EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants
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.
9500 S. Eastern Ave. #170
Las Vegas, NV 89123
The paella pit alone is worth the price of admission. On it lies a rectangular grill, fronted by several small bonfires that blaze away underneath pans the size of a manhole cover. In those pans are the purest, smokiest expression of Spain’s most iconic one-dish meal. If you’re the sort who gets excited by these things, you can stand and watch the flames lap up the sides of steel loaded with various proteins and veggies on their way to becoming the best paella in America.
You can sit at the highboy tables beside the pit, or at the cocktail bar. Or hunker down in the large, low-ceiling room at one of low-slung banquettes and pick from a variety of gin and tonics – practically the Spanish national cocktail. Wherever you sit, you will be treated to the ongoing action of the fires and the cacophony of a tapas bar that never misses a beat. It is a room that mimics the vibe of the original in Washington D.C., but presents as a big Vegas joint that hasn’t lost its original point of view — a perspective that embraces the foods of Spain, both traditional and modern.
This attitude is informed by the force of nature that is José Andrés. Andrés doesn’t so much cook as he does inspire, cheer-lead and imbue ThinkFoodGroup (the corporation behind him) with a passion for quality that most other celebrity chef outlets never approach.
It is impossible to get bored with Andrés food. The menu is so varied, and the quality so high that pointing and picking is half the fun. If there’s a first among equals in the tapas it is the tomato bread — crusty, rough bread upon which fresh tomatoes have been grated into pulverized mass of sweet flesh and juice. It is the simplest sounding thing in the world, but when done right (as it’s done here), it will send your palate into spasms of satisfaction. The same bread contributes to the best tuna salad sandwich you’ve probably ever eaten, and you won’t find a better goat cheese salad (or gambas al ajillo – shrimp with garlic), on any $25 (for 3 courses) lunch menu anywhere. No one makes a better gazpacho or patatas bravas, and the hangar steak is the envy of many a steakhouse.
I like to come at lunch; when the douchebags and bachelorettes are in fewer supply. The time not to go is definitely weekend evenings — when both food and service are stressed to the max. Whenever you go, get a G&T, get that paella, and by all means, fill up on tomato bread.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino
When Bruce and Eric Bromberg (pictured above) shuttered Blue Ribbon last year (after six years at The Cosmopolitan), few shed a tear for its demise. It was an attractive, if disjointed restaurant that always seemed in the throes of an identity crisis. Was it a lounge? A sushi bar? Two different sushi bars? Who knew and who cared? By trying to combine their two iconic New York City restaurants (their gutsy American bistro, and the separate Blue Ribbon Fish), the Brombergs achieved the confusing result of making the whole lesser than the sum of its parts. Not that it wasn’t good (the Brom-boys don’t know how to do “not good”), it just wasn’t focused.
Now they’ve re-opened, ditched the fish, and gotten back to what they do best – which is cooking the most ethereal, eclectic, American comfort food on the planet.
Blue Ribbon started twenty-five years ago in lower Manhattan. It practically invented the whole upscale American food thing (popularizing everything from bone marrow to fried catfish) and was known for the best burger in the business until Daniel Boulud came along with his foie gras-stuffed version, and got everyone on the burger bandwagon. Elevating simple food has always been the mission statement here, and artistic cooking for unfussy gourmands is what has made BR a critic’s (and chef’s) darling since Bill Clinton was President. Now, with its re-boot, BR has gotten back to basics, and we couldn’t be happier about it. Gone is the sushi, the dark lounge-y bar has been replaced with a bright, front-and-center friendly one, and the menu is back where it’s supposed to be: chock full of the specialties that made the Bromberg’s famous.
No one disdains something-for-everyone menus more than yours truly, but in these hands you can just close your eyes and point. Mazoh ball soup? They’ve got you covered? Fried oysters? Leeks vinaigrette? You won’t find better versions anywhere on Las Vegas Boulevard. Duroc pork ribs come sweetly glazed with their own mini-hibachi, the clam soup would make a Mainer proud, and the country pâté deserves to be in the charcuterie hall of fame.
The red (sea) trout with spätzle is also a thing of beauty, and the burger (pictured at top) is every bit as good as I remembered it….from 1993. We only tried one dessert, but they had us at “chocolate chip bread pudding.”
American bistro cooking is everywhere these days, but the Brombergs did it first and they still do it better than anyone. There are certain restaurants that just belong in Las Vegas, and the new Blue Ribbon – which is really the old Blue Ribbon I’ve known and loved – is one of them.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino