The Covid Diaries – Vol. 11 – Survivors

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Day 69, May 24 – Who Will Survive?

This will be our last “Covid Diaries” post.

Where we go from here, no one knows, least of all the person typing these words.

Life is returning to normal in Las Vegas; restaurants are re-opening; and we’ve spent the last two weeks plowing through a bunch of them.

And by “plowing through them” we mean spending beaucoup bucks in support thereof.

Image(Did you mezze me? Oh yes we did, Khoury’s)

As of today, the Strip and all major hotels remain closed, so downtown and the neighborhoods have been where we’ve concentrated. Even when it opens, most hotels will be running at very low occupancy rates, with only a handful of restaurants being re-booted.

The Wynncore has announced five of its venues will resume operations on May 29, but other hotels aren’t showing their cards just yet.

Steakhouses will lead the way in every hotel, with buffets nowhere to be found for the time being.

Here’s the list of places we’ve hit lately in the order we’ve hit them since the quarantine lifted:

La Maison de Maggie

Japaneiro

Kaiseki Yuzu

Khoury’s

Capital Grille

Orchids Garden

Esther’s Kitchen

Marche Bacchus

Edo Tapas and Wine

The Real Crepe

7th & Carson

Carson Kitchen

Pizzeria Monzù

And right there, you have the beginnings of the next edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants 2020. (More on this below.)

Twice we’ve been to the Capital Grille and 7th & Carson, and the cooking at both has blown us away. Even those serving truncated menus in smaller dining rooms are working extra hard. Don’t think for one second that every restaurant in town won’t be busting its ass for months to come, whether it’s a creperie, a Middle Eastern standard, or high-falutin’ gastopub,

You’ll see the same thing on the Strip when it reopens. Every cook, every waiter, every bottle-washer will be on their game. They’re in survival mode now and they know it, and the only way to prevail is to impress every customer so much they will want to come back — and dazzle them so much they’ll tell all their friends to go there — even if everyone looks pretty ridiculous in all those masks.

Image(Brunch, sans mask, at 7th & Carson)

So, you might say in some perverse way that this shutdown will be a boon for restaurant goers.

But it won’t be for restaurant writers.

With the end of phoning it in (Hello, Giada!), indifferent cooking, and poor service (at least for the time being) comes the lack of raison d’etre for a critic to be in the game.

The idea of criticizing a restaurant — even well-financed, over-hyped, under-performing Strip restaurants — will not fit the current zeitgeist of everyone hanging on for dear life.

Entire hotels are being phased out, and in the ones that remain, nothing is certain until the casinos can gauge the level of returning tourism. This could take a year…or longer.

Our gubenator thinks Las Vegas won’t get back to where it was until a vaccine can be found. Experts are saying this could be years away.

As a local, I’ve always hated going to the Strip on weekends or when huge conventions were in town, but now, the idea of wandering around Aria or Caesars Palace when it’s only 30% full seems kind of creepy.

We’re also mindful of the fact that once the shutdown began, our book became more artifact than all-encompassing.

With this in mind, we at #BeingJohnCurtas have been doing some thought experiments in our heads, trying to guess which of our 52 favorites (and others) will survive the #coronapocalypse.

So, for shits and giggles, we’re going to list all 52 of our “essential” Las Vegas restaurants, along with a rating of chances for survival (or eventual resuscitation).

Here’s how we’ve rated the restaurants:

4 **** – a cinch to reopen (or has already reopened).

3 *** – on the bubble, but corks could be popped, sooner or later.

2 ** – outlook is drearier than a Golden Corral steak.

1 * – put a fork in them, they’re done.

As always, these opinions are worth exactly what you paid for them.

Image(Black rice/oxtail risotto at Carson Kitchen)

****

Carson Kitchen

Chances for survival: good to great. Downtown’s popularity and loyal customers will see to that.

China Mama

Future outlook: Rosy. Good Chinese food (even bad Chinese food) could survive a nuclear winter.

District One

This is a tougher call. How Chinatown reacts to the shrinking economy will be interesting to watch.

Edo Gastro Tapas

Small and agile, with a passionate fan base.

Elia Authentic Greek Taverna

It will thrive….IF it can find a new location

Esther’s Kitchen

It came roaring back a week ago. Already, reservations are harder to get than a PPP loan.

Ferraro’s

I have a dream that in the year 2065, long after Gino Ferraro and I have departed this mortal vale, he will still be complaining about his overhead and offering me a sip of Chianti.

Kabuto Edomae Sushi

Will there still be a market for ultra-refined, high-end sushi once this cloud lifts? Only time will tell.

Kaiseki Yuzu

Another tiny gem now threatened by a looming recession/depression. All I know is I’m going to eat here as often as I can as long as Kaoru-san is cooking.

Khoury’s

Our best Lebanese restaurant hit the ground running and won’t look back.

Image(Al fresco tables – only for the sober – at Marche Bacchus)

Marche Bacchus

Even with its new table-spacing, none of the charm has been lost and some has been gained (see above).

Lamaii

Incendiary Thai + killer wine list = a long list of food and wine professionals who treat this place like a private club.

Lotus of Siam

Will they re-open both locations or just one? Either way, they’ll be packed.

Mordeo Boutique Wine Bar

Was on its way to becoming a must-stop for serious winos and foodies. Can it re-capture its mojo?

Ohlala French Bistro

Another tiny neighborhood gem. If the landlord cooperates, Chef Richard Terzaghi will be in great shape.

Pamplona Cocktails & Tapas

I love this place, but it’s location was challenging even during a boom economy.

Partage

The well-spaced tables and booths here will need very little adjustment to comply with “social distancing” regulations. The food needs no improvement.

Pizzeria Monzù

Believe it or not, it’s better than ever.

Other Mama

An industry watering hole that has succeeded against all odds. For that reason alone, I’m not worried about it.

Raku & Sweets Raku

Like Lotus, one of our most famous restaurants. It’s worldwide reputation and customers constantly clamoring for a table will sustain it.

Sparrow + Wolf

Brian Howard is set to re-open as we type this — how he re-sets his menu will be most interesting to watch

The Black Sheep

Jamie Tran has a small, nimble restaurant with a minuscule kitchen, and a large following. But the location gives us pause. Fingers are crossed.

Weera Thai Kitchen

Won’t miss a beat.


***

Here’s where things get trickier. Timing, tourists, and multiple tabulations control the fate of (most of) these places. Being on the cusp of summer doesn’t help matters, either. My guess is that each has a strong enough following (and is a critical part of a hotel’s F&B program) not to be considered a good candidate for reopening sooner than later.

Cipriani

Management has told us they may not reopen until after Labor Day. This might be a smart move since summertime is bargain-hunting-time in Vegas, and the Cipriani brand does not appeal to the 2-for-1 crowd.

CUT

Steakhouses will lead the way when high-end restaurants re-open, and there’s not a more famous one in town.

Bardot Brasserie

Aria will no doubt cut back on its strong lineup of top-shelf eateries; either Carbone or Bardot will get the boot, and we’re betting it will be the former.

Bazaar Meat

Along with CUT, our most famous steakhouse. Between the re-branding of the Sahara and the re-booting of everything, it’s bounty of beef and seafood may not fit the current mood. Personally, I wish it would re-locate to a hotel more befitting its brand and quality.

Jaleo

Jaleo is a big, multi-faceted, expensive operation. What might save it is a flexible menu which appeals to multiple price points. Plus, José Andrés may be the only surviving celebrity chef with a big following when this is all over. Several sources have told us “Julian Serrano” (its tapas competition in the Aria) has pitched its last paella.

Le Cirque

The Bellagio without Le Cirque is like Disneyland without the mouse.

Spago

The location alone will keep it alive.

Rooster Boy Cafe

Such a gem. So tiny. So perfect. My fear is Sonia El-Nawal may find catering more profitable than table service. And who could blame her?

Yui Edomae Sushi

My favorite sushi spot. Waiting with bated breath for them to start slicing again.


**

Here’s where a higher level of pessimism kicks in.

Bouchon

Expensive French bistro in this climate? I just don’t see it happening, but god I hope I’m wrong.

‘e’ by José Andrés

The aspirational, 30- and 40-somethings who have coveted a reservation here for nine years are the same ninnies who are cowering in fear of coronavirus. Having to sit within three feet of fellow diners is the type of stress their snowflake brains can’t handle.

Estiatorio Milos

I’m hearing rumors they might be moving. I’m not hearing anything about The Cosmo’s re-opening plans. Neither is a good sign.

Hatsumi

The seating is naturally “social-distanced” (at least in the booths), but Dan Krohmer’s going to have his hands full with Other Mama.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Again….high end French comes back? I just don’t see it.

Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano

A real sleeper in the Venetian that serves incredible pasta. Having to compete with 40 other restaurants (6 of which are Italian) might be too much to ask.

Michael Mina

Will top-notch hotels need multiple “fine dining” venues? My heart wants MM to stay, but my head tells me his restaurant group is in for a thinning.

Mott 32

No conventions. No Asian tourists. No more superb Peking duck.

Old Soul

Great cooking, but a tough sell in the best of times.


* Put a fork in them, they’re done…

Mabel’s BBQ

More done than a twelve-hour brisket.

Guy Savoy

I’m weeping as I write these words, but I think I’m going to have to go to Paris to eat Guy’s food again.

Joël Robuchon

On any given night, the best restaurant in America. Certainly in the top 5. But it’s a big deal meal restaurant, perhaps the biggest, and too many of its customers are not coming back to Vegas in the foreseeable future.

Sage

Was already on the ropes.

The Kitchen at Atomic

Ditto.

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

Ditto.

Vetri Cucina

We love Marc Vetri, and he tried to put a game face on things, but announcing “we won’t be opening this year, maybe in 2021” is the same as saying we’re history.

Wing Lei

The only type of food more endangered than high-end French in Las Vegas is high-end Asian.


My hearts weeps for each of these uncertain futures, and I hope I am wrong about all of them.

No matter who opens, the reopening will be the easy part. Staying open in a depressed economy is going to be the real struggle, and who is still in business a year from now is anyone’s guess.

One thing is certain though: there won’t be any new restaurants opening on the Strip for many, many months to come. You have a better chance of catching me at a Garth Brooks concert than you will of seeing any new concepts springing up in 2020.

Which brings us back to our book. If we do one, it’ll be probably be so stuffed with neighborhood eateries that it’ll be more useful as a local’s guide than something for tourists.  At this point, that might be its final legacy.

Anything we can do to help the restaurant industry bounce back from this idiotic, force-fed oblivion, the better. And if that means forgetting about the big hotels until they’ve had time to re-adjust, that’s what we’ll do.

I don’t know if our local food scene can sustain itself without all those Strip dollars being pumped into our economy, but we’re about to find out.

Life was so much easier when all we had to do was compare the Dover sole presentations.

Image(Social distance dining at Edo)

 

The List – January 2020

Image(Happy New Year!)

For years I’ve maintained that to do this job correctly, you have to be a little touched, a lot obsessive, and slightly manic about where you eat.

It’s also like being a porn star: something that sounds like a good idea (to dudes anyway) until you have to do it daily, on command.

And like being a porn star, most guys think they could do it, but they can’t.

Let’s go through my month (a very light one by my standards) and see if you could keep up, eating-wise. Keep in mind these dishes are just the highlights — every meal contained much more to eat, some things of which I nibbled at, other parts I devoured wholesale.

It started with a smiley face on a croque Madame on January 1st at Marche Bacchus (top of page).

Then, in rapid succession, over the course of the month, we devoured…

Esther’s Kitchen

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We grow weary of telling you how great Esther’s is….but we will never get tired of James Trees’ cacio e pepe (above).

DE Thai Kitchen

Image(Kanom jeen namya pu AKA fish curry with noodles)

Not to take anything away from our wealth of Thai options downtown, but the food at the teeny tiny DE Thai Kitchen is the best of the bunch. When the fish-crab curry (above) is on the menu, get it.

Kaiseki Yuzu

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Sure the kaiseki menu is expensive (starting at $100/pp), but the small bites/sake bar up front (above) is quite the deal for food this refined, and a good introduction to Japanese food the way it tastes in Japan.

New York Bagel and Bakery

No better bagels in our humble burg.

ShangHai Taste

Image(Through these doors lie dumpling delights)

Screw those over-hyped Chinese chains (Tim Ho Wan, Din Tai Fung), Jimmy Li’s xiao long bao are the bomb and made with love, not on an assembly line.

Serrano’s Mexican Food

Image(This salsa lit me up from my head tomatoes)

There is nothing remarkable about Serrano’s.…except the service and the spot-on Mexican food. It’s also one of the spiffiest holes-in-the-walls you will encounter, with not a grimy corner in site. A real hidden gem in an unlikely location.

Sage

Image(Egg-cellent caviar; unbliniably good pancakes)

We pop into Sage every other year just to make sure it hasn’t lost its fastball. It hasn’t lost its fastball. In fact it may be throwing more heat than ever. New chef Thomas Griese is seeing to that.

Hiroyoshi

Image(I’m urchin you to try this uni)

Every time I eat at Hiroyoshi, I kick myself for not eating here more often. Simply marvelous sushi at more than reasonable prices for what you get. The uni 3-ways will have you dropping your chopsticks in appreciation.

Estiatorio Milos

Image(These prawns give great head)

These Carabineros deep water prawns may be $30 a piece, but sucking sherry out of one of their detached craniums is the best cephalothorax you can get on the Strip.

Moon Palace

Image(This Double is damn Tasty)

Everyone knows David Chang hates me. And I’m no fan of his warmed over, quasi-Korean concepts at Momofuku, either. But I’m willing to give his new joints a fair shot, and Moon Palace (located across the hall from the spanking new Majordomo), is a mini-burger empire whose time has come. Delicious from the first bite, and probably the apotheosis of the American slider.

Eiffel Tower Restaurant

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Sometimes, we go visit an old favorite hoping for the best but expecting less. Despite the great view and good service, this place is become way too touristy for any serious gastronome. The lunch menu was mainly sandwiches; the torchon of foie gras wasn’t as finely-tuned as it should have been, and the burger not worth the pain-in-the-ass trek it takes to get there from the parking lot. Methinks me and The Food Gal® have eaten our last meal here.

18bin

Image(Well kiss my biscuits)

Fingers are crossed that Louisiana native Jen Landry (above) can put this place on the culinary map. The menu seems promising, and the gal has a way with biscuits. If only the physical layout of the joint weren’t so shitty.

Graffiti Bao

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We liked Graffiti Bao, but didn’t love it enough to ever again travel to the far southwest to eat its bread-y, doughy dumplings. It didn’t help that each of the fillings (Szechuan beef, kung pao chicken and barbecue pork were almost indistinguishable in taste. Our Chinese-Korean dining companion was also put off by the burrata offering on the menu (with garlic-chili sauce and scallion pancake!) — a combination that makes as much sense as kimchi on a pizza. “White people trying too hard to be hip Asians,” she sniffed. And she’s probably right.

The Goodwich

Image(Move over Babe Ruth…and pastrami on rye)

The Patty (pictured above) deserves to be in the Sandwich Hall of Fame. It takes a while to melt all of that gooey cheese into the chopped beef, but the wait is always worth it.

Suzuya Patisserie & Cafe

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On South Buffalo,  a mini-micro-climate of hip Asian-fusion eats has sprung to life, with Suzuya, Graffiti Bao and Fukuburger all located within a stone’s throw of each other. Each space (like its surrounding shopping center) is spanking new, with all the polished, antiseptic charm of a mall food court. This seems to bother the patrons not at all, as from the get-go, Suzuya has been packed with customers both Asian and non-, in numbers that would’ve overwhelmed its original cracker-box location, a few miles west. Suzuya’s pastries are very French, but also a la Française as filtered through Japanese sensibilities, meaning: more delicate and less sweet. From the crowds we’ve observed, there seems to be a pent-up demand for this Sino-Franco fusion, as there should be.

Soyo Korean Barstaurant

Image(Who knew everything but the kitchen sink could be so tasty?)

Korean food baffles me. It’s intense, over-the-top, ingredient-heavy, starchy, spicy, gut-busting and soul-warming all in one. Korean food after a Japanese meal is like a NFL team lining up next to the Bolshoi Ballet. I love it but I don’t claim to understand it. If you want to do both, Soyo is a good place to start.

PublicUs

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I love croissants like a bear loves honey. Like a Pelosi loves impeachments; like a Trump loves beauty pageants. The ones at PublicUs might be the best in town. If not, they’re certainly in the top three.

Yum Cha

Image(Shrimply mouth-watering)

Our new go-to for dim sum. Not in Chinatown, but a real find on W. Tropicana with great prices, an open kitchen, a picture menu (great for dim sum beginners) and very attentive service.

Cornish Pasty Co.

(Belly bombs away!)

If you look up “stick to your ribs” in a dictionary, you’ll see a picture of a Cornish pasty.

El Dorado Cantina

That Ass Though Jennifer Lopez GIF - ThatAssThough JenniferLopez Shakira GIFs(Some buns get a rise out of us)

We spent $83 on Mexican food here. For 3 tacos, and bowl of soup, and appetizer and a beer. For eighty-three bucks I want mariachi music. Or Shakira shaking her ass in my face.  Never again.

Cipriani

Image(Baked, Béchamel’d, and beautiful)

I eat at Cipriani so often they ought to name a booth after me. I could eat its baked tagliolini with ham (above) every day of the week and never get tired of it. Like everything here, it is stunningly simple Italian food served by real pros who never miss a beat.  If you want to see what a great Italian ristorante looks like, this is the place. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the gelato. You’ll be hooked from the first bite.

That’s 21 restaurants in 31 days — barely breaking a sweat by my standards.

Remember, I’m plowing all this ground so you don’t have to (kind of like a porn star). My continuing mission is to guide you to only the best of the best, so you will know where best to spend your dining out dollars.

We at Being John Curtas hope these posts are helpful to achieve these goals. But if any of this causes you menu envy, try to remember this German word to help you over your green-eyed hunger hurdles:

Futterneid is a compound noun which is made up of the words ‘food’ and ‘jealousy’. The German word ‘Futter’ translates as ‘animal feed’ or ‘fodder’, but is also used colloquially to describe human food. Futterneid translates into English literally  as ‘food jealousy’, but the more idiomatic ‘food envy’ is a better translation.

The word describes the highly relatable feeling when you simply order food at a restaurant wrong, and then have to suffer through the rest of the meal watching someone else eating something that looks and smells much better than what you have.

Examples:

Er war gestern abend wegen des Futterneids so mürrisch.

He was so grumpy yesterday evening because he was envious of the food.

Danke schoen to @thelocalGermany for giving us a word that is now an essential part of our eating vocabulary.

Prost!

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SUSHI KAME Arrives on Scene

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There are two cuisines we crave after one of our forays to France: Mexican and sushi. So it’s no coincidence we’ve been stuffing our pie hole with tacos and raw fish for the last week.

Good tacos are easier to find (especially downtown), but when it comes to Japanese, the pickings are slimmer. We’re always on the prowl for a place to add to our rotation. (Keep in mind we’re super-picky about the quality of sushi/sashimi we eat, as you should be. If you’re one of those AYCE bargain hunters, stop reading right now, and go check yourself for tapeworms.)

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So imagine our delight when  Sushi Kame (officially called Sushi Kame Omakase & Kaiseki) opened a few months ago at a location that’s not way up near Summerlin (its old home where great food is as rare as good taste).

The new Kame is right on the cusp of Chinatown, on the ground floor of a new condo complex near Valley View. And since it’s now in a neighborhood we like rather than loathe, we stopped in for a few exploratory bites.

What we found was impressive, accessible, and eye-popping — a welcome addition to the Japanese offerings along this increasingly crowded avenue, especially when the seats at Yui and Kabuto are full.

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This Kame is quite an operation. A hostess stand greets you right inside the door, a large, well-stocked bar hugs the left side of the space, while an even larger sushi bar beckons ahead. Plenty of tables line the bifurcated room, and to the far right (behind a dramatic window) lies the kaiseki room (above), where reservation-only omakase meals (starting at $200/pp) are served.

We’re not ready to take that plunge (the size of my restaurant bills from Paris has the Food Gal® contemplating some sort of 12-step gastronomy withdrawal program for me), but what we found at the sushi bar when we let the chefs strut their stuff was most impressive.

Just say omakase, and what you get for $100/pp will blow right past 95% of the neighborhood joints in town.

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Sushi is as much about the rice as it is about the fish, and this was the real deal — soft-yet-firm, perfumed, kernels (possessing both a whiff of vinegar and umami). so perfectly cooked you can count them in your mouth.

I’m not ready to pronounce the knife work the equal of its two rivals, but having a quality alternative to these edomae sushi icons, a mile closer to the Strip (and our house), is a nice problem to have.

SUSHI KAME

3616 W. Spring Mountain Road #103

Las Vegas, NV 89102

702.665.5731

For Kaiseki reservations call:

702.771.0122