John Curtas is …

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EATING LAS VEGAS 2017 is Here!

It’s here and you know you want it. You know you need it. You know you gotta gotta have it.

And it just-hit-the-shelves. like yesterday: The 5th edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – a concise, literate, irreverent, honest, meticulously researched tome that tells you where you should be eating and drinking in Las Vegas right now….and for the next year.

Everything you’ve come to know and love about Las Vegas’s only definitive dining guide is here:

  • The Top 10 (with several surprises in store)
  • The Rest of the Best (with 13 new entries added just since last Spring)
  • Chinatown (Updated and expanded with almost 20 pages of recommendations of where to get your Asian on.)
  • Steakhouses (Why we’re becoming the center of the steakhouse universe + our top 10 + shout outs to all the usual suspects.)
  • A new “French” section (Did you know there were 16 great French places in town? Neither did I until I wrote the darn thing.)
  • 17 Mexican joints rate a wave; 28 Italian ones do.
  • Expanded “Desserts” section
  • “Sushi” now merits its own chapter.
  • 8 full pages of “Cheap Eats” (Done under duress by yours truly; thank god for Mitchell Wilburn and Greg Thilmont.)
  • “Drinking Las Vegas” now gets a serious section, with Thilmont and young Wilburn weighing in on everything from coffee culture, to brewpubs to dive bars. (Cooler, more sober heads prevailed and they left the wine recommendations to me.)
  • And my favorite section of all, soon to become a fan favorite: “JOHN CURTAS’ BOTTOM 10”! Rather than give away too much, we’ll just quote our introduction to the chapter and let you find out for yourself who won this race to the bottom.

Do you enjoy overpriced tourist traps? Tired food? Dated decor? Giving hard earned dollars to celebrity chefs who are phoning it in? Then Las Vegas has you covered too! Not only does Sin City boast dozens of the world’s greatest restaurants, it also hosts more htan a few half-baked concepts, licensing deals with “name” chefs, and sad old warhorses, all of which exist to separate the gullible from their cash. Proceed to any of these at your own risk, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

We at ELV are warning you:

Buy this book here or here

….or BY SIMPLY CLICKING ON THE PICTURE TO YOUR LEFT!

How simple can it be?

Do it now….to avoid that most dreaded of all eating-out fates: dining in Tourist Trap or  Celebrity Chef Hell.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

>>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<<<<

P.S. They make great stocking stuffers for the restaurant goer in your life….which is like everybody these days, isn’t it?

Big Week

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This is shaping up like a big week. Or maybe just a Big Night.

But you need to be paying attention, especially if you’re a chef or restaurant owner.

Because through timing, sheer luck and/or mere coincidence, both the newest edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants and the 2016 Desert Companion Restaurant Awards are set to hit the newsstands sometime in the next few days.

Needless to say, there are a few surprises in store. From who’s in to who’s out, to who made the Top 10 to who rates the top toque as Chef of the Year, these are our highly vetted, contumaciously chosen, carefully conceived categorical champions.

We at ELV are sworn to secrecy until they officially get published, so until that happens, we intend to maintain radio silence.

That is all.

 

LIBERTINE SOCIAL

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It takes a lot to impress me these days. And most of what is going on inside our big hotels isn’t doing it. While individual stars stand out (Bazaar Meat at SLS, Carbone and Bardot Brasserie at Aria, Mr. Chow at Caesars), most hotels have settled down to tried and true lineups (e.g. Bellagio, Wynncore, Venetian/Palazzo), or given up entirely (the Mirage springs to mind).

But, as I’ve noted, Mandalay Bay is bucking this trend, upgrading some old warhorses (Charlie Palmer STEAK, Aureole, RM Seafood) and bringing something new to the table.

And the newest thing these days is Libertine Social — a place that somehow manages to capture the small plates/craft cocktail zeitgeist of the past half-decade without feeling soulless or derivative. It is a big casino concept  restaurant to be sure, but it’s one that feels like a hangout — with personality to spare and intimacy beyond what you’d expect in a huge “concept” eatery.

The concept at hand was dreamed up by Shawn McClain (he of Sage and Chicago fame), and über-mixmeister Tony Abou-Ganim. McClain designed the food, TAG the booze, and between them they’ve hit a number of nails of the head.

Small plates being sooo 2010, this joint could’ve ended up featuring one cliché after the other, but here, McClain and Executive Chef Richard Camarota manage to make them sing…without lapsing into the same old same old, shared meal doldrums. There’s plenty to pass around here, to be sure, but be assured, boredom is not on the menu.

Olives get wrapped in sausage:

….churros get a savory, parmesan spin, and gazpacho is served as strawberry shots with crab meat:

It’s a typical, all-over-the-map, Millennial-friendly menu, but it never feels like it was borrowed from a Kerry Simon restaurant. Nor does it skimp on modernist complexity, such as in these “modern fried eggs” — an ovoid of eternally eggy pleasures, none of them fried, but all of them fascinating:

They might be my “Dish of the Year” if I ever got around to handing out any major awards for 2016 (which I probably won’t), but either way, you won’t find a more intriguing use of egg on egg on egg corn custard anywhere in America. Equally compelling are the flatbreads — one made with real guanciale and garlic oil, another displaying strips of real country ham set off by smoked blue cheese, pineapple and barbecue sauce. It may sound like an overwrought mess, but it all works:

That salty ham also helps whet the appetite for plenty of well-crafted cocktails (more on this in a minute).

Against all odds, I even found myself loving the sausage board (merguez, hot link and bratwurst) served with house-made hot pickles and a good, tangy sauerkraut, and the barbecued carrots — sitting atop a smooth kohlrabi puree. The double-cheeseburger is a dream (oozing with melted “Kraft-ed” cheese sauce, and the faked-named “American Kobe” flat-iron makes up for in beefy succulence what it lacks in honesty. (Memo to chefs, craven wholesalers and meretricious food execs: You’re not fooling anyone with your “American Kobe” false advertising. On second thought, as with fake “truffle oil,” maybe you are. Still, you should be ashamed of yourselves.)

Another thing the chefs should be ashamed of here in the agnolotti; it being as thick as the soles of my shoes and almost as tough. Face it: If you want pasta, go to an Italian restaurant.  If this agnolotti were the only yardstick, one would have to conclude that Shawn McClain (whose food, generally, j’adore) is to pasta what Mario Batali is to sushi.

All sins are atoned for, however, when the booze starts flowing. Abou-Ganim is one of maybe half a dozen Americans who can truly be called cocktail icons. Like his buddy Dale DeGroff, he was in on the ground floor of our mixology Renaissance, and putting him in charge of the bar(s) here was a wise move indeed.

Whether you want a lesson in properly mixed booze, or just to get sloshed, you will be in for a treat.

Drinks come in a dizzying array of variety and packaging. Old school (Hello Harvey Wallbanger!), flavored shots, barrel-aged, and even bottled. (Yes, they take their time to actually bottle TAG’s creations like a Bardstown Sling (bourbon, crème de pêche, peach puree), Luce Del Sol (grapefruit vodka and aperol) and a few others.) There’s fifteen well-chosen beers on tap (even a Trumer Pils from Austria*), and cocktails on draft as well. For our money, though, the things to get are the fizzes and the swizzlers. Like the name implies, the fizzes showcase four or five ingredients given just the right of spritz to make them slide down your gullet like a stripper on a pole.

Abou-Ganim loves giving some of them a slight bitter edge (he’s a negroni fiend), but lovers of girlie drinks (of which yours truly is definitely a fan) will find plenty to love in the perfectly-balanced Bird of Paradise (gin, blackberry liqueur and lemon juice). The crowd pleasers are the Social Swizzlers — pitchers of easy to swill concotions mashed up at the table with a groovy wooden plunger (pictured above).

The wine list won’t dazzle any snobs, but the bottles are interesting (Bonny Doon syrah, Raptor Ridge pinot gris), and priced to sell (most around $50), rather than to make you run for the K-Y jelly.

But like we always say: Never order wine in a cocktail bar, because when you’re in one of the premier, large-scale mixology dominions in America, it would be a shame not to let Professor TAG further your libation education.

Yep, that’s what we’re always sayin’.

Of ELV’s two meals here, one was comped and the other came to $142 for four with a $30 tip.

LIBERTINE SOCIAL

In the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino

3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89119

702.632.7800

https://www.mandalaybay.com/en/restaurants/libertine-social.html

* So sayeth the menu; one of our loyal readers says it’s made in Berkeley.

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