EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants
What’s that old joke? If you see the fork in the road, take it.
Well, loyal readers, Eating Las Vegas is at a crossroad.
Writing about restaurants seems more than a bit trivial in these troubled times.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of cool new stuff going on.
And a lot of old stuff continues to shine — like the sides and steak yours truly had at CUT the other night:
One part of me wants to dive in and tell you all about the great meals I’ve had recently at:
Chuchote Thai Bistro
7th & Carson
The Black Sheep
Hofbräuhaus (yes, the Hofbräuhaus)
The aforementioned CUT
Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads (yes, Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads)
Casa Don Juan (yes, that Casa Don Juan)
…just to name a few.
But my heart is heavy, and the blogosphere ain’t what it used to be.
Tens of thousands of people used to want to read these restaurant reviews, now but a few thousand do. Facebook and Instagram turned everyone into a food blogger (this is not a bad thing), and in so doing, created a world where the audience is small for anything but mindless listicles, gossip and food porn.
My personal theory is that once camera phones got better, around 5 years ago, everyone could see decent pictures of what a restaurant’s food looked like. When that happened, reading about it became a chore for all but the most ardent foodies. In other words, blogs like this had a mass appeal right up until the masses could look at purty pictures to hit their low information threshold. Thus did clickbait like “Top 5 Tacos in Town!” and “David Chang’s Favorite Pizzas!” supplant actually learning about food.
Simple-mindedness is the rule these days, no matter the issue, no matter what the topic. The dumbing down of America extends to subjects as diverse as climate change to politics to sports. No one is diving deep; everything is visceral or the Cliff Notes version. Even the President of the United States.
Speaking of mindlessness, people are being murdered wholesale in our country, and not enough people care enough about that, either. Because you know, freedom. If that’s not enough to sober me right out of restaurant writing, nothing is.
No matter how you slice it, there’s nothing deep about food writing. Food writers, critics, journalists, nutritionists, etc., are all doing different forms of the same thing: imparting information (and opinion) to the public to help it eat better, tastier, healthier food. No rocket science in that. Precious little politics, too. But if you want to learn something, you have to pay attention. Just like in elementary school. And just like elementary school, most students would rather be told the right answer than figure it out for themselves.
Loyal readers, I have grown weary of helping you figure it out for yourselves.
About the only thing that keeps me writing these days is contemplating what is left of the Vegas food writing community should I retire. Years ago, I hoped that the free weeklies would morph into a true voice for our food and restaurant scene. All they’ve morphed into is a platform for b-list bars and restaurants, cocktail features, and barely-written “reviews.” I don’t blame the writers, I blame the editors. They know their audience can hardly read (or barely wants to), so on one level, you can’t blame them.
My previous co-author, Al Mancini, professes not to want to write about restaurants anymore, so the worthless rag he works for has him covering hot topics like “What blue cocktails are made without blue curaçao?” and other such drivel. (Memo to Al Mancini: the world isn’t interested in “cocktails of the week,” only the people pushing them are.)
Max Jacobson, god bless him, will never re-join the food writing ranks, and my other former co-authors (Greg Thilmont and Mitchell Wilburn) talented though they are, have neither the coin nor the time to immerse themselves in our foodie scene. Eater Las Vegas is a joke (it’s run by a pathetic woman who, when she’s sober, remembers that she lives in Des Moines, Iowa), and no other local blog is worth a shit. So bleak the landscape is.
And bleak I feel about it. I love writing, and I love going to great restaurants. Combining those two passions in this blog, six books, and 23 years of reviews for radio, TV, guidebooks, ‘zines, and dozens of periodicals has been a match made in heaven for me. No one has ever covered the restaurants of Las Vegas like I have over the past two decades. No one else is even close. All the food writers in town put together aren’t even close. On average, I eat out more in a week than all of them do in a month.
Am I bragging? Sure I am, but it’s also true, and it’ll be a long time before any food writer comes close to what I’ve done. And I’m proud of it.
But while the body might be willing, the spirit is weak. Sometime next month the sixth edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants will be published. Those 52 restaurants (yes, two more this year!) are all mine this time. No co-authors, no dueling reviews. You will get my complete, unvarnished look at the best this town has to offer, plus a snapshot or two about where we fail as a food and restaurant town.
These are the same things I’ve been trying to do on this web site since April 1, 2008, and in various forms since October 15, 1995, when I debuted on Nevada Public Radio. I don’t know if the book will continue after this edition, but I’m fairly certain this web site will post its last toothsome pick, or eviscerating pan, on its tenth anniversary, April 1, 2018.
Until then, bon appétit!
Those early years were exciting times. Las Vegas had never seen a jewel box like Adam Tihany’s 60-seat design, nor witnessed food so fine or service so precise. With the Maccionis patrolling the room and paterfamilias Sirio making constant appearances from his throne in New York, Las Vegas was a satellite operation, but one every bit the equal of its hallowed namesake. A succession of great chefs (beginning with Marc Poidevin) has kept this kitchen firing on all cylinders since day one, and one of the best service staffs in the business keeps the dining room humming like a long-running musical where everyone still belts out showstoppers after years of hitting their marks.
Showstopping has always been what Le Cirque has always been about, but I was afraid that show might come to an end in 2013 when the management deal with the family ended. With Sirio getting older (he’s deep into his eighties now) and son Mario gone, there is no longer a strong whiff of Italian buon gusto to go along with Le Cirque’s inimitable savoir faire. No one is showing me the contracts, but these days the operation is a licensing rather than a management deal — more Bellagio, less Maccioni. The good news is the food hasn’t suffered for it. Nor has the service.
Credit for that crackerjack service goes to a team that has barely changed in nineteen years. To put that in perspective: if you came here back when Bill Clinton was President, and returned today, you would see all the same faces serving you. Frederic Montandon still pours vintages (French, please! California, if you insist) with a twinkle in his eye, while Ivo Angelov manages with the touch of an orchestra conductor. A lot of restaurants start feeling stale after two decades. Here, phoning it in isn’t in their vocabulary.
The food has changed over time, but never wavered. Some of the chefs (Poidevin, David Werly) were superstars in their own right, while others were just putting in their time. But whoever was at the helm, the kitchen has always been solid — rendering classics like rack of lamb with glazed sweetbreads and rabbit with mustard cream sauce with the same aplomb it devotes to gold-crusted quail stuffed with foie gras, or blue crab under a robe of caviar. You can still get a lobster salad here that is almost note-for-note what Daniel Boulud invented in 1988, or have your taste buds startled by current wunderkind Wil Bergerhausen’s “hidden” spring garden of English peas, tendrils and garbanzos misted with strawberries.
What used to be dueling menus of Le Cirque classics versus more modern (read: lighter) fare has expanded under Bergerhausen into four offerings at all price ranges. You can do everything from a $108, pre-theater affair to a $350 extravaganza that steps into the ring with whatever punches Savoy, Gagnaire, or Robuchon are throwing and doesn’t flinch. There’s even a delicious-sounding five course vegetarian menu offered ($115) that looks like a good idea, in the same way that yoga classes, wheat grass and prostate exams do.
Now that we’ve rebounded from the Great Recession, every night seems like New Year’s Eve here. High rollers, celebrities and hedonic jet-setters treat this place like a private club, making a reservation a tough-to-impossible on weekends. Personally, I like to go early in mid-week, grab and seat at the bar, and watch the choreography unfold before me. After almost two decades, the balletic grace of Le Cirque is still something to behold.
Bellagio Hotel and Casino
It is done.
Not the writing, but the eating.
The writing and researching are in their final stages.
Sometime in the next 10 days all of the reviews will be completed.
Sometime in September, all the editing and re-writing will be finished.
Even my porn star stamina has been tested; at some point, even my resolve and passion weakened.
Dozens of restaurants (actually, close to 90) have been eaten in, some for the first time, many for the tenth. All have been scoured over the past 6 months for what’s current and delicious (or not so) in them these days.
The new title will be EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants. Many of these will get their own pages in the book; most will not. Some are being kicked to the curb because they’ve failed to sustain whatever excellence they might’ve once had; others are newcomers so good they’ve knocked established brands off their perch at the top of the Las Vegas dining scene.
A few are so terrible that the only mention they will ever get from me is on this list.
To find out which is which, and where these all rank in our pantheon of palate pleasing purveyors, you’ll have to buy the book.
But you already knew that.
Restaurant Guy Savoy
Andre’s Bistro & Bar
Meraki Greek Grill (I like this place, and admire its owners, but I wish they didn’t serve that cheap-ass gyro meat.)
Yui Edomae Sushi
SW Steakhouse (The most expensive steak you’ll ever not enjoy.)
JinJu Chocolate (Weird location, good chocolate. How do they stay in business?)
Italian-American Club (For blue hairs only; don’t bother.)
Delices Gourmands French Bakery & Cafe
The Kitchen at Atomic Liquors
Americana (Jinxed location; don’t hold your breath waiting for this place to be a success.)
Yuxiang Korean Chinese Cuisine
Niu-Gu Chinese Noodles
Twist by Pierre Gagnaire
Lawry’s The Prime Rib
Andiron Steak & Sea
Two Bald Brothers (Should be re-named “Two Bland Brothers.”)
Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar
Rosallie Le French Cafe
Khoury’s Mediterranean Cuisine
Cornish Pasty Co. (Our advice: split a pasty with a friend, unless you’re an NFL tackle.)
Sparrow + Wolf
Sin City Smokers
Momofuku (David Chang hates me; this is a good thing.)
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Salud Mexican Bistro
Elia Authentic Greek Taverna
Jean Georges Steakhouse
India Curry House
Kkulmat Korean Kitchen
Huevos Tacos (Who thought this concept would work here? Whoever they are, they’re seriously mistaken.)
8 Oz Korean Steakhouse
Anna Marie’s Italian Cuisine (Proceed at your own risk.)
Komex Kitchen (I’ve never understood the popularity of this place, but the service is fast and friendly.)
B&B Burgers & Beer (Closing soon; get that “drive-thru burger” while you still can.)
McCormick & Schmick’s
Shang Artisan Noodle
Lotus of Siam
Piero’s (Doesn’t give a fuck what I think about it, and what I think is that it’s the worst, most overpriced Italian in town.)
There you have it: four solid months of intense eating, digesting, note-taking, fretting and analyzing. Not sure how many more of these books I have in me, but my heart and soul is going into the 6th edition. The only person I’m arguing with these days is myself, and for this version, there’s no one I’d rather joust with.
* You find someone who eats in as many restaurants as I do, and I’ll show you a fat man, a fool, or both. Wait, what?