Archive for the ‘Reviews’

This Just In: EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants to go On-Line

July 24, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Critics, Reviews, Travel No Comments →

  • Order the Eating Las Vegas Book Here

Attention all foodies and Las Vegas food fans. What remains of EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants will soon be available on this Web site.

By that we mean the portions written by yours truly will soon become an integral part of, and will be available for your delectation and commentation(?), as well as being continually updated by ELV to provide readers, locals and tourists with the most current information and opinion available on the top restaurants in town.

Our staff will soon be posting the entire text of our top 50 picks from the 2013 edition, and over the next few months we will endeavor to revise and update the list, restaurant by restaurant.

The first thing we’ll do, however, is publish a new list of our 50 Essential Restaurants — as soon as we’ve had the opportunity to glean through and edit the old one.

And finally, before you ask: Al Mancini had no interest in doing another book (so we’ll leave him to pursuits more befitting a man of his talents), and Max Jacobson continues on his slow road of recovery from his terrible accident. That’s why the book will continue, with yours truly at the helm for the time being.

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.


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.


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.



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.


The Goodwitch of the North

March 01, 2014 By: mitchell Category: Food, Openings, Reviews 2 Comments →

Damn man, damn.  I have been so consistently wowed by this place, that I’ve been going back about twice a week.  It does help that it is five  minutes away from my hip (and only slightly dangerous) digs in “The Downtown”, but I would drive from Summerlin consistently and even bear slumming it in Dino’s (and I REALLY don’t like Dino’s) to enjoy these seriously bad-ass sandwiches.


The British Invasion: CORNISH PASTY CO.

February 24, 2014 By: mitchell Category: Food, Openings, Reviews 2 Comments →

In the plaza that is host to Lotus of Siam, about a dozen other pan-asian restaurants, and even a few places where you might find local politicians and religious leaders.  But the newest opening isn’t a Thai place, a swingers club, or an alternative lifestyle independent theater at all!  It is the first Las Vegas location and fourth overall location of Cornish Pasty Co.

Yes, once again the Brits have started colonizing, straying from their conquered home-turf of Arizona.


Happy Chinese New Year!

February 05, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Events, Food, Reviews, Spring Mountain Road 8 Comments →

ELV update: Since posting this review, we’ve returned to 1900 Asian Cuisine twice and encountered laughably poor service on both occasions, as documented in our “Letters of the Month-Hospitality Hell” post above. (It was atrocious even as measured against the relatively low bar set by ethnic Chinese restaurants in general.) As a result of these unfortunate experiences — ranging from a non-existent waitstaff to half our order being unavailable or forgotten about — we can no longer recommend the restaurant. For the masochists among you, read on and let us know if things change.

1900 Asian Cuisine Reigns Supreme

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In celebration of the Year of the Horse, we at ELV thought we’d do a little celebrating of our own by proclaiming the the new holder of the coveted “Best Chinese Restaurant in Town” title.


“Crush” – Dave Matthews Band: The Restaurant

February 03, 2014 By: mitchell Category: Chefs, Critics, Food, Openings, Reviews 5 Comments →

Ah, the dulcet tones, the violin solo, the sweet as hell music video of some Utopian jazz club.  I was very excited to see the new joint in the MGM (taking over the Nob Hill spot) is named after my favorite song from one of my favorite bands, Dave Matthews Band (I call them DMB).  ”Crush” is a totally great song with good music in it, but will this tapas/wine bar be worth the square footage?

It’s a venture of Michael and Jenna Morton (of La Cave, La Comida, and the Morton Steakhouse Group [but only via familiar relation, not business]), but an interesting one.  The space itself is unusually cozy.  I was thinking it would be all bistro seats and techno music.  Yes friends, I am glad to tell you there is a semi-casual restaurant that isn’t pumping out Teen Disney or geriatric-core rock, but rather simple and soft jazz piano covers.

The interior here is cool, but cool in that way where you make a normal space and put a ton of vintage laboratory equipment in it to make it “hip”.  Like all darkened tapas/wine bars, it has already started to attract every lady over 30, probably by way of some kind of pheromone or emitting an extremely low frequency.

The menu, in a very uncharacteristic move for such concepts, is actually NOT a giant unfocused mess!  Twenty-three items are tapas (seven of which are pizzas, just thin enough to skirt the entree category), eight are “full-size” dishes.  More on the suspicious quotations around that term later in the article.

Some items, like the hamachi or the kale salad, are a bit phoned-in or could have benefited from some simple tweaks or additions.  These sour notes only punctuate an otherwise very unique menu.  The executive chef, William DeMarco, has taken the next logical step from his La Cave style with pizzas that leave his own flat breads in the dust.  The Thai coconut curry shrimp pizza, with asparagus and smoked bacon, is complexly spiced and surprisingly creative.