John Curtas is …

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Where I’ll Dine in 2018 – Part One

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“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:

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DOWNTOWN

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.

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THE ‘BURBS

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.

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BREAKFAST

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.

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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