John Curtas is …

Wake

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“Thoughts and Prayers,” Hashtags and Hand-Wringing Aren’t Enough

The world is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.
–Wendell Berry, “A Poem On Hope”

ELV note: There will be no food reviews or pithy commentary this week. Below are two posts about the recent Las Vegas massacre, one from me and one from my son, Hugh Alexander Curtas. My thoughts are more about a co-worker who was murdered; my son’s is a more measured, political/philosophical take on the tragedy. I hope you take the time to read them both and pass this on to others who might be interested.

Five minutes after my wife and I drove past Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino two nights ago, the worst mass murder in modern American history took place. If the windows had been down in our car, we probably would’ve heard the gun shots. As it was, we drove home from the airport and went to bed, oblivious to what had occurred behind us. The next morning, as I was walking to work, my secretary texted me that Cameron Robinson, a management analyst in the City Attorneys office, had been killed. Cameron was shot in the neck, right beside his partner, as they were watching the concert. Bleeding profusely and screaming for help, somehow he was gotten to an ambulance, but it was too late. He died on the way to the hospital.

Cameron was only twenty-eight, but he looked like he was sixteen. He was short, fit, and funny, and worried about his weight even though I don’t think he weighed 120 pounds soaking wet. He had a sly, shy sense of humor, and needless to say, everyone in the office loved him. I didn’t know him as well as most, but his office was right across from mine, and I could see him in there everyday, diligently working away, or, when he wasn’t doing that, keeping the secretaries in stitches. I used to steal M&Ms from him all the time, and he pretended not to notice. Once or twice I brought him something sweet as a partial payback, but my side of the candy ledger was always permanently in the red.

There is nothing that can be done for Cameron Robinson. He was killed by a demented maniac utilizing weapons designed solely for the purpose of killing human beings. That these weapons are legal and (barely) regulated is to the everlasting shame of the American body politic. I won’t go on a polemic about guns or gun control (although I could), except to say that, in my lifetime, the idiotic, psycho-sexual attraction to firearms has trumped common sense at every turn when it comes to regulating what is, in essence, the most dangerous consumer product of them all.

None of this matters to Cameron. He died bleeding and screaming in an ambulance — shot by a spray of automatic weapons fire from hundreds of yards away — a sweet, generous, hard-working young man who was just beginning to grow into himself. Just last week I thought I should bring him in a huge bag of M&Ms after Halloween, just to balance the books. Thanks to American gun laws, this is one debt I will never have to repay. – John Curtas

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www.gofundme.com/you-will-be-missed-cameron-robinson

I went to bed Sunday thinking two people had been shot in my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. I didn’t give it much thought – active shooter situations are an almost daily occurrence in the U.S. In fact, 273 people have been killed in mass shootings in the U.S. in just the past 280 days, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

I woke up yesterday to the aftermath of the unthinkable. As I write, almost 60 souls are known to have perished, with an almost inconceivable 515 additional people wounded. My city was massacred.

I feel an excruciating sadness for the murdered. Friends-of-friends and acquaintances are among the dead – living, breathing human beings who will never again have an aspiration or a dream and will never again know the beauty and love of this world. My city is hung heavy with a pain it has never known.

Make no mistake: This tragedy is the fault of the cowardly, ignoble excuse for a human being that pulled the triggers of those automatic weapons just as much as it is the fault of craven politicians and their gun-lobby overlords who have created the circumstances for a society that devalues human life by allowing weapons of mass destruction to be bought and sold with almost no regulation whatsoever.

I’m a liberal, but I have no problem with guns. I was born and raised in the West. I respect that our Constitution provides an established legal right to own firearms. No person, politician, or organization will ever strip American citizens of the right to own guns – to think otherwise is rank ignorance. No one is coming for your guns.

My problem is ultra-extended magazines, easy access to automatic weapons, lax oversight of the gun industry, spineless politicians, and a refusal to acknowledge gun violence as a scourge on our citizenry that could be greatly reduced with modest legal alterations.

You should have no right to unlimited, unrestricted access to weapons of mass destruction, just as you have no right to unlimited free speech – when the public good outweighs the personal right, the public good prevails.

Yes, I’m politicizing this issue. We must politicize this issue – the dead deserve no less. More specifically, we have not politicized this issue enough. More specifically still, we have failed to match the politicization of gun violence in our communities like the gun violence advocates have.

No one wants innocent people to die, but when you stand in the way of protections for innocent Americans, the blood drips from your hands. We’re in this situation because of a large-scale, ultra-moneyed, decades-long lobbying effort by well-connected gun advocates (the NRA and their paid-for politicians). Their efforts have been strategic and effective and have stymied progress on gun violence prevention at every turn. Mass shootings are now an American pastime.

Guns are tools. Without human intervention, they are harmless. But, in the same way the agency of the murderer turns an inanimate object into a killing machine, the methodical strategy of gun violence proponents prioritizing unlimited ownership of weapons and ammunition over the safety of our citizenry turns them from ambivalent bystanders into accomplices in these horrible crimes.

It’s our government’s job to protect its citizens from danger and harm. Yes, there is room for debate about the efficacy of mental health services and how poverty and lack of opportunity makes normal people do insane things – violence is a complex issue with many intervening factors. But the paramount factor is our easy access to weapons of war. Vegas’ dead would still be alive if that lunatic couldn’t access multiple automatic weapons and unlimited ammunition. This massacre was preventable.

We must mourn and move on. But we must not let the darkness of cowardice and violence perpetuated by gunmen and well-connected lobbyists alike dissuade us from the hard road of modest public safety protections. Don’t pray, make policy change. – Hugh Alexander Curtas

Carlos Buscaglia Is Leaving DUE FORNI

The pizza ovens will remain. The pastas will continue to be made. The uber-cool drinks, funky wine list and Neapolitan pies aren’t going anywhere.

But Due Forni is losing the man who (along with Alex Taylor) invented the concept and has kept it going for the past six years.

Yes, Carlos Buscaglia is moving on, going back to the Strip, and leaving his pizzeria progeny behind.

And suddenly, Las Vegas feels a little less artisanal, more by-the-numbers, and not quite as culinarily compelling.

Six years ago it was a match made in heaven. Six years ago, the Strip was in the doldrums, and chefs like Buscaglia, Howard Choi, and Daniel Ontiveros were looking to make their mark in the ‘burbs. One by one they sought to pioneer and present a better way of eating to the citizens of Las Vegas. One by one they tried to elevate our food scene, and one by one they (along with David Clawson, Bradley Ogden and others) have crashed upon the rocks of our insatiable addiction to prefabricated, freeze-dried and franchised food.

There have been some success stories, to be sure: Dan Krohmer’s Other Mama being the most notable of the bunch. But by and large we are a blue collar town who prefers the sanitized and safe to the original and thought-provoking.

“There’s too many chain restaurants and too many people who want to eat in them,” is how Carlos put it to me last night. “It can be very discouraging.”

Indeed it can. Every day at my office I’m confronted by staff and co-workers who prefer Jimmy John’s and Claim Jumper to something owned by a local. All they really know is that these places are safe and predictable, and that’s all they really want. Instinctively they know, what Buscaglia and I know: that it takes a certain leap of faith to put yourself in the hands of a local chef. Better by far to trust the judgment of thousands before you, and give yourself over to a formula that’s worked millions of times, be it in making a mediocre sandwich or a fried chicken chalupa.

That’s what Due Forni and Buscaglia have been up against from the get-go, and that’s what they’ve succeeded against, against all odds.

But, as he explained to me, it’s time to move on.

“Frankly, I’m tired of cooking everything in two ovens and in a 400 square foot kitchen with no stove. I’m looking forward to managing a big kitchen again.”

That shouldn’t be a problem where’s he’s going since HEXX (where he’ll be running the kitchen), is a multi-tiered, high-volume operation that will keep Carlos on his toes.

What they are gaining Due Forni will be losing: a chef with great taste, and serious cooking chops. Buscaglia has been on the Vegas food scene since the early 90s when he was slinging noodles at Pasta Mia. From there he worked his way up the kitchen ladder all the way to becoming top toque at Fiamma, before departing to pursue his dream of bringing great ingredients and great pizza to the neighborhoods.

He succeeded and Due Forni succeeded, but time marches on and new challenges must be faced. From the sound of things, new ownership is taking over DF and, for the time being, the template will remain in place. (It still does a bang-up business most nights of the week, despite being surrounded by shopping malls with loads of shitty dining options that the public can’t get enough of. I’m talking to you, Downtown Summerlin.)  It remains to be seen if they do Carlos’s legacy proud, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that the dough will be just as crispy-chewy, and the toppings just as top-shelf as ever.

Even if they do, however, not having Carlos Buscaglia cooking off the Strip just made eating off the Strip a little less tasty.

ZYDECO PO-BOYS is Closing (Sigh)

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Zydeco Po-Boys — that bastion of casual N’Awlins cooking in Downtown Las Vegas — will shut its debris doors for good on March 3rd.

Here are some of the comments (taken off Facebook pages) from some of its fans and other folks about its demise:

This was predicted by City planning when they recommended to deny Container Park’s box enclosure plan realizing it would artificially cut off the streets behind it from normal urban flow. Making it many times harder for a business to succeed. But Council let amateurs make planning decisions for better (sometimes) and worse (most times).

“Unfortunately, people don’t want to be eating inside a restaurant while watching someone dig in the trash directly outside the window.” – Chef Bradley Manchester – Glutton (Who knows a thing or two about operating downtown.)

This is the most pathetic excuse I have ever heard. Obviously chef Bradley Manchester has never been to San Francisco or any other major metropolitan area in the United States. To even make a comment like this is beyond the pale. I can’t even believe I spent a dime at Glutton.

Parking rates are too high and parking control hovers around more than a panhandler needing a fix.

Parking, planning, panhandlers…what caused the failure? Well, to answer the question, we put it to the chef/owner Brandon Trahan, a thoughtful fellow who poured his heart and soul into the business for the past two years. Here’s what he had to say:

Was it the landlord?

No, not at all. The Downtown Project did everything they could; they built the space and gave me every chance to succeed.

Was it your location?

In a way, yes. It’s hard to get tourists to make the trek just a couple of blocks over from East Fremont Street to here.

Was it the closing of Glutton?

That didn’t help. Glutton created foot traffic on the block that we definitely benefited from. Once they closed, there were a lot less people walking by. Also, after Glutton closed the street got much darker at night. It’s really dark down here and not having that business open on the corner did not help things.

Are there too many places downtown?

Maybe. Maybe there aren’t enough people (living) here to support all of us. VegeNation does great though, so does EAT, Carson Kitchen and the Donut Shop. They’ve been great neighbors. We’re like a community down here.

Was it the bums?

Not really. I didn’t see some of the bad activity that others have described. Besides, anywhere you go in any big city you’ll see lots of bums. You’ve been to San Francisco, right? There, you can be having a fancy meal and see all sorts of homeless right outside the window of a nice restaurant.

Was it your food?

People here don’t really understand Cajun food. They think it’s real spicy. It can be, but it mostly is just well-spiced. We also fry a lot of things so it isn’t a light cuisine, but, of course, that’s where the flavor is.

What about parking? Everyone always wants to blame the parking.

Everyone wants to blame the parking situation, and it could be better, but I don’t think that causes a business to fail.

What would it have taken to stay open?

40%. 40% more customers, 40% more gross revenue. Without that it just didn’t make any economic sense to continue.

Any parting words?

We tried our best. The landlord was great, it was all on me to make a success of the place. They let me do my thing my way, and for that I am very grateful. In the end, there just wasn’t enough daily business down here to keep the place open. Some days we were busy; some weekends I’d see a line out the door at EAT and we’d have only a handful of customers the entire day. I’m sad but I gave it my best.

We’ll miss Brandon — a second career chef who went to culinary school and left Louisiana after the Hurricane Katrina disaster wiped him out. We’ll miss his warmth and good humor, as well as his gumbo and shrimp po-boys. He also fried the best skinny onion rings on earth:

If my waistline would’ve allowed it, I would’ve eaten his food at least once a week.

Zydeco Po-Boys closes a week from tomorrow – March 3, 2017.

ZYDECO PO-BOYS

616 East Carson Street

702.982.1889

https://www.facebook.com/zydecopoboys/

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