place.

Carnevino – Ditto.

El Sombrero – Politics schmolitics, Irma Aguirre makes great Mexican food.

Estiatorio Milos – The fish is still the freshest in town, and the lunch is still a steal.

Le Cirque – Every gastronome in Vegas (all twelve of us) now makes a seasonal pilgrimage to taste Wil Bergerhausen’s current menu.

Italian-American Club – Fuggidibadit.

Piero’sREALLY Fuggidibadit.

Starboard Tack – Holy Habana, Batman, the rum cocktails here are no Joker! The food has yet to be tried. The location is in the middle of nowhere.

Morel’s Steakhouse & Bistro – Solid from top to bottom. Three meals a day.

CUT – Someone CUT the cheese, please!

Bardot Brasserie – My only issue with BB is that once you’ve eaten here a few times, you’ve basically covered the whole menu.

Marche Bacchus Tom Moloney is now at the helm. Here’s hoping they let him do his thing.

Americana – Will it beat the jinx of this jinxed location? First bites showed some flair, but flair (and a gorgeous setting) may not be enough.

Niu-Gu Noodle House – Best xiao long bao in town, by a Shanghai mile. The stir-fries are other-worldly too.

YuXiang Korean Chinese Cuisine Korean-Chinese is a sub-species of Korean cookery. It’s hearty, it’s a little more refined than traditional Korean fare, and it’s delicious.

Chada Thai – Sometimes I forget how fabulous the food is at Chada Thai, but one bite reminds me of how elevated Thai cooking can be. (See pic at top of the page.)

Chada Street – Slightly rougher around the edges than its sister restaurant a couple of miles down Spring Mountain Road; no less excellent; incredible wine/champagne list. There’s almost no reason to drink wine anywhere else in town.

Chengdu Taste – Real Szechuan that will light you up. Not for the faint of heart or timid of palate. Easy-to-navigate menu and congenial staff make it easy on round-eyes.

Yuzu Japanese Kitchen Best. Japanese. Period. Call ahead for a kaiseki dinner that is straight from a side street in Shibuya, or wander in and just say “omakase, arigato!”

Capital Grille – My favorite chain. Wonderful room with a view; excellent steaks, classic salads.

JinJu Chocolates – Bon bons galore! Great cookies too.

GelatologyDesyrée Alberganti’s concoctions are the stuff ice cream dreams are made of.

Yui Edomae Sushi – A slice of Japan in our own backyard. Fish so good it tastes like it just leapt out of Tokyo Bay. Call ahead and tell ’em Curtas-san sent you.

Japanese Curry Zen – How can rice on gravy be so tasty?

Meraki – Fast casual Greek. Made by guys who know their way around a souvlaki.

Origin India – Top to bottom, our most consistent, classic Indian. Nice bar and wine list, too.

Shang Artisan Noodle – Shaved or hand-pulled, these noodles are life-changing.

Momofuku Umami bombs away! Strictly for Millennials who don’t know any better.

Milk Bar – Over-sugared, pre-packaged pedestrian fare raised to heights of slavering devotion by the Instagram generation. Nothing about it or Momofuku is as good as its reputation.

Udon Monzo – Eat anything here (or at Shang Artisan Noodle) and you’ll realize how overrated Momofuku (and David Chang) is.

Zuma – We are sooo over big box Japanese, but the food here is pretty nifty.

Turmeric Flavors of India – Four meals, each one worse than the last. Proceed at your own risk.

Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar – Why anyone would eat at Piero’s when Ferraro’s is just down the street is anyone’s guess.

RM SeafoodI’ve had my last meal here. I’ll start caring about this place when its absentee celebrity chef does.

There you have it: four months, forty-four places (give or take) — and for one of those months we were out of town. Don’t let anyone ever tell you they eat out more in Las Vegas than we do. We’re doing it so you won’t have to, and so that you, dear consumer, can spend your eating-out dollars wisely.

You’re welcome.

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Indian Uprising

The average Italian restaurant gets more customers in one night than a good Indian restaurant gets in a month. – Calvin Trillin

When it comes to restaurant food, I have the attention span of a housefly. I can be awash in wonderful Italian and find myself dreaming about French. Knee deep in delicious dim sum can’t dissuade me from dreaming about Dijon, and when I’m tucked into a tiramisu, I tremble at the thought of terrific tom yum.

And when I’m supping on seafood, I sigh about steak. And vice versa.

Yes, I’m an inveterate food slut, jumping promiscuously from cuisine to cuisine, and chef to chef, always looking for something elusive and delectable and just out of reach. A true gourmet is always a bit unhappy; always unsure of whether he has found the perfection that he seeks, invariably restless to fall in love with whatever he’s not having that very minute.

Any great restaurant town — New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Las Vegas, etc. — is like an orgy to an epicure. Lying before him are endless pleasures of the flesh: ripe, nubile, willing morsels there for the taking. But as anyone who’s ever been to an orgy knows, they can be exhausting and overwhelming…or so I’ve been told.

Yes, there is such a thing as too much great Italian food, an overflow of fine French, or a surfeit of steak. I can even overdose occasionally on superior sushi. When a confluence of these things occurs, there’s only one cuisine that helps me re-calibrate my desires — Indian.

Maybe it’s the breads, maybe it’s the vegetables. Most assuredly it is the heady mix of spices that infuse this cooking. Indian food overwhelms the senses. Subtlety is not its strong suit.  Kaleidoscopic flavors, intense aromas, and powerful punches to the palate are what defines it. There is also a depth and richness to its soups and stews that is deeply soul-stirring. The Japanese may have defined umami, but Indian culture imbues its cuisine with almost mystical levels of savory complexity. Just like it does its religion.

It always amuses me to wonder what an Indian chef or cook must think of a simple, French tarragon chicken, or spaghetti and meatballs. “My god,” they must think, “what kind of simple-minded baby food is this? It only has a few ingredients and hasn’t been absorbing fifteen different ground spices all day.”

Spices being the raison d’etre of Indian food. Not spicy in the sense of extreme heat and concentrated capsicum (although some Indian food can be as fiery as any foods) but spicy in that every dish contains a plethora of pronounced piquancy, presented by a panoply of palate-pleasing presentations.

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When you consider the dozens of spices, and hundreds of combinations that can be made with these ingredients, a mastery of this cuisine seems almost unobtainable:

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And these are just the basic ones. Did you know that both green and black cardamom is used in the Indian kitchen? Or that cumin should be freshly roasted? Or that un-ground nutmeg lasts forever?

The point is toasting and roasting of these seeds is essential to good Indian cooking, and it is the mastery of these things that distinguishes a good Indian chef from a poor one.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you I can tell whether an Indian chef is a whiz at re-creating this cuisine 8,000 miles from his homeland. I can however, say that we are experiencing an upgrade among our Indians, brought forth by chefs who seem to be putting a lot more effort into their dishes, and trying to take tepid tikka masala and lame lamb rogan josh from the doldrums of the dreaded all-you-can-eat Indian buffet, and bring them into the 21st Century. And our two best are only a half mile apart from each other on Paradise Road:

ORIGIN INDIA

Part of the reason Indian food has such a dreadful reputation is that the dishes lend themselves to constant reheating — the thick, stew-like concoctions fairly begging to be put in a steamer tray buffet. Unfortunately, this re-serving of yesterday’s (and the day-before-yesterday’s) dishes results in a flattening out of the piquancy that distinguishes the great, spice-infused concoctions of the sub-continent.

Origin India has always aimed to be our best Indian restaurant, and by and large it has always succeeded. It’s definitely the most upscale, with a nice bar, wine list and decor that stresses comfort over quick and easy convenience.

What the menu now stresses, under the new hand of Chef Jeyakumar Jeevamurali  (call him Murali for short) is the bright, powerful flavors of southern India. I’ve eaten at Origin many times in the past, but this is the first time I noticed the dense, unique layering of flavors in each of the dishes. Indian food is as tough to photograph as the names of its chefs are difficult to pronounce, so you won’t get a deluge of food porn close-ups like we might with other cuisines.

Suffice it to say that each of Origin’s dishes at the top of the page — chutney chicken, lamb nihari, goat pepper fry, et al — may look similar from afar, but each punch you in the palate with their own flavor profile. The chili paneer (batter-fried cheese in a tomato-pepper sauce) was sweet and slightly spicy, just as it should be, while the ground lamb chapli fairly explodes with fresh herbs and green chilies. Only the slightly dry tandoori chicken seemed a bit careless, but as most customers want chicken cooked until the last drop of juiciness is  wrung from its tender striations into a cinder of meat (the same way Greeks overcook everything into a briquet), it’s probably just a concession to the public.

Better by far are those stewed proteins — each one different in spice and texture. What we look for in Indian food is distinctiveness between its dishes, and Jeevamurali provides it in spades. A touch of sweetness distinguishes the chutney chicken (along with some bright vinegar notes), while the lamb is deep, soulful richness in a dark gravy. His signature dish is the goat pepper fry: it being a study in drier, stir-fried meat-meets-heat. The Peshwari nan coming out of this tandoor is the best you’ll find this side of Harvest by Roy Ellamar.

URBAN TURBAN

A relative newcomer (only two years old), Urban Turban occupies the space of a former cigar bar on Paradise Road.

Small bites and more creative plating than in your average Indian joint are what separates it from the pack, and the meal we recently had felt more refined and polished than the stew and soup-centric stuff you usually get.

Credit for this goes to Chef Tarun Kapoor, who brings a more modern sensibility to this menu, without sacrificing the multi-dimensional ka-pow that distinguishes this cuisine. The butter chicken royale (pictured above) employs cream cheese to take this ground nut, butter-cashew sauce to a different level, and his clay oven roasted fruits (bottom left above) are a thing of subtle beauty.

(Tarun Kapoor emphatically instructs on his intense, indigenous Indian eats)

Speaking of soups and stews, you won’t find a more life-changing one than Kapoor’s take on black lentil dal:

….it being surpassingly complex for something that looks so simple. Kapoor tells us that it takes long, long cooking to get the lentils, spices and milk to blend into a buttery mass of vegetarian decadence. One bite in and you’ll be willing to forswear meat altogether.

Equally good is his parda biryani (bread-covered rice):

…a satisfying  marriage of two ingredients not usually made for each other. But unlike most nuptials between two starched souls, no friction ensued. Instead, you’ll find yourself reflexively dipping into the rice with your bread, and then dipping the both of them into the cool raita, or the nice, warm tomato sauce.

As we said at the top, there is a depth to this food that few Western cuisines can match. Between the long, slow cooking, the raft of spices, and the liberal use of legumes, you will find yourself hardly missing meat at all. Which is sometimes just what your palate and your body needs.

Both of ELV’s meals were comped.

ORIGIN INDIA

4480 Paradise Road

Las Vegas, NV 89169

702.734.6342

http://www.originindiarestaurant.com/

URBAN TURBAN

3900 Paradise Road

Las Vegas, NV 89169

702.826.3217

http://www.urbanturbanusa.com/

 

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ELV postscript: We dearly, direly, desperately wanted to include Turmeric Flavors of India in this round-up, but after four meals there (each one worse than the last) we simply cannot recommend it. Our love of this cuisine is such that we will probably give it a fifth try, sometime in the near future, before writing it off altogether.

I Told You So – ANDRE’S BISTRO

“The food in Las Vegas is a lot better than it has to be.” So said John Mariani to me over a decade ago as we were touring the Strip.

These days, a case can be made that the same could be said about our suburbs.

Do the steaks at Andiron have to be so top shelf? Does the seafood at Other Mama or Japaneiro have to be so impeccable? Couldn’t Marche Bacchus get by with lousier pork?  The answers are: no, no and yes. Each of them could shave a buck or two on ingredients and it probably wouldn’t hurt them at all. No one would notice, except maybe a chef (or finicky critic), and their bottom line would be boosted in the process.

The point is they do care about quality, even if their customers can’t tell the difference. This makes them proud of the product they serve, and builds a level of trust between them and their clientele.

Restaurants like the ones mentioned are few and far between in the ‘burbs, but they are slowly increasing in quantity (even in Henderson – thank you Standard & Pour), and we at ELV are glad that their number just increased by one.

André’s Bistro & Bar took over the old DW Bistro space a few months back and has been packing them in from day one. They’ve kept the same floor plan but lightened up the space, given it a serious bar (and interesting, well-priced wine list), and took to cooking real French bistro food with no compromises.

In other words, they finally took my advice and picked up the restaurant gauntlet I’ve been throwing down for this entire century.

To say I’m pleased by all of this is an understatement. French bistro food is the most comforting, eat-every-day restaurant fare in the world. Only true trattoria cooking comes close, but no one in Vegas has the guts to go the full Roman, so Italian authenticity always gets drowned in a sea of cheap cheese and pizza sauce. I’ll leave the I-told-you-sos for another time(?), but let’s just say they’ve taken a classic formula here and run with it. And the public is responding.

One of the reasons, of course, is that the Stacked Hospitality Group had the good sense to move to this area of town — southwest Las Vegas being so restaurant-starved it makes Downtown Las Vegas look like mid-town Manhattan. The other smart thing they’ve done is to put Joe Marsco and Mark Purdy in charge of things. Marsco is the business/front-of-the-house guy and Purdy the Executive Chef, and years of working at Andre’s in the Monte Carlo taught them both a thing or two about executing a menu of French classics.

French classics is what this menu is all about, no matter how many times they tell you that it’s “American Tavern Cuisine.” (For the record, we know that they have to use monikers like “American Tavern Cuisine” in order to appeal to the yokels who might be scared snail-less by an escargot, but make no mistake, this menu is as French as a sidewalk cafe.)

You don’t get much more French than foie gras, and you won’t get any better seared foie than this beauty sitting atop stewed apples and a caramel custard sauce:

Does it taste like an apple pie under that unctuous liver? Absolutely. Does that make it the most decadent starting course this side of Guy Savoy? “Mais oui!” as the French would say.

Speaking of frogs, you can get their legs here (although we haven’t tried them yet), along with a roasted vegetable terrine of concentrated tomato richness:

Just as good are the escargot (swimming in butter, garlic and parsley just the way they’re supposed to be), and moules frites that cede no ground to anything you’ll find at Bouchon, Mon Ami Gabi or Bardot Brasserie.

Of the salads tried, the Lyonnaise was proper in every way….if a bit uninspiring…and the beets with goat cheese were as beet-y as you could want them. (Chefs know I hate beets and are always torturing me with them, but if you like the taste of dirt, these are as tastily done and prettified as any gussied-up dirty root vegetable can be.)

Seafood continues to improve in the neighborhoods, helped along by a more knowledgeable public that now demands it. That explains the existence on the menu of this seafood risotto:

…as well as a textbook-perfect Dover sole “Veronique” that is old school French at its finest:

Neither of these items dishes would ever have come close to a local’s restaurant menu a decade ago, now everyone sees them and dives in. (I’m told the Dover sole sells out quickly on the nights it is offered, and one bite of the thick, sweet fish and you’ll know why.) Someone on my Facebook page said snarkily (when looking at the sole pictured above), “1985 called, they want their plating back.” Yes it’s as old fashioned as it gets, but it’s also as tasty a fish as you’ll find this far from the ocean.

None of this is ground-breaking cooking; all of it is grounded in good ingredients, treated with respect and proper (which is to say French) technique.

We also enjoyed the house-made sausages immensely — sitting as they are on top of some nice, sweet-sour Lyonnaise potato salad — as well as the nutty golden trout amandine:

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…lightly sautéed (not heavily coated and fried) and properly adorned with a nice, brown butter sauce.

Both the trout and the flat iron steak are about the best $22 entrees you can find off the Strip, and the $12 burger is quite a mouthful (for $12) as well.

On our two visits, things seemed to be running preternaturally smoothly for a brand new operation, which is, again, a testament to having grownup professionals in charge of things.

No doubt there are kinks to be worked out (the wine list is tough to read, both the sauce and maître d’hôtel butter for the steak were too cold, and the mason jar hot fudge sundae tastes better than it looks), but quibbles aside, this place hit the ground running and doesn’t look likely to stop.

One place you will want to stop and linger is the dessert menu. Tammy Alana’s creations are the best thing to hit the ‘burbs since free parking.

All of them are classics —  tarte tatin, chocolate walnut gateau, milkshakes (with malt!), Grand Marnier soufflé, lemon tart (pictured above) — all of them are made in-house, and all of them taste like you’re in the hands of a master.

Which you are.

Just like I told you you would be.

ANDRE’S BISTRO & BAR

6115 S. Fort Apache Rd.

Las Vegas, NV 89148

702.798.7151

https://www.andresbistroandbar.com/

 

 

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