John Curtas is …

Spring Mountain Road

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CHADA THAI or CHADA STREET? Both!

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One has a big sign, announcing its presence in a large, almost all-Asian strip mall, directly on Spring Mountain Road. It is located just a mile west of the Strip.

The other is tucked into a small, all-Asian strip mall, a couple of miles further west.

One you can’t miss; the other you can miss standing right in front of it.

Both are relatively small — with one having a bigger feel to it, thanks to some overstuffed furniture and a long bar. Neither is open for lunch, which is a tragedy.

Chada Thai is darker; Chada Street is more brightly lit and feels more casual.

Large groups will do better at Chada Street; first dates will be impressed by Chada Thai.

Oenophiles will be impressed by both of them.

The service at both is excellent.

The wine list at Thai is shorter than the one at Street; the champagne list at Street is awesome; the markups at both are so mild you’ll wonder why you ever bother to drink wine (especially white wine) anywhere else in Vegas.

If I had to distinguish the food between them, I’d tell you that Street aims for rougher, urban, spicier fare — befitting its “Thai street food” moniker — while big brother Thai skews more traditional regional dishes, albeit with much nicer presentations, and in a more sophisticated setting than your usual neighborhood joint.

Look for dishes labeled “medium spicy” at both if you want to enjoy what you’re eating. “Medium spicy” enables you to enjoy both the food and those delicious white wines that compliment it. Anyone who doesn’t like the electric jolt of Thai chilies should book elsewhere. Anyone who asks for anything “Bangkok hot” has rocks in their head. (In this regard, the menu has a helpful chili pepper legend beside the hot dishes — dispensing with the old “pick a 1-10 level of spiciness” nonsense. Stick with 1-2 chili pepper symbols for the tastiest dishes….unless you’re a complete hothead, or a masochist.)

As for the food at both: it is flat out wonderful. At Thai, Bon Atcharawan (who recently took over from big brother Bank)  is as adept with crispy deep-fried oysters and larb, as he is with sea bass.

(Steamed sea bass with special plum sauce at Chada Thai)

They have tilapia on the menu in various guises, but the sea bass is the swimmer to get. Just as essential on this menu are the miang pou (crab-stuffed lettuce wraps), almost raw rib eye steak (yum nua) marinating in chili-lime dressing, green papaya salad (som thum), the house-made beef jerky (nua dad diew), and the rice powder-dusted crispy beef (pla nua tod):

…it being a study in crunchy/spicy/beefiness.

The thing about this food is that it never gets boring. You can have the same dish multiple times and be intrigued by the spices one time, or the balance between sweet and heat another. Or maybe it will be the fine interplay of proteins, textures and herbs that catches your attention. In no way do I profess to be an expert in Thai cuisine, but it doesn’t take a native to notice how these recipes have been honed over a millennia to orchestrate a controlled riot of flavors in the mouth. (Mediocre Thai restaurants always overplay the gloppy sweet-meets-heat paradigm, and miss the herbaceous, sour-bitter subtlety that characterizes a finer hand in the kitchen.)

From top to bottom, the kitchen at Chada Thai seems to ace dish after dish effortlessly. A small but mightier restaurant you will not find in Las Vegas.

http://www.epicurious.com/images/articlesguides/diningtravel/restaurants/las-vegas-hot-spot_612.jpg(Crispy chicken and larb at Chada Thai)

Chada Street, in its own way, is just as good.

Plating is not as refined (they use a lot of banana leaves here), and there’s a certain rustic simplicity to the recipes (lots of grilled and skewered items), but the food is no less tasty and the experience no less satisfying. Chili heads should plunge right into the goong share nam pla (raw shrimp bathed in incendiary spice);

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…and purists won’t want to miss the straight-from-the-Bangkok-streets calamari with salted duck egg (pla muk pad kaikem):

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…the sort of dishes that intrepid foodies dive right into when they’re deciphering the foodstuffs of an Asian capital.

Such is the menu at Chada Street: less refined, gutsier, and aimed more at the culinary adventurer in you. You can play it safe here with things like the crab fat fried rice (kao pad mun pu), or the crispy pork hock (ka moo tod), or the gorgeous shrimp pad thai:

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…but for our money, it’s more fun to tuck into some koi nua (raw, diced, chili-dusted beef), and watch the sweat form on our foreheads.

No matter what your savory compulsions, you won’t want to miss the Thai toast at either location:

…it being the perfect shared dessert for a group of adventuresome foodies who need to quell the heat.

No matter how you slice your vertical bread, what Bon Atcharawan and Aime Wanmaneesiri are doing at these two restaurants is phenomenal. Having these two Thai siblings in town is one of the coolest things about eating (and drinking) in Las Vegas.

CHADA THAI & WINE

3400 S. Jones Blvd.

Las Vegas, NV 89146

702.641.1345

http://chadavegas.com/

CHADA STREET

3839 Spring Mountain Road

Las Vegas, NV 89102

702.579.0207

http://chadastreet.com/

A Tale of Two Noodles

 It is the best of noodle times, it is a long way from the worst of noodle times. It is the season of shoyu; it is the winter of our udon contentment. In other words, if you love Asian noodles in all their forms, you should be in hog heaven these days.
As recently as seven years ago, no one in Las Vegas knew a soba from a shiso. These days, you’ll find Asians, Asian-Americans, and haolies of all stripes hunched over steaming bowls of long hand-pulled noodles, and debating the merits of mentaiko versus mian.

With the opening of Monta seven years ago, informal, Japanese eating took a giant leap forward and has never looked back. But one thing has always been missing: an udon parlor to call our own.  Thankfully, yet another Southern California import — Muragame Monzo Udon — has now planted its flag here, allowing our Chinatown to take yet another small step towards ubiquitous deliciousness.

For the uninitiated, udon are thick, white, long strands of wheat starch. These are not noodles to be contemplated; these are carriers for a variety of sauces and toppings, adornments that Monzo delivers in spades. To taste them in their purest form, try them cold (bukkake* style) doused with a clear, intense broth. Of the “signature udon” that we tried, the Food Gal® is partial to the Mentai Squid Butter (flecked with crunchy fish roe and bits of squid), while I found no fault with the Hot Dragon Udon (pictured above) — it being dressed with lots of spicy ground pork and Chinese chives. Some people are fond of the Miso Carbonara and Sea Urchin Cream versions featured here, but to my mind, these overwhelm the chewy, wheat-i-ness of the noodle, and thereby miss the point.

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Not to be outdone, Shang Artisan Noodle (pictured above) brings a Chinese spin (and that wonderful, hand-tossed lamian) to west Flamingo Road. I’ve always considered the way they can pull and toss and stretch a huge wad of dough into individual strands of noodles to be an ancient form of Chinese magic. There’s also something magical about the dense, beefy broth that accompanies the Shang Beef Noodle, or the dry, spicy kick of their dan dan mian:

….  or the over-the-top chewiness of the Beef Pancake — it being more like a large, juicy, xiao long bao stuffed with a steamed, onion-flecked hamburger:

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I don’t wish to start an international incident, but it’s now a dead heat as to who makes the best thick Asian noodles on earth.

MURAGAME MONZO UDON

3889 Spring Mountain Road

Las Vegas, NV 89102

702.202.1177

https://www.facebook.com/marugamemonzolv/

SHANG ARTISAN NOODLE

4983 W. Flamingo Road Ste B

Las Vegas, NV 89103

702.888.3292

https://www.facebook.com/ShangArtisanNoodle/?ref=py_c

* Do not, under any circumstances, look this up.

My Year of Dining Deliciously

2016 will go down as one of the most eventful years of my life. Getting married took the cake, of course, but publishing two editions of EATING LAS VEGAS The 50 Essential Restaurants (Huntington Press) was quite the undertaking as well. Factor in trips to Atlanta, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Napa Valley, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Washington D.C., Tokyo, Austin, Texas, and Rome (Italy, not Georgia) and you have one whale of a rotation around the sun. Through it all, I managed to eat over two hundred meals in local restaurants. Here are the best of the best that I tasted in the past twelve months:

Wine List of the YearAureole (see above). Not only is it the broadest and deepest list in town, it’s also back to being on the printed page, making it a joy to peruse. Would that all those damned, dastardly digital lists be consigned to the techie hell from whence they came. Digital wine lists tried to solve a problem that wasn’t there. And people ended up ordering less wine, because they’re so cumbersome to use. A pox, a pox I say, on all digital wine lists. End of rant.

Cocktail Bar of the YearLibertine Social

Pasta of the Year – (tie) Carbone; Carnevino; Ferraro’s

Burger of the YearLibertine Social; runner up – Gordon Ramsay Steak

Steak of the Year – (tie) porterhouse at CUT; aged rib eye at Bazaar Meat

Fish Dish of the Year – Scorpina (scorpion fish) at Estiatorio Milos

Sommelier of the YearChloe Helfand at Bazaar Meat

Pizza of the YearDue Forni; runner-up – Evel Pie

Downtown Restaurant of the YearLe Pho

Chinese Restaurant of the YearChengdu Taste

Thai Restaurant of the YearOcha Thai

Vietnamese Restaurant of the YearPho Annie

Korean Restaurant of the Year – Magal Korean BBQ

Japanese Restaurant of the Year – (tie) Yui Edomae Sushi, Hiroyoshi, Yuzu Japanese Kitchen

Fabulous Frenchies of the Year – Nothing can top the lip-smacking delights that Rosallie Le French Cafe, Delices Gourmands French Bakery and Eatt Healthy Food brought to the ‘burbs.

Dim Sum of the Year – No contest: Pearl Ocean at the brand new Lucky Dragon Hotel and Casino.

Coffee Bar of the Year – The just-opened Vesta Coffee Roasters is giving the term “fresh roasted” a whole new meaning.

Appetizer of the Year – “Ham ‘n Eggs” at ‘e’ by José Andrés

Entrée of the Year – Crispy Lamb Belly with Pomegranates and Peas at Sage
 Desserts of the Year – Whatever Mio Ogasawara is whipping up that night at Sweets Raku
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Meals of the YearYuzu Japanese Kitchen; Yui Edomae Sushi; Twist by Pierre Gagnaire; Delmonico; L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon; Bazaar Meat; CUT; Sage; ‘e’ by José Andrés; B&B Ristorante; Yonaka; Strip Steak; Ferraro’s; Carbone; Chengdu Taste; Raku.

Chef of the YearSteve Benjamin at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. No one does it better, or has for as long, as Stevie B.

Restaurant of the YearBazaar Meat. Fork–droppingly delicious is how I often describe a dish (or a meal) that knocks me out with its intensity and perfection. I dropped my fork a lot this year at Bazaar Meat.

(Here’s to you José, and to the best damn steakhouse in America)
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