Archive for the ‘Openings’

CARSON KITCHEN is Kerry’s Crowning, Crowd-Pleasing Achievement

June 30, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Food, Openings, Reviews 8 Comments →

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Kerry Simon and I have had a rather prickly relationship over the years. We both like each other on a personal level, but he hasn’t always liked what I’ve written and I haven’t always liked what he has cooked.

That said, we have a certain wary respect for the other’s craft — which usually leads us to warmly greet each other — even if, two minutes after hugs are exchanged, we start debating one of his recipes or one of my sentences.

By way of a little history, I first tasted Simon’s cooking on August 30, 1988. It was a spectacular degustation at a restaurant called Lafayette in the Drake Swissôtel it New York City. Jean-Georges Vongerichten was getting all the press as executive chef, but Kerry was his number one — executing a menu of French sensibilities tweaked with Indo-Chinese and Thai technique that was as delicious as it was dazzling. (The exact date is remembered because it was in then-celebration of my then-wife’s birthday.)

It was ten more years before we crossed paths again, this time when he moved to Vegas to open JGV’s Prime Steakhouse in the Bellagio (with Wylie Dufresne) in 1998. From there I’ve followed him to the seminal Simon Kitchen & Bar in the Hard Rock Hotel (ground breaking for its day), and then to Simon at Palms Place — a restaurant which I have tried (and failed) to like since the day it opened.

When he and I are crossing swords over his co0king, I like to remind him that I’ve often said if I had one (American) chef to cook me my last meal, it would be him — but it would be the Kerry Simon who can cook the bejesus out of French-inflected fusion food (and tweaked American classics), not the one who is running a sushi bar mixed with a hotel hash house (albeit one with mega-hot hostesses).

But none of this really matters anymore. What matters is two things: 1) Kerry Simon is very sick, with a particularly virulent form of Parkinson’s disease — known as Multiple Symptom Atrophy — and, 2) as his swan song, he has opened a restaurant serving the best food downtown Las Vegas has ever seen.

Carson Kitchen is a small place (only 46 seats as of this writing), that reminds us of Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon, or Bar Jamon in New York City. The open kitchen is framed by an L-shaped bar, and you are so close to some of the action you can practically quiz the cooks on what they’re making as you wait for your plates. There are four tables at the front and then another large bar, on the other side of the small room, which doubles as a cocktail venue and communal seating for an array of drop-dead dishes the likes of which will shock you with their intensity and perfection.

“Is it L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon-like?” some of you galloping gourmets may be asking yourself right about now. Not that refined, is our easy answer, but it is exactly what it bills itself as: great, accessible, farm-friendly food that tastes like something a great chef would serve you in his own home.

Not that we’ve ever tasted veal meatballs with sherry foie gras cream in any chef’s home — or any restaurant for that matter — as caramelized, crispy, meaty and silky as the ones pictured above. That foie gras cream is a stroke of genius and makes you wonder why the Joël Robuchon’s of the world didn’t think of it first.

Plenty of chefs have thought of doing deviled eggs, but Simon’s “Devil’s Eggs”:

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….topped with crispy pancetta and caviar are such a creamy, crispy, sweet and salty delight they will have you shaking your head in appreciation.

They are among six of the nine apps we’ve sampled, all of them unique (Spam croquettes, tempura green beans, crispy chicken skins with smoked honey), and all of them begging to be shared. Speaking of unique, the bacon jam, brought forth with a melted slab of brie:

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…is so chock full of the sweet and savory combinations Simon is so fond of, you will find yourself reflexively dipping piece after piece of your baguette into it, blithely ignoring whoever entreats you “not to fill up on bread.” One order will not be enough — even if there are only two sharing it.

Then there is the butter burger:

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…an homage to the butter burgers of Minnesota and Wisconsin, this one bathed in butter rather than stuffed with it. It is a hand-formed patty of good, coarsely-ground meat, seasoned to a “t”, and presented with crumbly Boursin sprinkled atop melted cheddar on a mush-ready brioche bun. It’s a belly bomb to be sure…but also a beautiful one.

Those looking for lighter fare will be tempted by the ten “Farm & Garden” items on the menu — each echoing a certain ABC Kitchen vibe, and every one a winner.

My table couldn’t get enough of the Baked Mac & Cheese, or the Roasted Young Beets with orange and pistachio (great combo that), or the Rainbow Cauliflower, perfectly in harmony with lemon and garlic, or the Broccoli Crunch with real green goddess dressing (hooray!). If ever there was a restaurant to teach the fear-of-food crowd what wonders can be done with common, edible plants, this is it.

All of these are accompanied by the obligatory hand-crafted cocktails, good beers,blah blah blah…. and decent enough wines (well, decent enough for the downtown crowd, not necessarily for moi) — all priced to sell.

Finally, there are three desserts of which we’ve had two: the Bourbon Fudge Brownie (with bacon-brown butter ice cream) and the Glazed Donut Bread Pudding:

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…served with two sauces — three rum caramel and creme anglaise — the whole so much greater than each of its stupendous parts. One order is too much for one, but won’t be enough for two. (Do you sense a theme here?)

It’s hard to put into words just how terrific this little gem of a joint is. Carson Kitchen is the restaurant I always knew Kerry had in him. It is the restaurant Honey Salt wishes it could be. There are more interesting ideas and palate-popping flavor combinations on its simple, one page menu than you will find in a month of dining at tourist traps masquerading as gastro-pubs, or an evening endured at Park on Fremont or other dreck passing for quality downtown, or in the ‘burbs.

How funny is it, at this late date in our relationship, for both of us to realize that Kerry Simon had to go small, to make it so big.

Eating Las Vegas has either been comped or had others pick up the check for each of his three meals here. Sharable apps run $6-$12; sandwiches $10-$14; veggies $8-$12; and meat and fish well under $20 a plate. Desserts are $6 and cocktails hover in the $12 range…making this place a steal by any standard.


124 South 6th Street (at Sixth and Carson)

Las Vegas, NV 89109


GIADA – THE RESTAURANT (Where the Suits are Picking Up the Bill)

June 23, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Food, Openings, Reviews 16 Comments →

Squirrel Nut Zippers "Suits Are Picking Up the Bill" directed by Norwood Cheek from Norwood Cheek on Vimeo.

It’s pretty hard to feel sorry for a celebrity chef — especially one who’s led as charmed a life as Giada De Laurentiis – but that was our primary response after reading a recent article on her trials and tribulations in trying to get things done her way at Giada – The Restaurant.


Celebrity Chefs Doing It Right on Channel 3

June 22, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Food, Openings, Wake Up With the Wagners 1 Comment →

Summer Doldrums

June 09, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Celebrity Chef Hell, Chefs, Openings, Rant, The List 15 Comments →

It’s not even officially Summer yet and the mercury has already topped 100 degrees for a solid week.

ELV is glad the days are heating up, because that’s the only thing that’s hot in Vegas these days.

Our restaurant scene may seem muy caliente to some — with Daniel Boulud, Guy Fieri, Mathias Merges and Giada What’s-Her-Name all opening new joints in the last two months — but it’s still pretty boring with a capital “B” from where we’re sitting.


GUY FIERI Gets It Done

May 29, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Events, Food, Openings, Reviews 5 Comments →

When you’re a human cartoon, it’s tough to be taken seriously.

When your pedigree springs from the louche environs of UNLV and the middle-brow banality of Johnny Garlic’s (not to mention those dens of sophistication: Sacramento, Santa Rosa and San Jose, et al, (wherein this franchise fits like stretch pants on a soccer mom), serious gastronomes consider your cooking  (if they consider it at all) unworthy of their time or calories.


Hot Hostesses Watch – BIN 702 + A Few Thoughts on Downtown Dining

May 25, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Food, Hot Hostess Watch, Openings, Wine 13 Comments →

LaLa and LoLo (we kid you not — those are their actual names*) are two big reasons to do all of your fine wine tasting at BIN 702 in Container Park.

The other is: all bottles of wine are 1/2 price on Sundays and Wednesdays.


DB BRASSERIE Deliciously Beckons

May 15, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Food, Liquor/Liqueur/Libations, Openings, Reviews, Wine 8 Comments →

ELV note: Daniel Boulud is back, and gastronomes everywhere are licking their chops. But before we dive into reviewing his new spot db Brasserie (opened just three weeks ago), perhaps a little history lesson is in order.

When it was announced ten years ago that Daniel Boulud would be coming to Las Vegas (at the Wynn Hotel and Casino), no one in Las Vegas was happier than yours truly. When the Daniel Boulud Brasserie opened there in May of 2005, no one was a bigger fan or more loyal customer.

When Philippe Rispoli — the on-premises chef de cuisine who made the restaurant hum — was shown the door in ‘o7, things went downhill rapidly. Between the Wynn’s wanting to steak-i-fy the place, and a kitchen crew that had neither the heart nor the chops for true French food, it was pretty much a relief when they closed the joint (on July 4, 2010), so as to no longer sully the name of one of America’s greatest chefs.

But Boulud — being neither a fool nor a bad businessman — knew there was still gold in them thar hills; he just needed the Great Recession to recede a bit more before throwing down for another try in our humble burg. This time he’s maintaining more control (he owns the restaurant in partnership with the hotel, we’re told), and this time he’s gonna stick.


7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Line Up to Eat at Giada’s New Restaurant

April 29, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Celebrity Chef Hell, Food, Openings 32 Comments →

Who cares if she can cook?

After reading this bought-and-paid-for piece of public relations drivel today, we at ELV thought the record ought to be set straight about why restaurants like Giada’s should be approached gingerly, if at all, and always with a sense of healthy skepticism about what is really going on.

So, let’s go over the 7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Line Up to Eat at Giada’s New Restaurant:


You Should Go To YUSHO

April 21, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Food, Openings 7 Comments →

Matthias Merges Makes Merry Mixology

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Draught Cocktail Degustation

Bold, compelling, uncompromising, intense, and one-of-a-kind were just a few of the phrases that leapt to mind as we sampled about 40% of Yusho’s menu last week — and all six of the house-made, draught cocktails pictured above.

“Totally unlike anything the Strip has seen since China Poblano opened in 2010,” was the other.

To say that we were impressed is an understatement. To say we weren’t expecting to be would be equally accurate.



April 07, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Food, Openings, Reviews, Spring Mountain Road 11 Comments →

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Lobster pho photo by Sam Morris

Eating Las Vegas has often wondered whether Vietnamese food in America is the ultimate revenge for that little dust-up we caused there in the 60s. They could never hope to outgun us, the thinking goes, so the expats figured they’d bore us to death with their cuisine.