John Curtas is …


Whatever Happened to Good Service?,_chicken_salad_sandwich_scene.png

Once in a while, I’m able to eat out anonymously and see how the other 99.99% live. It doesn’t happen often – I get spotted everywhere these days, even sometimes in Chinatown – but when I can sneak in and experience restaurant service the way most people do, I am, to put it mildly, appalled.

Exhibit A: A brand new Indian restaurant in downtown Las Vegas. Two visits; two head-scratching experiences. Visit number one found me as the only diner in the place. I ordered two beers off the list; they were out of both of them.

I ordered a gin and tonic. “We have that!” and everyone sighed in relief.

I placed my order…and it took for…ev…er for the food to appear.

In an Indian restaurant.

Where I was the only person in the joint.

Getting the check was as challenging as getting the food, with my waitron apparently preoccupied with all of those other people who weren’t eating there. Visit number two was even worse. The food came faster, but the waitron disappeared multiple times, again taking care of who-knows-who. (The two other people seated were as lonely as I was.)  When it came time to pay, I  got her attention (if memory serves) by waving my underwear and singing the Star Spangled Banner.

When I finally get the bill, it has an item on it that was ordered and never delivered. To make matters worse, after I got home I found that they double-charged my account (for the price of the entire meal – $104) after someone disappeared for another 20 minutes to supposedly “fix things.”

Exhibit B: A brand new pub-restaurant on east Charleston serving English meat pies. Two different waitresses ask me three times if I want water. Water never shows. Ten minutes go by. Finally it does and I order. The soup comes reasonably fast, but a single meat pie takes for….ev…er. (Did I mention there were only six other people in the restaurant? And three of them were already eating?)

Three different sauces were offered with my meat pie, but I got the mustard cream whether I wanted it or not.

My dirty soup plate sat in front of me throughout the meal. Only when I was ready to pay did someone ask if I’d like a water re-fill. And for all I know, those dirty dishes are still sitting there.

A menu, some water, a little attention, the check — IT’S NOT THAT HARD, PEOPLE! If you don’t know what you’re doing, hire someone who does. Or don’t open your doors until you do.

Mandalay Bay is Back, Baby!

You remember Mandalay Bay, don’t you? It was once a mega-hotel on par with the Wynn, Bellagio, and Caesars Palace when it came to top-shelf, drop dead delicious food. When it opened in 1999, it boasted a murders row of chefs and restaurants that went toe to toe with the likes of Le Cirque, Picasso, Michael Mina and anything Wolfgang Puck, Emeril, or Bobby Flay could throw at you. Piero Selvaggio had a pasta shop in the mall that was second to none, Hubert Keller killed it nightly in a gorgeous room,  and Rick Moonen could sling the freshest of fish with the best of them. When Alain Ducasse crowned the top of THE Hotel with his miX Restaurant and Bar in 2004, it capped one of the most impressive lineups of chefs (absentee or otherwise) of any hotel in the country.

Then, something happened. Call it complacency, call it competition, but when Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire planted their flags here between 2005-2009, you could almost feel the wind go out of the MB sails. And when the recession of 2008 hit, something really happened. The high end customer base shrank considerably (there’s only so many aspirational gourmets out there ready to pay big bucks for fancy food), and pretty soon the entire hotel seemed to go into a downsizing funk. Charlie Palmer’s Four Season steakhouse was eclipsed by a dozen others, miX and Moonen’s high-end seafood lost their audience, and Aureole got stale. Before you could say “credit default swaps,” Fleur de Lys threw tacky “art” on the walls and started serving tacos, and the entire hotel looked like it was headed to the middle-brow mediocrity of Luxor-land.

Well, praise the lord and pass the mashed potatoes, because things have changed.  Moonen re-booted himself with his rX Boiler Room (and by bringing in the talented Sean Collins to run both it and his seafood cafe), Charlie Palmer STEAK has gotten a facelift and a menu lift (from chef Tom Griese), and the new Libertine Social blends the dynamic cooking duo of Shawn McClain and Richard Camarota with über-mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim into a zeitgeist cocktail of haute casual eating and drinking. Add to this the continuing excellence of joints that have never wavered — Border Grill and Strip Steak — and you have a hotel that has recaptured its mojo. Even that old warhorse Aureole is getting into the act, re-doing the decor and bringing in local legend Johnny Church to rejuvenate the kitchen.

I still haven’t forgiven the F&B bigwigs for what they forced Fleur de Lys to do (go from fabulous French to so-so small plates), and what Ducasse did with miX is inexcusable (it’s now an overpriced Italian restaurant that looks like a coffee shop, albeit one with the greatest view in town), but with the veteran Emmanuel Cornet now in charge of food and beverage, I’m starting to think Mandalay Bay might once again become my go-to food and booze hangout, just like it was a decade ago.

Holiday Dining My Way

ELV note: We’ve been as busy as a beaver this fall — writing for a various ‘zines and trying to finish the copy for the fourth edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants. Oh yes, and we also took a two-week trip to Germany and Alsace (that we’ll be writing about as soon as the book gets done), and we got engaged to be married AND we’ve been trying to keep up with our day job — saving the taxpayers’ money at the City of Las Vegas. As a result, our nights have been shorter and our ELV posts have been fewer. So, with all that in mind, we thought this would be a good time to post our recently published article in VEGAS magazine, highlighting our ideas for where to best have a bacchanalian blowout over the holidays. Read on, happy holidays, and we’ll resume more regular postings once all this hubbub subsides.

Upscale Egg Salad at Le Cirque Las Vegas(Le Cirque puts its spin on egg salad)

Dining in Las Vegas is extravagant any time of year, but during the holidays, our temples of gastronomic delight really pull out all the stops—and stoppers.

In Las Vegas, creating a holiday environment all year-round is our specialty. But during our winter holidays (when, granted, you might have to look for snow in the Bellagio Conservatory rather than outside), the city’s best restaurants stage the ultimate in over-the-top dining—featuring très luxe products from around the globe brought in to satisfy gourmands looking to dress up, dine out, and drink it all in, the Vegas way.

As the French invented both the modern restaurant and Champagne, you can be assured a holiday meal at Joël Robuchon (MGM Grand, 702-891-7925) will be second to none. James Beard Award–winning Executive Chef Claude Le-Tohic (pictured above with the man himself) is a truffle snob of the best kind, and by Christmas Day, his menu is usually festooned with the finest black truffles. “After about mid-December, the white truffles start declining in quality,” he explains. “That’s when we start using truffes noires, which are much better when cooked. Many of our customers request them over the holidays.” Thus can you find these gorgeous fungi adorning everything from a mousseline served with a semi-soft boiled egg with Comté cheese to a white onion tart with smoked bacon that proves the rest of the world has nothing on the French when it comes to crafting an umami bomb.

Continue reading

John’s Tweets
John at Work Restaurant reviews, quips, picks and pans-with some seriously salivating history-from the man who eats his way through Sin City every day.
Follow eatinglasvegas on Twitter Follow eatinglasvegas on Twitter