Archive for the ‘Travel’

Sipping and Savoring Santa Barbara (County)

May 11, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Food, Travel, Wine, Zines 5 Comments →

This article first appeared in John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet a few weeks ago. Click here to read it in the original format, or continue as you wish with the text below.

Solvang, California used to be a paragon of kitsch, corny architecture and lots and lots of butter cookies. When last we visited a little over ten years ago, it was at the tail end of its “outlet store phase” (as one local put it to us), and the Danish bakeries barely outnumbered the vacant storefronts – which is really saying something. These days, a great ableskiver, cheese Danish, or thin, Danish pancake accosts your waistline on almost every corner, but the real reason to come here is that this (formerly) sleepy little hamlet – known affectionately for decades as “Little Denmark” – has quietly become the wine capital of central California.

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This Just In: ELV Spreading Rumors, Settling Scores and Set to Salaciously Sip

March 12, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Rant, Travel, Zines 12 Comments →

Good evening Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the ships and clippers at sea….

Item: Honey Salt Expanding Empire.

As predicted on these pages over a year ago, the entrepreneurs behind Summerlin’s Honey Salt are set to open two new stores in northwest Las Vegas. If our sources are correct, one will be called Honey Q and will be taking over the old Hops & Harvest space. (Good luck with that.) The other, we hear, will be called Honey Salt Steak and will be located in the new Red Rock Mall. (Another steakhouse in Vegas? What an original idea?)

Here’s hoping all this brand-expansion doesn’t result in another episode of  “Honey, I Shrunk the Profits.”

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Our Favorite Italians

December 09, 2013 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Critics, Events, Food, Travel 1 Comment →

In Italy, the whole country is a theatre and the worst actors are on the stage. – George Bernard Shaw

Dario & Faith

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Dario Cecchini and Faith Willinger are two Italians of a different stripe.

Cecchini — the Master Butcher/Intellectual of Panzano – has been called the world’s best butcher. (“To beef, or not to beef?” is his rallying cry.*)

Willinger is a born-again Italian who has spent 35 years exploring Italy, from its Alps to Sicily, searching for the best food this giant, slurp-worthy isthmus of eatability has to offer. (“Good wine and bad wine have the same amount of calories.”  is one of her sayings.)

And let me tell you my friends, you can do a lot worse in an evening than sharing a ginormous bistecca a la Fiorentina:

6 lb steaks? I'll take two!

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…with these two mavens of meat at a ristorante. In this case that ristorante was CUT last Thursday night — where they both were on hand to kick off the Venetian/Palazzo’s Italian Food Festival.

Cecchini was his usual ebullient self:

Old friends in 30 seconds

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….in fact he (along with some ginger friend of his in orange clogs):

The trouble with Italians is they have no personality

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….practically defines the term.

And we bonded with Faith (a lady whose guidebooks we would never think of going to Italy without) like we were old friends in a matter of minutes:

We heart Faith Willinger

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Yeah, Italians, born-again or otherwise, are like that.

Just about the friendliest people on earth.

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

* To beef! …and then not to beef… is his answer.

Mitchell Davis, Tokyo Pie Give ELV Hope

November 06, 2013 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Critics, Food, Travel 2 Comments →

The next time you’re hungry for great food writing, ELV suggests you google “Mitchell Davis” and read whatever he’s interested in these days.

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Here’s To You, Beantown!

April 17, 2013 By: John Curtas Category: Travel 3 Comments →

ELV note: Rather than wallowing in all the teeth-gnashing/faux sympathy* that grips our media and too many people when national tragedy strikes, we at ELV thought a short love letter to a traumatized city was in order.

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How do I love Boston? Let me count the ways.

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Gentlemen to Bed! For Tomorrow We Have a Continental Breakfast….at 10ish

April 04, 2013 By: John Curtas Category: Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan 1 Comment →

ELV Remains Elusive, but Wilburn is Willing

January 23, 2013 By: John Curtas Category: Commercial, Critics, Travel 8 Comments →

Where it all began, in 1962

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If you click on and look closely at the above picture, you will see yours truly settling in for his birthday dinner at Antoine’s in New Orleans last Friday night. The setting was chosen with particularity since it was at this fabled restaurant that I had my first food epiphany way back in 1962. (Over a silver dish of crab meat bubbling in a sherry-butter sauce, if memory serves. I still recall turning to my mother — Marcella Ruth Schroader Curtas – d.o.b. 08-10-24 – and asking, “Why don’t you cook like this?”).

As you may recall, I was in N’Awlins shooting another episode of “All Forked Up,” premiering this Spring on the Travel Channel. That gig has kept me traveling around the U.S.A. for the past four months (Philly, Seattle, San Diego, Chicago and New Orleans), with one episode left to go. After that, it’ll be all over except the shouting as we wait for the public to give its verdict. If ratings are good, we’ll hit the road for more episodes. If the public decides we’re not worthy of its viewing attention, it’ll be back to Vegas with a great experience under our belt and lots of stories to tell.

Truth be told, our delusions are less grand than you might think. Sin City Rules set a pretty low bar  that succeeded only in reinforcing the shallow and stupid stereotypes that surround our humble burg. Insofar as it besmirched all things Vegas with its cast of spoiled lamebrains — and believe me,  it made Hillbilly Hand Fishing look like Tennessee Williams — our show tries to edify and entertain….oh, who am I kidding? Mostly it’s just me and Mancini yelling at each other over everything from soup to nuts, hurling invectives and mining our insult thesauruses daily. But we love the cities and the food and the production is going to look MAH-VEL-ous.

Until the show airs — looking to be late April right now — our travel schedule makes covering the Vegas food scene impossible. But an un-posted blog is an unhappy blog, soooooo cue Mitchell Wilburn!

Yes, Mitchell Wilburn… a young, stylish fellow who is a spirits and suds fanatic looking to expand his coverage of our food and beverage scene. My staff and I have given Mitchell the keys to the kingdom, as it were, and you will now see occasional articles and postings from his passionate pen. (There may also be other guest writers popping up from time to time to keep all of us on our toes, and who knows? you may even see an occasional iconoclastic exclamation from moi!

Please be patient with Mitchell (and all young writers), as he’s still finding his sea legs. He won’t be as edgy and outrageous as the guy whose picture is at the top of the page, but he loves excellence in eating and drinking just as much as your favorite bloviating blowhard.

Speaking of edgy and entertaining blowhards, Michael Winner died yesterday and you could hear the sighs of relief go up from restaurateurs across Great Britain. He was opinionated, imperious and impossible, but his Winner’s Dinners column was always a great read.

R.I.P. Michael Winner.michael winner

Breaking: ELV Continues to Make TV. Blogging Must Wait.

November 19, 2012 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Critics, Food, Openings, Reviews, Travel 1 Comment →

Olympia oyster with fork

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Good morning food fans!

It’s been awhile hasn’t it. Yes, I know. Many of you have wondered (muttered) when yours truly will get back to blogging; the truth is: no time in the immediate future.

It seems our production schedule: Chicago, LA, Philadelphia, LA, Seattle, San Diego, New Orleans, more trips to LA and then to parts unknown, leaves little time for exploring the Las Vegas food scene.

Truth be told, there isn’t much to explore these days. No offense intended to Meat & Three, View Wine Bar & Kitchen and Honey & Salt, but cutting edge they ain’t. Two of the three appear to be attempts to establish a template for future franchises…so excited we aren’t.

Regardless, producing a television travel show is a ton of fun (especially when you get to jet around the country on the Travel Channel’s dime), but also real work. As in twelve hour shooting days, having to be “on” on cue, and being a prisoner to the shooting schedule.

The whole enterprise has given us a new appreciation for the hard work that goes into any reality or travel show. The crew works non-stop (their days routinely run to 14-16 hours long), the glamour is non-existent, and exhaustion is the rule by sunset — when usually there’s  still another few hours of work to do. The closest thing I can relate it to in my experience is being in a jury trial (as a lawyer). There’s no heavy lifting involved, but your brain is worn out by the end of the day, and all you can do is grab whatever sleep your furtive, whirring mind will allow before the whole process starts over again the next morning.

Believe me, once you’ve done even one show, you have a brand new, begrudging respeck for everyone from Andrew Zimmern to Honey Boo Boo to Hillbilly Handfishin’.

Before we leave you with a wonderful quote from a fabulous book given to us by Metro Pizza’s John Arena, a few notes are in order.

Kudo’s to Max Jacobson for the richly deserved beat down he delivered to Javier’s. Piling on? We don’t think so. As Slapsie Maxie says in his review: “What were they thinking?” Any overblown testament to Mexican mediocrity like Javier’s deserves all the opprobrium it gets, and it’s very existence makes us question the good taste of the heretofore admired F&B team at Aria. All that being said, it will probably make a ton of money (and that’s all these casinos really care about) because, despite the best efforts of Mary Sue Milliken, Susan Feniger and Rick Bayless, Americans love their shitty Mexican food.

We’re not allowed to discuss the contents of what we are filming for our (yet to be named) Travel Channel show, but we can tell you that if you’re an oyster lover, the Pacific Northwest is in a class by itself. Only in Brittany, France have we had shellfish that tasted as sweet and briny as what you get in the average restaurant here, and if you’re planning a trip to Seattle anytime soon, a stop at Taylor Shellfish Farms

near the Melrose Market, is de rigueur. The picture at the top of the page is of an Olympia taken from one of their oysters tanks — and it packs as much saline, metallic punch into a small pouch of pure protein as anything we’ve ever eaten. Olympias are one of the last remaining native shellfish to the Northwest, and a taste of one is as close to a true Belon as you’ll ever get without a trip across the pond.

Speaking of the miniscule-yet-mighty Olympia, here is a fun and fascinating rumination on these most remarkable bivalves….done by Linda Miller Nicholson on her Salty Seattle blog.

We’ll leave you now with an extended passage from John Dickie’s Delizia! – The Epic History of Italians and Their Food (Free Press 2008).

It is a book that anyone serious about food, Italian food or food writing should read (preferably with a nice glass of Barbaresco at their side):

To the Italian palate, the American way of eating is a cornucopia of horrors. The gastronomic culture clash begins over breakfast. In the morning, the Italians gently coax their metabolism into activity over coffee and a delicate pastry. The very notion of frying anything so early in the day is enough to make their stomachs turn. So the classic American breakfast is an outrage; among its most nauseating features are sausage patties and those mattresslike omelets into which the entire contents of a refrigerator have been emptied. Grits defy belief. And anyone in Italy who tried serving a steak before the early afternoon would be disowned by their family.

Such crimes are compounded by another national pathology: the compulsive need to have everything on the same plate. Bacon with hash browns. And pancakes with maple syrup and cherry topping. And applesauce. And eggs. And a salad garnish. Why not — it might occur to an Italian to ask — serve it all in a bucket and pour some of your edifying cereal in milk over the top, too?

A people like the Italians, brought up to savor the way antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, and dolce make for an evolving pattern of distinct tastes and textures, experience shock and pity when confronted with brunch (Editors note: ELV hates brunch). The Americans can only have invented it to allow their lust for mutually contaminating tastes to descend into savagery.

FYI: The whole point behind ELV’s/John Curtas’ ascent into the world of reality television is to forestall/inhibit/discourage/dissuade/deter the American public’s relentless descent into savagery.

We’ll see you on the air in April….if not before.

My Kind of Town

June 25, 2012 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Food, Travel 8 Comments →

If you follow ELV on Facebook and Twitter (and let’s face it who doesn’t?) you know he’s spent the last seven days reporting from Chicago — where he’s been shot (as in “filmed”) in all sorts of places as a pilot for a possible food/travel show with the Travel Channel. We can’t reveal the locations of those shenanigans, but our staff thought you’d enjoy some tasty snaps from some places we hit when we weren’t on location…going at it hammer and tongs with Al “Mad Man” Mancini.

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Where O’ Where Have You Bean ELV?

June 25, 2012 By: John Curtas Category: Travel Comments Off

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